A/N: I always seem to write about the crazy ones.
Spoiler Warning! This fic assumes you have played both games and finished all of the glyph clues in ACII.
Disclaimer: I own nothing of the awesomeness that is Assassin's Creed I or II, they belong to Ubisoft. :)
Hemophilia: Any of several X-linked genetic disorders, symptomatic chiefly in males, in which excessive bleeding occurs owing to the absence or abnormality of a clotting factor in the blood.
Hemophiliac: One who is affected with hemophilia; a "bleeder."
Fluorescent light glinted off of a metal point. It was over-bright, glaring, and made the tip of the pen gleam. It was a broad ballpoint, and had very little in the way of delicacy. Only the way the light caught its curve gave the illusion that it was sharp, or possessed any sort of value as a tool to rend or stab. It was meant to write, to create words and worlds out of nothing. It wasn't meant to destroy, at least not directly.
Pens weren't sharp, but they could get the job done.
The not-sharp point rested on his inner elbow - the cubital fossa, he remembered, and then forgot - and then burrowed into the flesh until it gave and parted, blood welling up and staining the pen in thick red 'ink'. The man, known as Subject Sixteen, grunted and gritted his teeth in pain, but continued to pull and twist on the makeshift weapon until the wound was wide, blood dribbling down his arm and off his elbow. Little red petals of crimson bloomed on the pristine white sheets he kneeled on. Satisfied with the results his pain was being rewarded with, Sixteen held the pen in his teeth and dipped his fingers into the pool gathering on his arm, then turned to the wall.
There was so much to say, and now his time was even more limited than it had been before.
He had to leave the clues, the signs for the next Assassin they brought in, the next test subject they would shove into the Animus. The hard work was done, all the pieces were there for Subject Seventeen; the files, the pictures, all of it encoded inside the machine. But unless Seventeen found them, all of Sixteen's work would be wasted. Seventeen had to find them, the truth had to be known to more than just the Templars, and Sixteen would make sure it was found. The truth would be written in his own blood, in a way the Templars wouldn't comprehend.
Line after line of red was carefully and quickly sketched on the wall, swathing it in Sixteen's birthright.
It became meditative, drawing out what he saw behind his eyelids. As happened much of the time these days, Sixteen let his mind wander, his body continuing to work as though he'd done it thousands of times before.
He'd been in this- this prison, this holding cell of Abstergo for a long time now. Or at least it felt like a long time. How long had it actually been? One month? Two? A year? He couldn't remember any more. He had lived entire lifetimes here, too many to count, and he might have only been in these rooms for a few weeks. The spectrum of human experience, a world of sights and sounds and tastes, everything thought possible and many impossible had all been his. His joy and his destruction, in a speck of relative time.
All thanks to the Animus… The Animus was a miraculous abomination. Through it one could travel back in time along the threads of their DNA, living and loving and hating and killing and inventing and struggling as their ancestors had done. Exactly as their ancestors had done. In terms of scientific strides forward, the Animus had them stepping out into the stars. The science had never been fully explained to him, or if it had, he no longer remembered it. Somehow the Animus took a sample of his DNA, strung it out, and sought out a specific sequence that represented the collective memories of his ancestors. After finding this sequence, it decoded and then rendered it as memories that Sixteen could relive, and that the scientists of Abstergo could watch and record. It was unbelievable, amazing, staggering…
… horrible, horrendous, and madness inducing. One of the lines Sixteen was drawing out wobbled as a tremor rippled through him.
There was a side-effect… there always was with new technology. The bigger and more impressive the technology, the more devastating the side-effect. Such was true for the Animus. Only this was part of the desired product. There was no way to alter the programming and avoid the side-effect without losing sight of the goal Abstergo so desperately wanted. It was called 'the bleeding effect,' where the Animus broke down the natural divisions in his mind and DNA keeping his personal memories and experiences separate from those of his ancestors. His life and all of those were blurring together, the borders between softening until Sixteen couldn't tell where one started and another stopped.
