Chapter 1: Eyas
February 1797, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America
Baltimore in the winter could be terribly cold. It was especially cold that winter as Micheal rode his horse into the city, every breath smoke that managed to make it past his muffler. He was dressed in a smart coat and hood of the Order that protected him from the fat white flakes that drifted down to the ground in slow arching spirals from the slate colored sky, His cheeks were red from the cold but he was in high spirits despite the chill as his horse, a fine roan mare named Shear, clopped down the road, tail swishing and turning over the light cover of snow.
He wound his way through the familiar streets of Baltimore, soaking in the sights and sounds of the city, which wasn’t even halted even though it was cold and snowing and people and horses and wagons and carts were moving here and there in the normal passage of city life, going this way and that, boys running all over or yelling at passersby to buy the daily paper. Micheal just passed them by as he headed towards one of the wealthy neighborhoods in the city. Though really wealthy was a more relative term here in the States. After the Revolution most people were poor, even the nation was poor. But it was worth the slow travel and pain that accompanied their freedom from the British Empire to become a new nation all in their own rights, one younger than Micheal was old.
He slid off Shear when he reached his destination, a building with a red door set into a black frame. The shutters on the first floor were closed tightly, but those on the second were arranged open or closed at their leisure. At the top third and top story there were no shutters to even close, but curtains, and only because he knew who lived here did he know that the windows on the top floor opened from the top, the bottoms bolted into the frame.
Micheal led Shear to a small common stable a few yards from the door. It was warm within and smelled of hay and horses. He saw her to an empty stall and removed her tack and rubbed her down before leaving her to rest. They’d had a long journey and she deserved a vacation as much as he did.
The red door was unlocked and he pushed it open. The bottom floor was empty, the doors all taken off of their frames, and the place spotless of even a gathering of dust. Micheal flooded up the stairs to the second floor, from which he could hear the sound of inhabitants moving around their homes. He ignored this floor too in favor for the third, taking the stairs three at a time. Here the walls were painted the color of paper and the carpets on the floor were the color of blood over darkly stained hardwood. It was at once familiar and Micheal smiled.
The den leader’s office door was ajar and he bounded over to it excitedly and he rapped his knuckles quickly on the dark door. “I’m busy, go away,” the den leader called from inside.
“You won’t make an exception for me?” he called back, a mischievous grin stretched across his lips.
Seconds later the door was wrenched open. “Micheal!” the den leader cried and wrapped him a delighted hug. “Oh, my boy, this is the most wonderful surprise this old woman has had in a long while,” Sarah Hart, his mother, said cheerfully.
Micheal laughed and held his mother at arm’s length. Her brown hair was more grey then it had been since the last he saw her but she was still as radiant and healthy as ever. “You’re hardly old, mama,” and he kissed her cheek. She beamed at him and gently stroked his own brown hair, much darker than her own. She said he had his father’s hair, the man he’d never met. He pushed the thought from his mind. He chose not to think of the dead. Especially over a dead man he’d never met.
“Oh my sweet boy, you flatter me,” she cooed and gave his reddened nose a playful tug, Micheal smiled at her. “Come in,” and she beckoned him within her office. His mother had been the den leader in Baltimore since he could remember, he’d grown up in this city, only leaving for the Point when he was twelve for training with a few other boys from Baltimore who’s parents were of the Order. “Now let me get a good look at you lad,” she tutted a bit and he pushed down his hood and pulled off his muffler so she could properly see his face. She smiled, almost sadly, at him, “Handsome as ever, when are you going to bring a lovely lady for me to meet eh?”
“Mama,” he groaned, sagging a little. She just laughed. “I am busy,” he sighed.
“Yes, yes. Sit,” she ordered, and never one to disobey his mother, or a den leader (heaven forbid both) he sat on one of the chairs opposite her desk. She hummed and walked past him, running a hand through his messy dark hair as she did and went into the adjoining room which was also her home, his old one. She came back a moment later with a bowl of warm stew and gave it to him. He chuckled, his mother did love to spoil. “Now,” she sat on her desk before him, sprite as one of his sisters back at the Point, “what brings you home?”
He answered once he swallowed, “I was heading back to the Point from Jamestown,” he said and spooned another bite of warm soup into his mouth. “I decided to visit.”
“What were you doing in Jamestown?”
He frowned a little but reached into a pouch and pulled out a feather. It was an old practice within the Order that had recently come back into practice. Apparently an old book from the days of the Crusades had made it into the hands of the Mentor in America, for now proof of the kill was required. Such things had not been done for centuries, but most found it nice to return to the old ways. Micheal had no opinion on it, but it meant that most assassinations could now no longer be done simply from a distance, they had to be conducted on a more… personal basis, much like they had been done back then. His feather was bloodied.
“Ah,” of course his mother understood and he put it away. “But why you? Aren’t there Assassins in the South who could have handled it?”
He shrugged, “I don’t ask. I just do,” he said, Sarah smiled thinly.
“Always ask questions Micheal,” she told him.
“Does it matter?”
Her smile turned mysterious, “Sometimes. There are great many mysteries in this world.”
“Listen to your mother and eat your soup,” she said sternly. He pouted but ate his soup. “As Assassins we must always question what we see, what we know, for all that we can trust are our eyes. That is the meaning of our Creed.”
“I know,” he grumbled.
“So then you know the words? Or do you know the meaning?”
He sighed, this topic was not unknown to Micheal. His mother was a bit obsessive. The Creed said that nothing was true, and everything was permitted, she was fascinated by those two lines. He didn’t understand why, but that was his mother and he wouldn’t question her. “Both, you’ve told me often,” he said.
“Good,” she said sitting up a bit straiter. “So you’re here now to eat my food and keep me company, a fair trade,” and she smiled, he rolled his eyes a little but smiled back. He did love his mother, but she could be a bit strange.
Perhaps it was a bit degrading. He was a deadly warrior, and he was sent to buy groceries. He didn’t know why he was surprised though, he knew he’d get made to do such things if he visited his mother, he knew that, and what better use of a young man than to send him out into the cold and go your shopping? Micheal was both amused and unamused at the same time.
He was going through one of the markets when he felt it first. He looked behind him, scanning the lightly populated crowd, but saw nothing. That didn’t mean that his senses were wrong though, in fact, it made him feel double sure that someone was indeed there, watching him. He turned back around and continued on his way, looking for the butcher shop he was sure was on this street. The hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood strait on end and he whipped his head around, looking quickly. Nothing. A creeping sense in his gut told him that whoever was following him was very good at it, and at being unseen. He went to the worst conclusion first: Templar.
They wouldn’t act here though. It was an open street. Too many people to witness and fight and death. If there was one thing that was similar between the Templars and Assassins it was their shadow tactics, their want to hunt in the dark and sneak about unseen. He blinked hard and after several seconds he could finally bring to bear a strange second sight. It had not come so naturally and always took a moment to bring to bear. His mother had taught him of it, she said his father had been able to do it, but he was not good at it and the gray and wavy colors always gave him a headache.
He scanned the ground around him, it was washed in gray, and no spark of red in sight. His brow furrowed.
“You know its best not to act like a fool where everyone can see,” a voice said from behind him. He started, and spun, the colors swarming back into his vision so rapidly he had to blink several times as if to clear his eyes from looking at the sun. There, standing before him, was one of his brothers, though he did not recognize the man.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“You’re very obvious boy,” he said though couldn’t be more than a few years older than him, which pissed him off. The other man had dark dark brown hair and amazingly sharp, vacant eyes. Micheal knew he was looking at someone far above his ranking status even though he wore just the simple signs of a regular Assassin. It was the way his body commanded the space, yet was easily overlooked, if this was the man who’d been following Micheal no wonder he’d looked right past him. “Don’t you know your tenets?” and Micheal flushed deeply.
“You were following me,” he accused.
“Not exactly hard,” said the other man with a smile, one that looked as though he hadn’t done so in a long while. “Come,” he beckoned, “I know you’re here on Sarah’s orders.”
