The Phoenix and Mews



            “All right!” Genki shouted.  “Look out Phoenix, cause here we come!”


            “We’re going to find the Phoenix this time, chi!”


            “I don’t know, Holly,” Suezo muttered.  “That bridge doesn’t look to sturdy to me.”


            He was right; the bridge Holly’s Magic Stone had pointed across didn’t look very sturdy.  It was a simple rope bridge, with wooden planks to walk across. However, some of the planks were missing, and it looked like someone had taken a bite out of most of the planks that remained.


            “C’mon, Suezo!” Genki exclaimed, drawing my attention away from the bridge.  He was practically glowing with excitement.  “We’ve got to cross it to find the Phoenix and beat Moo!”


            Suezo fixed him with an exasperated stare.  “Don’t you ever get even just a little less enthusiastic?”


            “Nope, not me,” Genki said with a grin.  “I’m Mr. Energy!”


            My name is Thorn, and I was trying to think of some way to ask about the Wubbles.  Even though I had already admitted I didn’t know what the Wubbles were...


            And if I wasn’t still thinking about the Wubbles, even when we were so close to finding the Phoenix, I wouldn’t be Thorn.


            I heard a gleeping sound from above, and looked up.  The Metalners’ spaceship had begun flying in lazy circles around the volcano.  After chasing down a crazed Loveseeker that had a crush on Tiger (who looks very funny in a tuxedo, by the way), we brought it back to its shipmate, Metazorl.  Metazorl managed to fix it, and got it to move their spaceship out of our way.  Now all we had to do was find the Phoenix, and the two Metalners would give us a ride out of the volcano.


            What would the Phoenix be like when we found it, anyway?  Would it be all serious and noble and stuff like that?  Or would it be just like a regular person, but with legendary powers?


            “C’mon, people!” Genki shouted, looking ready to burst.  Then again, I couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t looked ready to burst.  Maybe he really would explode if he didn’t use up all his energy...  “Let’s go let’s go let’s go!”


            He grabbed Mocchi, who reacted with a startled “chi!” and dashed across the bridge, which wobbled dangerously under his feet. At one point, I thought it was about to flip over.  He reached the other side just fine, though, and jumped up and down in impatience.  “C’mon, people, work with me!  We’ll never find the Phoenix if you stand there all day!”


            Hare shrugged, looking back at all of us.  “Well, shall we go?”  He slowly started across the bridge, clinging tightly to the rope on one side, and the others followed tentatively after him.


            I started forward, then stopped.  Big Blue and Golem were hanging back.  Holly noticed, too.


            “Golem, what’s wrong?” she asked.


            “Golem may be too heavy, Holly,” Golem answered slowly, turning form her to look nervously across the bridge.  “You go first.  I will follow.”


            She started off across the bridge while I waited to hear what Big Blue had to say.  Pixie was still perched on his shoulder.


            As I watched, she jumped off him and opened her wings, hovering beside him.  “Will you be alright, Blue?”


            Big Blue nodded, and Pixie beat her wings, flying above the bridge.  I gave a mental shrug, then wracked my brain for something stupid to ask about as I started after the others.  I had to keep up my reputation, now, didn’t I?  For some reason, I couldn’t seem to think of anything.  My thoughts kept drifting back to the Golems.  I tried to convince myself that they wouldn’t have any problems, even if the bridge was shaking a little more than it should.


            “Why does everyone always say not to look down?” I asked suddenly, looking down.  It was actually sort of pretty, in the way fire is pretty: you know it can hurt you if you get too close, but it’s fascinating to watch.  And what was below us was liquid fire.  Even if it was very, very far below us... “Especially since whenever somebody says ‘don’t look down’, most people instantly do?”


            “Why did you have to remind us?” Suezo groaned.  He had stopped moving, and was staring fixedly with his single eye at the lava below us.  Too far below us for any comfort...


