A crack of thunder rolled over the plains and forests of the outskirts of London town, followed by a flash of lightning.
The year was 1429, and tonight, there was a grand social event hosted by one of the wealthiest ladies in the city: Lady Victoria Dubal, whom was loved by the elite of London and the city’s poorest alike. She was not like the other members of high society: she frequently visited orphanages across London, donating large sums of money to try to improve things for the children there.
Tonight’s event was in celebration of the birthday of one of her closest friends, a Baron by the name of Lingarde. It was apparently his 38th birthday, and almost the whole of London’s nobles had turned out for the party.
Among the fleet of carriages clattering their way out of town to the manor home of Lady Dubal (where the party was to be held), one of them in particular stood out from the throng. Slightly less ornate than the others, and with one wheel wobbling dangerously as if it were about to fall clean off, another strike of lightning came down, reflecting in the windows of the wooden vessel by which its passenger (or in this case, passengers) was carried.
One by one, the carriages pulled up to Lady Dubal’s mansion. The unusual carriage was last to pull up, and just as its door opened, a pair of hooded and robed figures leaped from within the carriage and darted into some nearby bushes so rapidly that nobody else noticed…
Upon entering the bushes, the hand of one of these mysterious figures shot out of them and made a gesture, contorting their fingers into a sideways ‘V’ with the thumb stuck up, which, in the glow of the nearby window, resembled a canine.
Up on a nearby balcony of the manor house, another figure gave a thumbs-up, and the mysterious hand in the bushes shot back down into them.
The figure on the balcony walked into the manor through a pair of oaken double doors and whispered to a woman with long black hair, saying; ‘Cipher is cracked’. The woman nodded, and immediately set out for the manor’s front doors...
Baron Lingarde, wearing such elegant crimson garbs that they made him appear almost divine, slowly climbed out of the unusual carriage. The masquerade-style mask he wore on his face rattled slightly as Lingarde looked around and said aloud; ‘Such a beautiful evening we find ourselves upon!’ One noble rushed past him, muttering; ‘Begging your pardon, Lord Baron, but ‘tis a storm above our heads, and naught a drop of rain splatters the ground.’ Smiling under his mask, Lingarde replied with; ‘’tis what makes it so beautiful.’
So saying, he went inside with the rest of the crowd…
The inside of the mansion was most beautifully decorated, and it was very clear that Lady Dubal had a magnificent fondness of mahogany wood, for the stairs in the main foyer, the walls, the ceiling, the banisters for the stairs, the doors, and even the coat racks were made of it. Masterfully-made paintings of such everyday items as a bowl of fruit, a vase of red roses, a nameless woman sitting in, unsurprisingly, a mahogany chair, and a vivid landscape reminiscent to Lingarde (who was now observing this painting) of the vineyards of Italy sat graciously upon the walls.
After observing this painting and noticing it was a new addition to the fine collection of Lady Dubal, the woman of the hour herself came elegantly gliding down the foyer’s main staircase, pausing halfway down.
Lady Victoria Dubal was a woman of elegance and taste, her long raven hair flat and neatly reaching down to almost her waist, and her magnificent scarlet dress set her miles apart from the whites and blacks all of the other members of the nobility were wearing that evening. Spreading her arms wide, Lady Dubal called out to her esteemed guests; ‘I bid thee welcome to my manor home, and I trust that you will all feel as if you are within the walls of your own manor home whilst you are here.’
Polite applause sounded from the crowd, and Lady Dubal smiled before continuing; ‘We are here tonight to honor our special guest, for today, we celebrate the day of his birth thirty-nine years ago…would you all join me in giving a round of applause to Baron Lingarde?’
The applause came a bit more strongly this time, but Lingarde, a wry smile hidden beneath his mask, slid over to Lady Dubal and muttered: ‘That’s thirty-eight, my dear…I do not wish to age too quickly.’
Throwing Lingarde an apologetic look, Lady Dubal swept to the bottom of the stairs and began mingling with the crowd, talking about such idle things as the latest fashion by master designer Linholt, as well as the state of the war that England was involved in (which history would later call the Hundred Years’ War).
Lingarde, despite being the honored guest of the night, mingled little with the guests. Only Lady Dubal knew that Lingarde was actually not here just to celebrate his birthday…but he was actually here with ulterior motives.
