The operation started almost a week later, instead of the predicted two, and early in the morning instead of under the cover of night. It was almost surprising how fast they could get into position once they remembered the new details.
It was not a secret that in the evening, Borgia would be locked away in the Papal apartments. Likely with a few young courtesans, and under very heavy defense that we had almost no hope of penetrating without an ally on the inside. We also knew that the Pope had sent people all across Italy and beyond to search for more artifacts, so time was against us.
So once all was said and done, Ezio found himself on the dock at the base of the passage beneath the Basilica, just as the morning Mass started. He was alone and fully equipped, with Eden's good-luck kiss burning slightly on his cheek and the warmth from where Mario slammed his shoulder blade in farewell. In other words, he was completely and utterly determined to put an end to the Borgia's plot once and for all.
As Eden was searching an alternative route in, he knew she would find it. So all he could do now was put her out of his head, and begin the climb up.
He could hear the guards' conversations up on the first platform, their words clear, snappy, and exceedingly professional. Unlike the other guards Ezio had come across, these did not utter a single word of complaint, nor did they sound bored or distracted. However, their footsteps were just as heavy, giving him a clear picture of what was happening and their positions along the roof.
He waited just below the edge of the parapet, the guard above right along his line of approach. He knew that as soon as the guard crossed in front of him, the others' back would be turned. It became the last unpleasant surprise in the guard's life when Ezio shot his hand to his throat, piercing it, and pulling him over. He made no sound until he hit the water.
"What was that?" The captain asked coolly, turning to where the guard was standing but a second ago. However, the captain didn't scream, panic, or even attempt to flee, instead letting out a barely noticeable huff of frustration, "Seems like the Maestro was right, the assassin has come..."
It would have been naive to expect that Alexander did not know they were coming sooner or later. Not to mention, Rome was his territory, and his spy network was likely even better than the Assassins', especially considering their presence wasn't strong in this region of Italia.
Ezio popped up from his spot as soon as he heard the nonchalant words. One way or another, they would never get the time to raise the alarm.
The captain spoke no more, his body crumbling to the ground as Ezio lightly leapt upwards and stabbed him clean through before tossing his body down into the Tiber River below. From then on, the assassin continued to move through each guard post, quietly killing off the men and avoiding them as much as he could.
The real trouble came just as he was passing the Castel Sant'Angelo. The guards were truly much better trained than the others he had encountered, one noticing him just as he was crossing over a short watch tower.
"There he is! Don't let him get away!" the yell reached his ears, as well as all those of the guards patrolling the wall. He cursed under his breath, but knew there was nothing to be done. The only way now was forward...
He jumped down, quickly rolling to his feet and leaping up to the teeth of the wall, narrowly avoiding the blades and spears. The gates of the next tower began to slowly close, but Ezio managed to tumble under them just in time, effectively sealing off his pursuers.
"Merda! Archers!" the captain commanded, and Ezio's run was only encouraged by the two arrows that got stuck in between the stones in the same spot he was standing only a moment ago.
Where are those damned apartments? he thought as he ran along the stone ramparts. The domes of the Basilica were approaching with deceptive slowness. But after less than a minute, somehow, he'd reached his destination. Or at least the landing leading into it.
Saint Peter's Basilica was currently in a sad state, judging by the exterior. It was apparent that Borgia showed little interest in rebuilding it, as one of his predecessors had planned. The building structures surrounding the dome itself was likely more able to keep it from falling on their heads rather than renovations. It was almost sad; the impressive size of the basilica and the halfway completed church showed great potential in the right hands.
Perhaps the next Pope would give more thought on its rebuilding. As well as its fortification.
"I could have sworn-"
"Just your eyes playing tricks," the man growled with frustration, just as unhappy about losing sight of the intruder. "There is only one Assassin, and do you really think he'd pick such an obvious route?"
Idiots, was my only mocking thought as I hung upside down from the beam just above them. Playing hide and seek with the papal guards was much more dangerous, though there was a twisted sense of fun in the game. It was fair play, though, as it completely their fault for wearing such sight-restrictive helmets.
The two guards continued further down the hall, still tense and keeping their weapons in their hands. But I had no intention of following them. Instead, I swung on the beam, setting myself upright and assessing the situation.
Given the time, Ezio was likely near now. The High Mass was half-way over, and the other Assassins were likely partying to the fullest, causing trouble in the city. My mind wondered to Adel briefly. Yet as I pictured her playing the games I unintentionally taught her, I inexplicably felt sick to the stomach, and forced my mind back to the job.
After all, when we're on the job, there was no family. Only partners in crime.
I lightly jumped to the next beam, straining my ears for the echoing footsteps. To my great displeasure, the passages were like a maze. Hence, I had to force the plan of the basilica and surrounding apartments that I had been working on memorizing for years (ever since we found out that Borgia has become Pope) to swim up in front of my eyes more often than I liked. The passages looked completely unfamiliar in person, but together with the map, at least I felt as though I was moving in the right direction...
I smiled to myself as a random thought hit my head; how convenient it was that Borgia knew nothing of me, even if my survival was known. He reasonably assumed that the only passage that could possibly be taken by Ezio was through the Passeto, stationing the majority of the guards there. How could he have known that I would be the one insane woman to actually use the old boring method, via the front door?
Eventually, I came to a halt at the end of a corridor. It had three doors, each leading in different directions but looking the exact same. I sniffed the air, trying to orientate, but it gave little result. There was cool air drifting from somewhere, the smell of oil, and a specific, mildly acrid smell that tugged at my memory, but brought no epiphanies.
