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An overcast sky hung over the dull south Mexican town. Off in the distance beyond the mass of rain forest, an ancient Aztec pyramid touched the sky.
Paz was walking home from an ordinary day of school; dull, boring and tedious. It was no surprise when Johnny came bounding up the block. His real name Jose, but he preferred Johnny. He was wearing his usual garment: a purple kilt, a red basketball jersey, a black tie with yellow polka-a-dots, rain boots and a Viking helmet. He was carrying a tape deck playing Chinese gong music.
“I’m going to chase you, Paz!” said Johnny through a mouthful of braces in a singsong voice.
Paz’s school bag fell to the cement ground as she headed straight for the rain forest to her left. This was her normal tactic for getting Johnny off her back because he always got lost. Even though she was really slow when it came to running Johnny was even worse.
She made her way through the tangle of branches and dangling vines in a zig-zag pattern. Johnny’s footsteps could be heard a few feet behind her. Most times she wouldn’t have to run this far.
After a long while of running, the chase was brought to a clearing and right before them was the Aztec pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. Paz was left with absolutely no choice but to go up the stairs. The steep climb slowed Johnny down but he didn’t once give up.
As Paz gained height she soon noticed she was literally trapped! The only path she could follow once she was in front of the temple at the top was inside. Oh, how many strange stories about it she had heard. Many people who had entered had never come out.
As soon as you could snap your fingers, Paz was in front of the temple and right on her back was the pursuing Johnny. Sweat streaked across her face. She was given no other option but to enter. She flew in and all of the sudden she was in the middle of a spinning vortex.
It seemed like forever but the vortex disappeared and Paz was frozen in mid air before falling down, down, down. Wham, she fell in a heap upon the ground, stunned by the impact.
She had landed on something cold and soft. At first she had no idea what it could be but then it came to her that it could only be snow. Paz had never seen snow but she wasn’t enjoying it very much. It was oh so bitterly freezing!
It was so cold that her skin was a deep shade of bright red and she couldn’t move her fingers. Obviously a t-shirt and shorts where not enough for this barren ice land.
When knew she was okay, she got up to stretch. What she saw next surprised her. She was standing atop the summit of a mountain. If there was anything Paz feared most it was heights. The ground swirled before her eyes; a fall she knew would be fatal.
Below her was a rain forest, obviously not the one she lived near for there where no mountains anywhere close to here home. Off in the distance was a gigantic palace, swirling with eternal darkness.
Paz dodged back down putting her hands over her eyes as she screamed as loud as she could. She couldn’t handle looking down any minute longer.
“Why do you duck under and cover your eyes like a coward?” said a strange voice.
Paz lifted her head up and found herself looking into the eyes of a snowshoe rabbit. “Howdy! Welcome to the realm of Quetzalcoatl.” said the hare.
“Who comes here? A puny little rabbit!” Paz said in a distressed voice.
The hair snapped back “Puny little rabbit? Out of all the rude comments I’ve been given I have never heard that one. And I’m not a rabbit; I’m a hare for your information. The name: Hair the Hare. Yes, my mother thought I was a little fluff ball of hair when I was born so don’t mention it. I’m actually the great fortune telling hare of this realm.”
Paz was dumbfounded, “I’m Paz. Nice to meet you Hair the Hare... I guess.” she stuttered.
“I have come to tell you about your duty. I have had a vision and now know you are the right creature to do this quest. The Realm of Quezalcoatl has been haunted by the horrific Moamine. He has been holding Quetzalcoatl and others captive in his palace.” said Hair the Hare.
“So where is Moamine’s palace?” interrupted Paz.
“Right beyond the rain forest, way out there.” answered Hair the Hare.
Paz squinted her eyes. It was the palace she had seen earlier; the one which loomed around a mysterious shadow.
“So, as I was saying, we residents of the Realm of Quetzalcoatl live in fear of Moamine,” continued Hair the Hare, “As I saw in the vision I know you could free the imprisoned Quetzalcoatl and other captives for us seeing that you have thumbs and a super brain. Plus, my visions always come true.”
“Super brain? You have to be kidding me! Maybe you got me and my big sister mixed up.” laughed Paz.
“Ok, so what, you don’t have a super brain. At least you’re not wimpy like we timid animals. Please don’t interrupt me again. I just want to finish what I was trying to tell you. All you need to do is travel to Moamine’s palace. Be brave, be strong, be quick, be smart. Don’t fret over heights and beware of the MAPA. I have foreseen that you shall meet a true friend, though an odd match it may be. Now I must be on my way. Got to go knit Grammy’s sweater.”
“What’s the MAPA?” questioned Paz, but it was to late; Hair the Hare had dispersed into thin air.
She was completely baffled as to what the hare had just told her. And what in the world did MAPA stand for? How could she be brave, strong, quick or smart. Was she any of those? No! She was a wimp; she was a weakling; she was the slowest person in her class; she got four Fs on her last report card.