The festive birthday celebrations for Baron Mythal Lingarde was merely a ruse with a darker intent.
Baron Lingarde he was by day, but by night, he was the Grandmaster of all Assassins for the entirety of England. By night, he went by the codename of ‘Cipher’, and Lady Dubal was actually his protegee, codenamed ‘Viper’.
The Assassin’s Guild that Cipher was in charge of here in London had recently received a contract issued by one of the nobility against another member of the nobility (a common thing these days), and Cipher had accepted it. In truth, he no longer remembered when his true birthday was; he and Viper simply invented an excuse to gather London’s nobility (and their unwitting target) in one convenient spot: Viper’s mansion, built from the ground up with the massive wealth that her life as an Assassin had allowed her to accrue.
As Lingarde’s eyes peered from beneath his mask, traveling around the crowd, he found his target at the other end of the room. Just then, a young-looking man with long black hair, an eyepatch over his left eye, and very outlandish garb comprised of a long, black, and tight trench coat and brightly-colored vestments underneath came up to him holding a tray with glasses of champagne on it. ‘Care for a drink, Linny?’ the young man grinned at Lingarde. Taking one glass from the tray, Lingarde put a hand on the man’s shoulder. ‘Much obliged that you are attempting to intoxicate me on such an important night, Scolita.’ Lingarde made a ‘tsking’ noise before lifting his mask just enough to drink the champagne.
You see, Scolita was also a member of the Assassin’s Guild; he was their alchemist, responsible for brewing up all sorts of deadly poisons and beneficial herbal potions and remedies.
With a nonsensical noise of satisfaction that drew looks from those standing nearby, Lingarde wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt under the mask, looked at Scolita, and added to his original statement by saying, ‘I daresay the time to make my move is soon at hand.’
As Lingarde placed the glass back on Scolita’s tray (empty), Scolita leaned in close and whispered; ‘You gone and found him yet, Grandmaster?’
‘I have found him,’ replied Lingarde out of the corner of his mouth. ‘I plan to get him during the ballroom waltzes that Lady Dubal is oh-so-fond of.’
As if on cue, Lady Dubal stopped mingling with the guests, walked to a clear part of the room, and announced loudly to the crowd; ‘If you will all follow me to the ballroom, we will begin our traditional waltzes momentarily.’
Like a thick liquid pouring out of a decanter or similar vessel, the crowd filed through a large pair of mahogany (what else) double doors, and into a massive ballroom that Lingarde still regarded impressively every time he stepped into it.
With a ceiling nearly as high as a cathedral (complete with vaulted ceiling and everything), massive glass windows on the left side of the room looking out into the beautiful rear gardens of Lady Dubal’s mansion, and a large sort of balcony-esque second-floor area where guests could sit and watch the dancers and partake of idle gossip and light finger foods, this ballroom was a grand locale for a dance, if but a touch overdramatic.
One by one, the crowd began to file across the absolutely enormous ballroom floor (almost the size of a football field), and one by one, they began to partner up. Lingarde saw his target partner up with the Baroness of Reed, and next to her, the Duchess of Galtshire looking around for a partner.
With one swift movement that made him seem like he was not even walking at all, Lingarde swept over to the Duchess of Galtshire (whose name was Annabelle) and bowed to her. ‘Might I have this first dance, milady?’ he asked lightly. Letting out a small giggle, Annabelle took Lingarde’s hand and replied with; ‘Don’t mind if I do, My Lord Baron.’
As soon as the song began, the entire crowd began to waltz in near-perfect sync with each other, feet and bodies moving back, and then forth, then to the side, and with a flourish, the men all picked up their partner, spun her around in a circle, then placed her back on the floor. On and on the song went, and Lingarde managed to stay close to his target at all times.
As the first waltz concluded, and the second one began, Lingarde knew full well that now was the time.
His target was the Earl of Earnscliffe, a man named Lionel Birchmount. Birchmount had blackmailed the Duke of Sandwich and subsequently robbed him of several hundred sovereigns, also implicating the Duke’s son in a pyramid scheme that had ruined Sandwich’s good standing with the nobility. In anger and born of revenge, the Duke of Sandwich issued the contract to the Assassin’s Guild that Birchmount pay with his life for shattering Sandwich’s reputation.
