The rain lashed the stone walls of the shack; the door battered by the unrelenting wind, the murky sky above mimicking the grim mood of death in the shack below. The man lay dead, spread-eagled on the floor in a pool of his own, semi-congealed blood. His face was set in an eternal grimace, the pain of his death written across his pale face. He had lain in this dour repose for a few hours, the stench of death already filling the air. His death had not merely been a chance happening, a fluctuation in the path of fate, but had been a pre-meditated, malevolent murder, orchestrated long before.
Our story begins twenty-four hours earlier; it was a bitterly cold morning in the February of 1604. In a dark, dank alley in the backstreets of the city, a man stumbled towards the road. His tall, slender figure moved, without obvious grace, to his destination. His features were sharp, with quick, darting eyes set above an aquiline nose, and thin, emaciated lips. He wore just a dark, long robe over his clothes and light armour. He was stumbling from an injury he had sustained doing his job: assassination. Last night, he had killed his target but had in so doing injured his left leg.
As far as he was concerned it was a hazard of the job, which on the whole was rather parlous. He strolled into his meagre living quarters, another dark, dank area, and set down his weapons. After a short sleep he awoke, ate a few left-over morsels, and went out into the bustling street. He had an appointment with a person of substantial importance. He was known only as ‘The Master’, and was renowned across the criminal underworld for his ruthlessness, efficiency, and his disquieting temperament. He single-handedly coordinated the vast majority of assassinations, robberies, and other forms of organised crime in the city.
He continued down the street, apprehension welling up inside him. It was always dangerous to fraternise with The Master, but much more so when he wanted something of you. He turned down a side alley, and prepared himself for what was to come. As he continued down the alley, he observed that a heavy door swung open from one of the sides of the alley. It looked ominous. As he approached, a hulking, heavily cloaked figure stood in the doorway, looking sinister. He made no sound but merely gestured to come forward with one long index finger. The assassin ventured inside and was promptly told: ‘I will lead you to the master. ‘
The man had a deep, resonant and commanding voice. The man placed a blindfold on him, and led him up a set of rickety stairs. As he was led down the corridor, he was sure he felt the presence of many people, more guards perhaps, in the room. Finally, the man stopped him at a room, opened the door, removed the blindfold and shoved him in roughly. He stumbled into the room. The room was almost completely shrouded in darkness save for a few candles on a desk. Although he could see very little, the room gave an impression of vastness with high ceilings and stone walls. Again he got the impression that there were many in the room.
But all he could see at the desk was the outline of a hood, and the faint outline of shoulders. Comprehension dawned – this was the Master. ‘Come in. ‘ His voice was deep, and as harsh as his reputation. It reverberated around the room, and had a chilling sharpness to it. The assassin gave an involuntary shudder. He did as he was told, and proceeded into the room. ‘You know why you have been summoned here,’ he continued. ‘Yes’ he replied, failing to conceal entirely the nervousness in his voice. ‘You have been summoned here to enact the assassination of a person whom we wish to have killed.
You will receive payment for it, but, as I’m sure you are aware, failure to assassinate the target shall result in undesirable consequences,’ he said in disturbingly casual tones. ‘Understood,’ responded the assassin. He didn’t need clarification about the consequences; he knew the only possible outcome of non-compliance. ‘The target will be at this destination, at midnight tonight. ‘ A piece of paper was handed to him, ‘I will have a man following you, in case deviance should slip into your mind,’ the master said with unconcealed menace. ‘I understand,’ he replied. Leave, and remember the consequences of failure,’ said The Master in a firm tone of voice.
He left the room, and was unceremoniously escorted down the corridor, and out the way he came. The door was slammed behind him. There was no turning back now. He wandered through the streets, vaguely picking out his way back to his living quarters. It was approaching evening; he looked up at the sky and observed grey storm clouds swirling in a foreboding fashion. He cursed the weather; his life at the moment had taken an unexpected turn for the worse, and he had taken to venting his frustration on anything which was available.
He walked into a nearby inn. He was not a sociable person, far from it. Assassins by nature are not too friendly. He had gone into this inn, not for social reasons, but to claim a debt he was owed. He wandered into the musty, dimly lit room, with a determined expression. He wandered past the bar, and into a back room. There in the cramped back room stood a man of similar proportions to himself: tall, thin and also cloaked in a dark, enveloping robe. He was, recognisably, another assassin.
He looked up at him. ‘Hello, Dorian,’ he said to the man, in an expectant manner. Hello, I presume you’ve come to collect the debt,’ Dorian responded. ‘You presume correctly. I have a job tonight: you owe me a killing. Do it, and your debt is cleared,’ he said emphatically. ‘You see, funny that, someone else came to me and said that were I to do your job tonight, I would face the wrath of The Master,’ he said in a mock-surprised tone, ‘and that, I’m sure you understand, is not something I wish to do. ‘ ‘You owe me, Dorian,’ he said in a more serious manner. ‘Funny that, in the current circumstances, I don’t want to repay it,’ he said with a sneer and obvious disdain.
‘You are indebted to me! shouted the assassin, rapidly filling with rage. Suddenly he lunged forward towards Dorian with the razor-sharp dagger in his hand arcing in the air to meet with Dorian’s jugular. But he was too fast – in one swift movement he was out of the room and out into the night. The assassin sped out of the room after him, blinded by rage and passion. He could make out his dark figure speeding into the next alley. Anger driving him forward, he bolted after him, dagger in hand. He sped down the street, his eyes frantically darting around for him; he saw him running into a building, and dashed down the road.
He approached the door and with a sudden horror looked into the face of the guard he had seen earlier on – the guard of The Master. ‘Stay back,’ he said in his deep tone. Realisation suddenly dawned; The Master knew of Dorian’s debt, he must have got to Dorian first. He knew that Dorian had a debt to pay, and he knew that the assassin would go to Dorian to request that he do the job. Evidently, The Master wanted no one but him involved in his conquest tonight. He vowed vengeance on Dorian; he would reclaim his debt. He sighed, and resigned himself to the fact that he would have to do it.
He was reluctant to do the job. It was difficult: he was not sure who the man was, and the man was obviously expecting something if he was due to be at the destination at such a specific time. This meant that the element of surprise was seriously compromised. He headed back to his quarters, darkness now almost complete. He went into his room, took up his weapons, and donned his armour. He then placed his hood over his head, and set out of the building. Except for the roar of the thunderstorm brewing above, the streets were quiet. The tall, dark figure of the assassin stalked slowly down the empty lane.
He moved gracefully and imperceptibly, like a cat stalking its prey. He was, however aware of a presence watching him, following his every move. It must have been The Master’s emissary. He glanced around. Nothing. He turned a corner and glanced at his watch. The time read five minutes to midnight. There at the end of the street stood his destination. He paced up to the building, as the thunder roared above. He ran into the room, the door crashing against the stone. But no one was there. He glanced at his watch again. It read two minutes to midnight. He was early.
He crept into the shadows and awaited his target. Time passed. He looked at his watch: the time read midnight exactly. He waited. The man might be late. Time passed. He glanced at his watch again: five minutes past midnight. He panicked, terror engulfing his mind. Then, a terrible realisation. He was the man! Panic and horror enveloped him- anger and fear pulsed through his veins – the terrible realisation that he was the target; he had been employed to kill himself! With no escape, and death the only option, he plunged the dagger deep into his chest. His pounding heart stopped as he crashed to the floor.