It was a beautiful night. The clouds hung whispering against a dark sheet of tiny stars, blowing their way across a battered landscape of trees and dead grass. The moon hung in the sky, giant and silver, the only light for miles around, and glinted off the dark branches and icy leaves, bathing them in its silver light. All was silent save the whisper of rustling leaves and the creak of ancient wood, no animal dared make a noise, the birds were silent, the squirrels hibernating, all were hiding from the oppressive silence of the freezing night.
In the trees a dark figure sat, his arm resting precariously on an outstretched leg. He stared blankly into the silver darkness. His face hidden and distorted from view by a large circular hat, a white disk of light suggesting the lens of a large round spectacle, he didn’t move. He didn’t breathe. Not one atom of his being made any sound, and he blended into his surroundings like every other branch and tree that surrounded him.
A slight breeze stirred the lip of his large black coat and sent it drifting into the night, below him a few leaves picked up the wind and danced lazily across the forest floor, landing lightly on the frozen dirt and lying there silently.
Suddenly there was sound, it rushed in from beside him in the form of the crunching of leaves and the soft plod of footfall. Someone was approaching.
It was freezing cold and Molly shivered as she approached the clearing. Nothing stirred as she walked softly down the path that led through the towering leaves, no animal made a move to flee, no insects buzzed in the bushes that surrounded her, all seemed to have disappeared, extinct in a baron landscape of trees and dirt. She pulled her hands closer to her body and pushed forward. What she was about to do was important.
The figure had been watching the approaching girl for some time before she passed below him. He felt her presence drift away as she carried on into the night and made his first move of the evening.
He dropped down from his host and fell to the floor soundlessly. The girl stopped, he could only assume this was out of coincidence. Then she spoke.
“Good evening Vincent” she whispered. Not moving a millimeter from her position.
“You know me?” came the gruff voice of a reply.
“I know of you. Yes”.
“Then you must know what I can do”.
There was a pause.
It was another one of those warm, rainy nights and Molly read from the dimming light of a candle in her room as the rain battered relentlessly into the window behind her. The book she was reading was old. Very old. She had found it, battered, stained and covered in dust, at the very back of one of the library shelves. It was entitled “The Stadford Institution” and was proving to be quite an interesting read.
It was a log book and seemed to describe an organisation of assassins and marksmen. In it where written a flurry of names. Most of them had a red dash beside them and had a sum of long forgotten currency jotted in beside. It was bound in thick black leather and she flipped it over with a thud to examine the coat of arms woven on to its skin in fraying string.
It was small and made from a selection of dyed wool; it appeared to show a long silver sward protruding from a large black cloak. It was hard to tell its exact details through a mixture of time and bad treatment, but underneath, in wiry black writing, was written “The Stadford Institution”.
The candle flickered and died; in the intense darkness that followed Molly fumbled around for another source of light and found a large silver laptop. She flipped the catch and lifted it open, the ensuing light illuminating her immediate area. She logged on and felt the curser in circles. Finding the start button she opened up a search engine and clicked her curser into place.
It flashed slowly in its box. She thought about it, clicked her knuckles, and typed in ‘the stadford institution’.
“That is of no relevance” she said, turning on her heels to face him. He was tall and large, the features of his face obscured and hidden by the shadow of a large black hat so that it was no more than a flat plane of dark shadow. On his right eye a large disk of white light shone from a lens of a spectacle. Behind him the lip of a large black coat floated silently in the breeze, his arms hidden from view behind it. On the shoulder of his coat a sword protruded from the recesses of a large black cloak and shone in the moonlight. He stood perfectly still.
Molly had been searching for nearly twelve hours and still had had no luck. Most children and indeed adults would have given up their search hours ago and left it to go and have a cup of tea or simply to collapse from exhaustion. But Molly was not an average girl. When she put her heart into achieving something, it would happen, sooner or later. She would often spend days of intense reading in the library, trying to find some forgotten relative or a piece of information long lost to time.
