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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2229970-Naturman-The-Sundew-Thief
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2229970
Chess and his friends hunt for a thief stealing valuable plants with sticky, gooey bombs
         The sun shined down on the hill lands of Rown. It was hot and humid, but the large, tall hills of Oldhills Town provided many with comfortable shade. Chess, however, didn't need shade to work. His father had recently given him a new supply of rocks to crush. Each rock could hold useful materials deep within, and Chess's mace was perfect for smashing them. Due to the heat, though, he had to work shirtless. By his side, his grass ringo, Graze, was barking every time he destroyed a rock. It always flustered the canine. After smashing the last rock, Chess searched through the rubble for any gems, ore, and crystals. Unfortunately, Chess didn't find anything of value. He sighed in frustration, and Graze sat down and looked up at him. Chess looked at his canine companion and pet him on the head.

         "Looks like we're going to the notice board today, pal," he said. Chess quickly put his shirt back on and walked down the pathway to Highhills town, which was right next to his modest town of Oldhills. When he entered through the gate, he saw his lover, Usini, working at the public crafting station. She was making dinner plates on the blacksmithing anvil. Wanting his lover to join him, Chess quietly approached her. His stern, composed expression did now waver as he approached the beautiful woman. Usini saw his shadow approaching and looked up from her metal dish. The minute her eyes met Chess's she smiled.

         "Hi Chess," she said joyfully. "What brings you here?"

         "I'm heading to the notice board," Chess said. "There might be some work I can find. Want to join me?" Usini looked at her half-finished dining plate then back at Chess.

         "Hmm. Could you wait until I finish this one plate?" she asked. "I'll be done in ten minutes at the most." Chess calmly nodded and casually leaned against the pillar. Graze scurried up to him and licked his hand. Wanting to pass the time, Chess pulled out his magic inventory sack and pulled out a small, worn out ball. When Graze saw it, he wagged his tail in anticipation. Without a word or change in his expression, Chess threw the ball and Graze ran after it. A ringo's speed is its main skill. Chess trained Graze to chase creatures and people alike. The ball was a fun way to practice. Chess was eager to take a look at the notice board to see any available jobs. Little did he know, he would not need to in a few minutes.
         
         Meanwhile, in the orchard near the eastern edge of the town, Spade the Tenacious, a good friend of Chess's, was lazily chowing down on a ripe, juicy pear. With his acid blade at his side, he lay against the tree without a care in the world. Suddenly, he heard a muffled scream coming from a house nearby. Spade swallowed his mouthful hard and looked towards the scream. What he saw next made his purple eyes widen to full capacity. A person carrying two large sacks wearing red bandanas on his head and face just crashed through a window and was now running down the hill. Down near the crafting station, Chess and Graze heard the crash and immediately turned to it on reflex.

         "Thief!" a person's voice called out. "That fiend stole my plants!" Spade didn't miss a beat. Instantly his leisure ceased, and he grabbed his blade, chasing the bandit as fast as he could.

         "Stop right there, thug!" he yelled. The thief was a quick runner like Spade, which was common for all naturman. Their speed was nearly equal, and Spade couldn't close the gap between them. Chess and Usini saw the robber heading right for them. Chess quickly reacted and clutched his mace, determined to stop the thief with a head on clash. However, when he stepped in the robber's way, without warning, something hit Chess dead in the face. Something sticky and gooey. He was stunned by the sudden blow and tried to get the slime off his face. Meanwhile, the robber continued to escape. Graze didn't get an order from Chess, but seeing his master get splattered enraged the grass ringo. He ran full speed at the fleeing suspect. Usini dropped her hammer and grabbed her magical axe to assist. Graze was much faster than the robber and caught up to him fast. Usini thought the loyal dog had him. To her surprise, the bandit turned, pulled something out of one of his bags, and threw it right at Graze. It looked like a balloon of some sort. The second the blobby sack hit Graze, it burst and covered the brave dog with transparent, shiny slime.
         
         "Oh no!" Usini shouted. She tried to chase the thief, but he burst through the doors and fled into Oldhills. Jazz, another friend of Chess's didn't know what was happening as the thief ran right past him. "Thief!" Usini shouted. Jazz glanced back and raised his scythe. Before he could cast an ice attack, the bandit threw another gooey balloon. Jazz tried to block it with his scythe, but it burst, and the goo drenched his arms. Before Usini could arrive, the thief was gone. Out of sight, disappeared. "Got away," she groaned.
         
         "What the freak is this stuff?" Jazz asked as he tried to wipe the slime off him.

         "Aw man! He got away!" Spade shouted as he struggled towards them. His shoes were covered in the mystery substance, leaving him incapable of running. Jazz and Usini looked annoyingly at Spade. He sheepishly grinned and shrugged. "Hey! Don't look at me! I was going where I was looking!" he said.

