AN: Augh Ubisoft why. I don't have time to be writing mournful deathfic. Spoiler warning!
A Month with Dragons
"I'm sorry, signore," she says when she first sees him at the door. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
Yusuf offers her a sympathetic grin. It's what he does best, defuse potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situations with a hearty laugh and a dirty joke or two, and this situation is among the most awkward he's yet experienced. This woman knows nothing of him, after all. Oh, he knows all about her: knows she's an Italian like Ezio and therefore guaranteed to be a little crazy, knows she would quite happily starve to get her hands on some rare edition of a book. Knows most of all that the Mentor is obsessed with her, this pretty red-headed woman with her tightly laced gown and her face painted in the European fashion and her eager interest, her sharp intelligence. Her smile as warm as any Yusuf's seen.
But none of that helps him explain the current situation. Sofia isn't smiling now, she's standing there in the doorway to her bookshop with wary confusion in her eyes. Even in the fading light of evening he can see how careful she is to keep within the doorway, able to slam shut the door should she feel the need. Knowing the Mentor as he does, and in their less-than-a-year together Yusuf's come to know Ezio quite well, he knows that any woman worth the older man's interest is a woman with honed instincts and a strong right-hook. If he doesn't explain himself well now, he'll probably end up spitting out his own teeth. After getting hit in the face. By a woman.
It wouldn't be the first time he's had to explain away injuries to his recruits, but still. Sofia isn't even an assassin!
"Signore?" Sofia folds her arms across her—alright, yes, it's very impressive, Ezio does have good taste—chest. "Was there something you needed? It's very late. My shop will reopen tomorrow, along with everything else in the district. Please, I'd think you'd better…"
"A certain Mister Ezio says hello," Yusuf says with a cheerful shrug. Sofia's eyes widen in surprise.
"Oh, did he send you?" A trilling laugh falls from her lips, not as feminine as Yusuf might have expected. Then again, he's had dealings with the remnants of the Venetian colonies in Kostantiniyye, and he's always been a little taken aback at how forthright their women are. Unlike the women he's used to, his female assassins being the rare exceptions, Sofia apparently feels no need to wear a veil or keep close to a male escort. She's even talking to him, a strange man at her door at a late hour, as if there were nothing shocking about it.
Yusuf finds he's a little impressed.
"What is that man thinking? He's only been gone a couple of hours." Sofia says around another laugh, "I don't know what it is that keeps him so preoccupied…I'm sorry if he's roped you into being a messenger boy."
"What better way could there be to spend my time?" He's relieved to find Sofia is more or less fluent in Turkish, because his Italian has never been any good. Or existent. "If I could come inside," he says, more serious now, "there's something we need to discuss."
Sofia looks at him again, and he can see her hesitation. She glances at his gold-and-white getup, at the sword he wears at his waist, at the way he keeps glancing about the courtyard her shop faces into. He's placed assassins at the proper spots about the area, but she can't know that, and anyway he's still uneasy with standing so out in the open, his back fully exposed. Ezio had said to watch out for the Janissaries, and a gang of those bastards is more than even Yusuf thinks he can handle on his own.
(Of course it would be the Janissaries the Templars corrupted. Why couldn't they have put together a squad of angry beggar women or something?)
"My lady," he says again, "I'll explain everything. I promise."
"…Everything," Sofia says finally, with one last critical look. "Well. That is a tempting promise. Ezio refuses to tell me anything."
Yusuf grins again. "Of course not. He's got a romantic heart, that one. Makes him prime for melodrama. No, I'll explain what's going on…he'll kill me for it later, but if you're already being dragged into this, I don't see the harm in sharing the details!"
"I'm glad to hear it, signore," she says, and moves aside to let him in. "I only hope the truth is as interesting as what I've been imagining it might be."
"It's more interesting than you could bear," Yusuf promises, and feels the weight of his hookblade pressing against his arm.
Sofia takes the news calmly—a relief, and a reassurance. Yusuf isn't sure what he'd have done if she'd had a breakdown or refused to believe him…and he was only half-joking when he said that Ezio would kill him for revealing the truth. But Yusuf is a master assassin of his own right, with his own expectations, and the thought of trying to keep Sofia in the dark any longer was more than unrealistic, it was dangerous. How could he adequately protect her if she didn't know what there was to be protected from?