Because of this she had grown a complexion of white skin and long dark hair, she was tall and thin and didn’t often travel into the outside world save to walk home. Suddenly a sentence jumped at her from the screen and snapped her out of her daydream; she scrolled back up and read:
‘The Stadford Institution’ – an organization set up in 1631 for the abolition of the enemies of the monarchy. After the collapse of the monarchy in 1651 to the parliamentarians the institution had a long life as an assassin’s guild for hire to the highest bidder. It is now believed to have disbanded, although there is no exact date for this. Some believe it has become a secret government organisation still committed to destroying the enemies of the United Kingdom. There is, however, no hard evidence to back this up.
The last part of the article fired Mollies imagination. She scrolled down but there was nothing else. It was something though; tomorrow she would carry on searching. If this organisation still existed, she was going to find out. That was, however, a job for tomorrow, and Molly had gone almost 23 hours without sleep. She closed the laptop and collapsed onto her bed.
“You are an intelligent young lady” came a voice from below the hat. “It would be a shame for you to die.”
There was a pause.
“Run. Run now and forget you ever met me. Forget everything about what you have learned.”
“I can’t do that”
“Then our organisation cannot let you live”
1: So you know what I’m talking about? Typed Molly
It had been roughly three weeks since she had made her first discovery about The Stadford Institution. She had learnt a lot about it since then and had now – through hours of typing in forums and having long discussions with people she had never met - tracked down a man who was said to have been an ex-worker at the organization and had apparently only managed to preserve his life throughout the five months since he’d left by constantly staying on the move.
She had been on the computer for over 12 hours now. Her eyes where beginning to sting and her back was in agony, she however carried on regardless. This was important, the man she was talking to now was known to her only as ‘The Contact’ and was only going to be online for another half an hour, after that she was told he was destroying his hard drive and leaving the county.
1: Then you can help me?
2: But I once again advise strongly that you do not go ahead with this.
2: They can kill you with a phone call.
1: I know.
There was a pause before the reply came.
2: They still operate.
2: They are currently based in London. They kill for any man who can get in contact with them.
2: And for a reasonable sum of money, of course.
2: They have also been known to work for the government, on occasion.
2: of course this is tightly hidden from the public.
2: There main objective, however, is to destroy the enemies of the monarchy.
2: yes, there are still organisations, even nations, that want the royal family dead.
1: do you have a phone number? Some way of contacting them?
2: that would be extremely unwise. I suggest you now leave with the information you know. Forget about them.
1: I can’t. You have to give me something…
There was another pause.
2: there is a website.
2: it is hidden.
1: can you give me a URL?
2: it is hidden in a well known website. Years of research proves that people never look in the most obvious places.
1: tell me
2: it is commonly known as “myspace”. A website for teenagers, I believe.
1: what? Myspace.com?
1: how do I get in?
2: I can’t tell you
1: you must.
The contact seemed to think about this for some time. Then the replies came in quick succession.
2: hold down QRSD5 and shift for 5 seconds. A small password box will appear. Type in 153045932-19348.
2: I’m leaving now.
2: you must never tell anyone about this encounter. Close this box and re-start your computer.
‘2’ has left the conversation.
Molly stared blankly at the screen for some time. She contemplated it for a couple of seconds, highlighted the conversation and copied it into a word document saving it under ‘maths homework’, as if this simple deceive would fool snooping government agents. She restarted the computer as per The Contact’s instructions and opened up a window of myspace.com.
“Q. R. S. D. 5.” She muttered to herself as she held down the appropriate keys. ‘Ping’ came the sound of a small window being opened. It was grey and had a small black entry box. Above it was written ‘password required (tries left: 3)’ she opened up the word document and pasted the code into the box; it appeared as a series of large black dots. She hit enter and the page loaded up.
Molly stared at the dark figure standing in front of her. The wind whistled through the trees, blowing at a clump of leaves and lifting them into the air between them. A storm was approaching; she could feel it creeping in her bones. The clouds surrounding them where already thickening.
“You will not kill me though” she said. There was a hint of uncertainty in her voice.
“I have already killed the one you know as the contact. Why not you?”
“Because I am of no threat. It's not like I could harm you”
“Knowledge is the greatest threat of them all. The pen is considerably mightier than the sword.”