I dropped to the floor from the beams overhead, immediatelydeciding to not waste my time further. The draft was coming from straight ahead, and I could hear low voices in the room to the right. The left door had an impressive bolt on it, which surprised me; why was it on the outside?
My curiosity got the better of me, so I carefully slid it away from the door, opening it very gently and peeking into the crack.
Oh, sweet lord above, I wish I did not...
I slammed it again quickly, hurrying to put the lock back in place. The Hell Hounds, unlike normal dogs, did not raise their voices and didn't waste their time with barks and howls. The door visibly flinched, but thankfully withstood, and I jumped away from it, suddenly deciding that I'd rather go murder the Pope than hang around here. I did not like the look of those dents...
"Are you trying to die?" Altair did not take kindly to me poking my nose where it shouldn't be.
Shush it, grandpa. What got you out and about again? I mentally snapped, Got bored of sitting in the depth of my brain?
"I got bored as soon as I appeared, there's not much in here."
'Lo and behold, the mighty assassin got himself a sense of humor. Now shut up, I'm trying to kill Templars here.
"Anything for a righteous cause, then," he quietly growled, calming down before his voice left my head once again.
You could clean up in there or something while you're just sitting and doing nothing, I suggested jeeringly at his imaginary back.
I heard his humph, and then tense. You know, it's funny how I could feel my own hallucination as he suddenly froze, and looked around. I found my head twisting back to the hallway behind me.
Hey! Quit it! I shook my head, regaining control quickly.
"You're distracted. There's someone behind you," Altair snapped in his own defense. We made a deal that he would never try to take over my body while I would not fight his conscience off or seek to get him out of my brain. But he did have his moments...
I realized what he said, and quickly pressed myself to the wall, hidden by the pillars. Sniffed the air. Listened closely.
My other resident was right, for I could now hear footsteps fast approaching this end of the hall. Two... damn it, I didn't have time to slip into the door I needed, but I didn't want to stay beside the dog pens for any longer...
Once again, my body moved almost on its own accord. Altair sensed my hesitation, and decided to give me a friendly push in the right direction. As soon as the two guards showed in my vision, I slipped behind them, and before they could react to me, I drove both my hidden blades into their throats. I hurriedly tried to catch the bodies, but both of them were too heavy for me, and they dropped down to the stone floor, making a helluva lot of noise. Goddamned armor…funny how in modern times, despite the weapons being far more deadlier, no one wore armor anymore, outside of the obligatory Kevlar, bulletproof vest.
I winced as another dent appeared in the thick doors that shielded me from the Hell Hounds. What the hell? I snarled at Altair. Keep your thoughts to yourself, old man!
He must have realized that I was not impressed with his meddling in the slightest, and retreated, his presence all but leaving my mind.
I licked my lips - after ten years I was more or less used to him popping up every now and again. Not if before he was only ever there when my life was at risk or I needed to talk to him. Now he was showing up more and more often, as if something... excited him...?
The Vault, I realized as I finally got out of the hallway. He spent his time with the Apple, sifting over its knowledge, but he had never physically seen the Vault. Now, he finally had his chance, through me.
The prayers came from below. The winded passage in Latin rang out in the same, calmly monotone voice that infuriated Ezio beyond belief as he silently crept over the scaffolding along the perimeter of the room. The blank ceiling looked infinite above his head, the candlelight never reaching it, but illuminating the crowds below well enough. Guards were lined thickly along the walls, and robed priests and monks stood in a sharp rectangle, all with their heads bowed, diligently listening to the Pope.
Rodrigo Borgia himself stood on the raised altar at the front of the room. The papal staff was there as well, glittering with disregard to the room's lights in a way characteristic to the Pieces of Eden.
Ezio knew he would have to move fast. His target couldn't even have the opportunity to react, as there was no predicting what would happen if the Apple's power was matched against the Staff's...
The boards didn't creak beneath his feet as he took his position, over his enemy's head. There he was...the man who cost him a life of peace, his family, the man who actively hunted his Brotherhood, the man who drove him on his endless journey of vengeance and murder for over a decade. The whole reason for the blood lust singing into Ezio's ears-
The air seemed to vibrate around him, smothering the feral growl that broke through his chest, for he finally felt the neck he had longed to break for all those years...
His weight crushed the now old man down to the floor, stopping his chant mid sentence, his eyes snapping shut. Ezio felt his entire body shaking violently, his breath shallow and strained, though not with any sort of fatigue. Rather, the culmination of years of patient, arduous planning. A instinctive snap of his wrists, and his blade extended before he could even think properly.
"I thought I was above this," he hissed, frenzied gaze nearly glowing, dangerous, deadly, molten gold, "But I've waited for too long... been through too much...Requescat in Pace, you bastard-!"
But before he could bring his father's blade down for the finishing blow, the cold eyes snapped open.
"I don't think so!"
The next moment, Ezio was in the air again, blown away by some unforeseen force, making him tumble over his shoulder. The people that watched the scene with amazement and shock just moments earlier rapidly fled out of his way, the guards not having the time to react and counter this deadly intruder...
Something even stranger happened the next moment. All those present began to let out small moans and shrieks, sinking down to the floor, their gasping howls dying in their throats as they vainly struggled to fight off the crushing force. The only man left standing was Alexander. Ezio felt the same power probe at his defenses, yanking and pulling at his thoughts. But fortunately, it seemed to recognize the Apple, seeping away and allowing him to rise to his feet.
"How can you resist?" the Pope asked with mild surprise. Ezio, not in answer to the question, but in his own interests, reached for his own artifact. "Ah, the Apple. How kind of you to bring it...now give it here!"
