Assassin's Creed: Reversal of Shadows
He had almost seemed to sleep the slumber of the dead, though still, it was a rustle, such a slight sound, which awoke him from it. High strung as his nerves yet were, Ezio's eyes flashed open as he shot upright, his left arm flicking outwards in a familiar movement. It took him a tense moment to realize the silence, the lack of a threat, and even the absence of a blade strapped to his forearm.
His harsh breathing grated hollowly in what he finally recognized as his own room, its shuttered windows letting in what little light the early dawn permitted. He had slept for almost an entire day, he realized ruefully, slowly relaxing his arm, and settling back against the headboard of his bed, distractedly checking the bandages bound around his shoulder and abdomen. The rest had done him well, he admitted, but still he felt uneasy for having ignored his instincts the previous day, for once having gone against the warnings of his eagle spirit.
The Assassin frowned and brushed a rather irritated hand across his eyes, wondering why his instructor had been so forceful yesterday. Raul had all but threatened to knock him unconscious in order drag him back to Monteriggioni, and he had only complied with reluctant obedience, honestly too exhausted at that point to refuse the insistence.
The mercenary had attempted to reassure him on the return trip, had said that the Templar force was likely incapacitated after their attack, subsequently restricting the comandante to the fortress. He was not going anywhere, his teacher had told him rather flippantly, even after a few days of respite.
And thus respite the nobleman had taken, though his impatience was evidently keeping him from further sleep. Remembering the sound that had roused him, Ezio tiredly climbed to his feet, pushing the bed covers from his bare chest as he searched for the half-open window he assumed had allowed in the disturbance.
He absently looked out over Monteriggioni's walls as he leaned out and reached for the shutter of the window, eying the hazily lit horizon with distracted attention. For some reason, he could not take his eyes from the orange light bleeding over the edge of the hills across the main city gate, and in some bleary confusion, he paused. His spirit keened in distress, and he, not wishing to ignore it for a second time, allowed his Vision to slip into focus.
The sight that burned into his eyes nearly stopped his heart, and as he realized that the supposed light of the sunrise he had been watching was coming from the south, and not the east, a great, menacing rush of air swirled towards him. The veritable expanse of red beyond the city walls, the flamed aura of a vast enemy force, seemed to writhe like a living beast, and from it, several projectiles emerged, and lanced through the air towards the city.
The sound of the solid impacts around him was deafening, and Ezio staggered backwards, shielding his face with one arm as one cannonball tore clear through the wall of his room, missing him by mere feet and sending a shattering of wood into the air. He coughed on the dust, staring out the ragged hole it had left with horrified eyes, seeing the incoming invasion, and the chaos it wrought.
Everywhere now, the splintering and crush of buildings could be heard, the city unable to withstand the merciless barrage. The catapult fire spread its damage thus, shattering through wood and stone, and sounding out like a terrible rain. Soon there was screaming as well, with citizens stumbling from their beds and fleeing their crumbling homes, many clutching belongings and loved ones to their chests as they spilled onto the streets.
Tearing his gaze from the horrific scene, the Assassin swiftly pulled on his clothes, pausing only to belt on his rapier and left hidden blade before vaulting out onto the roof. The air was thick with slivers of wood and the smoke from scattered fires, but through it, Ezio could see that his villa had taken severe damage, elevated as it was over the city.
Concern for his family arose, thus he leapt lightly onto the balcony of the second floor, ducking through shattered glass and torn curtains, and into the main hall. The servants of the villa were in a panic, pushing through the hallways towards the stairs, and through it, the nobleman caught sight of his mother and sister. He hurried to their side, gently grasping the elderly woman's arm and calling for Claudia to follow as he ushered them out towards the training field, shielding them as well as he could from the toppling furniture and collapsing walls.
"Take mother and leave the city, quickly," he said hastily as soon as they had reached open air, speaking out over the din of the attack. "Use the passageway through the family crypt—you know of it, Claudia, I'm depending on you to lead the way."
