I gasped as I was brought back to my present task: crouched in the bushes, binoculars pressed to my eyes, I was seeking my enemy in the valley below. The ravine was a strategic point, enabling me to spy without being seen. The careless shouts and laughter of the men echo up to me as I struggle to remain focused. I spot them: tiny, grey dots in the distance, and hope they are the only ones in the vicinity.
A distant wail of a deer gets me up on my feet, my mind back to my objective. The thought of this place always gave me chills. The dark and derelict building hidden further, in the heart of the forest, surrounded by crooked, ashen trees that stretch towards the heavens in one last attempt to evade the enveloping loneliness, thick as the fog that holds these spindly trees prisoner.
If I focus, I can see the dark shadow of the building between the trees, behind the fog that is my destination. The person I seek is within those walls; at least that is what I hope. I hope I will unlock further answers and clues to help me find what I need.
I crunch over sticks and pine-needle, around trees and through mist to the derelict building. Three storeys, this decrepit manor of rotting wood currently resembles more a dredge than housing, but I know it will be occupied..
My black cloak covers most of my body, but I surrender to the first sign of emotion as a trembling, snow-white hand emerges from within my cover to knock thrice on the dark, ebony door. The sound comes out distorted, as if muffled by my own sheer will of remaining hidden.
The most I can do is hope I won’t be recognized for who I really am, and that they hold the information I so desperately need.
‘H-Hello?’ croaks a voice as its owners’ head pops warily out from behind the thick door. A man of nearly fifty, with thin sheets of brown hair to his shoulders, and his usual three-day beard from his ears to his neck greets me. Hidden in my cloak, I fervently hope I will not be recognised for who I really am. As the very nervous host starts to close the door, I reach quickly for his arm before he can do so, whilst exposing a thin tattoo that runs the width of my wrist and towards my palm. This, he recognises. His eyes goggle at my shadow of a face before the poker face I have grown so accustomed to washes over his features. He covers the atrocity with his hand in one moverment and, grabbing my arm, pulls it sharply inside with enough strength to set me off balance.
‘WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’ the old man roars, ‘what in “These are dangerous times and it is extremely unwise to be outside for long” does your feeble, single-minded scum of a brain not grasp? Especially for those who bravely brandish that sign!’. His fear and fury bring out an english accent in his speech, and with his face now red, we both turn to the creak of an old staircase off the entrance. Our eyes set on a man who, despite the air of authority and honour he all but perspires into the room, has met rough circumstances and his eyes are shadowed purple by sleep deprivation. As he walks slowly down the stairs, his hand clenched on the railing, and into the hall, the tension is at its paroxysm.
‘You’, he says to me, indicating me with a nod of his head ‘right now, in my office; and you, Cullen back to work’.