Desmond spends the first month making sure.
The Grand Temple is the same, just inert now, but the area around is different. The Kanien'kehà:ka aren't there, with no sign of their settlement anywhere in sight. No longhouses and no sign of campfires, the most there is are traces of long passed hunters and paths animals worn into the forest, but that's about it. Even the hunter huts aren't there, with no sign of them having been built, the area is still wild and rough.
The closest human settlement he ends up finding is Boston, and it's… different. The buildings are roughly the same, the people in turns dour and hardy and not terribly interested in answering his questions about the differences. Because the differences are marked.
In Boston harbour, there are dragons.
"Damn handy they are," one of the harbour workers says as they watch a grey and blue dragon beat its wings and lift a crate from the deck of a ship, something you'd usually need a crane for. In Boston harbour there aren't any cranes at all, just dragons.
"Used to work in Dover back in the old country," the worker says. "Old fashioned shipping business, no dragons. Can't even tell you how much faster it is, this way. Takes less men too, which the harbour master likes."
"Have they always…?" Desmond starts to ask but isn't sure how to finish the question. Existed, worked at the harbour, been just a normal part of life?
"Took a while, didn't it, but I reckon people are scared of them for no real good reason," the worker says and empties his pipe over the edge of the pier and into the water. "Wouldn't mind one of my own if I could afford the feeding."
Dragons aren't the only difference, but it's easily the most noticeable one. The dragons working in the harbour are a sight and a half, but they're not the only ones. There are courier dragons and shipping dragons going in and out of the city and occasionally, though rarely, military dragon patrol might be seen flying over the city. Some people fear them, Desmond sees one fresh immigrant from Britain go into hysterics over a small, motley coloured dragon peddling wares in the streets, but most people don't even look up, used to seeing them about. Somehow here dragons are utterly mundane.
He can't find any proof of either Assassins or Templars. Connor's tribe doesn't seem to exist, or if it does, it lives somewhere else. Haytham has never been heard of. Charles Lee, yes, but the man died on the battlefield years ago and if he was involved in anything more suspicious than war, no one knew. Davenport Homestead is a patch of wild forest and nothing more and no one knows Achilles Davenport at all. No one's ever heard of a ship named Aquila, and he'd have better luck looking for it further south.
Desmond researched as much history as he can get his hands on, finding scholars and bothering them – or helping them, whichever worked the best – until they let him look at their books. When that offers no answers, he goes after church records instead, first talking to a catholic priest and then breaking into the man's library.
Rodrigo Borgia was Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia was the general of Papal armies. He died of spear wound in battle and was apparently disfigured from syphilis. What that says about history, Desmond isn't sure, but he gets the feeling neither was a Templar in life. Still terrible people but not Templars. Templars don't probably even exist here. Nor Assassins for that matter. Instead there's dragons.
It's kind of depressing how little it changes things.
The second month Desmond gets tired of hunting for living. He's good enough at it and he gets good price for the meat and pelts he brings in, it's enough to sustain him and fund his forays into research... but he doesn't particularly enjoy it, killing animals for money. Even if his ways are more humane than what other hunters do, it's just… it isn't necessary. And knowing how many of those animals would be hunted to near extinction just makes him feel shitty about it.
So he stops and sets out looking for other work. He works some odd jobs as Assassins do, delivering packages and such. Because he's one of the biggest guys in Boston – and slowly regaining the weight he lost in the Animus – he gets hired to do a lot of not so pleasant physical things. Tussle with some ruffians, shake up a guy in debt, threaten a group of layabouts up to no good, that sort of thing. It's not the work he particularly enjoyed, so he soon turns to other things. Letter writing earns him a bit, there are a lot of people in Boston who don't know how to read or write too well. Sometimes people pay him to read letters too. It doesn't pay enough to sustain him though, so eventually he looks for actual employment.
He finds it at the harbour, for a while, working in menial manual labour of hauling things. That's where he meets his first dragon, Jackson, who works full-time at the harbour at pretty much the same job he does. Only difference is that where Desmond hauls things weighting maybe hundred pounds at most, Jackson hauls things weighing tons.
"Honestly, I don't see what use you are at all," Jackson says, watching him as Desmond sorts through packets. "Anyone can tell that a dragon can do the job of ten men. That's why they pay us so well."
