CERN Institute, Switzerland: a world-renowned scientist is found brutally murdered with a mysterious symbol seared onto his chest. The Vatican, Rome: the College of Cardinals assembles to elect a ...(more)
On a busy European street, the killer serpentined through a crowd. He was a powerful man. Dark and potent. Deceptively agile. His muscles still felt hard from the thrill of his meeting.
It went well, he told himself. Although his employer had never revealed his face, the killer felt honored to be in his presence. Had it really been only fifteen days since his employer had first made contact? The killer still remembered every word of that call . . .
'My name is Janus,' the caller had said. 'We are kinsmen of a sort. We share an enemy. I hear your skills are for hire.'
'It depends whom you represent,' the killer replied.
The caller told him.
'Is this your idea of a joke?'
'You have heard our name, I see,' the caller replied.
'Of course. The brotherhood is legendary.'
'And yet you find yourself doubting I am genuine.'
'Everyone knows the brothers have faded to dust.'
'A devious ploy. The most dangerous enemy is that which no one fears.'
The killer was skeptical. 'The brotherhood endures?'
'Deeper underground than ever before. Our roots infiltrate everything you see . . . even the sacred fortress of our most sworn enemy.'
'Impossible. They are invulnerable.'
'Our reach is far.'
'No one's reach is that far.'
'Very soon, you will believe. An irrefutable demonstration of the brotherhood's power has already transpired. A single act of treachery and proof.'
'What have you done?'
The caller told him.
The killer's eyes went wide. 'An impossible task.'
The next day, newspapers around the globe carried the same headline. The killer became a believer.
Now, fifteen days later, the killer's faith had solidified beyond the shadow of a doubt. The brotherhood endures, he thought. Tonight they will surface to reveal their power.
As he made his way through the streets, his black eyes gleamed with foreboding. One of the most covert and feared fraternities ever to walk the earth had called on him for service. They have chosen wisely, he thought. His reputation for secrecy was exceeded only by that of his deadliness.
So far, he had served them nobly. He had made his kill and delivered the item to Janus as requested. Now, it was up to Janus to use his power to ensure the item's placement.
The placement . . .
The killer wondered how Janus could possibly handle such a staggering task. The man obviously had connections on the inside. The brotherhood's dominion seemed limitless.
Janus, the killer thought. A code name, obviously. Was it a reference, he wondered, to the Roman two-faced god . . . or to the moon of Saturn? Not that it made any difference. Janus wielded unfathomable power. He had proven that beyond a doubt.
As the killer walked, he imagined his ancestors smiling down on him. Today he was fighting their battle, he was fighting the same enemy they had fought for ages, as far back as the eleventh century . . . when the enemy's crusading armies had first pillaged his land, raping and killing his people, declaring them unclean, defiling their temples and gods.
His ancestors had formed a small but deadly army to defend themselves. The army became famous across the land as protectors - skilled executioners who wandered the countryside slaughtering any of the enemy they could find. They were renowned not only for their brutal killings, but also for celebrating their slayings by plunging themselves into drug-induced stupors. Their drug of choice was a potent intoxicant they called hashish.
As their notoriety spread, these lethal men became known by a single word - Hassassin - literally 'the followers of hashish.' The name Hassassin became synonymous with death in almost every language on earth. The word was still used today, even in modern English . . . but like the craft of killing, the word had evolved.
It was now pronounced assassin.