In a suburb of Vancouver a woman named Elanor was dying. This came as a huge surprise to her for a number of very good reasons. Firstly, she was for all intents and purposes immortal. Secondly, the one who was responsible for her demise was, in her valued opinion, a complete tool.
Knox was attempting to act suave and in-control as he sat on the edge of her mahogany desk and was failing spectacularly at either impression. A sheen of beaded sweat glimmered across his bald head, and his frantic eyes bulged behind round lenses, reminding her of a small, overly-excited terrier trying to impersonate John Lennon.
To one side watched his long-time companions, Mister Bone and Madame Rag. One was a huge man, and the other a hard-faced woman, cruelty, and smiling satisfaction respectively in their eyes. Elanor, by contrast, lay slumped and confused on her laboratory floor in front of Knox’s well-polished shoes.
“So, here we are Elanor,” Knox said in a tight voice, trying to sound casual. “It’s strange, and you might not believe me, but I think I’m going to actually miss you. I've spent nearly three whole centuries waiting to kill you, and watching you die was one of those things I knew I could always look forward to. To use a modern term, you were on my bucket list.” An idea lit up his face and he took a cell phone out of his pants pocket.
“And while we are on the topic of modern…” He twiddled and tapped the screen a few times and a small light lit up on the reverse side next to a small white piece of fruit. He pointed the miniature camera lens at her, “So I’ll be able to look back at our final time together,” he explained.
Elanor looked at him with disbelief. Her confusion didn't stem from shock, or from any lack of recognition of the man who sat before her. She knew more than she really wanted to know about who and what Knox was. Her bewilderment arose from the impossibility of what he’d done. If the cats of the world had suddenly revealed to humankind that they had a secret space program and that they would soon be sending a Calico to the moon, she couldn't have been more surprised. Knox being able to kill her was simply beyond the realm of possibility. It flat out shouldn't have been an option.
For thousands of years humankind worked to discover the secret of immortality through alchemy - everybody knew that. What wasn't widely known was that a little over five centuries before, they’d succeeded. Alchemists were successful in creating a substance which not only stopped physical ageing, but healed all but the most grievous injuries. They called it, Panacea,. The guild that sprung up to aid in Alchemical training and management, was, by necessity, picky about whom it chose to advance. Knox was not to be one of those people.
To his credit, Knox was intelligent and ambitious, even if those traits were most often exercised at the expense of others. Elanor always thought that Knox’s main stumbling block was his simple lack of a moral compass. Ruthlessness was a trait that was sometimes called for and necessary, but it was only one tool among many. Knox was ruthless when it was neither necessary nor called for. In an age when witnessing death was as simple as a walk to the gallows, Knox had appalled an entire nation with his disregard for life and had nearly been mobbed for it. He had, in fact, been burned in effigy and forced from his home by the angry crowd. She’d been present at the near-lynching, and unknown to Knox, had actually drawn the round spectacles on the dummy before it was lit and fired. Only police intervention and a quick dash out the back door in disguise had saved him that time. It was his genuine confusion over why people would do such a thing, was what finally convinced Elanor that Knox was a high-functioning sociopath long before any such term had entered the English language.
Anyone acquainted with Knox for any length of time grew to recognized this fundamental lack, and his advancement in the Guild slowed, stalled, and eventually stopped over a century before. No master would continue his training beyond a certain critical point, and over the years his frustration and sullen anger at his lot had grown. Knox had become a bitter little footnote in the history of Alchemy. At least he should have been. It seemed as though Knox had other plans, which apparently included the heretofore unthinkable act of murdering her.
The crap part about the whole thing was that it should never have worked. Finding a way to circumvent Panacea was nearly as big a breakthrough as finding it. Outside of burning a body to fine ash - which was a task surprisingly harder to do than it sounded - it was a near-certainty that if you had Panacea in your veins, you would live to see the another day.