"Not so good with manual dexterity though," Desmond comments. "When it comes to small details."
"Then they ought to make the details bigger," Jackson huffs. "Where are you from, I can't place your accent."
"Bunch of places. That's probably why, I picked up a bunch of accents along the way," Desmond says and looks at her curiously. "Where are you from?"
Dragons, Desmond muses, are a lot like people. Unnervingly so, even. They can be proud of their origins and boast their lineages and they can be petty and mean too, and selfish. Jackson has worked at the harbour for ten years now, and according to the other men working at the place, she's always suspicious of newcomers, jealous that they might be butting into her territory of hauling heavy things.
Dragons are also very much not like people in a few aspects, but that takes nearly two weeks of talking with her and getting her to like him to learn.
"We learn through the shell, you know. None of this being a worm for years on end you humans do," she sniffs. "We learn to speak and think in the shell and when we come out, we're already smart. It takes us a bit to grow up maybe – but not twenty years, that's ludicrous."
"So you grow faster and live longer," Desmond says. "And you learn rapidly when you're not even born yet. How are you not the dominant species of the planet?"
Jackson side eyes him warily to make sure he isn't making fun of her and then harrumphs. "Sometimes I wonder," she says.
Desmond learns through her that his mode of speaking is sometimes weird here – which is understandable, 21st century is a lot more lax with language and has slang which this time hasn't even invented here. Jackson cares less than some people do, but she does give him weird looks sometimes. So he learns to keep quiet, which isn't that hard. He's kept quiet most his life.
So, quietly, he wonders about humans and dragons and how they fit in the history as it was shaped by the Precursors. Were dragons their creations too? Or were they something else? And seriously, dragons can live up to several hundred years, and they can have tens of tons in weight on humans – how aren't they in charge of everything?
The third month Desmond gets fired from the docks. It's not really his fault. There's a scuffle in the docks, couple of drunken workers taking out some frustrations against each other. Some soldiers come to intervene, it turns into a whole incident between almost all the harbour workers and local militia that Desmond gets drawn into – and then he puts an end to it.
Turns out it doesn't matter that he hasn't done much assassin related stuff in months – the skills haven't faded one bit.
But it's not a very good look, to have punched out as many soldiers as he did, and the harbour can't take that sort of heat, not with the amount of smuggling going on. So, in the end the harbour master lets him go.
"You're a diligent worker and apparently a deft hand at fighting," the harbour master consoles him. "If you have the head for it, I'd say you'd do well on a ship. You know any sailing?"
"Some," Desmond admits slowly. "But I don't know…"
"I can keep an eye about for a berth for you, if you'd like," the harbour master says. "I know plenty of good merchant vessels always in search of able bodied men. The pay isn't half bad either – and with nothing to spend it on at the seas, it piles up nicely."
Well, Desmond muses. It would be nice to see more of the world than vision had to offer, and he's exhausted all his research options here. Maybe if he somehow got to Europe…
The fourth month, Desmond starts on his first ship voyage as a seaman on board of an American merchant vessel, the Blue Dove. He regrets it almost immediately.
First because sailing brings back something he thought he was over by now – the Bleeding Effect. It starts with hot flashes of Eagle Vision turning on and off on its own and showing him ghosts of men and women. At first he thinks he's seeing Connor's life in the Aquila, that he's seeing the sailor of the ship. Then he starts dreaming of a ship named Jackdaw and pirate named Edward.
Well, things were going a little too well, weren't they?
And then he finds out what kind of merchant vessel the Blue Dove really is.
"See, we take molasses, cotton and tobacco and whatnot to Europe," one of the older seamen explains in tones of experience and authority to newer members of the crew, like Desmond, pointing their route in map. "Earns us a pretty penny. We get what sells from Europe, fabric and tools and such and we take that to Africa, here, the colonies here pay for it nicely. And then we load the cargo with blacks and ride the trade winds all the way back to the new world and sell them at a nice bit of profit to the plantations. And then we get some more sugar and cotton and tobacco and catch the westerlies back to Europe. It's all very tidy, really."
