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From the Wolves

Chapter Text

Davenport Homestead, 6th June, 1793

The end of twelve years of peace came when Godfrey’s house went up in flame. Shouts awoke Connor, and he sat up in bed, listening. The old wound on his side ached with the sudden movement, but he ignored it. “Fire!” he heard someone screaming. He threw the sheets off and moved to the window. The summer night was one of the more humid ones, and he could hear the sound of crackling flames over the cicadas. Connor cursed, and pausing only to put on his bracers, tore from the house. The others in the Homestead, dressed in their night things, were already at the scene, passing buckets of water in a line from the river to throw on the house. Connor counted them all frantically.

“Terry!” he called when he caught sight of the man. Terry’s head snapped around.

“Connor, oh God.”

Connor put his hand on Terry’s shoulder, and the other gripped his arm. “Look at me,” he said. “Look!” Terry looked him in the eye, still as a rabbit caught in torchlight. “Where are Godfrey and Catherine?”

“Safe. They’re safe. Godfrey’s by the river. Catherine’s part of the bucket brigade.”

Connor nodded and smiled before he tore off, breathing easier at the sight of Catherine as he passed her in the line. Her face was bloodless with shock, but her expression was determined as she passed the buckets on to Prudence and received them from Lance. Connor spotted Godfrey a moment later, barking orders by the river.

“What happened?” Connor asked.

Godfrey was shaking his head, his eyes rimmed with white in his alarm. His face and hair were dark with soot. “I woke up with smoke in my nose. I don’t know what happened, only thought about getting Catherine out.”

“Is there any chance that this was done on purpose?”

Godfrey looked taken aback at the suggestion. “But who would do it? No one’s got a grudge I know of against us, a-and the whiskey riots aren’t here. Mustn’t have banked the fire properly….”

Godfrey was right: there was no one with ill-will against him or Catherine on the Homestead, Connor was sure of it. If there was anyone who did, he was sure they would have come to him with the grievance before doing something like this; people had in the past. But the question had put doubts in his mind. He stilled.

“Connor?”

Fear made him go back to the manor. He hardly felt the sticks beneath his bare feet, nor the painful beating of his heart against his ribs. Not here, he was thinking desperately. Not here, you’re not here anymore. He’d killed them, all of them. After Lee’s death, he had purged the Colonies of every last one of them. Yet … If they were here, he wouldn’t let the Templars destroy what he had built. And if it was them, they would have wanted to kill him first, the most dangerous man on the property.

Connor had left the manor’s key inside, and he rammed his shoulder against the door until the lock broke. He burst inside, climbing the stairs three at a time and came to the landing soaked in sweat. He stopped, caught his breath, then expanded himself. The Vision showed no one on the landing, but he couldn’t be sure about the rest of the house. Achilles had told him of how the Eagle’s Vision manifested in different ways. Some people could sense others through walls, yet others, like Connor, could find people with it as far as he could see, and for as long as he wanted. Some could run with it, whilst others couldn’t move at all. Connor, he’d said, had a combination of good traits. In that moment he wished for more.

Connor extended the hidden blade on his left wrist, and it locked into place. He crept to his bedroom door. It was open; Connor never left it open during the night, and had left through the window. He looked to the crack beneath the door to see if someone was standing behind it. There was enough light coming from the distant fire to show nobody was waiting to ambush him there, so he stepped into the room. At first he thought it deserted, but then he caught movement, and his Vision showed him a man. An enemy.

He stood by the bed, the knife gripped in his fist a good foot long. The steel glinted, and he looked from the rumpled bed to Connor. “You shouldn’t be back yet,” the man said, then attacked.

Connor caught his strike on his hidden blade, turning the man’s knife away and swaying to the side to avoid his knee. Unfortunately it gave the man the advantage, and he pressed Connor back against the wall. Connor didn’t have any other weapons on him apart from the blades, and he could see the others on the far side of the room by his robes. He was by no means incompetent with just the hidden blades, but they weren’t his primary weapon choice. He was concentrating on simply blocking the man’s knife, eager to get an opening. The man was well-trained, and his press on Connor was giving him the edge he needed. Connor grunted as the knife scored a hit across his forearm, and he roared, retracting his hidden blades. He dropped low, braced himself against the wall, and then launched himself forward. His charge knocked the man back, winding him for long enough that Connor gained back in seconds the ground he had lost.

Connor grabbed the man’s shoulder and punched him in the face. The man stumbled, his hands over his broken nose, and Connor tripped him up, extending both of his blades once more and burying them in the man’s chest before he could get up again. Connor expanded himself with his Vision as he struck, entrapping the man’s dying mind and pulling him close. It was something he had always known how to do, but he rarely did it. He hated it, feeling the life ebb from a person, and it always left him feeling sick; he’d learnt that lesson quickly when his mother had first taught him how to hunt. But it allowed him more time to wring out information he wanted from those he killed, and so he tightened his grip, ignoring the man’s gurgles and refusing the let him die whilst he still had things to say. In his mind, he took the man up by his lapel, snarling, “Who sent you?”

The man coughed, then his lips peeled back in a smile. He was resisting, and Connor pushed, forcing the information out of him. He jerked, but the fury of Connor’s mental onslaught broke his resolve. “Who else?” he whispered. His fingers caught at Connor’s front, looking for purchase in the soft wool of his shirt. “Chaos craves order. We’re here to liberate it from the anarchy you’ve seeded amongst its populace. All because you prattle on about free will. Your philosophy causes death. There’s too much hope here to cede it to the likes of you and so turn this country into a doghouse.”

“Perhaps, but at least these people choose for themselves, not a handful of the elite.” Connor leant down into the man’s face. “Why are you here? I broke your Order.”

“And we broke your Brotherhood, yet here you are in a thriving Assassin hive. The dance between us is a never ending one. It was only a matter of time before we came after you, Kenway. Don’t be so shocked.”

And then he was gone. Connor straightened up, disgusted. Worried. “Be at peace,” he said emotionlessly. He retrieved his bow, the tomahawk and the rope darts, then climbed out of the window and to the roof. He had to know if there were more of them.

By the time the dawn broke the horizon, Godfrey and Catherine’s house had been put out. A column of smoke billowed to the sky, and Connor joined Godfrey, Catherine, and the other Homesteaders as they looked to the ruins. Connor was thankful that dawn was only just breaking the horizon; it hid the blood spattering him.

“Ack,” Godfrey said, staring at what was left. The shell of it remained, and two of the walls. Half of the roof had survived, and the top floor was in place. Overall, the fire could have been much worse, but Connor didn’t miss the pain in Godfrey’s eyes. Catherine’s hands were over her mouth, and tears had left clear tracks in the soot on her face.

“If there is anything I can do to help …,” Connor said, but it sounded small and pathetic to his ears. “There are rooms at the manor I am more than happy to let you use whilst we help you rebuild.”

“That’s kind of you,” Catherine said.

Connor nodded. “Is there anything left that you wish to bring?”

Godfrey was already shaking his head. He sniffed and put his hands on his hips. “It was just a house,” he said, but Connor had the suspicion it was said more so to comfort himself. He turned to Connor and gestured to the house. “Did you, err, find anything?”

In the trees there were seven dead, half of them swaying in the wind, the other half stuck with arrows, but Connor evaded the question. “Gather what remains. I’ll help bring it up.” He was too distracted to think much on what he saw in Godfrey’s face, that he knew something was happening. Connor was too focused on the Templar pins clutched tight in his hand to say anything more.

Chapter Text

Atlantic Ocean, 23rd October, 1794

It was a relief to hear birds again after so long at sea. Connor stood at the Aquila’s wheel looking at the sky for some time when he caught sight of the first one, following it and several others as they beat their way over the ocean. Soon after they appeared, the dark outline of the coast came into view.

“Look at it!” Daniel Faulkner hung off the rigging, leaning out over the sea and shading his eyes from the sun. “Where d’you reckon that is? Dover?”

“That’s not even England, boy,” Grantham Wilkes, their navigator, said. He was a grizzled Scotsman in his late fifties, and common consensus amongst the Aquila’s crew was that no one much liked him. But he had a gift for navigation, and for that he was tolerated. He crossed his arms and frowned at Daniel. “It’s Ireland. You’ve got less salt in your blood than your mother and father combined. How, I don’t know.”

Daniel looked back at Wilkes and Connor by the wheel, sheepish. It was times when he looked down at the floor like this that Connor could see something of Robert Faulkner’s bones in his face. The man was ten years dead, and Connor still missed him fiercely, as did the Aquila. He’d taken Daniel on board to honour Faulkner’s wishes, but Wilkes was right: he wasn’t cut out to be a sailor. The boy tried, but he wasn’t much committed. But he was only sixteen; Connor still had hopes he would grow into the ship.

“So when will we be getting to Dover, then?” Daniel asked.

“Not for a week or so yet,” Wilkes told him. “First, we dock. Unless you want to be living off sea water and the rats in the hold?”

Daniel grew redder, and Connor snorted. “Leave him be,” he chided.

Wilkes harrumphed, but laid off the boy.

“We’ll be going straight to London from Cork,” Connor said to Daniel. “It’ll be good to be on solid ground again.”

“I thought Dover …”

“We’ll stop there for the night. Why’re you so keen for it?”

Daniel hunched his shoulders. “I only know two places in England,” he said. “London, and Dover. I’d like to see ‘em both.”

“Swell ahead!” the man up in the crow’s nest shouted.

Connor adjusted course after a nod of confirmation from Wilkes.

“What do you want to see, Connor?” Daniel asked after a moment. “New country, new people. New everything.”

Connor did want to see London, but he was going there for business, not sightseeing. He put a smile on for Daniel and said, “I’d like to see London too.”

“Don’t get excited; either of you,” Wilkes grumbled as he trudged over to them. “New York, Boston, Philadelphia, all of those big towns and cities are much prettier and well-planned than London. London’s a shit hole, and you’ll be begging for out by the day’s end.”

“But it’s the centre of the world,” Daniel protested.

“Doesn’t make it Eden, boy,” Wilkes said. “It’s a cramped, shit-filled city full of idiots trying to fleece everyone and everything they clap their eyes on. You colonies folk don’t know how lucky you are sometimes.”

“Then where do you propose to go?” Connor asked, if only to keep Daniel’s face from dropping further.

“Highlands of Scotland,” Wilkes grunted. “That way, you can stand on top of a mountain and yell your lungs out, and no one’ll come to bother you.”

“Sounds like home,” Daniel said. “I don’t want home, I want different.”

“Mark my words: you’ll be crying for home soon enough.”

Wilkes left, and Connor shook his head. “Ignore him,” he said to Daniel. Then to George, one of the crew members, “Hoist the flag.”

They went around the south of the Irish coast, mooring off Charles Fort in the Bandon River, before coming into Cork Harbour and sailing up the River Lee to the city-proper the following day. They docked in the mid-morning, and Connor almost fell when he came down the gangplank. Two and a half months at sea had left its mark on him, and he was secretly pleased to see many of the other crew struggle as he had as they got used to stable ground again. The familiar sounds of city life washed over them. The docks were crowded with a riot of people, locals down for the market and the stall owners conversing with them, other sailors, soldiers, beggars, and animals — livestock and strays both — were all in abundance. Over it all was the slap of the waves against the beach and dock pylons, and the cries of the seagulls. At least that much was the same. Connor wanted to look around, but he couldn’t yet. The cook had gone off with a fistful of British pounds to start resupplying, several of the crew and the rest of the kitchen workers following dutifully behind. Connor walked up the docks, attracting a few stares from dock workers and sailors alike. He heard a call from a group of women, and he hurried past them, ignoring their shouts for him to come back. He set his eyes instead on the dockmaster’s shack standing at the culmination of the jetties.

The dockmaster was an older man, sitting behind a thick ledger and whittling something. He stopped at Connor’s approach and eyed him suspiciously as he came to his desk with the docking fee in hand. The dockmaster thrust his chin towards the Aquila’s flag, its stars and stripes standing out against the sea of British Union Flags like a sore thumb. “Yours?” His accent was so thick Connor had to take a moment to understand what he’d said.

“Yes.”

“You one of ‘em natives from over there?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s your captain?”

“I’m the captain.”

The dockmaster barked a laugh. “Lie to me again, and I’ll have the soldiers down on you before you could shit yourself in fear. You want your ship in my dock, you tell your captain to get here himself and pay the fee. Now get out of my way.”

I am the captain,” Connor repeated, irritated. He leaned over the desk and said quietly, “And if you call me a liar again, I’ll do much worse to you than your soldiers will ever do to me. Now let me pay my fee and dock my ship.”