Knowing Birchmount to be clumsy, about halfway through the second waltz, Lingarde stuck out his foot just enough so that Birchmount would trip on it…and that is exactly what Birchmount did. Falling forward, his boot staying caught on Lingarde’s boot just long enough for Lingarde to twist his own foot in such a way as to make Birchmount's foot twist the wrong way, he toppled to the floor, a look of utter shock and embarrassment on his face.
‘Dear Sir, please accept my sincerest apologies for the placement of my foot!’ Lingarde (a phenomenal actor whose skills had been honed over many years) helped Birchmount to his feet, after which Birchmount gave a gasp of pain as he realized the foot Lingarde had caught his boot on had twisted to the point of being broken.
Hardly daring to believe his luck (for he only intended on spraining Birchmount's ankle), Lingarde put on his most soothing tone and stated; ‘We need to get you somewhere quiet to sit so you can breathe through the pain.’
Bit by bit, Lingarde (after bidding farewell to a surprised-looking Annabelle) helped Birchmount hobble his way out to the rear veranda of Lady Dubal’s manor, which overlooked the gardens and was out of sight of the windows of the ballroom. Helping Birchmount to sit on one of the benches of the veranda, Lingarde sat next to him. Overhead, occasional booms of thunder were heard, and the occasional lightning strike rent the sky and lit up the rain that was now steadily falling.
Turning to look at Birchmount, Lingarde identified him as the noble who’d spoken to him on their way into the manor by saying; ‘It looks like the rain you spoke of happens now…otherwise marring a beautiful night.’
Slouched against the bench, Birchmount settled for asking; ‘Why have you brought me all the way out here, far from the celebrations?’
Lingarde let out a sigh and stood up. Gently walking around behind the bench, Lingarde leaned in close to Birchmount and whispered through his mask a poem that sent shivers up and down Birchmount’s spine:
♪ Heard it through the grapevine did I, these days past.
That you doth wrecked the standing and lives of Sandwich and his kin but fast.
Blackmail, scandal, and silver-tongued lies of him you did spread to the very last,
And now, pray, dear old Sandwich wishes me to snuff out thy life thou hast. ♪
Before Birchmount could cry out or react, he felt and saw Lingarde’s gloved hand go over his mouth; he then felt something sharp pierce right through his back and his spinal cord and promptly withdraw, followed by a sharp pain across his throat. He realized in the same instant Lingarde had just stabbed him in the back with a knife through one of the gaps between the wooden boards making up the back of the bench then promptly slit his throat.
Birchmount’s choked gasps were successfully muffled by the glove, and as he struggled, blood pouring from the wound down the back of the bench onto the stone floor of the veranda, Lingarde further whispered into his ear as blood began to sputter from Birchmount’s mouth onto his glove:
We silence all in silence. Forever doth live the Assassin’s Guild, and here, the contract is fulfilled.
Once he was sure Birchmount was beyond words, Lingarde moved away from Birchmount. Withdrawing his hand from Birchmount's mouth and promptly replacing his now-bloodstained gloves with new ones, Lingarde pocketed the old gloves and said; ‘You should not have blackmailed Sandwich…nor gotten his only son caught up in this. For that, you get what you deserve…’.
Lingarde merely stood and watched in satisfaction as the vitality faded from Birchmount’s eyes.
After another minute or so, the life finally slipped from Birchmount's very body, his eyes rolling in the back of his head and his balled-up fists curling open and going slack against the bench.
Wiping the knife he’d used to stab Birchmount with on a special cloth attached to the inside of his jacket, Lingarde looked one last time at the body and thought to himself; ‘One ill turn deserves another’.
With that, Lingarde promptly returned to the festivities, knowing that Lady Dubal would have the body cleaned up once he told her about it…
Provided she hadn't already been watching somewhere quietly...
Meanwhile, a few hours later, after the party had come to an end and everybody had returned to their homes…
The Duke of Sandwich, a guest at Baron Lingarde’s birthday party, had just climbed out of his carriage back home (the birthday party was over), and as he stepped inside the large double-doors of his mansion, his butler approached him, bowed low and said; ‘Your Grace, there has been a very large sum of money deposited in your underground vault, and I know not where it came from.’
Within moments, Sandwich had pulled off his coat (which the butler took from him) and had rushed down to his vault. Opening it, his jaw dropped open so much and for so long that he had to promptly wipe his mouth, for saliva had begun to drip from it.
