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even bad girls have tender hearts

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She had watched Harrowhark Nonagesimus and thought rather crudely about all of the things her hands had never been taught to do. Sew, for one thing, if the state of her habit - or whatever the Ninth call those abysmal vestments - had not been evidence enough. The delicacy of putting needle to subcortex was another. For all her paint, Harrowhark was no artist, and her strokes were overbearing and clinical. To the nun-turned-neurosurgeon’s credit, she never flinched or trembled; but each movement of those nearly-bare phalanges looked, in obscured silhouette, like a child’s very risky attempt at shadow theater.

Ianthe stared as blankly as possible through the veil of fabric that hung between them. One of Harrow’s constructs had hoisted the diaphanous rainbow shawl like a very pointless sail. The divider was occasionally decorated with inconspicuous flecks of pink and grey, which Ianthe squinted to count as if putting up with a terribly boring time-out.

When she was finished, Harrowhark stood of her own accord. This disappointed Ianthe for at least two reasons. The Ninth House None put herself to bed with singular purpose, as if Ianthe “Perhaps I Might Tuck-you-in?-tarius” had never been in the room or even existed at all. The constructs dissipated to bone dust, and onto the dust fell the forgotten mirror and that poor, soiled, makeshift screen. She shook the once-shining fabric of ash and glass and as much tissue as she could, though that proved more stubborn, and tucked it - and all twenty-four letters - under her arm.

More than a few minutes later, when Ianthe’s fingers finally slid from Harrowhark’s scalp - the inside now presumably resembling a rather pious canteloupe - and eventually from their longing rest on the doorframe, she swept from the room as if leaving quickly would make all her lingering less rotten. Ianthe began a sort of waltz, wheezily humming a tune as she twirled toward her quarters. She flung that ancient piece of fabric in front of her face, and held the corners fast under her chin as though it were a depraved bridal veil.

As she secluded herself in her forebear’s room, she was relieved by improvements in lighting alone. Ianthe leaned back against the inside of the door and let out an overdramatic sigh, dropping the bundle of letters to the floor. The back of her left hand laid to her forehead, she stood there with her eyes closed momentarily, as if lamenting a particularly undesirable fever. When she opened her eyes, she met those of a beautiful woman, smiling at her through thick oil paints and thin gossamer.

Ianthe grinned back, and let her fingers peel inward in a sweet little wave. Valancy was standing confidently, in one of the few portraits that showed either her or Cyrus upright. The long-gone cavalier was posing with two fingers to her lips, subtly parted in a gesture that, to anyone but the Third, might seem too vulgar for such a formal style. Ianthe let her hand slide down her face, down the fatless bridge of her nose, and the woefully shallow groove under her nostrils. She pressed the fabric of the shawl to her lips and mimicked Valancy’s sensual salute, the tip of her tongue pressing against a dry blot of grey. 

Her other fingers still clumsily pinched the veil at her neck, and she felt herself gulp against them. She loosened the surgical shroud, breathing in eau de brained nunette one last time, and draped it over a vanity to be laundered. Ianthe leaned back against the wall, tucking her right arm in the small of her back and out of the way. 

Out of the way. Everything from her elbow to her fingertips was less an appendage than it was a fleshy cilice. Panicked attempts to reform the grotesque stub herself yielded only an annoying and painful bloodbath. God had recommended curtly that she not start with the blood, but Ianthe had told her magnanimous new Teacher quite assuredly to 'Fuck off.' Unfortunately, he obliged and left Ianthe to her puddle despite her immediate, screaming recant. 

Even more unfortunate was the dummy arm he had sealed on for her shortly thereafter, to be worn like penance. She had perversely taken to calling that arm The Stranger, a total fucking misnomer considering its lackluster ability to perform even (and especially) for her cunt. Now, it stayed pinned neatly out of sight, in hopes it would stay out of mind, too.

When it came to her more sinister hand, that indulgent caress hadn’t stopped at her lips. That hand knew all her thoughts, knew none of the shame it ought to, and acted accordingly as she gathered the gown inch by inch until there was a bundle of it in her fist and she was bare up to her midriff. She stuffed the gown into the hand behind her back, as if handing off a boutonnière to a bridesman.

Ianthe walked her fingertips along the sharp lines of her pelvis with the pretense of timidity. She withheld touch, at first, her fingers spread in a web against her inner thighs, enjoying the heat that hovered above her palmar fascia. She kept her eyes locked with Valancy and made conversation aloud. 

“You must have married him, at least roleplayed it,” Ianthe mused, feeling her irises flutter in the way only eyelashes ever should. Her lashes didn’t flinch, though, and she hardly blinked at all as she carried on flirting with the twice-dead woman on her wall.

“Did he touch you differently that night? Maybe you let him sample your insides, before they became his?”