His sister nodded, her eyes wide and fearful, but determined all the same. "We'll be waiting for you," she called back to him pointedly, as she and Maria were shunted, carried along with the fleeing crowd. "Stay safe-!" Then all too quickly, both of them were gone from his sight, swallowed up by the mass of people running to safety.
The Assassin stared after them for a split moment, before he shook his head forcefully, reminding himself to focus on the city's defense. He turned to sprint towards the main gate, but was halted by a rather sharp call of his name, and a powerful grip on his arm. Startled, he felt himself jerked backwards a few steps, only to be blinded by an explosion of shrapnel and dust, as a cannonball fell and ground deep into the stones just in front of him.
"Watch yourself, nipote," his uncle said harshly from his shoulder, releasing him after he had regained his footing. "I need you to get up onto the walls, and help cover the citizens' escape. I'll be taking my mercenaries out to the front to try to draw their fire."
"But that's too dangerous," he protested, frowning. Though Mario would not admit it, Ezio knew that he was getting on in years, and was little suited to be charging head on into battle. "I can be the one to lead the front assault-"
"You are still recovering, Ezio," the other countered sharply, grasping him firmly by the shoulder and meeting his worried gaze. "There's no time for arguments, just go to the walls and help man the cannons. You cannot allow their siege towers to breach the city."
The eagle gave a reluctant nod, only watching as the elder man hurried down the steps towards the main gate. "Be careful, zio."
Ezio turned as well and sprinted off towards the eastern wall, leaping from there onto the rooftops. However, the cannon fire was still heavy, and though he moved to dodge the projectiles to the best of his abilities, it was not long before one shattered through the tiles at his feet, sending him sprawling onto the street below.
He growled as the fall jarred his old injuries, stumbling to his feet and continuing to run, despite knowing that the ladder up onto the walls was still quite a distance from him. The streets were almost empty now, with most of the people filtering towards the hidden pass on the other side of town, but a sudden shape approaching him caught his eye.
His white stallion gave a piercing whinny as it loped towards him, running alongside him as he only stared at it a moment, startled that it had come for him. The beast had a timely arrival, as usual, it seemed. Nimbly, he leapt onto its saddle, seizing the fluttering reins and digging his heels into the horse's heaving flanks. Together, they shot off towards the battlements, now quite alone in the war-stricken side streets.
He left his horse at the base of the city wall, behind the cover of the local mercenary guild where it would be largely sheltered from the attack. As he swiftly pulled himself hand over hand up the ladder leading to the peak, he could not help but glance back to the western edge of Monteriggioni, searching for the entrance to the crypt, through which he knew his family and the rest of the populace were fleeing.
However, just as he caught sight of the Auditore crest painted across the solid wood door, a new barrage of cannonballs impacted it, strewing planks and rubble in its wake. The cries of the townsmen, whose bodies or kin had been crushed, could be heard clear across to him, and he hesitated, wondering fearfully if his mother and sister had been able to slip past.
Snarling aloud in frustration and pushing his family from his mind, he continued to climb, knowing that if he could not hold back the invaders, they definitely would be lost. From the watchtower he was climbing, he could see clearly over to the south wall, to the tangle of battle that was taking place at its base.
Several mercenaries called out to him as he scrambled over the lip of the wall, gesturing him over to join the line of cannons. He complied and ducked several cross bow hafts that clattered the stones about him, seizing onto one the mechanisms and ordering a man to load it.
Their return fire was vicious, cutting through the beams of several of the siege towers rolling towards them, yet still there were too many. At either side of him, Ezio could hear the sounds of men in panic, or in pain as they bled and thrashed, but worst were those who no longer made any sound, most crushed or mangled beyond recognition from the enemy assault. The noise was terrible, and all he could think of was causing as much harm as he could to the ones responsible.
"The north wall! They've reached the north wall!"
