Caught Between Surprises
A red Zafara sat alone in a brick-laden room, cross-legged and handling two rolls of streamers. All around her, piles of decorations intertwined around her arms and legs. Multi-coloured glitter covered her from head to toe. Even her iconic star-clad blue hat and cape dazzled like mirror balls. If not for a bespectacled yellow Aisha standing beside her and coughing loudly, she’d have completely missed the Aisha’s presence.
“Uhh, Kayla? Need some help?”
“I’m fine,” Kayla replied. “But thanks, Lisha.” The Aisha gave her a look as she reached over to unwind a shimmering garland from Kayla’s ears. “Well, maybe a little help would be good.”
Lisha tugged at Kayla’s head until the stubborn garland was finally released. Once free, Kayla struggled against the tangled mess wrapped around her body.
“Maaaaybe a lot.” She nearly face-planted but managed to catch herself with a free hand. “Can you grab those streamers? I’ll pull out the tinsel that’s wrapped around my arms.”
Lisha gave a thumbs-up. “You got it!”
Most Meridellians steered clear of Kayla beyond basic pleasantries or business matters, excluding a few of her friends, and Lisha herself. It was common knowledge that Kayla’s potions, albeit by far the most potent and well-made in the kingdom, had a habit of being… experimental. Even Jeran was hesitant to try them after her “energy potion” made him so hyperactive that he swung from a chandelier, shouted, “I’m on top of the world!” and almost crashed into a wall. Twice.
Serian, Darigan dignitary and unabashed troll, made sure to pantomime the incident whenever he saw Jeran walking by, much to the knight’s displeasure. He and a handful of others had seen the whole ordeal, including Jeran’s advisor, a blue Wocky named Danner. Luckily, it was covered up before it could reach King Skarl’s ears, at least as far as they knew.
“But hey,” Kayla said, as she was finally able to stand again. She gave a little turn, filling the room with reflected beads of light. “I bet even Jeran’s sword never looked this shiny. Shing, sparkle sparkle!”
Lisha raised her paw to her eyes as if blinded by the light. “Ahh, it burns!” she exclaimed, as she stood on her tippy toes to unwind a spool of stars from her friend’s cape. Kayla wriggled from the remaining decorations, leaving a blob of sparkling purples, blacks, and reds in its wake.
“That’s the last time I jump head-first into my ideas pile,” Kayla said with a laugh, flicking a wad of glitter from her arm.
“You…” Lisha started, before swallowing the thought. This was Kayla she was talking to, after all. “So, who’s all this for, anyway?”
Kayla tilted her head. “You mean you forgot?”
Lisha responded with a shrug. It had been a particularly busy time in the library with countless Brightvale University students coming over to ask for reading materials. Apparently, a Dr. Turret really enjoyed sending his entire “History of Weaponry” class abroad to their collection. And despite the students being around her age, a good number of them spent the field trip chatting about anything but weapons. Lisha had played a game of “which areas of the stacks are quiet right now” and lost miserably. The dark bags under her eyes were a testament to her losing streak. On top of that, she had been working on some research on how to magically restore blighted lands. Progress was slow, but some of the soil she tested was yielding growth once more. In her mind, this was the least she could do to improve the war-torn lands.
“It must have slipped my mind,” she replied, pushing her glasses up with her index finger. “Is there a big festival in Meridell this weekend or something?”
Kayla laughed out loud. “No, silly! It’s Serian’s birthday tomorrow!”
“Mortogs!” Lisha facepalmed. “Some sister I am.”
During the events of the Second Meridell War, Serian had been transformed into a child by dark magic. Formerly a Kass General named Setarian, he was rescued by Lisha and taken in as part of their family. It took some of the knights, especially Jeran, time to forgive Serian after he made some traitorous mistakes. After the war, Lord Darigan offered Setarian the chance to makes amends by being a bridge between the two nations, an offer the Darigan Eyrie eagerly accepted. It had been about eleven years since then.
“It’s his big 3-0, you know!”
“I know, I know…”
“So, let’s get some ideas rolling!”
Lisha paced back and forth. “We could… make him a card?”
The potion’s master looked at her incredulously. “A card?”
“Alright, maybe not. A book?”
“A song, maybe?”
“Song? You’d need Sir Rohane for that.”