Valancy did not answer, and so Ianthe deferred to another painting, fingers now daubing at her folds with some interest. This depiction was in landscape - Cyrus and Valancy both supine, his teeth playfully at her neck and a hand on her breast as he laid behind her in post-coital rapture. Valancy looked to be feigning death here, her tongue lolling daintily from her mouth. Ianthe tilted her head, at an angle suitable to speak with the hungry-looking man.

“You know, Cyrus, your weakness for absolutely gargantuan holes is not lost on me. At least you were consistent to the end,” she cooed, and laughed at her own cleverness. She cut that laugh with a sharp breath as she guided two fingers inside her, straightening her back against the wall. They nestled shallow in her cunt, though the feeling crept all the way to her gut.

It didn’t last, though. It never did. The initial jolt dithered away, and she found herself wanting, even with her palm pressed to her clit. Ianthe lacked imagination, or so she had been told recently, and could not conjure enough debauchery to get off on thoughts alone.

But flesh magicians made do.

Making her own fun was something she had learned early and practiced often. Before she had learned wards, she had learned to shape genitalia—at first as a joke and later as standard procedure for solitary vice. And so it was muscle memory when, with the three wet digits not busy inside her, she laced corpus spongiform to the door behind her, cavernosum over that, and a cursory mimicry of vessels within, for warmth and structure. She latticed the toy with epithelium, and brand new skin settled over it which had the distinct appearance of freezer burn, on account of her own flawed complexion.

Ianthe leaned forward slightly, adjusting herself for the construct to rest between her thighs. She withdrew her fingers and used them to coat the shaft, tugging at it gently to test that the fibrous base was secured to the door. She smiled, slack-jawed and satisfied at the feel of her new toy. It seemed even simpler to assemble since her ascension to Lyctor, a phenomenon she preferred not to dwell on during this moment, or any moment hereafter.

Her hips pulled away from the wall, bucking a few times as the phallus now slid over her the curve of her ass, its tip meeting her good-as-dead hand. Impatient, she unwound that fist just enough to guide the toy down. It prodded her perineum, just once, in a way that made her whine with shrill impatience. She lifted the head so that it began to sink steadily into her ass, and Ianthe Tridentarius hitched her breath and swore. Her better hand had found her cunt again, too, where her fingers thrust with more intent and enthusiasm.

When she wanted more (which didn’t take long), she started to rock back, which made the jambs shudder ever so slightly against the frame. She hoped someone heard that faint, repetitive noise, hoped God or some other old fart thought her quarters occupied by some poltergeist or madwoman.

She hoped someone – not Harrowhark, who was, for tonight’s purposes, her tragic corpse bride, and likely could not even tell sounds from tastes now anyway – asked her about the strange din emanating from her room. She hoped that tomorrow God peered at her over his tea and asked about it, so that she might say Teacher, if you must know, I was fucking my ass on my doorframe, and if someone must punish me, let it be the meanest and prettiest of your Hands.

Ianthe realized she was speaking this aloud only once she had finished the sentence. She wished sorely that someone would clap an evil, bony little hand over her mouth so that she could bite its heel, tear into flesh and spit it all back out again. She found herself baring teeth at the air, a plait of hair beginning to stick to her cheek with sweat.

Poor imagination, she broodedinternally this time. Poor imagination was throwing your godhood away just because you’d attained it in a way that made you terribly sad, and poor imagination was not being able to fathom a life without your carrot Top cav. Ianthe tested the stitching of her tongue and re-hinging of her jaw, and tried to shout the cavalier’s name and surname in jest. What came out instead was more like a muted goose honk, followed instantly by a string of embarrassed swears and surprised grunts.

Harrowhark was silencing her, which was what she had been wanting just moments ago. Ianthe’s fingers excitedly circled her clit and she rolled back against the door. Her right arm was slammed between the door and her back, no doubt bruising it with the continuous impact.

Ianthe tried to say that name again, like Harrowhark may have done in bed if she hadn’t been such a pussyfooting virgin before her cavalier kicked it. Ianthe kept trying to say it, with varying degrees of un-success, each of which thrilled her more. Sometimes her lips snapped shut without a sound, sometimes she pulled in air only to choke on it. Sometimes she panted it loudly and only gusts of air came out, or a desperate mewl. And when she came, her knees buckled and gave, and the only word that could escape her lips was something like Harry, which Ianthe found quite preposterous if a little endearing.

When she peeled away from the wall, she whimpered softly and kept her fingers anchored inside her cunt, so that empty feeling didn’t envelop her completely. Ianthe sank to her knees, and then to the floor. Next to her lie the letters she had dropped on her way in.

It was there, in a puddle of herself, with an impromptu, now-forgotten dildo wobbling a couple feet above her head, that IANTHE TRIDENTARIUS, PRINCESS OF IDA, NOW IANTHE THE FIRST, EIGHTH SAINT TO SERVE THE KING UNDYING opened two letters addressed to her.