“It hurts so much…” Aelin gasped, shaking fingers motioning towards the horrifying red gash spread open across a large portion of her chest, carved with the accuracy and skill of a practiced butcher; blood soaked into her shirt and pooled, coagulating around Børre’s boots. “I’m so tired.”

“I know. Try to think of something else.”

Tears swelled in her eyes, trying to seek a place of calm in the back of her mind, beyond the thoughts of her pain and shaking body as a pulsing heat grew closer and closer, until a foreign object was laid across her open wound. The feeling was akin to molten ore being poured into her body, boiling her blood until it was nothing but steam, forging flesh back together until she was made into steel once more. Aelin screamed through it, fingers clawing and ripping at the floorboards beneath her.

The burning stopped almost as quickly as it’d began, an arm looping under her waist and legs, sweeping her from the floor as weightlessly as a rag doll, cradled in a safe embrace. Aelin whimpered as he began to move, the pain taking her again as she fought to keep her eyes open, to keep the world from crumbling into an endless void.

“No… I can’t… I’m not going to make it.” This was it, she thought, the end.

She would never see the future she had dreamed of come to fruition and all of her sacrifices would be for nothing. A compilation of the worst moments of her life, a storybook of darkness and despair, began as she lost her grip on the room. This was the final page of her story, the accumulation of her life’s goals having amounted to nothing. Worthless. Through her red and black vision she caught a glimpse of Børre’s expression, she tried to open her lips to protest him squandering precious moments on a dying woman, but the words stuck in her throat her first try. Surely he could see? She wasn’t leaving this building alive.

Shallow breaths were drawn, trying to minimize the pain. “Go to the others and just let me die,” she whispered, unsure if the words had really come, or if she was imagining it. “You’re wasting time.”

Børre’s hold on her tightened, the tone in his voice indicating that this wasn’t a negotiation. Hard and unyielding as ever.

“Not a chance. You’re going to survive, because that’s what you do.”

Stubborn… but unlike the times before, this was tinged by something else. A whiff of a familiar smell she’d never caught from him, permeating, invading what little sense she had. It was the smell of fear. It was in the way he moved, the way he breathed, in the barely contained vestiges of his control. Aelin wanted to reach out and touch his face, to brush aside his matted golden hair and offer a last reassurance. Instead, she strained, listening to hear this last command. His final words, before it all went black.

“You always have, you always will.”