As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison. The syrupy sweetness rolled over my tongue, enticing my taste buds. If I hadn’t spent hours pouring over the many poisons in my master’s study, I would have never known something so delicious could be so deadly.
I swirled the cup as I lowered it, staring into its depths as the conversation continued around me. The ruby liquid didn’t appear any different than the other guests’ drinks. My eyes slide to Nine at the head of the table. He was draped across his chair in idle discussion with the man next to him, not a drop of attention was being spared for me. Nine was always suspect, but he was one to take delight in his misdeeds, not to ignore my slow death at his table.
I set the cup down, sliding it away from me as I mentally flipped through my options. The saccharine taste was a telltale property of loguay. Lucky for me, it was a slow poison, and an antidote existed. I wasn’t too concerned. Whoever had poisoned me, wanted me to leave here and expire elsewhere. I sat back in my chair and moved my gaze around the room. If it wasn’t Nine, then maybe it was someone else here.
The help moved silently behind the dinner guests, making empty plates vanish and food laden platters appear. They all seemed focused on their work; no one was nervous or acted dubiously. I returned my focus to the guests seated at the table. Most were eating and easily conversing with one another. I didn’t know more than a hand full of them; Nine’s social reach was far beyond mine. Everyone was in their finery, displaying their wealth on their sleeves.
I continued along the table, quietly observing each person, slowly reading their intimate signs and tells. My target was seated directly across from me. A bold move on my part but the only person here who knew my true identity would never utter a word about my misdeeds. There wouldn’t be a shred of evidence to link the death back to me; I was just another merry guest tonight.
I briefly wondered who the woman was and why I had been requested to assassinate her. She wasn’t young, but she was still beautiful and held herself in a regal manner. I never questioned my master’s requests, but sometimes I would have fleeting thoughts about the goodness of my actions. Perhaps my perspective was backwards, and I was the one working for the villain, and each death was another tick on my token to Hell.
No one here was being conspicuous and the minutes were quickly ticking by, mocking my incompetence. I excelled at my craft, so the fact that I had been bested at my own game weighed heavily on me. I fidgeted in my seat uncomfortable knowing the poison was working its way through my system. Someone wanted me dead but whom?
“Is anyone else impressed by the number of lives you have stolen?” asked a voice. It was low and rough, and so very close to my ear that I nearly lost my composure.
I gripped the arms of the wooden chair to anchor myself as I turned to the man seated beside me. He wasn’t the individual who had been siting there when I had arrived—I would have noticed. I’m not sure how I hadn’t sensed him next to me before this moment. I felt him more than I saw him. Visually he was nothing more than a shadow in his chair, his black clothes a sharp contrast from the rest of the room. His dark gaze met mine and the fiery burn of it struck me. He grinned, and it was chilling. Gooseflesh broke out on my arms, and I barely repressed the shiver that rolled through me. My gut clenched and told me to run but I felt frozen to my chair, mesmerized by the fiery pits that were his eyes.
“Who are you?” I whispered. It took all my energy to utter those words and even then, I’m not sure I made a sound.
The man turned back to the dinner table, observing the guests in their revelry. “I have had many names bestowed upon me over the centuries.” He grinned, reaching a hand out to stroke down the length of a scythe. “Which one would you like?”
Had I been wrong about the poison? Was it not loquay and something that was already acting upon my mental stability? Because surely, I wasn’t the only one that could see Death seated at the table. His scythe was even resting against the empty chair beside him. I glanced around, but no, no one gave any indication that they saw the same terror I did.
My breath felt bottled in my chest. I had never imagined my own death—never bothered to think about it. It had felt forbidden and ominous, like allowing those thoughts would somehow bring the end into fruition. If I had given my demise any thought, I would most definitely not have chosen to go at Nine’s table and selected a different, quicker poison.
“You know who I am.” It wasn’t a question. He knew from the panic painted thickly on my face that I had figured it out. I was observant and intuitive; I had to be in my line of work.
Death shifted closer as he leaned on his hand. He was so casual, so at ease that I wondered if this was how it was for everyone. Did every person get to converse with Death before he reaped their soul? Or was this some hallucinatory effect of the poison twisting my mind as I slowly died?
“Why?” I asked, the words bubbling from my lips.
His grin stretched and became maniacal. “I’ve come to grant you my kiss and to seal your soul to mine forever more.”
It wasn’t poison but a kiss.