Most of the ship crew ends up deciding Desmond is utterly useless at sailing, with how often he's sick. He keeps his head down for that first voyage, doesn't speak much to anyone and weathers the rising Bleeding Effect the best he can, doing his work on board the ship without complaint. The other sailors probably think he's either mortally sick and hallucinating or cursed and seeing visions. Either way, when they reach Europe's shores and Desmond begs leave on the count of how badly suited to sailing he is, the captain gives it with visible relief.
"Honestly, if you did not, I'd fear for your safety," the man says. "The men talk and you're a queer one. Bad luck, some might say."
"Captain, you have no idea," Desmond mutters, watching as the Blue Dove is loaded up with cargo of good British rum to buy some slaves with.
It makes the ship burn very brightly indeed, that night.
Desmond gets almost a day in Bristol, and then he's found and unceremoniously conscripted into the British Navy. It's a thing that still happens, apparently. Conscription is how Britain gets most of their sailors and though United States have had their independence for a while, Britain still feels ownership over their sailors. So if an American man so happens to have some sailing experience, British Navy is quick to claim it's their duty to serve, apparently.
"You'll serve your time, earn a good salary while you're at it, and once you're done you will have nice bit of capital to settle down with," the heavy handed bosun says while steering Desmond towards what's to be his be home for the foreseeable future, a British navy ship, a brig. "Have you family, lad? Wife maybe? Sickly mother at home? You could send money to them, keep them in comfort."
Desmond could get out of it. Punch to the kidneys and he could run. Knife to the gut if it got down to it. Or if not that, then he could probably slip away from the ship while it's still in harbour, he's strong enough swimmer to make it.
He doesn't. For one, he didn't actually have any better plans as it is, and for other, it would be a way to see more of the world, maybe spot the differences, figure out what makes this world so strange. And the British Navy didn't do slaves. At least, he doesn't think they do.
Well, he can arrange a little fire in the gunpowder storage if it comes to it.
So, after landing in Britain, Desmond becomes an able seaman on board the HMS Impulsive. Honestly, the name of the ship is about as much as he needs to know that this voyage would be much more interesting and hopefully less sickly than the one in board the Blue Dove.
He spends all the pay he got from the Blue Dove on books and articles and newspapers and makes him better friends among the crew of the Impulsive by reading some of their more interesting bits out loud during their sparse downtime. They think he's queer too, but in a slightly better way than the men aboard the Blue Dove did, so that's something.
His sixth month is also spent aboard the HMS Impulsive. It is also spent trying to put reins on the Bleeding Effect. It's not so much getting better as he's being better at ignoring it, and with Edward Kenway being determined to show him his whole life – or at least the interesting pirate bits of it – something had to be done. As happy as Desmond is knowing how to make berserk darts all of a sudden, he can't spend the rest of his life hallucinating, and if Edward and the Bleeding Effect would be satisfied visiting him in his sleep alone, that would work fine by him.
So, he tries for some mental discipline. Not hard on board a navy ship, actually, they're all about discipline and repetitive menial tasks. The Impulsive had a very energetic bosun too, and most of the tasks onboard are done singing working shanties – and you kind of go into a sort of trance, when you're working at the beat of a hearty melody. Desmond also knows suddenly a lot of shanties, and though he doesn't have the clear voice of the Jackdaw's best singers, he thinks he does alright by them.
Still, Edward Kenway's memories keep coming. Not all of them are even all that exciting. One night he dreams of nothing but Edward and his crew repairing the broken mast on the Jackdaw and another night he dreams of Edward being a new hand on a privateer, sewing a torn sail late into the night.
He starts suspecting where the dreams might be coming from when a change in the creak of the Impulsive's ropes warns him, somehow, to the fact that the mizzen sail is about to come loose, and by ancestral instinct alone he knows how to fix it. Then he begins trimming sails just so for tacking, before the helmsman even gives the order. And eventually he's checking the spurs and instinctively knowing which ones need replacing and how soon.
It's not nothing the other more experienced sailors don't have an instinctive understanding of. But normally it takes years to get there.
Desmond stops fighting Edward Kenway towards the end of the month and starts wondering how meditation might work instead.
On his seventh month, his third onboard the HMS Impulsive, Desmond sees battle.
The Impulsive is mostly on channel duty, safely within a line and always within reach of backup if it's needed. That day they have a storm though, with eastward gusts blowing them away from the channel patrol lines and dangerously close to the French shores. The storm is still going even as French Man of War spots them and decides to make a go for it, storm or no storm.