“I don’t know about what kind of idiocy goes on over in the Colonies,” the dockmaster said, “but it ain’t found here. People like you don’t get to be captains of brigs as beautiful as that. Only sensible thing to do would be to have one of those under the captaincy of a man of quality, something you’re not.”

Connor narrowed his eyes. “Then what do you propose I do to prove that I am the captain?”

“Find one of the crew, and have him swear on God’s good name that you’re not a li— Oi!”

Connor took the ledger and the quill next to it away from the desk and writing his name, the Aquila’s, the date, cargo, and the business they had into the log. He threw the book back onto the table as the dockmaster shouted for someone to help, planted his hands on the table and hissed, “I don’t have time for this.”

The dockmaster spat on the ground. “You don’t have permission to scribble in that,” he said forcibly, glaring at Connor.

Connor dropped the fee onto the desk before he walked away.

“Connor!” Wilkes jogged up next to him, jabbing his thumb back over his shoulder. “There’re regulars coming. Everything alright?”

“It’s fine,” Connor said stiffly. “We’re leaving as soon as we’ve resupplied.” Originally, he’d wanted to explore Cork, but he’d leave it to the next port. He’d let his frustration get the better of him, and it had only bred more. He’d have to apologise to the crew.

Wilkes frowned, troubled. “Aye, Captain,” he said after a moment. “I’ll tell the boys.”


Connor didn’t try to do any of the legal work in sight of the authorities as they made their way along the southern British coast. He’d send Wilkes to collect any paperwork and pay the required fees, and Connor would send everything back as it needed to be. Wilkes cited that Connor was fighting off an illness and unable to leave his cabin when he went to do his work, whereas Connor took the time to explore. He felt bad for asking Wilkes to do what he should have, but mostly he felt angry. He had expected hostility from the British on the principle of the Aquila coming from America, but what he hadn’t expected was the number of stares he would attract. Connor was a man used to being overlooked, firstly for wanting to be overlooked during his Assassin work, and secondly for the fact that he, in America, wasn’t white and therefore second class, perhaps even lower when people found out he was mixed-blood. The Americans also had seen his people for years, if not most of their lives, but those in England and Ireland both hadn’t. They stared, and he hated it. He did his best to ignore them, and if anything turned nasty, he wore his hidden blades everywhere he went.

When they got to Dover, Connor stopped leaving the ship, wanting to get to London and so this journey over with. He could disappear into the crowds there. Daniel had gotten a look at the cliffs and the castle ruins. Connor sat up on the top mast’s yard, looking out over the strait and to France. He didn’t have to think much except to keep his balance as the brig bobbed in the water, the fall sunset painting the sails gold and simply enjoying the solitude. He hadn’t gotten much of it during the voyage across the Atlantic, and it was important to him. As much as Connor loved the Aquila and sailing her, docking after so long was a relief. It also gave him time to plan what he had to do in London.

Upon Haytham’s death, Connor had retrieved a handful of his belongings escaping Fort George. Amongst them had been his journal, and one half of a series of letters written between him and his half-sister, Jennifer Scott. Her existence had come as a surprise to Connor. He’d known in a vague way that his father must have had family, if only once if they hadn’t still been alive, but it was one thing to have proof rather than suspicions. Achilles hadn’t mentioned anything about Haytham’s family except to say that his father, and therefore Connor’s grandfather, had been an Assassin, and had painted in broad strokes of what he’d done in the Caribbean in the early part of the century. The acquisition of Haytham’s journal had scratched the remaining itch Connor had felt concerning Edward Kenway. It didn’t particularly bother him not knowing much more than what Achilles had said and Haytham had written about him.

The journal sat in the inside pocket of his coat, and Connor pulled it out, leafing through it. It was hard to read at times. It made Connor’s throat tighten with guilt and regret for what had happened between them. After killing him, Connor had wanted to keep their motivations in stark black and white: he had been in the right, for if Haytham had triumphed, then America would be as much under Templar rule as London was, and so would have brought its own kind of horror. It made the memories easier to deal with, but reading both the journal and the letters had destroyed any chance of that.

Connor had come to understand his father far more than he wished to, and to feel … not quite pity, but understanding for his story. Haytham had gone to lengths to save his half-sister who had been taken in the attack that had brought him under Birch’s wing, and then they together had killed Birch twenty years later in revenge. The journal then detailed the extermination of the Brotherhood during the Seven Year’s War, the careful manipulations that had helped foster the revolution, and his own encounters with Connor. Haytham had felt jealous of him, seeing in him what he could have been had not tragedy taken him down the Templar road. He had known who Connor was as soon as he had seen him in Bridewell; he had saved his life at his hanging. That particular revelation had angered Connor beyond all sensibility, and he hadn’t been able to put his finger on the why of it until some days afterwards: he was sorry about how everything had played out in the end, and angry at the utter unfairness of it all. Connor had told himself time and time again that he didn’t feel anything for Haytham, just as Haytham hadn’t felt anything for him. It was still true in a sense, but what Connor had learnt the emotion came from was the lost possibility of what could have been.

Connor tightened his grip around topmast, jamming the journal under his thigh and instead unfolding the letters that he’d placed inside. He’d read them so many times he knew them by heart, but he still took them out every-so often. Jennifer was twelve years Haytham’s senior, born soon after Edward Kenway’s departure to the Caribbean on a privateering contract. After his return and several years following Haytham’s birth, she had been taken by mercenaries on the orders of Templar Grand Master Reginald Birch. She had been taken to the Ottoman Empire, and only returned to London in ’57, over twenty years later. Jennifer’s story pulled at Connor, and her letters gave her a voice Haytham’s journal hadn’t truly captured. But what had truly held Connor’s attention was how she spoke of peace between the Assassins and Templars in her writings, as if she had been discussing philosophies detailed in Haytham’s letters. It was Connor’s hope that he could see Haytham’s half of the letters for himself and so build on his own wants in America.

He was tired of killing Templars, and so if there was a better way, then he would take it with both hands. Following the attack on the Homestead the previous summer, Connor had stamped out the budding Templar influence in America that had been bent on seeing him and his dead. And when they came again, as they inevitably would, Connor would meet them with peace terms.

The last of the sun’s rays dipped over the horizon, and Connor lost the light by which to read. He sighed, tucked the letters back in the journal, and stood. He thought about venturing to shore for a dinner that wasn’t half-comprised of biscuits, and clambered down the rigging.

He found a tavern, The Shy Mermaid, and a couple of the crew were already there, one of them with a girl or three on his lap. Connor sat himself in one of the corner tables, indulging himself, for the first time in years, with a pint of ale, and smiling into it whenever the man cracked a joke or someone else around the room did something amusing. The lazy heat, the alcohol, the roar of chatter, and the notes of a fiddle relaxed Connor, and he was almost sorry to leave Dover in the morning and head for the mouth of the Thames. Wilkes estimated they’d be there by late afternoon or early evening if the winds were good and they didn’t attract too much trouble from the British. He also suggested that, perhaps, unfurling the British flag tucked in the hull and replacing the American one might be a smart move; Connor, politely, refused. The winds turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help, and so night had well and truly fallen by the time the mouth of the Thames came into view. They anchored there for the night, the watch taking shifts to make sure nothing was amiss, and they set off before dawn.

“Wilkes,” Connor said quietly about half an hour after they’d started, “London is Templar territory. I want you to be careful.”

Wilkes grunted. “The world knows it’s Templar territory, boy … Captain,” he said grudgingly at Connor’s side-eyed glance. “Nevertheless, we have the cargo. We’re but humble traders. And from what I heard in Dover, the docks have seen over three thousand ships this year alone. We’ll be safe. ‘Hide in plain sight’, eh?”

“I want you to stay with her, nevertheless,” Connor said. “If there’s anything that goes awry, leave. I’ll meet you at the river mouth.”

“Aye.”

Billingsgate was alive with activity. The docks were mostly for merchant vessels, coal being the main cargo for most ships. Connor had seen that the hold was stocked with pelts, tobacco, grains, lumber, and a variety of other things to help pay for the journey, and they’d make a handsome profit for it, too; it never failed to surprise him how much some people were willing to pay for a bear pelt, many times simply for the exoticism of it than for practical use.

The Aquila was sent to a quay in the middle of the docks, and Connor filled out the paperwork required at the dockmaster’s cabin. Unlike the other ports they had called to, no one gave Connor any trouble.

“I’m looking for this address,” Connor said to the dockmaster, showing him the back of one of Jennifer’s envelopes.

The dockmaster squinted. “Bloomsbury. What business you got there?”

“Family,” Connor said. “My father was from London.”

The dockmaster looked him up and down. Connor felt himself stiffen in preparation to defend himself, but the dockmaster said, shrugging, “It’s about five or six miles or so west from here, by the British Museum. Nice area; not too fond of us sea dogs, if you get my meaning.”

“Thank you.”

It was still early enough that Connor decided to walk there instead of trying to hire transport. He changed his clothes, not to his Assassin robes as he would have in America, but to a non-descript coat and trousers. They were worn, and from what the dockmaster had said, would stand out in Bloomsbury. But he’d just be a sailor, an American looking around the greatest city in the world on a day off. He kept his hidden blades on him though, and tucked his tomahawk inside his coat; the robes he left in a locked chest on the Aquila and placed into his bag instead a second set of plain clothing, which he slung over his shoulder, just in case. He retied his hair as he came out of the Aquila’s cabin, and Wilkes nodded to him as he set off, turning then to Daniel and berating him for the carelessness which he showed bringing one of the crates down the gangplank.

The first thing Connor noticed about London was what Wilkes had told him: it was cramped and filthy. The streets twisted and turned with seemingly no order unlike New York, Boston, or Philadelphia with their careful grid planning. Connor liked it better, but what he disliked immediately was the crowds. He remembered first seeing Boston and feeling overwhelmed by the number of people there, but this was worse; much worse. Connor stuck to the sides of the roads, soon moving back to the centre after stepping in something foul and then venturing to the side once again after nearly being toppled by two men riding their horses hard. Connor found himself wishing that he had looked for transport and thought about climbing to the rooftops. There were buildings themselves far taller than anything he had seen, and he had stood at the foot of one a moment, gaping at its height. He had known that such things had existed, but hearing about it, and seeing illustrations, were vastly different from the real thing. It left him feeling small in a new way that the forests and its trees never had.

Luckily, the crowds, and the filth of the docks, eased after a mile or so, but not by much. He asked for directions every now and again, and he was told to keep going west. “Are you sure that’s where you want to be going?” a woman asked after the third time Connor stopped for directions.

“I’m sorry?”

Connor didn’t know what colour her dress had originally been for the number of patches on it, and the flyaways that blew out from under her cap in the wind were iron grey. Behind her, a man Connor assumed to be her husband was boiling a meat Connor would rather not find out was in a vat; several people were loitering nearby, waiting for it to be done.

The woman scratched at her cheek with a yellow nail. “Bloomsbury, well, all of west London don’t really see the likes of us.”

“Bloomsbury is where I want to go.”

“Careful not to spit on their shoes then, or they’ll see you taken away and claim you was one of the escaped black men come to rob their houses.” She pointed. “Thata way, another mile or two.”

He came to Queen’s Square just before midday. His muscles were aching pleasantly with the exercise, the most he’d gotten since leaving America. Climbing the rigging three times a day and completing the daily exercises Achilles had taught him as a boy only got him so far. He felt satisfied with himself mostly. He took out the envelope one more time and was pointed to one of the mansions.

“What do you want with her?” a man said sharply when Connor approached him to ask where to go. He was the seventh Connor had tried to ask for directions, and the first to not ignore him as they briskly walked on, holding their belongings tightly.

Connor sighed. “To meet her, nothing more.”

“And who are you, exactly? An Indian?”

Connor was so used to the suspicion of white men that keeping his voice and demeanour calm wasn’t much of an effort, although inside he was fuming. “I’m family,” he said. “Her brother’s son.”

“Hmph.” The man trapped his cane on a cobblestone, looking for a moment as if he was wrestling with himself. Then he said, as his better judgement, “Two streets away. You can’t miss it.” Before Connor left him, he said loudly, “And don’t you think about doing anything to anyone here. I’ll see you taken into custody should you so much as look at anything you shouldn’t.”

He should have hired a horse, Connor thought, all the better to leave these people in the dust.

The house was made of red brick, its gardens well tended. The fence had been painted recently, he noticed. The curtains were also drawn over every last window. Connor cocked his head, then let himself into the property grounds. He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand as he walked up the short path to the front door. He glanced around surreptitiously, but couldn’t see anything amiss other than the oddities he’d noticed before. The black paint on the front door had, like that on the fence, recently been done. Connor could see himself reflected in the gloss of it, and he smoothed back the flyaways that had escaped his tail. That was the other thing he’d have to do before sailing back for America: find a barber. He rubbed at his teeth and licked his lips.

