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by Abigail Harvey
Hotpaws loved exploring Avonova; everything was so completely different here to his former life inside his volcano. He hadn’t seen much beyond the city of Sparkadia, however—content to run around with Snooker and set up crazy shots for him to take—until GloKat arrived.
Glo wanted to learn about everything—the physics-defying anomaly zones, the barely visible Stumpy Fabled, the sudden, inexplicable changes in terrain and climate—but she had a special interest in plantlife (apparently some of the flowers had healing properties!). She’d once shown Hotpaws a tiny blue bud she’d found, which stayed icy to the touch no matter how much heat it was exposed to, even when Hotpaws clenched it in his fiery fist. From that day on, Hotpaws and GloKat explored together.
One magenta-skied afternoon, Hotpaws came across a cube of fierce, prickly brambles that looked sharp enough to pierce even his rocky exterior.
“Oooh!” He marveled over the plant’s shape and texture, but at the sound of his admiration, the cube softened and the thorns became squishy and fluffy, wobbling slightly in the vibrations of Hotpaws’s movements.
Hotpaws bent down and plucked the cube to show GloKat, but as he stood, the brambles became sharp again and abruptly caught fire in his burning palm. The sudden burst of flame made Hotpaws jump so hugely that the blazing cube flew out of his hand and sailed through the air towards GloKat, who was examining a shiny tree a short distance away.
“GloKat!” Hotpaws shouted.
GloKat looked up and saw the accidental fireball rocketing towards her. Without missing a beat, StarKat shot out a torrent of water bombs from her sleeves. They collided with the flaming cube and burst, putting out the fire and sending the charred plant plummeting to the ground with a wet hiss.
“What was that?!” Glo demanded.
“...Surprise?” said Hotpaws sheepishly.
GloKat burst out laughing in the relief of not being set on fire and stepped forward to examine the slightly smoking lump. Crouching down to get a better look, Glo gasped—the blackened exterior was crumbling away, and brand new thorns spiked out from the cube looking as if nothing had ever happened to it.
“Whoa,” Glo breathed, and at her whisper, the thorns once again lost all of their malevolence, becoming soft and fluffy as before. Glo gently scooped it into her hands and held it up for Hotpaws to see.
“They’re sort of like phoenixes, aren’t they?” Glo said.
“Those big orange birds?” asked Hotpaws. “No. Not like phoenix. Too small and fluffy.”
Glo giggled, then asked, “StarKat, do you know what these are?”
“Unidentified cube!” yelled StarKat in response.
“Alright then, how about ‘phoenix fluffs’?” Glo ventured.
Hotpaws nodded. “Fee-fluffs!”
After a few more moments of staring at the strange little cube, Hotpaws glanced at GloKat and mumbled, “Shall we try again?”
For the rest of the day, Hotpaws set the fee-fluff alight and threw it into the air, and GloKat shot out anything they could think of to stop it in its tracks and put out the fire: ice cubes, wet rags, even a huge oven mitt that caught and smothered the fee-fluff in mid-air like some bizarre baseball glove.
Then Glo had an idea.
“Okay, go again, but stay alert!” she told Hotpaws.
This time, when Hotpaws threw the fiery cube, GloKat sprang out a bright yellow racket and hit the fee-fluff right back at Hotpaws. Hotpaws, who had not stayed alert, watched in open-mouthed alarm as the fee-fluff hit him squarely in the chest and tumbled to the floor.
“One-nil!” shouted Glo, running around in a victory lap while StarKat waved a sparkler from her hood.
“No fair!” Hotpaws called back, but he bounced on the spot in his excitement over yet another new game in one day.
“I told you to stay alert!” Glo laughed. “Okay, okay, let’s go again, only this time, try to hit it back to me. It’s sort of like tennis, except there’s no net, and you always have to serve… and maybe one or two other rules won’t quite be followed either… Okay, it’s nothing like tennis, but I do have a really cool racket. Go!”
They enjoyed this game so much that it took a long time for them to realize the sky had changed to an inky purple, glittering with galaxies and nebulae.
When they finally called it a day and left the fee-fluff to settle in its natural, non-flaming state, GloKat was in the lead by several points, but Hotpaws didn’t seem to mind.
He chuckled at the triumphant skip in Glo’s step and said, “Hotpaws still win at Sparkball.”