Day Nine

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THE PAIN SNAPPED HER awake before the sun had risen. Somewhere in her mess of memories of the night before, they had slipped her medication; she could feel it hanging thick and bloated in her mind, keeping the worst of her leg at bay, but tendrils of pain snaked through it, poking at her, prodding her, just enough that she could not stay asleep. She tipped her head back, her body soaked against the cold stone, and stared at the cave ceiling. She narrowed her eyes.

Barely visible in the early streaks of dawn and the embers of the fire, white lines traced and danced across the walls, up and down and linking with each other, making--

Pictures, she realized. She pushed herself upright, relishing in the cool air against her wet back, and tested her leg. It was stiff, barely able to move, but the painkillers held strong. She gripped the wall and pushed herself to her feet, holding on as her good leg wobbled, nearly giving out again. She let the wave of dizziness pass, and then she crouched and blew into the embers, breathing life back into the fire just enough to light the walls. 

Her legs trembled. She took a step and nearly fainted. But still she kept walking, following the drawings, following something that stirred deep inside her chest. 

They looked old, far older than the last humans. Centuries and centuries had passed since these had been drawn, perhaps much more. And yet these people were here, with their troubles, their loves, their joys, moments no book would ever remember but that they had seen every time they closed their eyes, insecurities and desires and secrets deep enough to vanish with them when they died. She reached out her good arm and traced a hand along the lines, the rock cool and rough against her fingertips. Once, a life had stood where she stood, drawing. She pulled her hand back. 

Since she was little, humanity possessed a clear line in her head, cleaving history into Before and After. Old, salvaged pictures did little to dispel the notion. And as she grew up on her father's ship, and then it became her own, flying above the wreckage, observing the damage they had wrought on the world and on themselves, it was so easy to write them off into a horrible past of cruelty and greed. But there was so much more to the stories--the parts that got left out precisely because they were not evil, or selfish, or ignorant, that revealed complex lives of mistakes and learning and hope. 

To think of them as living, not just alive, terrified her.

It was that thought that echoed in her mind, over and over and over, as she hobbled back to where she had lain and dropped back down. It sounded off against her skull as her leg began to throb, the heat in each burst harder and harder to ignore. She let herself descend into the numbing darkness and let it fill her up, consuming her until even the pain was gone for a few restless, blissful hours. 

When she awoke again, she heard voices and footsteps, her crew preparing for another day of walking. She felt sick to her stomach at the thought, and wrinkled her nose at the foul smell in the air. She looked down. It came from her leg. 

Raina grimaced and thrust herself up onto her eblows. She unwrapped the bandage, trembling so badly that it took several tries, before finally removing it and looking at the festering skin beneath. 

Her heart stopped.

A putrid smell wafted to her nose, but even that did not register in the face of the blackening skin beneath, the edges tinged brown and bronze, the vicious mess of flesh rotting away on her very leg. Glancing around, she wrapped it back up as fast as she could, retying the bandage before the others took notice. If they knew, they would leave her. Her eyes filled with tears, but she willed them back, terror and agony mixing into one vicious storm inside of her. 

"...we'll leave as soon as they're back with the water," Maeve said, deep in conversation with Kieran. She crossed her arms and looked around the cave. Her eyes fell on Raina. 

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