Secrets and Shadows

The streets of Venice were veiled in shadows. All but a sliver of the moon glowed distantly in the sky, unable to penetrate the enveloping darkness of the night. Gentle waves rushed in and out from the sea, churning amongst the empty gondolas, bumping their wooden hulls against the docks. A pair of guards chatted quietly to one another as they made their nightly rounds, their thick armour clinking softly with every step.

The dark assassin stalked through the shadows. The prey was a thug, looking nervously over his shoulder and rightfully so. The man was tall, with a chest like a keg of ale, but that didn't concern the nimble assassin. The hunter slipped from shadow to shadow as the target turned into a secluded alley, a poor decision that would cost him his life. The assassin moved silently across the ground, only the flurry of a jet black cape could be heard as the hunter closed in on the prey.

()()()()()

The white hooded assassin watched the dark figure disappear into the alley. His lips twisted in a self confident smirk. The hunter had become the hunted in this game of cat and mouse. He had set the trap skilfully, paying the thug to meet him in the dark street to discuss business. The thug would be in for a great surprise when he discovered that the dark hooded stranger had no intentions of talking.

The assassin had arrived in Venice less than a fortnight ago and Ezio Auditore had been tracking his movement ever since, but it had proven more difficult than he previously anticipated. Lorenzo believed that the assassin was somehow connected to the Templars and had suggested that Ezio put a quick end to him. Lorenzo had provided Ezio with as much information as he could, but there wasn't much to go on. The identity of the assassin remained a complete mystery. Luckily, the assassin had a specific target range, eliminating mostly murderers and criminals.

The assassin had kept a low profile as soon as he entered the city, never staying in the same place for long. Ezio was finding him increasingly difficult to tail without detection. There were several encounters where Ezio was sure he'd been seen, but the assassin had never pursued him. He was on the right track however, following Ezio's trail of kills in Venice. The assassin had even made a brief trip to the thieves' guild and to Leonardo's workshop, prowling around for clues. He was getting too close, so it was time to put an end to this little game.

Ezio leapt from his perch, landing lightly on the ground. He strode to the mouth of the alley just in time to see the thug clawing at an arrow in his throat. The shaft had pierced straight through his windpipe and he gurgled and gasped as he fell to the ground dying. The assassin turned in a swirl of dark fabric, his long hooded cloak shadowing his face.

"Nowhere to run," Ezio said with a smirk. The assassin set aside his bow and quiver, producing a long curved knife instead. Raising the blade, the assassin beckoned to him. A terrible grin twisted across Ezio's lips and he charged.

The assassin rushed up to meet him, and Ezio let his blades extend, but he was not prepared for what happened next. The assassin leapt at the wall, briefly running along it before flipping over Ezio's head, knife flashing. Ezio felt the steel bite shallowly into his shoulder, before the assassin landed behind him.

Ezio turned slowly, his torn cape falling from his shoulder and pooling on the ground. He looked down at the slow flow of blood leaking through his robes before turning back to the assassin. "So that's how it's going to be, eh?" he spat bitterly. Holding his blades out in front of him, this time he beckoned the assassin, "Bring it on."

The assassin charged again, knife raised, but Ezio was prepared. He jumped back dodging the slash before lunging and striking out with his own blade. The clash of steel rang through the alley as the assassin met Ezio's blade with his own. The assassin was small and fast so Ezio planned to use his own size to his advantage. Ezio saw the flash of the assassin's bright eyes beneath his hood before he flurried away.

The assassin dropped to the ground and kicked a leg out from beneath Ezio. He hit the ground but anticipated his opponent's next move, raising a knee to his chest when the assassin leapt on him. Ezio blocked the knife with one blade, and slashed out with the other, aiming for the throat. He was rewarded by a grunt before using his leg to propel the assassin over his head.

Ezio rolled quickly to his feet, but the dark assassin rose as well. The slashed cloak fell away to reveal his attacker. The woman's narrow face was framed with long jet black hair, her pale olive skin marred by a shallow slash across her cheek. She panted heavily, glaring through her grey-blue eyes.

Ezio lowered his blades, completely dumbfounded. He could scarcely believe the assassin was a woman. "Signora, please, I don't want to hurt you," he tried, but with no avail. She released an angry cry before charging him again. Their blades kissed once more, before Ezio managed to spin the knife from her grip, sending it flying out of reach.