He was here. Nervousness tickled at him.

Connor took a breath, briefly closed his eyes, and knocked.


Waiting for someone to answer the door seemed to stretch for an eternity. It couldn’t have taken more than ten seconds or so, but in that time Connor had changed his mind half a dozen times about staying and then going, then telling himself he needed the letters, but this was Haytham’s family. His family. The coiling indecision meant Connor was frozen when the door was opened by an older butler. Connor couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, every muscle in his body locked in stiffness, and his stomach was churning. The butler raised an eyebrow.

“Do you have an appointment?”

Connor took a deep breath. “I do not,” he said, clasping his hands in front of him and lowering his chin.

“Then make one,” the butler said, “and come back later.”

“I cannot. I … I must see her — Miss Scott, I mean — I need to see her now. I have come a long way.”

“Then you have waited a long time, and I doubt that a few more days will make much difference. Now, good day to you, sir. And use the bell next time.”

“Mr. Smith.”

Connor and the butler looked back into the house as one. Standing in the middle of the entrance room was a woman in her eighties. She was dressed in fine clothes, the silk of her skirts a dark blue and the ruffles lining it snowy white. Pearls were strung around her neck, and her hair, grey with age, was done up at the back of her head. She leant heavily on an ivory-headed cane, and behind her spectacles, her eyes were fixed on Connor. She said, without inflection, “You’re Haytham’s bastard.”

Connor’s throat seized up. She knew. She knew he had killed Haytham; he could see it in her. “I … I am.” Connor wanted to drop his eyes, but he made himself look at Jennifer Scott. He found no warmth in her gaze, and she said to the butler in a crisp manner, “Well, invite the boy in.”

“Mistress, what of the luncheon with Mr. and Mrs. Wellington?”

“Suspend it; send them a note of apology. I will reschedule them for another day.”

Mr. Smith nodded, and his expression turned sour as he said to Connor, “Welcome, Master Kenway.” Connor nodded, but kept his lips pressed tightly together on the instinctive reaction he had to deny the Kenway name. He crossed the threshold and almost huffed with the heat of the place. The house was so stuffy it was like stepping into the forest under a summer sun. The curtains were closed, and Connor wouldn’t have been surprised if every fire under the roof had been lit. He shucked his coat when Smith offered to take it, rolling his shoulders and sweeping his hair and the three feathers tied within off the back of his neck.

Jennifer was watching him closely. “You look like him,” she said.

“I’ve … been told before.”

“But there’s much of your mother in you too.”

Connor, who had been handing his pack to Smith, faltered. “I’m sorry?”

“Part of Haytham’s education included drawing,” she said. “He sent me a sketch of her.”

Burning, screaming. Calling for her. Connor closed his eyes. “I did not know that about him.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about him, and there are things you know of him that I don’t. We were never particularly close, for we were so different in age and we hardly saw each other after what happened.”

An awkward silence settled over them, and Connor searched for something to say just to break the tension. “I’m sorry about your luncheon, Miss Scott.”

Jennifer made a che sound and waved Connor’s words away. “Jennifer, boy, and I was looking for an excuse to not go. Your turning up means I don’t now have to lie.”

Connor wasn’t sure if he liked Jennifer. He felt an incredible sense of wariness towards her as she turned to mount the stairs. She passed her cane to the butler and grasped the handrail, using her other hand to take up her skirts to better free her feet. Connor thought about going to help her, but Smith laid a hand on his arm as he moved forward to do so. “Don’t come up behind her,” he said.

Connor was about to ask for a further explanation, but Smith closed his mouth firmly.

“Come!” Jennifer called from the landing, and Smith gestured for Connor to follow. Connor took the stairs two at a time, Smith bringing up the rear. Whereas Connor was unsure of his feelings towards Jennifer, he was certain he didn’t like Smith.

Once Smith had passed back her cane, Jennifer turned to the right, coming into a corridor lined with doors. The windows at both ends had the curtains drawn, but, further along the hallway, a model had caught Connor’s eye. He went to it. It was a ship, a brig like the Aquila, and constructed in masterful detail. It was thick with dust, and Connor crouched down to blow some of it away. Jennifer’s cane was a muffled thump on the carpet, and so he didn’t start when she came to stand a few feet away from him. She looked at the model with distaste.

“The Jackdaw,” Jennifer said crisply. “My father’s ship. She’s nothing more than an ocean wreck now.”

“She was a beautiful,” Connor remarked.

“She was a brig, and a pirate brig at that. I should have that model destroyed; makes my gullet rise every time I walk past it. Now this way.”

Connor cast the Jackdaw one last glance before he followed Jennifer into the drawing room. It was lined with velvet and mahogany, the only illumination coming from the fire in the hearth. Connor wiped his brow when Jennifer had turned away from him to sit herself in an armchair by it. Smith showed one to Connor, separated from Jennifer’s by a small round table, and he sat on the edge of it; it was so plush he felt he’d sink into the padding.

“The cold gets to me,” Jennifer said. “I can’t bear it, not any longer. Old age and twenty some years under desert skies have left their marks on me.”

“I see.”

“Not one for many words. I like that in you. I hear too that you have been named Mentor of the American Brotherhood.”

“I have. After my own Mentor died.”

She considered him. “What’s your name?”

“Connor, ma’am.”

“I know that. What is your name? Your real one?”

Surprised, Connor told her, “Ratonhnhaké:ton.”

“Ratonhnhaké:ton,” Jennifer said with perfect pronunciation. “It’s been nearly fourteen years since Haytham wrote me last, and fourteen years since I learnt of his death. I understand that it was at your hands.”

“It was, ma’am … Jennifer.” Connor’s grip tightened on the armrest, and his gaze was cast into the fire. He wished he could open a window the room was so stuffy, but he didn’t ask.

“Why are you here?” Jennifer demanded. “Surely you’ve not come all the way to London for a social call. What is it you want from me, boy?”

Her bluntness made Connor uneasy. “I have been told you are a sympathiser to the Assassin cause,” he said. He dug around in his inside pocket until he found Haytham’s journal, and he brought it out. Jennifer’s eyes snapped to it. “He spoke highly of you,” he murmured, “and loved you. The more I read this, the more I regret that we couldn’t sort out our differences. But I wish to. The letters he mentions that were exchanged between you spoke of peace between the Assassins and the Templars. Such information is appealing to me.” Connor stood and crossed his arms, pressing them to his chest as he began to pace before the fire. “The Brotherhood is stronger than it ever was in America, but as the years go on, I can’t help but think on what he said to me. And that he thought peace between us was possible.”

“You would like to see the letters,” Jennifer finished. “But tell me: why should I give them to you?”

Connor looked at her. He tried to read past the lines in her face and the coldness in her eyes. It was difficult, and he didn’t find much he could read in her. What he did see was wariness, and curiosity. “I have told you,” he said.

“Tell me in detail.”

“I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of killing people, and watching others suffer because of this fight. I want peace.”

“Then join the Templars,” Jennifer said. “Find your peace there. To be an Assassin is to live a life of pain.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Connor retorted.

“Oh? Tell me how?”

“I value the freedom the Assassins teach belongs by right to every man, woman, and child. I value education as well. With the philosophies my father spoke of in his letters to you, I hope to find a way to distribute talks of peace not just to Templars, but to the rest of humanity.”

“So bringing peace whilst letting people retain their free will,” Jennifer finished. Connor nodded. “Admirable,” she said, “but naïve.”

Connor stopped in his pacing, his brow knitting. “I can hope that someday it won’t be.”

“What you propose is a fight against human nature itself. Free will leads to greed, that to fear, and so to violence.”

“It will take time,” Connor said. “Decades, centuries perhaps, but education will work.”

“Perhaps it won’t.”

“I can’t allow myself to think like that.”

Jennifer tapped her cane against the floor. “Sit; you’re making me nervous.”

Connor took the chair she pointed him to, and he rolled up his sleeves. Her eyes were drawn at once to the hidden blades, but she didn’t say anything. Connor almost wanted her to.

“You’ve yet to convince me, you know,” she said.

Connor dropped the journal on the table between them. “He gave up,” he said. “In the end, he didn’t think peace was possible. He died with the conviction on his lips.”

“Haytham was a hard man,” Jennifer said. “It’s not surprising the world beat some sense into him in the end. The dream was foolish, even I as an outsider can see that.” It was the flicker of disappointment in her eyes that gave her away.

“You haven’t given up.”

Jennifer sniffed. “And why do you think that?”

“Otherwise you wouldn’t have let me talk for so long. You would have either shown me the door or given the letters to me at once. You guard them, and so you value them.”

Jennifer eyed him, and Connor waited for her response. “Mr. Smith,” she said, still looking at him, “do we have anything in the pantry? Tea? Biscuits?”

“I’ll bring up a selection,” Smith said.

Connor felt such a sense of relief he almost slumped. Whatever Jennifer had wanted from him, she’d evidently found it. She leant forward to the journal, but she surprised Connor by pushing it back to him. “I don’t want to see it,” she said.

“I could have been lying.”

“You’re too honest. That little speech of yours had too much passion behind it to be a lie.” She considered the journal. “What does it say?”

“Everything.”

“If you find the cure for old age in there, be sure to tell me.”

“Haytham’s life,” Connor amended. “He wrote about what happened here when he was a child, and his induction into the Templar Order. He detailed how he found you, too.”

Jennifer closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the chair’s rest. She gripped the arms and was still for a long while. Smith came back with a platter of crackers and cheese, laying it on the little table and backing away. Connor didn’t touch it. Jennifer stirred, and said in such a quiet voice Connor had to lean forwards to hear her, “Do not mention that again.”

“I’m sorry.”

She ran her fingers across her brow, staring still at the fire. “You look back to the roots of the Assassin Brotherhood’s ideals,” Jennifer said. “When the Assassins still called Masyaf their home, their goal was to impose peace through gentle means. Over the years, that goal has morphed to fighting for humanity’s freedom after the existence of artefacts like the Apple were proved to be more than fable.” She sighed then. “As for the letters, I’m afraid you’ve come too late for those. Almost a decade too late. I no longer have them in my possession.”

Disappointment rocked through Connor, but he simply nodded. “I understand, Miss Scott.” He inclined his head. “I thank you for your time.” He turned to go.

“Ratonhnhaké:ton,” Jennifer said, and Connor stopped, his shoulders stiff. “Are you always like this? So rude?”

He hadn’t meant to come across as it, and when on another day he might’ve tried to defend himself, he was rendered silent as Jennifer too stood. Without her cane, she was a tall woman, and though he still towered over her like he did most people, she had a way about her that made him feel like a child again. She crossed the room, coming to rest half a stride away from him. “I will confess that I have little love for you,” she said. “You killed my brother, and whatever our differences were, I loved him in a way, and I still do. But you are his son, and I your aunt. For that, let me finish. I have invited you into my house when you showed up without a word of warning, I’ve listened to you; the very least you can do is listen to what I have to say.” She held a hand towards his vacated chair. “Now, sit.”

Connor sat, but Jennifer remained standing. “I gave the letters to a French woman, a Templar named Élise de la Serre,” she said. “She and her father desired what you do: peace. Her father died some years back, but she would still have them. Perhaps if you were to contact her, she would be willing to pass to you the letters, or at least make copies of them.”

Connor had the feeling it wouldn’t be as simple as that, but he nodded.

“And do you have somewhere to stay?”

“In London?”

“You hardly expect me to say in Milan, would you?”

“My ship. It is docked …”

“Do not worry about that for now. Stay here for the night; I insist.” The last part was very clearly not posed as an option.

Connor sighed inwardly. “I’ll need to send word to my crew.”

“I’ll organise it. Write them a note, and I’ll have it delivered.”

Once Connor agreed, Jennifer stood. “And now that is done: lunch.”

Jennifer ate alone, and Connor took his meal after she had finished hers. She had said she ate alone, and he didn’t mind waiting for her to finish; waiting meant he’d had time to freshen up. The meal was hastily put together: chicken breast basted with olive oil and herbs on a bed of fall vegetables; nevertheless, Connor ate it with ferocity. The only noise in the dining room was of the scrape of his cutlery on the plate and the ticking of the longcase clock against the wall. A servant stood by the door to the kitchen, and the hair on the back of Connor’s neck prickled under his unabashed stare. He looked away at once when Connor looked up at him, but he felt his eyes on him again when he resumed eating. He wanted to leave.

He penned his note to Wilkes after he’d finished eating, and told the coachman at the front of the house the quay the Aquila was docked at. The driver nodded and set off soon after. Connor stood at the gate until he couldn’t hear the jangle of the horses’ harness anymore, and looked back over his shoulder. Smith was standing in the doorway, and Connor said, “I want to explore.”