There's a bit of gunnery, but the waves make aiming nearly impossible, most of the shots go wild. For a moment it seems like the French would try to ram them and probably send them to the bottom of the ocean, but they decide on mercy instead. A chain ball takes out one of the Impulsive's masts, and while they're fighting the sails to keep the ship from rolling over, the French sidle to to the Impulsive for boarding.
With the rain, guns are out and it comes down to swords – or in Desmond's case, to knives. He loses track in the storm how many he kills and how. He's half Edward, he thinks, clambering up the rigging and then he's Ezio, dropping down and taking out two with his blades. He misses Connor's bow and arrow and his rope darts, he misses Ezio's gun and crossbow and Altaïr's knives. It doesn't matter.
He loses his knife and grabs a sword from a Frenchman and then kills some more men.
The boarders are repelled. Mostly killed.
Mostly by him.
The French make a second go at them – by that time the marines and officers on the Impulsive have marked him down as their best fighter and flank him in repelling the second attack. That battle is no less bloody than the first, and this time the French are watching.
There is no third attempt.
Desmond gets commendation and promotion for what he did, from able seaman to petty officer, precise placing pending.
"You know your letters and sums, that we know. Do you speak languages?" the captain asks, while they clean the mess off the deck. "Any French?"
"With a terrible accent, yes," Desmond admits. "I also know Italian, Arabic and a bit of Latin."
The captain stares at him for a moment. "I see," the man then says briskly. "You have learning enough to warrant it, then. We'll see about your actual placing among the men. Have you any preferences?"
Desmond thinks about it. "I guess if you want to make the most of me, put me in boarding crews. Aside from that, I'm fine with anything, sir."
He's made the bosun's mate – and after that, the rumours begin.
His fourth month on board the Impulsive, his eighth month in this world, Desmond learns to meditate. If it really can be called that.
Maybe it's his brain being still jumbled from the Animus or maybe he's just fundamentally altered, but meditation turns out to be a bit like entering the Animus. World fades away into white flickering potential, where he thinks he can, if he wants to, load up genetic memories.
It's there that he learns what Edward Kenway looked like – a bit of a mess really – and that the man was probably Haytham's father. What to do with that information, he isn't sure, but there it is – semblance of reins on the Bleeding Effect. He also gets a feeling that he's only begin scratching at the surface of his ancestral memories – there's a sense of potential there, so much potential, just hiding behind the surface. If he reached out, he thinks he can awaken them and plunge himself into another ancestor's mind, like he's in Edward's mind right now.
He doesn't need it right now. But it's something to keep in mind, definitely. Edward is giving him a lot of useful information, maybe the others would too.
There is no way he will ever be able to pronounce Edward's Welsh though. He tried and it still feels like his tongue is knotted up with the consonants.
"So what's it then, the thing you do, where you, you know. Just sit there and do nothing?" One of the younger midshipmen asks, while Desmond checks over their sums – tasks left happily to him by the senior midshipmen.
"It's a mental exercise that helps you think clearer," Desmond says, reading through the boy's writing. "The third one is wrong, the others look about right. Try doing that one again."
"Did you learn it from the savages?" the boy asks in hushed whisper and Desmond gives him a look. "That's what everyone says, that you fight so good because you were taught by the new world savages."
"I was taught by Italian banker actually, and no," Desmond says. "Meditation is eastern practice – oriental. And please don't call the Native American tribes, or anyone else for that matter, savages again. It just makes your sound haughty and ignorant. Now do your sums."
It's not the only rumour circulating about him. Some say that he's the son of a disgraced gentleman. Others think he's a former mercenary who spent most of his life killing Native Americans. And then there are the more outlandish rumours, like him being a naturalist who learned how the world works and nearly went mad.
They don't start whispering about demons and devils until they take their first prize – and Desmond single-handedly kills twelve men in a boarding action.
Nine months in this world, five on board the HMS Impulsive, and Desmond meets his second dragon.
Because the Impulsive is a fairly small ship and usually patrolling the channel, they don't see much in way of dragon actions. Those are preserved for Ships of the Line and the Impulsive isn't even a third rate. So, though they have all the necessary bits for setting up a landing platform for a dragon, they haven't actually needed to use it during Desmond's service.