"Go fuck yourself," Ezio quietly retorted, with barely-controlled rage
The Spaniard broke into loud laughter. "Always the fighter, like you father. Well, rejoice, my child, for you will see him soon... You will give it to me!"
"As you wish." Ezio grasped the ball with both his hands, forcing his will into it.
A dark shadow stepped out of him, its form materializing immediately and walking forward. Out of the figure, another one formed, and then more, until four identical copies of Ezio stood in front of him, baring their blades against Rodrigo. They were identical, right down to their efficient movements and deadly focus on their enemy.
"Fascinating power," Rodrigo sneered, seemingly undaunted, "But if you think it will save you..." The Pope swung down his staff, suddenly grasping it like a spear. The sharp end of it pointed towards Ezio left not doubt of his intentions. "You've got another thing coming!"
"We'll see," Ezio muttered, pulling out his own sword. His clones charged into battle, surrounding the Pope with strategic precision. Borgia effectively wielded his makeshift spear, however, somehow managing to deflect any and all strikes. For an old man, he was still agile on his feet, all these years apparently doing almost nothing to his ability...
"Nearly fifteen years you've been chasing me, only to meet your end here. It's pathetic, you should have run while you still could."
Ezio almost laughed. "After you killed my father and brothers? Forced me into hiding? Attacked my Uncle, nearly cost me mine and Leonardo's life in mountains, killed Eden-"
"Ah, yes, your wife. You didn't actually think that her little trick would fool me, did you? Though I admit, I thought her dead for a while, but the staff knows lies...what will happen to your wife when you're dead, I wonder? She'll be found soon enough, along with the rest of your little brotherhood." Ezio knew that the Spaniard was trying to provoke him into doing something foolish, yet he couldn't help but grit his teeth, itching to wipe the smirk off the bastard's face. "I think I'll wait a bit before killing her. She could prove to be rather entertaining..."
Ezio finally charged at that. His copies stepped out of his way, allowing him clear access to storm through Borgia's defenses. Altair's sword clashed with the staff, but his weapon withstood, swiftly connecting again and again for more blows. His enemy was already waning, human fatigue drawing him down, his age letting itself known. His movements becoming more sluggish and wide, Ezio could almost taste the victory-
"No! You will not take this from me!" Ezio could see that the man was struggling to even stay upright now, only his will and madness keeping his head up.
"It's finished, Rodrigo! Lay down your arms and I will make sure the end comes swiftly!" Ezio's copies disappeared in a light cobweb of flickering, golden light, no longer needed. The tip of his sword was unmovable as it stared at Borgia's neck.
"Really, Ezio? And would you give up so easily if it were the other way around?"
Ezio should have expected that.
The point of the Staff slammed in between the mosaics of the floor, and the now familiar force hurled his chest backwards. His sword falling out of his grip, he grunted with surprise as he collided with the floor. This time struggling to get up again, he searched for the he was no longer in sight.
Did he escape...? Ezio reached for the Apple again, hoping it would show him what he needed. However, the next thing he knew, his wrist was crushed to the floor, the artifact rolling away from his fingers.
"At last!" Rodrigo appeared out of thin air above him, and almost casually picked up the Apple. Ezio watched with growing horror as he pushed it into the cradle of the staff, at the top of it. It clicked into place as though it always belonged there. "Now," the Pope cruelly smirked, eyes ablaze with his seeming victory, "To deal with you."
Alexander raised a commanding arm, and Ezio felt himself being lifted into the air. Soon, he could no longer even feel the ground under his feet, unable to move even an eyeball. Completely at the mercy of his enemy and the two Pieces of Eden
The pope's head snapped in the direction, and Ezio felt his stomach sink further as he recognized the voice. There was familiar whistling of blades, but Alexander was ready for it.
The Apple's glow brightened. The footsteps faltered.
"And there's your beloved wife. Someone you stupidly trust with your back...come here, wench."
Ezio silently prayed to anyone that was listening that he would not hear what came next - slow, hesitant and much heavier footsteps. As she came into sight he wanted to let out a groan at the sight.
She was standing unnaturally straight, her face totally blank, her arms limply at her sides, the knives in them barely hanging on her fingertips. Her eyes were trained on the Apple in the old man's hands, with the same spark of mad curiosity and desire in her eyes that he'd seen a decade ago when she held the artifact and searched for her answers inside of it.
But that wasn't right; she'd developed her immunity, for the sake of everyone, including herself. There was no way that she would so easily be bewitched now, especially when she battled Savonarola's will so hard.
The Spaniard walked around her, almost curiously examining her. There was a manic fascination in his eyes as he hooked his fingers around her hood, and pulled it down.
"A little scarred, but still beautiful," he coldly declared, "I will enjoy my time with you, for certain." Ezio clenched his teeth as he watched the old man hiss into her ear, loud enough for him to hear, mocking him.
"So much as touch her, and I will send your soul to the deepest levels of hell," he snarled. Rodrigo found the seemingly empty threat amusing. As though to infuriate him further, he brought a hand up to Eden's cheek, running a finger over her skin. Eden's eyes were in front of her, staring off to space.
"I'll have fun extracting the information out of her head. But for now, I have places to be, a destiny to claim. So let me give you the pleasure of dying by your own wife's hand." The Spaniard once again leaned to her ear, moving away strands of hair away from it. The order was blunt.
Eden shifted her head up, and her grip on her weapon renewed. She took a shaky, but steady step towards Ezio, staring him in the eyes but still unseeing. For a long, painful moment, Ezio was sure that she would not be able to disobey the Apple's command. Even if she did, Borgia would kill them both. He even thought that it would be better this way. Her face would be the last thing he would ever see. She would be beside him in the last moment.