Smith said, “Be my guest. Dinner is at six-thirty.” It was just past one.

What fascinated him the most were the buildings. Connor had heard of old structures like St. Paul’s and the Tower, but in a way he’d never believed they’d existed. The oldest buildings he’d seen were those in the cities, and even they were barely a hundred, if that. Seeing buildings that had stood for close to two thousand years was nothing short of incredible. He had the deepest want to climb them. It was a rash want, dangerous in case the wrong people saw, but he threw caution to the wind in the end. He climbed St. Paul’s, right to the spire. It was a puzzle that took him close to an hour, as some of the handholds he couldn’t reach even with all his height and strength. He had to be mindful that no one was watching him either, and he paused every so often, looking out over London and the people below who had grown to belittle bigger than insects. And standing on the church’s cross took his breath away. He’d never been so high except when standing on the slopes of mountains, but seeing a city sprawled out beneath him like this was something he’d never forget. He sat, hugging the spire and just staring. If Jennifer had had the letters, he would have liked to stay for a few more days. Some of the time he spent up there he did so just to preserve the landscape of London in his memories. He knew he didn’t have time to see everything, and he didn’t want to push his luck anymore than he already had by climbing other places.

Getting down took a half hour of careful manoeuvring, and the sky was beginning to darken. Connor wandered along the banks of the Thames, watching tallow candles flicker to life in ship windows, and listening to the clatter of carriages as they drove up and down the promenade. Connor continued on until he had to turn back lest he be late for dinner, having wandered as far as the Houses of Parliament. He thought of the song children sang to their games when he saw them, gunpowder, treason, and plot; and hummed it as he made his way back. Gaslamps were burning throughout Bloomsbury, and the light of them gave a soft glow from inside the mansion. The smell of hot food greeted him when Smith opened the door.

“Welcome back, Master Kenway. Miss Scott is eating,” Smith said.

“Alone again?”

“As always. Did you wish for your own dinner now?”

Connor just nodded; he was starving. His stomach grumbled as if in agreement, and Smith said, “I’ll have some sent up to your rooms, if you are agreeable.”

Rooms?

“A bedroom and bathroom. There’s a table with enough room for dining in there too. If you would follow me.”

Smith led Connor upstairs towards a part of the house that he suspected saw little use. Multiple doors led off the hallway, and Smith showed Connor into one of the middle ones. The room held a bed and set of table and chairs. A dresser and cupboard had been placed against the walls, both made of dark mahogany, and the unlit hearth had a fresh stack of logs waiting next to it. A smaller door led off into the bathroom Smith had spoken of.

“Do you need anything further?” Smith asked. “Fresh clothes? A razor?”

“I don’t shave,” Connor said.

“Then perhaps you would like a bath drawn?”

Connor agreed to the bath.

He ate whilst he was waiting for the bath to be ready. That was another thing he had missed on the voyage over: hot baths. When he lowered himself into it, the water was almost too hot. He grew used to it soon enough, and after cleaning himself, he soaked for a while, thoughts turning once more to what to do in regards to the letters. To go to France. He knew of the revolution happening there, he doubted there wasn’t a corner of the world that didn’t, and if he wanted the letters, he was going to be wading right into it. He’d bring the Aquila’s crew into it too unless he turned them home and set off to Paris by himself.

After the bath and wearing his spare set of clothes, Smith had seen the maids take his others for washing, Connor set to sharpening his blades. He dragged the whetstone along them until they sang, and polishing them with an oilcloth, working the salt out of the mechanisms that he’d never been able to completely rid them of since setting out from home. He tested them every now and again, only satisfied when, an hour later, they slid out smoothly and with the smallest of noises; he moved onto the tomahawk and his pistols afterwards. He let himself get lost in the work, his mind made up about France. It wouldn’t extend the trip much; they had planned to dock in Cornwall for a month or so before returning to America, to see to repairs to the ship and to give them a rest. He’d go to Paris, secure the letters as quickly as he could, and then turn dock in Cornwall before setting course for home. If they were quick, it would add little more than two weeks to their voyage.

“Do you find your rooms comfortable?”

Connor wasn’t startled by Jennifer; she had been watching him for the past minute, and he had said nothing of it. He could hardly remember anyone being able to sneak up on him, firstly for the Vision, and secondly for the Assassin training. He looked up at her. “I do, thank you.” He nodded towards the table and chair set. “Will you sit?”

Jennifer shook her head, and lent heavily on her cane. Connor was concerned by it, but he didn’t offer again. She would likely only say no again; he would have.

“Will you go to France?” she asked then.

Connor nodded.

“Good.” She flexed her fingers on the cane’s head, and her shoulders slumped. She looked every bit of her eighty-one years then. “The news you brought of Haytham hurt me,” she said. “How he gave up. After he found me in Egypt, I begged for him to reconsider his thoughts. And I thought he would. The letters he wrote to me, I could see in them the, shall we say, regret for what could have been. I never told him how I hoped in my heart he would change his ways and leave the Templars, if only because they destroyed our lives. It seems it was the death of him in the end.”

“I wish it had been different between us,” Connor said in little more than a murmur, examining his hidden blade. Even after all these years, the people he had killed between them, he could still feel how the blade had sunk into his father’s neck, the pressure and then the grate of it on bone and cartilage. He felt revolted then. “There was … was a time when we worked towards a common goal together. I came to know him over the course of a few months.”

“And?”

“I can’t say I liked him,” Connor confessed.

“I can understand. When we were children, I was never particularly fond of him in any way. That he was imparted to my father’s attention more than I hardly helped matters; I remember mostly jealously towards him. Most of my younger years were ones of unhappiness.”

Connor nodded; Haytham’s journal had spoken of Jennifer’s unhappiness too. “I’m sorry.”

“You apologise too much, has anyone ever told you that?”

Connor shook his head. He wasn’t usually such an apologetic person, and he realised as she mentioned it he had said it many times over the day. He just didn’t know how to behave around Jennifer. Half the time he felt as if he were walking on nails, and one wrong word or action would turn her cold gaze on him. The other half she seemed to be happy to ignore him, and yet despite it all, she had offered him meals and a bed. Connor had little idea what to expect from her.

“I hate this house,” Jennifer said without looking at him. Her eyes were far away as she spoke, lost in memory. “There are days where I am a second from ordering it burnt to the ground, but I never do it. I tell myself that I don’t because of the refuge it offers to the Brotherhood in this city ruled by Templars. But every time an Assassin passes through my door, sits at my table and eats my bread, I find myself facing the truth of why I keep this house standing: I don’t do it for the Assassins, I simply cannot make it burn. I can’t set a torch to it because of the imprints people like my brother have left on it, and they outstrip anything that my father or Birch or any other unsavoury person has left behind. I am too sentimental.”

“Sentimentality does not have to be a bad thing,” Connor said after a moment of silence. “If you devoid yourself of it, you become a husk. Like Birch.”

Jennifer nodded to herself. “As obvious as they are, sometimes I need to hear those words.” Then she stepped away, leaving Connor sitting alone on the bed with the whetstone in one hand and his tomahawk in the other; the hidden blades rested on his lap. He rose after a few moments, closing the door and wanting nothing more in that moment to sleep. He couldn’t for a long time, unused to the stillness of sleeping on land, and wished more than anything he had turned Jennifer’s invitation down and had returned to the Aquila.


Connor was restless that night, and so when the dawn came it was a relief. He rose as the first rays of sun touched the window glass and packed what he’d brought out of his bag, ready to leave at the first opportunity. Breakfast was brought directly to his rooms, and he ate as fast as he was able. The house creaked around him as he left his room quietly, intending to find Smith and express his thanks before leaving. But Jennifer had also woken early. Connor found her in the dining room taking a breakfast of coffee, bacon, eggs, and fresh bread. It was still warm enough that the butter melted as Jennifer scraped it on.

“Mr. Smith tells me you’ve already eaten.”

“I have. I’m planning to be in France by nightfall.”

“Without a word of farewell to me?”

“I didn’t wish to take up any more of your time.”

Jennifer looked around the house and raised an eyebrow. “Time is the one thing I have far too much of. I have something for you.”

Connor sat on the opposite side of the table to her, and Jennifer waved Smith forward. Smith passed Connor a sealed letter, addressed to Élise de la Serre.

“When you find Mademoiselle de la Serre, give that to her. I’ve explained the situation, and if she’s as I remember her and true to her own letters to me, then she’ll be more than willing to share Haytham’s letters with you.”

“Thank you.” The address underneath the name was of a house in Paris. Connor tucked it carefully into his jacket pocket.

“Step carefully around her,” Jennifer said. “The girl’s brilliant, but she’s a liar. She has a history with Assassins, so I might suggest approaching with some measure of caution. Give her my regards when you see her.”

“I shall.”

They made awkward small talk about the city as Jennifer finished her breakfast, and neither of them mentioned anything about the night before, nor anything further about Assassins or Templars. Jennifer had had the carriage readied for Connor, and it was waiting outside. Connor had started to protest, but she’d had merely given him a look which quietened him at once. Smith pulled back her chair once she was done, passing her her cane before opening the dining room door. Connor followed her, waiting until she had taken a few steps before going to the door.

The carriage driver sat at the front, rubbing his hands together and blowing into them to keep himself warm. Jennifer stayed in the doorway as the driver jumped down and opened the carriage for Connor, taking his sack of clothes at the same time. Connor shivered a little. The interior was comfortable, lined with felt seats and silk curtains were pinned back from the windows edged with frost. Connor was about to climb in before Jennifer called him name.

“Remember, Ratonhnhaké:ton,” Jennifer said as he looked back to her, “you’ll always find a roof here.”

Connor inclined his head. “Thank you.” It came out far more sincere than he had intended, but he meant it. But if he had a choice in the matter, he wouldn’t come here ever again, nor did he want to see Jennifer. He felt guilty about it, but not sorry.

Jennifer nodded, clasping her hands before her. “Watch your back in France. I won’t have any more of my blood die before me.”

Wilkes was irritable when Connor returned. “We had a visitor in the night.”

Connor, who had been about to tell Wilkes and the rest of the crew of the change in plans, froze. “What kind of visitor? Authorities? Templars?”

“One of your hooded friends. Went by the name of Frye.”

“And then?”

“Asked about our business. We told him we were in a hurry to be back home by the end of January, then he left.”

“We’re not going straight back to America.”

Wilkes’ expression darkened. “What?”

Connor didn’t look at him. “The letters I came for were given to a French woman. We’re going to France so I may see them, and then we’ll turn back for home.”

“France is tearing itself apart. No sane person would go there at times like this.”

“It’s not a question of sanity,” Connor said, striding up the gangplank. “I’m desperate.”

Chapter Text

Île Saint-Louis, 17th October, 1794

The packet was a heavy weight in Arno’s coat pocket. The letters were written on thick, good quality paper, and the quick flick-throughs revealed minimal ink bleed. Arno had read a little of them, but English had never been his strong suit in his studies. He understood perhaps one in three words, and those either from their similar French or German counterparts, or from half-remembered lessons.

His hand strayed to his pocket, and he frowned. Would the letters be enough to secure favour with the Brotherhood?

The carriage pulled to a stop, and Arno hesitated for a few moments before he climbed out. The café hadn’t changed much within six months, and there was a part of him that was glad for it; the part of him that still mourned for Élise felt it like a stab. He had been so excited about the renovations, had told her about the process of repairing both the building and the business, and the happiness he had gained in seeing the community thrive for it. She had smiled whilst he talked about it, asked questions about the repairs. Long years with her had let him learn to difference between when she feigned interest in topics and ones that genuinely excited her. This had been genuine. He couldn’t stop the memories from welling up, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. His head was full of Élise — her smell, her laugh and her voice — Don’t get caught — the glint of her hair in the sun, the way she looked over her shoulder to him when he called her name, the teasing and the little jokes they had shared, the taste of her on his lips, the balloon ride and the press of her body, her skin against his …

I love you, Arno Victor Dorian.

His name clanged like bells in his ears, ringing forth again and again in her voice.

Arno, Arno, ARNO.

Arno braced himself on his knees, fighting a sudden wave of sickness rising in his gut. Hot tears stung his eyes, and he distantly heard the carriage driver ask, “Monsieur?”

Everything just hurt.

Wait for me! Élise!

Arno straightened himself, swallowing against the pain in his throat. The Guillotine Gun was a heavy, uncomfortable weight on his back. “That is all,” he said emotionlessly. He wanted a drink.