You chose a strong woman, Ezio, he thinks to himself. I know you'd like to save the whole world by yourself. But this time you'll have to share the burden a bit.
Sofia leans forward on her desk, hands folded together. She looks prim and unruffled, though her cheeks are an unnatural red. "Let me try to understand," she says. "Ezio is an assassin? And you are as well? And these Templars…"
"Really hate assassins. Yup."
"And Ezio thinks they'll try to harm me while he's gone."
"A little overprotective, but he's probably not wrong."
"But…why?" This time her laugh is choked with disbelief.
"Why what? Why do the Templars hate assassins, and everyone else, with such triumphant passion?" Yusuf gives a grand shrug, enjoying his dramatics, the chair he's been given to sit on creaking as he shifts about. Bah. Cushions are more comfortable anyway, they allow an assassin to really gesture as he needs…
The Ezio of legend could be pretty theatrical himself, but these days the older man is always so grim. Yusuf doesn't see the point. Yes, the Mentor has suffered losses, they all have, but isn't that all the more reason to delight in life while they still had it? Moroseness in a city as beautiful as this is a crime on par with the worst Templar evil.
"No," says Sofia, interrupting his thoughts, "the Templar business I can understand." She gestures at the books lined along the walls, piled in the corners, even blocking the doorways. "Corruption and power-lust is a pretty common theme. As far back as the original epics…"
"Ah," says Yusuf, politely bewildered. He's never been much of a reader. Frankly, all these words heaped together are making him feel a little queasy.
Sofia continues, still suspiciously calm, "What I don't understand is why Ezio thinks these men are targeting me. I'm not an assassin. I obviously know very little about this…Brotherhood, did you call it? I'm not even from here. I don't know any dangerous secrets about the royal family and I wouldn't know what to do with them if I did."
Yusuf stares at her. Oh. Oh. So Ezio's never even…well. That explains some of the Mentor's bizarre insistence on secrecy, anyway.
Stubborn son of a bitch, he grins to himself. Keeping that a secret? Out of what, fear of rejection? From their many conversations on the matter, it doesn't sound as though Ezio's ever had much trouble in such things. Yusuf, a happy bachelor with special 'contacts' in all of Kostantiniyye's dens of ill repute, has always been awed: Ezio can flirt his way into the most demure woman's skirts just by sitting next to her on a bench and flashing those dark Italian eyes.
Sofia shakes her head. "Yusuf Tazim. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be difficult. But I don't think there's much of a point in you being here."
"Don't worry," he assures her. "I'll keep out of your way. Stick me on those pillows over there and remember to feed me every once in a while. I've got assassins watching this place from every street in the district, just in case. Better safe then sorry, eh?"
"And when Ezio comes back you can march down to the docks and demand a full answer from him. It'll be safe then, guaranteed. He's a damn good assassin. Never lets his target get away."
"I see." Sofia says dryly, "I do have a few questions I'd like to ask him," and Yusuf breaks out into a laugh of his own.
"I'd like to board up those windows above the desk," he says, "just in case. And maybe close off that back room with all the screens."
"If you must," she sighs. "But I must tell you that in a few days I'm expecting a large shipment of recent publications from the Far East. I'll need access to the back room or else I'll have nowhere to put them." Perhaps she's more alarmed by the whole thing than she appears, for suddenly her tone wavers as she says, "What a strange man Ezio is. He should have explained this to me before. I could at least have postponed this shipment."
Yusuf decides he might like a few days spent with pretty Sofia. Then, of course, she looks at him with another sigh and decides that if they're going to be cooped up together they might as well reorganize the bookshelves.
Yusuf looks at all those shelves, and all those books, and goes back to feeling queasy. How torturous and demanding is the life of an assassin!
