This is my first work for the Assassin's Creed fandom, written because I just finished AC2 and am waiting for Brotherhood to go on sale (again) before I buy/play. This was also partially inspired by something I've noticed, lurking around here and reading fics: one does not simply recover from a broken limb. It's a process, and often healing isn't smooth or complete. A broken bone could and can still be a crippling injury.
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
- Leonardo da Vinci
A Twist of Fate
Rodrigo Borgia - the Spaniard, the Pope - was on the ground before Ezio, his face bruised, clutching at ribs that were probably broken. "You can't, you can't!" he cried out as Ezio moved away from him. "It's my destiny! Mine! I am the prophet!"
The man was pathetic, Ezio thought as he pressed a hand to the wound on his stomach. (Luckily, the Spaniard's knife had not penetrated deeply, but blood was still seeping through his fingers and he could feel the deep bruising beginning to form around the wound.) "You never were," he replied, shaking his head. As an Assassin, Ezio had found that all men's true colors were revealed as they died, and here he saw Rodrigo Borgia as the scheming yet ultimately pathetic wretch he truly was. He could not help feeling pity for the man who lay powerless at his feet.
"Get it over with, then," Rodrigo said, and Ezio could see the despair in his eyes - having gone so long thinking himself the prophet, thinking that he could and would meet God under Il Vaticano (whatever that meant), the events of the past few hours must have been a harsh wake-up call.
Ezio thought about killing him. For so long - more than a decade, almost half his life, now - he had been a trained killer, chasing down his victims with the merciless intent of a predatory bird. And yet, here he was with his final target, his last killing, and the only feelings he could muster were disgust and pity. "No," Ezio said finally, looking at the Spaniard. "Killing you... won't bring my family back." Killing had never and would never bring his family back; he had known that before. But here... there was no more vengeance to be gained. Simply by being the Prophet - what Rodrigo Borgia could never be - Ezio had enacted a revenge that was more powerful and humiliating than even death. "I'm done," he said, and in him felt the weariness of all those years of hunting, fighting, striving for closure. He knelt. "We are finished now, you and I. Requiescat in Pace."
Rodrigo's small, dark eyes glared back at him with everything hateful. He was such a small-minded man, Ezio thought; it was amazing that his plans could have caused such suffering. Perhaps Ezio should give thanks for the Spaniard's failings - he had been, after all, able to defeat him at nearly every turn. Getting to his feet, the Assassin turned his back to Rodrigo and limped towards the Staff and the Apple, which had been combined and placed in the middle of the pit. Hesitantly, he reached out and touched the artifacts - and a shaft of thin, silver light was emitted immediately. It focused on one of the panels that lined the pit and split up into a strange geometric shape, only brightening as the panel itself disappeared.
Ezio had opened the vault. He stepped forward, hesitant, wounded, as he saw the well-lit passageway before him. Where was the light coming from? Somewhere in the floor? It had no visible source. Ezio took another few steps, until he was halfway in the passageway. His wrists ached for the familiar weight of his bracers and knives, but it was too late to turn back now, he thought.
There was a clunking noise behind him and Ezio turned just in time to see Rodrigo Borgia grasp the Staff and pull it from the ground. The beams of light disappeared and the panel shut. Preoccupied with backing away from the wall and its strange mechanism, Ezio was caught off-balance. The Spaniard's strike caught him in the side of the knee, with all the weight of the Staff and Rodrigo's not-inconsiderable strength behind it. Something cracked. Ezio felt a slow, icy-cold pain begin to spread through his leg as he staggered.
"If I cannot see God, neither will you!" Rodrigo Borgia screamed. The Staff came whistling back for a second strike; as he attempted to sidestep, Ezio fell hard on the ground, sending another jolt of pain - this one white hot - through his damaged knee. He crawled towards the blades that he had so foolishly abandoned on the floor.
With the icy rationality that he had perfected over the years of being an Assassin, Ezio knew that Rodrigo Borgia was using the last of his strength in this fight. But a desperate enemy was a dangerous one, and Ezio had seen enough dying men to know that he could not underestimate the Spaniard, especially being wounded as he was. He scrambled for his sword, only to find it knocked away by the butt of the Staff.
"You are a fool, Ezio Auditore!" Rodrigo Borgia screamed. Even if Ezio had been inclined to reply, his teeth were gritted too tightly together for words to escape his lips as he tried to stave off the pain. The Staff came down hard on the floor near his head. The Spaniard was simultaneously using it both as a weapon and a walking stick, which gave Ezio a minor advantage. He lunged across the floor and grabbed one of his bracers, hidden blade and all.
Rodrigo saw him, but his strike missed Ezio's hand. "The deaths of your father and brothers were a necessity," he said, speaking harshly and through gritted teeth. "But your death - yours will be my pleasure!"
