AN: Where did this come from? Second person and Ezio and even some Rosa in there somewhere. Didn't fact-check as much as I normally do, so some of the names might be misspelled. Also, this story will probably not make any sense at all unless you've played through the Battle of Forli/Bonfires of the Vanities DLC. You can get a quick summary on the AC wiki. I changed the time-line a bit, but otherwise everything in this fic shows up in the DLC at some point.
Now to get to work on the fic I lovingly refer to as Battle of Eagles 2.0...
The Desert Drowning
You're in Florence, running from one end to the other, blood dripping from your blade and staining your cuffs. The armor you wear is heavy with the weight of hundreds of years, but it's a weight you're used to and you don't let it slow you down. Your uncle has already explained how your being able to wear the armor at all means you've been Chosen, you've been Anointed. You're destined to accomplish the goals of that oddly named figure, dead for centuries in a desert land you've never seen, whose statue sometimes haunts your dreams.
(The years before you and the years to come: they feel very close, sometimes.)
Uncle Mario was beaming when he saw you pull your aching body into the Villa, covered with dust and lugging armor that somehow still gleamed like new. He was so proud he told your sister, who was entirely unimpressed and wondered out loud how much said armor would sell for in town. He told Leonardo, who hadn't moved out of Monteriggioni yet. The artist smiled and congratulated you and clearly had no idea what Mario was talking about. This despite the fact that, after all these years, Leonardo da Vinci knows about the Templar Conspiracy just as well as any assassin. He always did live on another planet, a bit.
Mario was so proud he told your mother. She grimaced and wept and wrung her hands, before throwing them together in a sad mockery of prayer. She heard nothing your uncle said, even though he said it gently: look. It's ok. Look at how much of a man your son has become. He's a hero now. Look.
Your mother heard nothing, said nothing, and eventually your uncle shrugged at you, smiled sadly, and you had to leave the room and go storm blindly around the Villa for a while. All this while covered in dust and wearing Altair's garb. You did not feel very heroic. You did not feel like much of a man.
But you're in Florence now, too busy to be upset; Lorenzo de Medici has lost control of his city for a second time, and the mad monk Savonarola has spread his poisons wide. Priests and doctors and captains of the guard, some drunk with power and some bewitched by the stolen Apple, most a little of both: they terrorize the people, and the people do not fight back.
There are bonfires being lit all over town; the monk is burning books, even Bibles, in his furor. Altair wrote in his Codex of a man in a strange city (Ack-re…a cough of a name) who once tried to burn books and scholars both. Altair killed him, though he was vague about the doing—one thing he wasn't vague about was the reprehension latent in anyone who would seek out knowledge only to set it alight.
But the people do not fight back.
The people never fight back. In twenty years of your seeking to save them, they have only ever cowered away from tyrants and thieves. It's maddening. You've been in Florence for two weeks, you've killed five of Savonarola's nine chief henchmen, you've been slashed and punched and hacked at—and no one helps you. The people stand there, and they watch.
("That's why the Assassins exist, nepote," your uncle has said. "Don't be so harsh with them. This life is the burden you must bare.")
So you fight off endless streams of soldiers, aided by Machiavelli and his men when possible, and you try to ignore the maddening pain in your side. The dying guard back in Forli chose his dagger's spot well: just walking irritates the stab wound, and running makes it feel as if it will be ripped wide open all over again. It isn't fully healed, might never be fully healed; you rushed off too quickly to reach Florence, and so you'll have to live with the sensation of constantly being stabbed anew.
It was your fault Savonarola was able to take the Apple in the first place. Through memories like fog you remember his wrinkled hand stretching for the orb… You're in Florence for the Apple and for revenge, and you're too busy to dwell on anything else.
Only that isn't true. You're in Florence. Old ghosts are waiting, and this time you're too exhausted to hold them off.
After killing the sixth of the mad monk's pawns (a priest, who droned mindless Latin at the crowds until you freed him from his delusions), you find Machiavelli with some of his men, fighting a mixed crowd of Savonarola's soldiers and Templars both. After you dispatch of the vermin (more Templars are sneaking into the city every day, and that's troubling), you ask the other man where Lorenzo de Medici might be; it's his city, after all. Florence's leader has been a help for many years, and it'll be a problem if he's been killed.
Machiavelli tells you he's been trying to fight his way towards Lorenzo's museum of a palazzo, but that the closer he gets the more guards he has to wade through. You agree to try and slip past the soldiers, already mapping out your route in your head. Rescuing a man as powerful as the head of the Medici family—twice in twenty years—is the key to a lot more than just bragging rights.
You head for the palazzo at a run, sword drawn, so fierce and deadly the citizens scatter in your wake. Your mind is fixed on all that lies before you…on rescuing Lorenzo, on killing Savonarola, on finding a safe place for that damned Piece of Eden…
Your mind is so busy that you don't notice when the twisted streets begin to look familiar, when buildings from your distant childhood start appearing before your eyes. You don't notice, but your feet do, and they still remember the shortcuts you took when you were sixteen and a fool. Suddenly the streets are empty. You look up, wondering, and the realization of where you are hurts worse than any stab wound could.
The house hasn't changed. Maybe that's what stings the most.
You look around, wildly; you practically spin in place. The street is the same and the house is the same and everything is the same—your home. Your old life. The gateway you'd skulk through after a night flirting with whores. Your younger brother was rarely healthy enough to leave the property, but he'd wait by that fence for you and Federico, eager for stories you'd make up on the spot. You'd exaggerate and so would Federico, and Petruccio knew you were both lying to make yourselves sound better.
He loved it. It was part of the ritual. It was…it was your life…
In a dream you move towards your house. Suddenly Florence is too small, claustrophobic and mean. Why does the damned building still look the same? Something should have changed by now!
