sideways: [o] contrasting artwork (►couldn't be more opposite)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: The Stranding
Rating: G
Series: Books of the Raksura (original characters)
Wordcount: 1406
Summary: Ivory Smoke hunters make an unusual find in the suspended forest, and Fortune's clutch gets involved.
Remarks: WIP, but tossing what I have up here for the others since it may be a while before I have a chance to finish. More Ivory Smoke whatnot.

Token caught Mellow on the winding stairs, and must have recognised the urgency with which she was moving because he fell in alongside rather than pull her short. She could see the question forming before he opened his mouth. “What’s-”

“I don’t know,” she said, and it came out breathless. “The hunters were attacked – they took Tea out to them, somewhere in the forest.”

“Medallion?”

“I don’t know.”

They hit the next platform in unison, but Token gave a quick nod and moved to go left, not further downward – she had no more information for him, and he knew better than to crowd the mentors’ rooms when there was injured incoming. A sudden shadow and flurry of wind had them both halt, however, looking up in time to see a pair of warriors descending with wings flared and feet outstretched for a graceful landing on the same platform.

The male shook his spines out, then cocked his head and said, “Oh, convenient,” just as Charm stepped forward and said, “You’re needed in the forest.”

“Ah,” Mellow said, dismayed. If Tea was requesting more mentors at the site instead of trying to get the patients back into the safer confines of the court as soon as possible, the situation must be serious. No one had said anything about deaths, at least, and neither warrior looked terribly rattled. That might have just been a warrior thing, though. “Token, could you-”

“Both of you,” Charm said.

Mellow raised her eyebrows; Token just turned further to face them and stared. Disasters in the forest usually involved predators, poisons, or falling off or through or into something – not the sort of issues that called for the expertise of an artisan.

“You can read Kedaic as well as speak it, right?” the male warrior – Thunder – said, and at Token’s slow nod he glanced at Charm. A spine flicked in assent, and he stepped forward to scoop the Arbora up with an arm under his knees before Token could do more than make a short, irritated sound. He didn’t protest further, though, just settled a grip on the warrior’s collar flange and caught Mellow’s eye for a moment of shared resignation before Thunder spread his wings wide and launched them both into open air.

Charm watched her fellow warrior go, as if making sure he wasn’t about to drop her clutch-brother several storeys onto his head, and then turned back to Mellow with a wry expression. Mellow felt her shoulders relaxing; she didn’t think Charm would be this at ease if someone was bleeding to death from a horrible mauling. A minor mauling, maybe. “Is there anything you need to do first?”

She had clearly noticed the clay pots Mellow had in her hands. Mellow glanced down at them, then at the platform around them. Word of an incident had whisked through the court and the through-areas were lively with Arbora, just as bright Aeriat colours flashed through the air as warriors passed messages and the response was assembled. “It’s just some simples that help with digestive pain…we usually leave them in the nursery but since we weren’t sure what to expect Sincere thought we’d best bring them down.”

“We can drop by first,” Charm started, and then blinked; some passing Arbora had stopped, overhearing, and it was Pond who hurried over, hands outstretched.

“Mellow, I can take them-”

Mellow passed the pots across gratefully – Pond handled wriggling armfuls of fledglings and toddlers on a daily basis, so she was confident they’d reach the mentor quarters safely in her care – and then looked up at Charm.

“Are you ready?” the warrior said.

“Yes,” Mellow said, and patted her arm. “And thank you for asking.”

“Some of us are civilised,” she said dryly, and picked Mellow up as easily as she might have lifted a crate of seedlings.

Mellow had to squeeze her eyes near-shut as they went over the edge; like almost all Raksura she had little fear of heights, but something about the first leap away from solid ground sat uneasily in her stomach. The elegant swooping of the Aeriat always looked so appealing until that moment. Maybe it made all the difference to have the wings attached to your own back.

Once out of the mountain-tree Charm settled into a steadier rhythm, which made it easier for Mellow to look around as well. She had been out of the court before, of course, and on far longer flights, but it didn’t happen so often that the view had gotten old. Ahead, the dark tangle and warm smells of the wider Reaches; behind, the bright lights of Ivory Smoke.

An unpleasant thought occurred. “We’re not going down to the forest floor, are we?”

“Hah,” Charm said. “No. They’re in the suspended forest, not too far away.”

“Good,” Mellow said fervently. The floor was not a place to venture lightly, and no place she’d want to be gathering with wounded companions. Bad enough to have one tangle with a predator – if that was, in fact, what had happened. “What sort of predator was it?”

She didn’t have the best look at Charm’s face from this angle, but she thought she saw something like consternation flicker across it. “No sort at all.”

“No?” she said, surprised. “But I heard-”

“There was an attack, but it’s more complicated than that. The hunters found…” Charm hesitated and then said, so droll there was no mistaking she knew exactly how absurd the words were, “They found a sealing.”

Mellow blinked. “A sealing.”

“Yes.”

“In the forest.”

“Yes.”

Mellow stared blankly across at her feet, dangling in the air, then squinted up at her clutchmate. “Are you sure it wasn’t a waterling? Or a swampling?”

Charm’s chest bumped against her on a heavy sigh. “No, Mellow, I’m not sure, but it smelled like a sealing.”

“It must have travelled inland somehow,” Mellow marvelled. “Up a river, maybe? But that wouldn’t bring it to this level…did it look like it could climb?”

“It didn’t look alive.” Charm tucked her wings to dip under a branch, flared them wide to catch the air again. “But when the hunters approached, it lashed out. It must have had venomous barbs – they went to groundling immediately, and by the time we’d pulled them back to a safer distance they could barely move.”

Which explained the injuries and confusion about predator attack. “So is it-”

“You’ll be able to see for yourself soon,” Charm said, firm enough for Mellow to take the hint.

It took another few minutes of flying for them to reach the others, during which time Mellow admired a scattering of puffblossoms thrown into the air by gallivanting hoppers, a tree frog that winked one bulbous eye after another at them as they passed, and a swarm of scratchy-shelled beetles that swirled around them in a humming cloud before darting for a gap in the upper canopy. At last Charm banked into a spiralling turn, and looking down Mellow could see the dozen or so Raksura gathered on a smallish, grassy platform studded with rocks.

A queen was there, Mellow realised; light green marbled through with reddish-brown. Orchid.

Charm set them down next to the main group, and Mellow shifted to Arbora as soon as her feet touched the ground; soft skin, bare neck, and blunt fingers just didn’t feel comfortable out in the suspended forest. Almost all the others were similarly in their scaled and winged forms, and once she’d deposited Mellow, Charm leapt into the air again, making a few short flaps to join Thunder and another warrior on a lookout’s perch formed by the pitted texture of the mountain-tree’s trunk. Mellow frowned a little, watching her go – most of the other warriors were staying closer – until it occurred to her that those on the platform were all from Orchid’s coterie. Clearly she had taken charge of the situation, hopefully by mutual agreement of the queens.

Tea was seated next to a pair of prone Arbora in groundling form, both already deep into a healing sleep; neither, Mellow was relieved to see, were Medallion.

“Mellow,” Tea said crisply, when she crouched down next to the head mentor. “Good. You’ll stay here. Need to get them back to Ivory Smoke. Anyone else stung, put them into healing sleep immediately. Not fatal, very painful.”

It was true the poisoned hunters looked discomfited even in this unconscious state, sunken-eyed and sweaty.
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