            I shook that thought away.  I had just gotten Suezo scared, and for no good reason, too.  “Sorry, Suezo,” I apologized.  “I guess I should think before I say stuff like that.”  I put an arm around him.  He seemed to have gone rigid with fear.  “C’mon.  It isn’t too far to the other side.”


            I started walking slowly, coaxing Suezo along with me.  Holly looked back before long and came over to help, encouraging him.  Soon we had made it across, and Suezo breathed a sigh of relief.


            I turned to watch the other side of the bridge, where Golem was taking his first nervous steps onto the bridge.  The moment after he had done so, Big Blue stepped up and gripped the ropes, along with the supports that held them.


            At least that way the ropes would stay up for him...but who was going to do the same for Big Blue?


            Everything seemed to be going fine until he passed the middle of the bridge.  Then the supports on our side began to strain forward.  With each step Golem took, they inched closer and closer to flying out of the ground entirely.


            “C’mon, Golem...” Genki said quietly, looking from his friend to the creaking supports, then back again.  “You’re almost there...”


            He was almost there, only five steps away from us...four...three...


            Then suddenly Golem was falling backwards, arms flailing as he tried to grab onto the ledge.  He only managed to grab onto the ropes of the bridge.  The supports were flying after him, pulled downward by his weight.


            I desperately searched within me for any sort of power that would help, but the only thing I came up with was an umbrella.  For a spilt second I wondered if that could have been the least bit useful.  I didn’t think so.  So I did the stupid heroic thing.


            I jumped forward and just managed to grab one of the supports.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Genki do the same beside me.  The two of us were only dragged forward.  We didn’t even seem to have slowed it down.


            I was hanging halfway over the ledge when I felt someone else grab onto my legs.  Before I realized what was happening, I had stopped moving forward and was now being pulled backward.  Slowly, very slowly, I was dragged back onto the ledge.  Once I was on solid ground again, I looked back to see the others in two chains, holding on to me and Genki as we held the bridge steady.


            Golem hurried to get across as soon as he was sure the bridge was stable.  Once there, he took the supports from us, and the chains collapsed into a bunch of tired monsters and humans.  Then Golem nodded to Big Blue, and he started across.


            He had gone only a few steps when the supports on his side cracked.  Big Blue gripped the ropes, braced himself, and waited.  By some miracle the supports held.  Maintaining his death grip on the ropes, Big Blue carefully began to edge along the bridge again.


            That was when the supports gave way.


            Golem slid forward as he became the only thing holding up the bridge and Big Blue.  The bridge fell, then swung to our side, with Big Blue still clinging to it.  There was a crash, and I felt the ground shudder violently beneath me.  Big Blue had crashed into the side of our ledge.  The bridge was now hanging straight downward, more like a rope ladder than a bridge.


            I watched anxiously as Big Blue shook his head, got reoriented with his surroundings, then began steadily hauling himself upwards.


            “Why is it that whenever anything bad happens, it always happens when we’re least expecting it?  And how come we always have to do something really difficult to get through it?  And why do we always manage to pull through by the narrowest of margins?”


            I don’t think Pixie even heard me.  Big Blue had just managed to clamber onto solid ground, and she was too busy trying to let him know how glad she was that he was safe without any of us noticing.  She succeeded, too.  Well, they did say practice made perfect...who were “they”, anyway?


            “Okay, gang!” Genki shouted, leaping up as though he hadn’t been just as tired as the rest of us a moment before.  “Let’s go!”


            He took off on his rollerblades, but hadn’t gotten far before Holly looked up from her magic stone.  “Uh, Genki?  The Phoenix is that way...”


            She pointed in the opposite direction, and Genki tripped.


            “Alright, then!” he shouted, getting up just as quickly.  “Let’s go!”  He took off again, this time heading in the right direction.




            “What’s that up ahead?” I asked.  “It looks like a Mystery Disc...”


            “Where, chi?” asked Mocchi, as the others strained there eyes to see.


            I squinted at it, then blinked.  “Oh, wait.  Now it looks like a fish.”