“How do you know her name?” he asked, even as he followed, unable to not, something compelled him. It was not common for Assassins to know the names of their den leaders, it made things safer for the leaders who, while not defenseless, were not as capable as a full brother or sister.
“I knew her when she was young,” he said.
He scowled, “Then you would have been barely a boy,” he pointed out, keeping stride with the man.
“That I was,” he agreed, “She is still a beauty she was in her youth,” he said wistfully.
His hackles went up, that was his mother this stranger was talking of. “She is,” he agreed tightly.
“Go do your shopping, boy,” the stranger said as they stood in front of a door and Micheal looked, they were before the butcher. “After, I wish to talk.”
Micheal eyed him, but saw no reason why he shouldn’t do as asked, he nodded and went inside, buying a few sausage links and pork chops from the rotund man. The stranger was waiting for him outside, leaning against the side of the wall as though the cold or snow on the ground did not bother him. “Who are you?” he asked.
The man ignored the question, “How went your assignment in Jamestown?”
He blinked, how did this man know? Why would, someone who was obviously a Master, interested in his mission? Then a spark went off. What if he wanted to know to gauge his training? He could be one of those men from the main branch of the Order in Europe, who even the Mentor here in America abided by. If so he had no accent, but that didn’t mean much as Micheal could speak fluent French without an accent as well as English in both a British and Baltimore accent. “It was a success,” he said and quickly walked after the Master who’d taken an interest in him.
“That is good to hear,” and he sounded… proud? Odd. “Did you see anything interesting there?” he asked.
“Interesting?” Micheal echoed, not understanding.
“No,” he shook his head.
“Hmm,” the man said and for a blind second he feared he’d done something wrong. “Well, I suppose that is a good thing,” the man sent him a smile again, this time it looked less unused, maybe like he’d been practicing while he’d been in the butcher, though it was a silly thought. “What made you stop in Baltimore?”
“My mother,” he said, “I haven’t seen her in almost a year.”
“Yes, you were in New York for that time weren’t you?”
He didn’t ask how he knew, “Yes.”
“Its good to see you care so deeply for her,” again there was that strange proud note.
“She’s all I have,” Micheal confessed. “My father died before I was born.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
“I never met him, I don’t really feel sad.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” he agreed.
“Though my mother says I look like him, so I guess if I ever wanted to see him I’d just have to look in a mirror,” he grinned broadly. The other man looked at him, an approving smile on his lips. “She even named me after him.”
“Ha, such is a woman’s heart,” he said with a breathy laugh.
The walk back to the den was surprisingly enjoyable. The man, who’s name Micheal still didn’t know, asked him many questions, about everything. His training, his life in the Point and Baltimore and his missions since he’d been made a full brother almost a year prior. He was one of the youngest men to have been made a full Assassin in years, he was very good at what he did, but he knew he had a lot to learn, especially after talking with the man. Just being near him made him feel inferior and there was no doubt in his mind that this man was a Master. The man also asked after his friends, his mother, and (embarrassingly enough) if he fancied any girls, to which he told him exactly what he told his mother, that he was too busy for girls. The man had found that amazingly funny but had prodded no further on the subject.
They arrived back at the den before Micheal knew it, in which time he’d done most of the talking, but he didn’t feel rude in doing so as the man had prompted him into speaking the entire way. “I have to go give these to my mother,” he said motioning to the groceries he had.
“Go, I shall be here,” said the man.
“Don’t you want to come inside? It’s rather cold out?”
He smiled slightly, “No,” he shook his head. “Its best if I not. Now go,” he motioned and Micheal scampered up the stairs into the den, banging the toes of his boots on the mat just inside to rid them of snow and practically ran up the stairs. He didn’t quite know what gave him such speed or urgency, but excitement flooded through his entire body.
“There you are,” Sarah said when he arrived.
“Here you go mama,” he said breathlessly and put the groceries on the desk before turning to leave.
“Micheal,” she called when he was half way out the door and he checked his momentum to turn around. “What’s the rush?” she asked with a teasing smile.
“I met a Master in the market,” he said quickly, “We’ve been talking and he’s waiting for me downstairs.”
“Really?” she asked surprised and curious, “What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, I kept forgetting to ask. But I don’t want to keep him waiting, I’ll tell you later,” and he left before she could call after him.
When he got outside the street was empty. Micheal frowned deeply. Where had they gone? He scanned around, including looking up, but the street was very much empty. He’d barely been five minutes, where was he?
He turned when he heard the sound of horse hooves. There was the man, leading his horse out of the stables. Micheal went to join him quickly. “You’re going for a ride? In this weather?” he motioned around them, while it was not snowing, it was still cold.
“Yes,” he said in an amused tone.
Micheal was silent for a few seconds, “I will join you if you don’t mind,” he said.
The man just shook his head, “No,” he said. “My time here is done, it was good to finally meet you my boy,” he seemed sad but Micheal didn’t know why.
“Oh,” Micheal said with a frown.
“Give this to your mother,” and he held out a leather bound journal.
“Huh? Why?” he asked even as he took it.
“Just do it,” he took a deep breath, “I knew your father too, it was his. He left it in Philadelphia a long time ago. I’ve been keeping ahold of it till I could give it to her.”
“Oh,” he was still confused. “Will I see you again?”
The man mounted his horse, a stallion with bright black eyes, “I don’t know, will you be able to?” he asked in a tease and Micheal flushed.
“I will,” he said firmly.
“Then that’s all the answer you need,” and he pulled his horse’s head in a direction.
“Wait,” Micheal called and the man turned, but didn’t stop his horse. “You never told me your name.”
The man smiled brittlely, “They call me Hawk,” he said and turned back around, giving his horse a tap on the flanks to put him into a canter. Micheal stood watching him, journal in hand. A strange emptiness filled him, as if he’d just lost something precious and important, though he didn’t know why.
Once Hawk was gone he went back inside and up to his mother’s office. “Well, that was quick,” she said, the groceries were gone and she was sitting at her desk going over some papers.
“He left,” Micheal said with a frown.
“Ah,” she nodded.
“He said to give you this,” he held out the journal, she furrowed his brows at it. “He said it was from my father,” he eyes widened and she snatched the journal from him so quickly it startled.
Sarah sat back and opened the journal, “Oh Micheal,” she said softly and Micheal knew she didn’t mean him, but the father he’d never met, and the only man she’d ever loved. She’d never remarried, and had kept her married name, instead of taking her maiden name when he’d died. It was as though, to her, he never had. “Did he say where he got this?” she asked, looking at him, her voice cracking.
“No,” he shook his head as she flipped through the pages, and he could make out the neat penmanship of the Order cipher. “He said he’s been holding onto it since Philadelphia,” he knew that his father had died in Philadelphia, during the war for independence, but nothing beyond.
She smiled painfully, “Yes, I suppose he was,” she said and wiped at her eyes. “What was his name? Did you find out?”
“He said his name was Hawk,” he recited.
“Hawk,” her smile was less painful then before, “Silly man,” she whispered. Then she stood, “Dinner will be ready in a few hours, have some time to yourself, I need to be alone for a while,” she said. He blinked but nodded and left. He turned back to look at the darkly stained door in confusion. What was in that journal? Who was this Hawk, and what did he mean to his mother? Why was he interested in Micheal? How did he know his father? So many questions, but he knew few, if any, would be answered. Though he supposed that that was the irony of the Creed, he could never know anything, he could only ever suspect.
Chapter 2: The Second Rock
August, 1866, Dubai town, Dubai
The corridor they were in smelt of age and air that had not moved in millennia. Their footsteps echoed all across the corridor, up and down it, the blackness surrounding them absolute save for the glow of Hawk’s Apple. “Do you think we’re close?” he asked, his voice automatically hushed, even though there wasn’t another soul here for miles.
There was no answer at first, “We can’t be far,” was the answer from the ancient man behind him. Hawk was old, but Altair had been ancient when Hawk had been born. “Can’t you hear the singing?”
“I think you have cotton in your head,” said Ezio, the only one who did not lower his voice. Hawk couldn’t say he was surprised, Ezio was not the most subtle person. He could be sneaky and unseen yes, but subtle? Hawk was sure the Italian didn’t have a subtle bone in his body.
“And I think you’re close to getting killed again,” Altair snarled in a whisper.
“You like me too much.”
“Hawk is better company than you,” Altair scowled. “He is not annoying.”
“He is annoying in his own way,” Ezio waved him off, Hawk just sighed but said nothing to they're friendly bickering. He was used to it. As often as Altair pretended to hate everyone he really didn’t and as much as Ezio frustrated him Altair wouldn’t hurt him on purpose (at least not usually. Though there was that one time in Milan…). They were more like brothers than anything. The most dysfunctional brothers Hawk had ever met, though he’d been an only child so he didn’t know if this was actually normal.
“Oh,” Hawk said suddenly as they stepped into a larger cavern and the bickering tapered out.
“We’re here,” Altair said, “Make it brighter,” he encouraged. Hawk concentrated and the Apple glowed brighter. Despite his age the Apple was still something he was not used to using it still. Altair said it was normal, the Apple was not something to be bent easily to the will of a human and even one bonded with Hawk would be difficult, though every year it got a bit easier.
They were in a large cavern, deep underground, it’s walls lined black with the surface of an Ancient’s temple. Only unlike any temple Hawk had seen this one did not glow, or react to them, which was why they’d had to bring the Apple. At the center of the cavern was a great box, about twelve feet square, carved all over with intricate geometric deigns. “Pretty,” Ezio said and Altair elbowed him in the ribs.
“This is the Vault,” Altair said. “I found it in the fourteenth century, before I met Ezio,” he continued and had his hand to his temple as if he was starting to get a headache.
“You never showed me before,” Ezio said in an offended tone.
“It didn’t matter,” Altair said. “Also you were very adamant on ignoring me after your first Waking,” he scowled at him.
“So what is it?” Hawk asked, stepping closer to it, the light from the Apple casting long shadows.
“A Vault,” Altair said, “Before I got rid of my Apple I saw it. It is like a safe…” he trailed off, now both hands on his temples.
“Are you well Altair?” Ezio asked, and put a hand on his shoulder, Hawk turned and looked at them, head cocked to the side. A ghost of what worry once had been flickered through him, but he was more curious then concerned for the other man.
“It is just very loud,” he said.
“Loud?” Ezio was confused.
“Are you both so deaf?” he snapped, the obvious pain in his head making him angry. “Or are you both just so stupid to not understand?”
“I hear nothing as well,” Hawk said. “But I understand,” Ezio just looked confused. It was not an uncommon look on his face to be honest. Hawk and Altair were similar, they both had a more intimate relation to Pieces of Eden then Ezio did, the only thing was that Hawk’s intimacy was only with his Apple, Altair was sensitive to all Pieces. “How do you use the Vault?” he asked.
“You have to unlock it,” Altair said, jaw tight and he was rubbing his temple, that one eye slammed shut. “It opens with an Apple. Inside is infinite space, it’s a perfect safe.”
Hawk only understood half of that but knew what he had to do. Even as Ezio clucked over Altair and his head pain he went over to the Vault and looked for a key hole. He found it on the left side, a perfect cup for an Apple to fit into. He looked back at Altair who had both his eyes squeezed closed and fit his Apple into the hole.
He stepped back, wary, as suddenly the grooves on the Vault began to glow blue, the cut circles around the Apple began to slowly turn and lock into place, around in the cavern the rest of the area began to light up as well, including the corridor they’d just come from. Then a door opened to the side, a small one, one tall enough for Hawk to get through but Ezio and Altair might have to duck a bit to enter. “Well, that was cool,” he said.
“Greetings Master,” said a voice that made them all jump.
“Who’s that?” Ezio demanded.
“That was the voice I was just hearing is what,” Altair growled, it seemed his headache had vanished and he shoved Ezio’s concerned hands aside.
“Are you the master?” Hawk asked him.
“No, you are Master Micheal Hart,” the voice said again and suddenly a woman appeared before the three. Hawk scrambled back and actually fell onto his ass, for the first time in a long time, fear lacing through him. He scrambled back on his hands and feet, and hid behind Ezio’s legs. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“It’s one of the Ancient hologram things,” Ezio said bluntly.
“Hawk?” Altair looked behind the other man at the youngest who was positively cowering behind his legs.
“Make her go away!” he cried, arms above his head.
“Hawk, what the hell is wrong?”
“Just make her go away,” he stammered.
“Is this form displeasing?” the hologram asked.
Altair turned away from the younger man who looked like he was about to have a break down. “Who are you?”
“My name is Venus,” she said in a beautiful, angelic voice. “I am the keeper of the Vault.”
“I see. Why is Hawk so freaked out by you?”
“I don’t know,” she said truthfully. “I thought he’d be pleased.”
“Stop looking like her!” Hawk yelled.
“She looks like Sarah,” Ezio said to Altair who was still confused. Ezio was always better at understanding relationships than the elder man, though it was possible that that was because of Altair’s age and distance from the normal world. He was disconnected from regular folks and their problems.
“Oh,” Altair suddenly understood. “Could you stop that Venus?” he asked.
“It’s my programming to look whatever shape my Master most desires,” and they all felt sick hearing that. Sarah was long dead now, though neither of the elder men knew Hawk still hadn’t gotten over it. Behind Ezio Hawk whimpered.
“I don’t think he likes it,” Altair said blandly.
“I apologize, I did not mean to upset him.”
“Can I just say; I like this one. She’s a lot nicer than the other’s I’ve met.”
“That’s because this isn’t a temple,” Altair rolled his eyes. “Temple guardians were like important members of the Ancient’s society. Venus just said herself, she’d the keeper of the Vault,” and the hologram nodded. “What is your function?”
“I guard and maintain the Vault,” she recited, going through her core functions. “I am to assist and offer information on all objects that reside within and keep out any who try to gain entrance without the key.”
“Which is an Apple?”
It took her a second to respond, “No. Only the current key may be used to open the Vault.”
“So only Hawk’s Apple?”
“Yes,” she nodded cheerfully.
“And let me guess, you only change shape on your master’s desires?”
“That is correct,” she smiled.
“Wonderful,” Altair pulled at his face and crouched next to Hawk. “You’re ganna have to suck it up kid,” he told the younger man.
“That or get over her,” and Hawk was silent and glared at Altair as if he’d just told the American to do something obscene. “That’s what I thought. Now act your age and deal with the problem.”
“Would you? If it was your wife?”
“Maria would have kicked my ass if she saw me act as disgraceful as you,” he said and Hawk bristled but did stand up with the older man.
“Okay,” Hawk said facing Venus.
“I did not mean to upset you Master Micheal.”
He blanched in dislike, “Rule one Venus,” he said voice amazingly firm, Altair put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Don’t call me Micheal ever again. Or master.”
“Then what should I call you?” she asked him standing in front of him, standing on the ground before him the spitting image of Sarah, only as though she’d been washed in gold.
“Okay Hawk,” she smiled widely. “What can I do for you?”
Hawk looked at Altair.
“We’ve got some things for you to hold,” Altair said.
“Oh good, new inventory has not been added in a very long time.”
“There’s things in you now?”
“Yes. My last Master was a collector and inventor.”
“Where is he now?”
“With the Seventh,” was all she said, it made sense to none of them.
“So gone?” Altair made sure, she nodded. “Okay. Hawk, talk to your new friend, Ezio and I will put away the artifacts,” and Altair walked past him, Ezio following. Ezio was carrying a large bag over his shoulders.
“Is that allowed?” Venus asked Hawk.
“Yes, do whatever they ask and assist them,” he said.
“Very well,” and the Vault suddenly started to move again and the previous small door grew tall enough for the both of them to enter. “How else may I be of service?” she asked.
Hawk frowned at her sadly, “I’m going to hide you away, where nothing and no one can get you,” he said softly, she never stopped smiling. For the first time in a long time, his heart hurt.
Chapter 3: Little Brown Chief
March 1986—April 1990, the Farm, Black Hills, South Dakota, United States of America
Altair was amazed how easily these people trusted. For all their talk of secrecy and to be wary of strangers, all you had to do was have a brand about your ring finger and they would accept you. Altair however did not have a brand, instead he said he was from another part of the Order where they took your finger instead. They believed him and welcomed him with open arms, even though he was not like them and they all could sense that he was far more than he let on.
He was given a room in one of the houses. It was not uncommon, for the houses were rather large and usually two families shared them, that or people like Altair who came from afar and were seeking respite for a few weeks, months, or even years, to get out from the ever watchful eyes of the Templars. There was another man here like Altair who’d been there for six months already, and without even looking through his second sight he knew he’d be killing this man. All members of the Order showed red in his sight, Assassin, Templar, it did not matter. They were all corrupt and in some ways the Assassins were no better than their enemy. But Altair would kill this man because he was a Templar. But that would come later.
The leader of the Farm was a Master, though it was in name only. Andrew Miles was a hard man who’s purposes were more that of a bureau leader then a Master Assassin. Altair did not like him either, but he would not kill this man. Not yet. No. Not yet. But soon. Altair made acquaintance with him, but friends with his wife, who (unlike Andrew) had been born into this world. But she was not like her husband, she was not hard. But she wasn’t soft either, and he could feel no love between Andrew and Kaley.
They had a son, Duncan, who was seven years old. Altair was interested in him and in turn the young novice was interested in him. He’d heard from Kaley, quite adamantly, that she wanted no more children, and Altair did not blame her. With the current atmosphere surrounding the Brotherhood very few of their members wanted children, because they’d have to grow up into this mess. The Order did not recruit from the outside as often as they should or once had, and there was such a new interest in bloodlines within the Order that it made Altair’s skin crawl. He knew, though he didn’t want to know, that the Order was starting to tip in the same direction as the Templars.
But Altair turned his normal outward attentions inward to the members of the Farm. He helped the instructors with demonstrations and even taught a few classes in both self defense and history. The novices loved when he taught history because it was never a history from a book, for even the Assassins had books on history, or even things that were spoken of often. Altair’s history was that of the Order and it was the few times that the novices got to hear of their birth right beyond the adults telling them of the Templars to scare them, or an ever war that was spoken about in hushed tones. Adults weren’t allowed in those lessons, and he made it into a game, that none of the children were allowed to tell the adults what he said. In this way he spoke what their parents would have considered blasphemy and traitorous words. He told them secrets and stories and history that had been lost to the world and the Order for centuries.
Duncan was an amazingly bright child, and was enrapt by Altair’s history lessons. He visited Altair, when he did not have other school work or chores and asked Altair questions, promising he’d never tell his mommy or daddy. Altair would just smile and tell him.
It had been a long time since Altair had used an Apple, or any sort of scrying Piece of Eden. He did not trust them, he did not like them, and they were always more trouble then they were worth. But Altair had waited a long time for this century. His wait had been agonizing for four hundred years, for he was alone. But now it was not so. He had Hawk to scry now, though the younger man was not as good at it as Altair had been, for Hawk’s Apple fought him every step of the way even though it was two-hundred years in his possession. At Altair’s distance when he’d first seen the future that would mark his life with some sort of strange purpose, the future was not as consistent and so many things could change. He’d seen this point though, this place, the Farm. More recently Hawk had proclaimed from what family they would be from.
So yes, Altair humored Duncan, and told him secrets and was safe in the sort of knowledge that Kaley did not want any more children, and that this boy was the one he’d been waiting for. Duncan followed him everywhere, and in turn showed him around the Farm and the woods surrounding it and the places he liked to hide. Altair saw him for the kind, curious, and clever boy he was and encouraged him to never stop asking questions, to never stop looking for the truth.
Then, three months after Altair arrived at the Farm Kaley Miles said she was pregnant again. Altair had not been expecting that. She was also unhappy. She resented Andrew for getting her pregnant again, and it was obvious that she was not pleased with the child she carried, but some sense of duty kept her from just getting it aborted. Or perhaps the talk it would cause amid the others if she did, the unspoken shame she would bring upon them all if she got rid of it. It was one of the few things that had surprised Altair in a long time.
Altair watched the Miles’ dynamics for a long time, all the while Duncan clung to him, with his questions and his bright brown eyes. Kaley grew to deeply resent her husband, but in turn allowed Altair closer, as it was obvious her son adored him. Altair thought it strange that Kaley could detest her unborn child, yet seemed to still care for Duncan. That changed however and seven months into her pregnancy became deeply depressed. Duncan often asked him why his mommy was sad all the time, and Altair would just shush him and tell him that his mother was fine.
But Kaley was not fine. She once confessed to Altair that she wanted to kill herself, because this life they had was barely a life. She was tired. Altair understood. The generations of Assassins were getting gradually and gradually getting more fanatic in their beliefs, to the point of extremism. Kaley’s parents were extremists, so was Andrew, but she was more moderate. She did not believe most of the causes the Assassins fought for anymore and she loathed to see her children raised in such an atmosphere.
Then the child was born. Altair kept Duncan with him that day while Kaley was in labor and taught him how to skip rocks in the nearby river. Duncan was excited to be a big brother and chattered endlessly on about what he wanted to do with his new baby brother. Altair had to remind him that his little brother wouldn’t be able to do any of the things Duncan wanted to do till he was bigger. Duncan had just pouted a little and then they’d climbed trees as Altair told him the story of Brutus of Rome and how he slew Julius Caesar on the ides of March and how Brutus was one of them. Duncan stayed the night with Altair as well, sleeping in a sleeping bag next to Altair’s bed in the home he shared with one of the other families. The next morning they went and saw the new baby, who’d been born some time that night.
They found the Miles’ at opposite sides of the room. Kaley was lying in their bed, staring out the window, and Andrew was holding the new baby, his face stern. Duncan had run right up to his mother, climbing into her bed and Altair had a very bad feeling.
Over the next several weeks Kaley grew bitter and fell into deeper postpartum depression. Andrew was left to care mostly for the child and Duncan was largely ignored. Several people in the Farm helped with the older boy and infant alike, as it was obvious Kaley wanted no part in either of her children. Rather often Altair was saddled with Duncan, as both his parents had been used to him simply being around by then and were comfortable leaving their son with him. Less often Altair was left with the new baby, Desmond.
Duncan very obviously loved his little brother. He was around Desmond constantly, at least when he didn’t have lessons and was old enough to watch the baby if there was someone else other then Kaley home. That person was often Altair, though also Andrew’s friends within the compound, one of them being the Templar Altair swore he’d kill.
Desmond was a very normal child. He screamed when hungry or wet and messy as could be. Duncan said his brother was just a poop factory and Altair always replied he was too cute to be a factory. That always made Duncan laugh. Sometimes Altair stayed at the Miles’ house when Desmond was a few months old and would wake to the sound of a woken baby and stumble from the couch to the infant’s room. It was not the first time Altair had ever taken care of a child, even after his two first children Altair had taken care of many people’s children, even some that grew up to call him father (though few others then Darim and Sef shared his bloodline). Kaley never tended to her son, and refused to acknowledge she even had children at all, even Duncan. On the dark nights like those when it was just him and baby Desmond awake, the rest of the house asleep or not even home (as Andrew had the habit of going to a nearby town with his friends, or sleeping in another woman’s bed) Altair would sit on the floor, against the crib and sing him lullabies in Arabic until he fell asleep, then he’d stumble back to the couch and sleep for a few more hours before the baby would wake him for something else.
Months passed like this, Altair alternating between sleeping on the Miles’ couch or in the house he was living in, his days broken up between novice lessons or helping around the Farm. Altair taught the entire group of novices, about seven children with ages ranged from six to fifteen, how to ride horses, and how to track in the woods and how to build fires without flint or lighters, how to catch fish with their bear hands (though with mixed results of effectiveness and they’d put a stop to those lessons when one of the girls had ended up hurting herself in the river), and the elder children he taught how to throw knives and fight. There was always a strange atmosphere of play about it though, as if they did not really believe they’d ever have to use these skills, but enjoyed having them regardless.
Desmond’s first words were in Arabic. Altair had a habit of singing to him in Arabic before bedtime or when he was woken in the middle of the night, and Duncan had said he’d wanted to learn how to speak it because he said it sounded pretty. So when alone with the boy he would use it more often so he could pick up on the words. Desmond’s first word was akh, ‘brother,' when he saw Duncan, who’d been very excited. Altair was careful to speak English around Desmond more, saving his songs for the only Arabic he spoke around the boy. He started speaking English quickly after that, but always called Duncan ‘akh’ even when he learned the English word for brother.
Several years passed like this. Altair watched Desmond grow, and Duncan as well. When Duncan turned ten he was told to kill a crow by one of his instructors, he refused. Altair saw then that Duncan was soft. It was not a bad thing, no, not at all, in fact it was almost good. But he was not the boy Altair had come here to find. He turned his attention to Desmond, who was only three years old, though unlike Duncan’s own parents never turned from him completely and still told him secrets and stories that the adults would have frowned upon.
Altair knew what he’d been searching for when Desmond was almost four years old. He was playing a game with the little boy, when he’d suddenly asked Altair why he was blue. Not sad, but blue. That had startled Altair and he said he wasn’t sad. Desmond repeated in asking Altair was blue and it was only then that Altair had looked up and seen Desmond was staring at him, with a cocked head, eyes blazing golden. Altair had smiled at him and said it was because he was Desmond’s friend, and always would be his friend.
That was Altair’s last day at the Farm.
That night he stole away in the house the Templar lived in and killed him in his sleep and revealed his left foot. On the ball of his foot was a small brand in the shape of a cross and much like an Assassin’s initiation Templars were branded by their order as well. His work done there he returned to the Miles’. Andrew wasn’t there. He was currently enjoying the company of Cindy Holloway, a woman who lived in the compound, and Altair thought about going to kill him too. What a wretched man. But he did not, it was not his place.
Instead he entered Duncan’s room and gently shaken the boy awake. Duncan asked him what he was doing here.
‘I’m leaving,’ he’d said.
‘My time here is over.’
‘I don’t want you to leave!’ Duncan had cried and hugged him. Altair had gently stroked his head.
‘I can’t stay,’ his voice had been patient.
‘Then take me with you,’ he’d pleaded, ‘Please Altair don’t make me stay here. They’re mean here and want me to hurt others. I don’t want to do that. I want to hear more stories and climb trees,’ he’d begged.
Altair had just shaken his head, ‘I can’t take you with me little one,’ he’d said gently. ‘It’s important that you stay here, because you’re the best one out of any of the people here.’
‘Yes. You’re going to be a good man one day Duncan, but you need to stay here,’ and after a moment Duncan had nodded. ‘I need you to do something for me, and it’s very important, do you understand?’ again Duncan had nodded. ‘Good. When I’m gone, you need to take care of your little brother. Don’t let him become like the others on the Farm.’
‘How do I do that?’
‘Be kind to him, as you are to everyone. Tell him stories, like I’ve told you. Make him ask questions, even if no one knows the answer.’
‘Like you always tell me,’ he’d said.
‘Yes,’ Altair’d agreed, ‘There is nothing more important then to keep asking questions. Never let your parents or instructors tell you otherwise. Understand?’
‘Yes,’ he’d nodded for a third time.
‘Good. Don’t forget, Desmond needs you.’
‘I don’t want you to go,’ Duncan had frowned.
Altair had smiled thinly, ‘I know little one. But come the sunrise I will not be welcome here any longer,’ too many questions would be raised, too much anger. ‘But you’re Desmond’s akh, and you need to be with him. He’ll need you to help weather this storm.’
Altair had just smiled, ‘Never stop asking, even if there is no answer,’ and he’d kissed Duncan on the head and left the house. He heard Duncan follow after him but Altair simply slipped away into the night to become simply a story Duncan would tell his little brother of the man without a name or face.
Chapter 4: The Trouble with Molting
March 2013, New York City, New York, United States of America
It was too early for this. Far far too early for this. There was a reason he worked the day shift and not mornings. But Addy had begged and begged and pleaded and really Jacob wasn’t that much of an asshole. Sure he pretended to be, because it did a person well to have a hard outer skin when you lived in New York, but he really wasn’t as bad as he tried to convince everyone he was. Addy knew that, and that was why Jacob was currently opening the shop, way before anyone else would even arrive for morning shift. Hell it was too early for Kadar to even be awake, and he was on Jacob’s ass for food in the morning barely after the sun rose. That was how early it was.
So if Jacob was a little testing and irritated this morning it was understandable.
He’d just unlocked the front door when he heard a motorcycle pull up in front of the thrift store next door. He ignored it, probably whoever ran the adult store or something, he didn’t know, he didn’t fucking work mornings. He meandered back to behind the counter and fiddled with the register when the door opened. He looked up, ready to tell whoever it was that they weren’t open yet, when he got a look at the guy who’d just walked in. He blinked hard.
The guy was wearing riding gear, motorcyclist, and his helmet dangled from a few fingers. Half his face was totally covered in blood. God damnit. Did he really have to deal with this this early in the morning? The man walked up to the counter and Jacob did his best not to lean back a little, he smelled like leather, blood and sweat.
“Do you have a bathroom?” he asked, his voice was a little slurred. Was he drunk? Fuck fuck fuck Jacob was not seriously dealing with this. He rose an eyebrow at him.
“Bathroom’s for paying customers only,” he said, fully expecting him to leave. Honestly that usually sent the creepy homeless people away when he worked nights, or even just any weird asshole off the street. He honestly didn’t want this guy to stay here.
But he looked up at the menu, eyes squinted a bit as if in confusion. Probably like any other annoying New Yorker he was weirded out by the Arabic. Fuck ‘em. “I’ll have a Turkish coffee,” he said flatly as he dug out his wallet and flipped a ten dollar bill on the counter.
Jacob gritted his teeth, great. “Down on the left, on your right,” he said and the men left the counter, also leaving his helmet there. He stumbled a little and Jacob leaned around the counter to watch him enter the bathroom with a deep frown. Five-seconds after the door closed he heard the distant sound of vomiting. Oh lovely. Jacob made a face.
He turned back to the front counter and gave the helmet a leery look, as there was a huge spider web crack on the visor. Fuck, what the hell had this guy been doing? Playing baseball with his face‽ He heard some more sounds of vomiting and scooped up the ten, throwing the change into the tip jar, since he obviously deserved it for putting up with this fucking mess, and then went about making the coffee.
He was leaning against the counter when the guy came back out of the bathroom, now looking a lot better. He’d cleaned his face off of the fresh and dried blood and Jacob couldn’t see any actual wound, so it was probably some small head cut in his hairline which seemed to have stopped bleeding. The guy stared at the turkish coffee and honestly looked a bit green, as if the thought of putting anything into his stomach was a painful thought. He also had that look people had when their brains needed to reboot, but not in a good way.
“You okay?” he asked and the guy actually jumped, man what was going on in his think pan? Was he stupid or something?
“Terrific, what are your first clue?” came the sarcastic remark in reply.
Jacob half sneered. Okay, there went him being nice. “Excuse me for wondering why you were bleeding all over my shop and came in here looking like a homeless person,” he spat right back.
“I doubt homeless people have motorcycles,” he said in a dry, uninterested way and picked his helmet up from the counter. He gave the inside a careful sniff and Jacob didn’t have to know it smelled rank to know it smelled rank. He looked at Jacob for a second, then down to the coffee and again looked a bit green. “Uhmm,” and he looked at Jacob.
“Let me guess, now you don’t want it,” he sighed.
“Sorry,” the guy shrugged.
Jacob shrugged as well, it honestly didn’t matter to him, he got paid for it and he didn’t ask for his change, it was all good to him. “Figured after I heard you in the bathroom,” he confessed and prepared the coffee the way he liked it before shooting it, since their Turkish coffee was made to be shot, not sipped. At least the kind he’d just made since he’d had a very good feeling Mr. Bloody wouldn’t actually want anything when he came out of the bathroom.
“Sorry about the coffee,” he said and for the first time since Jacob had seen him looked alert. Well, that was good he supposed.
“Why? You paid for it,” and he rose his brow at the man questioningly. Maybe he was brain damaged. He had obviously hit his head pretty hard since his helmet was cracked.
They blinked at him, “I did, didn’t I,” yeah, this guy was totally fucking brain damaged. “Whatever, later,” and he turned from the counter and headed for the door.
Jacob watched him for a few seconds before his guilt complex kicked in. He had a really terrible one honestly, it was why he was such an asshole, like if he pretended hard enough he could make people think he didn’t care as much as he did. But really, Jacob cared a lot, and really hated when something very obviously wrong happened, he felt responsible, even if it was honestly not his fault.
“Hold on!” he called and darted out from behind the counter and hustled over to the guy. “You the one who came in on the Ninja?” he demanded and grabbed him by the arm before he could leave, which was near the door. He could see the Ninja near his Sportster the one in front of the thrift store.
“Uh, yeah, and I plan on leaving on it too,” he said giving Jacob a look though sounded very confused as to why Jacob was questioning his very sound logic.
“Then I really can’t let you go,” he said.
They blinked at him, “You’re ganna have to run that by me again. What?” he furrowed his brow at Jacob in confusion as if everything about Jacob was a mystery.
“As a fellow biker I can’t, in good conscious let you leave after you came in here like that,” he said with a slightly frustrated look on his face. Didn’t he know how much of an idiot he was? Seriously. The guy looked out the door at the bikes by the curb, eyes going to his Ninja before being drawn to his Harley. Jacob frowned at him.
Then he looked back at him, “I have somepla- okay,” Jacob was honestly surprised by the quick change. “What do you suggest?”
Jacob scowled at him, as if the man expected him to say something foolish. “Stay here until you don’t look like something my cat dragged in,” he said in an irritated tone. They looked around behind Jacob as if it was the first time he’d actually looked at where he was. Was he blind? Jacob reconsidered the ‘stupid’ thought he’d had earlier.
“Fine,” they said and tugged out of Jacob’s grip and went to one of the large plush chair and pretty much stumbled into it. Jacob pressed his hand over his face and muttered darkly in Arabic to himself. He was doing this one thing, just this one thing, and that was it.
The man put his helmet between his feet and was conked out in seconds. Jacob watched him for a few seconds when the bell dinged, signaling the arrival of another patron. Jacob turned on the door to snarl at them that they weren’t open but his words stuck in his throat before he could get them out. It was Jenny, she was working the morning shift with him.
“Yo,” she said and tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder. He gave her a great look of despair. “You okay?”
“I think I have a headache,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Oh, sorry,” she frowned sympathetically at him. “Everything set up for today?”
“Almost,” he sighed and they walked back towards the counter.
“What’s up with the guy?”
“Please. Fuck. Do not ask. I do not want to deal with whatever that is for at least half an hour so I can put my head on strait before morning rush,” he groaned in agony. She just giggled at him as the door opened again for Felix, who immediately asked after the knocked out man in the corner. Jacob retaliated by snapping at him and shuffled into the back of the cafe to just not deal with it.
Less then an hour later came the morning rush and there really wasn’t any room for Jenny or Felix to pester him about the sleeping guy in the corner. Jacob went over to him a few times where there was a moment of breathing space to make sure he wasn’t dead and wiped a bit of blood off his face, as apparently the head wound hadn’t closed up as much as he’d thought. Finally once most of the crowd had vacated the cafe, with just a few college kids and two old men reading the Times by the front window were left the two others jumped on him and he told them what happened. Jenny immediately said he was good looking and Jacob had slapped his hand across his face so loudly one of the old men had turned to look at him.
Around lunch Addy came to relieve him of his misery. He did so carefully though, as after the rush Jacob had sent him a myriad of rather violent text messages about how he was never working mornings again and he could go beg someone else to cover his shift next time he decided to get shit faced the night before his morning shift.
There was, of course, the question of what was going to happen to the sleeper when Jacob left. None of the people pulling a double, or those coming on shift wanted to be responsible for him in case something happened. Honestly Jacob didn’t blame them. Really though the guy was his responsibility and he’d made him stay here, so he’d have to take deal with it.
Once he’d clocked out he went over to the sleeping man. “Oi,” he said and shook him, not afraid he was dead since he was still breathing. “Hey, wake up.”
He almost jumped out of his skin when the man was suddenly seemingly wide awake and had grabbed his wrist so hard he heard the bones grind. For a wild second he thought the guy was going to break his wrist, but it, like the fact crazy idea that his eyes had been suddenly gold faded quickly. He slumped back against the back of the chair, eyes lidded, obviously awake but not awake. He rubbed his wrist, as it still smarted, before saying, “You can’t stay here.”
“Seems like a fine place to sleep,” he said, in Arabic. Jacob rose a brow at him but he didn’t know if the guy saw it, hell he wondered if he even understood what he was saying.
“Well, you can’t do it here,” and he grabbed the man’s wrist and pulled him to his feet. “Even though you’re obviously whacked do you think you can keep it together enough to not be a total freak?” he asked. The man cocked his head at Jacob, staring at him with hazy brown eyes that somehow… looked alert. Jacob didn’t even know how to describe it, it was weird. After a second he nodded. “Great, you can come with me then,” and he took the man’s wrist to lead him out of the cafe, grabbing up the man’s helmet and waved bye to his coworkers.
The guy seemed to be mostly awake now, which was good and followed him to his Sportster. He pushed the full helm onto the strange man’s head and strapped it into place before donning his own and getting on the bike. “C’mon, I’m doing my one good Samaritan deed of the year. Don’t make me regret it.”
“I make you regret a lot of things, dai,” he said, visor up so he could hear him. Jacob just narrowed his eyes at him, this dude was weird, but didn’t seem particularly dangerous (barring the whole ‘almost break your wrist’ thing). He got on the bike behind Jacob and flipped the visor down as he wrapped his arms around his waist.
One good deed, he thought. Just one good deed and then he was off the hook for the year. He knew it wouldn’t be like that, Jacob was too nice. Still, it would make him feel better. He really should have known better. What was the saying again?
Oh right. No good deed goes unpunished.
Chapter 5: Guardian Angel
1492, the Vatican, Rome, Italy
The pain had been blinding, like a stab to the chest and Ezio crumpled and didn’t get back up. He tried, he tried so hard, because if he didn’t then Rodrigo won and if he did then— it couldn’t happen. He wouldn’t let it! He tried to get back to his feet, fingers seeming to dig into the floor to push himself up but blood was gushing out of his chest and there was no way he wouldn’t die here. No.
He coughed up blood and lay down on the bright floor, panting, dying. Some sick part of him grinned, he was dying. He would have thought dying would have made him angry. Okay it did make him angry. It made him beyond furious. But there was a strange acceptance to his rage. He’d done what he could, he’d tried. He’d tried and failed though so…
A phantom crouched in front of him. “Hey there boy,” they said and it sounded like his father. He craned his head back as best he could but the light was in his eyes and it made the man silhouetted, it made him look like an angel. “Quite a fuck up you managed to get yourself into,” they reached out and grabbed his shoulder.
“Who are you?” he asked, voice weak.
“A guardian angel,” he said softly. “Do you want me to make this pain go away?”
Ezio closed his eyes, his armor was bent inwards, digging into his chest, it hurt as much as the wound, “Yes,” he said through his teeth. His angel squeezed his shoulder.
“Do you want to see your brothers, your father?” he was asked, but it was getting hard to think, hard to speak.
“What? They-they’re dead.”
“They are. Would you like to see them again?”
“If I say yes?”
“Then I’ll put you out of your misery,” his voice was flat, emotionless, and Ezio had no doubt he’d do so.
“And what if I don’t?” he wheezed, there was blood in his lungs, he knew that because he’d heard the sounds before.
The angel’s lips quirked, troubled, and then leaned down to say into his ear, “Then I will give you a curse,” his voice was almost so soft he couldn’t hear it. “And with it you will never have to worry about being hurt again,” his lips brushed the cusp of his ear. “I will make you live again.”
Ezio swallowed. He almost said to just do it, kill him. He’d lived a full life, he’d killed the men who were responsible for his father and brothers’ deaths. He’d known many women, won and lost love seemingly a countless number of times. He could be with his brothers and father again. But then he’d be leaving everyone, he’d be leaving his sister, and his mother, his uncle, his friends.
A selfish part of him didn’t care. He’d done enough! He’d done enough. He was tired and wanted to sleep. To hell with them. He looked up at his angel who’s eyes flickered under a cowl, burning gold. “Make your choice Ezio, soon it won’t matter what you want, you will die,” he said softly.
But if he left them who would deal with Rodrigo. He still lived. He knew there were other Assassins, he wasn’t stupid. But Rodrigo…
Rodrigo was his. Right? Yes, he should be.
“If I live,” Ezio rasped, “Will Rodrigo die?” he asked the angel, grasping it’s forearm with what remained of his strength.
“Yes. But you will not be the one to kill him.”
Ezio squeezed his eyes shut, “Who then?”
“His son will kill him. And you will kill his son. If you die many other people you hold dear will die.”
Ezio knew he was selfish, he wasn’t stupid after all. He did what he wanted and didn’t apologize for much, he used and took and manipulated to get what he wanted. But he could be selfless too, he could be. The thought of the people he loved dying, because of him, because he was so selfish, made his chest hurt that had nothing to do with his wound.
“Give it to me,” he said at last, voice curt but weak, “make me live.”
The angel smiled sadly at him. “Very well Ezio,” he said, “I give you the curse of life,” and then he started to glow, everything started to glow and he heard singing, a voice too high for any person to ever reach. There was no song, there was just the unending song, rising and falling around him.
Then the darkness came and Ezio didn’t know up from down and for the moment, he was not burdened by the things that had done so in life. He knew then the angel had lied. He was dead.
He woke to new light coming in through the high windows. He felt good, invigorated, and no longer hurt. His chest plate was not bent and he had no wound. Ezio looked around, he was where he’d been when he’d fought Rodrigo.
His eyes narrowed with purpose and he went to find the fat man.
He knew hours had passed, it had almost been dark when he’d come to the Vatican, but now it was early morning. The Pope could be long gone, but something told him he wasn’t.
Before he left the room he’d been in, to find Rodrigo, he turned around, eyes searching. He didn’t see anything, or anyone. His angel had been imagined by a dying mind. But here he was! He was alive. Something had made him live. His guardian angel the angel had said. He didn’t think a man like him could have one of those, men like him didn’t deserve to be watched over by things like that.
He turned back around to find the Pope, leaving the room. As he did he realized he was starving. Once he escaped the Vatican he was going to eat his weight in food and then some.
But first, the Pope.
Chapter 6: To Ten
1904, Gijón, Asturias, Spain
He’d never been especially claustrophobic. But there was always something about waking up in a coffin that made the hair stand up on his arms. He looked around and made himself take slow, even, breathes. He could very easily panic, fuck, he knew he could, he was immortal, not a god, and he was still only human. He closed his eyes and counted slowly back from a hundred. He made it to about forty before opening his eyes again. Calm now. Well, calmer at least.
This was a nice coffin though, well made, but not like they used to make them. He wondered how he let the others talk him into this. He was seriously going to cut all of Ezio’s hair off for this. All of it! Just shave him bald and call it a done deal. In hind sight they should have made Hawk do this. But Hawk didn’t fit the description.
Yeah shaving off all of Ezio’s hair and taking Hawk’s Apple. It was the only thing he really cared about honestly and he’d pout about Altair having it.
He pressed his hands against the lid of the coffin and blew out air, his muscles strained. After a few seconds his eyes squeezed shut again. Maybe put a railroad spike through Hawk’s hand too, he tended to freak out when Altair put him in serious amounts of pain. Nothing he wouldn’t recover from, or even go Under for. But this was stupid and he really hated being buried. He’d faked three funerals in his life, his own, a friend’s, and one time when Ezio hadn’t been around to confiscate the body in time. Oh that had been a real joy.
He gave the coffin lid another shove and then frowned at it. Altair felt around next to him. The others were supposed to leave him with-
Oh those clever bastards. Okay maybe he wouldn’t shave all of Ezio’s hair off. He was still arresting Hawk’s Apple though, and save the rail road spike for a rainy day when he just wanted to freak Hawk out and do it to himself. Hawk might not have actual emotions anymore, shadows of them yeah, but not real emotions, but Altair was pretty damn impervious to pain. Not that he didn’t feel, because he could feel. Hawk would freak out, probably scream, and Altair would laugh at him. Sounded like a good plan.
Right now he was feeling a bit pissed as he grabbed the small spade and rammed it upwards. It took him a few tries before he splintered the lid. This was why he missed wooden coffins, not these fancy, lacy, reenforced things. You were going in a box in the ground, why did you care what your box looked like? He supposed that for people who stayed dead it didn’t matter, though the people who had to bury them it mattered. Altair pushed the thought aside as dirt tumbled into his space. He wasn’t going to think of burying people, he’d done that too much in his life.
Another smash of the spade got more dirt on him and with a move that you’d see on a contortionist he squeezed his body up to the top portion of the coffin and didn’t bother to hold his breathe as the coffin lid gave out and dirt crashed down onto him. While the dirt shifted he moved quickly so he was mostly standing by the time the dirt had settled around him. He breathed in slowly, very slowly, and then let his arms scramble upwards on a slightly dirt filled lung full of air. Because he was already mostly standing it wasn’t like he had to swim through six feet of dirt, only about a foot or so.
His hand breached air. No grass, good. He groped around for something and after a few seconds found the edge of his tomb stone. It should have felt weird, grabbing his own tomb stone, but it wasn’t. Altair had over a hundred tomb stones, bought for him, with different names, over the centuries on the times he needed to die but didn’t actually feel like getting buried. Cause being buried sucked. His lungs burned, damn it all.
Then a hand grabbed his, oh good. They hadn’t left him. That was always a little fear in the back of his head, that they wouldn’t be there at the right time, that they’d come too late and he’d really have to dig himself out of a grave. He could hear scratching above him and with his other hand he dug at the soil around him, pushing up and away, moving upwards.
Altair was rarely so happy to see the sky in his life then when he was Under or when had to crawl out of a hole. This time was no different. He coughed dust and dirt into Hawk’s face as he helped push dirt aside so he could get out.
“I hate you both,” he managed to say as Ezio grabbed onto his other hand. “Especially you,” he told Ezio, as it was Ezio’s fault he was in this situation.
“Yeah yeah, love you too Altair,” Ezio said, tugging and Altair kicked at the ground. “You just had to come to in the middle of the day didn’t you.”
“Like I can chose, idiot,” he grumbled. “Stop. Stop, you’re ganna pull my arms off,” his legs were still caught.
“You’ve survived worse,” Hawk mumbled next to him, dirty as a dust clot as he kept digging, with his hands at that.
