There was light. Bright, white, blinding light. Malik closed his eyes, even put his hand before his head, to try and see, but to no avail. He heard his brother’s steps, maybe to try and find him, and he heard Altaïr grunt, and a sword dropped to the ground. Solomon’s Temple disappeared, Jerusalem disappeared, but the light stayed, until that disappeared too.
His head hurt, he tasted iron in his mouth. What was happening to them? He found a hand, or a hand found him, he didn’t know for sure. But he held onto it. He realized that he was on his back, laying down. Somewhere solid. The hand was gone, and he could finally open his eyes.
They were somewhere in the city. But this wasn’t Jerusalem, Malik realized. No, the street was wide and clean, and empty. Around them, the buildings were decorated in a way Malik never seen before, they weren’t anything like the ones in Jerusalem. Or any other building he saw. If anything, they looked more like the ones in Acre, but they weren’t as crude.
A minute ago, they were in the ruins of Solomon’s Temple. They approached Robert de Sablé and his templars, Altaïr being reckless as always. Malik followed him, he had to. They were partners on this mission. And Kadar…
He quickly got up and turned around, finding his little brother still cradling his head, sitting on the floor. His right hand was in his lap, his palm looked burned, with blisters. Malik was beside his brother in the next second.
“Malik…” His little brother gasped, voice full of pain. He touched his injured hand gently, trying not to care for his brother’s whimper. It didn’t look bad, but Kadar was clearly in a lot of pain. What happened to him? Why was he the only one hurt?
And then he remembered Altaïr, but the man was already up on his feet, and judging by a shocked gasp, he was already attacking someone. Malik got to his side just in time to pull back his hand before he slashed the throat of a stranger, who was just wandering the streets.
“Who are you?” the Master Assassin growled, but his victim remained silent, lips trembling. He was afraid, that much was clear. Malik didn’t think for a second that this stranger was responsible for what was happening to them, but Altaïr wanted answers.
“My… my name is Luca… please.” The man started crying, and Malik decided that it was enough. He tried to pull his partner back, but Altaïr, of course, didn’t want to obey. “I am just a merchant! Please, let me go!”
“What is this place?” Altaïr continued to interrogate the poor man, whose eyes grew even wider.
“It’s… Florence, of course.”
Florence? But that was… Not in Syria at all. Malik tried to think back on his cartography lessons, the maps they confiscated on their missions. But how could they have travelled this far in an instant? How is this possible? He was clearly dreaming. That was the only explanation. Altaïr looked confused and angry, he didn’t understand either.
“Let him go, Brother.”
The man finally looked at him for the first time, thanking him and still pleading. Malik walked back to his little brother, tearing the fabric of his own robes to have something to bandage Kadar’s hand with. He poured a bit of water from his flask on the cloth to clean his palm, and then wrapped the fabric around the injured hand. Kadar was looking up at the sky, his eyes were red from crying, body trembling. Malik quickly scanned his brother for other injuries, but he wasn’t bleeding, thankfully.
Altaïr wasn’t about to just let the man walk free, of course. Malik heard a bubbling sound, then the thud of a body hitting the ground. Anger flared inside him. Before he looked back to his partner, he made sure Kadar was still conscious and aware. The Master Assassin cleaned his blade on his victim’s clothes and then scanned the area for a hiding place. A minute later the merchant’s body was in a haystack, and Altaïr was climbing one of the taller buildings around them. Malik stayed beside Kadar, but his eyes were following the other assassin. He was surprised that the street was empty, apart from the late merchant. It must be late into the night, although when they entered Solomon’s Temple, it was just after dawn.
The man said Florence. Of course. Malik couldn’t conjure up much knowledge about this place, but he was fairly certain that they were on Christian land. That wasn’t promising. They had to get off the street, before anyone could see them. Can people here recognize their robes? The Crusaders knew about the Brotherhood, they knew their uniform. They had a reputation, but did it reach this place? In any case, they can’t risk it.
Altaïr was back, he didn’t spare a glance at Kadar.
“This city is strange. But I could see a big building that way,” he pointed to Malik’s right, above his head “and possibly a river beyond it.”
“Possibly? I know you are afraid of water, but I can’t imagine one could forget how it looks like.”
The Master Assassin looked at him, frowning. Malik was not in a good mood, at all. It started when they had to go on a mission together, and when Altaïr disregarded everything he said to him, well, that didn’t help either. He was fed up with the man way before they found themselves in this situation.
“I am not afraid of water.”
“Whatever you say, Brother.”
Kadar was suddenly chuckling at their bickering, and Malik immediately turned to him, relieved. His little brother looked in the direction where Altaïr was pointing, but the streets were just as empty. Malik found that odd. Maybe they were in a less populated area? Or maybe it was dangerous outside at this hour, and the citizens knew better? But what was that merchant doing out here then?
“We should find shelter, to look at Kadar’s hand.” Malik directed it at Altaïr, who was already gone. He grimaced, and helped his brother stand up. He spotted Altaïr not far away, looking into alleyways and glancing through windows.
It took them several minutes to get out of the wide street and into a dark and narrow alley. Several houses had smaller gardens, which were accessible from the street, but it would be risky to stay there, no matter how nice they were. Malik spotted rooftop gardens, very similar to what they set up in several cities where the Brotherhood was present. He wondered if there were assassins here. It was a long way from home, and they are probably not an official branch, but he knew that the history of their order started long before Masyaf. Or maybe it was just all a coincidence. In any case, they were a good hiding place.
The only problem was that he wasn’t sure Kadar could climb up to one. Maybe if they find a ladder? Altaïr was apparently thinking the same, he told them to wait and then climbed up again on the almost smooth wall of a house. His fingers found the protruding parts, and when he got higher, the decoration made it much easier. Then, he disappeared from their sight.
