The first chapter of Fireborn is Wings on His Fingers. Feel free to click over to there if you haven't read the earlier chapters yet. There's a link at the end of every chapter leading to the next, so you don't have to scroll through my whole journal to read the story (unless you want to). You can also use the table of contents.______________________
Orchid flew long and hard, into the wind, high up to where the air grew thin and cold. She wondered which of her mother’s friends was fireborn, and how she could tell, if they didn’t tell her. It just wasn’t fair. She hadn’t been so angry with her mother for—for months, at least. Not since she realized her mother wasn’t eating while she was so busy tending the fever outbreak in Chasm Town.
With her wings all stretched out and starting to feel just a little bit tired, she was at least feeling less angry. She turned around and coasted on the wind, letting it push her back toward the little encampment. She’d just have to show her mother she could be trusted. But how? She wanted something important, something more satisfying than just bringing her mother food.
Orchid thought, hard, about everything her mother had said. If there was a fireborn, about her own age, it was an easy bet that she—or he—wasn’t going to admit it. Not to any adult, with the Mayor acting like all fireborns were as chancy and dangerous as hisa-wasps. But to another kid, one who could fly them safely out of town? Yes! No longer tired, Orchid surged back toward Sturgeon school.
As she imagined her triumph, Orchid remembered how large all the lakeborns her age were. Flying one of them out of town wouldn’t be an option, not alone, anyway. Well, if they could sneak away, she could guide them to safety. It would have to do. If she could figure out which one was the fireborn.
She returned to town, but remained high, looking to see what was going on. She didn’t want to land where her mother was, and get scolded for flying off. People were wandering around, but she didn’t see her mother. Probably in one of the sun shelters, she concluded.
She saw Frog and Mud, sitting in the sun nearest the biggest sun shelter, playing in mud. A man leaned out of the sun shelter and took Frog’s hand, moving it carefully in the mud—oh, lessons! And Orchid was missing them. Reflexively, she flew higher, though lakeborn eyes weren’t adapted to distances the way windborns’ were. She felt both guilty and elated; missing lessons wasn’t going to prove she could be trusted, but group lessons were almost always deadly dull.
Besides, she had a fireborn to find, and she was sure that whoever it was wouldn’t be trying fun things under the watchful eyes of teachers. She looked around again—was everyone at lessons? No—there—she spotted Dragon, Shark, and Current, a ways inland, cutting long grasses. She headed toward them, being careful not to angle downward until the trailing side of the sun shelters would block her from view.
She flew down, hovering overhead. “Skipping lessons?”
They jumped, and looked up. “Hey! It’s not nice to sneak up on people.” Current frowned at her.
“She didn’t sneak up, she flew down!” Dragon smiled at her.
“Fine—it’s not nice to swoop down on people, then.”
Dragon held a bundle of grasses under his knee, tying twine around it. “Don’t mind Current. He would rather be doing sums than gathering grass to make baskets with.”
Shark tried to grab a new handful of grass, then looked up at her. “Um, I don’t mean to complain, but the wind from your wings isn’t helping. Would you like to join us on the ground?”
Orchid landed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make your chores harder. Can I help?”
“We didn’t bring an extra knife, I’m afraid.” Dragon was still smiling at her. “But you could keep us company.”
“Why aren’t you in lessons?” Current asked, still frowning.
“No one told me about any lessons.”
“Current, do you have a worm in your gills?”
The dark blue boy mumbled something, and stalked off to find a different tuft of grass to harvest. Shark followed him, giving him a companionable cuff on the shoulder, and set to work next to him.
Orchid gestured toward them, softly humming the whistle-tune, *query*.
“He’s been upset since the Mayor singled him out to talk to the Healer first, about this whole fireborn nonsense. “
“You don’t think there’s a fireborn in town?”
“Nah. And if there is, why does anyone care? It’s not as if he’s hurting anyone, if he is real. But Current thinks there is. And that healer, she kept asking him who else saw what he saw, and who was nearby. Like she didn’t believe him.”
Orchid wondered if she should admit ‘that healer’ was her own mother. Probably not. “But you don’t believe him.”
“Oh, I believe he saw colored lights. But I figure there’s some explanation. Something more likely than a secret fireborn with nothing better to do than make rainbows and play with fish.”
“What if—what if it was just a kid, somebody who was just learning they could make rainbows and play with fish?”
“Then that’s all the more reason to think that whoever it is, is harmless. “
“That makes sense.” Orchid thought a moment. If she was going to find the fireborn, she’d need an ally. Someone who knew the Sturgeon Town people. And Dragon wasn’t afraid—that was a good point in his favor. Besides, she liked his smile. Quietly, she added, “My mother—you know my mother is the healer?”
“I figured that. You look more like her than your friends do, anyway.”
“My mother thinks there is a fireborn, a kid like us. She says that kids don’t know they’re fireborn until they’re about our age, and they suddenly can do magic.
Dragon glanced over at his friends, then stepped a little further away from them before bending to cut more grass, a thoughtful look on his face. “So there is a fireborn?”
“She’s not sure, but she says if there is, he—or she—needs to get out of here and be fostered with other fireborns.”
“That makes sense. Then the Mayor could stop worrying and we could head down to Rainbow Bay.”
“And you could get your tattoo.” In the very short time she’s known him, he’d talked about that at least five times.
He ducked his head, and Orchid was sure he was blushing, though his dark skin hid it. “Yeah.”
“So, you’ll help me?”
“Help you with what?”
She stomped her foot. “With finding the fireborn.” She refrained from adding, ‘stupid’. She’d learned that that word usually made people less than helpful.
“Well, I’ll help you look, though I still don’t think there is one.”
“Aw, come on, smile! I said I’d help.” He looked up at her so earnestly that she had to smile. “But you have to tell me how I can help,” he added.
“Well, first, how many kids our age are there?”
“You’ve met most of them. There’s a couple dozen teenagers, and a bunch of littles; There used to be Anemone and Reef, but they’re seaborn. They got fostered just before this whole fireborn thing started.”
“Oh. So who do you think it could be?”
“How would I know?” He gathered up another bundle of grass, and Orchid grabbed the string.
“You hold it and I’ll tie.” She was going to have to do all the thinking here, obviously. But what to ask? “When they left, did their parents get a new foster kid?”
“No. The trip to the ocean is long, their parents went with them. And nobody else got a foster kid this year.” He answered the obvious next question, to Orchid’s relief.
She smiled, and he beamed back at her. “Ok, well, is anyone acting differently?”
“No, well, yes, but—we all miss Anemone and Reef, and we all have new chores and responsibilities, and, well—“ He ducked his head again, his eyes dropping to her chest, then away. He bent to cut more grass. “I can’t think of anything that stands out, anyway.”
Orchid shook her head. Boys. “Well, if you think of anything, or if you see anything, let me know, OK? Don’t go spreading more rumors.”
“Yeah, OK. “ He smiled up at her again. “Of course.”
It was obvious she wasn’t going to learn anything more from him, at least not right away. “You want me to drop these bundles off for you?”
“Sure, take them to Lotus, at the cook-shelter. “
Orchid snagged the twine on both bundles in one foot, and leapt to the air. She detoured to Current and Shark and they held another two bundles up for her to grab with her other foot.
It occurred to her as she flew off, that disbelief and cluelessness might be a really good way to hide. If Dragon was the fireborn, he didn’t trust her, smiles or no smiles. Even if she was his age.
This wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d planned.
Next: Your Son Bewitched My Daughter
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