“And he hates singing.” They said it together and couldn’t help but chuckle. Despite being “The Hero of Five Realms,” the white Blumaroo had terrible stage fright.
Lisha tapped her head a few times as her mouth twisted in frustration. “I’m stumped. You got something in mind, Kayla?”
“If you’re stumped…” Kayla steepled her hands, “I’ve actually had something special in the works: a sparkle cannon.”
Lisha’s mouth fell open. “Sparkle cannon? Since when?”
“Since like, a week ago. Come on, I’ll show you!” The Zafara grinned maniacally as she waved her to the corner of the room. Lisha followed, her ear stalks lowering back against her neck. “I got the go ahead recently for a research and development office—note the sweet digs.”
Despite what Kayla said, the room was relatively stark—barring the glitter everywhere—and was likely an extra storage room used during the war. With things quieter now, there was less of a need for a fifth armoury, not that Lisha would say this. Kayla’s infectious joy was hard to match.
Kayla pulled a large, round contraption from inside the darkened closet space. It had little wheels to propel it forward, but she chose instead to pull it by a long cord.
Lisha gave the contraption a knock. It made a hollow ringing sound. “How does it work?”
“Here.” Kayla reached into a bin and removed a gelatinous sphere filled with shimmering golden liquid and a wave of silver glitter. “You load it into the cannon here…” She placed the sphere into the machine and pointed to the cannon’s side. “And pull this lever here! Voila! Instant celebration.”
“Instant…” Lisha paused. “Is the liquid volatile?”
“No?” she grabbed the ball and tossed it into the air a few times. Each time she caught it the glitter spun about like flurries in a snow globe. Meanwhile, Lisha braced herself before each catch. “Not as far as we’ve seen, anyway.”
“I don’t know…” Lisha bit her lip. Her eyes scanned up and down the cannon. “This looks kind of dangerous. What if things, you know, go wrong?”
“It’ll be fine, Lisha.” Kayla placed her paw on her friend’s shoulder and looked her straight in the eyes. “I got this. And besides! I got help this time. Mipsy made sure the mechanism was safe!”
“Mipsy?” She blinked a few times. “Sir Rohane’s friend? I didn’t know she was in town.”
“Yeah! That’s the one. She just came back from her Mystery Island adventure with Velm—they look really tan.”
Mipsy was known far and wide for her incredible gifts with magic, especially attack spells. Her magic was so strong that could fell evil beasts with a single word. According to Sir Rohane, however, multiple tents fell victim to her accidental sleep-casting…
“And you’re sure…” Lisha repeated slowly, “everything’s safe, then? You double-checked it?”
“Yup. We’ve been testing it like crazy. Note,” she motioned to her glitter-covered exterior, “these results don’t lie.”
“Okay…” Lisha sighed, running through her mind the kinds of counterspells or magical fixes she could employ if things got out of hand. Today, she decided, would be a good day to have her Wand of Supernova in her pocket.
“Oh, and Lisha?”
“Can you bring Serian here around, say, 12pmNST tomorrow? I already invited Jeran and the others.”
“Sure,” she replied, planning where she might find some card stock and colourful ink to create a nice birthday card.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow!” Kayla called, dashing out the door. “Thanks for the assist!”
“You’re… welcome,” replied Lisha, speaking to a now empty room.
Despite it being Serian’s birthday, the towering, blue-eyed Darigan Eyrie seemed none the wiser when Lisha invited him “over to tea.” When asked, he simply smiled.
“That sounds nice, Lisha. I’ll see you at 12pmNST, then?”
“Y-yeah, 12pmNST. For no other reason than tea. Of course.”
Jeran often teased Lisha for how bad she was at keeping secrets. It was no wonder she and Rohane enjoyed playing card games against one another: they were equally terrible.
The Eyrie quirked a brow. “I mean, yeah. This isn’t some ploy for a Kayla scheme, right?”
Lisha made a choked laugh. “Uh, no! No! Definitely not. Why would you think that?”
“I’m kidding.” Serian rolled his eyes. “You take me too seriously, Lisha.”
“Oh, right. Of course!” She forced a smile. “I knew that.”
He gave her a perplexed look. “I’ll… see you then?”
“See you then!”
Meanwhile, Mipsy and Kayla were hard at work doing their final checks on the cannon. Both ladies wore bright pink safety goggles. Kayla’s fur stood on end from all of the glitter goop, making her look like a mad scientist.
