Jimmy heaved out a breath, his red paws aching just a little from having climbed the path leading up the temple. He usually prized himself for his stamina, but after his journey, he assumed it was only natural to feel an ache. The long, winding paths were unlike the forests of Mystery Island, where he had lived with other Kougras of his kind. And, back home, there definitely hadn't been any bridges to cross, hanging high above an abyss.
As it turned out, the Lunar Temple was even more magnificent up close. It was a construction that seemed quite foreign to him, like most buildings in Shenkuu. Not that the foreignity of it bothered him. In fact, now more than ever, Jimmy wanted to explore the mysteries inside of it. Imagine all the hidden information he might find!
Almost vibrating with excitement, he reached forward to knock on the door, which loomed over him in its greatness.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, the door creaked open. Jimmy had expected to see someone on the other side, there to greet him, but the space in front of him appeared entirely empty. And dark.
Jimmy looked at it a while longer, as though the image in front of him would change. Even as hesitation gnawed at him, his paws dragged him over the threshold. Though as soon as he touched the temple floor, a familiar bearded individual blocked his path. In shock, Jimmy stumbled back.
"I know you," Jimmy blurted out, not allowing the wise Gnorbu a chance to speak. Remembering his manners, he added a sheepish, "Er, hello."
"Greetings, young Kougra. Welcome to the Lunar Temple." The wise Gnorbu peered at him. His gaze was calculative. "Here I maintain the official lunar calendar for Shenkuu. Are you ready for your challenge?"
"Ah, you do not know which challenge I speak of?"
"I can't say I do…" Jimmy admitted, apprehensive.
"Do you think you have what it takes to accurately track the movements of Kreludor?"
"Er… I suppose."
"Excellent." The old Gnorbu's eyes sparkled; he was evidently pleased.
"But I… No disrespect, but I just wanted to look around for a bit, hoping to explore the Lunar Temple. I've travelled from far to get here, you see… I don't think I'm qualified enough for the challenge. Is it absolutely necessary to pass this test of yours?"
"I'm afraid it is of utmost importance."
"I guess I'll have to take a shot, then," Jimmy grumbled, more than a little disappointed with his change of plans. "So, where is this challenge?"
"It is right here, with me at all times," the wise Gnorbu said, reaching into his satchel to retrieve a scroll of some sort. He rolled it open, allowing Jimmy a peek.
There was a chart at the top: Kreludor and Neopia, both drawn onto the parchment. Below that, Jimmy found himself looking at multiple phases of Kreludor. Altogether, the circles didn't make a lot of sense. His confusion must have shown on his face, because the old Gnorbu spoke up.
''I pose you the question: which phase of Kreludor would most likely be seen from Neopia? Choose your answer from the diagrams below.''
''That's… Rather difficult, isn't it?''
''Not for those who have studied the lunar chart.''
''And you want me to pass this,'' Jimmy stated, incredulous. Even now he knew what was expected of him, the circles were still a puzzling mess.
''I do indeed, young Kougra. I do indeed.''
''Why, exactly?'' Jimmy pressed.
The Gnorbu didn't answer. He stroked his beard silently.
Jimmy sighed, shrugging. "You know what? I'll go for it. Maybe it's easier than it looks."
Knowing he would have to go through with it, Jimmy focused all of his attention on the scroll, studied it, and let his mind wander to possible solutions.
Choice two seemed about right. Maybe. Though, come to think of it, choice eleven could very well be the answer too… Why were there so many to choose from? The more he looked at it, the less it was starting to make sense. It only resulted in a headache, if he were being honest.
It didn't help that the Gnorbu was watching him intently, like he knew of his inner conflict.
Jimmy tried flipping over the parchment, hoping for some kind of clue, but it was to no avail. Then he folded it, unfolded it, but no clue revealed itself. He even attempted to mimic magical gibberish, which was the worst idea he'd had so far.
All those different phases… He couldn't even begin to figure out the right choice.
The chart seemed to laugh at his misery.
Perhaps the wise Gnorbu had aimed to make him fall into a pit of insanity. If so, he was certainly doing a good job at it. Jimmy could feel the irritation spark inside him.
''Can I at least get a hint or something? Or is that against the rules?''
''No hints,'' the wise Gnorbu merely told him. "There are no hints when it comes to knowledge."
''I really cannot solve this without a clue," Jimmy insisted. The old Gnorbu didn't even pretend to show pity. Annoyed, he added, "I've already wasted a lot of time… There isn't a time limit, right?"
"I have the rest of the day at my disposal. Time is of no matter."
''At this rate, we'll be standing here until nightfall…''
''One cannot hurry when it comes to knowledge, young Kougra. You will find the answer by logic. Let your thoughts flow, let them choose for you.''
Jimmy felt like begging would be futile at this point. At his wit's end, he pointed his paw at a random answer. ''Eleven. This is the one," he said flatly, as he tried not to burst into anger.
He hoped it would mollify the Gnorbu enough to grant him passage.
But instead of letting him inside, the wise Gnorbu only clapped his hands together, shaking his head sadly.
"I'm sorry, that is incorrect. Keep studying the lunar chart and try again tomorrow. Here is a consolation prize for your efforts."
Out of his satchel, he took a bag of Neo Crackers, dangling it right in front of Jimmy's face.
"A consolation prize?" Jimmy scrunched up his nose, his patience now wearing thin. "What — No! — I do not want a consolation prize! And, most of all, I do not want to try again tomorrow! I only want to go inside the Shenkuu Lunar Temple!''
''Which we want most, will come to us in time,'' came the reply.
There was something like dread that filled the space between them.
The Kougra was close to desperate at this point. ''I do not need any wise words. Can you let me inside? Please? Listen, I'll even take the challenge again if it's that important to you. I'm a willing participant.''
The wise Gnorbu smiled a little, a distant look in his eyes, as though he was hardly listening anymore. He stepped forward, and Jimmy instinctively took a step back, away from the threshold.
"Hey — what —"
"You may only attempt my challenge once per day. Please try again tomorrow!"
And the door slammed shut.