Tip-tap, tip-tap, goes leather sole on cobblestones. He must hurry, he has one last errand to run tonight, and a steamer to catch in the morning. Still, he is calm, and careful, he threads his path across this city with the precision of a dance. Every action is meticulous – years ago, he had planned out the remainder of his life, down to the slightest gesture of a finger, and he follows that plan to the letter. The slightest deviation, the smallest error could prove fatal to his grand design.
What is he? In the years since he put his master plan in motion, a handful of historians and academics have pieced together enough information to glean an uncertain, incomplete but nonetheless terrifying understanding of his project. None have ever spoken about it to anyone. Privately, some believe him to be the devil, others the agent of a vengeful God; others still, lacking theological conviction, can only conceive of him with stunned incomprehension. For half a century, he traveled the world, performing actions mundane or extraordinary, seemingly at random – burning down a house of ill repute in Madrid, seducing a jeweller’s daughter in Moscow, leaving a small fortune in an Edinburgh pub for a young poet to find. Only after careful study did it become apparent that each action was precisely calculated, a stone cast at just the right point at exactly the right time, to alter the course of history. Sometimes the results were immediate, other times his efforts only bore fruit a generation or two later. By what means could he have achieved what he did, and what reserves of hatred, anger or depravity drove him to scar the face of civilization in such a manner?
Dawn finds him at sea, watching the docks of Tangier receding in the steamer’s wake. In five days, he will be in Sarajevo. There is the murder of an Archduke to engineer, and the prospect brings a smile to his face.