But it seemed that she had different plans. And Ezio could suddenly perceive something that the Spaniard could not.
Her eyes were filled with hard confidence and stubborn determination. He had to fight the breath of relief as to not give it away, but he realized that she was not under the Apple's influence.
...then why was she drawing her hand back as if to stab him...?
"You, bella," Ezio whispered to me, "Must be the most brilliant woman that has ever walked this earth."
I grinned, helping him sit up, "Were there ever any doubts?"
"How did you even come up with that?" he raised an eyebrow, as I quickly tended the small wound I made on his stomach for the effect, "I thought-"
"That I was actually going to let some insane old guy with a shiny ball make me stab my own husband?" I raised my eyebrows with reproach. "You should know me better."
"I told you I have my ways."
"So what would you have done if you were too late?"
"Tackle him with a bear hug, wrestle the artifacts away, and then wave my finger at him and tell him 'Bad Rodrigo! No more toys for you!'"
He stared at me for a moment, and then had to contain his laughter, leaning his head onto my shoulder. "You are a treasure. I shall never doubt your methods again...shouldn't we hurry?"
"I think we have a moment," I shrugged, "I wish we could have seen this sooner, it would have saved us some nerves."
"We focused on the artifacts," I finally finished with his shallow wounds. I had to make the stab look convincing, which mean I had to draw blood. And considering that Altair's armor would have reduced my dagger into crumpled paper, I had to get creative, "And forgot another vital requirement."
"Are you going to share, or do I have to guess?"
"'Only the Prophet may open it,'" I quoted. "Even with the artifacts, he will never be able to get inside the Vault. So that means-"
"They are using him," he suddenly realized, "The artifacts are only using him-"
"To what means, I wonder," I mused. "But it doesn't matter. Alt- er, I realized that he was already wrapped up in them, and his insanity isn't helping much either. I don't know to explain it, but I think the Apple in his possession blinded him when he tried to control it, especially when he tried to use it against both of us. And at the same time, no less. Between you and me, I think it was enough to make him think you were fatally wounded and I was completely under his control."
"Genius," he repeated, getting up. "But that's enough theory, let's get back to the practical exam."
"What's wrong with them?" I suddenly asked, pointing to the nearest robed man, who was on the floor with his butt in the air. None of the people in the room reacted to anything anymore, as though they were all drained of their energy.
"He did something with the Staff did something," Ezio wildly waved about the room. "I don't think they'll be getting up any time soon, though they're still breathing where the hell did that figlio di puttuna go?"
"Over here." I knelt down again on the spot where I've seen the Pope disappear, knocking on the floor, "Hm. It's too thick to determine, but I think there's a passage here."
Ezio stood for a moment, and then blinked, forcing his eyes into Eagle Vision. I could see him scanning the room, while I searched with regular vision for any patterns in the early decorations of the church. In good memory of the Basilica in Venice, where Ezio told me he the picture in the center of the cross twisted to reveal the Assassin symbol...
"There," Ezio suddenly spoke, pointing to the circle on one side of the room, "And over there. Try pressing the center."
I quickly calculated the distance between the supposed button and the passage, and imagined the machinery behind the wall that would move the floor away. "How the hell do they come up with this stuff?" I asked rhetorically, as I pressed the circle that Ezio pointed towards. It gave in surprisingly easy, and once Ezio touched the other one, the familiar grinding of stone could be heard. The floor of the platform grunted, lowered, and slid towards the wall, revealing a wide set of stairs. "Wonder how-"
"No time," Ezio shook his head, already rushing down the stairs, "I have to catch up with him."
"You don't think I'll leave you alone now, do you?" I skeptically raised my eyebrows. "You could have probably died if I wasn't here. There is no way that I'm letting you repeat the experiment."
"I know," he sighed, giving almost too easily. "Alright, but I just have on thing to ask."
"What is it?" I looked down him suspiciously. He looked deadly serious and determined once again, already at the bottom of the stairs.
"Don't interfere with what I'm about to do."
"Unless you're about to kill yourself, fine," I agreed, hurrying down the stairs after him.
And immediately was taken aback.
The hallway in front of us was brightly illuminated by neon blue lights that ran down both sides of the floor. Unable to contain my curiosity, I crouched down, staring into the lamps, but my eyes soon began to hurt, forcing me to blink and quickly look away. Any longer, and I was sure I would get a raging headache.
"What is this place?" Ezio spoke, just as stunned.
"I have no idea," I honestly replied. "This seems almost...modern. Or even futuristic. How is this possible?"
"What are you looking for?"
"A 'Made in China' stamp," I quietly joked, but left the lamps alone. He looked at me strangely, but did not comment. After all, he had years to get used to my little comments that pertained to a future far outside of his time.
"Stay close," he just gestured, and we walked through the rest of the strange corridor only inches away from each other, as if afraid of becoming separated by traps or some other unforeseen circumstances.
"OPEN, DAMN YOU!" The voice howled up ahead, accompanied by echoing hits against something hard and solid.
This room was even stranger than the hallway. Circular, with a round hole in the middle that reminded me of an empty pool, it was surrounded by mosaics that were much different from the Basilica. The light was streaming from cross-shaped windows around the room, all funneling the sun's light squarely into the pool.
Rodrigo Borgia stood inside the strange lowered platform, on the opposite end from us, banging his fists into what I supposed was the door to the Vault. Ezio let out a small breath of relief, and giving me a swift kiss on the cheek, dropped soundlessly into the pool. I stayed at the lip of it, as he asked earlier, watching with growing interest.
