Author's Note: What can I say? I've played through AC2 twice and absolutely love it. It's certainly inspired a new writing bug. Anyway, though this is not my usual Ezio/Rosa sort of thing, I hope you enjoy it. It's an idea I've been toying with since reading the codex you must collect to complete the game.
December, 1508: La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia
Fortress, boarding house, sanctuary, the tavern at the Venetian docks was our own. The only means to gain entry was a flash of the left ring finger for the tell-tale brand of initiation. No brand, no admittance.
Absolutely no exceptions.
Though its entrance appeared little more than rotting wooden door squeezed in between two large villas, it was deceiving. For beyond the gate was a heavy, reinforced portcullis. Guarded by a company of white-robed guards, it opened into a covered courtyard. Over three stories high, the yard connected the villas on either side of it. One villa was set aside for room and board. The other contained various offices and archives.
In center of the courtyard was a marble fountain, its interior inlaid with exquisite, swirling mosaics. Pumped from the hot springs just east of the compound, its warm, crystal clear water supposedly contained various healing properties. A massive, iron-wrought chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling above. The ceiling's surface painted with vibrant scenes of the four seasons, at its middle was the flowing, crimson "A," outlined in gold. With lit torches in the alcoves lining the walls, the entire courtyard was bathed in a warm glow. At its far end was a long, burnished wood bar that could easily seat thirty patrons side by side. In front and scattered around the fountain were assorted tables and benches. Between them rushed various young men and women, taking orders and bringing food. Our acolytes, this duty was part of their training.
The villas were also connected by a series of subterranean tunnels. Dating back the end of the Roman Empire, beneath them were the sacred crypts. No one knew quite how old they were. Nevertheless, it was rumored they were built in the time of Alexander the Great. Lined with the tombs of Assassins long passed, few ventured there, save to intern our brethren at the end of their days.
As was the case in any city of significance, various taverns serving our kind were scattered throughout Venezia. This was the largest of them, being so near the bustling activity of the docks.
Preferring my solace, I avoided the crowded area by the roaring fire in the great hearth next to the bar. Choosing a seat in slightly forgotten corner, I ordered my usual flagon of mulled wine and a plate of food. My apprentice, Giuseppe, was ever at my heels. Tossing him a full pouch of florins, I bid the youth to go seek his enjoyments. He'd served me well during this entire endeavor and deserved a bit of diversion. Quickly relaying his thanks, he gravitated towards a pretty redhead, who laughed with another blonde woman in front of the hearth. In the meantime, I opened my journal to make the last of my notations. Soon, my wine and food arrived.
Venezia was the last stop my journey. The final assignment of my long and storied career, I planned to retire to my villa in Ravenna. Living out the last of my days with my son and grandchildren was the best I could ask, considering those I worked for. Granted, it would take Giuseppe and me some months to compile the final codex of the House Auditore. Our carefully chronicled notes from interviews conducted with those closest to Master Assassin Ezio Auditore would have to be reviewed, classified, and drafted into a their final volumes. Upon their completion, one set would be sent to the family. Another would be filed away in the Assassin's Archives underneath this very complex. Thusly, the future brothers and sisters of our order would be able to consult them at their leisure.
"May I join you, Signora Concegliari?" a lightly accented voice all but ordered, interrupting my thoughts.
I wasn't surprised to be recognized. My face was well known here, after all. For the better part of three decades, I'd spent many a long night in the tavern. Organizing and composing various codices and scrolls for our annals required it. I even had my standing quarters along the third floor, spending days at a time buried in research. Such was necessary in my duty as Mistress Keeper of the Archives of the Venetian branch of our brotherhood.
Glancing up, I was met by tall, lean man clad in dusty white robes. Upon his chest, he bore a simple cuirass of bronze that appeared almost unnaturally fragile. Strapped across his broad shoulders was a identical set of delicately wrought, bronze pauldrons. On his wrists were the usual bracers that hid the blades of our order. Swordbelt comfortably on his slim hips, it bristled with not only the standard sword and dagger, but also a small set of throwing knives. Hood covering most of his face, I couldn't make out his eyes. Only his unequivocally smug smirk.