The Assassin turned sharply at the alarmed cry, just in time to see the siege tower lock upon the battlements on the other side of the watchtower he had climbed, the flood of enemies it released beginning to tear through their line of defense. Releasing the cannon he held, he sprinted off towards them without a second thought, drawing his rapier and setting his eagle upon them with a blood lusting ferocity.
He forcefully shouldered the first guard he came upon before the man could realize his presence, knocking him bodily against and over the parapets, and hearing him yell as he plummeted to the ground. Ezio leapt forward a few steps, and stabbed into another's back, plunging the blade cleanly through spine and lung.
At this point, the enemy detachment caught sight of him, and he found that he was more than happy to meet their advance. He whirled around to the left, tearing through a soldier's throat, first with hidden blade then sword edge, and staining the ground with a spurt of blood. Another sword came at his face, and he leaned back, just enough to dodge the singing blade, before countering by driving his rapier up through the man's chin.
As he pushed further into the midst of his enemies, a heavily armored guard with a battleaxe swung at him abruptly, and though he caught the edge before it dug into his shoulder, the power of the blow drove him painfully down onto one knee. His arm shook with the effort, and he threw a curse at the soldier as he twisted sharply to one side, slipping past the deflected blade as it dug instead into the ground, and burying a shot of poison into the enemy's flank.
The staggered, confused man took down three of his allies before he fell to the floor himself, and the Assassin swiftly took advantage of the opening he had left, cutting deeply into flesh left and right, and kicking men forcefully to the ground as they clutched at their wounds.
His eagle screamed out, incited by the scent of blood and powder and fire, yet Ezio found he could barely hold his ground. Another siege tower had clamped onto the wall as he struggled to drive off this one, and another, fresh stream of enemies was coming for him. However, this was not the worst of it, as suddenly the ground shook, the entire length of the wall trembling from an explosion that engulfed the city gate in embers and smoke.
Though he realized the danger, he could not help but stop and stare as the fortified door of Monteriggioni's main gate collapsed, allowing in a small group of people, who entered amongst the dust and debris. A soldier at their front threw a man down onto the street, and even with the distance, the Assassin could clearly see the deep slash across his uncle's back, Mario stirring with difficulty as he tried to regain his feet.
There was no hesitation as Ezio sheathed his rapier and threw himself from the battlements, hitting the cratered rooftops with a roll before breaking into a sprint. As he ran, his narrowed gaze fell upon a man in a cape and gleaming armor who was striding leisurely towards the fallen Assassin. His eagle's eyes did not lie, and he knew without a doubt that this man was the comandante.
"Ezio Auditore! Come, I know you are in here somewhere," the Templar called out easily to the hollow city, glancing around for him. "You left the fortress so quickly yesterday that we did not get a chance to meet."
The noblemen felt he had never run so swiftly in his life, but still the distance between him and the cluster of enemies was infuriatingly stretched, well out of his range. Moving thus, his focus so narrowed, so riveted upon his uncle, he failed to detect the line of red on the battlements behind him, their attention fixed upon his flying form. Neither did he notice the flicker of a blue aura detaching itself from the crowd by the gate to hurry towards him.
"Still, I'm sure you understand that I cannot allow you and your kind to live," the commander continued to speak into the air, unhurried, taking a weapon from one of his soldiers that the Assassin quickly recognized as a rifle. "Though do not think of this as murder, but merely, a cleansing." Mario said nothing as the barrel was pressed to his head, slowly glancing up to look somberly in Ezio's direction.
The eagle was only feet away when he saw the Templar's self-satisfied smirk, heard the whirr of the wheel-lock mechanism, and then it was too late. The shot that rang out seemed to pierce his own heart, and he froze helplessly, balanced on the edge of a rooftop, his eyes wide. The cry for his uncle, half-formed, never left his throat when, abruptly, the agony of his spirit seemed to spread into his shoulder.
The second gunshot from behind him finally reached his ears, but he was already falling, lashed viciously from his perch by an arquebusier. He grunted as he smashed first through the wood railing of a balcony, then against the stone street, his vision flaring then dimming as he, momentarily, blacked out.
