Assassin's Creed: Reversal of Shadows

First

The crowd on the streets parted easily before him, and though barely a flicker of emotion showed on his heavily shaded face, Ezio inwardly admitted that he was a little pleased. Those that glanced in his direction, their eyes alighting on him for barely more than a second, bore expressions varying between lightly pleased recognition to blatantly expressed fear, with only scattered cases of indifference among them. Rare was the Florentine who had never seen the silent, hooded figure or had not at least heard the breathed mention of l'ombra bianco. Rarer still were those who wished to get in his way.

It was something of a comfort to return to a familiar city, assured by the presence of nearby allies and of enemies who were eager to turn a blind eye to the swirling black cape, even if it passed directly before them, rather arrogantly flashing the red and gold Auditore crest into their fearful eyes. The Templars' hold had weakened here it seemed, with most of the guards valuing their lives over the meager coin supplied to them.

They had come to dread this man that bore the same mark of tattered banners that fluttered over the long-abandoned palazzo in the center of the city, that building that had stood empty but untouched for years, protected as it was by faceless, cowled phantoms. Other than this, not mere days ago, word had spread quickly and had only deepened their fear, for what chance did a humble soldier have against the fabled Assassino who had broken through the Vatican's elite and threatened the Pope himself?

At the memory of his last mission, Ezio frowned a little, distractedly brushing a hand against his side and feeling the bandages under his crimson sash. He was unsure how he had made it out of Roma with the stab wound in his flank, but he was rather grateful to reach a city where there was little need to mask his movements, protected as he was here by his reputation. The rather hasty bandages had held until Firenze, but he decided not to risk making the rest of the trip back to his villa without rest and proper treatment.

Though he was tired from his constant travel over the past few days, he realized that he still felt eager to run, to move, as if a great weight had lifted from his shoulders. The eagle of him stretched unused wings, fluttering impatient feathers and almost demanding to be allowed to reach the sky. The Assassin glanced rather longingly towards the edge of one building, dark brown eyes already mapping a possible route to the roof, but he restrained himself, if a little bitterly. This wound at his ribs was causing him more annoyance than pain.

It was a breach in his usually careful stratagem, but for once, he decided to go to one of the city's local doctors. For wounds as serious as the one he had parted the Vatican with, he had always asked treatment from Leonardo, or from Monteriggioni's resident physician, so as not to risk a drop of guard in an area as exposed as the streets. However, if it meant him regaining the ability to run freely again a little sooner, he would risk it just this once.

The people around him were generally giving him a wide berth, thus Ezio easily picked up on the presence at his back, following him a few steps behind. He cocked his head slightly, peering around the edge of his hood and managing to catch a flash of violet eyes. Smirking a little in recognition, he slowed his pace, not turning around but easily matching the steps of the older man tailing him.

"You are announcing your presence to the entire city by wearing that, signore Ezio," la Volpe commented lightly, evidently studying the dark cut of cloth dangling from the younger Assassin's shoulder.

"I am not going to be ashamed of my father's colors, Volpe," he responded easily, only pausing to pass a shadowed glance towards a pair of city guards loitering by an alleyway, both of whom quickly remembered they were needed somewhere else.

"I was not suggesting you should," the fox sighed a little resignedly. "Only do not get too arrogant. How was Roma?"

"I was able to get what I was searching for, and more," Ezio answered, deciding to neglect mentioning the apparition he had seen in the vault. His uncle would be the first to hear of that. "Any news from Monteriggioni?"

"No, all has been quiet since you left. You may be interested to know that your old friend Leonardo is visiting the city, though. Mario evidently invited him to your villa while you were away. You should look for him before heading there yourself, he should keep you out of trouble for a while."

The Assassin blinked and began to ask a little irritably what that implied, before he realized that la Volpe had already left. He shook off the distraction, reminding himself to check the market district that his artist friend had favored when his workshop had still been centered here in Florence, knowing he had likely passed by here to collect fresh supplies for his stay in the villa Auditore. He had not seen Leonardo in many months, not since the Forli incident last year, and was honestly looking forward to seeing him again.

"Ah, do you seek treatment, amico?"

Ezio was a little startled at the sudden address, though he was careful to hide it as he turned towards the slightly muffled voice. A middle-aged man, as betrayed by his tone and build, beckoned him over from the entrance of one of the few indoor clinics in Firenze, his beaked mask and dark, waxed cloak standing out amongst the bright silks of the average townspeople. Smiling good-naturedly, he approached, ducking into the shade of the front awning and speaking lightly, "Yes. I admit, I almost missed your shop. How did you know-?"