         "Forget it. Let's go see what happened," Usini said. The Hillanders ran back to Highhills. There, they saw Chess desperately trying to wipe the goo off his face. As he ran his hand through it, it stuck to him and he had to shake it off.

         "Yuck!" Jazz said. "What is that stuff?" Chess spit the slime out of his mouth and shook it off his hair. Then, he stopped and gave a surprised look. He licked the side of his lips and raised an eyebrow.

         "Hmmm. It's sweet," he said curiously. The friends were confused. Then, they all realized the slime actually smelled really good. Spade, being a bit of a bottom feeder, took some goo off his foot and licked it. The minute the slime touched his tongue, Spade's mouth twisted into a lip-smacking smile. It was indeed sweet, and he knew exactly what it was.

         "Sundew dew," Spade said slowly with a smile. Jazz and Usini looked at each other in bewilderment. Then, they heard a shout coming from the gate.

         "The Sundew Thief! He stole my lava flowers! Every last one of them!" It was the woman who was robbed. "By Berrimara. He even outwitted the Hillanders." Chess and the others stared at each other. Only the sound of Graze's whining over the goo on his feet was heard. Then, a strong, stern voice truly broke the silence.
         
         "It seems the Sundew Thief has struck our town." It was Contro, the Guardian of Strength. A guardian of the hills, and Chess's dad. Soon, Contro led the Hillanders to the notice board and showed them a rough sketch of a naturman masked by red bandanas. Writing on the post described the outlaw. "The Sundew Thief is a robber that breaks into people's homes and gardens to steal their most rare, valuable, and expensive plants," Contro explained to them. "He gets his name from his dew bombs, which stop pursuers in their tracks with the sweet, sticky substance. So far, he's stolen from twelve homes, but this is the first time he struck our town." The Hillanders were intrigued by the unusual robber.

         "That is really strange," Jazz said.

         "Tell me about it," Spade said as he continued to lick the dew off his fingers. Chess examined the description on the poster. The bounty wasn't all that high. Only 250 tokis. Still, there weren't any other wanted posters on the notice board. Perhaps this could be a decent thing to do today. Besides, he already had a plan to catch the robber.

         "I have an idea," Chess said to his friends. Everyone looked at him with bright, anxious eyes. Usini smiled and nodded.

         "That's great, Chess. We'll catch that thief together," she said.

         "Yeah! Let's get that yummy, sticky bandit!" Spade exclaimed, raising his dew-covered hand in the air. Jazz smirked and nodded. Chess gave a proud glance at Usini, which filled her with admiration. To her, he was the strongest, most incredible warrior in all of Lorstar. Chess then looked at Graze, who was still bothered by the goo sticking to him.

         "Say. Before we do that, why don't we get this goo off us?" Spade suggested.

         "Wait. Maybe Graze can track the thief from the scent of it," Jazz said.

         "No," Chess replied, finally flicking off the last of the goo on his face. "I have a better idea." Chess turned around and whistled for Graze to follow him. He must have been heading back to the crime scene. As his friends followed him, they flicked off the dew as well. Contro looked at the Hillanders as they walked away. Those young warriors have become much stronger over the years. Though he did not wish to show it, he was deeply impressed by their growth.

         The Hillanders followed Chess to the victim's house. The woman was still slightly shocked by the robbery. Chess slowly approached her, and she gave him a gentle smile.

         "Oh hello, Chess," she said calmly. "I saw you got splattered by that thief. I heard he stole from people of neighboring villages, but I never thought I'd be his next victim."

         "You said he stole your lava flowers, right?" Chess asked. "Could I see where they were?"

         "Certainly," the woman replied. She walked towards her house and Chess and Graze followed her. The Hillanders followed both of them, wondering what Chess was planning.

         "I wonder why he doesn't just let Graze follow the scent of honeydew," Spade said to them.
         
         "Graze is inexperienced at following the scents of plants," Chess explained. "There's something special about lava flowers, though, that might allow us to follow his trail." The group was led inside the woman's house. After leading them into her living room, she pointed at a spot where a ring on the floor indicated a pot once stood there.

         "That's where the flowers were," the woman said. "Are you aware of their attributes?"

         "Yes," Chess said. "In Spring and Summer, they solidify like rock and remain buds. In Fall and Winter, they soften and bloom, creating a lot of heat." Chess looked around the room. "What exactly occurred here?" he asked.

         "Well," the woman began. "I left for work, but realized I forgot my new energy potion. I quickly came home to retrieve it, and I heard commotion in this room. Before I knew it, there was a masked man with two bags standing in my living room. It took me a while to realize he stole my flowers." Chess listened intently at her explanation. Once she finished, he continued with another question.

         "Do you have any idea how he got inside?" he asked.