But if she had a quest to be after, it would be wisest to get started immediately, and that’s exactly what she did.
The going was definitely not what anyone would call smooth. It was rocky and Paz kept on tripping over her knobby legs. In no time her knees where rose red and numb along with her fingers and toes.
She made her way down the mountain in a sort of incline plane. Even though it was longer then just going straight down, it made the traveling so much easier.
As she came closer to sea level it began to feel much warmer and soon there was absolutely no snow on the ground. To make things even better she was now shaded from the sun since she had entered upper rain forest area.
After a while it began to darken as night drew close. Paz decided to stop and rest at the next clearing she came to.
The first clearing, though, had a tiger in the center, just laying there all comfy in the cool evening air.
She tried to do as Hair the Hair had told her: be brave. Paz strolled right up to the tiger, her fingers sliding across his slick coat of orange and black stripes. It was as soft as the meadow was green.
“You can scratch behind the ears while your at it.” said the tiger all of the sudden in a deep voice.
Paz did as the tiger had suggested. As if to say “thank you,” he began to purr, nice, smooth and soft.
“I am Ruru. What is your name?” asked the tiger softly.
“I am Paz. I am filled with much joy to meet you Ruru. How did you come to the Realm of Quetzalcoatl?”
“I used to live in the outer world in a local zoo.” began Ruru, “One day I decided to escape because I was treated horribly. But the animal patrol chased me into the pyramid and I ended up here. Oddly, ever since I’ve been here I can talk like a human! It comes in handy, this gift of speech.”
Then Paz told Ruru her story. They both thought it seemed a bit ironic how they had both been chased into the realm.
“If you don’t mind, but I would enjoy going with you.” Said Ruru in an urgent tone.
“Sure, I would love the company!” answered Paz gratefully.
“Thank you, oh, so very much.” Ruru graciously thanked Paz.
“By the way, do you know what MAPA stands for?” asked Paz.
“No, I am sorry, but I do not.” Replied Ruru.
Paz’s stomach growled, “I’m getting quite hungry,” said Paz after a while.
“Me, too,” said Ruru.
“Promise me you won’t eat meat. I can’t stand the sight of poor, innocent animals being killed.” Paz pleaded.
“I promise. I’m not that fond of it anyways. I know it seems odd, seeing that naturally I’m a meat eater, made to kill for food.” promised Ruru.
“I’ll go look for some fruit.” said Paz as she got up.
It was not very difficult to find food in the rain forest and soon Paz came across a banana tree that bore ripe fruit, as yellow as the sun may possibly glow. It just so happened that bananas where Paz’s favorite food! It was a wonder why she was not born a monkey.
She picked a dozen golden bananas. They made a snapping sound as she plucked them from their resting spot. She took them to where she and Ruru where staying, which was the place where they had met, with a smile across her face.
When she came up to Ruru, a smile swept across his face too. They split half of the delicious bananas and felt satisfied as they drifted of to sleep.
When they awoke the next morning they finished up the left over bananas, which where a bit mushy, and set off on their journey.
They didn’t speak much as they traveled. After a few minutes they got onto flat land and the travel went quick and was much more easy. They didn’t stop to eat as they where trying to make use of time as best as possible. Nothing much exciting happened until late that afternoon, close to dusk.
They where walking along like they where having the very best of times. Then, from a branch above, a python sprang out, hanging from it’s tail. It made a sound, which was half growl, half hiss, it’s maroon, forked tounge flickering. Paz, who was in the lead, jumped backwards in fright, falling onto Ruru.
“Sorry about that.” she said with pity in her voice.
“It’s ok. I’m fine. Let me deal with that slimy serpent.” Said Ruru, his voice tense but tough.
Ruru sprang up, his razer sharp claws out. He grabbed the snake and pulled at it. It made a loud yelping sound and Ruru let go. The python curled up on the ground and wimpered.
“Please, oh, please, let me be. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The snake cryied in a fickle voice.
“Oh, all right. As long as you let us by,” sighed Paz.
The serpent slid off into the shadows of the dense forest, branches snapping under his slick belly.
Paz and Ruru continued on their travel until it became too dark to see. Paz found some mint leaves on the ground near where they stopped. They were a bitter, but they calmed the growls which issued from their insides.
The next morning they where close to the palace. Even though they couldn’t see it, they could feel it was near by.
They stopped at a river to rest and wash up.
Paz and Ruru clensed their dirty bodies in the roaring river as the dirt, which clung to their skin, flew off.
Afterwards, they basked on the sun warmed rocks until they were dry.
The day was a cool one, not too hot but not too cold, and not too humid and not too dry. The sun shone brightly, high in the sky.
Ruru broke the silence, “Everything seems to be going all right so far except for the snake incident, and that was nothing!”