He stabbed down hard with the Staff. Ezio, who had been awaiting this moment, scrambled to his feet, ignoring the searing pain in his left leg. He remembered what his uncle Mario had taught him at the Villa, so long ago, and grabbed the Spaniard's weapon, using Rodrigo's balance against him and twisting it out of his hands. In the same fluid movement, he leaned forward and stabbed Rodrigo Borgia in the throat. The man fell backwards with a choked gurgle; Ezio fell with him, his white Assassin's robes stained by the Spaniard's lifeblood. "Requiescat... in Pace," Ezio spat as the Templar maestro drew his last breaths.
Wiping the blood from his face, Ezio, with his usual coolness, tore several strips of cloth from the dead Spaniard's papal vestments. Rodrigo Borgia would not miss him, and, given the condition of these bloodstained garments, Ezio doubted they would be used for the next Pope. Cloth in hand, he got back to his feet with a muffled curse; using the Staff as a crutch, he hobbled over to his sheathed sword, removing it from its scabbard. The leather scabbard was thick and rigid enough to serve as a splint for his injured leg. Between that and the cloth, he managed to cobble together some sort of bandage, though after he managed to put the Staff back in its slot, he found he needed to walk at an incredibly slow pace to avoid the risk of falling.
The lights came up again, the panel went down, and Ezio staggered towards the entrance. This was probably the worst injury he had suffered during his work, he thought grimly. Bruises faded, cuts healed, and dislocated limbs could be snapped back into place with a single, clean pop. But this pain... Normally, Ezio did not shy from the reality of the situation, but right now, he had no desire to think of the state of his knee.
Or of his future.
It was difficult for Ezio to make his way back to the Sistine Chapel, his body weak and his mind reeling from the vision he had seen in the secret chamber. God? No, what he had seen had not been God - a god, perhaps? His hands were shaking both from pain and the shock of his vision, and, after pocketing the Apple, he took the Staff from its resting place within the pit, using the ancient artifact as a crutch and an aid to help him clamber out of the pit.
As he usually did during jobs, Ezio shut down his mind until it was operating on the barest essentials. It was necessary to get from Point A to Point B - in this case, from the secret chamber back up to the Sistine Chapel, where he would meet up with his uncle - and Ezio would accomplish his task with any means possible. Leaning on the Staff for balance made the wound in Ezio's stomach stretch painfully, but the alternative was moving up the passageway with a pathetic crawl.
Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as he gritted his teeth against the pain, lacking the extra strength even to curse. The uphill slope seemed to stretch out before him for miles, and he shut down all thought processes except the one that kept his feet dragging forward. One step, another step, a third step, on and on to an unreachable infinity.
And then he was suddenly back in the high-ceilinged room, where Mario Auditore was pacing back and forth amidst the scattered, still-unconscious bodies. "Ezio!" his uncle said, turning as he heard the thunk of the staff on the stone floors. Seeing the state of his nephew, Mario's eyes widened. "What... what happened?"
"The Spaniard," Ezio spat, leaning heavily on the Staff. "My leg."
Mario looked him over, his face grim. "Maledizione," he said finally, a mild curse for the gravity of the situation. "We have to get out of here," he said matter-of-factly. Ezio nodded. "It's easiest to go back the way we came - if you can climb it."
Ezio thought about the long way up, and his white-knuckled grip tightened on the Staff. His expression, already grave, grew graver.
"I can assist you," Mario said, and Ezio nodded grimly. The scaffolding on the side of the chapel made a good starting point for a climb, and Ezio dropped the Staff in order to haul himself upwards, using his left leg as little as possible. In that manner, and with a fair amount of help from Mario, Ezio made it to the hallway. He leaned heavily on his uncle. "We should go out the opposite way you came in," Mario said, breathing heavily. "There are horses waiting for us - if you can make it."
Ezio gritted his teeth. "Va bene. I will make it," he said, and Mario gave him an approving look, though his eyes were worried.
"Good. I can go ahead, get rid of the guards."
Frustrated, Ezio took a few hobbling steps forward without Mario's aid, stretching out to support himself on the wall. "I want to help!" he said, frustrated at his sudden uselessness. This was his worst injury so far, but Ezio would be damned if that let him slack off on an assignment. "You will scout ahead, and I will guard your back," he said, knowing full well he was unable to charge into battle at Mario's side. "I have plenty of throwing knives. I can kill them from behind."
Mario gave him an appraising look, then nodded. "Come on, then." He ducked under Ezio's arm to begin propping him up again. "Once we get to the horses, I'll trust you to take care of yourself." Grimly, Ezio nodded. He could make it. He hoped.
The escape from Rome was slow and painful. Mario was able to take down most of the guards, with judicious help from Ezio's throwing knives and the small firearm attached to his wrist. And with Mario's assistance, Ezio was able to clamber over the various guard stations until he reached the horses.
Riding was no easy matter. They galloped out of the Vatican, Ezio gritting his teeth as his knee was jostled painfully with every stride. His greaves were getting uncomfortably tight, meaning that they had either been bent out of shape, or his leg was swelling. Perhaps it was both, Ezio thought to himself, though it was less of a coherent observation and more a cobbled-together fragmentary notion.