"Signore Auditore?" I declared with surprise.
"No," he smoothly replied, full lips curling with an enigmatic grin, "Last I heard, that one was back at his precious villa in Monteriggioni."
"Perhaps," I carefully retorted, not bothering to comment on his apparent sarcasm. While we trusted each other implicitly as members of our order, an Assassin's motivation would always be discretion. No need to announce to the whole room the whereabouts of Auditore.
"You never answered my question," he drawled with a dismissive wave of his hand, "Would you care to allow me to join you?" Glancing around and finding the tavern floor filled to the brim, I nodded my consent. This was hollowed ground; outside of an attack by our enemies, no weapons were allowed to be drawn, no blood spilled, no lives taken. I would be safe.
My new companion certainly moved with the innate ease necessary of an Assassin who preferred the field to the dry, dusty shelves of the archives. Silently sliding onto the bench across the table from me, he flagged down one of the acolytes watching the floor. Forgoing food, he ordered another flagon of mulled wine. "You do not wish to eat, signore?" I asked, "You look as though you've just come from the road-"
"Hunger rarely tempts anymore," he lightly replied, cutting me off, "But I thank you." His accent was stronger than I initially thought. Somewhere from the distant east, possibly further south. I'd never heard anything like it in all my travels. For some reason, its dryness reminded me of arid deserts and rolling, sandy dunes. However, his Italian was impeccable. Obviously, in spite of his well-worn attire, he was a learned man
Once his wine arrived, he poured us both a cup before raising his. "To House Auditore," he steadily declared. Momentarily glancing up from beneath his hood, he caught my eye. His hazel gaze dark and brimming with challenge, I found the need to momentarily look away. "May they be blessed with good fortune and long life."
"And the pursuit of truth," I slowly added. Clinking my goblet against his before taking a sip, he shook his head as though in disbelief.
"Of course," he drawled, voice full of…contempt? Scorn? Derision? No, it wasn't quite that. But it could never be called joyful or congratulatory. If anything, a hit of wistfulness moved beneath his apparent indifference. "Admittedly, I had little hope for him," he mirthlessly chuckled. The sound strangely parched and almost rasping, I found myself swallowing down a flare of unease. Something about this one was…off.
"Who?" I quietly replied.
"Your subject, Messer Ezio."
"How did you-?"
"It has been the talk of the Order here, Signora," he retorted, almost as though speaking to a particularly stupid child. Pressing my lips together into a thin line of rising annoyance, I had to admit he was right. When tasked with completing the Auditore Codex nearly three years ago, my fellow archivers were utterly thrilled at the prospect. Giuseppe literally climbed the walls with excitement. Bringing together the Master Assassin's life into one chronicle would be the crown jewel of our era. His long and illustrious life and deeds demanded no less.
"I see," I archly replied, more sharply than I intended. "Yet that that still does not explain your outlook," I waved.
Leaning back, he pulled his hood back down, once again covering his eyes. But I still saw a flash of his disdainful gaze as he said, "Who would've thought a brawling, whoring, wastrel would rise to become a Master Assassin?"
"More often than not, it is circumstances beyond our control that dictate our lives," I adamantly replied. Despite my commitment to remaining the unbiased historic source of the Creed, a strange need to defend my current subject reared its head. "Such was the case for Signore Auditore, who has proven himself many times over. And even then, I'm sure had his father lived, he would've found himself on a similar, if less painful road."
"You speak of pain?" the stranger smirked, "But you know nothing of it. None of them do."
"Who do you speak of?"
"Your other subjects," he flatly replied.
"Those who I interviewed?" I retorted, crossing my arms and leaning back against the wall.
There were admittedly many of them: his sister Claudia, his uncle Mario, the notorious Caterina Sforza, Antonio, the leader of the Venetian Thieves Guild, Paola, Mistress of the Florentine brothels, Theodora, the nun-turned-mistress of Venezia's own La Rosa du Virtu, the genius Leonardo di Vinci. Not to mention numerous others. And that was before my final two; his wife, Rosa, Queen of the Thieves, and then the very man himself. Both of those occurred concurrently but a few days ago, here in La Serenissima herself.