"It's finished, Rodrigo," he walked forward confidently. As he approached the Templar, he took off his weapons one by one, letting them clang on the floor. Alexander turned around with shock, as he likely did not expect Ezio to recover in the matter of minutes. His small eyes looked up to me, and suddenly dangerously narrowed with nearly uncontained, absolute, rage. Ezio almost ignored him, continuing to rid himself of weapons. "No more tricks, no more weapons, and no more ancient artifacts. Just you and me." Last, he threw his father's gauntlet up to me, and I caught it with ease, pressing it to my stomach.
"You're a fool," the old man hissed after a few moments, still glaring at me. "You could have such power at your disposal, yet you want a fair match...how noble," he growled. Yet he took the challenge, not reaching for his staff or a blade.
"Eden is not a Piece," Ezio took his stance, "She never was."
"She's from a different world, that much I am certain of. All that technology, all that power. You silly little boy," he crowed with slithering pity, "Yet you never took advantage of it..."
"I am not a means of gaining power, you asshole," I spat. "Ezio, if you don't kill him, I swear to God, I will!"
"Do you think you're the only one of your kind, girl?" Borgia replied to me this time, as if sensing that if he continued to speak of me in third person, I would not hesitate in using my blades despite Ezio's request. "There've been others... and we did not hesitate in using them! Your nobility puts you at a disadvantage, don't you see?"
The Hell Hounds. I suddenly realized. But how...?
"This isn't about her," Ezio growled, dodging the first hit that Rodrigo tried to land. "What is inside that Vault? Why are you so eager to get access to it?"
"Do you honestly not realize? Are you telling me the great and powerful Assassins couldn't figure it out?"
"Stop dragging it out," I growled down on them.
"Silence your woman, Assassin," Borgia hissed, and I spat at him. Missed, as he got a nice punch in the face that actually got me to clap my hands with enthusiasm.
"Figure what out, exactly?" Ezio calmly retorted, forcing the old man back a few steps with each attack.
"God. It is God that lies inside the Vault."
Ezio actually laughed at that, disbelieving and utterly mocking. I just wondered how much of his sanity the Pope had lost to spew out such nonsense, if there was any of it left. "You expect me to believe that God lives beneath il Vaticano?"
"A more logical location than a kingdom on a cloud, don't you think? Surrounded by singing angels and cherubim. Makes for a lovely image, no?" Rodrigo huffed, just barely dodging a potential blow that would've surely broken his nose. "But the truth is far more interesting!"
I had to admit that he had a point. I have never believed in religion, not finding the supposed God in any part of my life in New York. Things were inverted. All my misfortune was brought on my head by the hands of humans, and nothing more. But since I had joined Ezio on his journey, I came to at the very least leave room for the concept of The Almighty. After all, Eden, or something of the like, was real. The Pieces were real, though I could still find no logical explanation aside from magic, which still seemed impossible. What if Rodrigo was on the right train of thought...?
Ezio must have been thinking the same way, because he asked, "Let's say I was to believe you. What do you think he'll do when you open that door?"
"I don't care," Alexander spoke sincerely, the insanity lacing his voice. I knew it, he's lost his last marbles... "It's not approval I'm after! Just power!"
"And you think he'll just give it up?"
"Whatever lies beyond that wall won't be able to resist the staff and apple. They were made for felling Gods!"
"That makes no sense," I disagreed from up above, "They were made for control. To control humans, likely. If anything, it were the Gods that created them in the first place."
"God is supposed to be all knowing, and all powerful. Do you really think a few ancient relics will bring him to his knees?" Ezio was as skeptical as me, though for different reasons.
"Even your wife has a clearer idea of it than you, so you obviously know nothing. You take your image of the creators from an ancient book. A book, mind you, written my men."
Ezio certainly won't like that...
"You're the Pope! And yet you dismiss the central text of your faith?"
"Are you so naive?" It was strange how even beat down, heavily bruised by now, with blood smothering his face, Borgia could still laugh with such a maniacal passion. "I became Pope because it gave me access! It gave me power! Do you think I believe a single god-damned word of that ridiculous book? It's all lies and superstition. Just like every other religious tract written over the past ten thousand yea-"
Ezio's hands closed around the old man's throat, effectively cutting off the rest of his speech. I stared, not without sadism as he desperately flailed his weakened arms around, trying to get the Assassin off of him, but it was no use. Ezio forced him to the ground, and finally, just when he was about to pass out of suffocation, let go.
Gasping for breath, but now rendered unable to move, Rodrigo looked pathetic. He lost all his arrogance and superiority, and for a moment, I felt outright pity towards the man. "You can't! You can't! It's my destiny- MINE! I am the prophet!" he screamed.
I slid down to the bottom of the pool, ready to take action if he made another desperate attempt to kill my husband. But his strength and will left him now, no matter how much he tried to crawl further towards his enemy.
"You never were," Ezio spoke with clear death in his voice. I stood by his side, waiting.
"Get it over with, then-"
"No." To both Borgia's and my surprise, Ezio refused, extracting himself from the Pope's desperate grasp, and getting up. "Killing you won't bring my family back... I'm done."
I almost choked on that, my hand flying to his arm.
"I know. But it will not change anything," he wearily replied, "Not a thing."
I looked at him, and then to Rodrigo, still whining in pain on the floor. I thought of Ezio's brothers and father that died for him, for Ezio's mother that was in a catatonic state for over a decade, for Claudia, a near-prisoner in hiding in Monteriggioni. I thought of my husband's ruined innocence. I thought to the incident that forced me to fake my own death, and the many years of war that we were pushed into, where countless people died and suffered, all in the name of Borgia's scrabble for power-
I barely even realized that my hands were clenching tightly at my side, my eyes narrowed with murderous hatred at the man.