The robed blue Acara, her light blue fur a solid shade darker than usual after her adventure in the tropics, busily tinkered with the mechanism.
“Okay, Kayla,” said Mipsy as she wiped the sweat from her forehead, “ready to test the magic glitter ball?”
“Am I ever! Let ‘er rip!”
Mipsy yanked the lever, sending a gelatinous ball soaring into the air. It burst about two-thirds the way down, exploding into a waterfall of golden glitter. The two high-fived each other.
“Perfect!” they squealed in unison before doing their own version of a happy dance.
The two magic users spent hours finding the exact size and shape the “glitter ball” would have to be so that it burst mid-air. Mipsy’s magical prowess determined the perfect thickness to the bubble. Combined with Kayla’s determination, the two were a force to be reckoned with. It took hours of trial-and-error, with the error thoroughly coating their fur.
“Oh, Meepits, they’re gonna flip when they see this!” The Zafara hopped up and down with delight. “Are you excited? I am SO excited!”
“I’m pretty excited,” replied Mipsy with a wink. Kayla held the bottom of a step ladder while Mipsy hung a wide purple banner from the ceiling that said: “Happy 30th, Serian!” The few untangled garlands made their way across the walls and ceiling. “If only we could convince Rohane to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Of course, I’d sooner see Mortogs rain from the sky than that ever happen.”
“Flying Mortogs, at that. He still hasn’t forgotten about that time I bottled his singing voice. How was I to know it would cause a city-wide panic? Whoopsies.”
Mipsy fiddled with her robe. “Yeah… probably best that we don’t bring that up.
The small group of guests filed into the room and waited in position.
Lisha spoke loudly as she walked down the hallway to the point where Serian’s ears flattened against his head.
“Lisha. The entire castle doesn’t have to know we’re ‘hanging out,’ as you say.”
“Sorry, Serian,” she said, lowering her volume only a smidge. “I’m just really excited for this tea, is all.”
Meanwhile, a few knights and their squires passed the duo and gawked. One of the squires elbowed the other as they scurried along, looking back at them for good measure. Serian slumped his shoulders as he walked and dragged his claws over his face. “Were you always this strange?” he shot, “or just chose to make this ‘embarrass the Darigan Friday.’”
Lisha bit her lip. “Sorry, bro. I guess I’m a little high-strung today. Hugs?”
Since there were others around, he chose instead to wrap his arm around her shoulder. “We’ll call it a half-hug.”
The moment the two entered the room, they were greeted with a thunderous clamour.
“SURPRISE!” the group shouted, causing the Eyrie to stumble back and fall to the ground.
“What in Darigan’s name…” he muttered while rubbing his sore tail. Lisha offered him a hand as he arose to a gathering of his friends, family, and self-appointed eternal rival: Rohane.
Before the Darigan could utter a word of thanks, Mipsy rubbed her paws together and pulled the cannon lever so hard that the glitter ball hurled itself high into the air. It hurtled straight towards the two of them. In response, Lisha whipped out her Wand of Supernova.
Mipsy gasped. “What are you—”
“Protecting ourselves. Impetu!”
A fist-sized ball of energy shot through the air. It collided with the bubble at breakneck speeds, causing it to explode instantly. Serian opened his wings and wrapped them around Lisha. Jeran, who wore plate armour to a party despite Lisha’s teasing, moved in to protect her as well. Chunks of burning glitter scattered and hit the banner causing it to catch aflame. The rest charred Serian’s wings, causing him to grimace in pain.
“Wall of force!” shouted Mipsy, conjuring a layer of magical energy above their heads. It spread like a dome, instantly forming a tight bubble.
“Are you all okay!?” It was Velm. Despite being dressed well for the occasion, the red Techo carried his healing staff. “This is why I always carry this thing. You guys are trouble magnets.” He clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Panacea!” A wave of healing energy washed over the room.
This same question was echoed by Rohane, who ran over to comfort the mage. It wasn’t until her former leader called her name that she snapped out of shock.
“I thought… it was safe…” the words tumbled out of Mipsy’s mouth as her face knit in strained concentration. The wall of force held until the glitter rain ended. Taking a deep breath, Mipsy dispelled the wall before invoking “Rainstorm.” A wall of magical water doused the banner, its charred remains hanging limply from the wall.