“Where are we, Malik?” his brother asked, but Malik didn’t have a good answer.
“I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Kadar avoided his eyes. He looked up to where Altaïr was a second ago, refusing to glance at Malik. Something was off about him, but the older brother knew better than to try and force it.
“How’s your hand?”
It was weird. How his palm was the only injury they collectively had. He certainly wasn’t hurt before they approached the templars. Malik himself was fine, and aside from his pride, probably, Altaïr wasn’t hurt either. Curious, but they need more information before they start guessing.
“It’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, judging by his brother’s tone. Kadar must’ve known Malik could see right through him, and he quickly added “Bearable. Nothing to worry about.”
As if he could ever stop worrying. The fact that Kadar was able to lie about it, told Malik that he will be able to endure it as well.
“There’s a ladder not far from here.” Altaïr was looking down at them from the top of the building, and led them deeper to the alleyway, where they found a way up to the roof. After they joined the Master Assassin, all three of them went to the nearest roof garden.
Once they were hidden, they had some time to think on what happened. Kadar was fast asleep, his injury clearly drained him. The older Al-Sayf brother couldn’t help but try to piece together how they got here. Al Mualim sent them to Jerusalem, to find something important. He called it the Ark. Altaïr thought it was just a stupid story, he told as much when Kadar asked. They saw it, above an archway. Malik doubted that it was the Ark of the Covenant, but it was something.
Solomon’s Temple was already a ruin, who knows what was hidden in it. Most of Jerusalem didn’t even know it was there, or that it was partly excavated. But it must’ve been ancient, whatever the artifact was.
Such things shouldn’t concern Malik, but he was concerned. Not only because they had a mission which they clearly and spectacularly failed, but also because they were in an entirely different city, who knows where. Kadar was injured, he needed a healer. Maybe they should’ve went for the river, they need to cool his hand. But then how clear is the water? They can’t risk infection either.
He felt Altaïr's gaze on him. The assassin immediately looked away, and Malik scoffed. He won’t talk about that now. They needed to figure out what to do. And if that wasn’t enough, his own brother is sleeping next to them.
“There must be a Rafiq and a bureau somewhere here.” Malik stated, not really wanting an answer. “We should ask for directions. If there’s no assassin presence here, we have to get back to Masyaf.”
“That much is clear.” the other assassin answered, like it was obvious. And it was, but it was easier to talk about it than do it. If they’re on Christian land, people can at least point them to Jerusalem, or maybe even Acre, and from then, they can go back to Masyaf, with the news of their failed mission. How they really got here though – that was an entirely different matter. Malik didn’t want to dwell on it, it was clearly beyond their comprehension.
Might as well try and sleep a few hours, Malik thought. They were up early before they left the Jerusalem bureau to go to Solomon’s Temple, and he knew full well Altaïr didn’t even sleep on that night, and nor did he.
A young assassin strolled the streets of Florence early in the morning. He was wearing his father’s robes, which concealed his true identity. His family was still notorious, he still had to be careful. But he was excited because of a certain codex page in his inner pocket. It was good to be home, to visit his good friend Leonardo again.
The Maestro didn’t change much since their last meeting, when he repaired his father’s hidden blade. But Ezio changed much. When they parted, he was convinced he would go to Spain with his family and start anew. Not only that it didn’t happen, but he also learned about his heritage as an assassin. He learned to embrace it, and now he was back in his home town, trying to uncover an attack on the Medici.
He passed his old home, the Auditore villa, but didn’t even look in its direction. Leonardo’s workshop was not far. He was thrilled to see him again, apart from family, he was the only one from his old life who was still loyal to Ezio. Perhaps his only friend. The small plaza in front of the building was busy with merchants, but he passed them like a ghost.
Stepping in front of the door, he knocked. There was some rustling on the other side, but then the door was opened, and the artist welcomed him with a warm smile. Ezio leaned in to hug the man, as they used to.
“Oh, Ezio, right? What a surprise, I haven’t seen you in… years, probably!”
The artist dodged his attempt, but invited him in. Ezio was dumbfounded for a second but then stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
“Leonardo?” he asked warily, as if something was wrong. It felt like something was wrong. They didn’t know the other for long before his family’s execution, but they spent a lot of time with each other after, yes? He clearly remembered him, but the artist seemed a bit uncertain.
“Yes, sit, please! Would you like anything?” Leonardo was kind and generous as always. Ezio didn’t sit though, just stood next to him, enjoying the other’s good mood.
“No, thank you. I came because I found another page of Altaïr's codex.”
“Oh, another? I can’t seem to remember the first one, my friend, but please remind me.”
That was odd. He knew how excited the artist was at the prospect of more pages. He didn’t forget the hidden blade, surely! He started to recover the page from his pocket, only there wasn’t anything in it. Ezio panicked, looked around.
“Is something the matter?”
Something was very, very wrong.
“Leonardo, you do remember me, right? You know of the assassins.”
“Of course, Ezio. How is Madonna Maria? She was always kind to me…” The artist started to trail off, shocked. “She is alright, yes?”
“Something is wrong. Are you being threatened?” That was the only thing he could think of. Why else would Leonardo want to change the subject so quickly from the assassins? The artist gave him a weak smile while shaking his head.
“No, not at all. I’m just confused, to be perfectly honest.” Leonardo suspiciously eyed him, his jovial mood disappeared.
“You fixed my father’s blade for me, based on…”
He raised his hand to show him the hidden blade, but it didn’t come out of its sheath. In fact, it was broken, just like he found it in his father’s chest. But that meant… What did it mean? He did end up sitting in Leonardo’s workshop, with the man apologizing to him for forgetting something like this. Something happened, and Ezio was beyond confused.