            “A fish?!” Suezo demanded.  “What would a fish be doing in a volcano?  Let me see.”  He hopped forward, then used his single eye to zoom in on...whatever it was.  He sighed in disgust.  “It’s just another rock.”  He kept moving forward, muttering something about “looks like a fish...some monsters...”


            The tunnel we had been traveling along was slowly getting wider, but it was also getting harder to see.  The air kept wavering in front of us, making it seem as though we were looking at everything through a funhouse mirror.  (Had I ever been to a funhouse?  I couldn’t remember.)  It had gotten hotter, too.  I was starting to think I was melting.


            “Why do ya think the Phoenix ended up here?” I asked, trying to keep my mind off the heat.  “I mean, it does sort of make sense that a bird of fire would be hidden in a volcano, but did the Phoenix have any choice in the matter?  It couldn’t have if its soul was separated from its body, could it?”


            “Be quiet,” Pixie sighed.


            “Yeah, Thorn, it doesn’t matter how it got here, anyway,” Suezo said.  “All that matters is that we find it before Moo manages to do any more damage.  He turned and looked behind him.  “Holly, are you sure we’re going the right way?”


            Holly glanced down at the stone in her hand.  It was definitely glowing now, a bright crimson light that played across her face.  She took a step forward, and the glow grew brighter.  Holly looked up and nodded.  “I’m sure.”


            “In that case...” Suezo began.  “Any ideas on how to get through a wall made out of flames?”


            “A burning wall?” Genki asked, peering into the distance.


            “Where, chi?” Mocchi asked, doing the same.  I looked as well, but didn’t see anything except a spot that might have been a bit brighter than all the rest, so far down I couldn’t be sure.


            “There, at the end of the tunnel.”  Suezo pointed with his tongue.  He was rewarded with blank stares.  “Come on,” he sighed.  “You probably just can’t see it from here.”  He began hopping forward, leading us on.


            “Hey!  I’m the leader!” Genki shouted, running to get ahead of Suezo.  “Race you to the burning wall!”


            “You’re on, chi!” Mocchi replied, racing after him.


            Suezo continued at his own pace, which was nearly a crawl by now.  “How do those two have the energy to run in this heat?”


            “Do ya think, maybe, no matter what they do, they always gain energy instead of losing it?” I asked.  Then I thought for a moment.  “Have ya ever actually seen one of them tired?”


            “Only once, and that was when Gali sucked all the energy out of us,” Suezo replied.  “And even then he had more energy than all of us.”


            We walked on in silence for a while...except for Holy and her father.  It sounded as though Yosho had asked her to tell him her life’s story, starting from the day he had left her.  I knew I shouldn’t have been listening, but it was hard to ignore...they were the only ones nearby making any noise, and, besides, I was curious.  She didn’t get to finish, but it sounded like a pretty long’d probably take a few days to tell, if not more.


            “And it’s a tie!”  I heard Genki yell from ahead.


            “We both won, chi!”


            By now, we were close enough to see what Suezo had been talking about.  The end of the passageway was blocked by what would have been a perfectly normal, deep red wall...except that the wall was on fire.  Or did it just look red because of all the flames on it?  And why wasn’t there any smoke?  And just how did you set a solid stone wall on fire, anyway?


            I saw the glow grow brighter from behind me just as Holly and Yosho fell silent.  I turned to see Holly with the magic stone cupped in her hands, her eyes closed in concentration.  When she opened them again, the light within the tone still pointed forward – straight through the wall.


            “How are we going to get past that?” Yosho asked, staring at the obstacle.  The flames leaped up from its surface, as if they were daring us to come any closer.  If anything, they seemed to have gotten even hotter.


            “Hmm...let me see...” Hare mused, scratching his chin with one hand.


            “Step aside, furball,” Tiger said, padding up from behind him.  The blue wolf glared at the wall, then... “BLIZZARD!”  A burst of snow and ice shot from his mouth.