For five centuries she’d trained, studied and sacrificed for her knowledge and power. As a ranking alchemist of the Red, Elanor was a master who could sublimate the very anima of life out of empty air. It infused her to her bones, and the simple knife that Knox stabbed into her forearm a few moments before, should have been no more than a painful, but momentary distraction. The whole point of putting all the hard work and sweat into becoming immortal was to avoid situations exactly like this one, yet here she was anyway. As she'd always suspected, dying sucked.
The knife, which still protruded from her arm like some horrible metallic parasite, was tricked. It had to be, no poison could overcome Panacea, the knife would have to be magical. She’d felt the consuming agent rush into her body the moment the knife’s metal touched her blood. Elanor’s mind skittered over centuries of learning and research. Everything she’d ever heard of about poisons, every rumour and mention. Moments of her life drifted away like the last few clinging pieces of dandelion fluff to a naked stem, and there was nothing, no knowledge or last minute plan that would save her life. It seemed this ambulatory shit was right. She would die, and from the speed the poison was working, it would be soon. Her mind kept working as Knox continued to record her final moments.
If she had to die, was there anything else she could do to hurt Knox? An idea occurred, a horrible ghastly thing that sent a shudder down her poison-wracked body. Her mind recoiled from it, as though reaching through a darkened cupboard she’d suddenly felt an abnormally large spider caress her hand.
“Tell me how it feels to die,” Knox prompted, bringing her attention back to him. Looking at him she suddenly knew, knew in her heart that he wasn't the one to have discovered the poison. Knox always considered himself a scholar par excellence and if he discovered a way to get around Panacea he’d be crowing about it from the rooftops. He’d be gloating over his discovery, not simply her impending death. There was no question, Knox was someone’s cats-paw. “How does it feel to know that I've killed you?” he continued peering at her through the phone.
“Knox,” she asked after a moment, trying to keep her voice steady, “is it possible you’re suffering from mercury poisoning?”
Mister Bone snorted, and Knox’s cool, urbane, mask instantly shattered. “Shut up! Shut your foul mouth!” He screamed. Spittle flew from his quivering lips and a veins bulged on his reddening head. “I’ve killed you, you will die and I’ll still be here to piss on your rotted corpse! You don’t get to make jokes out of this!”
“I always though,“ she gasped, ignoring him “that poison was a woman’s weapon, Knox. Perhaps there is something that you need to tell us all?” She let her eyes linger on his crotch.
Knox was one of those people who had difficulty keeping up with shifting social concepts. Equality between the sexes, being one he’d never let himself adopt. During the course of a normal lifetime it wasn’t too big of a deal. Outdated racist, or sexist attitudes would die with their owners in eighty or ninety years. A lot of people had grandparents who made embarrassingly inappropriate comments. It was uncomfortable, but par for the course. Knox hadn’t changed his tune in three hundred years, and it was almost embarrassingly easy to tweak his old fashioned sensibilities.
Knox screamed in rage, swung his leg back and kicked her hard in the hip. It went numb for a few moments before the pain came flooding into her. She shuddered, but fought against the burning ache, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing how painful the kick had been. There was no way this man would get the best of her in her final moments. In that moment, Elanor came to a decision. She had studied, researched, and sacrificed for five centuries to be where she was and there was no way a foul stain on the bedsheet of history like Knox would be the end of her without violent, bloody, payback. Blood dripped steadily crimson down her arm and a consuming cold, cramping, pain ground through her like a knife’s edge scraping against rusted metal. Elanore could feel Knox’s poison spreading through her limbs burning and eating up the Panacea in her blood as it progressed. The poison was working so quickly! She wouldn't have thought it was possible if it wasn't happening to her personally. Her fingertips were numb now and blackened visibly at the tips as she watched. It was time for hard decisions and in a kind of horrified dispassion she examined the one terrible plan she’d been able to come up with.
“Come on Elanor, you must have something to say,” Knox cajoled, squatting down close to her with that damned phone in her face. “You've never been afraid of talking in the past, even when you should have kept your fucking mouth shut.” It was time, she made up her mind. Despite what Knox’s knife had done, she was still an alchemist of the Red and had the skills to prove it. He’d even given her the tools she needed to put her travesty of a plan into action.