"Then If you don't," I hissed, my voice almost unrecognizable even to myself, "I will!"
"Eden, no!" Ezio caught my arm just as I extended my father's hidden blade. "Per l'amore del dio! Please, there's been enough death."
I twisted to face him, meaning to let out a furious retort...only to stop dead at the look on his face.
He looked almost heartbreakingly tired, as if the past thirteen years of war crushed him underfoot all at once in that moment. Dull, beleaguered hazel, his eyes pleaded me, as though trying to call out to the small part of me that could ever restrain from finishing a kill. I felt my anger evaporate, and I closed my eyes for a second, relaxing my body. The hidden blade snapped back into its bracer.
"We are going to regret this," I quietly insisted, voice so low, only he could hear me.
"We'll see," he replied, just as calmly. Letting go of my arm, he looked back to Rodrigo. "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. Requescat in Pace."
And without even a second look to the unfinished target, he walked over to the staff standing in the middle of the room.
It greeted his approach with a pulsating glow. Confidently, as though he had done this many times before, Ezio put his hands on the golden shaft of the staff, and closed his eyes in concentration. I watched, shocked, and even Rodrigo seemed mesmerized for a second as the power came alive in the assassin's hands.
The light projected onto the wall that the Spaniard had been trying to open unsuccessfully, and as if verifying a return of the sacred artifact, the wall replied with similar glow at the seams before sliding away. Ezio nodded in satisfaction, and took the Apple from the head of the staff.
"Eden, let's go."
I was slightly taken aback. On one hand, I was curious as hell as to what the Vault was. But on the other "Ezio, I think it's for you to see alone."
"Don't be silly. You have just as much right for this as I do. Just as much as my Uncle and the rest of the Order." He took my hand, leading me into the corridor. "It's like you said once; we are together in this from the beginning, and so we shall be so at the end."
For the second time today, my breath was taken away.
Before, when I had wondered about the Vault, the only thing that came to mind was a dusty room filled with money. It never really had a defined shape or color, and I had no idea what to truly expect from it.
What I saw now...it was stunning, almost heartbreakingly beautiful. Utterly surreal, it was beyond anything I could have ever pictured in my mind's eye. Pitch dark on first sight, as we moved through the hallway, glyphs and letters would light up on to fade as we passed all around us, on the walls, floors, the ceiling. The unknown language illuminated with the same shimmering, golden glow that the artifacts did, I was once again stumped. What was it? Paint? Lights? Why did it seem as though they were reacting to our presence?
How was this room possible...?
I didn't know the answers. But perhaps that was the point of this sacred place, like that of God's domain? To quote Altair, we could not even begin to fathom it. Only witness and accept. The strange effect that it had on my blood, as though I recognized something from a former life, strangely familiar...
"This is-" Ezio whispered, eyes wide and almost afraid,"How is this-"
"I I-I don't know," I replied, still trying to take in all the details at once and failing miserably.
The voice rang from up ahead, filling up the room, though is almost seemed to echo in my head, pulling at my skin and nails in all of its command. Distinctively female, I realized, but it could not possibly belong to a human. Golden strings of light appeared, coming from the walls and floor, knitting together in a cocoon in the middle of the room. The light was blinding, forcing us to shield our eyes for a brief moment, my mind racing with the implications of what were witnessing. Once I could properly see again, another surprise waited.
It was a woman. Or at least, something in close resemblance. She was absolutely striking, her beauty almost knowing no bounds, glowing. Yet the gold of her outline was transparent, as if she was only a specter amidst darkness. Her robes flowed about her slender form, and upon her head, a tall crown. Combined with her graceful posture and narrowed eyes of regard, there was no doubt we were in presence of nobility. No, not noble...something beyond that.
"It is good you have come. Let us see it. To give thanks," her voice echoed and vibrated, tumbling down around us like a waterfall of pebbles. The woman raised an elegant hand towards Ezio. It took a moment to figure out what she wanted, and then he tentatively held out the Apple, staring as if in trance. She did not take it, however, but held her palm over it.
The reaction was immediate, and stronger than anything it ever gave in greeting to Ezio or me. I swallowed with alarm, trying to understand, but it just seemed so...impossible.
She took her hand away, and then looked at me sharply. "You are not supposed to be here. But it doesn't matter. We must speak." She looked away, into the wall behind us.
"Who are you?" Ezio spoke quietly, in awe.
"Many names," she almost smiled, though it was gone in less than a blink of an eye. "When I died, it was Minerva. Before that, Merva and Mera. And on and on " She raised her arm, motioning to the pillars around the room that were decorated with strange glyphs. They seemed to glow even brighter at her words, "The others, too: Juno, who was before called Uni. Jupiter, who was before called Tinia..."
I felt shivers run down my spine with each word that came from Minerva, a foreign feeling washing across my brain. I was fearful, nay terrified, wishing to be as far away from her as possible. Yet she drew me in, a siren song sparking a wild fire of curiosity and awe. The conflicting emotions seemed to bubble up from blood itself, as though it was a newly discovered instinct. I took a small step towards Ezio, grasping his arm as though my life absolutely depended on him perhaps it did. He flinched slightly, as though he had forgotten I was even there with him, only to slide a secure arm about my waist.
"You are gods." he stated quietly, recognizing the names that held no meaning to me aside from the planet Jupiter.