Ezio had warned that it might take two weeks or more to return from Cappadocia, so Yusuf isn't concerned when a month of standing guard over Sofia comes to a close. A nice pattern has formed, and the time goes by quickly. By day she runs her shop as normal, albeit with a heavy guard at her side. Yusuf makes sure to keep in contact with his assassins, some of whom he's fought beside for years, all of whom he can command with mere gestures: a flash of the eyes, a quick frown. If there are any Janissaries in the area, they don't make themselves known.
At night Sofia insists on trying to get him to read something; she suggests favorite after favorite until Yusuf cries out that surely she doesn't have any favorites if she loves all these books the same. And yet he quite enjoys himself. Sofia is adept at making conversation, and her passion for the life she's made is catching. A woman, independent and in a foreign land, collecting knowledge for the sheer delight in doing so? A rare thing in Yusuf's world, and his is a world that sees a lot of rare things.
Still, he wonders at Ezio's motivations. Why hold Sofia at arm's length? It's obvious how he feels for her, and the confusion will save him no stress. Anyway he wouldn't be the first assassin to have a family. Many of Yusuf's fighters have children and wives. A few of the women came with young ones, to be raised into the Order as was once common, hundreds of years ago.
And yet: Ezio has spoken of loves lost, loves ended, loves that simply faded away. He's spoken names beguiling in their strangeness, striking to Yusuf's ears: Christina, Caterina, Rosa. He's spoken of his family, torn to pieces and scattered across cities far away. He's spoken of poor choices.
"He is so distant sometimes," Sofia says, bent over her latest book, forehead creased in a frown. "I think he enjoys being with me , and I know he isn't the religious type, but sometimes he acts…almost as if he is ashamed."
Yusuf mutters, "Interesting," and it is. His Mentor is a great fighter, a great leader—perhaps the greatest assassin of them all. Certainly better than Yusuf himself, and Yusuf has been killing Templars since he was nine. But for all that, Ezio is so reluctant to share any meaningful part of himself. He keeps his recruits at a certain distance: they are well-treated and well-trained but their master is as much legend and myth to them as he is reality.
Compared to that is one Yusuf Tazim, who has on rare occasion found himself being dragged from a far-flung den to the main hideout, his head too cloudy with liquor or hookah smoke to manage the trek himself, his arms slung about the necks of equally-besotted recruits. Usually at least one of them is singing. Come morning they all wake up with tremendous headaches and misplaced armor and delightful, if dim, memories.
Yusuf invited Ezio to such a merry evening, once. The Italian muttered about dangers and propriety and then proceeded to outdrink every single recruit, including those half his age. Yusuf woke up the next morning a good ten miles from where he'd started, and when he finally located Ezio after a lot of headachy trudging, not sure he'd be able to swing a sword if the Mentor needed rescue, it was in a brothel Yusuf hadn't realized existed.
He'd never invited Ezio again, if only because he was pretty sure another night spent similarly would kill him. Besides, once the hangover faded the Mentor went right back to his world-weary self.
So, yes, it's very interesting to hear Sofia talk about him now…about this softer side Yusuf doesn't know. About the sadness in his eyes that she can't understand. Killer's eyes, Yusuf wants to tell her. He doesn't, because that isn't the sort of thing he can explain away with a grin and a joke. Yusuf is too wise to bring certain parts of the assassin's life to light.
But all good men look the same when they've shed blood. That he's spilled so much, and that he's hated it all so fiercely, says a lot about who Ezio Auditore turned out to be.
Sofia asks him one night, "Why did you become an assassin? It seems such a dangerous life."
He gives her a knowing grin. "You're really asking about Ezio, not me. All I'm good for is slogging through your merchandise."
"Alright, fine," and he respects that she doesn't even bother to blush. "I'm curious about him. But I'm curious about you as well. Most men become merchants or soldiers or laborers. Why chose a life like this?"
Yusuf is quiet for a while. "It's hard to explain to someone who's traveled…" he says, slow and careful with his words. "…Someone who hasn't always lived where they do."
"You were born here?"
"Yes. Well, technically I was born in Bursa but I don't remember much about that place. Assassin business used to take my father here even before we finally moved for good. When they finally roped me into joining the Order it was here…"
"And you've never wanted to see the world?"