         "Oh yes," the woman moaned. "Over here." She led Chess and the others into her kitchen. There, in the middle of the wall, was a very large hole. Since most of the homes of Oldhills town were built into the great, dark green, grassy hills on the land, the thief could burrow into it through the walls. The woman sighed depressingly. "It's going to take forever to fill that ugly thing." Usini sympathized with the poor victim. She approached her and put her hands together to show respect and kindness.

         "I am so sorry this happened to you, ma'am," she said gently. "I promise my friends and I will catch that awful thief so he will no longer cause trouble to anyone else." The woman smiled at Usini. She looked more reassured after her kind words. Chess admired Usini's compassion. It was one of the things he loved most about her. She couldn't stand to see innocent people sad. It was her nature to express care. Chess always liked that. It touched his heart profoundly.

         Wanting to find more information, Chess looked down at where the lava flowers used to be. Looking closely with his grass green eyes, he noticed a dark red powder that seemed to leave a trail out of the house. "The flowers aren't producing pollen, but they were shedding their hardened buds due to being handled." Chess quickly turned and walked out the door, looking down at the ground, following the nearly invisible trail. "Follow me, guys," he said as he passed by his friends.

         "You heard him! Follow cabbage top!" Spade exclaimed. In response to that annoying nickname, Chess elbowed Spade in the side. Spade fell down in agony while the others sped past him. He quickly got up and ran to catch up with them. Chess followed the trail through the village with his friends and loyal Graze behind him. Finally, the walked through the gates of Oldhills, leading to the wilds.

         "You've got quite the eyes, Chess," Usini said.

         "Thanks, but I won't need to look closely for long," Chess said. Suddenly, Chess stopped, and his friends nearly bumped into him. He kneeled down and saw the trail was still fresh. Chess looked up at Usini. "Usini," he said. "Use your lightning on this spot right here. It should ignite the ash for a split second." Usini gave a reluctant stare, but Chess reassured her when he turned towards Jazz. "Jazz, follow us from behind. You'll extinguish the trail of fire when we pass it."

         "Flawless idea, Chess," Jazz said.

         "OK everyone. Stand back," Usini said firmly. As everyone stepped away, Usini charged a low power attack in the palm of her hand. there would be no need to use her axe for a small lightning spark. With a flick of her arm, she shot a burst of lightning at the ash on the ground. Instantly, there was a flash of light, and the ash burst into flames. Slowly, the fire trailed forward, traveling through the ground like a lit fuse from a stick of dynamite. Jazz quickly flung a handful of frost at the fire trailing towards the town. The other blaze trail was continuing to travel.

         "Oh boy," Spade said. "Follow the fuse? Smart."

         "Follow me," Chess directed. The Hillanders followed the blazing trail of lava flower ash. Hopefully, it will lead them to the notorious Sundew Thief. As they followed it, Jazz extinguished the blaze with his ice once they passed it. They wouldn't want it to spread. After about a mile of following the trail, the flare suddenly went upward and fizzled out. Everyone was confused as to what just happened.

         "What happened to the trail?" Usini wondered. The group looked around to find a reason for the loss of the blaze. Then, Spade saw something in the grassy terrain.

         "Bird footprints!" he said. "And they're huge." Indentations in the ground formed the shape of a predatory bird large enough to carry a person.

         "The Sundew Thief must have a loyal beast that helps him fly away," Chess said.

         "Now what?" Jazz asked as he extinguished the last of the blazing trail.

         "We keep searching for clues," Chess replied. "Come on. Let's go back to the victim's house. Perhaps we can gather more information."

         "Good plan. Obvious, but good," Spade chuckled. The group headed back to Highhills town to question the woman whose flowers were stolen. Chess knocked on the door and she quickly answered.

         "Oh. The Hillanders again," she said. "What happened?"

         "We lost the robber's trail," Chess said. "I was wondering if you could answer some questions so we could get some clues."

         "Yes. If you don't mind, we'd like some time to talk," Usini said.

         "Certainly," the woman said. "Anything to stop that bandit." Chess thought for a few seconds about what he should ask. It didn't take him long to decide on what to ask.

         "How long have you had those flowers?" he asked.

         "Not very long," the woman replied. "I just bought them at an exotic plant shop yesterday." Chess's eyes widened a bit with intrigue.

         "Where is this shop?" he asked.

         "In a tiny village northwest of Featherstone," the woman answered. "It's an outdoor shop and it's very large. You can't miss it." Chess nodded.

         "Alright. Thanks," he said. Chess quickly turned around and his friends followed him.

         "Next stop, the plant shop?" Jazz asked.

         "Yes. Perhaps we can find clues there. I have a hunch that shop is where the bandit picks his targets," Chess explained.

         "You sure are smart, Chess," Usini said. "We'll help you find information once we get there."

         "Thanks," Chess said. The friends traveled through the pathways of the wilds to the many villages of Rown. The western regions are mostly plains, so traveling through them is easy. Moving northwest, they passed by Featherstone and looked around for the village with the plant shop. After ten minutes of walking, they made their way onto a hill.

