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Fireborn: A Place to Hide

Welcome back to the world of the Fireborn! If you are new to Fireborn, or if you may have missed any installments, here are links to all the installments. 


ORCHID

Orchid ate the seaweed raw, though it got less appetizing with every bite. But she was exhausted, and hungry enough that she wouldn’t sleep unless she ate.

Once she had finished it, she wedged herself high in the tree, sinking her claws deep into the bark, and closed her eyes. Soon, maybe even before sunrise, her mother would wake her, and this nightmare would be over. They could fly home together, and be safe. Then she sighed. She didn’t really believe her mother would fly off to safety leaving any child in danger. Not even an out-of-control fireborn.

In a way that was comforting; she couldn’t imagine her mother rejecting anybody for being fireborn, which meant that she didn’t have to worry that she, like so many fireborns in the stories, would be cast out into the world. She would never have to see her mother look at her with fear—would she?

But the image was too clear in her head, her mother’s eyes widening, a little step back, and then that calm, reassuring voice that she used with angry and upset patients—ones she didn’t like very much. Again and again Orchid went over the scene in her mind—her telling her mother she was fireborn. But no matter what words she used, in her mind, her mother kept backing away. What would happen if she kept it a secret? She shook her head. Sooner or later, she’d let it slip, or her mother would find out from someone else, and in her mind, that always led to the same result.

It was a long time before she fell asleep, her mind finally too tired to call up the image of her mother’s face. And then she slept poorly until she woke up from a nightmare, the pre-dawn light turning the world grey and silver. Dragon would be back any moment now; he hadn’t pulled away from her in fear. She smiled, and let her eyes droop again. She would just rest quietly until he got back.

She didn’t wake again until late afternoon, her stomach growling unpleasantly. She yawned and looked around—there was no one in sight, and no evidence that Dragon or her mother had come by and let her sleep.

She found a few dry strings of seaweed in one of the net bags Dragon had left with her and chewed on them hungrily. They didn’t taste dreadful, which she took as evidence that she had to find more to eat before doing anything else. Cautiously, Skimmer much in her mind, she crept to the end of one of the broad branches and peered around. There was still no one in sight.

With the last of the dried seaweed in her mouth, she launched into the air, stretching for height. When she still saw no one around, she coasted downward, spiraling away from where Sturgeon School was camped, until she saw some plum trees, the limbs generously dotted with the fragrant purple fruit. She imagined she could smell the plums from high in the air, and dove toward the fruit with enthusiasm.

Eating was good, but gave her apprehensions time to circle her mind like crows around some poor dying thing. And stuffing the net bags with plums didn’t take enough of her attention to make any difference.

She constantly scanned sky, ground, and water for people. She saw birds and fish, and a sleepy bat heading into a nearly-invisible cave, but no people. Looking at the brush outside the cave, which was dense and brambly, she doubted anyone on foot could see any hint that it was there. She and Dragon had picked a good hiding place, for all that it should be less than an hour to the camp by air or by water. She was all alone, and likely to remain so until they showed up.

Orchid looked at the angle of the sun, and amended her thoughts—if they showed up. It was dreadfully late in the afternoon. Something must have gone very wrong. Dragon had planned to send her mother to her by dawn, or, if he couldn’t find her, return himself.

Her first impulse was to go looking for them. But then, remembering Skimmer, she was terribly afraid. If one lakeborn boy could capture her and tie her up, what could his elders do? But of course—she could stay up in the air, out of arm’s reach, just fly by and see what was what.

And then she had a bad thought—hunters used many tools. It wasn’t the most common tool for a lakeborn, but…she tried to remember if any one in Sturgeon School had a bow and arrows—she hadn’t seen any in anyone’s hands, but what about stored on one of the rafts? What if they coated an arrow with nofiera and shot it at her? Somehow she was quite certain that getting even a scratch full of the stuff would make her sick again.

She clung to the trunk of the plum tree, watching the tree where Dragon had left her in the distance, willing him to rise up out of the water, or her mother to wing down out of the sky.

But no one came. The sun shone, birds sang, silver fish leapt out of the water and splashed back in. And still no one came.

Eventually, the conviction that something was wrong grew stronger than her fear. She had to go see what was happening at the camp.

She let go of the trunk—well, she relaxed her hands and feet, anyway. She had clutched so hard that she had to slowly wiggle her hands to loosen her claws from the wood. It brought her a clear memory of helping Frog out of a tree, when Frog was younger, and had been scared by the sandborn child of some travelers. Somehow, the memory steadied her. She had always been able to find ways to help, whether it was helping her friends deal with strange things or helping her mother when she was healing people.

She resolved, she would find out what was happening, and figure out what to do to help her mother—and Dragon—now.

Orchid ate another plum, sucking at it as if it could provide her with courage, and automatically aimed for a spot where no one could step on it and get hurt, and tossed the pit into the air—“Oh!”

The image of the pit dropping reminded her of tossing a fruit at that lakeborn, the one who had been so rude. If she could just stay up above them, she didn’t have to be weaponless!

Taking one last look around for people, she launched into the air and headed to the cave. She could leave the plums there, for later. And, she smiled grimly, fill her bags with rocks.
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