Then the dragon comes and it's not even a British dragon or a courier – it's a great big French dragon, much, much bigger than Jackson, one of the largest ones probably. Immediately the ship goes into disarray – they're supposed to be out of the patrolling range of French dragons and yet here it is, coming right at them.
The captain calls for pepper guns to be primed, people fret over fighting a heavyweight, and they wait and the dragon draws closer and closer and finally arrive, wheezing and huffing and exhausted. It's also injured. Pretty strange attacker, all told.
The single man on board the dragon shouts something too faint to be heard over the distance and then the dragon bellows in deep resounding French, "We surrender!"
A dragon and captain pair of deserters. Their names are Praecursoris and Jean-Paul Choiseul respectively, and according to them, they are Royalists and in opposition to Napoleon and the current direction France is going.
"We surrender utterly," Choiseul says wretchedly, once the platform had been pitched and the pair landed. He looks exhausted and relieved – Praecursoris is completely out for count. "We've been flying non stop since leaving Austria and we only escaped with our lives. I know not if we have much to offer, but whatever we can give, it is yours, so as long as we are granted some kindness and semblance of sanctuary."
It's a bit much to believe off hand, but there's prize money to be gained from delivering a whole heavyweight dragon to Britain, which makes more of the crew consider it seriously. Even if the man specifically sought them out to surrender, there would be some sort of a reward, surely? It's enough to make even the most fearful in the crew consider the dragon with interest – and seriously, most of the crew seems terrified.
Desmond watches them and then hums and goes to talk to the captain. "I don't know what their game is," he says. "But it's a ploy, somehow."
"Do you have any proof of this, Mr. Miles?" Captain Hayward asks.
Desmond eyes the French captain and dragon, both of whom glow vivid red under his eyes. "A gut feeling, sir," he says flatly, knowing he can't really say anything else.
The captain hums, watching him with narrowed eyes. "Very well, Mr. Miles. I will take it under advisement."
"Captain," Desmond nods and heads out again.
Praecursoris and Choiseul are send over the channel, to the awaiting covert in Dover where the Admiral of the Aerial Corps would receive them and decide what to do with them. Whether they take the word of a mere petty officer seriously, Desmond doesn't know. It's not his problem either way.
Ten months in the new world, six on board the Impulsive and Desmond wakes up with the knowledge of another ancestor. It had been coming on slowly, and he'd kind of expected it, and yet…
He's just gotten used to Edward in his head on top of Altaïr, Ezio and Connor. Now there's a fifth man, Arno, murmuring viciously bitter French into his mind. Desmond supposes it was to be expected – Edward got a lot more time than, say, Altaïr and Connor. Almost as much as Ezio, really. Another ancestor was bound to pop up sooner or later. And recently, there's been a bit more French in his life than before.
The HMS Impulsive is still on channel duty. Whether it's a reward or punishment for delivering the deserter is hard to say, half of the crew are disappointed that they weren't rewarded with something grand like being sent to a fleet, the other half are relieved. There is something going on in the West Indies and in Spain, a whole fleet action brewing. Nelson's name has popped up a lot of time. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson's. And here they are, on board of their little brig, still on the channel.
Desmond really misses Shaun and his database right now. He's got the vague understanding of the time and place, but precise historical events… not so much. Not outside of what Connor went through and that was years ago – Connor's last memory was in 1783 – it's 1805 now. Not precisely helpful, and even this new ancestor isn't of use. Though it kind of feels like maybe he's trying to be?
Arno's memories aren't from that long ago. The French revolution, it looked like, which was less than a decade ago. But, still, a decade ago. Not exactly helpful in the now. Unless of course… maybe…
Arno wasn't that old, in his memories. He'd be in his thirties, his forties maybe, now? If he lived. If he existed.
Desmond lets the hope rise and then meditates on it, examining it. Part of him is still hoping he might find Assassins here. Part of him is still looking for his ancestors in the real world. The ones he knew or maybe new ones. Maybe anyone would do.
He should probably stop that.
With a sigh Desmond lets go and gets back to work. It would be another long month of watching the channel and waiting. In that sense, another ancestor to keep him company is almost welcome… even one as increasingly bitter as Arno Dorian.
