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Flesh & Bone

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Weeks of blindness had proved their worth well enough, but never more than when Arya navigated the winding corridors of the House of Black and White. Each step, every doorway, even the little slivers of alcoves niched into the walls, were as familiar to her as her own skin. The barest candlelight would make her presence known to anyone with a careful eye. They called it the time of witches, when the moon hung high and heavy, and even shadows dared not stray too far from home. She'd learned to feel this hour more acutely than any other, and knew well that there was no better time for dark deeds.

The workroom was shrouded in black and unnaturally cold, but Arya quickly closed the door behind her and felt for the lamps. When she found them and gathered them all next to each other on the long wooden table that sat in the center of the room, she reached for the tinderbox she'd smuggled down in her pocket. It took a couple of tries, but soon the sparks caught on the edge of a wick and cast a soft orange glow across the table. The other lamps she lit off the first, then scattered them around the room until there wasn't a corner that could hide its secrets from her anymore.

Shelf upon shelf of dried plants and salves greeted her, thick clay urns of fat and colored glass bottles of oil. There were knives of all sizes and horrific, exotic shapes laid out on the workbenches, each one with a purpose that only the mad could imagine. It was also the place that Arya felt most certain of her abilities.

She started quickly, knowing the plants she needed by sight alone. Oily black berries, thick slivers of gnarled root, veined petals the color of sapphires, little yellow buttons of flowers, clumps of dried leaves, and withered strings of root were all laid out across the table. She took a pinch of this and a sprig of that, filling a stone mortar with the faded plants. There was no need to measure, her gut knew how much of each she needed, like a soft voice murmured in her ear as she worked, and her fingers complied with deft focus. She ground them into choppy powder, then poured it into shallow dish, where she added thick animal fat and a red syrupy liquid that filled the air with the scent of metal.

While she cleaned up, Arya set the dish over one of the larger lamps, and it wasn't long before the heavy scent of poison wafted through the room. It made her lightheaded, but that was how she knew that she had done well. When she finished, she snuffed out the lamps and folded the warm bowl with its bubbling fat in a thick piece of cloth to protect her hands. The door closed softly behind her, as if she had never been there at all.

She may have worried that the smell of vapors would slip through cracks and under doorways, but it all seemed to be finding its way into her lungs instead, making her footfalls uneasy and her eagerness expand. She drew in a long breath, fighting for the scent as the bowl and its contents began to cool, and held it in her lungs as she hurried down the hall towards her own room. Her heart was already racing by the time she closed the door behind her and pressed her back against the heavy wood. Her eyes fell closed for a moment and she slowly slid down to the floor, knees tucked against her chest and the bowl held, reverently, in front of her.

She laid the bowl carefully to the side and scrambled out of her clothes, the warm air from her fireplace licking warm across her flesh. Arya stretched out on her back, arched and squirmed until her body melted into the stone, then reached to dip her fingers in the salve. She stirred the thickening fat and the crushed plants together with two fingers, feeling it tingle up into the palm of her hand, until she was sure that she had mixed it evenly. Then she withdrew her hand, fingers dripping with the opaque, milky ointment, and spread it across her chest. What little remained, she swiped across the back of her neck, so it felt like the heat was moving through her, and contentedly let her limbs sink to the floor.

Gradually her breathing slowed and her body grew heavier, as if it were melting into the stone beneath her. With her eyes closed, the darkness swam around her, unsteady, the way she felt sleeping on a ship in choppy waters. But instead of startling her, the motion steadily lulled her further, deeper, into the not-quite-sleep that wrapped around her. Just like before, the first thing she felt was a mere murmur, a suggestion of something whispering across her body. The first ghostly touch of fingers slipped across the hollows of her collarbones and up her neck, then slowly traveled lower, down the center of her chest, across her stomach, until it stopped at her thighs.

Arya drew in a deep breath and finally dared to open her eyes. His face was hidden by darkness, but shrouds of white burial cloth hung from him like spider webs. His skin clung tight to the bone, vaguely transparent and waxy. His nails, which raked down the inside of her thighs, were almond-shaped and yellowing. She laid her head down and let out a slow breath, casting her gaze on the shadows flickering across the ceiling. The Stranger moved steadily across her body, his shroud licking her bare skin, and nudged her legs apart with his bony knees. She complied as though she had no other choice, but the twisting in her gut was all the encouragement she needed. She remembered the first time he came to her, the way he seemed to slide through her body to manipulate all the right places, and she wanted that again.

He lowered himself on top of her, barely any weight at all, and his shroud covered her face as his mouth pinned to the side of her neck. His mouth was cold, dry, but it felt like he was devouring her. The tension inside her burned hotter, flooding her body with warmth and making him feel that much colder on top of her. Her breath was coming in shallow fits now, but her mind was on the heady feeling that coiled tight around her when his mouth drew lower and his hands rest on her belly. She whined low under her breath, the barest mewl, and he answered by slipping one hand between her thighs and drawing his bony fingers inside her. Arya couldn't even squirm, her body felt so heavy, she had no other choice but to let him take his time with her.

And he did. The salve was potent enough that this could draw out for hours, with her only sign of life being the faint gasps of need that slipped out with her breath. He drew her along slowly, winding her body up at his own pleasure, as his shadow slid through her and touched places that no human would ever be able to find. The fire flickered at her head, growing brighter every time she felt her body overwhelm with the feeling of his presence, and then died down again when he pulled away. The steady tide kept her on edge, kept her wanting, never satisfied; just the way he wanted her. But as the hours of night slipped past, the time of witches falling to the time of wolves, she knew that she didn't have much time left with him.

He seemed to know it as well, pressing harder to her, his ministrations more eager at last. Instead of faint murmurs, eager moans now fell from her lips, building more as his attention centered on that spot just below her navel and twist deeper inside her. Arya squeezed her eyes closed, her fingers scraping against the floor, as the heat pulled through her and formed into a ball just there. The feeling raked down her spine, leaving her face flushed and her breathing labored, until he placed his last kiss between her legs and the heat erupted, spilling out of her.

She felt him glide across her body again, his fingers stroked her cheek as he passed, and then she was alone in the room again. She sunk into the floor, her limbs tingling and her body still pulsing with her swift heartbeat. Arya closed her eyes again, and drifted off, unconcerned with how they may find her in the morning. Once they'd found out about her other abilities, nothing she did seemed particularly unsurprising to her. Some regarded her as a witch and others as demon, but they all knew that she was as dedicated to their god as any of them. Let them know just how far her service to him went.