For anyone who has not been following Fireborn, the story starts here, with Wings On His Fingers.
Despite her efforts, and the discomfort of being tied to the tree, Orchid dozed. She had flown long and hard the day before, and tiredness overtook her.
She woke with Skimmer slapping her face. “Drink this.” He held a cup with bad-smelling liquid in it. It reminded her of the herbs that Mud’s mother had been gathering. Orchid glared at him.
“Drink it or I’ll knock you silly and pour it down your throat.”
He had one broad-webbed foot pinning her tied ankles to the ground. Her legs hurt where he’d kicked her. And her shoulders and wings ached from her hands being tied behind her back all night. Fighting would only make it harder to escape, and wouldn’t keep him from gagging her with that stuff.
She opened her mouth, but didn’t do any more than that to help him. He pushed her head back and poured, and she deliberately gagged, coughing as hard as she could.
He pulled the cup back. “Swallow it, you fireborn-lover freak!”
“I would if you’d stop trying to choke me!”
He slapped her again, and poured more into her mouth.
She coughed again, and this time kept coughing until tears flowed down her cheeks.
He smiled. “Maybe you are a fireborn freak, not just a fireborn-lover.”
“Yeah, right. What—“ Cough. “What was that stuff?”
“I decided I wouldn’t need the sample leaf of nofiera that Eel gave me. I made you a little tea.” He smiled brightly. “And now I’m off to harvest more. See you later.” He walked off, then turned around. “I sure hope you get sick. I’d love to deliver a fireborn to Eel.”
She hung there, coughing, until she spit up what little liquid she had swallowed. When she finally stopped heaving, she listened. He was singing. She listened while the sound faded slowly, then twisted to try to get her claws on the ropes. She couldn’t reach them.
She hitched her feet up and pushed herself toward the tree and wiggled again. Almost. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself toward the tree again. She wiggled, got her claws on the rope, and started to saw, and then was hit with dry heaves.
It was just the stress, it had to be just the stress. Didn’t it?
As soon as the heaving stopped, she returned to sawing at the ropes with her claws. She felt weak and cold. But she had kept up with her mother, flying, out on sick calls when she was tired, through rain and bitter cold, too stubborn to stay behind. She wasn’t about to give up. She had dry heaves again before she got through the ropes on one of her wrists, and could bring her hands around in front of her.
She had thought if she could see what she was doing, she could untie the other, and then her ankles, but she had trouble focusing. She ended up leaving the rope on one wrist and sawing through the ropes around her ankles.
She stood up, tottering around, trying to get her muscles limbered up, but she was dizzy and it was hard to focus. But she had to get away, and that meant flying.
She drank some water and puked it up again, then just washed out her mouth, and forced herself to run back and forth until her legs felt steadier. Then she flapped her wings until they stopped cramping. Then she heaved again.
She couldn’t believe how sick that stuff was making her. It was a bad idea to go flying like this, but she was on an island, trapped there with that--monster. She had no choice.
She rummaged through Skimmer’s things, stuffed his food into her pouch—she didn’t know when she’d feel like eating again, but it was about the only revenge she was likely to get. His small raft was beached nearby, and she smiled. It only took a few moments to get the embers of his fire glowing again; she added driftwood, then the raft and everything on it. The flames rose, but it also got very smoky.
The smoke might alert Skimmer. She'd better hurry.
Not trusting her wings for a hovering takeoff, she ran to the edge of the beach and leapt into the air, beating her wings hard to get height. She strained to get high enough that she might have time to recover if she couldn’t hold a gliding position when another wave of heaving hit.
She felt so incredibly stupid, flying sick, and stupid for getting herself into a situation where she had to do it. The sunlight was bright—too bright.
She should fly back toward her mother, or toward the aerie, but she couldn’t think, her head was starting to hurt and she could barely keep her eyes open, even squinting. She turned her back to the sun and flew, as hard and far as she could, and when she started to tire, let herself glide downward, looking for a good place to land.
Orchid didn’t recognize either of the islands in sight, but she couldn’t tell if that was because she didn’t know them, or because her head was pounding so badly. She had to choose one of the islands.
One had nice rocky cliffs; it would be hard for any lakeborn to get to her there, but could she trust herself to land in a tree safely, the way she was feeling? The other had long, sandy beaches. A much easier landing, but if Skimmer had seen her flying off and followed—could he swim as fast as she was flying? How long had she been flying?
She remembered Skimmer slapping and kicking her, and headed for the rocky island. She’d been landing in trees since she was younger than Mud. She could do it. She couldn’t risk being sick and where Skimmer could get at her. She blinked at the trees and tried to focus better, then set herself to coasting toward them.
Orchid’s stomach started to cramp again, but she focused on the trees. She had to find a sturdy branch, something she could sink her claws in and hang onto, and rest a while. Her head pounded, and her eyes blurred, and for a few minutes, all she could do was to hold her wings out and glide, praying no gust of wind would send her tumbling toward the rocks below.
When she could open her eyes again, she realized she had overshot the island, and turned back toward the trees she had chosen. Now the sun was in her eyes, and she just couldn’t see. She fought to rise up again, flying with her eyes closed.
Guessing when she was far enough, she turned around again, and opened her eyes. She was close—too close to the first tree, and she veered around it, grabbing the next one desperately, missing with one foot, but catching it with the other, digging her claws in as hard as she could.
Orchid ended hanging from one foot, her thigh throbbing where Skimmer had kicked it. She let herself swing for a moment, and the movement set her heaving again.
She curled protectively around her sore belly, and realized the tree trunk was near enough to grab. Using both hands, she dug her claws in, then worked her toe-claws loose from the branch. Slowly, shivering, she shifted until her head was up, then climbed down, one slow handhold and foothold at a time, to a hollow in the crotch of the tree.
There, she pressed herself as deep into the crotch as she could, jammed her toenails firmly into the bark, and wrapped her wings around herself for warmth. Then, finally, digging the claws of her outer hand into a branch, for a little extra security, she gave in to her misery and pain, and cried herself to sleep.
The story continues here.
Thanks for reading!
As always, comments are very welcome.