Several heavily armed guards moved forward from the crowd, but Altair was faster. He pulled out his sword, holding it up defensively. Most of the guards seemed to stall. By now either Altair's reputation as a highly prolific killer had proceeded him, or these pixelated people were starting to develop something which resembled fear. A particularly brave individual moved forward, swinging his sword at the assassin. But Altair was much faster, even after a poisoned night in prison with no food or water. He dodged the attack and swung his smaller, more agile blade across, slicing the attackers' side. The guard fell back, blood already oozing from the gap in his armour. Another rushed the assassin, blade raised above his head, but Altair delivered a sharp knock to his face with the handle of his sword before kicking him back. These weren't deadly blows. I'd seen Altair dispatch legions of guards by now, enough to know when he was going for the kill, and right now I could see he wasn't. He was disarming them, knocking them down to take them out of the fight.
The circle around him closed in slightly, but no one made a move. Altair flipped his sword in his hand as he waited for someone else to step up. Moments passed without a move.
'They're hesitating.' Malik remarked beside me.
'These aren't Templars. They're assassins; our brothers. We grew up together,' He explained, 'it seems their loyalty to Al Mualim isn't as strong as those ties.'
Bright yellow bolts resembling electricity shot out and shocked each of the guards in the circle, felling them like dominos. Altair looked up from the centre, unharmed. Al Mualim stood up, the bolts returning to the apple in his extended hand. 'Enough. If you fools can't take him down, I'll have to do it myself.'
The assassin guards withered on the floor, thankfully still conscious. Altair pointed his blade at Al Mualim accusingly. 'If you have any shred of respect for the brotherhood left, you'll fight me like a man, not with your witchcraft!'
The Master Assassin smirked, a predatory glint in his eyes. 'He who wields the power, makes the rules.' A bolt of power shot out from the apple at Altair, which he rolled to the side to dodge. He got back to his feet and launched forward, running up the steps. Al Mualim shook the apple when it didn't respond, turning on his heels and running into the fortress, with Altair close behind.
I looked to Malik. '…should we help him or something?'
'We'd only get in the way,' He replied. 'The best we can do is gather support here.' He stepped up and climbed down the roof, calling upon the crowd in a rousing speech.
I hopped down to the street, looking up at the fortress. I had a bad feeling about all this. What if Al Mualim had led him into another ambush? He could have had agents hiding inside. Why else would he run? Malik might be content to stay back, but I had to see for myself if Altair was ok. I snaked through the gathering crowd and ran up the steps, slipping through the large door before anyone noticed.
The vaulted ceiling of the entrance hall echoed with only my footsteps. Not even the usual shuffling of pages from the upstairs library or the operatic hymn-like music could be heard. I missed that background music. It always made places like this feel so historic and sacred. But real life didn't have background music. I climbed the grand staircase, holding on to the banner nervously, listening out for anything that might indicate where Altair and Al Mualim had gotten to.
I reached the landing, seeing movement through the window, out in the garden. Turning to the right, I found a balcony looking out over the lush gardens where Altair was locked in battle with the traitor. Al Mualim had found a sword since he ran in and was countering Altair's lunges while still holding onto the golden apple, which blasted in his direction on occasion. In a moment of distraction, Al Mualim brought his sword down, knocking Altair to the ground. The apple began to glow brighter and a large bolt shot out, landing on the nearby grass but this time taking the form of a human figure. I had to really search my memory banks to recognise Tamir, the first of the Templar agents who Altair killed right at the start of the game. He recovered quickly and brought up his sword in time to deflect an attack from the glowing figure.
Their mouths appeared to be moving but I couldn't hear anything from my position on the balcony. The fight didn't last long, Altair slaying Tamir once again within minutes, but a new figure sprung forwards from the apple, this time forming the ghostly visage of Garnier.
I could see where this was going. I stood by, watching as Altair fight through each of the previous Templar targets, starting to get bored by the spectacle.
While Altair was busy dispatching the ghostly reincarnations, I noticed Al Mualim sneak around the side, behind the assassin, sword at the ready. That coward was going to stab him in the back (literally this time, as opposed to all the figurative back stabbing this game had revealed to be). I had to do something.
