To my new friends, Welcome to the world of the fireborn, where, according to the myth, people were divided into different forms so that there would be no more fear and hatred and prejudice.
(If this is your first visit, the myth is better recounted here, and this story starts with Wings on His Fingers.)
The rocks felt very heavy. Orchid would have laughed at their weight a week ago. Of course, she reflected, yesterday she’d barely been able to fly with a net full of food.
She left the cave, being careful not to disturb the brambles that hid the entrance. When she reached a spot that was clear enough of overhanging foliage for her to leap straight upward, she jumped into the air. She was panting before she found a thermal and was able to slow her wingbeats slightly.
She wasn’t sure how long she could stay aloft, so she aimed for enough height that no lakeborn could tell if she were a windborn or a bird. Luckily, Orchid had sharp vision, even for a windborn. When she reached the height she wanted, she stretched her wings and coasted toward the camp, flapping her wings just enough to maintain sufficient height.
From a distance, the camp looked normal; the brightly painted sunshades looked cheerful from the sky. And the tiny figures of people clustered around the kitchen fire. Maybe, she thought, she was being foolish, carrying all these heavy rocks.
She got closer, and realized there were people laying on the ground, and others milling around them, like they were sick, and Lotus walking from person to person, wetting cloths to lay across their bodies. Had some sickness hit the school? If people were dying, she supposed, that might account for her mother’s delay…Then she saw Eel, Crab, and others of the men strutting around, glaring suspiciously at the people lying in the sand.
“You—” Orchid found herself at a loss for words. There was only one conclusion. Eel and his men must have fed people—it looked like the whole town, except for his cronies—nofiera. But where was her mother?
Desperate to see Mist, she wheeled, deliberately descending several times her height before she remembered she was trying not to be seen. A few quick beats of her wings raised her back up, and changed the angle of her view, letting her see under some of the sunshades.
Finally, she spotted her mother, looking incredibly small and vulnerable, her arms tied behind her back. Dragon was tied up next to her.
She felt a fierce urge to immediately drop all of her rocks onto Eel’s head, though her mother had lectured enough angry people about the stupidity of violent retaliation—usually while stitching them up—for Orchid to know that a load of rocks falling out of the sky would just get Eel—or his cronies, if he were dead—to attack her mother in turn. The thought of killing someone shocked her, but with her mother lying there, helpless and maybe as sick as she herself had been just two days earlier, Orchid couldn’t feel sorry for the thought. All she could feel sorry about was that there weren’t a hundred of her carrying enough rocks to knock out all the guards and then swoop in and rescue Mist and Dragon and all the other sick people.
Fuming, she circled around the camp. She had to get her mother out of there somehow. But how? She couldn’t just fly into camp and demand her mother be released. Eel would laugh at her, and doubtless dose her with nofiera. That thought was enough to make her shiver, even through the heat of her anger.
As she circled, she realized she was hearing something. It was different from anything she’d heard before, much like seeing the clams under the sand had been different from the kind of seeing she’d done before. Someone was crying—but where? And who? The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
She listened harder, trying to figure out which direction the not-sound came from. The colors around the people below became brighter. And the vertical threads of color became clear to her again. One of them was vibrating in time with the sobs. The longer Orchid listened, the clearer the threads became—and this time, without the sickening weakness she’d felt before.
If she could just touch the thread, she thought she could find the crying person. Maybe a path would appear in the air or the person’s colors would brighten? She didn’t know how it would manifest, but the more she contemplated the idea, the more certain she became. She had to act, or she’d burst, and she didn’t know what else to do.
Since she couldn’t just fly in and rescue her mother, Orchid decided to try it. She shifted her flight path and stretched out her fingers, the heavy bags of rocks still held tightly in her toes, and shifted to a glide, stretching out her fingers to snag the vibrating thread.
She expected to pluck the thread, like one would a string on a musical instrument, but instead her fingers stuck to it, spinning her around suddenly, putting the sun in her eyes.
With a sickening sense of disorientation, she lost track of up and down. The world spun around her, colors and scents and sounds shifting strangely, appearing and vanishing faster than she could blink.
Then she did blink, and her sense of gravity was back. The sunlight came from over one shoulder, and the camp was no longer beneath her. She was over the next island, and not very high over it—and almost tumbling in the air.
She let go of the bags of rocks and desperately tried to level herself out before she crashed to the beach below.
“Hey—watch out!” A girl’s voice came from a rock on the beach, one that was way too close to Orchid. She had no way to dodge; she had to keep beating her wings to stay aloft or crash right into it. She braced herself for the pain when her feet bashed against the rough rock.
Orchid beat her wings hard and curled her knees toward her chest, trying to will herself upward, but her feet still swung into the rock—and she felt hair tangle in her toes.
Now Orchid noticed that the rock had a colored center, much like when she saw Dragon underneath the waves, person-shaped, but brighter than Dragon’s colors had been. And she finally recognized the voice. “Lilly?”
The illusion of the rock dissolved. “Orchid?”
The two girls stared at each other as Orchid landed in the sand. Then they both spoke, “You’re fireborn too?”
This story isn't making me rich, but it has introduced me to new friends. So I hope you'll take a moment to comment or at least wave before you move on.