Massive sacks of gold sovereigns, silver shillings, and bronze coppers absolutely filled the vault chamber, and equaled far more than Sandwich had ever had. However, sitting in the middle of the room was a small wooden stool with a note pinned to it. Upon reading the notes, tears of gratitude began to appear in Sandwich’s eyes, and he looked up to the ceiling (and by implication the writer of the note) and began saying ‘Thank you’ over and over again in a choked-up voice.
The note read:
The deed is done.
Birchmount is dead by my hand.
But it pains me that you have to suffer his malice even after his death.
So, consider this a gift…from a friend.
We silence all in silence.
A short while later, Lingarde (dressed in his Assassin’s garb and now going by his famously dreaded moniker of Cipher) was perched in a tree near Duke Sandwich’s bedroom window (which had a small balcony protruding from it) and watched as the Duke himself stepped out onto the balcony in his night robes.
Suddenly, the Duke spoke aloud, loud enough for Cipher to hear: ‘There is no word, no phrase, and no sentence in any language upon this fair green Earth that can express the level of gratitude that I have for your giving to me all of this wealth.’
From the tree, Cipher spoke, his voice far lower and raspier than it was when he was Lingarde: ‘I only ask for one thing in return, Your Grace.’
‘And what is that?’ asked the Duke.
Grinning under his mask (which was now the signature terrifying skull’s-head mask of Cipher, not the silly masquerade mask of Lingarde), Cipher replied; ‘You’ve seen that the Assassin’s Guild is a serious organization…my organization. You have seen that we are men (and women) of our word…now I ask you, Your Grace…would you offer your loyalty and aid to us?’
Sputtering slightly, Duke Sandwich put a hand on his chest, his eyes scanning the trees to find Cipher, and responded; ‘Cipher, I know not how I could be of any assistance to your Guild, a Guild cemented into legend practically…’
It was then that Cipher finally leaped down from the tree and landed cat-like on the balcony next to the Duke to present himself in person. Rising to his full height of nearly six-foot four, Cipher tried to put a reassuring tone into his raspy voice: ‘Dukes and Duchesses have a great deal of influence among the masses, especially with those in positions of Government.’
Scoffing, the Duke turned and walked to the other side of the balcony, his hands gripping the railing so tightly his knuckles turned white. ‘Have you forgotten, Cipher? I am a shadow of my former self…my reputation is in a shambles.’ Sandwich gritted his teeth in bitter resentment.
‘That is where you are wrong, my friend.’
Turning to face Cipher and his statement, Sandwich narrowed his eyes. ‘What do you mean?’
Cipher waved a hand dismissively towards the forests beyond the Duke’s mansion’s grounds and said airily; ‘There is no need to worry about your reputation…I have utilized some of my contacts and pulled a couple of favors in Government. I was able to convince those who accuse you that you and your son were not responsible for what Lionel Birchmount accused you of.’
A moment of stunned silence, then the Duke began to weep again, this time seizing Cipher and pulling him into a very grateful embrace. Cipher, who was extremely anti-contact, muttered; ‘Being embraced…most uncomfortable…right bloody ordeal, this is…’
When the Duke let him go, he tearfully said; ‘Oh, Sir…surely you have been sent by the Archangel himself!’
Tittering nervously, Cipher muttered in so low a voice only he could hear himself; ‘Oh, you have no idea…’
Straightening up, Cipher cleared his throat, then said; ‘I must be going, Your Grace…so many people to kill, so little time.’
As Cipher performed an incredibly acrobatic leap back into the trees, the Duke called to him; ‘You will have my help, in any way you can use me for, Cipher. I would be honored to give my full support to your Guild!’
Darting between the treetops on his way to his next contract, Cipher only smiled a knowing smile under his skull mask. ‘I’m sure you will, Duke Sandwich…’ he muttered as he emerged from the treetops onto a hillside cliff overlooking London.
Looking out over the beloved city he and his Guild called home, Cipher sung a short song to himself he had heard many years ago, his raspy voice actually still sounding rather melodious:
♪ ‘Tis the shifty man with the shaggy hair what stalks London town,
A mask of terror and a raised blade doth he charge forward with which to pierce.
Alas, ‘tis the imbecile whom crosses the man and is put down,
The Assassin of Enigma, Cipher, the fearsome, mysterious, and fierce. ♪
Smiling to himself once more, Cipher leaped from the high cliff and descended upon the city below…