The woman laughed, not quite mocking but vibrating in my ears. "No, not gods. We simply came...before. Even when we walked the world, your kind struggled to understand our existence."
'Your kind?' I immediately picked up, She isn't human. Ezio's tightening grip on my hip signaled he'd realized the same.
She did not shift her stance or barely seemed to register out response as behind her, another hologram began to form. "We were more... advanced in time. Your minds were not yet ready. Still... not. Maybe never."
I suddenly recognized the shapes of light - it was the solar system that formed in the room all around us, with the huge orb of the sun directly behind the woman. Earth spiraled close to us, though it looked much different that the world maps, at least those in Ezio's time. From what little I remembered of school and combined with our trips to Spain, I knew the New World had barely been discovered. Yet this map appeared thoroughly modern.
"No matter. You may not comprehend us. But you will comprehend our warning," Minerva resolutely insisted, "You must."
"None of what you're saying makes any sense-" Ezio began, but she cut him off.
"Our words are not meant for you."
"Eden-?" he stared at me, and I involuntarily tensed.
"No. I do not wish to speak with you. But through you. You are the prophet. She does not belong here. It matters little. You've played your parts. You anchor him. But please, be silent. So that we may commune."
I met Ezio's confused state, and gave a little shake of the head to let him know I had about as much idea of what the hell was going on as he did.
"Listen," Minerva commanded and her visage disappeared, but not her voice. "When we were still flesh, and our home still whole, your kind betrayed us. We, who made you. We, who gave you life..." I recognized the new projection as an Egyptian styled drawing. Someone - or something was towering over humans, holding the Apple. Pieces of the puzzle were already beginning to come together in my head, but I did not speak up just yet.
"We were strong. But you were many. And both of us craved war. So busy were we with earthly concerns, we failed to notice the heavens. And by the time we did..." The sun appeared once again, "The world burned until nothing remained but ash. It should have ended then and there. But we built you in our own image. We build you to survive. And so, we did. Few were our numbers. Your kind and mine. It took sacrifice. Strength. Compassion. But we rebuilt. An as life returned to the world...we endeavored to ensure this tragedy would not be repeated."
"But now, we are dying...and time will work against us. Truth turned into myth and legend. What we built, misunderstood. Let my words preserve the message and make a record of our loss. But let my words also bring hope. You must find the other temples. Built by those who knew to turn away from war. They worked to protect us - to save us from the fire. If you can find them...if their work can be saved, so too, shall this world. Be quick! For time grows short. And guard against the cross- for there are many who will stand in your way."
Silence and darkness fell onto the room for only brief seconds, and then Minerva reappeared.
"It is done. The message is delivered. Our knowledge...our blood...for there was not always war. Between our kinds. Our gifts shall guide you. Protect you. You are such, as are they...I see now that our blood...remains. In you. In the child. But as for us, we are gone. All of us. We can do no more...the rest is in your hands, Desmond."
Leaving us completely stunned, the woman closed her eyes, and began to disappear once more.
"W-wait! Who is Desmond?" Ezio exclaimed, yanking away from me and realizing that within but a few seconds the woman would be completely gone. "Please, wait-"
But she was already gone.
"What the fuck...?" I was the first to express our shock, which was, I was sure, a mutual feeling. Really, I didn't know what other response there was.
"Did you- cazzo!...understand even a single word of that?" Ezio slowly turned to me.
"N-no, but uh, I was thinking about it, you know, while she talked," I began uncertainly. "They were advanced, so that would explain the Artifacts. Why they worked, how they worked. They were not built to control us, but we were built to be controlled by them!" I looked wildly at Ezio, "It's theoretically possible. If there was a transmitter, or something that could control our brains..."
"Eden, shhh," Ezio put a finger on my lips, knowing that if he didn't stop me now, I'd go into a long theoretical rant that he would not understand a word of. "Let's get out of here, find Mario and the rest of the Assassins, and tell them what happened. Then you can lay it all out for them. Ideally, together, maybe we can make sense of this."
I nodded in agreement, feeling a sudden rush of excitement. This was what I'd been trying to unravel since I first got my hands on the Apple! "But those pictures! If I could just memorize a few, maybe Leonardo would have a clue as to-"
But I couldn't even finish the sentence.
The light brightened almost painfully for a moment, and then there was a screech of metal and stone. Before our eyes, the triangular pillars detached themselves from the ceiling, and pulled themselves into the ground.
"Merda. Well, forget that idea, then," I sighed. "Let's get out of here before there are any more unpleasant surprises."
"I couldn't agree more," Ezio nodded, moving towards the light of the outside world. I swiftly followed. "We shouldn't leave the staff to Borgia, lest he gets any more bright ideas of taking over the world."
"Go ahead, I'll figure out how the hell to get out," I nodded, looking around the circular walls. Hm, they seemed much shorter before...
I whipped around once I heard new screeching of what sounded like metal upon stone. Ezio let out a surprised noise as the staff that he attempted to pry out of the floor remained firmly in place, swallowed up the slowing swiftly sinking stone. I moved to help, but the tiles already closed over the tip of it.
The ground began to shake.
"What was that about unpleasant surprises?" Ezio huffed, gaze darting upwards, "Cazzo! The walls are growing!"
"No, the floor is sinking," I corrected him automatically. I nearly toppled over once we finally stopped descending with a thud. Thankfully, the stone around us came to a complete stop once again. And I got the feeling that this time, it was for good.
"Well thank Minerva," I breathed out.
"Believe in Gods now?" Ezio asked with a similar sigh of relief as he began to climb up the walls.
