Oh yeah--for my new friends and readers, Fireborn starts with Wings on His Fingers.
Orchid had jammed her claws deeply into the tree, and her wings and legs ached. She was drifting in and out of coherence, and dreadfully thirsty. Her mother appeared, hovering just a few feet away, and Orchid loosened one hand and reached for her, but felt only leaves. Mist wavered in the air as Orchid moved, then vanished. “Mom!” Orchid called, but her voice was barely a croak. She reached out and ended up swinging from the tree
The swinging made her nauseous again, and the heaves cleared her head a little. If she could imagine Mist was there, she could dream she was nestled in her pillows at home, and let go of the tree. And fall, without the sense to spread her wings and fly. Carefully, she loosened her feet, and then her other hand, and started to climb down.
Halfway there, she found herself surrounded by long, sharp thorns. Mud was above her, but for some reason, she had decided to climb to the younger girl, instead of having her climb down on her own. She froze, berating herself for stupidity, then had a vivid memory of Mud landing in her wings. She had not climbed into the hawthorn. She closed her eyes and felt the bark under her hands and feet, opened them to look at the leaves. It was a maple. The thorns vanished, and she scrambled down as fast as she could, until her feet hit the ground.
Her mother’s words started echoing in her mind, with vivid images of patients Orchid had watched her treat. She needed water, though the thought was nauseating. She was hallucinating, seeing things that weren’t there. Slowly, she started exploring the area around the tree she’d landed in, resting frequently.
She tried to remember what the island looked like from the air, but all she could remember was Skimmer’s voice and sun-glare. Was he here? Her heart raced, pounding, and she listened intently. Nothing. She walked a little more, finally finding a small pool of water. Cautiously, she pushed the little water lilies to the side and took a sip. When that stayed down, she had a few more cautious drinks, before crawling under a bush to hide.
She slept and woke, and dragged herself to the pool to drink again, several times. Twice, she heaved after the first swallow. Then, she waited and, her mother’s lectures to patients ringing in her ears, tried again, with tiny sips. How could that one little bit of tea make her this sick?
With time and water, she started feeling more clear-headed. She stopped seeing visions of her mother, but started seeing a bright-colored haze around things. In two spots, there was a bright-colored vertical line, that persisted even after her stomach stopped feeling so terrible.
Finally, she woke in darkness, imagining she heard Dragon calling her. She looked around. She could see the haze around each tree and plant, though there was no moon in the sky. And the vertical lines were still there. She must be hallucinating again. She had another drink and crawled back under her bush.
When she woke again, she heard Dragon cursing. The colored haze was still there, and her stomach was growling. She still felt weak and sick, but thought it might just be hunger. Or, she thought, looking at the blue haze on the bush she was lying under, mostly hunger.
She crawled out, stood up, and had a drink, then she set off in the direction of Dragon’s voice. She walked around tree after tree, then stepped on something squishy, and realized she was under a plum tree. Without thinking, she leapt into the air and harvested some plums. The first one tasted incredibly good. Fearing that she would just get sick again, she returned to the ground after stuffing more plums into her pouch.
When she got to the edge of the cliff, she had plum juice dripping down her chin. She leaned over the edge and looked down.
Dragon was wedged behind a boulder, resting, one arm and leg scraped and bleeding, and halfway up the cliff.
“What are you doing here?”
He looked up and scowled. “Looking for you.”
His stomach growled, loud enough that she could hear it all the way up the cliff. “Um, do you want a plum?”
He looked up at her and scowled some more. “Do I—?” He shook his head. ”Why did I come all the way out here?”
“You said you were looking for me.”
“I was. Your mother is worried sick. And I come out here, and call you, and you don’t even bother to answer, then you show up smiling, with plums! What do you think you’re doing, playing hide and seek?”
“That really was you, calling me last night?”
“Of course it was! Who did you think it was?”
“I thought I was still hallucinating.”
“What?” He turned to look more carefully at her, and she realized she was filthy, with twigs tangled every which way in her hair.
“Hallucinations. Fever dreams. I dreamed my mother was here, and Mud, and—“
“I know what hallucinations are. Are you all right?”