"Enlighten me," I commanded of the stranger.
His grin widening into almost sinister smile, I drew back slightly. "I doubt they've struggled in resisting the corrupting power of artifacts that they've no hope to understand. I doubt any of them have ever had to witness those they hold most dear suffer and die as they themselves remain unchanged. I doubt they've watched the world burn to cinder for the sake of power and illusion."
"We are Assassins signore," I defensively replied, "Out of our destruction comes the freedom of creation."
"You people," he shook his head in disbelief, "You think you live in a modern age now. Yet you repeat the same mistakes over and over again. As you're all doomed to do until your final destruction."
And you're a bit insane, I mused, worrying my lip. Looking beyond him, I was flooded with relief to find Giuseppe still within sight. I doubted I would need rescue. But one could never be too careful...
"You think me mad?" he quietly replied after some time. I didn't reply. "Ah, it's all rather clear," he breathed. "Well, at least you refuse to lie. Yet you worry."
"For you a bit, yes," I truthfully said.
"Forgive me." He sounded genuine, especially as he briefly nodded, "Sometimes I run away with myself."
"There is nothing to forgive," I murmured, "The shadows of our deeds affect us all in different ways."
"Then mine are simply more melancholic."
"Then be at peace, brother," I declared, reaching out and briefly pressing hand to his. Surprisingly, he didn't flinch or wave me away, though his expression remained inscrutable.
"While such experiences cannot be felt, they may be read," he muttered, almost to himself to as I withdrew, "For they are all right there in front of them all, within the Auditore codex."
"What codex?" I snorted with disbelief, "Outside of the one I am currently researching and compiling, he has only one other in his possession. And as granted to him by his birthright, no less. It dates back to the third Crusade from what I recall."
"Ah, the Crusade" he smirked, "One could almost say it is as though it only happened yesterday. Well, at least in the grand scheme of the world as we know it."
"You speak in riddles-"
"Do I?" he snorted, "Or perchance you fear the truth should you assume I do not. You are the Mistress Keeper of the Archives, aye?" he shrugged as he leaned back, "A pity that I have apparently underestimated your powers of observation."
Staring at him, it gradually began to dawn on me with terrifying haste. The lilting, foreign accent of the east. The familiarity with the ancient codex. The peculiar armor that falsely appeared far too brittle to be of any use. The intricate yet archaic filigree of his two bracer blades, nearly identical to the centuries-old etchings in our most secret of annals. They were his work, after all.
"Santo inferno sulla terra!" I strangled, "W-who are you?!"
My apprehension only seemed to amuse him even more as he let out a low chuckle. Gracefully getting to his feet, he carelessly tossed a pouch of florins onto the table. Judging by their heavy clink, they were more than enough to cover our wine, my meal, and then some. "I fear I have been driven to commit myself to anonymity. My name ceased to be of any importance many years ago. Even before you were born."
"Impossible!" I sniffed, vainly attempting to recover myself, "You're young enough to be my son, boy! Even my grandson!"
"To the contrary, mia bella." I apparently couldn't hide my doubtful expression, for he suddenly threw back his head and laughed. Low, smooth, and strangely mirthless, it reeked of ironic disregard. Curiously, no one around us seemed to notice it. Or even him.
Without warning, his hood shifted back, revealing his face. And I shuddered, stiffened, and then gasped.
Bereft of the shadows afforded by his cowl, the resemblance was uncanny. From the dusky, bronzed skin, to the predatory hazel eyes, to the sharp slash of cheekbones. They both even bore the same vertical scar on the right side of their full mouths, though such a thing could not possibly be the product of inheritance. Both were startling handsome as well. A flare of carnal warmth crept in prickling awareness along my skin in spite of myself. However, this one was far older, if the tales were to be believed. But the laws of science and nature refused be broken in such ways. Yet here he stood before me.