Carefully, deliberately, she gripped the handle of the knife and pulled it free from her left forearm. The pain made her want to vomit. Then she actually did vomit, yellow bile, bitter and acid splashed to the polished stone in front of her. Blood flowed faster down her arm to join the pool on the floor. She could tell from the feel of the blade that its trick was gone, nothing was left behind but an echo of resonance.
Knox backed up and stepped away from the expanding puddle of blood and sick with a look of revulsion. It was clear that her death was not living up to the billing he had in mind. That didn't surprise her, Knox liked his deaths sanitary, with a minimum of fuss, and usually at the hands of others. At least the old Knox had.
“Knox,” she rasped, grinning bleakly and preparing herself for what was to come, “if you thought that was gross, watch this, you spineless shit.”
With a trembling arm she dipped a blackened finger into a puddle of her own cooling blood and quickly sketched a symbol on the stone in front of her. She couldn't feel it when her finger touched the floor, all sensation had left her limbs, but it was a simple enough shape and she completed it easily. The next part would be harder, much harder. She made the necessary mental preparations then with a short violent spasm, she plunged the knife into her own abdomen. The symbol on the floor flared blue briefly, a hundred arc welders flashing at once, then the light faded away leaving an indistinct blackened mark burned into the polished stone of the floor.
“What are you doing?” Knox asked shakily blinking his eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” He asked again his voice pitched higher and panicked.
At first nothing seemed to happen, then a gasp of pain emerged from Elanor's mouth. She threw her head back in pain and her eyes opened showing whites turned completely red. Blood began to sheet down her cheeks and she turned her head and gave Knox a death's head smile that would make nightmares flinch and look away.
Knox peered at her, partly blinded from her working, then scrambled backward over the desktop and away from her clearing the desktop of her monitor and making a sudden flurry of papers. He joined his companions who were watching the gruesome spectacle uncertainly.
Cramps and spasms visibly gripped Elanor's body, she screamed shrilly, but it lasted only a moment before it aborted in a horrible gurgle. Her mouth opened wide, wider than it should have been possible, like a snake unhinging its jaw for an overlarge meal. Knox expected another scream, to see more vomit, or maybe blood. What he did not expect was, quivering, blood-smeared flesh to emerge, shapeless, veined and lumpy as it rushed from her widely gaping mouth. It reached and poured from her in a torrent. It writhed and convulsed out, and as it did Elanor’s body became less and less, a balloon slowly deflating.
Knox's nerve broke then, and he dashed to the exit of the workshop followed closely by his two companions. He turned at the door to the room in time to see Elanor's form continue to empty itself onto the floor in a horrible liquid noise. When it seemed no more could come out of her withered husk, her legs and trunk began to convulsively be drawn up toward her still grotesquely open jaws and out onto the quivering pile of flesh. There was a horrible crackling of bone and cartilage as the process continued. Shards of pale bone disgorged into the horrible mass. Soon only Elanor’s head was left. Skin tightened gruesomely against bone and the skull shattered inside-out to sink into the bloody pile.
There was a sudden and profound quiet ringing in the room. Knox swallowed, still breathing hard. He’d expected the death to be more… sanitary. He glanced briefly at the mass that had been Elanor and swallowed. Whatever she’d been trying to do there at the end clearly hadn't worked. No knife was worth digging through that to retrieve.
“What the hell was that!” Asked Rag into the sudden silence.
“Something you don’t see every day,” answered Bone, apparently not affected in the least by the scene.
Knox didn't reply, but mopped his pale forehead with a shaking hand. “Madame Rag,” Knox swallowed, “Mister Bone, we are here for a purpose. Let’s be about it”
The three moved from the door, around the desk and its scattered papers, and into the workshop.
Back at the desk, unnoticed, or perhaps avoided, the mound of flesh on the floor began to quiver. Slowly, gradually, the movement became more coordinated. It undulated, stretched, and contracted in on itself in an unsettling manner then lay almost completely still.