         "Shouldn't be far now," Usini said. Graze ran ahead of everyone and stopped on the edge of the hill. The dog began to sniff at the ground. Chess noticed this and realized Graze found something.

         "What is it, boy?" Chess asked. He stepped towards Graze, then a gross squishy sound was heard. Chess looked down and saw he stepped in a shiny blob of dew.

         "More dew?" Spade asked. Chess lifted his foot and shook the gooey clear substance off his shoe. "Looks like the bandit has been here. Graze looked up at Chess, urgently wagging his tail.

         "Do you pick up an interesting scent, boy?" Chess asked. Graze then looked upwards and walked around in a circle. "Go boy! Go!" Chess ordered. On command, Graze ran northwest.

         "Follow that dog!" Jazz said as the friends chased after Graze. In only 30 seconds, they came across a small village of floraliens. The scent of the plant people's flowers was so pleasant the group was soothed in body and mind instantly.

         "Mmmm," Usini sighed. "Floraliens sure have a wonderous scent. It's so soothing."

         "It is," Chess said. "But unfortunately, it hinders Graze's sense of smell. Tracking scents will be useless here."

         "Well that's a shame," Spade said. "Hey look!" he said pointing to the left. "That must be the plant shop!" Sure enough, right where Spade was pointing there were potted plants of all shapes and sizes. Most looked extremely rare and exotic. The group hurried over to the shop. Floraliens were tending to the valuable plants with the utmost care.

         "I wonder what this shop has to do with the Sundew Thief," Usini wondered.

         "We'll ask around. The employees might be able to offer us some clues," Chess said. "Keep your senses sharp for anything suspicious, guys."

         "Right!" the Hillanders cheered. Instantly, the group spread out to question the employees and customers. Any information they find could be useful for catching the notorious Sundew Thief. Spade spotted a rather attractive employee happily watering large pitcher plants. Those bug catchers could easily defend a person's land from vermin. Adjusting his scarf to look nice and handsome, Spade confidently walked up to the lovely floralien woman. The flowery woman looked at Spade curiously.

         "Hello sir," she said. "How may I help you?" Spade gave a friendly smirk and crossed his arms.

         "First of all, you wear some nice attire," Spade said flirtatiously. "Second, my pals and I are searching for info on the Sundew Bandit." The young woman sighed and shook her head from Spade's compliment, but her expression turned serious when he brought up the thief.

         "That no good thief?" she asked. "Well, if you're really looking for him, I'll do what I can to help."

         "Sweet," Spade said. "We think the bandit is targeting people who shop here. Have you seen anything unusual or suspicious around lately?" The flowery woman thought for a moment, then her eyes widened.

         "Well, sometimes in the evening, around 6:00 pm, I can hear rustling noises in those bushes over there," she said pointing to a couple large shrubs. Spade realized that was the hill they had just stepped off. The area Chess found more of that dew. "I tried looking over there once, but I saw nothing but bushes," the young woman continued. Then, she looked closer at the shrubs. "Strange. I could've sworn they were thicker last time I saw them." Spade's eyes lit up. That hill must have been where the thief spied on the shop. He must hide there in the evening to pick out his next victim.

         "Hmm. That info could be useful," Spade said. "Thanks, sweetie. I'll inform my friends." The woman sighed and shook her head as Spade walked away.

         Chess and Jazz looked for employees to question about the thief. They both came across a floralien man carrying a bag of mulch. They looked at each other and nodded. As they approached, the worker put down the bag and began scooping mulch out of it, feeding the frost ferns in the pots in front of him.

         "I could use some of those right about now," Jazz said to Chess. "If this summer gets any hotter, I think I'm gonna melt." Chess and Jazz approached the man, who immediately looked surprised when he saw them.

         "Chess the Iron Horn and Jazz the Phantom," he said. "What brings you boys to my shop?"

         "You're the owner, huh?" Chess said. "My friends and I are trying to find the Sundew Thief. The clues brought us to this shop. We believe the thief is targeting your customers." The manager gasped and dropped his small shovel.

         "That fiend has been targeting OUR customers?" he asked angrily. "How callous! If only I had known somehow."

         "Don't blame yourself for any of this," Chess said. "We'd like to know more about the shop. Perhaps we could learn more about how the bandit operates."

         "Ask away, my friend," the manager said. "I'd be glad to help any way I can."

         "Thanks," Chess said. "First of all, I can tell most of these plants are very expensive. Do you have guards protecting them after hours?"

         "Absolutely," the manager answered. "We close around 10:00 pm. That's when the guards arrive to protect our garden." Chess looked at Jazz.

         "I doubt, the thief would try to steal the plants when the guards are here," Chess said.