However, by sheer force of will, by the strong surge of rage and sorrow, he managed to regain his senses, snarling furiously as he clutched at his heavily bleeding shoulder. The crimson life was spilling thickly down his back and sleeve, leaking into the hidden blade's mechanisms, but he blatantly ignored it, unable to forget the mocking smile of the man who had taken his uncle, had taken his very home, from him.
He lurched unsteadily to his feet, breaking into a blind run towards the end of the side street he had fallen into, intent on rounding the building that was blocking him from sight of his target. His left arm ached tremendously, but this only served to stoke his anger further, and he found that all he desired was Templar blood. However, just before he turned the corner, a warm body collided with him, arms wrapping about his chest and forcing him back into the alley.
"Don't, Ezio," Leonardo hissed sharply, holding him back with surprising strength as the Assassin recognized him, but thrashed violently nonetheless, fighting to break free.
"Let me go, Leonardo-!" he all but screamed, his teeth bared ferally, and his eyes blazing dangerously in the artist's direction. "I'll kill him—I swear, I'll kill him!"
"I know how you must be feeling, amico mio, and I'm sorry, but you can't go after him, not now," Leonardo cried out urgently, gasping from his efforts to restrain the wildly struggling eagle. "Realize your condition-! Your scapula is shattered and you're losing a lot of blood, I doubt you can even raise your arm, much less use your blade! You will not get anywhere near Cesare before they kill you."
"That doesn't matter," the Assassin forced out, past gritted teeth, realizing the dizziness starting to weigh against his thoughts and sight. He shook his head stubbornly and finally shoved his friend away, only now realizing that his eyes were stinging from the pain, from the twisted whirl of emotions. "If I die, I will at least take that figlio di puttana with me."
"What, so you wish for death?" the artist demanded, his blue eyes hard and determined as he snatched onto the nobleman's sleeve, obstinately dragging him to a halt again. "You are the last of your line, Ezio, the last who can carry on your family's name. Do you really want the Borgia to be remembered as the ones who wiped your bloodline from existence?"
"I…" Ezio faltered, grasping at empty words, his head throbbing from the lack of blood and the storm of inner turmoil.
"You must live, amico mio, for all of us. Still so many depend on you."
The Assassin was silent, his fists clenched and his gaze dropped, tremors running through his body as he heard—but disliked—the reason in his friend's insistent words.
A nickering sounded out from the mouth of the side street, and both men turned in alarm, only to see the white stallion approaching, its pale coat stark against the burnt, ash-stained stones of the nearby buildings. It paced closer, pushing a gentle, concerned nose against Ezio's injured shoulder; and at a pointed look from Leonardo, the nobleman hesitantly climbed into the saddle. "But my uncle-"
"His body will be taken care of, I promise," the artist said, meeting his eyes solemnly. "Now go, please, before the Templars change their mind about leaving you for dead."
The Assassin looked down at him a moment, his gaze shadowed, before uttering quietly, "Addio, amico."
The loud clatter of hooves on the paved streets drowned out any more room for words, and Ezio leaned low into the saddle as he headed back into the devastated city, intent on following the villagers through the crypt. It was silent now, he realized, guessing that he had passed out for longer than he had thought. All that remained—the last, bare traces of life left to rattle the shell of a city—were his grating breath, and the hollow resonance of his horse's steps.
His home no longer, the sight of Monteriggioni's shattered walls and broken buildings only served to weigh his heart with an echo of distant loss; ruins they were, thus like ruins he left them, and the eagle took flight without a backward glance.
Author's Note: This is truly the end now, I'm glad I was convinced to write this last chapter-It came pretty easily to me too. Thanks a lot to everyone for your support throughout this whole thing.
And on a different note, I'm accepting suggestions or requests for more AC stories (possibly one-shots), if any of you are willing to suggest. Thanks again.