"I am a doctor, signore," the man laughed, moving aside to allow the younger man in. "You hide it well, but a medic's eyes can see the slightest limp. An injury to your side, I take it?"

The Assassin nodded, slightly impressed, moving to sit on the simple wooden bench that took up most of the clinic's interior and shifting his rapier and dagger out of the way. The room felt rather crowded, most of its narrow space filled by shelves of bandages, tinctures and salves, but the doctor moved about it with ease.

"I was able to bandage it on the road, but it may open again. If you could please suture it, I will be on my way. I'm in a bit of a hurry."

"Please don't tell me how to do my job," the doctor said gently, though Ezio's caught a hint of tightness in the tone, perhaps out of irritation. "Allow me to look at the wound first."

The nobleman shrugged, pulling off one sleeve of his doublet and pushing his shirt away to reveal the red-tinged bindings about his stomach. It was difficult to tell where the older man was looking due to the dark eyes of his mask, but he seemed to only glance at the bandages before reaching to the shelves behind him and sorting through his equipment.

"Ah yes, it must be quite serious if it is bleeding this much already," the doctor spoke, evidently thinking aloud as he lifted a narrow glass syringe up to eye level, checking the dosage. "I will give you some pain medication first, it should help dull the ache when I suture it. Your arm, if you please."

A little confused, Ezio did not move, eying the injection with a measure of trepidation. "Is that really necessary? Pain means little to me, and besides, the wound is really not that wide," he said slowly, feeling his eagle hackle and shift its wings uneasily. He could not understand why he felt so troubled, his instincts reacting unusually strongly to a simple needle.

"Do not be difficult, signore Auditore," the doctor said patiently, firmly taking hold of the Assassin's right wrist and pulling it towards him. However, Ezio could feel it now, the deeply hidden, but still present aggression, the danger of an enemy flashing across his senses in a blood red.

"No. I think I've changed my mind," he growled out, wrenching his arm free before the sliver of metal could touch him and standing quickly. He backed out of the store, narrowed eyes not leaving the masked one as the other watched him go, unmoving and silent. Ezio turned swiftly on his heel as soon as he was clear of the clinic's walls, pulling his uniform back into place and leaving the district on clipped, outwardly agitated steps.

He glanced over his shoulder after he had walked a fair distance, forcibly evening his breathing as the adrenaline still burned through his blood. The narrowly dodged trap—if it had been one at all—had left him a little staggered, and he wondered absently if he was simply still paranoid, high-strung from his escape of the Vatican. Here, he had begun to allow a drop in his defenses, and so soon after, he had almost paid dearly for it.

Ezio slowed his pace, attempting to blend back into the shifting afternoon crowd, but only at this did he realize the feeling of unease had not left him, his spirit still keening a warning despite having left the clinic far behind. There were enemies around him, he knew, but their aura flickered unnaturally, fading and appearing as incorporeally as the wind. Instinctively, his gaze swept upwards, raking the tiled rooftops for some glimpse of the threat. A flash of gray that could have simply been a fluttered curtain was all that caught his attention, however it was quick to vanish, barely allowing him to focus on it before it was gone.

His scarred lip thinned into a scowl as he pushed abruptly past the innocents, retreating into the relative safety of an alleyway and leaning against the shaded, slightly warm red bricks. This feeling, this consuming sense of vulnerability irritated the Assassin to no end, unfamiliar with it as he was. He, the Florentine eagle, was being hunted.

Not only could he not seem able to easily sense this new enemy, some of them seemed to have taken refuge in the roof edges and towers, the skies, his territory. The only route that now, with his hampering injury, he could not access. Ezio jerked his black cape more securely over his shoulder, taking his frustration out on the cloth as he took off at a brisk lope eastwards, keeping to the narrow backstreets instead of the main thoroughfares.

It was odd, he realized distractedly, keeping his head low and bowed, regaining the air of obscurity he had thought would not be necessary in Firenze. He knew without a doubt that those set upon his trail were Templars. Once, it had been they who had been constantly sighted in the streets, flaunting their red crosses on chain mail and standards. But now, particularly after the great Burning, after the short reign of Savonarola, it was the Assassins who were known to the commoners, trusted by most, though understandably feared by others. Perhaps it had been this that had driven the once-proud knights deep into the shades in which their enemies had once dwelt. A reversal of roles, perhaps. Or of shadows.


Author's Note: It's likely due to the impending AC: Brotherhood, but this will be my first Ezio-centric story. As usual, this first is a preview of sorts. As you've probably already guessed, it will involve Ezio encountering a few of the new Templar multiplayer characters. Anyway, I do hope you'll let me know what you think.