[WARNING: Graphic gore.]
“I like a woman in blood.”
Crimson traced rivulets past whitened knuckles, and she inhaled with a hiss as droplets split a dozen ways on the stone floor. The air was bitingly cold; her breath rose as steam from flared nostrils. “What do you want?” she asked, voice cracking and dry.
A small, wiry man in nothing but a red loincloth walked forward on silent feet, rolling his steps, rolling his lean hips, rolling his eyes like a wild horse. “You smell like blood,” he said quietly, watching her with sidelong glances. His face was fine-boned in profile.
She stared at him brazenly, daring him to meet her eyes, but he sidestepped a crescent around her and watched her stained lips. “I’m not bleeding,” she responded, opening her hand and dropping the loop of intestines she’d been squeezing. It fell like a snake’s coiling tail onto the tatters of a corpse at her feet.
“I didn’t say you were.” He paced coltishly, long-legged, prancing steps on the balls of his brown feet. “Why did you murder it?”
“Who are you?” she countered. She stood brace-legged over her kill, ripped hides hanging from her shoulders and hips like vines from a cliff face. There were no weapons in sight, bar the shortsword clutched in the corpse’s death-taut grip. It was unbloodied.
“My name is Bo,” he answered, staying away from the rear wall of the cave, keeping an ear cocked to the entrance. “What’s your name, murderer?”
She smiled, flat teeth as stained as her lips. “My name is Elisz. Why are you here?”
“You smell like blood,” he repeated, dancing backwards when she took two stiff-legged steps towards him. “Why did you murder it?”
“You’re a poor parrot.” Elisz lifted her hand to her lips and slowly licked the blood from her scarred fingers. It smeared across her cheeks, freshening the drying stains. “I was hungry, and tired. I wanted this cave. I wanted food.” She stared him down, shoulders hitched up aggressively.
Bo didn’t miss a step, watching her chin and her throat, dark lashes shielding his gaze. “And you will kill me, too?”
“Only if you plan to fight me for it,” she said, a snarl creeping into the undertone of her voice. She took another step forward.
He cocked his head like a bird, eyes gleaming. “What if I asked you to share?” he queried.
She still couldn’t hear the slap of his soles against the rock, and she was straining her ears. He bore no weapons and didn’t smell of magic, but she was still wary. “Can’t find your own damned food, child?”
A quirk of the lips betrayed his fleeting smile. “You speak politely only when I am not competition, I see.” He kept two horse-lengths away from her, light on his toes. “Will you share?”
She eyed him, hackles still arched. The hairs on her neck and arms stood on end. “Food or shelter?”
“Both,” he answered smoothly, the whites of his eyes bright. “I won’t eat as much as you, though. Just a leg.”
Elisz knelt, slow and deliberate, and sank steel-strong fingers into the soft crease of the corpse’s inner thigh. She worked her hand through the meat until she found bone, then took hold of the femur and twisted it. Blood spurted between her fingers as a few hard jerks saw the leg dislocated and swiftly torn from the hip. She wrapped her other hand around the ankle, then stood and tossed the leg to Bo.
He sidestepped and let it land wetly on the stone floor, ignoring the crimson droplets that splattered against his ankles and calves. He watched her without looking at her, his eyes rolling in his head. “You won’t kill me in my sleep?”
She smiled widely, showing all her teeth. “Not unless you deserve it.” She crouched again, slipping her fingers through the soft skin of the corpse’s already-disemboweled stomach and seizing a loop of entrails. “Sleep away from me, near the entrance. If you move towards me in the night, I will attack you.”
Bo eyed her, then bobbed his head, a motion that carried through his shoulders and chest. He watched, his prance slowing, until she had slit open the entrails and emptied them of their contents, until she had torn a few bites from the intestinal wall, until she had carved a handful of flesh from between the ribs – then, and only then, did he kneel and begin feeding from the thigh.
Elisz slopped a palmful of bleeding meat into her mouth, then spoke as she chewed. “Your name isn’t Bo.”
He smiled at her, watching her throat undulate with each swallow, eyes shadowed. “No, it isn’t. I don’t have a human name, but that one sounds fine to me.” He took another bite, lowering his head to rip and tear at the inside of the knee. Tendons snapped loudly and wetly.
“It works,” she slurred, scooping out a deflated lung that she’d sliced away with her nails. The tissue stretched as she bit a piece away.
They ate in silence then, Elisz staring at him with every bite and Bo, never once meeting her eyes, picking away at the leg until there was naught but bones and ligaments left. “It’s cold,” he commented, licking his palm and using it to clean his cheeks. “Will you make a fire?”
“I won’t need one,” she grunted, belly pleasantly full and generating a sated haze. “You’ll draw attention if you start one.”
“Can I have what the murdered one was wearing?” Bo asked, watching her hands as he licked his lips. His belly was distended past the waistband of his loincloth, almost matching the new distortion in Elisz’s body with the addition of so much food.
She glanced at the pile of leathers she’d stripped away; most of the clothing was intact and only moderately stained. She reached over and kicked the pile across the ground towards him.
He gathered it up with fingers spread wide and made a small nest, then turned around thrice in it and curled up, pulling a torn tunic over his shoulders and flank. “Sleep safe, Elisz,” he murmured.
She chewed the scraps of skin and gristle from between her fingers and watched until his breathing evened and deepened, then paced to the back wall of the small cave and sprawled on her side. As time slowed to honey seeping, she grew a layer of fat between muscle and skin, and a layer of fur between skin and cold air. She closed her eyes to sleep, nostrils flared and sampling the scents on the chill breeze, ears straining for the inaudible sounds of the sleeping boy.
When Elisz woke in the morning, Bo was gone, the stripped armor in its original location near her, an uneaten leg lying detached next to the mangled corpse.