“Monsieur.” The driver touched the reins to the horses, and the carriage moved off. Arno flexed his fingers, took a breath, and went to Café Théâtre’s door. The café was used to the Assassins coming and going at irregular hours. As such, the attic window was always unlocked, and a kettle set over the kitchen hearth with a selection of tea nearby. At least, that was how Arno had left the place. He didn’t think he had the energy, or the want, to climb the building, but he did have a key to the front door. The lock clunked. The hinges of all the café’s doors had been kept deliberately squeaky in the event of anyone attempting a break-in, and they seemed so loud as he opened the door. The café floor was deserted, the little tables shining with the fresh coat of wax that was applied nightly. He stumbled to the table Élise had sat at after their first meeting in Paris when he had asked her hurriedly to come here. He only just pulled out the chair in time, falling into it and slumping forwards, and uncaring when his disturbance made the feet squeal across the floor.

He barely flinched when he heard the click of a flintlock pistol. He lifted his eyes and found a woman standing in the door by the counter, the pistol held up and at the ready. She faltered when she saw him. “Arno?” Charlotte Gouze hadn’t changed either, her dark hair plaited out of the way for bed. She had a motherly air about her, and for no small reason; she couldn’t seem to help fussing about every Assassin that came under the roof, making sure each one of them was as comfortable as possible and that she was always there should the need for her arise. Arno was glad to see her.

“Madame Gouze,” he said quietly. “Bonjour.

She put her pistol on the bar and hurried over the floor to him, touching him on the arm. “Good God, what are you doing here? I thought you’d left the country.”

“I’m not finished with France yet,” he said. “Am I still welcome here?”

“Any time,” she said. “Any time.” She sat down in the opposite chair. “My God. How are you?”

Far from well. “Tired,” he said.

“From the journey? I heard a carriage, and that’s what woke me.”

“From everything.” He leaned across the table. “Madame,” he said, “I must be frank: I have a request for the Council.”

Madame Gouze’s eyes hardened, and she asked, “What sort of request?”

“I wish to petition them. I want to rejoin the Brotherhood.”

“Arno,” she said with a sigh that sounded to him frustratingly pitiful, “do you want to do this again? They said no before.”

“A year ago.”

“And a year’s difference won’t change their minds.”

“Oh, we’ll see.” He took out the leather wallet with the letters and held it up for her inspection. “Tell them I have information they will be very interested to hear.” He placed them on the table. “Letters penned by a Templar Grand Master,” he said. “Speaking of peace between us.”

She looked him up and down fondly, then pursed her lips. “I’ll have a hot meal and bath prepared for you at once.”

Arno nodded slightly. “Merci.” She would pass his message along, of that he was sure.

He stood and trudged up the stairs, ignoring two Assassins as they came out of another room to stare at him in his Raiders rags. He heard their mutters as he made his way along the corridor to his old room, watching from out the window the glow of a fire near Notre-Dame. He was glad that his room hadn’t changed much in his absence. The furniture was covered in dust cloths, and he shrugged the Guillotine Gun from his back, glad to be rid of the weight. He went to the bed, falling on it in an exhausted heap without bothering to remove the sheet. His beard scratched, and he sent for a razor, brush, and a cake of shaving soap when the serving girl came up with the first bucket of hot water for the bath. He was impatient for the beard to go as he ate the dinner brought up for him — a bowl of thin garbure he didn’t taste and a heel of bread to sop the rest of it up. He thanked the maids when they removed the dust sheets and left the bath ready for him, and he stripped himself of the Raider rags and threw them aside without any thought, though he placed his hidden blade on the nightstand, making a note to polish and sharpen it later.

He scrubbed himself pink, embarrassed by the grey colour the water turned as he shifted the sweat and dirt from his skin. The herbs embedded in the soap were a pleasant scratch, and he worked it into his hair, grimacing at the tangles he found. The heat of the bath made him feel lethargic, and he got out as soon as he was done, firstly for the fact he didn’t want to sit in his filth for a moment more than he had to, and secondly because he feared he would stave off shaving until the morning. Arno wrapped a towel about his waist, standing before the pitcher and bowl underneath the mirror, and took some of the shaving soap onto the brush, working it into a lather in a ceramic bowl.

He almost wished he would nick himself with the razor as he scraped it over his skin, rinsing and wiping it on a hand towel before repeating the action again and again. But by the time he finished, nothing had happened.

Too good with a blade in hand. He shivered with a suppressed laugh. Élise’s journal had mentioned over the years how it would have only been a matter of time until he learnt of the Assassins; the blood was too strong in him. The skills it brought seemed to extend to everything.

He washed the last of the lather away, folded the razor up, and stared warily at himself in the mirror. He looked like death. His cheekbones stood sharp against his face, his eyes ringed by circles dark as bruises, his hair, though now clean, was snarled and in need of trimming. The marks Germain had left on him with the Sword stood stark and an angry red against his skin, each of them shaped like a lightning strike; he didn’t know if they would disappear, and suspected they wouldn’t. Overall, Arno didn’t recognise himself; he was a stranger in his own skin. He chuckled dryly as the thought of Léon crossed his mind, and how he had been able to look at Arno, blood-spattered and nursing a hell of a hangover, and think for a second how he could have saved France when he could barely save himself.

He hadn’t gone directly back to Paris after leaving Franciade. He’d gone to Versailles, determined to tie up the loose ends that had been left there. To finish the business Élise had detailed in her letter to him. After Ruddock’s betrayal and Frederick Weatherall’s offer to let him stay, Arno had tried. He had lasted little more than a month before he ran, too close to Élise’s life for comfort, and the ghost of her he saw in Weatherall and Hélène had seen him redress in the clothes he had donned in disguise in Franciade and pack in the middle of the night. The wound left by her death had still been raw, and his grief had turned into want for action. So here he was, returned to Paris with the letters in hand. Ruddock had hoped to use them to regain entry to the Brotherhood, and his crimes — betrayal, taking jobs under the table, consorting with the enemy, and threatening the safety of members of the Brotherhood — were far worse than Arno’s. If the letters had offered the hope for him to regain his position …

He didn’t know anymore. This path was the only one he could see for himself now. It wouldn’t let him think about Élise.

Arno tipped the water from the wash basin out into the garden, hurrying back inside to the warmth, and ran a comb through his hair if only so he wouldn’t have to think about the tangles in the morning. His eyes fell to the Raider rags. He considered them for a second, then left them where they were. He would burn them in the morning. He barely had the energy to slip a night shirt on, and fell asleep half-under the coverlet.


Arno slept deeply, far more deeply than he had ever since Élise’s death. Perhaps it was being in a familiar place once more, but evidently the night hadn’t been peaceful as he had first thought, for he woke with tears on his cheeks from a dream he couldn’t remember. He lay still for a moment, feeling them slide over his skin before he reached to wipe them away. He turned over onto his side, listening to the familiar sounds of the café. He could hear the morning shuffle of customers downstairs, the traffic of the street outside, the quiet murmur of the Seine, and Colignon humming to himself as he trimmed the hedges in the rooftop garden. The smell of coffee permeated the building, and Arno’s stomach rumbled.

Home, a small part of him whispered. Home.

He sat up with a groan, still feeling exhausted. Sunlight streamed in through the crack in the curtains, and he padded towards them, squinting against the glare. The clock told him it was nearly ten. “Damn,” he muttered, running his hands down his face. Breakfast would have been long finished by this point, and he was entertaining thoughts of how best to slip down to the kitchens and crossing as few people as possible when he saw the folded paper that had been slipped under his door.

He tensed, worried about how deep he’d been sleeping, and how much his guard had relaxed, to not have woken up at the knocks that were sure to have accompanied the note before the messenger gave up. He was usually much more observant about these things. The last time he hadn’t been woken up at a disturbance if he didn’t count the nights he’d spent drunk, it was when he had been with Élise, pressing kisses against down the length of her spine as she slept in his arms. He picked it up, tapping it against his palm in the effort to delay. He’d recognised the handwriting on the front.

Breakfast later, he decided finally, unfolding it. It turned out to be more of a note than a letter, but Arno was satisfied either way.

 

Monsieur Dorian,

We have learnt as of last night you have taken up residence in Café Théâtre once again, and that you wish to petition us. We have conferred and agreed to meet with you at six o’clock this coming evening.

— The Council

 

Merci, Madame. Arno dressed, tucked the letter away in a pocket, and ventured downstairs to see if there was anything fresh to eat.

Luckily, there was the morning’s bread left, and a bit of soft goat’s cheese. He sat down with both that and a cup of coffee to begin drawing up his arguments for being let back into the Brotherhood.

I found and dismantled the Templar branch in Paris, Arno wrote. I brought an end to the tyranny they imposed over Paris. I killed their Grand Master, and retrieved the Piece of Eden he claimed for himself and sought to use for destructive purposes. I found a second Piece of Eden beneath the town of Saint-Denis, now called Franciade, and sent it to Cairo for safekeeping.

I obtained the name of another, an unknown interested in the Pieces: the Lady Eve.

Arno paused, placing the end of the pen against his lips. He stared at the name. The Lady Eve. Before he had set off to find Élise’s contact Ruddock following the events at Franciade, he had questioned raiders as he had made his way to the surface with the Head of Saint Denis under his arm, demanding after the Lady Eve. None of them had heard of her, and so he’d left them to the bats and other creatures of the dark the Head had called, disgusted and frustrated. He’d looked for the officer who had hired Rose too, but it was as if he didn’t exist. Arno could find no trace of him, much less a record, and he had searched thoroughly.

Arno napped for some hours after nothing came of the worrying, and when he woke, pink stained the horizon. He wandered to the kitchen for food, trying to be as unnoticed as possible as he sorted through the pantry, and settled for some small autumn apples he found. He didn’t taste them as he went back upstairs; nothing much had tasted of anything for him lately. He found the café’s cat, an overweight orange beast of an animal called Saint Michel, curled up in his desk chair, and gently shooed him away. He only came back ten minutes later, and Arno sighed when he made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere, and scratched the cat’s ears absent-mindedly with his free hand whilst he got back to work.

He tried to think of arguments the Council may have come up with to refuse him, and he practiced answers. Most of them concerned his reasons for going after targets without informing the Council, explaining the why of his actions. Despite hours of sitting and pacing, by the time quarter to six came about, he hadn’t gotten far. He couldn’t concentrate for the life of him. Distractions kept rearing their heads; first it was the noise of the café, then the noise of the street, then Saint Michel’s claws as he kneaded them in Arno’s leg. Arno shoved the cat off his lap and pressed his knuckles to his forehead, kicking at Saint Michel when he tried to jump back up.

“Bloody cat….”

“Well, well — Dorian,” a voice said. “Look at you.”

Arno startled and turned in his seat. “Verne,” he exclaimed, smiling. He stood and went to embrace the man. When they broke apart, Arno looked him up and down. “Did you finally get your coat fixed?”

Verne turned on the spot, grinning. “The thing’s good as new.”

“Still garishly green; did you get it re-dyed as well?”

“Arno,” Verne said, putting a hand to his chest in mock outrage, “you hurt me.” Verne was a thin man, with a long but good-natured face. He was taller than Arno by a couple of inches, and his eyes were a pale grey and surrounded by crow’s feet. His forest-green coat was bulky to hide the pistols and knives he’d hidden inside, and Arno’s gaze fell to the shapes of them on his hips.

“And how’s Francesco?”

“He’s in Nice at the moment. Doing some mission down there.”

“Without us? How dreadful for him.”

“Think of the grand surprise he’ll be greeted with upon his return, though! Arno Dorian: back in Paris with a shine in his eye and a plan to keep the city from Templar hands once more.” A muscle in Arno’s jaw twitched, but if Verne had seen it, he didn’t indicate anything. “The Council’s waiting, Arno.”

“Right. Are you to escort me?”

“Can’t. Something about us being old friends and it not being appropriate for solemn ceremony. I’ll be waiting here, though. For the good news.” He gave Arno a conspiratorial wink. “We’ve all heard about the Sword, and now the Apple. Rumour’s going around that you’ve gotten your hands on a third interesting tidbit.”

“Peace letters.”

“Oh now? They’ve got to take you back for this, Dorian. I’ll be shocked if they don’t.” Verne’s eyes had fallen to the Guillotine Gun, and he took it up, excited. “And where did you get this beauty?”

“An eight-year-old gave it to me and told me to save France,” Arno said. “I humoured him by saving a town.”

Verne considered the Guillotine Gun, and then mused, “Jean’ll like it.”

Arno’s jovial mood dropped like a stone. “Jean,” he said through gritted teeth, “isn’t going to touch it.”

Verne opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, but closed it a moment later and sighed heavily. Where he had been leaning against the doorframe, he shifted his weight and brought the Guillotine Gun down, leaning on it. “It’s been a year.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Arno —”

“If you’re only here to talk about Jean, then leave.”