At first it hadn't been a problem. It had just been a slight anomaly only experienced within the Animus itself, when the target memories were becoming muddled with unwanted, 'secondary' memories. That they could fix, with a small adjustment to the magnification and parameters set into the machinery. But then things started crossing over even when Sixteen wasn't in the machine. He saw people who couldn't possibly be there, flitting in and out of Abstergo's rooms in their varied costumes, sometimes right through the walls like ghosts. They would talk, murmur and shout, sometimes not acknowledging Sixteen, sometimes making him a part of the action. They would come to him, continuing conversations that Sixteen had never heard, or attacking him, or pleading with him to save them or spare them. It happened more and more often, until he couldn't sleep with all the visitors he would receive. Ghosts from his own mind.
He was the only one who could see or hear them, of course. He knew they weren't actually there. There were no knights, warriors, priests, sailors, merchants, or anyone else in the Abstergo facility besides himself and the two there to monitor his progress inside the Animus. He knew it, but the visions were impossible to ignore. They steadily became more solid, until he could actually feel the apparitions if they chanced to brush past him. Or strike him.
Sixteen squeezed his fist, forcing more blood to well up, and then studied his progress on the wall. He blinked. It wasn't in English, what was written there. He couldn't understand it, but he had a second before. Gritting his teeth, he continued on.
They kept him in that machine for hours or days at a time with no rest, only letting him out long enough to bathe, eat, and sleep when his body edged too close to collapse. They needed him, and they were willing to do anything to get the specific memories they wanted, short of killing him. Barely. The longer he stayed in the Animus, the easier it became to access the memories that Abstergo wanted. There was less need to approach the target memories carefully and from a distance, and Sixteen could flip from one set of memories to the next.
But Abstergo's hunger for his memories kept pace with him, and Sixteen spent more time tangled in the Animus's programming than anywhere else.
The more time he spent in the Animus, the easier it got. The Animus was adapting slowly to Sixteen's particularities, and Sixteen's barriers were degrading a little more every time. Abstergo was pleased with the progress and yield of information being mined out of Sixteen, and the bleeding effect became worse as they ordered more.
More, more, more, always more. The visions overlapped with Sixteen's world, confusing his sense of what was real. Only with the help of one of the scientists could he still function. As long as there was someone there to hold on to him and remind him exactly what reality was, he could walk to and fro without losing his way.
Until he started losing his memory.
He supposed it was the height of irony, that he who was the key to memories long lost to death and dust was losing his own memory in the effort. There was just so much that was trying to fill his mind, it was impossible to keep it all at once. As the bleeding effect allowed the memories of his ancestors make the temporal jump into his own mind, his personal experiences were shoved out of the way to make room. First a handful, then dozens, until literally hundreds of complete lifetimes were trying to all fit inside his skull at once. By bits and pieces, Sixteen lost himself and was replaced by a patchwork quilt of other people. A chunk of his childhood was replaced by the military plans of an ancient leader; his parents were exchanged for maps meticulously memorized by a nautical pilot plotting out new shorelines, and his school years by the combined memories of a family that had lived in squalor in pre-industrial London. The bleeding effect advanced so far in Sixteen that any of his direct ancestors could find their way to him.
Eventually, Sixteen lost sight of his own name, and only remembered the code name Abstergo had given him in their files. Subject Sixteen, the sixteenth and most successful yet put in the Animus.
If he'd let himself, he might have been lost, his sense of self picked to pieces by the remorseless Animus and lives of ancestors. He might have been lost, except he found it: The truth.
The truth of everything, what the human race had been searching for since the beginning. What they had fought over, killed and betrayed and given their lives for… It was all right there, and it wasn't what anyone had thought it was. The Pieces of Eden, the Templars, the Assassins, the Ones Who Came Before…
What had been left of the man Sixteen had been shocked to his frayed core. For a moment, he'd remembered what it had been like to have a conviction. He knew what the truth was, what it was the Templars were searching for, what he really was, and most importantly, that he had to get the truth to the rest of the world before it was too late.
Sixteen shook again, almost ruining one of the lines of the central illustration. He was starting to feel cold already, but he ignored it. There was far too much left for him to be feeling the effects of his blood loss now. He looked down, wincing at the amount being wasted transforming the bed sheets into a field of poppies.
