The Ring of Fire: Stories of the Residents

Arlen's Story, Chapter One


"Happy birthday!"

The shout from a wide variety of throats certainly startled Atisa, though in a good way, since she was beaming as soon as the shock wore off. Her expression was so priceless that Arlen, who stood behind her as the one who had actually brought her to the party, laugh aloud. She gave him a light fwap with her tail, but she was laughing, too, so he ignored it. Instead, he grinned widely as she looked around at everyone who he'd managed to summon for her tenth birthday and exclaimed her thanks happily.

Arlen watched her contentedly for the length of the party, sitting on the sidelines and greeting those who came up to him, seeking out personal friends for brief visiting, but always with one eye and ear on his "little sister". It was a good party: drinks, food, presents, cake, and even a few games. He was proud that everything had gone as planned, and that she'd been so pleased. She certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, talking to everyone, laughing, lit up like she glowed.

It was Arlen's birthday today, too, but he had spent it much more happily planning for Atisa's party than he would have, celebrating himself. Some of the others at the party knew it, and made sure he got their well-wishes and gifts as well, but the focus remained where he'd wanted it: on Atisa.

The turnout wasn't bad, either. Vispeto, their mutual Quatari friend, had been a given, of course, as had the ever-friendly Aldyss, but others were something of a surprise. The elusive and irritable Eshanath and her near-famous mother, Sereinth, even deigned to attention. Most of the company were dragons, but a few of Atisa's human-- or humanoid, at least-- friends managed to attend, and not get stepped on. That was the bigger worry, of course, that some of the larger dragons, like Eshanath herself, wouldn't watch where they stepped or sat, and someone would wind up with a broken bone. Nothing untoward happened, thankfully, and Atisa was able to send everyone home at the end of the evening with a bright, if tired, smile.

"Are you heading home, then, too?" she asked Vispeto and Arlen. The three of them had remained behind, cleaning up the large cavern-room they'd borrowed from the Ring of Fire for the party. The cleaning hadn't taken long, and now the three were on their way out.

"Not yet," Arlen smiled. "We haven't given you our gift yet."

"There's more?" Atisa giggled, then put on an amusing show of little-girlish delight at yet more gifts.

"Of course there's more," Vispeto scoffed. "As if we'd let our little girl away without getting her something special!"

"Come on, my rooms are nearest," Arlen interjected. "We can have a little coffee and talk before we give it to her."

"Making me wait on my birthday!" Atisa pouted playfully.

"You can wait that long," Vispeto laughed, and nosed her in the right direction.

They made her wait all the way to Arlen's den. They made her wait while they made the coffee, got her settled in, and playfully made small talk while she simmered with impatience. Finally convinced that they'd made her wait long enough, Arlen relented first. Vispeto rolled his eyes as he cast him an apologetic grin.

"Since this is an important birthday," Arlen began, "officially starting off your adulthood...."

"We thought it would be a good idea to make sure you saw some of the Nexus before you actually get started being an adult," Vispeto continued, and her eyes got wide, guessing what he meant.

"So, we're taking you on a trip," Arlen explained, pleased at the comprehension in her expression. "The three of us-- you, me, and Vispeto-- are going to an entirely different part of the universe, one as different and interesting as we could imagine."

"And you are going to have as much fun there as anyone can have in the span of the two weeks we've got saved up for," Vispeto finished.

"Oh, Vis', Arlen!" Atisa exclaimed happily, surging over to wrap wings and arms around them both. Vispeto managed to catch all their coffee bowls before they fell, shattered, and stained the rugs, and levitate them to the nearest table meant for such things. Arlen cast him a grateful look, then nuzzled his little sister between the wings.

"You like it?" he asked, though the answer seemed obvious.

She pulled back to nip him playfully in the shoulder. "Do I like it! Of course I like it! Where are we going? When?"

"In three days," Vispeto answered. "And to a place called Star City. Heard of it?"

"Oh, I have! You couldn't have picked a better place if you'd decided to go to Kien-Valminar, itself! It will be wonderful! Thank you so much!"

They finally got her calmed down, after she'd gushed at them for a while, and sent home to bed with her gifts from the party and, likely, a head full of dreams. Vispeto stayed a few minutes after, rinsing the coffee bowls for Arlen. "I've got a surprise for you, too, when we get there," he said, surprising him.

"What kind of surprise?" Arlen asked curiously. "You know I don't really need or want any more gifts."

"Oh, it's not a gift," Vispeto said with a smile, as if it were some kind of joke, "not exactly. But it'll be a surprise."

"Will I like this surprise?" Arlen asked dryly, too used to his friend's odd sense of humor.

Vispeto shrugged, dropping back down to all fours after shutting off the water. "I think so. I hope so, or else it will be one rotten birthday present, won't it?"

"Can I have a hint?" Arlen pressed, partly in the hopes of making sure this surprise wasn't something that would backfire horribly, partly because he was curious, and partly because he knew Vispeto, with his love of puzzles and riddles, would never be able to resist giving him one and watching him try to figure it out.

Apparently the Quatari had anticipated the question, for he was ready with an answer. "Abstract Destiny," he said simply, then said good night and left, leaving Arlen to wonder just what an "abstract destiny" could possibly be.





Fantasan Dragons are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight