Altaïr decided he had changed his mind. Though Acre was larger, there was little else that had changed from the last he'd been there. The vendors still peddled ever-inflated goods, the beggars still grabbed at him with desperate pleas, and the whole place still smelt of fish and feces. Yanking his robe from a wretch's grip, he threw a gold piece at her feet and walked quickly before the others could make their own desperation known. His own exile ages ago had given him a bit more understanding of the lower dredges of society, but he had at least kept his dignity and worked for his food, no matter the job.
He followed Ezio and Sofia to the docks of the wealthy, where he argued with a stable-hand on the nag's price.
"I'm sorry, sir, but this'un's only good for pettin' and meat. I'll take her off yer hands, but I can't give ya nothin' for 'er."
"Surely there is something you would trade for her, if only a meager bit." Altaïr growled, daring the youth to argue. The boy swallowed visibly, but nodded slightly.
"Perhaps a bit of bread and dried meat then, 'nd maybe some advice."
Altaïr narrowed his eyes, but knew this was the best deal he was going to get.
"Alright then, take the old thing away, and return with the morsels. I shall wait here." The boy nodded, and hurried off to bed the nag in the stable. The Grandmaster had sold off the saddle and reins earlier for a fair price, and had kept the lead rope to control the horse.
Ezio looked to the waiting assassin, and smiled.
"Poor thing may end up feeding a family, at least for a bit, so there's that to keep you satisfied, correct?" Altaïr looked sideways at the man.
"What uses she now fulfills is beyond my care. But I suppose for a bit of meat and bread, she'd at least do something helpful. Although I am now questioning how relevant this 'advice' the lad promised is going to prove..."
"Ah, is that was he offered? I didn't quite understand what was going on there, but it seems you aren't too happy with the outcome." Altaïr raised an eyebrow.
"It seems I over-paid for the thing. Enlighten me as to why you let me." Ezio shrugged.
"I was a eager to get away from that stench as anyone sane, and it doesn't seem to me you lack funds." He gestured with his chin to the satchel at Altaïr's waist, still full of ancient gold. Altaïr frowned.
"Just because I carry wealth does not entitle me to spend it recklessly. The rich remain rich by holding onto their gold, not throwing it away carelessly." Ezio blinked, and nodded.
"Makes sense, but of course a little generosity never hurts." Ezio himself had been scattering coins among the beggars like bread, to Altaïr's disapproval.
"For those who are crippled, or sick, yes. These people though," He gestured behind him at the souls on the street. "They refuse to earn their own way. They will take what you give them, and spend it on liquor, or whores, and return having wasted it away, to beg for more."
Even as he spoke, a larger male stumbled from his place along the alley to a near-by supplier, then stumble out not a minute later with a bottle held in a grubby hand, to return to his place and drink heavily. Ezio frowned, having given the drunkard that gold himself. Altaïr shook his head.
"If you wish to help people, those who deserve it, direct your generosity to the places that will provide for them. The churches and such are usually honest in their endeavor to help those who accept it, if only for the enlarging of their masses." Ezio nodded thoughtfully, and Altaïr looked up as the boy returned, a small parcel wrapped in canvas in his hands.
The stable-hand gave the package to Altaïr with a nod, and looked at him, trying to see the eyes under the cowl.
"My advice, if you'll have it, is this. 'The sands grow restless, with change and with fear. A long sleeping eagle has awoken, and leaves his nest once again. Be wary of the white-clad master, for the Apple no longer rests.'"
Altaïr blinked, but said nothing.
"My Grandfather told me that not a day ago. He's a strange'un, and has these visions and fits. Dunno if it means anything, but all else I gots advice-wise is 'bout horses and cleanin' 'em. Except, one more bit, on the 'ouse. You might wanna get a new teacher, the one yous gots now is teachin' ya a weird tounge."
Altaïr grimaced at this, but sent the boy away with a wave, and stood to look out at the sea. It seemed once again he was part of something larger than himself, but what, he didn't know.
Ezio came to stand beside the Grandmaster, and sighed.
"It'll be good to finally be home. I've been gone a sight too long, and this sand of yours is a hassle to remove from even the most private places." Altaïr smirked, but said nothing. Ezio smiled, obviously proud of himself.
"Was the advice any good?" He asked, and Altaïr's smirk turned a sight more predatory.
"Not so much, but I am anticipating an excited time in Italia,to say the least."
"Remind me," Ezio groaned as the ground seemed to heave. "to never sail again." The Italian turned his gaze skyward as though begging some higher being for relief, then moaned and held his belly, doubling over and retching. Altaïr looked away, disgusted, and thanked years of training and learning, as well as whatever gift bestowed upon him, that prevented the sea-sickness that troubled the other Assassin. Sofia had already made her own way to the inn's room she had rented, but had banned Ezio from it until he had composed himself accordingly. Altaïr had been 'volunteered' to keep the sick man... company.
"You know, those clams and scallops you devoured so enthusiastically probably did nothing to help your condition." The Grandmaster offered helpfully, earning another groan from the Italian as he remembered the off-color 'seafood'.
"You are a true master, to achieve torture such as this with but a few words." Ezio rasped, breathing heavily, but had apparently emptied his stomach of whatever offended him so. Already the color was beginning to flush in his cheeks. Altaïr shrugged.
"I did warn you against anything caught in a port such as Acre. Hundreds of years have not changed the putrid water those creatures called home." Ezio coughed and gagged a bit, then spit into once-clean kettle, then set it aside. It would be... disposed of, (for a fee) later, and he didn't fancy smelling what had once been food. Altaïr looked on, still revolted, but said nothing, instead standing to retire to his own room. He stopped, however, at a light touch on his leg. He looked down at the recovering Italian.
"Altaïr, I must ask you, what is your plan?" The seemingly-younger Assassin raised an eyebrow. "After you have seen what you desire of the Brotherhood, and done what you deem necessary with us, where will you go, to wait out eternity?"
Altaïr frowned, then leveled a steady gaze on the other.
"I suppose I will stay and teach, and learn... and wait to see if my fate is shared by another."
Ezio contemplated his words for a moment, and Altaïr could see exactly when his words had registered. The Italian stood quickly, hastily reaching to grab the Syrian's arm.
"Do you mean..." He trailed off, unsure of how to phrase his question. Altaïr spared him.
"The apple did not clarify, but from what I understand, all Apples of Eden have the ability to choose a master, and retain them as long as they see fit. I do not know if the Piece you left would follow that standard, or if it ever accepted you as its Master. For your sake I hope it did not, but it seems I have the time to wait and see for myself, if you'll allow me."
Ezio released Altaïr's arm and sat down quickly, the aged chair he had been occupying groaning a protest of the sudden burden. The Italian ran a hand through his greying hair, then looked at it.
"But, I've aged, I – I've gotten old and will die eventually. How -" Altaïr shook his head.
"I did as well, as you know. I died, and you said yourself time had claimed my body. If I interpreted the Apple's explanation correctly, you will live and die as a mortal, but will 'wake' if disturbed. I assume you would also revert to a" He looked down at himself, and at his non-wrinkled fingers. "Younger stage of life, as I have, but I am unsure."
Ezio looked at his own wrinkling skin, and drew in a shaky breath.
"But, you don't know if it will even happen. If the Apple choose me or not." Altaïr shook his head.
"I do not. Though I must be honest, it does seem more likely than not. However, if you wish it you could be sealed away at death, your tomb unmolested and untouched, with would allow you your rest, hopefully."
Ezio shook his head.
"No, there is no surety in that, even the most secure doors can be opened." He shot a meaningful glance at the Grandmaster, and continued. "If I am to return, I do not want to have to adjust to an entirely new age. I do not react well to change." He said with a half-grin. "Besides, at least there would be someone to talk to, right?"
Altaïr looked down at the Italian, and quirked his own little grin at the man.
"If that does happen, I believe I would be glad for the company."
Though it seemed unlikely at first, a week and a half aboard a small ship had more-or-less forced the two men into camaraderie. Sofia had remained mostly aloof, still unsure of her take of the ancient. Neither Ezio or Altaïr had yet to enlighten her to the elder's state, and it was apparent she had long since dismissed the original story of a lost excavator. She had remained in her cabin for the majority of the trip, leaving Ezio to all but beg the Grandmaster for the spare bunk in his own room.
Altaïr himself had spent most of the trip between cabins, re-learning the changes of the Italian language from Ezio (though as a language teacher his skill was questionable), and discussing history and literature with Sofia in an attempt to both bring his knowledge up to speed, and perhaps shed some of the distrust between them. Sofia had eventually warmed enough to discuss a bit of philosophy with the ancient, but still let him know of her caution, though less obviously as time progressed.
Both Ezio and Altaïr had spent the majority of the time outside of the Syrian's 'lessons' swapping... war stories. Neither brought any 'heavy' material into their tales, instead telling of botched missions, embarrassing mistakes, and old friends getting into trouble. Altaïr admitted freely to wishing to meet this Da Vinci Ezio spoke so highly of, but was disappointed to hear the inventor had passed a few years before. Altaïr's own friends and companions were long-since gone, but telling stories of his and Malik's first attempt at a Leap of Faith (involving a coin toss, lots of pushing, and something about duck feet and pinecones), as well as the little 'discussions' the two had had when confronted with awkward situations, which were solved in a similar way as the question to who would leap first.
Ezio laughed and shared his own stories, which were actually quite similar to the Grandmaster's own, but with a few tales of his more-innocent childhood thrown in. Both men found it beneficial to reminisce of lost friends and family, and Altaïr was eager to meet some of the others Ezio spoke so highly of.
But now, as they sat in the deserted hall of a dirty inn, it seemed late to share fond memories and glad times. Altaïr put a hand on the Mentore's shoulder in farewell, and retired to his room. Ezio sighed as the door shut, and looked around him. The darkness in the place seemed less inviting then it had earlier in life, when he had struck and hid in the shadows like they were his. A new age was approaching it seemed, and if fate wished it, it appeared as though time would drag him along with it.
"Ah well." He said quietly to himself. "There is no use worrying now. Let us see where this road leads."
And with that, he went to rinse out his mouth, and ask Sofia to be let back in.
Altaïr sat by his friend on a stone bench, watching as the withered man looked at his hands. The Grandmaster had long ago stored away the robe and cloak of his station in exchange for a more traditional garb of a regular Assassin. The cowl was pulled up, and no one noticed the man beneath as a relic of history.
"It seems, old friend, that my time is coming, if not later than expected." Ezio said quietly, voice shaking a bit with age. Altaïr smirked.
"Death hasn't wanted to bother with you, it seems. Enough trouble has followed you through the ages that even the afterlife is dreading your company."
Both men laughed, but the aged man coughed a bit before taking a deep breath. Altaïr turned his head to his friend, eyes serious.
"Ezio, do you fear it?" The old man shook his head.
"No, I don't think I do. The uncertainty is something I'm used to, although I will admit that if I do not return I may possibly miss your sense of … humor, though many may call me crazy to do so."
Both laughed again, quieter this time.
"Again I ask, are you sure -" Ezio cut off the Syrian with a hand and a roll of the eyes.
" Altaïr, you ask again and again, and my answer remains. If I am to wake once more, then I wish to wait until those I love have passed, but not a minute more. I do not think I could restrain myself from approaching them, but nor do I wish to remain a relic until ages have passed and the world I know is gone." He looked at the Syrian, breathing short and fast at the effort of his speech, but smiled again.
"Besides, any longer, and you'd get bored, which is never a good thing."
Altaïr returned the smile, but if fell as his friend closed his eyes and let his head fall back.
"It has been a good life though, regardless of the outcome. Now, let's see what comes next." Ezio whispered, then exhaled one last time.
Altaïr closed his own eyes and bowed his head to the deceased man, then stood and ghosted away, standing in the shadows as he watched the man's family gather about him and mourn.
He turned and left through a side-street. He would be back, but first, he had some things to do while he waited.
(60 years later, year 1584)
It seemed time had been kind to his friend's remains, or perhaps they were just taken more care of then when his own body had been left open and vulnerable to time. Either way however, aged corpses were never pleasant. Altaïr covered his mouth with a thick cloth as he removed the tomb's lid and looked down at the body within. Covered in linens and wrapped tightly, only the smell escaped, but it was strong.
"My friend, if you could have but made this smell in life, no foe would stand a chance." He said with a rather morbid humor. He shook out another cloth from his pocket, and looked at it.
"...I have no idea how to do this." He told the cloth, which remained silent. Though he and Ezio had discussed the time and place of the youngster's possible revival, Altaïr now realized he had no idea how the Italian had 'awoken' him in the Library years ago. Arabic curses hissed through the crypt as Altaïr paced, shaking the second cloth frustratedly and breathing heavily through the second.
"How does one go about waking the dead?" He asked the cloth again, then frowned. "It seems my time alone was not as sanity-preserving as I had hoped. Shame." He pocketed the cloth and continued pacing. He stopped next to the tomb once, to take his staff and prod at the body, for any sign of life, but nothing happened. A few more curses followed, and the pacing resumed.
"Always was a no-good, lazy creature. Sleeping past dawn and lazing about doing nothing save eat and talk. Why would I expect you to wake up from a deep a sleep as this? Stupid, old, decrepit, lazy, glutenous-"
"Hey, I resent that. I eat like a normal person, unlike someone, who pecks at his food like a sparrow."
Altaïr paused and looked up. There was no one there, and the body was still unmoving. Blinking, he took out the cloth and looked at it questioningly.
"Gah, can't see a thing, stupid rags, whoever did these feared my return, I suspect."
Altaïr took a deep breath and re-pocketed the cloth, silently thanking whoever cared to listen that the man in said rags was unable to see him and his original suspect.
"Well," He said as he moved to the tomb. "Perhaps if you had refrained from so much wine, you'd be able to get out yourself." He leaned over it and pulled a knife from his sleeve, sliding it lightly across the linens, cutting them precisely.
"I owned a vineyard, I believe I was entitled to my share of the produce." Ezio's voice said as a decidedly younger hand then had once belonged to said voice pushed away the rags. Altaïr leaned over and grasped the hand and pulled, helping the man within to a standing position and letting the rags around him fall.
It seemed the Apple had restored this master much like Altaïr's had him. Ezio couldn't have been more than twenty-five, and Altaïr unsuccessfully tried to cover a laugh at the little tail of hair the Piece had seen fit to restore. Ezio glared happily at the elder of the two, and stepped out of his grave.
He looked down at the pile of cut linens.
"And what will people think when they come upon this then? The dead are rising and walk again?" Both laughed, echoing loudly in the crypt.
"My friend," Altaïr said, putting a hand on Ezio's shoulder. "For better or worse, they are."
Ezio returned the motion, and nodded, grinning.
"Well then, it looks like we have some time to kill."
(2 years later, year 1586)
Ezio quirked an eyebrow as he looked at the modest house. The only dwelling within five miles in any direction, it was well-built, well-kept, and obviously occupied, if not at the moment. The rolling French countryside around if was dotted with purple as the summer flora awoke, and the trees around danced in a warm breeze. The house itself was a quaint thing, two stories and boxy, with fine windows and a lovely door, not to extravagant, but elegant in its simplicity. It was built with river-stone and a dark wood, which looked as though it'd withstand time itself. A large garden lay sprawling behind it, with a barn, stable, and paddock in the distance. The echoes of cows, chickens, and horses sounded faintly over the hills, and the Italian followed the Syrian's lead towards the farm.
"I see you've kept busy. What happened to spending lightly?" He said with a grin, his own mare walking steadily beside Altaïr's own stallion. The Grandmaster shrugged.