“I—I’m better, I think.”
“Skimmer poured nofiera tea down my throat. It made me sick. You going to be scared of me now?”
“What? I should never have told you where to find him!”
“It’s not your fault. I could have gone to get my Mom instead of flying out here on my own.” They stared at each other, and she ate another bite of plum. His stomach growled loudly again. “Well,” she said, “Are you coming the rest of the way up here?”
He grimaced. “I think this is as far up as I get, on this set of rocks.”
“Are you stuck?”
“Of course not! I can always dive back into the water.”
Orchid could see the beach on the other island from where she stood; it wasn’t far. “Ok, why don’t you meet me over on that beach? I’ll bring more plums.”
“You sure you’ll be all right?”
She considered. “I’ll wait until you’re over there, and watching me. If I start puking again and fall into the water, you can come get me.”
He shook his head. “I’ll find a different way up. When I saw Skimmer last night, he was planning to head this way soon.”
She stepped back. “You spoke to Skimmer?”
“I didn’t say I talked to him! He was yelling at you and shaking his fist in this direction, loud enough that I didn’t have to get near the island he was on to hear every word.”
“I’ll fly back up here if we spot him.”
“You can’t help me if you fall and get hurt. Get back in the water where you belong!”
”Well, all right. But you be careful.”
She watched him climb onto the boulder he’d been behind. The webbing on his hands and feet gave him a very secure grip. She enjoyed the grace in his movements as he stood there, then leapt outward, arching his body to land in the water with a plume of spray.
She realized he had a haze of colors around him too, reds and greens and violet, and she could track his progress under the water by it. She watched as he swam, slowing, and rose to the surface to wave at her. She exhaled the breath she’d been holding, and went to get more plums.
She was feeling much steadier when she flew over to the other island, where Dragon was building a campfire. She handed him a plum.
“Thanks.” He ate five of them in what seemed like moments, gulping them down as if he’d skipped dinner. Then he got the fire started, and started walking slowly along the beach, peering at the sand.
“What are you doing?”
He smiled and plunged his hand into the sand, scooping up a huge handful, then letting the sand trickle out, to show her a clam in the center of his palm. “I need more than plums.”
Orchid couldn’t decide if clams sounded good or not. She watched as he tracked down the beach, digging out two more clams, and realized that she was seeing a bit of orange haze under the sand where he dug. And that he was walking past some similar spots. She walked over and dug out a clam, and then another and another.
“If you knew how to find clams’ airholes, why’d you ask what I was doing?”
“Oh. That’s how you were finding them?”
“Of course! How were you finding them?”
“I—I’m still hallucinating, I guess.”
“That’s stupid. Every time you dug, you got a clam.”
She looked at the five clams in her hand.
He came over and gently took the clams from her, adding them to the ones he’d gathered. “A few more, and I’ll have a good breakfast. You gather some more while I get the fire ready.”
She just stood there.
Orchid decided this must be another fever dream, and tried to wake up, but nothing happened. Well, there was no harm in doing what he wanted if this was all a dream.
She walked across the sand, digging when she saw nice large orange spots under it, and walked back to hand them to him, trying to understand what was going on.
He’d piled the sand high in a ring around the fire, placing stones on the inner part of the ring. Now he lined the clams up between the stones and the fire, and added more wood. Then he smiled at her. “Got another plum or two, for while they cook?”
Automatically, she pulled some plums out of her pouch and handed them to him. He led her to the fire, motioned her to sit down, and handed one back to her. “Here, have a bite.”
“So, want to tell me how you were finding my clams?”
“I—I saw them. Well, not them, exactly. Kind of like their shadow. In light. I thought I was still hallucinating.”
He shook his head ruefully and bit into his plum. “I thought all this fireborn stuff was nonsense.” He looked at her. “You know, I hate being proved wrong!”
“You think I’m—“
She looked at her plum. “I don’t know. You aren’t afraid of me?”
He laughed. “You have some reason to want to hurt me?”
“Of course not!”
“Well then.” He poked one of the smallest clams with a stick, and dragged it away from the fire to cool. “I’m going to eat. Want one?”
The story continues with Footprints in the Sand.
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