He thought that would be the end of it, but when her fist collided with his jaw he realised he was mistaken. When he turned back, she was bouncing on her toes, ready for his next move. Ezio retracted his hidden blades before wiping the blood from his split lip. "Look-" he began again, but never finished.

She made another jab, but Ezio dodged this time. She continued her advance but he wouldn't allow a solid hit. When she pulled back, he lunged and managed to snatch one of her wrists. She leapt, rolling over his back and taking his arm with her. She gave his twisted arm a sharp yank that flipped him onto his back.

Ezio was winded on the ground again, but wasn't ready to give up just yet. The assassin jumped atop him, snatching two throwing knives from his belt, but Ezio was quicker. He grabbed her wrists and rolled her onto her back. With a sharp jerk he knocked the knives from her grip. Releasing one hand, Ezio moved his blade to her throat.

She panted heavily beneath him, glaring hatefully into his eyes. Something itched in the back of his mind; she was somehow familiar. He did not know her motives, but whatever they were, it was personal. There was too much malice in her eyes to suggest otherwise. "Are you a Templar?" he asked, short of breath himself.

"No," her smooth voice bit back.

"Then why do you want to kill me?"

She remained silent for a long time, her gaze piercing through him, sharper than any knife. "You murdered my family," she said slowly, each word dripping with venom.

He was confused at first, but then he saw it, the grey-blue eyes that matched her father and brother's. Ezio couldn't stop his mouth from gaping open in shock. "Viola de'Pazzi," he breathed in astonishment.

"I have not been Viola de'Pazzi in many years," she said with cold accusation, "It's Aria da Sicilia now."

Ezio stared down at her incredulously. Viola de'Pazzi had left Florence with her mother after he killed Jacopo de'Pazzi eight years ago. It was rumoured that she and her mother had perished of the plague. He released her wrists slowly, snatching up his discarded knives as he climbed off of her.

He let out a bitter laugh. "Then we are even signora Aria," he said with a smirk as he tucked away his blades.

She sat up, watching him through narrowed eyes. "What do you mean?" she spat.

This time Ezio laughed in earnest, so suddenly that she flinched. "Truly, you do not know who I am?" he asked with a crooked grin. This whole situation was completely ludicrous. He pulled back his hood to reveal his face. "I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze, my lady," he declared, with a sweeping bow, "And the de'Pazzis plotted the murder of my family."

()()()()()

Aria couldn't believe it. Ezio Auditore? She had thought him dead along with the rest of his kin, but there he stood. She recognized his sharp golden eyes and dark brown hair. Aria clenched her fists angrily; her father was not a murderer. "You lie!" she insisted, "They did no such thing; you murdered them in cold blood!"

The amusement in his bright eyes faded to a grim expression that twisted his bold features. "I wish I was, signora; more than anything I wish the past could be undone," he said bitterly, snatching his ruined cape from the ground. "But your family was on the wrong side of this war, and for that they paid with their lives."

Aria glared at him suspiciously. "And what side is that, assassino?" she asked coldly.

His predatory eyes glared into hers. "The Templars," he said, spitting the word like venom. "They took my brothers and my father, and I am sorry for your loss, Aria, but not for what I have done."

Aria saw the same pain and hatred in his eyes that she found inside her own heart. She had waited for this moment for so long, but now she didn't know what to do. For four years she hunted the man who murdered her family, but now if what he said was true, she could not take his life.

Aria got to her feet and retrieved her cloak and weapons. She held her dagger for a moment, clenching her fist tight around the hilt, but soon returned it to its sheath. Ezio's gaze never left her, and when she made to leave, she nearly walked past him. She stopped and glared into his eagle eyes, biting back her contempt as she told him, "I would have done the same." I almost did. She walked to the end of the alley, still feeling his gaze on her back. Aria turned one last time and conceded, "We're even," before she melted back into the shadows.


Thanks for reading!

A little explanation for anyone confused. Remember at the beginning of AC II when Ezio says to Vieri "Your sister seemed satisfied with the handling I gave her,"... Yeah.
Aria da Sicilia, (AKA Viola de'Pazzi) is my original-unoriginal character, and she's out for blood. In the book Assassin's Creed Renaissance, Viola is mentioned briefly, but is never given name in the game.

So there you have it! Chapter one, of many more to come! Feedback is appreciated - I'd love to hear what you think! =)