I reached back, swinging the bow off my shoulder and pulling out an arrow. I fumbled to hook the arrow on the string, finally managing to set it and take aim as the master assassin brought his sword back. I released the string and the arrow arched down, hitting Al Mualim square in the back. That was even better than hitting him in the leg where I had been aiming. He dropped like a stone as Altair swung the final blow at Tailium. As the hologram dissipated, he turned to see Al Mualim gasping for air on the ground. I must have pierced a digital lung. Altair looked around puzzled before spotting me in the balcony, still holding the bow.
'Did you do that?' He called.
'Yeah.' I shrugged, as surprised as he was.
I smiled and decided to join him down on the grass now that the danger was apparently over.
By the time I reached the gardens, Al Mualim was ashen and coughing up blood, but still clutching the apple.
Altair stepped on his wrist and kicked away the apple, ignoring his garbled yelps. 'Was it worth it? All this death for what? Power?'
'Foolish boy-' the dying man coughed. 'There would've been true peace, an end to all war and violence.'
'How? By killing off all the people you don't like?'
'No, by freeing the people from their greatest burden,' He wheezed, 'free will.'
'You would imprison all humanity under your tyranny for their benefit?' I exclaimed. 'Do you realise how insane that sounds?'
'Who are you?'
'Uh, I'm the one that shot you.' I shrugged. 'I'm not sorry. You seem like a real dick.'
'How is this thing supposed to give you ultimate power?' Altair asked. 'What does it do?'
'It fulfils our creed. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.' Al Mualim spat out blood. It was a wonder he was still talking, but I suppose the last remnants of video game logic was hanging on.
Altair turned to the apple as it sat innocently in a flower bush, glowing intermittently like a lava lamp. 'The path to peace cannot be through domination.' He muttered. 'Only a false peace, sitting on top of broken dreams and happiness.'
'That's really poetic.' I smirked at the assassin.
Al Mualim gargled something unintelligible before finally passing. If I had to guess I supposed his last words might have been 'you fool' or 'true happiness comes from knowing your place' or 'I like apples'.
The apple sparked suddenly, before projecting a large holographic image of the globe, with a series of fast-moving images inside it. Altair was transfixed, staring into the images intently. I didn't see what the big deal was. It was just a bunch of pictures, although every now and then something strangely futuristic would pop up, only to disappear before you could really be sure you had seen it. After a few moments, Altair finally blinked, coming back to this reality.
'Are you ok?' I asked.
'This thing…it's so much more than we imagined.' He muttered.
'What do you mean?'
He shook his head. 'It's hard to explain…didn't you see it?'
'All I saw was a bunch of random pictures.' I shrugged.
'Oh. But no voices?'
'Of course not.'
'Right.' He looked puzzled, glancing back at the apple.
'Do you usually hear voices?'
'No. I'm not crazy,' He said, 'It's this thing. It's just so—it knows things. Everything. So much power.'
'I suppose knowledge is power.'
'And more than that.'
I nudged the golden orb with my foot. I hadn't expected a game about assassinating dudes in ancient history to take this turn. 'So I guess we're not going to destroy Al Mualim's scary master weapon.'
'It's too valuable to destroy.' Altair replied, 'if it could even be destroyed.'
'But surely it's also too dangerous to keep around. We can't let just any crazy megalomaniac run around trying to take over the world with it.'
'We'll have to protect it. Keep it safe. For Ezio.'
'Not sure, but it's what the apple said.'
A/N: Woah, an update? Crazy, right? I feel like it's pointless to make excuses any more. Fact is, I've moved on from the part of my life where I write a lot of fanfiction. Once this is finished, that'll be it (except for my Hamlet fanfic. I like that one a lot and since it's out of copyright, I could potentially publish it one day. :p) It's been a wild ride. You guys are fantastic. I'm hoping to have my first original novel ready for publication by the end of the year. If that happens, I'll mention it somewhere. Probably on my new blog . One chapter to go, and I'm writing it right now, so there won't be another 6 month delay. I hope you're ready for it; the end is nigh.