Verne sighed again. “I haven’t seen you for months,” he said. “I wanted to see how you were. Say I’m sorry.”

Arno tensed, and he barely kept himself from demanding Verne to get out. He rubbed the back of his neck, wishing he had something to drink. “Thank you,” he said finally. “I’m fine.”

Verne jerked his head towards the corridor. “Want to spar after you’re done with them? You’re getting a gut.”

Arno swore and made a gesture towards him, but the insults died on his tongue when two Assassins came to the doorway. They waited for Verne to step out of the way, and Arno stiffened. He knew the two by sight, but had hardly exchanged two words with them over his years with the Brotherhood. One of them wore grey, the other a faded red. Their hoods were pulled up so only the lower parts of their faces were visible.

The Assassin in grey gestured to him. “The Council are waiting.”

Arno nodded and pulled on his coat and tucked the letters into the inside pocket. Verne was squashed against the doorframe, and he laid a hand on Arno’s shoulder as he passed, giving it a squeeze. “You’ll do fine.”

Arno touched the bracer on his left wrist as was habit whenever he left his room, and the Assassins closed about him front and behind. A clock struck the sixth hour somewhere in the distance, and the Assassins moved off. Verne craned his neck to watch Arno go, and when they reached the stairs, he hoisted the Guillotine Gun over his head and called, “And whilst you’re seeing the Council, I’m going to steal this and have a ball.”

“Return it when I get back,” Arno called in reply.

Verne gave him a small salute as the Assassin to Arno’s left said, “This way.”

I know my way around my own bloody café.

They used the café’s door to Sanctuary. Arno had been forced to surrender his key to the Council upon his expulsion, and it meant that it was the only door in the entire café that he couldn’t access without picking the lock. That it rankled him was an understatement. One of the Assassins opened it, and the rush of stale air hit Arno. For a moment he was back beneath the Temple, and then the catacombs under Franciade; bile rose in his throat, and he swallowed. The Assassins waited for him to go first, and then came up on either side of him. Arno thought for a second they were to grab him, but they just made it difficult for him to do anything other than match their quick pace.

They went in silence, accompanied only by the sounds of dripping water and the echoes of their steps. The man to his right held aloft a lantern to light the way, but Arno knew the tunnel well; he hardly needed it. It was freezing, and Arno watched his breath clouding in the air before him as they went further and further down. The walls became wet as they passed beneath the level of the Seine, and the going became far more slippery. Arno kept his knees loose and his steps light. He was half-hoping for something to happen if only to break the tension he and his escorts had brought, but soon the lights of Sanctuary came into view. Arno took a deep breath when he saw the first flicker of the torches reflecting off the damp in the tunnel, and the wave of heat that came up to greet them. The stone became a lighter grey from the native stone the tunnel was made from, and Arno could smell faint cooking spices from the barracks kitchens. His stomach rumbled, but no one said a word about it.

There was another Assassin waiting for them at the mouth of the cave. Arno recognised her, the tiny Jeanette who gave him a small smile of encouragement as she waved them on towards the Council chambers. Faint song stole along the corridor, some raunchy ballad that Arno only caught every second word of, but knew by heart from the taverns about  some tragic hero from three hundred years ago who’d died in his lover’s arms. He hadn’t spent long in the barracks before he’d moved upstairs to the café upon acquiring the deed to it, but even the song made him ache to the point of hurt. He wanted to succeed in this petition. He wanted it more than he could articulate. He’d met Verne and Francesco and Jean in the barracks, but hadn’t much spoken to each other until the Council had put them on missions together. Arno hadn’t gotten along well in the group, mainly for strife with Jean, and it was only after their first few missions together in which they had worked so well as a team despite the rifts between them, that they’d become firm friends, training, eating, and going drinking together. By God they’d been good.

“Monsieur Dorian,” the grey Assassin said quietly from behind him, and Arno only then realised he had stopped to listen. He started forward to the sweeping double stairs, climbing them two steps at a time until he came to the Council’s landing. He could see them waiting for him at the end of the short gallery, seated at their table in a semi-circle, the torches surrounding them casting deep shadows over their faces. Sophie Trenet sat at the centre, with Guillaume Beylier on her left and Hervé Quemar to her right. Each of them was unhooded, and their expressions were ones of stone. Arno swallowed as he went to them. They were the only ones on the level, the library and map rooms both deserted. Arno had never seen them so quiet; no matter the hour he had come here in the past, there was always at least one person working, many times with a pot of cold coffee at their elbow and their eyes drooping with exhaustion.

Arno stopped on the marble step, clenching his fists before lowering his chin to his chest and folding his hands behind his back. There was silence for a long while, and slight tremors set into hi arms and legs. He didn’t dare shift his position though. The Council continued to say nothing.

Trenet finally broke the silence. “Arno Victor Dorian,” she said, and her voice echoed, “you’ve returned.”

Oui, Madame.”

“Charlotte Gouze contacted us late last night to say that you wished to petition us,” she said. “Why?”

Arno felt the weight of the letters in the pocket as he took a breath to steady himself. “I come here to beg of you, Council,” he said, “please. If you would have me back, I will do my best to right the wrongs I committed.”

There was a sigh from the Council, and they shifted themselves in their seats. Quemar blew a breath from his lips, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes. Beylier pinned Arno with his gaze, placing his elbows on the table and leaning his chin on his interlocked fingers.

Trenet’s expression became stern. Impatient. “We have given you our answer before — a year ago. We gave you your chances whilst you were with us, and you spurned them. Our decision remains as it was: we will not.”

“Please, listen! I have good reason to ask this of you again. Hear me out, I beg of you.”

“We have heard this talk before,” she said. “As talented as you may be with a blade, you disobeyed our orders numerous times. You sought your own targets and used the Brotherhood as a way to satisfy personal wants. You are a wild card, and we can’t afford that.”

“You’ve agreed to hear my case by inviting me here, so let me speak.”

“Do then. Make it worth our time.”

“I was foolish to act as I did. I confess.” Arno’s eyes were burning, but he didn’t dare dry them, nor take them from the floor. “I regret … I regret so much I did. I won’t be the first to proclaim myself an arse and whole-heartedly agree. My actions saw the fragile peace Monsieur de la Serre and Mirabeau had worked so hard to build torn asunder. It saw Élise’s —” His throat spasmed, and he couldn’t voice the awful truth of it. “I carry the regret like the heaviest of stones in my chest. I wish to do right. I have come with these, to make this hearing worth your while.” He proffered the letters. “These are the correspondences between Haytham Kenway, the Grand Master of the British Colonial Templar Rite, and his half-sister, an Assassin sympathiser. They spoke of peace between the two of our causes, and the dream they shared is something I would work towards making a reality.”

He placed them on the table then stood back, his hands clasped in front of him. Quemar took the wallet, undoing the tie with what seemed deliberate slowness to Arno before pulling out the first letter. There was silence for a few minutes as he, then Beylier and Trenet, read them.

Eventually, Trenet asked, “Where did you get these?”

“They were left to me,” Arno said. “By Élise. She received them from Jennifer Scott in ’88.”

“These are …” And if Arno didn’t know her better, he would have said she sounded taken aback. Impressed.

“Élise wished to continue her father’s work and unite the Assassin and Templar causes in peace,” Arno said. “After the new direction the Order took upon Germain’s ascension, she wished to see the letters to bring those who had been scattered upon the fracturing of power and bring them back to her cause. She left them to another, a British man named Ruddock. I killed him and took them from him upon learning that he sought to destroy them.”

“Ruddock?”

“A disgraced Assassin. His claim to them was to use them to help him regain entrance to his Brotherhood.”

“And you come forth to step into his shoes after you murdered him?” Quemar asked.

Arno cursed him silently, but Beylier said, “We’ll contact the English and find out about this Ruddock from them. If you speak true, Dorian, then you’ve done us a great service by delivering these to us.”

Arno’s breathing eased, and he said a silent prayer of thanks for Beylier. Quemar, on the other hand, appeared less than satisfied with Arno’s explanation.

Trenet put the letters aside and folded her hands together. Arno fidgeted under her gaze, and she said to the Assassins standing behind Arno, “Leave us.”

“Madame.”

The Assassins saw Arno out, and they took refuge in the joint library and map room. Arno traced the surface of the globe there, running his fingers along the mountings. He lingered there, the Assassins held in the corner of his eye; they had retreated against the bookcases, the grey one leaning against the frame and the red watching Arno carefully. Arno closed his eyes, breathing deeply and opened himself to the senses of the Vision. His Vision was called weak, but it allowed him to see others through walls, and to hear their conversations. Granted, he couldn’t hold it for long, and the Assassins had helped him sustain the Vision for far longer than he’d been able to use it when he’d first been recruited, and he often wondered what it would be to have a powerful form of it.

He stilled, listening to the Council’s conversation. They had stood and were arguing quietly amongst themselves. The letters lay on the table between them.

“The Brotherhood is in desperate need of more recruits,” Trenet was saying.

“So you would take back one who has proved time and again how reckless he is?” Quemar asked. “How he doesn’t listen to the authority he swore himself to?”

“Dorian is a skilled Assassin; we need more like him,” Beylier said. “And he possesses the Vision —”

“They are not valid enough reasons!” Quemar exclaimed, rounding forcibly on the darker man. “He disobeys, Guillaume! Acts without thought of consequence! Having a person as like to listen to our orders as to ignore them is a disaster waiting to happen. And we have seen that disaster unfold time and time again, and I will put my foot down about it. If it’s his Vision you’re after: fine! Then we will find others with his Vision, and stronger forms of it, too.”

“We will not find others with the Vision easily,” Beylier said. “You know as well as I the blood is dying out; Dorian has been the only one since his father.”

Quemar said, “There will always be more. What has been will be again.”

“And the letters?” Trenet asked icily.

A pause. Arno’s shoulders were knotted with the effort to keep his concentration, but he could feel the Vision slipping, the heightened senses dulling. His head throbbed, and he had to relax lest he pass out. The voices of the Council faded back to indistinct murmurs. Several more minutes passed.

“He seems … contrite.” Beylier had spoken loud enough for his voice to naturally carry back to Arno.

A snort from Quemar. “Contrite … Ha! It can be easily acted.”

“Why are you so eager to see Dorian put out again?”

“Why? Why? I don’t trust him! You’ve seen yourselves how he swears up and down that he will not act out of line again, and then he turns around and does so. He is a Templar sympathiser, and no matter if we want peace with them, we need to know that he is firmly with us.”

“He is,” Beylier said, “simply because he has come back to us, and not gone to them.”

The thought hadn’t occurred to Arno. He couldn’t imagine belonging to the Templars.

“How do they know?”

Arno turned. One of his escorts had said it, the one in red he thought. The man was glaring at him, and Arno’s nostrils flared. He crossed to him. “What?” His voice was calm, but there was a growl laced with the words.

The Assassin said nothing else, and Arno advanced further on him, his heart aching, his shoulders quivering. “I asked: what?”

The Assassin was still silent, and his companion was likewise unreadable. Arno thought about hitting him, and his fingers curled into a fist to do so, but he pushed the urge away. He turned from the two, disgusted. It wasn’t as if it was the first time he’d heard talk like it, and even if the Assassin had voiced his further thoughts aloud, it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d heard that either. Templar lover. But he was anxious and frustrated, and his head still held the vestiges of the ache the Vision brought. Arno wanted to fight something.

Verne’s waiting upstairs, he reminded himself as he set about to pacing. I’ll fight him and beat him with that bloody axe myself.

Arno’s chin fell to his chest, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Quietly, now,” Trenet said. There was another lapse in the conversation, and then came the sound of the leather wallet being dropped on the table. “But these … they are invaluable. And they still belong to Dorian.”

Arno’s insides were churning, and he strode to the furthest end of the room, closing his eyes and taking long, deep breaths.

“So he will donate them if we let him rejoin? That’s blackmail in its finest form.”

“Bargaining.”

“Call it what you may, they are still underhanded tactics”

Arno strained his ears to listen to the barracks song, mouthing along the words and closing his eyes. He pressed his back to the wall and slid down it. He was shivering.

“Dorian.”

Arno opened his eyes. It had been close on ten minutes since he’d last heard anything from the Council by his count, and his escorts were standing over him. The one dressed in grey held an arm back towards the Council’s chamber. “The Council is waiting.”

Arno stood. He bowed upon the marble step, and once again kept his head down.

“We’ve come to a decision,” Trenet said. Beylier nodded, and Quemar Arno couldn’t read. Trenet took a breath. “Arno Dorian, you’ve caused too much damage and displayed such recklessness and disobedience that we cannot let you rejoin the Brotherhood.”

Arno’s breath caught in his throat. There was a roar in his ears.

