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from Born to Die by Kat Frost

Chapter 5
When the Fae Walked the World

The pain punched me in the gut in way of greeting. My head thrummed, and each breath sent stars of pain shooting through my abdomen.

“She’s waking up,” a deep voice said. “Go faster, but don’t rush it.”

“You’re contradicting yourself,” a tense female voice snapped irritably. Sparks of pain crawled methodically across my stomach with almost hypnotizing rhythm. “Just hold her still.”

“Whaa –” I tried, panic beginning to set in as heavy hands settled on my shoulders, pressing them into the hard wood slats of the bed beneath me. The jolt of fear helped get my eyes open, and I saw Borri looming over me, his shirt spattered with blood and concern in his face. A glint of short-cropped blonde hair beyond him hinted at Paathke, but she was bent over me too, hands working at my stomach.

“What are you doing?” I managed. I was suddenly aware that my shirt had been cut away from my wound and cool air rushed over my bare skin.

“Lie still,” Borri said gently. “Don’t talk, breathe small shallow breaths. This will be over soon. Make those stitches a little bigger, Paathke. Did you want to try the other needle?”

“I’m good.” Paathke’s voice was tight with tension. “You really should have done this; I was never born to be a seamstress.”

“It doesn’t have to be neat,” Borri said calmingly. “Don’t worry about straight stitches; worry about firm stitches. You’re doing great.” His tone was soothing, and I found myself relaxing just a little. I breathed carefully, trying not to move.

“There.” She sounded immensely satisfied and relieved, and I felt a sharp tug that made me gasp. “The knots are the easiest part, and my favorite. It means I’m done.” She stepped back and dashed back her hair with her arm, blowing out her lips.

“Still gets in the way,” I murmured. “Even short.”

“What was that?” Borri asked, leaning closer.

Paathke scowled, but her lips twitched. “She said she’s feeling better, thank you.”

“Actually, I am,” I said. I peered down at my stomach. A lot of the blood had been cleaned up, but it had bled more while Paathke was working. “It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected.”

“Sajia,” Borri said gently, “that’s because we used a numbing rub on the wound before stitching it to help dull the pain, and forced a strong pain draft into you. It’ll hurt a lot more later.”

“Oh,” I said uncertainly. I really wasn’t good with pain.

Paathke poured water from a jug onto a rag and swabbed her hands and arms, and then, carefully, my wound. Borri collected the needle and spool of thread packed it up into the medicinal bag. I hadn’t realized just how small my room was until there were three of us in it; we were practically on top of one another.

Paathke handed me a canteen that smelled of apple juice. “Sip this,” she ordered. She helped me sit up and prop myself against the wall, but just that effort made my head whirl and nearly pass out. I wondered just how much blood I’d lost.

“Why...” I swallowed a drink of the juice, trying to find the words. “Why didn’t you just kill me? When you found me, I mean. I’d be Reborn, you’d be saved a lot of work...” I would be spared living with a gash in my gut while trying to train and survive Leander. Suddenly the idea of having a reset ability to my life and health and body didn’t seem like such a bad thing, outside of Leander’s treatment.

“It’s easy to think that way, when you first start dying,” Paathke said to the air. She leaned against the wall, not looking at me.

Borri sat cross-legged on the bed beside me. “It quickly loses its luster,” he said. “For me, it never had much of a draw. Think: every time I die, I lose four years of everybody’s life but mine. I die five times, everyone I know will be twenty years older than I last knew them. Before I knew it, you and Paathke could be old grannies while I was still in the flower of my youth.”

Paathke snorted. “Grandpa, you’re not in your flower of youth now. You’re almost old enough to be my Da.”

“Well, in that case,” he said, smiling at her, “I would have had to get started very young indeed. But my point remains. Time lost in death adds up. And for a lot of Eternals, it gets to the point where...” He shrugged. “They just get sick of dying and coming back and dying and coming back. Eternally.”

“Also,” Paathke added, “it’s against the rules. Non-sanctioned deaths are strictly forbidden – you can only die on a mission or at Leander’s hands, or if it’s entirely an accident.”

“But what could th...

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