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If We're Still Alive, My Regrets Are Few

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Though the arm - no longer hers, not in her own mind at any rate, though it was vital that the monsters in pursuit continued to mistake it for her whole self - was useless, she had still felt each of the blows necessary to separate it. Her - too loud, too dangerous with their foes hunting them too nearby - strangled noises of pain unsuccessfully muffled by her cloak were joined by the Prince's protests and a yelp from the scrawny mutt cowering nearby.

One last strike, more pressure than pain now - everything had become curiously distant; the dull peace that her grandfather and all her line before her had taught her to struggle out from beneath with her last reserves - and the limb fell away. So much dead weight, and yet a tool fitted to one final task.

She must have lost herself for a moment - to the pain or the tide of blood or the promised ease of sleep she was absolutely not permitted to surrender to while her Prince remained at risk - because she found herself propped against the wall with no recollection of having been moved. A cord had been twisted tight just below her shoulder, digging deep into the flesh of the ragged-edged remainder of her arm to stem the flow of her blood. Foolish of her, not to have done so before the first blow. A failing she would make certain that the Yao clan held her to account for, should she survive to find herself before them again.

The Prince - never so foolish as he sometimes encouraged those inclined to underestimate him to believe - had clearly understood her plan. (Perhaps she had explained herself in the moments absent from her memory? Still, she doubted that anything she could have said in that space would be so useful.) However it came to pass, he was crouched nearby, murmuring soft words to the whimpering dog even as he cinched a sash around its thin ribs, burdening it with the lump of gore that had once helped her become a worthy and dangerous weapon. His fingers left rusty smears on the pale fabric, and the words tumbled from his lips, unartful and undisciplined.

She would have protected him from this, as from all other things, if it were still in her power.

The dog gave another puzzled whine, and he scratched behind its ear. “Easy, boy.”

“Girl,” Lan Fan said, her voice, rough in her throat, causing him to startle. “She'll be tougher than she looks.”

“Steadfast.” He moved away from the dog, who took her cue to crane around and snuff at her cooling cargo, and settled before her, looking forlornly at the wreckage of her shoulder.

“Bind it,” she said, not beyond giving the Prince orders in service of his safety. “If I'm to move, it must be bound.”

She bit back on another piteous noise of her own as he wound a spare cloak around her, pulling it tight about her, securing the useless flesh to her ribs. While he knotted the loose ends secure against her side, she found her head tipped forward against his shoulder.

“Help me to the alley. Down the grate,” she said, of all the words or deeds she might have taken in that moment. There had never been any choice; she still had three serviceable limbs and one duty.