Eleven months in the new world and seven on board the HMS Impulsive. Time seems to stretch on in the channel, growing longer and longer, as they count the bells and wait for something. There is something coming. They can all sense it. Or maybe it's just Desmond and some vague sense of future-memory of long-dead-not-yet-born ancestor who knew about this time. It feels like calm before the storm either way, and he doesn't like it.
Arno's memories do little to make him feel any more settled. At least Edward had moments of joy in there, even if it came with plundering other people for their riches. Arno's life is just… dour and sad and bitter in that perfectly French way that makes it almost sweet. Like wine, heady and deadly.
Desmond thinks the guy might be getting to him. Either that, or he's going insane with the silence. There haven't even been any ship battles, and as much as he dislikes the looks he gets after a good bit of action, it would be almost a relief, to let off some steam.
"What has you so wound up, Mr. Miles?" the bosun, Stephens, asks, watching him pace.
"I have no idea," Desmond says. "The quiet, maybe. I guess I miss action."
"The devil craves blood," someone mutters in the background, and it's almost a joke – except for the fact that no one's laughing.
Stephens sends the deckhands a glare and then folds his arms. "Well, if you're so at loose ends, you can give the boys some lessons with a sword. They could do with being whipped into better shape."
That makes a lot of the seamen's faces go pale, and even the few marines on board look a little ill at ease. Desmond hesitates for a moment and then someone in the back mutters, "Well, I am not a coward," to someone else's whispering and steps forward. "I'll take you on and I will take all you can teach me and thank you for it, if it makes me live longer."
And so they spar. It settles something in Desmond he didn't realise he was missing. Something of Altaïr and Ezio, the teacher in them. They all but hum within him as he takes up a sword, taken from a French man and never returned, and starts teaching his opponent how to wield it.
The deckhand survives the beating, if with bruises. It encourages some others to try it too, and soon it becomes a thing, to end a night in swordplay rather than in drinking and singing. Well, the sailors still drink. They're sailors. But they drink while watching Desmond kick the asses of their fellows, so it's a bit more entertaining.
It does nothing to settle the nervous tension in Desmond. There's something coming, and he can't quite grasp at the ancestors who know what it is.
And then there is the Battle of Trafalgar – and an invasion. Twelve months in the new world, eight on board the HMS Impulsive, and in one fell swoop a French dragon comes down and sets the whole ship on fire.
It happens almost too fast to make any sense. One moment there is nothing going on, the other there are dragons, ludicrous amount of dragons, flying overhead, far too high for their pepper guns to reach. And before any of them can properly react to it, or the bizarre sight of dragons carrying massive hulls over head… the Impulsive is suddenly on fire, and there's little they can do but abandon the ship.
Desmond is left with the rest of the survivors watching their ship sink burning into the ocean while above head dragons carry goddamn airships over the sparsely guarded channel and towards Britain. The only comfort they have is that after setting the Impulsive on fire, the dragons overhead don't seem to care about them much. It's not like they're in any state to offer them any opposition at this point.
"What happens now?" one of the young midshipmen asks, huddled nervously against Desmond's side. "Are they going to invade?"
"Obviously they're invading. Look at those things," a seaman says and motions to the ships flying over head. "They must be filled to the brink with men, ready to take British cities and towns. And Nelson's fleet is back at Trafalgar and we're without ship and can't do anything!"
"However did they get the beasts to do that?" someone murmurs. "How can they do that, how is that possible?"
"Dragons can carry several tons, and it looks like there's several heavyweights one each ship," Desmond says. "They can do it easily, really."
It doesn't seem to comfort anyone much.
"We must head for Britain, for Dover," someone says, the second lieutenant. "It might take time, but there might yet be something we can do, when we arrive. They mean to invade, and lord help us if we make it easy for them."
So they head back, as fast as they can on the skiff... which really isn't all that fast. Desmond peers up at the dragons flying above and wonders again, not for the first time, why aren't they the dominant species of the planet. Seriously, just looking at them… they should be.
"This world is so strange," he muses, making the men around cast him some alarmed looks.
Of course, they're late to the invasion – late to seeing it being repelled back, almost miraculously, by British dragons. There are broken dragons and broken ships on the shores of Dover when they reach it, but no French army making a foothold. The men of the long lost Impulsive are disappointed about having missed the action, but Desmond just sighs.
It seems about the right way to end his first year in this new, strange world.