         "Must be why he's targeting customers," Jazz agreed.

         "Oh! Now that I think of it," the manager said. "Every so often I see a large cloud vulture soaring above our shop. I assumed it must have a nest nearby, but this one time I thought I saw it wearing a bandage on its leg." Chess and Jazz were interested by this mention.

         "Cloud vultures are enormous but docile," Jazz said. "They can easily be tamed and ridden."

         "Hmm. I wonder..." Chess said calmly. Graze tapped his hip with his nose, and Chess pet his loyal canine in response. "Yeah, boy. We're gaining some interesting info."

         Usini looked around for an employee to speak to. All the while admiring the wonderful plants. Especially the flowers. They were all so lovely. Behind some half-grown sunflowers, Usini spotted an employee sitting in a chair listening to a radio. The young floralien man was about her age and looked very relaxed. More like lazy.

         "Excuse me, sir," Usini said.

         "Hey, girl," the lazy guy said. "What're you looking for?"

         "Information," Usini answered. "My friends and I have reason to believe this shop was targeted by Sundew Thief." The floralien man's eyes widened for a second, then he gave a look of confusion and smirked.

         "Sorry to say, sweetie, but I know nothing about that crud," he said in an arrogant tone. "Now, if you like, I can show you some of our loveliest products." Usini squinted and gritted her teeth. This guy's attitude was bugging her, but she still had to work. Then, she realized something odd about what he said. Usini leaned forward and glared at him.

         "Are you sure you don't know anything about the Sundew Thief?" she asked slowly. The arrogant teen shook his head and shrugged.

         "Sorry, sweetie. Never heard of such a thing. If you're not here to buy our marvelous products, please leave me to my work," he said calmly. Usini sighed and walked away. Work? All that guy was doing was listening to the radio. He seemed like the perfect picture of a slacker. Still, what he said was quite interesting. She'll have to tell her friends.

         The Hillanders regrouped under a tree next to the shop, discussing what they found out. Once they all revealed their findings, it didn't take long to put the pieces together.

         "From what we discovered, my thoughts and predictions are as follows," Chess said. "This guy watches customers purchase rare and valuable plants from up that hill."

         "Yeah, yeah," Spade said. "And chances are he uses that cloud vulture to follow his targets home. Then he steals from them in their own home."

         "Well, knowing all that," Jazz said with a pause. "The best course of action is to wait near that spy's spot to catch him in the act."

         "That's a great idea," Usini said. "But first, I'd like to tell you guys about something odd one of the employees said to me." Everyone turned towards Usini, eager to hear her tale.

         "Get this, guys," she said. "I asked some lazy slacker of an employee if he knew anything at all about the Sundew Thief, and he said he didn't know anything. Nothing at all." At first the guys were disappointingly surprised by what Usini said, but Chess and Jazz realized it was odd. Spade, however, remained disappointed.

         "Uhh...Usini. I hate to tell you this, but that isn't the least bit as odd as I was hoping," he said shaking his head.

         "That is weird, though," Jazz said scratching his chin.

         "What? What's weird about it?" Spade asked. Chess looked off towards the shop. In the distance, the sun was starting to descend into the horizon.

         "All the employees and even some customers knew of the thief," Chess said. "So, either that guy is an extraordinary slack off that has no attention span whatsoever, or he doesn't want to give any information." Spade's eyes lit up, understanding Chess's point. He nodded and smirked confidently.

         "That's not all," Usini said. "I talked to the manager about him. He told me that guy may have been a slacker, but he made up for it by supplying them with many rare plants they either ran out of or were low on. He even sells them for half the price they're usually worth. Sounds suspicious, right?" Chess nodded.

         "Indeed," he said. "It's strange the employees didn't suspect him, but I guess his offerings were too tempting to arouse suspicion."

         "Yeah, cabbage top," Spade said. "That guy might be worth-OW!" Spade yelped when Chess knocked him on the head lightly with his mace.

         "There's also another thing," Chess said. "I think I know how to hinder this thief's signature gimmick." He turned to Usini and Jazz. "You two will need to team up for this plan. It'll take a lot of magic." Usini and Jazz smiled confidently, determined to capture the thief.

         "OK, Chess," Usini said. "Tell us your plan and we'll follow it the best we can." Chess nodded, and with all his friends and loyal ringo giving him their full attention, he explained the plan that would defeat the Sundew Thief. They talked for a full hour discussing the plan. Then, after retrieving their needed items from their magic sacks, everyone took their positions and awaited the arrival of the thief.

         Chess and Graze hid in a patch of very long grass near the hill they believed the thief will spy. Jazz and Usini hid under a tree, keeping their eyes on the sky. Spade kept his violet eyes on the suspicious employee, which was proving to be torturously boring. Spade rolled his eyes as he watched the slacking floralien work with very little effort. Spade always thought floraliens were graceful, beautiful, and gracious. This guy was proof you can't judge a person by their race.