Meanwhile, Morris the Quiggle and Boris the Blumaroo, two of Lisha’s friends, scurried about desperately, salvaging any presents they could from either fire or water while Danner directed them. Marianna, Serian’s Usul half-sister, raced to his side.
The Eyrie winced as he returned her embrace, prying his eyes open to see a bouquet of sweet-smelling red roses within inches of his face.
“Are you okay?” he croaked, eliciting a tearful look from Marianna. “What happened?”
“I should be asking you that.” She hugged him even tighter as the flowers smothered Serian’s face. He fought every urge not to sneeze away the flowers as they tickled his face.
Lisha squeezed her hand around the wand before lowering it to her side. “You always said magic could be dangerous if used improperly, Mipsy. I should have listened.” She paused when the elder mage gave her a tired look and sighed. “And I should have believed you, Kayla.”
The Zafara had fallen to her knees. Her head hung low as she held her soaked hat in front of her face. “Yeah, you should have.”
Prior to arriving, Lisha had wedged a letter under her arm. The envelope was covered in ink smudges from the “Rainstorm” spell and the name on the front was almost illegible. She placed it down on the damp floor and began to walk away.
Jeran began to follow her. “Lisha, wai—”
“I think I’ve caused enough damage for one day.” Lisha put up her hand as she dragged herself to the door. “Sorry, guys…”
The others chose to look at the ground, barring a protesting Jeran and a thoroughly confused Serian.
The Darigan Eyrie shook himself out like a soggy petpet, eliciting a groan from those around him. “Okay,” he said, annoyance in his voice. “Someone needs to tell me what’s going on. Now.”
“It was supposed to be a surprise party…” replied Rohane with a sigh as he gave a comforting pat on Mipsy’s shoulders. Meanwhile, Danner offered a hand to Kayla, who begrudgingly obliged. When asked if she was okay, she nodded wordlessly, but continued to hide her face under her hat.
“… Well.” The Eyrie looked up at the remains of the banner, the table of soggy food, some of which had miraculously remained untouched by the “Rainstorm” spell. “Surprisingly enough, I’ve had worse birthdays.”
Jeran quirked a brow. “You have? I’m impressed.”
Mipsy grunted. “Really, Sir Jeran?”
The Lupe pulled at his armour uncomfortably before picking up the card and handing it to Serian. “… I’m going to go check on Lisha. Glad everyone’s okay.” Before anyone could say otherwise, he dashed into the hallway. At this point, the commotion gathered curious onlookers from inside the castle. Their stares permeated the room from around the door.
Velm had made his way over to Serian and placed his hand directly on the Eyrie’s back. “Heal,” he said, as bright energy emanated from his staff. The burn wounds on the Eyrie knitted up quickly, leaving darkened areas where his fur had been charred.
As if to test its effectiveness, the Eyrie poked the spot and gave an impressed nod. “Not bad, Velm. I can barely feel a thing.”
The healer merely bowed. “What can I say except, ‘you’re welcoooome,’” he sang, before returning his voice to his normal low bass. “But seriously, though. How do you guys survive without me?“
“I ask myself the same thing,” Rohane deadpanned.
While the group bantered, Serian opened the letter, and showed it to his sister who cooed in response. Inside, Lisha had drawn a cartoonish drawing of the Eyrie along with a poem:
You’re brave and strong
Fight against what’s wrong
With the world and its trouble
You’re there on the double
You unite in the fight
To do all that’s right
And bring nations at war
A new chance to soar
Serian, I’m so lucky to have you as a big brother. Thanks for always watching out for me. With your efforts, I can already see our nations coming together. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all reach that summit soon. Happy 30th birthday. May it be one of many to come.
He gingerly folded the letter back into the envelope. “I’m going to go find her,” he whispered to Marianna, “but first…” the Eyrie made his way across the room to Kayla, who recoiled at his approach.
“I’m so sorry,” Kayla whimpered. “I wanted… I wanted to make this special and I… I wasn’t careful about… I could have…”
“Hush now,” he replied, tipping her hat to see her tear-stained face. “You tested my reflexes. It looks like I need to train more if I want to keep up with…” His ear twitched towards Rohane, who instinctively buried his face into his hands.
The Zafara chuckled. “Your eternal rival?”
“The very one.”
“But aren’t you…” she looked down at her feet and shuffled about. “Mad?”