Altair yanked his hands away from Ezio who huffed at him moodily. “You owe me for this Ezio,” he informed him and set about trying to pull himself the rest of the way out of the earth.
“If you’l recall I owe you for quite a lot. You still owe me for this though,” and Ezio sent him a baleful look.”
Altair glared at him, “You wanted this,” he spat. Hawk eyed them both. “Nothing in life is without price. You should know that by now, you’re not a child,” his glare intensified. “I owe you nothing. You paid your own price.”
“We should really get going before someone sees,” Hawk chimed in suddenly. “Ezio, help me.”
With a sigh Ezio kneeled and did help Hawk dig Altair up enough that he could climb from the soil. Out of the dirt Altair stood, wobbly from his time Under as well as his legs being compacted by dirt and spit out several mouthfuls of mud. He’d be tasting and smelling dirt for days. Behind him the others were pushing the dirt back over where it’d bee dug out.
“You all right?” Hawk asked him.
“Yeah,” he was sitting against the back of his head stone now. It didn’t have his name on it though, or even this decade and some’s alias on it. It was some man Ezio knew, a man he’d let himself get killed for, so he could escape to America with a Piece of Eden called the Pen. But they’d needed a body, one that could pass for Moroccan, Altair could do that, the others couldn’t. “I’m starving though,” he added with a groan.
Hawk threw a sack at him and he opened it. Bread, and meat, and cheese. He devoured everything in one sitting before even thinking of the others. After Waking there were usually two things on their minds, one was food, always first was food, even if they didn’t realize it, the other was (given the circumstances) where was the closest set of clothes. Altair was in his funeral clothes though, so he didn’t care about the second, he was focused on food.
“Did he get away?” Altair asked as he found an apple at the bottom of the sack.
“Yes,” Ezio said.
“Good. Otherwise I was really going to put you under and then leave you naked in an academy,” Altair threatened.
“You wouldn’t,” Ezio frowned at him, he was clean shaven like the rest of them were, and his hair was short. Hawk was wearing his long. They both kept with the fashion of the era usually. Altair was seven hundred years old, he didn’t care anymore, not really. Sure he’d wear some of the things that were standard for the era but his clothes didn’t change much anymore. He was too old to care, too dusty and set in his ways.
“I would,” Altair said around the apple and groaned, it tasted amazing. “We’ll collect the Pen when he dies,” he added to himself a bit.
“Is that everything?” Hawk asked.
Altair stood, dusting himself off, there was a lot to dust off and he needed a bath because he’d never get it all off. “Yeah,” he said finishing the apple, even eating the core and only spitting out the seeds and stems. Ezio made a gross face at him. He didn’t get how Altair could literally eat anything. Altair thought Ezio was a picky eater, as it was he wouldn’t go near pasta or anything even remotely Italian. He hadn’t been back to his home land since Sofia. He didn’t blame the man, it was always hard to go back to Masyaf. Hawk was indifferent, he would go anywhere, see anyone, if it had sentimental value or not, because it didn’t to him anymore. He was unburdened by nostalgia and Altair had never been more jealous of a man then Hawk ever in his life. “I don’t want to see either of you for at least ten years,” he wiped at his eye, it didn’t dislodge any real dirt.
“Aww, that hurts Altair,” Ezio teased.
“If I do I’m making good to my promise I made down in the grave of shaving you bald,” he told Ezio flatly. Ezio’s face made Hawk laugh.
“Fine. Ten years,” Ezio said moodily.
“Ten years,” Hawk agreed with a nod. “Why ten years?” usually when he gave them a number of years to stay away for they only got together for a reason. Sometimes it was ten years, sometimes fifty, or strange numbers like thirteen or forty-two. But they always came, because Altair always knew, and without Altair they both only knew so much, Hawk had his Apple but he still used it clumsily. Ezio had been a follower his entire life, even when he led, he’d wanted to follow, for someone to tell him what to do, that he was doing the right thing. Altair always did that and told him when he did good and when he did bad. For that Ezio always came back. Hawk came back because the two of them were the only things he had anything resembling emotionally attachment to. They were brothers, but they followed the leader, and that was Altair.
“Because,” Altair said solemnly, “The world’s going to burn. Usual meet. Ten years,” and then without further explanation, he walked away from his empty grave.
Chapter 7: The Bender
Sometime in the thirteenth century, Cairo, Egypt
He could feel it in his limbs. A sort of deep, sinking feeling that made everything just sort of heavy and hard to deal with. Only it wasn’t part of his body anymore, not really. It was in his mind. It was a consuming force inside him that gnawed at every inch of his skin inside and out. Shadows, ghosts, and shades slid back and forth across his vision though he didn’t sway or bat at them. He only watched.
Altair had forgotten what number of beer he was on. Dozenth. Or more. Probably more. One hundred and twelve years old. A dozen beers didn’t do much anymore. No. Had been a time when one would get him drunk, because Muslims didn’t drink alcohol. At least not under their caliph, back then.
Altair grabbed his mug and drank from it deeply. He didn’t taste what he was drinking. He didn’t know if it was fabulous or if it was swill. He didn’t care. He just didn’t want to feel, or know, or be able to remember. Remembering made him hurt in ways he thought he was beyond hurting. His wife, his children, his best friend…
He drank again, not bothering to finish the thought. The waiter put a fresh mug on the table and Altair flipped a coin onto it. The coin was scooped up with the empty tankard of beer.
He drank until he didn’t think, until he couldn’t feel. He’d come in here when it was light out, the sun still rather high, and was vaguely aware that it was dark out now. Altair had been here a while. The bartender knew him. Knew he kept to himself, didn’t keep a tab, always paid for his drinks up front, didn’t cause a fuss, and drank beer like it was water. Then when the tavern closed Altair would get up and walk away on his own accord. He’d always be back though. Because the times he wasn’t drunk he was hung over and the times he wasn’t hung over he was remembering what he’d lost and it led him to slipping his hands into other people’s pockets and purses for coin for yet more beer to start the cycle all over again.
Altair eyed a pair of men who were having a confrontation in front of his table. He didn’t like them, he wanted them to leave. “Eh,” he said, not slurring. He wasn’t drunk enough for that yet. He was only on his thirteenth beer, he had to drink more than that to slur. “Take it outside.”
He didn’t know how it happened. He hadn’t meant to be an asshole. Maybe on the way out of his mouth the words had gotten confused about what they were supposed to say. Because next he knew he was getting dragged out of his table and in the middle of a fight. Oh such a bad idea. He wasn’t sure if for them or for him. He was so painfully out of practice in fighting. But he fought back.
He looked down when he felt something prick his chest. It wasn’t a prick. There was a knife in his chest. Damn it all. He grabbed the wrist attached to the knife handle and yanked out and then stabbed himself again. That freaked out who’d initially stabbed Altair. But damnit if he was going to die might as well get it over with. He didn’t fancy bleeding out all over the place and trying to pretend he wanted to fight to live.
He took five stabs to the chest before he collapsed, once he managed to puncture his lungs and his heart and rupture his stomach. He didn’t remember hitting the ground.
Some time later, Altair opened his eyes. He was laying face down in ditch. Fabulous. He rolled over and sat up
The haze of alcohol was gone, and he wasn’t even hung over. For a moment the world was beautiful and crystal clear. Why would he want to forget this world existed by seeking solace in a tankard? Then he remembered and it was like all the colors were leeched from the world. His everything was gone. Why was he still alive? What was the point?
A shadow passed over him. He looked up and saw a big man standing over him, the sun behind them, making it hard to see. “Hello there,” they said.
“Hello,” Altair said passionlessly.
“Quite a death that was,” Altair looked at them more carefully. “Why don’t we get you something to eat? Must be starving after healing all those stab wounds.”
Altair squinted at them, “Who’re you?” he asked.
The man smiled, “A friend. C’mon now, before someone sees,” and he offered Altair his hand. Altair hesitated a moment before taking it and was hauled to his feet.