         It was now 6:00 pm and the sky was turning dark and gloomy. Spade was getting irritated. However, when he saw the suspected floralien walk towards the manager, he focused his hearing to see what was occurring.

         "It's six, boss," the slacker said. "Can I go now?"

         "Sure, sure, Lushawn," the managed sighed. "Go ahead." Without saying anything else, Lushawn pranced away with a wide, satisfied smirk. Spade did not lose sight of him as he ran close to where the hill was. Staying hidden, Spade saw Lushawn stop prancing and look around. Then, the floralien pulled out a magic sack and retrieved a very large leaf. Spade's eyes widened. He could tell that was no ordinary leaf. Sure enough, Lushawn pulled out a vial of water and poured it on the leaf. In a matter of seconds, the leaf grew into a large, hollow shrub. Lushawn snickered and carried the mobile bush towards the ledge. Halfway there, the sneaky floralien began to crawl towards the hill, hiding himself with the shrub on top of him, peeking through the branches to see the customers.

         "Got him," Spade whispered to Chess. "That's gotta be him." Chess looked at Spade and shook his head.

         "Not yet," Chess whispered to his friend, sending his voice across the field. "We must be certain. Stick with the plan and be patient."

         "OK, OK, pal," Spade moaned. "Just wish there was a way to speed this up. I'm deathly bored right now." Suddenly, the two friends heard Lushawn's bush rustle. From the angle he was looking, Chess could make out slight movements inside the shrub. He looked towards the shop and saw someone purchasing one of those jug-sized pitcher plants. Chess knew those insect slayers were worth hundreds of tokis. They cost as much as a modest bed. He looked back at the hidden floralien and saw he was holding some kind of tube. He stuck one end in his mouth and eyed the man purchasing the pitchers. Chess heard an inhale, then saw Lushawn spit something out of the blow tube that splattered the pitcher's pot unnoticed. Whatever he shot, it was very shiny, reflecting the light of the setting sun like a mirror. The customer then finished his payment and carried off his prized purchase. Once he left the sheltered roofs of the shop, Chess heard a whistle coming from Lushawn's hiding spot. Graze then growled lowly and looked up at the sky.

         "Yo, Chess! Look!" Spade whispered excitedly. The two friends looked at the sky and saw what looked like a fast-moving cloud. When looking closer, however, they could make out two white, skinny bird legs and a large, bright beak. They immediately knew this gliding mass of white was actually a cloud vulture. A very large, docile scavenger bird that was known for its impressive camouflage. When gliding effortlessly through the air, people often mistaken the giant bird for a cloud. Its puffy, white wings looked like cotton balls. It was actually quite comical. Spade couldn't help but lightly chuckle. Chess kept his eyes on the bird and realized it was leisurely following the buyer. He realized the bird was being guided by the shiny speck Lushawn shot on the pot. As the joyful naturman was happily carrying his treasured new plant, he was blissfully unaware of the clouded bird slowly following him. Chess then turned his attention back to Lushawn, who looked like he was getting ready to leave. He was crawling away from his perch, and he took off his shrub disguise. He shook the bush roughly and all the leaves came off it. The sneaky floralien then walked off. Chess knew what had to be done now. He turned towards Jazz and Usini and gave them a look that signaled their start in pursuit. Usini nodded, and she and Jazz began to stealthily follow the cloud vulture, making sure to stay unnoticed. Chess and Spade then began to follow Lushawn.

         By this time, the sun had set completely, and night was upon the land. Chess and Spade followed the suspicious Lushawn through the fields. It was easy to remain unnoticed in the dark of night. Soon, they found themselves in a dense, sickly forest with many dead trees. It was odd Lushawn had led them here.

         "What? Does he live here?" Spade wondered. "This doesn't seem like much of a good place to settle down."

         "I don't think that's it," Chess said. "Perhaps he's here for something else." Taking cover behind trees as they moved through the woods, Chess and Spade wondered where their prime suspect was headed. Suddenly, a surprising sight came into view. There, in a large clearing of the forest, was a massive plant with tentacles topped with sticky, shiny, transparent dew. Chess immediately knew exactly what it was. It was a titan sundew. Like ordinary sundews, it produced sticky, shiny dew that made its red tentacles seem jewel-like. Unlike most sundews, however, it was not carnivorous. Its dew was a defense against dry weather. Whenever rain came, the dew would melt to the ground and allow the sundew to absorb extra nutrition from the soil. Sometimes it would absorb so many nutrients neighboring plants had little for themselves. This was likely the reason why so many trees in this forest were dead.

         "Sick," Spade muttered. "Totally sick." In Spade's eyes, this beautiful sundew was nothing but an ugly menace to the environment. He and Chess now observed Lushawn pull out a large red sack and collect blobs of dew from the jewel-like vegetation. He wrapped every blob of dew he picked in a covering of cloth.