"Never. Oh," and he throws out his arms, reclining on the cushions he's convinced Sofia to keep between the stacks, "I've wondered about other places. About whether other cities are as crowded as this, or as loud, or as charming. Whether other cities have tiny courtyards where old men sit with their hookah pipes and mutter about old memories. I'm always finding new alleyways, even though I've been here all my life…new storefronts, new wells, that sort of thing. Even the black market dealers have voices like music to me."
Sofia says, "You must really love it here."
Yusuf nods. "I've heard stories about Venetian ports, you know, how you can buy anything there, but I don't think you could ever find all the spices and silks. I can't imagine giving up the smell of those spices! And all the people, from everywhere. Musicians and artists and mosques bedecked like palaces and…" He shakes his head. "Between us, I've always felt bad for Mister Ezio Auditore da Firenze. He carries his city around with him, he's named for it…that I love! But he carries it in his name because he doesn't actually have it anymore. He's always running. Always chasing, or being chased."
Yusuf says with firm finality, "I don't want that," because he isn't Ezio. He isn't the great Mentor, out to prevent world-wide conspiracies. He's merely Yusuf Tazim, the latest assassin in a long line of them, all the way back to stories of a half-mythical great-grand-something-or-other, a powerful fighter with no living family and sad eyes who took in an orphaned infant and named it Tazim, brought it up in the Order so that all his descendants might do the same.
And Yusuf has never wanted to be the Mentor. He respects Ezio, trusts Ezio, even loves him as a brother—but Ezio's burdens have separated him from family, from friends, from the simple thing of home. This Firenze Ezio barely speaks of…nothing but memories of red-tiled roofs and farms skirting the city walls. Yusuf can't imagine that. He can't imagine living without the city, his city, beautiful Kostantiniyye with the morning fog lying thick in the streets, color flickering through every so often in the shape of flowers, long-stemmed weeds growing in mansion gardens and bursting from the old city's cracking streets. The fog drapes the whole world, muffling the muezzin's cries as he sings of duty and devotion and God.
To be separated from his home? To carry it around as a name, a sour memory hanging heavy from the neck?
"I'm an assassin," he tells Sofia, and in place of his usual joviality there is something somber and still, "because I was born here and I love it here, and because the Templars want to destroy it. But Kostantiniyye isn't theirs to ruin, whatever their reasons. That's why I stay here to fight."
"I understand," says Sofia, but he doesn't think she does. How can she? She's a match made for Ezio: those two both feel the need to roam.
Yusuf smiles with easy joy. It doesn't matter that Sofia doesn't get what he means; he hadn't expected her to really know. It's a special connection that Yusuf Tazim has with his beloved city, and he doesn't need it to make sense to others. Still, he says on a whim:
"When I was young, I used to sneak out early just to watch the sun come up along the harbor. Or else I'd go off to the Grand Bazaar. A city within a city! All those colors…I wanted to buy everything. The merchants used to laugh to see me ogling this one shop because all it sold was lady's veils. But what did I know! The colors of those fabrics, blues and purples and…that's all I cared about. And if you go to the Romany districts…I really used to get in trouble for going there before I was totally trained…but they know songs that can shake the earth."
"The fire-eaters are also impressive," Sofia murmurs. Yusuf cackles.
"Alright, so maybe the seedier districts have some, uh. Seedy pleasures. There's an assassin's den there, you know, where the Romany live, and I had to assign a woman to run it 'cause my male fighters kept ending up, er, distracted…"
"I'm sure," she says, but her eyes dance with mirth. "Speaking of distractions, it's late and we haven't eaten yet. Will you have anything?"
Usually Yusuf tends to his own needs, but tonight he likes the thought of company. "I will," he says.
As Sofia stands away from her desk she says, almost as an afterthought, "You say you are an assassin and you kill people, and yet you are so happy with your life. You're fighting to keep whatever grief claims Ezio from finding you here as well. Is that it?" She flushes. "Or maybe I've read too many old books."
Yusuf thinks to himself that Ezio has chosen wisely, this last time at least.