“But you cannot kill me” she stammered “I’m only 15…”
“On the contrary” replied the figure, making no move of his expression or stance “your demise is precisely the reason I am here”
The page she had opened was simple. Consisting of nothing more than a white sheet with text written on it, the only decoration was of a picture of a long silver sword protruding from a large black cloak, embossed onto the top of the page.
It was entitled The Stadford Institution. Below it was written a warning: this is highly sensitive information. If you are below the status of stage green, decease activity - on pain of death. She ignored it and scrolled down.
The website appeared to consist only of this one page. Written on it where dates and times and names, many of them had a red dash beside them and a large sum of money written in beside. She scrolled down to the bottom of the page and discovered some information that had not been fully filled in. On the very bottom of the page she found a piece of information with no red dash describing:
Destination: Maypeck woods
Target: target not confirmed.
Date: 16th October 2010
Time of arrival: around 17:30
This was it. This is where she would have her first encounter with this organisation. It was the 14th. That gave her two days to get ready. Maypeck woods were some way from where she lived and she would have to take the bus. But she had found the Stadford Institution. It existed, there was a secret organization for the distribution of assassins and she had found it. And now she was going to meet one.
“Did you not wonder why I was sent here into these woods? Why I came here?”
Molly was silent.
“My organisation knows about you. It has done for quite some time. They know that you know about them. They know about your enquiry into their business. They’ve have been watching you ever since you rented out that book from the library.”
The wind whistled loudly through the trees.
“Then why keep talking to me. Why not just do your job and stop taunting me with your words”
The wind was picking up; a gust blew across the dark assassin standing in front of her, whipping his cloak around him. Clouds gathered darker in the sky, there was a distant boom of thunder. He smiled.
“You are a brave woman.” Said the figure, a hint of admiration entering his tone. “I do not believe you deserve to die.”
The parched ground began to hiss. The first droplets of rain where falling from the heavens.
“And yet, you must”
Molly slipped on her cloak and grabbed The Stadford Institution book, sliding it into one of the coats large inside pockets. She turned to the mirror and composed herself. This was it, no turning back now. She took a deep breath and walked out into the freezing depths of the night.
Molly bowed her head. The thick droplets of rain splashed off the hood of her coat and slid down her neck.
“What if I forget?” she whispered into the darkness “What if I take your advice. Forget I ever met you; forget I ever knew about The Stadford Institution?”
There was a pause. The rain battered everything around them, crashing to the floor in pools of brown mud.
“Run” said the figure.
The bus came to a stop with a hiss of hydraulic brakes. Molly looked up, this was the last stop, the last bus, and she was the only passenger. She walked over to the doors and stepped out into the night. The wind blew softly against her face and she made her way towards the forest as the bus drove off behind her.
“Run and forget” Said the figure.
Molly turned on her heels, looked back for half a second, and ran.
Everything in the forest was completely still. Nothing stirred as she walked softly down the path that led through the towering leaves, no animal made a move to flee, no insects buzzed in the bushes that surrounded her, all seemed to have disappeared, extinct in a baron landscape of trees and dirt.
As she walked under a particularly towering tree she heard something landing softly behind her. This was it, this was her moment. Her first encounter with an assassin.
“Good evening Vincent” she whispered.
“Forget about the organization. About everything you have learned.” He whispered to himself as Molly fled into the night.
The wind and rain lashed at Mollies face as she ran. The floor sped past like lightning, the trees a blur; she was dodging stumps of trees and weeds without knowing it. Her only goal was to be away from the forest. To find safety. She tripped and stumbled.
There was an explosion of gunfire behind her.
She was dead before she hit the floor.
* * *
The rain lashed furiously at the trees. Ripping through leaves and tearing at the ground. In a clearing far from any civilization a dark figure lay, her head in a pool of blood, one clean hole through her forehead. She lay perfectly still, the wind whipping at her hair, the rain patting gently onto her face.
Some way off a man stood, a smoking gun held in the air. A silvery tear running down his cheek.
“I’m sorry…” he whispered. Barley audible over the hiss of rain.
He holstered his weapon under the recesses of a large black coat, turned, and walked silently away.
It was a beautiful night.