“Mad?” He laughed, repeating the word. “You’re going to have to do a lot more than that to anger me. And besides, it wouldn’t be my birthday without something bizarre happening.”
Mipsy joined the conversation. “Really sorry about that, Serian. I could’ve sworn it was—”
He made a cutting motion. “Enough. Show it to me again some time—outside.” His mind ran through a simulation of all that could go wrong. “Preferably from a safe distance.”
The two magic specialists gave a thumbs-up. While the others finished stacking the dried-off presents, Serian gave a quick wave as he casually sauntered out of the room with little more than a “thanks.”
Morris threw his hands into the air. “Did he just…”
“Leave his own party?” finished Boris.
“He certainly is a character.” Velm couldn’t help but laugh as he cut a slice of the birthday cake. “More for us, I guess.”
It didn’t take long for the Eyrie to track down Lisha. She had a habit of gravitating towards a few hidden nooks. As with most of her hideaways, it had enough light to read a book and a small cot for sleeping. Such was enough to keep the Aisha entertained for weeks. On one such cot, Lisha sat with her head pressed against Jeran’s side. The older blue Lupe held her tightly as she silently cried.
“Hey Lisha,” Serian said. She replied with a mumble. “I read your card.”
Lisha pried her face away enough to show her puffy eyes. “Y-you did?”
“It was…” The Eyrie held a hand in front of his beak to try and hide his smile “…Really nice.”
Jeran couldn’t help but smirk. “Your eyes are changing colour again.”
“Chains and daggers,” muttered Serian, wishing he had some sort of contraption to hide his face. “You can thank my mother for that.”
“The fact that you’re a living mood ring never ceases to—"
“Alright, Jeran. That’s enough teasing.” The Aisha had scooched away and crossed her arms disapprovingly.
“Fine…” sighed Jeran. “Happy birthday, Serian. I’m glad you’re okay.”
The Eyrie’s brows rose. “Wow. I think Kayla must have slipped you another energy potion. Did you just say something nice to me… unprompted?”
The Lupe’s eyes narrowed. “I’m trying to be sincere here.”
Lisha hopped in between them. “Then I’ll do it for you.”
It never failed to amuse Serian how much shorter the Aisha was than the both of them, yet she was by far the fiercest of the three.
“I’m sorry about before… I ruined Kayla’s surprise…”
“You know Kayla,” replied the Eyrie. “She’ll be back to exploding things and making dubious potions in no time.”
Lisha chuckled. “Yeah… I guess you’re right. I’ll make it up to her soon.”
“Oh, I’m right.” Serian puffed out his chest. “I’m always right.”
“Pfft… Serian, you goof.” She rolled her eyes. “But seriously, though. We’re really lucky to know you. What I said in that letter? I meant every word.”
“Even that doodle? Because my hair is much less messy than the—”
She tapped his shoulder. It was about as high as she could reach.
“Even the doodle, Mr. Perfect Hair.”
Serian reached back and removed the hair tie holding his deep purple hair in a tight ponytail. With a flick of his head, the Eyrie shuffled it over his shoulders. To his relief, it brought a beaming smile to Lisha’s face.
“Have you thought about modelling?” came a high voice belonging to a certain star-clad Zafara. “Sorry Lisha, I kinda led everyone over here—your secret hiding spots are pretty easy to fin—"
“For Darigan’s sake—you all saw that? Argh!” The Eyrie desperately tightened his ponytail and grabbed a pillow to cover his face. He then let out a muffled scream.
“At least you’re not some secretly world-class singer,” said Velm with a shrug, shivering when he felt Rohane’s eyes on his back.
“And you, uh, forgot your cake, Serian,” added Mipsy, as she handed him a plate. The place where they cut the slice left him with the word “Ha” in big purple letters.
“Ha, huh?” He threw the pillow back down on the cot and took a large bite of the cake. “Sounds about right. At least it’ll still taste good.”
“And although I won’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you…” As Rohane said this, a few of the others—notably Mipsy and Jeran—visibly deflated. “We all came to wish you a happy 30th.”
“Can you forgive me?” asked Lisha.
Kayla nodded. “Already did. But next time…”
“I’ll trust you.”
With a count down from Kayla, the crew readied themselves.
“Ready, everyone?” The Zafara said it in a sing-song voice. “3… 2… 1…”
“Happy birthday, Serian!”