Blood… blood in the fields… Sixteen felt the familiar sensation of falling backwards, of entering a memory that wasn't his. For a moment he wasn't kneeling on a large, blood spotted bed in a modern building, he was in the center of a battlefield, crouched in a mire of mud and gore, trying to decide whether to save a fallen comrade or to run and save himself. The fallen man was still awake, barely, and moaning piteously, begging to be dragged to safety… But if he tried to save a man who was more than half dead, he would be slowed down, offering a target the enemy would find it hard to resist. He could give in to his conscience and they could both die, or he could leave the dying man and live with the guilt. Turning away from the begging comrade, he retreated to relative safety, ignoring any further cries for help coming from the muck all around him…
…And then he was back, trembling hard and breathing shallowly. He should be used to the trips into the past by now, but he wasn't. It wasn't just the sights and sounds, or even the sensations that were hard to get used to. It was that for however long he was enmeshed in the memories, he wasn't himself. The thoughts going through his mind weren't his, the motivations were foreign, and the values were sometimes appalling to him. But he still lived through it all, experiencing it all just as had been done before, however he might to feel about it later.
He would have gone back for the man, whatever his name had been. He wouldn't have left him to die in the mud; he would have at least taken him somewhere to die that didn't smell of death and destruction. All the time he was walking away, he'd wanted to turn back. He'd fought, ordered his legs to stop, take him back, to save the fallen… but it wasn't him living in that moment. It was a long distant member of his family, and what he had decided and done couldn't be altered. In the memory, Sixteen wasn't the one tormented by the voices of ancestors, he was the one who was a small part of another man, watching all and affecting nothing.
Shaking, he got up from the bed, getting himself closer to the last part of the wall that remained untouched by his hieroglyphics. He had to get it all written out. For Seventeen. His grip on his own mind wouldn't last much longer. There just wasn't anything left of his defenses, and he was tired. Very, very tired.
Tonight would be the last night he could manage to stay himself long enough for what was needed. For the last few days - Weeks? Months? - the visions hadn't been occasional flits; they had been constant, and as shifting as desert sands. Any time spent outside of the Animus meant enduring a kind of mishmash of lives and places all at once, with only a vague idea of what was real. Templar Knights of the Cross mixed freely with early American settlers, Egyptian Pharaohs, Chinese military. None of them noticed the mix of races, or the modern man in their midst. The memories that streamed through his mind, the thoughts that were not his own, they all jabbered away inside his skull until it fairly rang with it. The only reason he was himself tonight was because of the woman.
What had her name been? Mary? Toshiko? Nebibit? Akeldama? Faces of women resembling her in appearance or personality throughout history streamed through his mind… what was her name?
Her name was Lucy. Sixteen held on to it tightly. Lucy was an Assassin, one of 'us' in a conflict that became a twisted and tangled web of bloodlines. She had been secretly helping him during his stay. It was mostly out of guilt, he knew. She thought she was being kind. As one of the scientists who continually put him in the Animus, she knew better than anyone save himself what was happening to him.
One memory of his own that he kept was one he wished he could forget. Lucy had come in one morning to wake him instead of the man, (Achaz? Celcilio? Louvel?), and Sixteen had mistaken her for another woman. A woman come to kill him in his sleep. She hadn't been able to scream with his hand constricting her throat. She hadn't struggled as he growled into her face, promising to kill her with the faint accent and slur of an ancestor. She had just watched him, fear growing in her eyes, but knowing that if she struggled, only a tiny bit more pressure was needed for Sixteen to crush her trachea.
Sixteen had come back to himself in time, releasing Lucy and falling back into his bed, panting. The look in her eyes was one memory that Sixteen couldn't seem to shake even when he tried. She had seen someone who wasn't Sixteen, but who used his body. She had watched as he came back from wherever it was his mind retreated to when faced with an invading personality. She knew that what she was doing, under protest or not, was killing him by inches.
Since then, she had been doing her best to keep him alive. She fought with the man to keep him out of the Animus for longer periods, to give him more rest and allow him to recover. It was useless, and Lucy came to realize it when Sixteen's deterioration only slowed, not reverse.