The setting sun closes out the third week. Yusuf is still content to stay where he is, though he slips away from the shop for an hour to make sure his recruits are still where they need to be. When he returns Sofia is sitting at her desk, supposedly tending to her finances, but her head is resting on an upturned palm and she looks a million miles away.
"Nasılsın?" he asks. "How are you?"
"Do you suppose he's ok?" she asks in answer. "He's been gone for so long."
Yusuf flashes her an easy smile. "Cappadocia isn't always such a quick trip. Sometimes the ocean has other plans. Don't worry about Ezio. He knows what he's doing."
"But shouldn't you be worried?" Sofia raises an eyebrow. "You're as much a leader of your, ah, Brotherhood as he is, aren't you?"
"Well, more or less…"
"I'm just surprised to see you so lighthearted. After all, a strange Turkish man with wild hair came to my shop last month and told me things could be dangerous."
"Who told you that?" cries Yusuf. "Give me a name. I'll run the adi herif out of town."
"Oh, you are a strange one!"
"Hanımefendi," Yusuf says, "I've got a good blade and my assassins have good bombs. This place is safe. More than any of that, Ezio Auditore has a good head on those shoulders. Though he could use a shave. If he hasn't returned from Cappadocia it's only because he's decided to conquer the whole mountain and rule it as a king."
"I rather like the beard, actually. And really I don't know that you're one to talk."
He staggers back, raising his voice in lament. "Yes, yes, you're right. But what can I do? When I shave the beard everyone starts noticing the nose."
"My recruits tell me it's too large. I think they're secretly Templar spies. One day I'll dump them all in the sea."
"I think your nose is fine," says Sofia, laughing. Yusuf bows deep. "You keep mentioning recruits," she continues. "Does Ezio also lead men?"
"Oh yes. I have my Turkish Brothers, but the Mentor runs the whole thing. He's an inspiring man."
"Amazing...it's like something out of a book of legends. An epic hero's quest."
"Bah." Yusuf gives the nearest book a distrustful glance. "It's more interesting than that," he says. "Ezio is no myth. Although probably people are already writing books about him. All his fiddling with keys and tombs and secret quests."
"And you? What would they say about you if they were to write some grand tale?"
"They'd call me a strange Turk with wild hair and a big nose," Yusuf says, satisfied, "who fought for his beautiful city until he died. Assuming I'm dead when they write it. Lately I've been thinking that I might be immortal."
"Immortal Yusuf? They really would have to write a book about you then. Maybe I'll write it myself."
"Many thanks, my lady. Say, has Ezio ever taught you how to hold a sword? Could come in handy the next time he wanders off to Cappadocia."
"Is this going to be a regular thing? I shall have to give you your own room."
"Save it for Ezio. I'm sure he'll be by more often, eh?"
Sofia offers him the polite smile he knows she only uses out of confusion. "Will he be?" she asks. "Is this something to do with assassin business?"
Yusuf stares at her. Italians! They must all be blind.
When he wakes up the next morning, sprawled on his cushions, Sofia is looking out one of the many little windows, which he really wishes she wouldn't do. The courtyard outside is empty. Yusuf gives it a careful glance before picking his way through the general book-chaos to her side.
"I was thinking perhaps I would stay closed today," she says. "I never do much business on Tuesdays. It would be a good chance for inventory."
Yusuf groans, "They aren't paying me to help you move books. This is all a plot to get me to read one."
"I know you'll find one you love. There are so many…"
"Can people really make a living, printing these things?"
"Oh, yes," Sofia says eagerly, probably delighted that he's keeping the literature discussion going for a change. He wonders if Ezio can keep up with all the book-talk, and grins to picture the Mentor sitting surrounded by dusty scrolls, listening like a child to Sofia's ruminations on theory and trope.
Sofia says, "In the last fifty years it's become so easy to print the written word. People are even saying that in another fifty, there might be enough books for everyone in the world to have a library of their own. Think of how easily knowledge can spread these days. We'll all know about each other, the world is that much smaller now—"
Something comes crashing through the window at the exact moment the front door bursts open, and the other windows are shattering too, from bullets or arrows or bodies, glass and splinters everywhere, the bookstore overtaken by the war. Yusuf has the sense of mind to not mind the distractions; he lunges for Sofia with his sword drawn, pleased in some hectic way that she isn't panicking but moving, moving carefully with her arms drawn to her chest in an attempt at self-defense.
