(For new readers, the story starts here.)
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Dragon walked away from Lotus and the healer, remembering that Orchid had come back after taking the grass into town, asking after Skimmer. And he hadn’t seen Skimmer all day. Could Skimmer really be fireborn?
But if he was, Orchid would have hidden him somewhere and come to tell her Mom she’d solved the mystery. And she hadn’t.
And the longer he thought about it, the more Dragon remembered all the petty little tricks Skimmer played on the younger kids when he thought no one was looking. He liked Orchid’s spunk, but she was so tiny—if Skimmer got her alone, there was no telling what he’d do. Especially if he took offense at her thinking he might be Fireborn.
But no one had ever listened to him before about Skimmer, who was the Sheriff’s son. Dragon tried to think—who would know where Skimmer had gone? He looked around. Skimmer wouldn’t tell the moms in the kitchen tent anything. And his own parents were back in town tending his grandma.
Down the beach, some of the men were pulling at the vines holding one of the large rafts together. Hammerhead was there, and Ghost Knife.
He strode forward, and watched for a few minutes. “I thought Skimmer was supposed to do that.”
“Yeah, well, he’s not here.”
“So Eel stuck you guys with the job?” Dragon shook his head. “Where is Skimmer, anyway?”
“What do you care?”
“He and I had a bet that I could find out who Walnut’s sweet on. I’ve got to tell him who it is today, or I lose.”
“Eel sent him on an errand.” Ghost Knife grunted, and pulled the vine tighter, breaking it.
“Really? Who?” Hammerhead leered, then noticed the dangling vine in Ghost’s hand. “You clumsy monkey! What’d you do that for?” He clenched a burly fist and looked around to see whether Eel was watching.
Dragon deliberately ignored the mishap. “If I tell anyone else first, he won’t pay up. Come on, guys, where can I find him?”
“It’s no big deal, we’ll just tie it together.”
Dragon touched the vine. “Eel wouldn’t like that.”
“You gonna tell him?” The burly man took a step forward and loomed over Dragon.
“No, I wouldn’t—well, I wouldn’t on purpose. But it makes a good story.” Dragon was frequently found storytelling. “Of course, if I was out swimming after Skimmer—“
“Eel sent him to the islands named after flowers, to find some more nofiera. But I didn’t tell you.”
Dragon stepped back, into the water. “Well, then, it would be inappropriate to thank you.” He dove into the water, and started swimming. Those islands weren’t close; but he was a fast swimmer.
Several hours later, he approached the islands. Careful not to come up between the setting sun and the islands, he surfaced to see what he could learn from the water. It didn’t take him long to locate Skimmer, who was yelling at some rough-cut logs, trying to tie them into a raft. The vine he was using had tangled in the leaves he had not bothered to strip from the thin logs. There was a bundle of red-tinged leaves next to him on the sand.
Why was Skimmer making a new raft? And where was Orchid? Cautiously, Dragon swam toward the island, listening. As he drew closer, he saw the remains of a small raft, mostly burnt, at the water’s edge. Skimmer wasn’t the smartest of the teenagers, but he wasn’t dumb enough to burn his own raft.
And then Skimmer changed subjects. “…and then I’ll get that Fireborn girl, and punish her for putting the raft in my fire.”
For the first time, Dragon was glad of Skimmer’s tendency to talk to himself when he was mad. Orchid had come and gone. But—fireborn? She was just a girl! Or…he looked at the nofiera. If Skimmer fed her some, and she got sick? That was just the kind of thing Skimmer would do.
Skimmer stood and limped over to the bushes, and Dragon saw a gash through one of his tattoos. Skimmer shook a fist westward. “I’ll get you!”
Dragon turned and swam away from the island, dropping just under the water and heading toward the sunset. Before full dark, he came upon two islands, one with a pleasant, sandy beach and the other surrounded by cliff-like rocks. He walked up onto the sandy beach, but it looked deserted. He laid down and dozed, waiting for moonrise. Then he got up again, walking around the island.
“Orchid? Are you here? It’s me, Dragon!” he called softly, very aware of how well sound could carry over water. But there was no response.
Finally, he returned to the water, swimming slowly and carefully to the other island, looking for some way to climb safely onto it. If there was one, he couldn’t find it by moonlight. Finally, he just settled for swimming around the island, calling softly. “Orchid? Are you all right? It’s Dragon—remember, I promised to help.”
He could go find the next westward island, but was reluctant to leave without having a proper look around. Even if he couldn’t be sure that he could find a hiding windborn from the ground, he felt he had to look. Whatever Skimmer had done to her was his fault, after all. He’d told Orchid where to find him.
Finally, he happened upon a rock whose top was under the water just enough that he could sit on it with his head above the waves, and he perched there, trying to listen over the growling of his stomach, and waiting for sunrise.
The story continues here:
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