Llia lay gasping on the floor, her blonde hair plastered to her face by vomit the red-black color of month old blood, her palms scraped and knees bruised by the long climb up the tower’s rough stone stairs. Several feet away lay her one time partner, Jared. The pupils of each of his brown eyes changed size independently as he tried to focus. On the other side of the overturned work table she could hear the hiss of caustic chemicals mixing, a sound more worrisome than the glass of broken phials and beakers digging into her face. The lab smelled of noxious death, like the inside of crypt wyrm’s second stomach; a stench that would have made her retch had the poison not already done so.
It was a humiliating situation for the two best alchemists in the city: to have been poisoned by the very concoction they had pioneered together. Ebon-rot was generally considered to be universally fatal, guaranteeing its victims a slow, excruciating journey beyond the grave.
Between the two lay a tarnished iron lockbox, graven with runes of sealing, bound shut by words they shared, but neither knew.
“Damn it Jared,” Llia said, her voice rough with pain, “just tell me your half of the unbinding!”
“Why should I trust you? You sold me out to the Consul. I wouldn’t put it past you to fake your symptoms.”
“For the last time Jared, I did not sell you out! And you know that the symptoms of Ebon-rot can’t be faked.”
“Then you poisoned yourself. I know you want me dead, you’d do anything to get your hands on the antidote now.”
Llia raised one hand to feebly swat at his face, but missed entirely and only succeeded in cutting herself on the lockbox. The blood that oozed from the gash was the consistency and color of pitch.
“You’re the only person crazy enough to come up with a scheme like that,” Llia’s azure eyes brimmed with tears, “I think your paranoia has finally pushed you over the edge. I’ve never wanted to hurt you.”
Jared began laughing, a high pitched, manic sound which cut off suddenly as a bout of retching shook his twisted frame.
“I swear it Jared,” Llia said, the words coming slowly, “If you vow to me that this isn’t some mad plot to avenge yourself for what you think I’ve done, I’ll give you my half of the unbinding.”
Jared stared at her for some time, and from long years of working by his side Llia could see that he was trying to find the hidden trap in her offer. After a few moments, moments which stretched into an eon for Llia, he nodded.
“By the Codex Apocrypha, I swear I did not poison you. By the Dictum of the Veiled I vow it. May Azroxithum the Tormentor forever hold my soul in bondage if I speak untrue.”
“Sono sempre vero,” Llia whispered.
“Siamo mortali,” Jared croaked.
When Jared completed the unbinding the runes on the pitted gray surface of the lockbox burst into light, flashing crimson and amber before winking out of existence. There was a muted click, and the box popped open. Inside a small glass phial lay on a velvet lining as black as the space between stars. The liquid inside was the deep red of heart’s blood, and shone with a dim light of its own. Llia reached to take it from its resting place, when a shadow detached itself from a dark corner of the room and strode smoothly to stand over the two alchemists.
“For two so gifted in the arts of poison, you are sorely lacking in the other arts necessary to an assassin. The guild is better off without you, now that I have this,” a black gloved hand reached down and plucked the phial from her reach, “You were so easy to play against each other, I was almost bored.”
With that, the guildmaster stepped over their prone forms, laughing softly to himself as he left the two poisoners to experience the horrific death to which they had condemned so many others.