Before he can reach her there's a soldier in his way. A Byzantine soldier, judging by the brown of the quilted, padded jacket. Definitely a Templar. Definitely easy to kill.
Yusuf hacks his way through, thinking furiously, Where are my recruits? The Templars can't have killed them all. These are just foot-soldiers. I could take them all half-asleep! Sofia yells in outrage as one of the Templars makes a grab for her.
"Get to the back room," Yusuf bellows. The screens there have been boarded up but they can still get through pretty quickly, and there's a door to slam between that room and this.
"There's a—Yusuf!" Sofia has armed herself with a heavy tome on world geography: she'd pointed out the maps within last night, and on one had been scribbled, here there be dragons. "Ezio showed me a passageway in the back room once. In the wall. I don't know where it leads, but…"
Yusuf is up to his arms in flailing soldier. His white uniform is drenched in blood, mostly not his, though his hands are cut and his head hurts from a well-aimed blow. With a grunt he smashes the soldier into the nearest bookshelf. The thing rocks and crashes, taking the Templar with it. More soldiers are still pouring in from the broken door. Someone drops a torch and suddenly the piles of books in the corners are raging deathtraps. The doorway to the back room is haloed, beckoning them forward with a wreath of flames.
"Go! Get back there!"
A soldier tries to stab him in the side; he grabs the man's wrist, tilts it back, keeps going even once the bone snaps and the soldier goes limp with pain. Doesn't stop until the man has speared himself through the gut with his own blade, his arm hanging so loose in the socket that the flesh holding it in has begun to tear.
Yusuf wades past the bodies—how many has he killed? A dozen. Two dozen. And though he is drenched red he stays focused. Let him laugh and joke but still he is not fazed by this. Ezio Auditore is not the only one with killer's eyes. And these demons want to bring Yusuf's city low.
The room is hot and filled with screaming. They didn't think it would take so much to kill one man. But where are the other assassins?
"Keep moving," he says, and is finally able to grab Sofia by the arm and pull her forward. "We'll take that passageway, wherever it leads. Don't look at the bodies," and she tears her eyes away from the people she's stepping over and the sticky feel of Yusuf's hands. She's gone very pale; he can feel her trembling. But she lashes out with the book when someone comes near and doesn't flinch when her strike breaks the man's nose.
Yusuf is pleased. "You're good! Here, take a dagger. Works better than a book."
"I don't know how to use it!" But she does take it from him, eyes wide. The room is filling quickly with smoke and he sees her wince away from the destruction of her books. What hasn't burned yet is being trampled on by heavy boots and falling bodies.
"Duck through there. Go!" Yusuf turns at the sound of crashing glass to see more men clambering through one of the windows he'd boarded up. With a little pressed-lipped smirk (oh well! it had almost worked!) he throws daggers until the windows are too clogged with dead men to allow live men through. "Where do they find all these bastards?" he grumbles, holding his sword close. "Ezio, they want you very badly. What the devil have you done now?"
Because there isn't time to waste, with the doorframe to the back room already crumbling into bits of charred wood, with the smoke and noise of the front room making Yusuf's head throb, he turns his back on the remaining enemy to push Sofia through. Not so many men left, now. He can hold them off while she opens the passageway or tears the boards away from the screens. Whatever's easier. Really, he's most disappointed about losing those comfortable cushions, but—
Sofia stops just inside the back room. Her hand clenches the dagger, but her arms hang loose at her sides.
"What?" Yusuf asks, pushing past her with some impatience. "I'm sorry about your store. It's a nice one. But you'll have to mourn it later, once we're…"
The back room is filled with Janissaries, a dozen green-and-gold monsters in facemasks, in steel that could stop even the most powerful gun. The back room is filled with Janissaries, and they've all drawn their swords.
