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“Shit,” Zagi hissed. “Can’t you do this any faster?” The cut wasn’t as bad as it looked, but they needed to move soon, and even a minor wound would entice Chimaera’s carnivorous foliage.

Karim winced, and her fingers left the jagged, bloody gash in Zagi’s back – evidence of another skirmish with the Night Ring.

“Please, Zagi… let me get someone else. I’m no good at this…” she said quietly, her voice halting.

“No. Just do it right.”

The girl knew that Zagi would never let anyone else this close. Some might have considered it an honor, but it only scared her. She was no medic; the first time Zagi had been injured on her guard, she had berated herself for weeks – because she had allowed it to happen, but also because she had very nearly made him worse with her barely-passable knowledge of healing.

“Karim,” Zagi said sharply. “Just sew it up. I’ll be fine.”

He sat like a statue as the girl did as she was told. The result wasn’t pretty, but it did its job well enough.

“Done,” Karim murmured. “Careful with your left arm. Moving it too much could open this up again.”

Zagi held her hand for a brief moment before letting go and getting to his feet. He retrieved his shirt and departed without a word.

Karim watched him go, watched his scarred back as she had for three years now.

She loved Zagi, but she didn’t delude herself. She knew he couldn’t show affection, couldn’t have a favorite. He had to be absolute to lead the Blanc Ring with the iron hold he needed, and that meant that he couldn’t love her.

But she would always follow. She would love him, serve him, and keep him safe for as long as she lived. Karim didn’t care if that made her weak in other eyes – in hers, and in Zagi’s, it made her strong.

 

Later, Zagi let himself think about her. The wound in his back ached and stung, and he knew he could have gotten a better medic to get him a painkiller or more expertly tend to his injury. But he never would. He trusted no one. No one but her.