         "He's crafting them into bombs," Chess whispered to Spade. After ten minutes of making dew bombs, Lushawn set down the sack and pulled out two red bandanas. Spade and Chess were witnessing a man's transformation from an ordinary citizen into an infamous thief. Lushawn tied the bandanas around his face and head, covering his floralien flower growths. Spade looked over at Chess with a thrilled grin. The boys knew they had found the Sundew Thief's identity. Now they needed to capture him. All they had to do now was wait for the right moment to strike. That will not be for a while, though. for now, they had to meet up with their friends.

         "We've got him now, Chess," Spade said eagerly as they quietly left the forest. "All we have to do now is wait till he strikes next."

         "And Jazz and Usini will help us find that out," Chess said. "Together we'll catch him and bring him to justice." Soon, the Hillanders regrouped under the light of the blue crescent moon and countless stars. They were ready to put their plan into action. "So, did you follow the cloud vulture to the targeted location?" Chess asked Usini and Jazz.

         "Yes," Jazz confirmed. "It's actually in Oldhills town. Talk about lucky, huh?" Chess was pleasantly surprised. That was lucky. Who would have thought the Sundew Thief's next target was their own little town?

         "I guess there's only one thing to do now," Usini said.

         "Yes. Go home, and await the Sundew Thief," Chess said. "Everyone, take positions in the town, and keep your eyes peeled for any stealth actions."

         "Right!" the group cheered. With midnight fast approaching, the Hillanders quickly headed to their modest town of Oldhills to prepare for the capture.

         "Remember what you guys have to do," Chess said to Usini and Jazz.

         "With our magic combined, we'll hinder his escape perfectly," Jazz assured.

         "Can we take a nap, first?" Spade asked with a yawn. The other three looked at him annoyed. Even Graze looked bothered by his comment. "Just asking," Spade muttered. The friends, no longer needing to be stealthy, raced back home as fast hares.

         The next morning, as the sun climbed into the sky, Chess slept in the orchard of Oldhills. Usini slept behind the supermarket, slowly awakening from the sunlight hitting her eyes. Jazz, having the midnight shadow genetic trait, only slept until 3:00 am, fully relaxed. Spade, on the other hand, was unfazed by the sunlight shining on the town. While Chess slowly opened his eyes, Spade's remained closed. Slightly annoyed by his good friend sleeping through the light, Chess knocked him on the forehead like a door. Spade moaned and swatted away Chess's hand.

         "Good morning to you, too, buddy," Spade said. He shook his head to snap out of his grogginess and looked back towards the town. "So, I wonder when that rotten thief will come to take the pitcher plant."

         "Patience is a part of life," Chess said calmly. "The best of things are worth waiting for. It is a benefit more must appreciate and understand." Spade smiled at his friend's deep, poetic words. He always loved Chess's deep, enchanting sayings. Even a somewhat haughty, fun loving guy like him appreciated the calm of a good poem.

         The Hillanders were fully awake at 6:00 am. Now all they had to do was wait for the Sundew Thief to arrive at the targeted location. Hours passed, but the friends were not weary in the slightest. Suddenly, Usini noticed something strange about the clouds. They were moving unusually fast. She looked more closely, and sure enough, noticed a couple of bird legs dangling from the feathery fluff.

         "The vulture," Usini mouthed quietly to Jazz. He looked up and saw the cloud bird gliding in a circle around the town. Chess and Spade noticed it too, and quickly Chess tried to find its eyes. Moving closer, he strained his eyes and finally spotted the vulture's sky-blue eyes. Chess walked towards a nearby house and suddenly heard what sounded like digging. It was coming from the hill he was standing next to. He knew the bandit entered a home by burrowing into it. With the Oldhills homes, that would be effortless. Graze ran to his side and started growling. Chess looked down at him and nodded.

         "I know, boy. I believe it's time," he said. Chess looked over at Usini and Jazz, giving a silent signal it was time to move forward with their plan. Usini and Jazz nodded and ran off to the town gates. It was now time to use some very special magic. Chess looked at Spade, and the two friends wordlessly understood what to do next. Soon, the homeowner came out his front door and began to walk off. When the man was about ten feet away from his house, a loud bird call sounded in the sky. Chess and Spade looked up and saw the cloud vulture fly away. The shadow it cast over the land drifted away.

         "Signal made," Spade said. "Now for the big reveal." He ran off the hill and pursued the homeowner. Catching up to him, Spade began to speak. Chess waited patiently as he saw them talk. The man's expression went from confusion to shock. Spade then stepped aside as the man hurried back to his home. He unlocked the door and entered the home. Spade grinned with anticipation while Chess waited calm and composed. In a matter of seconds, sounds of commotion were heard inside the home. Yelling, crashing, and several knocks and thumps. Suddenly, one of the house's windows crashed and the Sundew Thief emerged. His red bandanas and massive sacks signified it.