Nearly identical, but so vastly different.
"Y-you are familiar with Signore Auditore?" I stammered, clutching at the edge of the table. Despite his weary face, there was no mistaking he still retained many vestiges of youth. It made my realization all the more chilling.
"More than you know," he smiled. For the first time, his expression appeared genuine. "In fact," he thoughtfully murmured as he pulled his hood forward again, "I would not be remiss to claim that a bit of me dwells within him."
Expression serious again, he placed his left hand over his heart and gave formal bow. Glancing down, I winced. For the bloody legacy of our order was unmistakable. Thankfully, such a brutal required sacrifice ended nearly three hundred years ago. Our kind now chose the brand over full removal. "It has been a most rewarding pleasure, Signora Concegliari," he declared.
"I say the same of you, amici." Rising, I gave a low curtsey. I could do no less in the presence of this most astonishing of myths.
"I look forward to the completion of your codices," he fleetingly grinned as I rose. "I have no doubt they shall prove invaluable in our continuing fight against those who oppose us. Not to mention, it will be quite fascinating to finally learn more of my…of my friend's saga. Unfortunately, I have heard only bits of his tale in my travels. No doubt the full one will be extraordinary. Perhaps I have misjudged him."
At a loss for words yet again, I could only stammer out the formal farewell of our brotherhood. Raising my left hand so that it faced away from him, I pulled down my ring finger to my palm with my thumb. "Niente è allineare-"
"Tutto è consentito," he smirked with a knowing nod. "Ah, I fear I am almost too familiar with such."
Looking away to collect myself, as I glanced up again, my eyes went wide. He was nowhere to be found. Spinning on my heel, I barely caught a flash of white robes as they disappeared over the ledge of a formerly shuttered window on the third floor. Falling down to my seat, I closed my eyes for a moment. Inexplicably, exhaustion seemed to overtake me. How long I sat there I don't know.
"Signora?" Giuseppe tentatively called out behind me, "Do you fare well?" Turning about, I found him staring at me. Warm green eyes narrowed with concern beneath his shaggy blonde hair, his freckled cheeks were flushed with the fresh effects of wine. Yet he quickly set down his goblet on the table and took a seat next to me. "Dio mio, you're as pale as your parchments," he muttered. Placing his hands over mine, he flinched as he rubbed them together in his own. "Like ice…you look as though you've seen a ghost."
Letting out a hysterical laugh, I shook my head with disagreement. "You have no idea, piccolo." It only caused him to arch a quizzical brow. Oh Giuseppe, I mused, daunted by naught, you are as though a grandson to me. Though he had but twenty years to him, his laconic resolve and shrewd mind would make him a remarkable Keeper of the Archives. No doubt he would be a Master of them one day.
Shrugging, Giuseppe informed me that we were scheduled to soon set sail. Gathering our bags, he followed me outside. After patiently waiting at the gangplank, we boarded the ship for Ravenna. A short trip across the Adriatic Sea and I would be home in but a few days.
As the captain pulled up the anchor and shouted for the final casting off, a sudden chill raced down my spine. Swiftly turning around, I craned my neck upwards. Some stories above the streets, he stood upon the rooftops, silhouetted against the eerily bright glow of the rising full moon. Eyes burning like molten gold beneath his hood, the stranger gave a silent nod of acknowledgement. Even from this distance, his accompanying smirk told me all I need to know
I would never see him again.
Before I could blink in bewilderment, he was gone, a shadow on the wind.
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
If only they all knew the truth of such matters.
--Signora Girolama Concegliari di Ravenna, Assassin and Mistress Keeper of the Archives, the most illustrious Venetian Brotherhood
La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia- "The Most Serene Republic of Venice." La Serenissima is the shortened translation. The Republic lasted for a thousand years, from the late 7th century all the way to 1797, with Napoleon's conquest.
Si – Yes
Santo inferno sulla terra! – Holy hell on earth!
Mia bella – My pretty one
Niente è allineare. Tutto è consentito – Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
Dio Mio – My God