You enter the doorway, dazed, squinting into the gloom. Years of dust fleck the cracked tile floor. Behind you the crowds are calm (even Savonarola hasn't done much to this older part of the city). Any minute now Federico will dart past, crowing over his latest female conquest…any minute now your father will open the door to his office and beg for quiet, gesturing at his paper-covered desk and trying to hide his smile. "Where have you been?" he will pretend to scold. "Bad examples for Petruccio, both of you."
Your feet are moving of their own will. You are in the front room, now. The door into your house has weathered a bit. The door knob is shiny from years of use. The bench where Claudia used to sit and have hysterics has moss growing around its base…
"Father," you whisper. "Federico." Your voice does not echo and they do not answer. You feel sick. You want to leave.
You are a child playing dress-up in adult armor and robes. Your sword is too heavy to lift and soon your mother will come and snatch your daggers away, demanding to know who gave you knives to play with. You are a child, a boy, not a hero at all, and that's—that's how it should be—
The front room is too silent. Florence is too silent. Florence was your home and the bastard Templars took it away, took your family away, took everything and smashed it and didn't even care…
"Father," you say again, and at first you think it's just your emotions in turmoil that make him appear before you, smiling in his pleasant way. You tilt your head, the room dark and still, and besides your father you see your brothers, and they both look fine.
You blink. You look away. You choke on the scream that is building in your throat. The front room is filled with silvery shapes, ghosts—your family. Your father wears his nicest robes, looks every inch the benevolent and wealthy head of household. Federico slouches beside him, grinning, as if about to challenge you to one of your old races, which you know he used to let you win. Petruccio stands in a corner, yawning sleepily and rubbing at his eyes.
No one talks. But someone is groaning, softly and off-key. You wonder who it is; your father and brothers are all beaming at you, apparently content. The groaning continues and then you realize it's coming from you.
You turn, desperate, and—oh, mother! Maria Auditore is busy plucking flowers from the twisted vines along the latticework of the fence. She gives you a quick, busy smile: she is happy, and whole, and there are no lines of misery warping her face. Even Claudia is here, wearing a dress that you know is yellow but that is silver and shiny now. You know that dress because it was the only dress she could save when you fled Florence years ago, and she wore it to rags because it reminded her of better days—
Something in you snaps. The air is thick and clogs your lungs. You bellow, furious, shouting for Savonarola to show himself because this has to be a trick of the Apple. Didn't Altair write in his codex of the Piece of Eden bringing back the shapes of the dead? Didn't he?
No one answers your roars, and your family just keeps smiling. Federico shrugs and gives a silent snicker, and you don't know the world around you any more…
You run to your father. There are tears in your eyes and you haven't cried in years and suddenly you want Rosa more than anything—Rosa, back in Venice, who despite being uneducated responds to your letters with as many curse words as she knows how to spell. Rosa, who never had parents to love and lose. Rosa, who won't mind if you go a little crazy, break down and weep…
But Rosa is hundreds of miles away, living her own life, and your family is here, and you're never going to leave. You're the hero and you've saved them…!
"Father," you manage, and you don't care if your older brother teases you later for having a voice choked with tears. "Oh, please…" You run to him. You embrace him. You embrace air, and there is no warmth to be found.
But you can see him! You can see all of them! Your brothers (alive) and your father (alive) and your mother (alive). You can see them but you can't touch them and they won't speak to you, why won't you speak? You must spend at least ten minutes begging, your voice high pitched so that it cracks, like a child. Finally you realize that they aren't going to answer—that this is a fever-dream, or a delusion, or a trick—that you will have wounds from this, and that they will never, ever heal.
You move back towards the entrance, towards the sun and the living world. Your father smiles at you. Your younger brother asks you with his eyes not to leave.
You turn. You run. You flee like a coward, and it's only when the daylight strikes your eyes that you wake up, as if from a dream, as if breaking through the surface of a river thick with sludge. You turn, bewildered…what are you doing? Your family is in there, somehow! You are an assassin! You will find a way to make them real.
So back into the front room. You burst through the gateway and you scream—
Empty. The room is empty. There are no marks in the dust. The vines on the trellis are dead, have been dead for years. You close your eyes and open them, again and again, but no ghosts smile at you and nothing silver ensnares your gaze.
Your armor is too heavy. It presses you down to the floor.
I never asked for your burden, you think, picturing Altair's forbidding statue-self. I never asked for you to give me this.
When you finally leave, you run. You run until the streets aren't familiar and the stores have no memories attached. You climb the nearest building, letting the wind whip against your face. You find a guard, and you kill him, but not before his shouts send other soldiers after your blade. You throw yourself into a battle that has nothing to do with Savonarola or Lorenzo de Medici. With every soldier you kill, you picture your father, your brothers, your mother and sister. Blood squirts onto your hands, onto your face; you taste it and ache. Oh you ache so badly, so deep inside.
Dusk comes, and it brings with it the smell of ash on the wind. Dully, you rouse yourself from your stupor. You find a doctor, buy a small bottle of vile-smelling elixir. He asks about your wounds and you show him your new scratches, the swelling mess on your side. There are flecks of pus in that old wound and the healer hisses to see it. You wonder why, if it's infected, it suddenly only hurts to the touch.
One of Machiavelli's guards finds you, says that his master has cleared a path to Lorenzo's palace. You nod, gulp down the medicine, ready your sword. You think you might use your pistol, this round. You think you might like the feel of it in your hands, so heavy and sure.
Altair's armor feels like dead weight strapped to your arms and legs. The day might come when you can throw it into the river, and with it your sword. You picture it sinking, taking with it the shadows of whoever you are. It might be nice, you decide. It might be like watching someone drown.