“Yes, but something seems wrong?” Said Paz in a tense voice.
It was as if she had asked it to happen. All of the sudden a swarm of flying Pikas flew in. Unlike normal pikas, who are timid and sweet, these were fierce and tough looking.
“It’s the MAPA! Moamine’s Airborn Pika Army!” whispered Paz.
She turned to Ruru and screamed when she noticed he was being lifted up into the air. The pikas, clad in their straw tunics, dug their claws into his back.
“I’ll save you Ruru!” Shouted Paz.
She ran over and grabbed at his paw, which was hanging from his body, already three feet into the air. As he was pulled higher in the air Paz’s feet left the ground. She kicked her legs, pulling with all her might. Her hand slipped and she fell, jamming her knees into the rocks.
“Ruru! No! I’ll save you. Oh, I’ll make sure I do. Oh I shall, I really shall!” screamed Paz.
Tears streamed down from her eyes and rolled down her face as she sobbed. Beg heaving breaths leapt in and out of her, and she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.
“How could they? How evil of them! He was the only friend I ever had,” se yelled into empty space.
She must save Ruru and fulfill her duty. She ran east, where Moamine’s palace lay. She ran so fast she could soon see the dreadful fortress of darkness. It must have been closer then she thought.
Since every door was guarded by MAPA members, she smashed a window at the side and rushed through.
She ended up in a small, empty side room. Even though it was dark, she easily found the door, which had been cracked. Paz ended up in the corridor, the red carpet going on forever. She saw a dark door which stood out as a dungeon door. To her great surprise, it wasn’t locked. When she opened the door it creaked loudly.
Inside were millions of cages. Each one had a giant lock. She saw a huge cage, which was Quetzalcoatl’s. She saw his beautiful feathers which shone over his serpent like body and large wings.
Paz looked at the lock and placed her thumb into it, wiggling it around. With a loud clink it swung open. Her thumbs where the magic trick.
She had freed the great Aztec god! As she went to the other cages, most of which where smaller, Quetzalcoatl emerged from his former prison. At every cage it was the same thing, wiggle her thumbs around in the lock and it opened. Quetzalcoatl helped her. All he had to do was tap it with his right wing.
Soon, after all the cages had been unlocked, every type of animal you could imagine was roaming around upon the cold, cement floor.
Paz sighted Ruru in the crowd, “Ruru, are you ok?” she shouted.
That was a mistake for Moamine had heard. A dark mass slowly drifted in. By squinting she could make out the misty shape of a vulture, Moamine, Black Vulture of All Things Dark and Evil!
A deep loathing surged through Ruru as he leapt out, attacking Moamine. They where embroiled in a deep combat with talons and beak versus claws and teethe. Moamine, who was winning the horrific battle, had weakened Ruru. But Ruru was not yet defeated. With a powerful swoosh of his claws he killed Moamine and collapsed.
As his eyes clouded he spoke his last words as a living creature, “I have? have? have? de-de-defeated?” but he never finished. Hid head mad a plop upon the cold cememt. His last breathe was hoarse and crooked. His eyes where fogged up. The scar across his face was bright red. His face was pale and ghostly. His chest was cold and frozen in time. A thump came from his heart, the last beat it would ever play.
Paz ran over to his aid, uncontrollably sobbing, but it was too late, “Ruru, how could this happen? The only friend I’ve ever had!” she sobbed. Her hands crawled across his icy back.
Then a cold mist seemed to issue from his body. The deep voice of Ruru spoke, “Don not fret. I have died a hero. I killed Moamine. You are safe. Do not cry,” and his soal didsappeard.
Then Quetzalcoatl’s booming voice filled the air, “Thank you Paz. What happened in this realm to you and Ruru was all fate and Moamine’s doing. I am sorry about what happened to Ruru but there is nothing I can do. Gods can do many amazing things and bring back the dead is not one of those. Ruru was a great hero. He was so great he will become a legend in this realm. I will build a statue over his grave and he will be remembered forever. But now you must go home.”
Quetzalcoatl made a loud cry and a vortex appeared. Paz was sucked into it. This one was quick and soon she landed with a thud at the entrance to the temple. Johnny was gone and it was raining. Paz danced around with joy, splashing in the puddles. But her joy was short lived for the sad memories of Ruru soon rushed back to her and a few tears trickled down her cheeks.
When she could cry no more she slowly walked down the steps of the pyramid and through the jungle to her little home.
The streets where empty and silent. She found her wet and sagging school books on the side walk where she had dropped them the other day. She left them since they had already been ruined.
When she got home, in front of her house a small kitty sat. He had tiger markings and the same eyes as Ruru. The kitty walked up to her and rubbed it’s head against her leg as if to say she was his. Paz knew that a long friend ship lay ahead.
“I’ll call you Ruru after a great friend,” she whispered to the kitty.