Everything was fragmented. Ignoring the pain in his knee, Ezio leaned across the side of his horse to cut down the guards that tried to bar their paths. He managed to hold onto his sword, though with this sort of combat it was always a near miss. He would need to train, he reminded himself, to fight more competently on horseback.
Their pursuit faded out as they approached the river. "We need to hurry," Mario called, though, paradoxically, he had slowed his horse. "They will close the gates of Rome against us soon, especially when they find the Spaniard. You still have the Apple, sì?"
"Then we can dispose of it here. If you throw it into the Tiber, it will be lost for centuries, perhaps forever, safe from the Templars."
Hesitantly, Ezio drew the Apple out of his belt pouch. In the evening light, it glimmered like a mysterious diamond. He turned it over in his hand. This small artifact had caused so much death, and yet it was so beautiful, so tempting. When they had opened it in Leonardo's workshop so long ago, he had gotten a glimpse of the information it contained, and even that had been enough, almost, to blind him.
What if they could harness its power, to use it for good? He had faith that Monterigionni was safe from the Templars. Perhaps, if he let Leonardo have some time with it...
"Nipote!" Mario snapped. "We don't have much time. Cast it away! This is the source of your troubles, you know that. This artifact is the reason your father was killed. If you do not rid yourself of it now, who knows what will happen next?"
Ezio's hand tightened on the artifact. But Mario was right. Perhaps this did contain the secrets to a better world - eternal life, endless wealth, world domination. But he did not want that, any of it. Perhaps he would regret this later, but... Ezio hefted the gold sphere in his hand, lifted his arm, and threw.
The Apple landed in the Tiber with a splash and sank like a stone. Ezio lost sight of it immediately.
"Good," Mario said firmly, wheeling his horse around. They galloped across the bridge, out of Rome, and kept going.
By the time the Assassins reached Monteriggioni, Ezio was half delirious from pain and the early onset of fever. The journey had become a mishmash of jumbled sights and sounds as day faded into evening, and evening into night, all set against the rhythm of his horse's smooth canter. When they had stopped at a way station to switch horses, Ezio thought he might die, but he had managed to get out of the saddle and, later, back into it. Now his knee felt like a block of wood that had been set on fire, and he nearly fell out of the saddle. Mario caught him with a grunt.
"Get me a doctor!" he yelled. "Guards, guards!" It was the dead of night - hours after sunset, hours before sunrise, but torches flared in the gatehouse and soon Mario's mercenaries were pouring out and surrounding Ezio. Half-unconscious, Ezio saw the torches like flickering points of starlight getting closer and closer. He picked out certain words from the babble of voices.
"I don't care if he's sleeping, I need-"
"- the Spaniard - dead."
Ezio felt his support - Mario? was Mario still holding him up? - moving; obligingly, he tried to stagger along.
"- need to get him to the house."
"- stay quiet - don't wake -"
His vision blurring and going black, Ezio found himself swept up in a whirlwind of voices and hands - lifting him up, jostling his leg (a warm, wet stab of pain), moving him here and there, cursing and stumbling.
He opened his eyes as he was laid down on a bed - not his bed, which was upstairs; this was in a smaller room, probably belonging to one of the mercenary captains. His eyes darted around automatically- two exits, door and window; raftered ceiling; two torches; full of people. If he could get through the crowd it would be an easy escape route.
"Ezio. Ezio," Mario was saying, and grasped him by the shoulder. Ezio's eyes snapped to his face. "You're safe now." Mario was an Assassin too; he could probably see Ezio's panic, helpless in this strange room, in his eyes.
Ezio took a breath. "Monterrigioni?" he asked, his voice a croak.
"Sì," Mario said, placing the back of his hand on Ezio's forehead. "Home. The doctor is coming to see you now. We'll need your armor off."
Ezio fumbled at the clasps of his armor, his hands automatically completing actions he had done in the dark, half-dead from exhaustion, many times before.
"That's good," Mario said, his normally rough voice soft, as he helped ease off Ezio's armor, placing it on the floor beside him. He took care of Ezio's greaves himself, then removed Ezio's boots. Ezio gasped as his knee was jolted, his vision swimming.
A guard appeared at Mario's elbow, holding a wineskin, which Mario took. "Here, sit up a little," he said, and slid his arm under Ezio's shoulders, lifting him up on the bed. He held the wineskin to his lips and Ezio drank greedily, liquid spilling out of the corners of his mouth. Mario wiped up after him. "Don't make a mess," he told Ezio, who was past the point of listening, really. When the wineskin was finished, Mario handed it back to the guard and let Ezio lie back down.
With the wine weighing down his stomach and the alcohol alleviating some of the pain, Ezio felt himself slip into a drowsy stupor. His eyes shut and his head lolled to the side.
"Oh, dottore!" Ezio felt more than saw Mario move away from the bedside. "It's about time! He is right here. Does he need to be awake?"
The voices were a pleasant fog in Ezio's brain - he listened, but did not comprehend. "No, no," the other man said. An unfamiliar voice. "It would probably be best if..."
In spite of his best efforts, Ezio felt himself finally slipping down into unconsciousness. The world went silent and mercifully black.
To be continued.