         "Help!" the homeowner shouted. "He robbed me! He robbed me!" Spade and Chess immediately pursued the fleeing thief. Meanwhile, near the village gates, Usini and Jazz were conjuring an unusual spell naturman don't normally cast. All they had to do was wait for the thief to break through the gates. Summoning the magic within two aqua-colored crystals, they wielded their weapons to prepare for the unleashing of the trap. Chess, Spade, and Graze chased the bandit. As they did, the thief threw multiple blobs of dew. The warriors would not fall for that same trick again, though. They dodged them perfectly. Ducking, turning, and jumping out of the way. The robber was becoming nervous.

         Finally, the absconding thief burst through the town gates. The instant he stepped on the ground outside the gate, an enormous geyser of water erupted beneath him. The bandit screamed as he was thrashed upward by the stream. Usini and Jazz looked on gleefully.

         "He is soaked!" Usini cheered. The Sundew Thief, now completely wet, plummeted to the ground with a loud splash. One of his sacks started to reduce in size. The dew was dissolving because of the water. The bandit gasped and attempted to stand. In doing so, his bandanas fell off, revealing his true identity. The all too familiar face of the shameful slacker Lushawn was now visible to the Hillanders.

         "Oh what? What happened? I'm not.....I gotta....you don't get...." The young floralien mumbled as he struggled to regain his senses. When his vision cleared, he saw the Hillanders standing over him. Usini, Jazz, and Spade smirked at him. Lushawn gulped and tried to back away. "Ehhhh....hey.....you all don't seriously think-." Before Lushawn could finish his sentence, Chess got behind him and tied his hands behind his back with rope.

         "It's time for you to pay for your crimes, Sundew Thief," Chess said. "Time to turn you into the guardians." Lushawn moaned as the flower petals on his head dripped soggily.

         "Aw man..." The Hillanders dragged the thief to Highhills Town to inform the guardians of the victorious capture. A couple hours later, soldiers from the Black Garden Prison arrived to take the thief into custody. The guards were impressed with Chess and his friends' success.

         "You lot may be young, but you did a fine job catching this thief," one guard said.

         "We never would have guessed he was such a nonchalant guy," another commented. Chess and his friends nodded. Chess approached the guard and was given a small sack of tokis. The bounty for the petty thief. He and his friends peeked inside. Though there was not much, it was worth the effort and adventure. The lead captain and Chess shook hands to show respect and gratitude.

         "Chess, you and your friends have done so much for our precious country," the captain said. "Keep up your acts of good. No matter how small or great the acts, they are always deeply appreciated."

         "Thank you, sir," Chess said politely.

         "No, no. Thank you, lad," the captain insisted. The soldiers shoved Lushawn into a cage on a carriage pulled by two large emus. Slowly, they wheeled away the thief and headed for Black Garden Prison. Contro and the other guardians looked at Chess and the others. They all stared silently. Then, Contro simply turned around and walked into the temple without saying a word. The guardians followed behind him, leaving Chess and his friends alone. They all were slightly disappointed Contro didn't acknowledge Chess.

         "Your welcome," Spade said quietly. The friends gathered around to split the bounty fairly between them. Dividing the 250 tokis, each of the four of them received 60, leaving ten left over to donate to the poor. After that, they walked the short walk back to Oldhills.

         "Well, that was a nice little crook, catching adventure," Jazz said.

         "Yeah," Spade said. "Now, I think I'm gonna go have breakfast. I'm starving like a bear fresh out of hibernation!" The fun-loving naturman briskly walked towards the caf Jazz then turned around towards the north.

         "I'll be tending to my garden if you need me," he said before walking away. Chess and Usini watched as their friends left to continue their day themselves. They then looked at each other, gazing deeply. Usini's aqua eyes connected with Chess's grass green ones. His intensely calm, composed, and strong expression charmed her, making her smile. Graze panted heavily as he looked up at them, seemingly waiting for their lips to touch again. Usini shyly glanced away for a few seconds, then looked at Chess in the eyes again.

         "So, what do you want to do now, Chess?" she asked him innocently. Chess stared at her calmly, then sighed. He reached for her hand and held it gently.

         "Emeralda River?" he asked. The strong naturman's grip on her hand made Usini's spirit brim with joy and love. Every time he touched her it felt heavenly. Usini leaned towards his toned arm and nodded.

         "That would be wonderful," she said in a sweet, loving tone. "Let's go, Chess." So, the couple headed to the northern gates to head to Emeralda River. Chess may not have shown it, but he was eager to have some alone time with his precious Usini. He'd been so busy, but even a serious person like him knows everyone needs rest once in a while. Remembering their accomplishments and good times, Chess thought to himself,

         "Life is good."

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