"Your assassins," Sofia whispers. "They aren't coming, are they?" Funny how she doesn't sound overly scared. Funny how calm she's been, this entire time. "The men you had watching this place, there aren't any left…"
What else can Yusuf do but laugh in the face of all his grief?
"Janissaries," he says lightly. "Don't try to fight them, not with that dagger. There aren't enough weak spots in the armor."
"We give in?" she breathes. "We surrender?"
"And have Ezio spit on my corpse? No. Assassins don't surrender." Yusuf holds out his sword. The Janissaries are all still watching him. Perhaps they're laughing beneath their masks.
"Can you…can you kill all of them?"
"Nope." Yusuf glances at her from the corner of his eyes. "Don't bother trying to get through the screens. There'll be more waiting outside. Get through that passageway and follow it wherever it leads."
"I've lost too many recruits today," says Yusuf. "My hands are aching for a little revenge."
Finally, one of the Janissaries speaks. In dark, echoing tones he says, "The girl. We'll have her."
Yusuf grins. "Here there be dragons," he says. And leaps forward, so eager for the kill. So eager for the vengeance. So eager to save his city, beautiful Kostantiniyye shrouded in morning fog.
In the end he doesn't save Sofia. There are too many guards between the secret passageway and her. She fights like a demon, that much he sees, but the Janissaries are the best trained of any troops in all the world. At least they don't hurt her. They drag her kicking and screaming from the room and Yusuf knows she'll be fine. Ezio will be back soon. Ezio will come.
Yusuf leans forward on the bench he's been flung onto, best as he can. There's a sword jutting from his stomach and his left leg is pumping blood in rhythmic waves. He watches the life flow from his wounds in mild interest. Oh, but he's done so well. Oh, but he's done so much. Five dead Janissaries…five! His sword in one man, the face exposed and extraordinary in its ordinary visage. His dagger spearing another below the mask, through the throat. His hookblade is broken off, but the hook is still standing upright in a third man's brains. Yusuf Tazim, son and grandson of assassins, descendant of assassins from a long-gone age, has kept his honor. That much he knows for sure. The Turkish Brotherhood is glad to keep the city whole.
Most of the surviving soldiers are leaving now. They ignore Yusuf, curled up on the bench, and Yusuf is happy to ignore them. His mouth is too filled with blood to suck in air, his lungs burn for want of it, his chest tries to rise and can only rattle. But it doesn't hurt. Not badly. Not now.
If he'd only been a little stronger…but he's lost so many recruits today. It's only right that the master stay with his Brothers 'til the end. Enough for one life, he thinks.
All for his lovely city. Most men become merchants, Sofia had said. Yes, and he could have done the same. Or stayed a n'ere-do-well pick-pocket, content with angering local guards for small change. He could have done that. And Ezio could have stayed in his own lovely city, and kept his surviving family safe. Maybe that's why the Mentor is so obsessed with tracking down old keys. Yusuf's never understood what they really are, but he's been told they show visions of the past somehow. Visions of old lives? Or of ended ones? Ones that no one chose to lead?
There's one Janissary left in the room now, faceless and formless as all the others. He stands over Yusuf with a piece of paper clenched in his gloved fist.
Yusuf looks up and tries to smile. His body shudders with the shock of it.
The Janissary, without a word, reaches down and seizes hold of the hilt protruding from Yusuf's midsection. The assassin gasps and throws his head back in sudden torment. As the sword hilt is jerked, it jerks Yusuf: he moves in spasms, his limbs uncontrolled. The Janissary, quite unconcerned with the pain he's causing, pulls the sword free (it's flecked with entrails. Hah, Yusuf wants to scream, now have fun cleaning all that off!), and spears the little scrap of paper. Yusuf's body slumps forward, ready to follow.
When the Janissary spears him with the blade again he doesn't stick it in as deep. "A message for your Mentor," he says. And then he's gone.
Yusuf leans against the wall. His eyes are heavy…so heavy…his eyelids weighed down…but why sleep now? There is still so much of his city he hasn't seen. Ezio, he says, Ezio, go home one day. Go back and be grateful for it.
Ezio, it's so nice to die in Kostantiniyye.