            “Doesn’t it feel the least bit cold when ya do that?” I asked, only to have the last two-thirds of my question drowned out by a strange, echoing and almost mechanical sounding wail.  It sounded like someone had crossed a Kato with a Henger, then stomped all over its tail.  Then again, could something as machine like as a Henger really feel pain?  And why in the world would anyone want to cross a Kato with a Henger in the first place?


            I shook my head, trying to get my brain to focus on the things that were actually important for once.  When I looked again, steam was billowing up from the spot where Tiger’s attack had hit.  It filled the air around us, making it impossible to make out what was in front of us.  When I could see again the wall was gone, and we had a clear path to what looked like...


            “It’s the Phoenix’s Mystery Disc!  It has to be!” Genki shouted.  “C’mon, guys, let’s go!”  He dashed off toward it.  It was floating above a simplistic stone podium, and it was glowing an unearthly red.


            “Why is it that anything even semi-legendary has to glow?” I asked as the rest of us followed Genki.


            “Be quiet,” Pixie muttered, as she and Big Blue passed me.  Well, Big Blue was the one who did the actual passing.  Pixie was perched on his shoulder, hitching a ride as usual.


            I slowed down after that.  Genki had nearly reached the podium.  It shouldn’t matter much whether or not I was right behind him when he did.


            It turned out to be kind of lucky that I wasn’t right there.  If I had been, I might not have noticed the same burning wall from before, its fire considerably dimmed, ready to flatten the boy the instant he took the disc.


            “Genki, look out!” I shouted.  Of course, by the time he heard me and looked up, it was just about to fall on top of him...and the glowing Mystery Disc he now held in his hands.  I desperately did *something*, and the wall abruptly turned a bright flourescent green.


            That was *not* going to help.


            “Genki!” Holly screamed, trying to run to his side.  Yosho pulled her back and held her to him.  She struggled to break out of his grip.  Before she managed to do so, the wall had finished its fall...then recoiled back with a cry of pain.  I saw the Mystery Disc glowing angrily, and as it faded to a calmer shade I noticed an area of the now green wall looking charred.  Genki was unharmed.


            “That thing’s alive?!” Suezo exclaimed.


            “It must be some weird kind of Monol!” Hare shouted.


            “Genki!”  Holly twisted out of her father’s grip and ran up to the hyperactive boy.  “Are you alright?”


            “Yeah,” he said, sounding amazed himself.  “I think the Phoenix protected me.”


            “Holly!” Yosho shouted.  The Monol/??? had recovered, and was preparing to flatten them again.  Fortunately, Tiger was faster.  He leapt in front of the two humans, landing in a crouch.  “BLIZZARD!!!”


            The Monol shrank backwards with another unearthly scream and a hiss of steam.  Its flames had nearly gone out. 


            “All attack formation!” Genki shouted, tightening his grip on the Mystery and skating forward.


            I think the Monol knew it was outmatched.  It screamed again as all the monsters lined up to attack, then it suddenly emitted clouds of a strange, multi-colored light.  I heard Genki and the others choke and fall back a little, but my eyes were drawn to the Monol.  Its fires flared up, burning brighter than any I had ever seen – well, could ever remember seeing – then sinking before I could blink, dimming until they were totally extinguished.  With a weary sigh, the Monol became a Lost Disk. 


            “Well, that wasn’t so ba – AAH!” Hare yelped as lava sudden;y burst through the wall behind him.


            Panic quickly ensued, but somehow everyone managed to run in the right direction...possibly because that was the only direction to run.  I was going to ask Hare how he got his eyes to go that wide, but before I could Genki glanced back at us and shouted “Hurry!  We’ve got to make it back to where the Metalners are waiting for us!”


            A lot of strange things had happened to me so far.  But running down a tunnel in an active volcano with lava gushing after me wasn’t just insane – it was cliche.  I mean, there had to be at least twenty similar scenes from various action movies...whatever those were.  I remembered the term, but couldn’t remember the concept behind it.  Maybe I had never seen one.