When she discovered that Sixteen was sneaking out of his locked room and into the Animus at night, she did something with the security cameras to keep it a secret. She didn't question him why he snuck into the very machine that was driving him mad; she just cleared the way for him.
In a weird twist of machinery and genetics, the place where Sixteen found the most peace was in the Animus. There, the controls that kept him in the proper memory also kept him in a single life. There, he was a single person, experiencing a single chain of events, from a single viewpoint. It was a devil's deal that he wound up craving the Animus, and sought it out, when the longer he spent in its machinery, the worse the condition that drove him into it grew.
Starting to feel the first faint signs of nausea, Sixteen went to the door and entered in the code to unlock it, leaving smudges of crimson on each button. The door slid away, and there sat the Animus in the center of the room beyond. It was tempting, even now, to go to it, lie down and let it take him on one last adventure through time, and leave behind the confusion of the present. His control, along with his blood, was beginning to dribble away from him, and every now and then, he caught sight of a half-solid form out of the corner of his eye. The visions, the memories, were beginning to encroach on his reality. He heard the sounds of a full market, but saw the abandoned exterior of a cathedral waiting behind the Animus, to his left open desert, to his right the shadowy opening to an alleyway. At the alley's mouth crouched a small girl-child bundled in rags, her hand open and waiting for any coins dropped by passerby.
Ignoring it all, holding tight to the present, Sixteen walked into the desert, where he knew there would be steps and part of the Animus's sprawling internal workings. The wound in his elbow was beginning to coagulate. Taking the pen still held between his teeth, he reopened it, the pain and blood loss making fireworks bloom behind his eyes.
He could have used something that wouldn't have been quite so painful, something sharper than a ballpoint pen. Lucy had, in her way of being kind to a man that only had one means of escape, left a knife for him to use, taped to the underside of the Animus. He knew it was there, she had made sure he had seen her put it there, but he wouldn't use it. Using a knife that he could only have gotten from an outside source, he would be condemning Lucy to the Abstergo Templars, and she needed to stay in place to act as assistance for Seventeen.
And using a knife that Lucy provided, even if it was meant as a gesture of mercy, would only intensify her feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened to him, not alleviate them.
Sixteen wondered if he would have seen that particular wrinkle of human nature before he had come to Abstergo. He wondered if in his personal past he had been a man who was observant.
Who had he been before Abstergo? He had become so many people, at the cost of his own past. In the Animus, he'd been everything at one point or another. Father, son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, grandfather, enemy, betrayer, lover, savior… He'd been all of these things, and through yet another facet of the Animus's programming, he felt the same situations from more than one perspective, sometimes completely opposing ones.
He could follow the path of his heritage, meaning he could live the life of his father, and his father before him and so on, but the Animus wasn't limited to the paternal side of his bloodline. He could live the lives of his father and mother, then their parents, and theirs and so on. So he could at one time be a proud father of three children, and he could also live the life of one of those children, seeing the same man he had just been through the eyes of his son or daughter. Or he could follow the child's bloodline back and be the mother, seeing both child and husband from yet a third perspective. While outside the Animus, these experiences didn't necessarily remain separate, and he felt all points of view simultaneously. He'd been the proud father of a son, only to have that son betray him; he'd been that son, enduring the tyranny of his father until the day he'd freed himself; he'd been the mother, crushed by her family's destruction. He'd felt his life drain away from him, staring into the angry eyes of a boy barely a man; he'd watched that same old man from the outside, rejoicing in his death; and he's felt the despair of the one left behind.
Did he have any children, Sixteen wondered? Outside this place of conspiracy and lies, was there a family of his own waiting for him to return home? A wife or girlfriend? What about his own parents? If he did, would they be targeted as well after he was dead?
No, not now. Don't think of them now, when they might not even exist. Concentrate on staying awake, on getting everything down, of leaving the clues for Seventeen.
The Ones Who Came Before… he'd seen them in his journey through time. They were the hardest to remember. They slipped through his mental fingers like sand, denying him any direct answers to the questions he had. But he remembered that they called him Legion. Legion, for he was many.
