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from Born to Die by Kat Frost

Chapter 11
Gae Bolg

We rode out as the moon peered between the clouds, warning of the approach of midnight only hours away. Most people wouldn’t dare travel in the dark, especially not where we were heading, but the other two had come to rely on my eyes and ears as our nighttime armor. No pressure or anything. (See? Sarcasm.)


Nothing but crickets disturbed our ride for hours, the clink of the bits and creaks of the tack, and the steady clop-clop of the horses’ hooves forming a rhythmic backdrop to the night. Finally, I broke the silence.


“Do you ever feel like our lives are built of fours?” I had been thinking about this ever since The Prancing Pony.


“How do you mean?” Borri asked.


“So four years ago, I was initiated. Four years before that, I was made an Eternal. Paathke is four years older than me. If you die, you have a four-year Rebirth. And this year, you turn forty-four. Also, when I was four was the first time someone hurt me because I was half-elf. So. A life made out of fours.”


“Ohh-kayy....” Paathke said, like she was talking to a crazy person. “Um, yeah, fours are great, we got them in spades. Anyone ready for a halt?”


“We barely got started!” I protested. “And you’re superstitious enough that you really should take this seriously.”


“I am.” Her voice was uneasy. “That’s exactly the point. I want to shut you up because you’re freaking me out.”


“It is odd,” Borri conceded. “But I don’t see the significance of this right now, like what it might mean. No black cats tonight, Paathke, it’s alright.”


“You don’t?” I was genuinely surprised. “It means something significant and probably disastrous to me is going to happen sometime this year.”


“I thought you were the rational, unsuperstitious one,” Paathke muttered. “That dazzling elf intellect of yours, you know, finding the explanation for everything.”


“I’m unsuperstitious enough to know to be slightly superstitious,” I explained.


“That actually doesn’t make sense when you think about it,” she pointed out. “Like, I mean –”


“It makes sense to me,” I said firmly, “and that’s what matters.”


“Do you really need a halt, Paathke?” Borri asked. “Or was that only an excuse? Because we can stop if you like.”


“Nah, I’m good. I just want this harbinger of gloom and doom here to give it a rest.”


“Fine, I’ll shut up,” I said. “All I’m saying is that something catastrophic is going to happen to me this year.”


“Really, Sajia,” Paathke said in a no-nonsense way, “put a lid on it already.”


I did. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that coincidences didn’t just happen, and that even if I didn’t know why this was, it was. Something was going to happen, and no matter how much I tried to brace for it, it would still catch me off guard. Being made an Eternal had come out of nowhere. When I’d been initiated, I thought I’d been prepared, I knew what was coming, and was as braced as anyone could be for being burned alive. But I hadn’t expected the whole madness thing that had followed right on the heels of my initiation, and it had completely shaken the prospects of my future to the ground and narrowed them to a sliver. It would be foolish to assume nothing would happen this year... and it was already half-gone. The summer solstice was this month.


Later that night, I heard the howl of wolves in the distance, but didn’t mention them. I knew when the others had heard them when Paathke sniffed loudly beside me and muttered, “stupid rules. Wolf brothers should totally count as self-expression.”


She’d wanted a wolf house-brother, a Norlund custom. They kept wolves, but not like Azurians had pets or hunting hounds; these were brothers – they ate the same food, shared the same house and sleeping space and fire warmth, and were treated with honor and as equals and brothers. It had something to do with some goddess who’d married a werewolf or something, but Paathke had really wanted one with her in the Low Quadrant. She had been denied, as they claimed it would be too harsh to the wolf, used to the wild, to be trapped underground, and the upkeep was too ridiculous. No matter how much she’d pleaded, the request was always refused. When she heard wolves in the wild, it made her teary. Come ti think of it, I was pretty sure that was the only thing I’d ever seen to make her teary. Poor Paathke.


The wolves didn’t bother us. They probably had easier prey. I wasn’t too worried, though; Norlunders have a natural charm over wolves that I’d seen Paathke use before, and they would adopt her as their pack leader and mew best friend, and follow her orders. Her first was always to leave us alone, so wolves were never a concern on our journeys. Bandits and savages would be a different story, but for now we were still riding through the densely-populated swath of Azure and stretches of farmland. Later in the week, as we got close to Gae Bolg, we’d have more to worry about.


/ / /


“I can see it,” I whispered. We were in the Gae region, savage territory. The horses sensed our heightened nerves and shifted on their feet uneasily, smacking their bits and whuffling, the sounds alarmingly loud. I hoped it was just my sharp hearing making it seem that way.


Ahead of us, a town encircled by a flimsy wooden wall sprawled. It wasn’t much to look at, but the building in the center was. Crowned with an elegant dome made of wooden beams that curved and tapered toward the center, it was an architectural disaster and marvel. It was low to the ground, only one story, and wasn’t circular or squared or any real shape at all; it was like a child had been molding wood like clay and had gotten frustrated and slammed the blob down on the ground. But somehow, the savages made it work. It was impressive, and probably practical. One whole wall-section was planks that could shingle together and be raised by a chain to haul trees through to be processed into lumber; other than that there were no other entrances.


“The Forge,” Borri whispered. “The ...







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