No

“Master, but I —”

Trenet held up her hand. “I’m not your master,” she said, firmly, but with a hint of regret. “Your gifts are lauded, your contributions admired, and we are in desperate need of more like you. So we will gladly take your council, and any help or information, you can offer us. But we will not restore your place in the Brotherhood.”

“I wish redemption —”

“We’ve heard this song and dance before with François de la Serre,” Quemar cut across. “If it is truly redemption and a place in this Brotherhood you seek, then earn it.”

Arno’s eyes widened, and Beylier nodded. “If you would let us finish, Monsieur Dorian?”

Arno bowed his head, and Quemar continued, “Finding Pieces of Eden is well enough, but the true problem is thus: you have not take our Creed to heart. People have been finding Pieces of Eden and keeping them safe for years, but that does not make them Assassins, nor Templars for that matter. It’s the cause that makes you something. If you take it up and prove that you fight for us and not your own ends, then we will reconsider your case. And when you understand our Creed to its bones, we will re-discuss.”

It was final, but Arno wanted to continue arguing. He’d dismantled the entire corrupt Templar influence in Paris, had brought in two Pieces of Eden, and now the letters that were a true way to seek peace between the factions … and it still wasn’t enough. He felt like yelling.

“So, you would continue what you had me doing before,” he sneered. He was angry and frustrated, and the achingly bitter disappointment was clouding his mind. “There to call on whenever you require my services? Like you did when I went to rescue Monsieur Paton? To kill Marcourt and Roux and the Jacobins? To do how many little chores for you like retrieving Mirabeau’s secrets or lost paintings when you have need of my gifts?”

“You had do your best to watch your tongue,” Trenet said coldly, “or you might find our offer revoked.”

When you cease lead me on like a donkey to a carrot.

“Do not think us stupid, boy,” Quemar said. “Each of those missions we offered you presented the opportunity for you to find out more about Germain’s movements. You didn’t do them for hope of redeeming yourself, or for the Creed, but for closing your jaws about Germain’s throat for personal reasons.” That much was true at least, and the words stung. Those times the Brotherhood had come to him for his Vision, Arno had accepted the missions for the opportunity for information they had presented. Paton hadn’t turned up anything, and neither had ransacking Marcourt’s, Roux’s, or even Mirabeau’s papers and relics. But the Jacobins … that he had done for his want to kill, blinded as he’d been by rage and grief over Élise’s death. As if sensing his discomfort, Quemar seized the opportunity to keep talking. “So, we will start with a clean slate. We do need your gifts, but they are not enough to assure entry to the Brotherhood. Consider this … an extended interview.”

“We offer this to you for performing services of great value to us,” Beylier said, “and for goodwill to your father’s memory, and his achievements with the Brotherhood.”

“So will you accept?” Trenet finished.

Arno hesitated for the briefest of moments before he bowed. “I accept.” It was as Élise had written in her journal: he was, and always would be, an Assassin. He couldn’t help it.

The Council nodded, Beylier in particular seeming pleased.

“There will be conditions,” Trenet said. “Firstly, that you will come here only if summoned, and during these summonings, you will be escorted at all times. You may continue you use your hidden blade, but you will be forbidden the use of your robes unless we permit them on a mission. And finally, you will log your activities for report and evaluation should you come across anything that suggests a threat to this Brotherhood. If you truly wish to be a part of us, you need to first prove to our satisfaction that you can and will obey orders. Do I make myself clear?”

Oui.

The conditions felt strangling, and Arno knew that he would break them a few times before the Council would be satisfied, but, well, what would it hurt them if they didn’t know about everything he did?

He was dismissed, and the two that frog-marched him before the Council snapped back to his side at once. Arno walked before them, his shoulders hunched, and when they came to Café Théâtre’s door, Arno turned to them, gave a mocking bow, and closed it in their faces.

Chapter Text

Calais, 30th October, 1794

Connor was aware that eyes had fallen upon him soon after stepping off the Aquila in Calais. Not just the eyes of the curious, but he felt a pinpointed gaze on his shoulders. He gave a warning look back to Wilkes, who nodded; his hand strayed to the cutlass at his side, and Connor stayed only long enough to see the rest of the crew within easy reach of weapons of their own. He pulled the hood further over his face as he went down the gangplank, quickening his walk and using his Vision to see if the tailer matched his new pace. He had tried to explain what the Eagle’s Vision was like to others multiple times, but had always found it as difficult as trying to explain what taste or touch was, and even the name of Vision in itself wasn’t quite adequate. Perhaps his grandfather’s name for it, Sense, was better. It was an expansion of the self, a kind of way to discern what was around him and find what was hidden to the eyes. He had found people and game trails by using it as far back as he could remember, and in his secret heart of hearts he called the Vision a sort of mind reading, a skimming of the surface of the thoughts of others and so singling out what he sought, a sweeping of the world around him. He found the tailer easily enough despite their unobtrusiveness to the general eye, and, in the way of the Vision, knew the man was his tailer like he knew up from down. He matched Connor’s faster pace, and Connor pursed his lips.

Calais was a port town, drowned by docks and traffic. Gulls circled the houses and the markets, crying out over the sound of a thousand people going about their business. Fishmongers hollered their wares, their French too rapid for Connor to follow to his satisfaction; taverns overflowed with sailors waiting for the tide; street criers brought news, much of it from Paris. A woman nearby sold tricolore cockades from a basket under her arm, brandishing one in Connor’s direction. Connor waved her off, slipping between the crowds and into a narrower alley. The roar from the street was muted, and apart from himself and a couple of drunks from the tavern around the corner, the alley was deserted. Connor didn’t have to wait long before his tailer followed him.

“White isn’t a welcome colour to be wearing here,” the Assassin said from behind him. “It’s the colour of royalty.”

“Forgive my ignorance on the matter,” Connor said in French, turning to face him. He planted his feet and raised his chin. “You’re with the Brotherhood.”

Oui, Monsieur. Safety and peace to you.” The Assassin didn’t wear his hood up, and so Connor guessed him to be in his early thirties. His dark hair was cut short, and a beard covered his jaw.  He was relaxed and at ease, his hands in his pockets, and his arms were thick with muscle. He gestured behind him and said, “Perhaps we’ll find a more comfortable place to talk …?”

“Lead the way.”

One of the drunkards muttered about them leaving his territory and spat after them as they left; both Connor and the Assassin ignored him.

“From the accent,” the Assassin said casually as they walked along the street, “I’m guessing … Canadian?”

“American,” Connor corrected. “I practice my French with a Canadian.”

“Ah, je comprends. Compliments to your teacher; your French is very good.”

“He’ll be glad to hear it.”

They stopped, and the Assassin held out his hand. “Jean-Jacques LaHache. Or just Jean,” he said. “I’m the Keeper of the branch here. I recognised your ship as French work, and the name’s part of our old records. She’s, what, almost fifty now?”

“Forty-five.” Connor took LaHache’s hand in his own, and they shook; Jean was almost a head shorter than him. “Connor.”

Jean started. “Connor Kenway?”

“Just Connor.”

Mon Dieu. Mentor, forgive me, I-I did not recognise you.”

“Why? You’ve no reason to.”

“But, well, you’re idolised here.” Jean scratched his neck. “You eradicated an entire Templar branch by yourself. To hear what others are saying, you’re the next Ezio Auditore.”

Connor blinked, taken aback. All he could manage was an, “Oh,” to the revelation.

“It’s just me, Marianne, and Henri at the branch for the time being. We’re expecting a group back from Sweden in a couple of days, though. You’ll have the run of the place. This way.”

They left the riot of the docks and market districts after a few minutes, the colours and smells and sounds fading on the sea wind, and came to a more residential area. Stray animals scattered from their path, and beggars held their hands towards them, calling for coin and food. Jean scattered a few coins for them, all the while leading the way towards a row of houses. He came to a halt at one with a rundown façade and reached for a key at his belt. The hinges groaned as the door opened, and Jean peered inside.

“Ahh, forgive the mess,” he said as Connor stooped under the doorframe. “As I said, it’s just three of us here at the moment.”

The house was cluttered, but cosy. The bare wooden walls and floor were polished smooth with years. They were covered with papers, the floor with a threadbare rug, and a framed painting of a landscape whose decor far outstripped the rest of the place. A kitchen area was squashed in a back corner, the rafters there hung with drying herbs. Tables and chairs had been squeezed into the space, with a desk set against the far wall which was drowned with papers and a half-eaten meal on a tin plate, a bookcase situated behind it all. Candles of varying states of their lives, extinguished, sat on plates, and a staircase in the far corner lead to the second floor. Behind the desk, a huge, heavy axe was propped against the wall, the blade and oaken handle both shining in the light, lovingly cared for.

Jean stomped past it all, tidying up a little as he went. He wore a slightly harried look. “Marianne!” he called up the stairs. “Herni!” There wasn’t any response, and he shook his head. “Not back yet. I’ll wager they’re still seeing to your ship. The crew’s welcome to come and go from here too, so long as they’re discreet about it.”

“My thanks.”

“Hungry?”

“Starving.”

Jean clambered over the furniture and stacks of bric-a-brac towards the kitchen area, opening a cupboard and cobbling together whatever he found onto a tray he pulled from the clutter. There was bread, crackers, a carrot, and Jean looked back at him. “I’ll make something. There’s, erm, there’re beds upstairs. Take your pick.”

Connor didn’t have much with him except the pack over his shoulder that held spare rope darts, vials of poison, snares, ammunition, a change of clothes, and a few British pounds. His bow was under his arm, unstrung and safely stowed in a buckskin tube along with spare strings, and his quiver and arrows were over his back. He had been planning to spend the afternoon securing passage to Paris and then the night on board the Aquila before setting off again, but Connor shrugged and put his things upstairs. He came back down to Jean trying to get a spark on the hearth. An assortment of ingredients was arranged on the bench.

Jean blew gently on the flames to get them going, and once they had worked themselves up decently, he hung a pot of water over the fire. From it he lit a taper and put it to a few of the candles around him. He asked Connor as he shook the taper out, “How’s soup sound?”

“Fine.”

“I have cabbage, cabbage, more cabbage …” Jean gestured vaguely at the food he’d found. “And I have yet more cabbage. We finished the ham yesterday, so we’ll have to do with this.”

“It’s no matter.” Connor ate just about anything.

“Tea?”

“Anything.”

“An easy guest. Wish I had more like you. But come! Sit.” Jean waved Connor towards a seat whilst he pulled a cabbage towards him, taking a cleaver from a drawer and beginning to dice it up. The slices were expert. “So, Mentor,” Jean said, smiling amicably at Connor, “how fairs the American Brotherhood?”

“Thriving. All the major cities are under Assassin care.” Connor nodded back towards the door. “I expected more … violence here. I’ve heard stories of the revolution; they haven’t painted a pretty picture to say the least.”

“We’ve been lucky to remain relatively untouched by the violence of the revolution here,” Jean said. “I hear in Paris there are over a dozen executions a day.”

A dozen “And how goes the revolution?”

“With Robespierre’s — a, uhm, a radical politician, so to say — death, more peacefully. Paris is still in chaos, but it’s better than it was six months ago.”

“I see.” Connor flexed his fingers. “I’ve come to seek something of my father’s in Paris: letters he wrote to his sister. I’m in dire need of them. Jennifer Scott said she had passed them into Templar hands some years ago, to a woman named Élise de la Serre.”

“De la Serre.” Jean paused, then shook his head. “If you’re looking for her, it’s too late. The girl’s three months dead.”

Connor closed his eyes, rubbing his temples. Weariness seized him, frustration and disappointment too for being set back to the beginning of the hunt. He felt like pounding his fist into the table. He ground his teeth anyhow. “Where? How?”

“Paris. I don’t know what happened in the lead up to it, but I know Dorian was involved. You can speak to him; he might know something if you catch him at a time when he’s not a senseless drunk.”

“Who’s Dorian?”

Jean slammed the cleaver’s point into the table and muttered darkly, “Dieu le damne…. One of the worst Assassins I’ve ever seen.”

Connor cocked a brow. “How so?”

“I won’t deny that he isn’t skilled,” Jean said grudgingly, “but he lacks discipline. He spent the last two years gallivanting around Paris with the de la Serre girl trying to get her instated as the Templar Grand Master after her father’s death. And not only that, but he disobeyed the direct orders of the Council in order to satisfy the girl’s lust for revenge. He was cast out of the Brotherhood the January before this one. Last I heard he was a wreck that crawled back to Paris from Franciade. Rumour has it he found a second Piece of Eden.”

What?” Connor almost choked on his surprise. Not one Piece, but two? “Tell me.”

“The first was a sword beneath the Paris Temple,” Jean said, ticking it off his fingers. “A second in Franciade that’s been sent out of the country.”