"This was nothing much wealth-wise – What I've amassed through the years will more than fund our needs for decades to come, if not more. Besides, owning this much land prevents unwanted guests, wouldn't you say?" He gestured around the valley in a grand style, smirk ever-present. Ezio blinked.
"Five miles in any direction, it is mine. Perhaps I'll sell an acre or two to a poor Italian, if he asks nicely."
Ezio rolled his eyes, and dismounted, leading the mare to the stables as Altaïr did the same and followed.
"It seems," Ezio said as he removed the tack and began brushing down the horse. "That there is quite a bit of work here for just one person. Do you spend all your time gardening and mucking stables?" He asked, humor barely suppressed. Altaïr was unimpressed.
"I have had much time to myself, and having things to do makes eternity pass by a sight quicker than merely waiting and doing nothing. As it was, I usually a few hirelings here to care for most of it, they stay in the house a bit to the west, but with you here now I guess they'll have to find new work, won't they."
Ezio's eyes widened, and he shook his head hurriedly.
"No need to displace honest workers from a job now, is there? Besides, I'm sure there are more... important duties to be attended to, is there not?" He asked hastily, and Altaïr laughed softly.
"It seems your distaste for hard labor is still intact. Come, we'll get something to eat and discuss the activities you missed. Our enemies and those who ally themselves with them have been busy, and your old Brotherhood is changing, though I fear, not for the better." And with that, the Grandmaster calmly unlocked the door, and stepped inside his house, Ezio not far behind.
"So they're at it again." Ezio said calmly, and Altaïr nodded.
"It seems they never cease, though I am unsure of what happened with them during my own... absence. There will always be a waxing and waning of peace and chaos, and it seems the Templars are on the move once again, but it is the West that draws their eye this time. Something is stirring in the frozen countries of the North, and the highlanders there gather, but do not fight as often as they once did. There is talk of a great power uniting them, and though I welcome the peace, I do not trust its source."
"Out of the frying pan, yes? You think death would be the end but yet, here we are, fighting the same fight and the same foe."
Altaïr sighed and looked down at his hands, folded on the table the two were sitting at.
"Would you rather sit and watch? Would you be able to? The Brotherhood you built has crumbled under the oaf who replaced the leader you placed, and despite my efforts, nothing will change until he is … removed from that role. There are multiple individuals who would better serve as Mentor."
Ezio looked at the Grandmaster, eyes wide.
"Altaïr, are you suggesting..."
"I have spent years as a member of your order, rising quietly through the ranks in an effort to change the mess he's made, but unfortunately had to leave before those around me noticed, well, me. Even then, the four years I spent as Grioriani's adviser were wasted on deaf ears and a stubborn head. Nothing can be done to sway his beliefs, and those are unfit for leading the order."
"Maybe, but what right do we have to take the Brotherhood's fate back into our own hands? We lived and died, and did what we could then. But we are relics – can we really kill this man because he's not us?"
Altaïr rubbed his forehead, sighing.
"It has to be done if our Order is to survive. There have been others like this man, and I have dealt with them. This is just another mortal over his head, refusing to admit it."
Ezio swallowed and blinked, then stood and started pacing. The night outside the house had come quickly, bringing a frost and frozen chill with it. The fire built to fend off the cold crackled and popped, dancing in the grate. Ezio paced in front of it, the light cast by the fire casting a long and dark shadow that followed the Italian. Altaïr watched him, making no movements other than the flickering of his eyes back and forth to follow the pacing.
"Do you really think this is the only way?" Ezio asked, pausing in front of the grate, back to Altaïr, who nodded.
"I know it to be so. Or else I would not consider it."
"Then it seems we are going to... where has the order moved to again?"
Altaïr finally stood, and joined Ezio by the fire.
"Roanoke Island, in the New World."
Ezio blinked again.
"Why there? The Order has always stayed with the center of the modern world, has it not?"
"Indeed. This is but the first of many changes Griorani has made to the Order, and one of the least offensive. But for now, we must rest. The horses need it as well – we will leave at dawn."
Altaïr smirked, and Ezio felt a shiver run down his spine.
"Yes. It's time we had a talk with these Croatoans."