"They weren't technically gods, but more along the lines of aliens," I thoughtfully replied, at his heels.
"No. People-" I thought for a second in my own climb, thinking of how to say it to include the situation we just witnessed, "Another intelligent race. Usually from out of space but I guess this qualifies."
I heard him let out a small cough, and he gave me a hand, helping me get up over the edge.
We did not waste much time on trying to figure out how to leave, for we simply walked out the massive front doors, knocked out the guards, and walked away from the Basilica.
"You should have killed him," I spoke up after we were roughly half way through the plaza, "He'll come back and bite us in the ass later."
"I know. But it will take a while for him to recover. And if he does not learn his lesson...then let him come. I'll be more than happy to repeat the lecture," Ezio shrugged. "Besides, it's been years of strife," he sighed, and I swore I heard the exhaustion in his voice, which was startling. Arching a brow, I stole a glance at him, but he appeared unphased. Well, save his brief frown of contemplation. "I'm god-damned tired of vengeance. One strike for another, one threat met by two, or three, or four when does it end?" he breathed.
I admittedly had no answer for that one, though I think it was mostly a rhetorical question on his part. "I almost feel sorry for his children," I muttered randomly, "Those poor bastards never stood a chance with a father like hi-"
And I froze in my step.
"Eden?" Ezio turned back after realizing I was no longer keeping up. "Are you alright?"
"She said-" I muttered, "She said-"
"What is it?"
"She said their blood is in us. And in the child," I quoted.
Ezio stared at me with confusion for a long time, and then his eyes lowered to my hands as I folded them on my lower stomach. The next moment, he looked as if the Realization Train turned in its tracks and hit him square on the nose.
"I don't know."
"Santa merda." His words were not of scorn, but instead, of awe and shock.
I doubt that the mid-day patrol had ever seen a sight like it before - two assassins standing in the middle of the Saint Peter's Square, loudly squealing and spinning in excitement, the blood of the pope still on the man's robes...
It is the irony of our existence, it would seem. A group that kills for peace and one that is worshiped despite i's true intent. Good people are destroyed and ground into the dust, yet the evil ones prosper. The rich remain rich, and the poor remain poor. Divergence and variation are feared and hated. The one choice that should be completely ours to make, such who to love, who to worship, what to learn and better ourselves with, is taken away from us.
The gods that I thought mythological were real, despite them being dismissed as an old, pagan, a sin to even consider in this time. The proof of the one God everyone claims is non-existent, save for a book written by men that the rest believe blindly and without reason. Eden was not a place of paradise. The Sun that gives life has and will destroy it. Time, which is always continuous and flowing, was fooled by an insignificant mortal.
And then there are the small things.
I am a killer. Born and bred unto it from birth. It was a decision made for me, yet one that I support even now. It is the true irony that my name means, in so many people's heads, a beautiful, unspoiled, holy place, was created by God himself, where all nature lives in absolute harmony with itself.
Hmm...the Irony of Eden. It's got a ring to it, I'll admit.
Yet, no matter the number of those I have killed, I too, am capable of creating life.
"EDEN! COME HELP WITH THE DECORATIONS!"
"That bastardo is cheating on me, I know it!"
"Can you take a look at the cannons? You're the only engineer that isn't lying in bushes with a hangover!"
"Apple, mia cara?"
I smiled, pushing away the parchment, took the normal apple from Ezio's outstretched hand, and grinned up to the sun above Monteriggioni.
Life was good.
I suddenly had to struggle to keep my smile. Niccolo stormed out of the villa when he heard we had let the Pope live. Caterina was harassed by papal and French armies, forcing her to seek our aid. Altair, who thought that once he'd seen the inside of the Vault, he would be free, was still knocking around in my head, trying to figure out what'd happened. Adelaide was becoming restless, Mario was forcing the building to finish the town's fortifications. There was no word from Leonardo, La Volpe disappeared in an unknown direction, and the Hell Hounds came back to plague everyone's minds, forcing us to dig up the sketches and studies that we'd done over one of those puppies so many years ago in Venice.
I could feel something brewing within my bones.
...for how long?
And that concludes The Irony of Eden. Never fear, there is a sequel, and I have written it out, so there will be no procrastinating on it. If you want to know when it comes out, just add me to your Author alert, and it will automatically email you when I post it.
Before I label this story as completed, though, I want to address a few last things.
Huge thanks go to AC and Ubisoft for inspiring this story in the first place. Applause to my amazing beta, sphinx81, who helped me salvage the story in the beginning, and continued to contribute much in brainstorming and realism. I take my hat off (and take a shot) to my now deceased best friend, who had much more experience than me with the illegal side of the world- her recounts of the gangs, dealers, and general backstreet mayhem helped out more than any encyclopedia or book.
Also, a few other sources that I actively used throughout the story, and plan to reference to in the future:
-The Borgia Wiki
-Assassins Creed Wiki
-"Assassins Creed: Renaissance" by Oliver Bowden (the writing sucks, but he is a legit researcher and historian, so it still helped)
-"The Borgia and their Enemies" by Christopher Hibbert.
-"Lucrezia Borgia, Biography" by Sarah Bradford.
-Assassins Creed 2 database.
I believe that's about it, though there are also countless other small articles that I've searched up on the web. I have also used Machiavelli's "Prince" as a source, but not so much in this story as the next one.
And, of course, I thank all the readers who have been keeping pace with the story, reviewing and adding it to favorites. It means a lot to me, as I did not expect such an amazing response. I hope to still hear from you in the future :D Take care, and stay off those pesky drugs! They don't lead to good places. Just ask Laurie. You might need to find a necromancer first, though...