            Why did I always think of these things at times when I was in life-threatening danger?  I mean, really, anytime I actually had the luxury to think odd, rambling thoughts...well, I still thought them, but not quite so often.  But every single time I was in danger, or something even semi-important was happening, I started thinking things like this.


            Well, at least it kept me from thinking about the wall of lava that could easily consume me if I faltered for a moment...


            I actually felt my eyes go wide at the thought.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to ask Hare about that after all.  I glanced behind me for a moment and froze.


            I mentally shouted at my legs to move, but they wouldn’t listen to me.  What was wrong with me?  I had never been paralyzed like this before...of course, I had never had to run away from a wall of boiling lava before, either.


            I finally got my legs moving again and turned to run.  The lava was just inches from my face.  It was at that exact moment that Big Blue decided I was taking too long, and he reached back to snatch me up.  As I watched the lava crash over the spot where I had just been, I decided that I never ever wanted to see the inside of a volcano again.


            Moments later, we had reached the spot where the bridge had once been.  There was nowhere left to run, except the way we had come...back into the lava.  For a second we all just stood there, casting about for something, anything to do.


            “Jump!” Genki screamed as the lava burst out of the tunnel, heading straight for us.  As Big Blue followed Genki’s advice, dragging me with him, I noticed that the lava below us was also rising rapidly.  Then again, it could also be that we were falling toward amounted to pretty much the same thing, in the end.


            I felt Big Blue’s fingers tighten around me as we fell farther and farther.  Every other second we fell, I thought we would hit the lava with the next.  Then, before I even had a chance to be relieved that we hadn’t yet, I’d be reminded that we were still falling and were still going to hit eventually.


            It was just when I was starting to feel that tiny bit of relief that there was a huge, metallic sounding crash.  I felt a jarring impact, and then we were falling up.  I felt eight more jarring impacts as the others landed on top of us, then a slight breeze as Pixie touched down beside us.


            “You alright, Blue?” she asked.


            Big Blue nodded.  “Mm-hmm.”


            While the others collected themselves enough to get off of him, Big Blue slowly released me and got up.  I stayed sitting and rubbed my sides, glad Big Blue hadn’t held me any tighter.  I was sure something would have broken if he did.  Then I began to wonder why we were suddenly falling upwards.  Wait...what exactly was I sitting on, anyway?  I looked down, and came to the conclusion that I was sitting on nothing at all.  A very solid nothing at all.


            “What happened, chi?” asked Mocchi.


            “Well, Mocchi, we seem to have landed on...”


            Before Hare could finish his sentence, the solid nothing suddenly became something.


            “The spaceship, chi!”


            Looking back down, I saw that what I was sitting on was indeed the Metalners’ spaceship...or, to be more precise, I was sitting in a roughly Big Blue shaped dent in the Metalners’ spaceship.


            “Alright!  The Metalners saved us!”  Genki shouted.  “Now all we have to do is get to a shrine and revive the Phoenix!”


            “Yeah, but how many shrines are there going to be near an active volcano?” Suezo asked. 


            “It doesn’t matter, Suezo,” Holly said.  “No matter how long it takes us to find a shrine, we have the Phoenix now.  Everything will be alright.”


            We were silent for a while after that.  It seemed almost peaceful.  The wind brushed by us, toying with our hair as the Metalners carried us through the starry sky, heading to the east.  But after we were some distance away, the peace of the night was shattered by the eruption of the volcano.  It was almost as though things hadn’t ended the way Holly said they would...they had only just begun.


            I awakened when the Metalners dropped us off in a small, quiet looking village.  I didn’t even remember falling asleep.  The alien monsters waited for all of us to slide off of the ship, then flew away into the stars.


            “Hello!” Genki called out.  “Is anybody home?  We need to use your shrine!”


            Ever so slowly, the doors of the little houses opened and dozens of Mews poured out into the night, all staring curiously at us.



Author’s note: Sorry, everyone!  This took me so long...^^;; Call it writer’s block.  And I’m sorry this one wasn’t so good, either...believe me, the next one will make up for it.  That’s a promise.