There were references throughout his DNA memory to a man called the Prophet. Abstergo was interested in him, as well as the location of the Pieces of Eden, and so were the Ones Who Came Before. They were very interested in his fate, and in Sixteen's. Sixteen was not the Prophet, but he was meant to have an effect on who the Prophet was meant to speak to. Legion, as They called him, had to guide the Listener in such a way that he understood as much as possible when he heard the Prophet speak.
Sixteen could only guess that the Listener was Seventeen, or one who came after him, as those were the only people he could possibly hope to guide from his place as a prisoner.
He wished he could remember his name. He knew so many names, but not his own. He didn't even know everything that he had come to know in his time inside the Animus. He knew much, but not all. Not all at once. There was just too much to hold at one time, and what he knew for certain one minute could be gone the next, replaced with something else. He could know the intricate secrets of the Church one moment, and have it evaporate the next. He could understand and speak nearly every language on the planet, one or two at a time. But while he knew those, he couldn't understand any others. If one didn't happen to be English, then he wouldn't understand what Lucy or the man, (Boqin? Nkosana?), when they spoke to him.
His name, though… he would have liked to remember that before he died.
Sixteen worked his way around the room, painting the floor in symbols and codes with his blood. When the Abstergo staff came in tomorrow morning, they would see it all, but they wouldn't understand it. All they would see would be the final act of a man driven insane by the visions he had seen. They would see information, but useless, mixed information at best. They wouldn't look into any of it any further than what was obvious. They wouldn't see the clues hidden within them, and it would be washed away.
But he knew, when Seventeen had spent enough time inside the Animus, and the bleeding effect began to take hold of him as it had Sixteen, he would be able to see the traces no one could wash clean. The Eagle Vision granted to the Assassins would reveal what Sixteen had put in place for him. Then it would all be up to him.
Sixteen left his final mark, so faint and empty he nearly collapsed. He was cold, sick, and dizzy, knew he was so close to death he could shake the Reaper's skeletal hand. Now it was time to feel death for himself, instead of filtered through his ancestors, and this time he would be able to rest, and not be forced to live again and again and again…
Struggling across the floor on his hands and knees, Sixteen drug himself past the man's desk, (Toranaga? Warren?), and lay on the floor, staring out of the windows. Behind him there raged a war, his brother called out his name that wasn't his, and a field empty of all but a home he'd never see again fought for the cramped space of the room. Sixteen ignored them, and searched for the moon in the sky beyond the windows.
He didn't remember who he had been, but he remembered the moon. It was one thing that remained constant, no matter where or who he was… the moon, pure and silver in heavens of inky black, was a place where Sixteen could find peace.
The pen clattered to the floor and rolled away from him. The moon shone down, blessedly full and bright. The truth was out there, and it was in here, in the Animus and encoded in his blood… but now it didn't seem quite so important.
Tired, drained, Sixteen let his head rest on the floor, his blood and breathing slowing until he could barely feel it. He smiled… it was nice, really. It was peaceful, just feeling himself and everyone else slipping away and leaving him empty of all save the moonlight.
The memories faded away, leaving only Sixteen… and soon enough, he faded away, too.
A/N2: As an ending note, I'm glad that this is finally done. It was seriously damaging my sanity having Sixteen in my head. O.o* Things mentioned in the story:
Hemophilia/Hemophiliac: Obviously, the Animus causes a bleeding effect, and Sixteen bled himself to leave his clues. He bled in two ways, so to me, that makes him a kind of 'bleeder.' ^^
Names: The different names for Lucy and Warren are all authentic, taken from different parts of the world and generally chosen for their meanings. For Lucy I went with ones that meant 'tough' or 'protective', while Warren got authoritative or false leadership names, (except for 'Toranaga,' that's a movie reference. ^^)
Legion: A biblical reference to a man possessed by many demons and exorcized by Christ. "'My name is Legion,' he replied, 'for we are many.'" Mark 5:9. For the whole story, Mark 5.
The Prophet: As seen in ACII, Ezio Auditoire de Firenze.
Seventeen / The Listener: Desmond Miles. The name 'the Listener' is my own addition, not found anywhere in the games.
Thanks for reading everyone, I hope to dive into Assassin's Creed more often in the future! Safety and peace!