“How many know of this?” Connor asked quickly. “How did you find out?”

“News spreads,” Jean said. “We had a group from Paris pass through a few days ago on the way to England to confer with the Brotherhood there. They told us what had happened.”

Connor was silent, deep in thought. “Draft a letter to the Brotherhood in England at once,” he said quietly. “They must hold their tongues; I will sign my authority too.”

Jean nodded. “And you?”

“I have to leave right away. I need to see those Pieces of Eden.”

“I suggest we wait for the others coming in from Sweden,” Jean said. “We’ll go then; there’s safety in numbers, and we’ll need as many as we can muster during this time. We’ll be in Paris by the end of the week.”

Connor was itching to leave then and there, and Jean must have seen it in his face. “Mentor, the roads are choked with bandits, and if they can’t touch you during the day, then they’ll wait for the night. Most’re so hungry they’ll jump anyone who looks to have slightest bit of food or coin. They don’t care if you’re nobility or not; string you up either way.”

Connor chewed on the inside of his cheek. “How many will there be if we were to go in a group?”

“Seven,” Jean said. “You, myself, Marianne, and the four coming in from Sweden.”

Water sloshed over the side of the pot in the fire, and Jean stood, heaping in chopped cabbage and busying himself with tea. He cut up the carrot as the tea leaves steeped, and ran a hand down his face. “You’ve seen a Piece, haven’t you?”

“One,” Connor conceded. The Apple he had thrown into the sea at Washington’s behest. “How long ago was the first found?”

“End of July.”

“And how many would know of them by your estimate?”

“A couple of dozen, maybe? A bit more?”

Too many, Connor thought. Word would spread fast, and he shuddered with the thought of whose ears might hear the news.


The Channel, one week earlier …

“Pap, you gotta hear this.”

Killian stepped into the Morrigan’s cabin, blood spotting his fists. Shay turned his attention from the letters on the desk. “What is it?”

“France,” Killian said, striding to the desk and stopping before his father. “Finally got the rat to talk.”

“And what did he say?”

“More news about the death of France’s Grand Master, and finally we got the events surrounding it.” Killian leant on the desk. “He and an Assassin were racing for a Piece of Eden, a sword of some kind. And then, lo’ and behold, they find an Apple not a month later beneath some town. The French only just deigned to release the news about the Pieces to the others of their Brotherhood.” He stood back and continued idly, “There was something more about a Ruddock of some kind, but that’s about everything.”

Shay drummed his fingers on the desk. “Well shit,” he said finally. It was all he could say. Pieces of Eden. He composed himself and said, “Prepare the Assassin; I want to talk further to him.”

“Gotcha, Pap.”

Killian was a good lad, just shy of twenty-three and the oldest of his three children. Shay’s youngest son, Aidan, was sixteen and would soon be finishing his induction to the Order. He was the shier of the two, but he was no less brutal than his brother and father when it came to the Assassins. His daughter, Siobhán, a bright and shining girl of ten, was sleeping in the bed at the back of the cabin. She had always been suspicious of what her father and brothers did, complaining about uprooting the family as often as they did, and making the Morrigan as her home a year and a half ago upon her mother’s death. Shay remembered how solemn she had been when he had sat her down on her tenth birthday and, as was custom, to explain the workings of the Templar Order, and of the existence of the Assassins.

Do you understand? Shay had asked her, holding her hands tight between his own.

She, like her brothers had done on their tenth birthdays, nodded, but what had been different with her was that Shay thought she understood far more than either Killian or Aidan had. His heart had burst with pride as he leant to her and kissed her hair.

Shay stood, calling Evans to him as he came outside. The illusion of calm imposed by the cabin’s quiet atmosphere was shattered upon mounting the deck.

The English brig, an old girl called the Gordon, hadn’t yet sunk, and the smell of gunpowder filled the air. Blood was still being scrubbed from the Morrigan’s deck, and the plunder sorted. Debris and the dead floated in the water, and Shay could hear the gulls circling. They were just lucky fog had rolled over the sea that day; if it hadn’t, then both the French and the English would have seen the destruction of the ship. The Channel was just too narrow. It would still be wise to beat a hasty retreat as soon as they were done here; someone would have heard, and seen, the cannon fire.

Evans was by his side a few moments later. “Captain.”

“What’s the report?” Shay asked, striding up the deck and waiting for a couple of the crew members to open the grate to the cargo hold.

“Seven dead, nine injured, and we’ll have to replace half the starboard cannons,” Evans said promptly. “Oh, and she’ll need a new coat of paint.”

“God rest their souls,” Shay muttered under his breath. “What were they carrying?”

“Not much. A half hundred gallons of oil, some hundred yards of cloth, wine, lumber, a crate of muskets, and a good dozen barrels of dry gunpowder.”

“Keep the muskets and the gunpowder. Sell the rest.” Then, after a moment, “Keep the salt too.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Any further survivors apart from our guest?”

“Thirty-seven. Fourteen have pledged to join our crew.”

“Find out the intentions of the rest, and kill those who refuse to change their coats. The usual drill. Send any reports to Aidan if I’m not back up on deck.”

“Yessir.”

Evans saluted sloppily and jogged off, barking out Shay’s orders as Shay descended into the Morrigan’s belly. Killian was at his heels, and he led the way to the cells in the bow. Hasty repairs were being made on the starboard side, a dozen crew members patching the peppered holes in the ship from the Gordon’s cannon. No matter how many times Shay had seen the Morrigan with holes in her, something twisted at his heart when he was confronted with the damage. Killian pursed his lips; he loved the Morrigan almost as much as Shay did. If the old girl hadn’t been retired then, she would be his when Shay died, and he couldn’t think of better hands to place her in.

It was Edward O’Connell, a fellow Irish-American, keeping a watch over the cells. He was perched on a short stool and had a little book open in his hand, a single tallow candle burning on a plate beside him. He was grinning at whatever was on the pages before he noticed Shay and Killian. He snapped it shut and rose hastily to his feet. “Captain.”

Shay arched an eyebrow at the book — which was little more of a series of pamphlet pages, he saw — and at least O’Connell had the decency to look embarrassed about being caught on the job rather than for whatever illicit material Shay was sure he’d been looking at. “Is he secure?” he asked in Gaelic.

“Yessir, especially after the number Master Killian gave him.”

“And his hidden blades?”

O’Connell searched around under the stool for a moment and brought up a single blade. “Only the one, following the old Syrians,” he said, putting it in Shay’s hand. “Tradition of the French Brotherhood, as I understand.”

No matter; Shay would just have to find a matching blade for it. It was time Aidan had blades of his own, and France was an Assassin hive; it wouldn’t be hard. He examined the blade, his eye drawn to the fine cogs at the front. He touched the button near it, and the blade sprang open, a little crossbow mechanism waiting to be fired. “Quite ingenious,” he said, pressing the button again. The bolt fired, thunking and sinking surprisingly deep into the hold’s wall. Impressed, he folded the crossbow away and slipped the blade into his pocket. He gestured to the cell door. “If you would.”

O’Connell fitted the key into the lock, and the door swung open. Shay stepped in, and Killian took up a position at the door, leaning his shoulder against the frame.

The Assassin was slumped against the wall, his wrists bound above his head to a set of iron clamps. Shay put him at around thirty-five. His robe was torn and bloodstained, his knee turned to a mess of meat and shattered bone by the lead Shay had put into it, and his breathing came in wet, painful rasps. For all the blood he’d lost, Shay would have been surprised if he lived the day. He crossed to him, squatting beside the Assassin and wrapping a fist in his hair. He pulled his head back; the man’s face was bloody from the beating Killian had given him. His nose had been smashed, one of his cheekbones broken, and his eyes were blooming with bruises. Despite the injuries, his glare was impressive.

“Do you know who I am?” Shay asked quietly. His French was rough with disuse, and he was sure he’d gotten the tense wrong, but it didn’t matter.

The Assassin tried to spit at him, but he couldn’t; his lips were split and too tender. “I know a traitor when I see one,” he said hoarsely. His eyes flicked to Killian. “You were one of us.”

“Not him,” Shay said. “Only me.”

“Then my pity for him. Templar doctrine filling his ears from birth.”

Shay punched him. The man took the blow silently, but he couldn’t hide his wince of pain as a tooth snapped. He spat the shard of it out as Shay grabbed him by the jaw. “I could say the same pity extends to the children who grow up with Assassin doctrine ringing in their heads,” he retorted, fury simmering beneath his skin. “But I’m not here to discuss such things. What do you have to say about the Pieces of Eden you’ve uncovered recently, hmm?” His free hand inched towards the Assassin’s injured knee. He gave it the slightest poke, and even that was enough for the Assassin’s face to ripple with pain. Shay hardly liked this sort of thing, and he could list half a dozen others who took to the work of torture better than him, Killian being one of them, but if it had to be done, then so be it. He justified it through desperation. The quicker people talked, the quicker Assassin mistakes could be rectified. Safety, order, direction. The peace he and his children would never have, but others, for their work, would.

“What are these Pieces? Where were they found? Where are they now?” He put further pressure on the Assassin’s knee, and he threw his head back, panting heavily through clenched teeth. “Tell me everything.”

“July,” the Assassin spat out. “The Sword was found in July. Beneath the Temple. The Apple beneath Saint-Denis in August.”

“Apple?”

“It’s gone now. I don’t know where, but it’s not in France.”

“And what of the Sword?”

“In Paris. Broken. That’s all I know.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. Never set my damn eyes on the thing. All I’ve heard is that it’s broken.” The Assassin’s eyes were wet with pain — pain for his knee, and for his weakness. “They said it was Jeanne d’Arc’s sword. It was hers….”

Shay cast a glance back to Killian. He shrugged. “Sin uile a dúirt sé liom.

Shay took his hand away from the Assassin’s knee. He stood, backing away as much as he could in the little cell. It wasn’t pity he felt for the Assassin slumped in his chains, but simply a deep sadness for him, much like he would feel for a shot rabbit as it struggled in its death throes. But he had one more question for this rabbit before he could let him go: “Where’re the others?”

Blood bubbled on the Assassin’s lips. “Others?” he whispered.

“It’s not like you to travel alone,” Shay said. “Who’re the Assassins accompanying you?”

“Dead,” he hissed. “Died in the attack.”

Shay narrowed his eyes. His attuned his Vision, a little part of it. Lies.

“Killian,” he said, still in French, “gather the Gordon’s survivors.”

The Assassin’s breathing hitched as Shay undid the manacles, and he screamed hoarsely as his knee moved. Shay hauled him up as Killian disappeared above, ignoring the Assassin’s snarls as he dragged him to the deck. Killian and the rest of the Morrigan’s crew had forced the Gordon’s to their knees. Shay pushed the Assassin down facing them, extending his left hidden blade and pressing it into the man’s neck. He gave a nod to Killian. Killian drew out the sword on his hip in a slow movement, letting the blade catch the light as he prowled before the man first in line. His eyes gleamed in the moment before striking, driving his sword to the hilt into the man’s chest. The man made a sound, a funny jumping in his chest before Killian pushed his foot into his shoulder and slid him off the sword. Shay held the Assassin firm as he lunged forward, his eyes burning as Killian came before the next in line. Spittle flew from the Assassin’s lips as Killian killed the second man, then the third and fourth with the same efficiency.

Shay spotted the movement before Killian did. The man seventh in line. He broke free of the restraining grip on his arms as he lunged at Killian, the blade at his wrist extending. But Killian reacted faster than Shay did. Shay was sixty-three, no longer a young man, and so he had barely moved forward by the time Killian and the Assassin were engaged blade to blade. It was clear to Shay’s eyes that the French Assassins held tight to the Syrian traditions when it came to the use of the hidden blade. They didn’t train on it when it concerned mêlée fighting, and he ordered his men to give Killian room, putting the Assassin out of reach of a weapon more suitable to him. The fight was ferocious nevertheless, but Killian was at ease throughout it. His sword cut through the air, and he bent like a willow reed around the Assassin’s strikes. He knew their fighting forms, Shay had taught him all of them, and worked around them. He kicked the Assassin in the knee when he aimed a particularly desperate blow at him, and the Assassin fell hard. He grunted as his knees hit the deck, and Killian took the advantage. He drew his pistol and shot the Assassin in the back.

The man at Shay’s feet shouted as Killian sauntered to his foe. He wasn’t dead yet, and fought to turn over, his blade held up and at the ready. Shay saw the little crossbow unfurl, and Killian surged forward before the bolt was loosed. His sword bit deep into the Assassin’s elbow, and the blow was strong enough to sever the arm. He plunged his sword into the Assassin’s eye a moment later, exhaling deeply as he leant his weight on the blade. A sharp crack echoed throughout the air as the point broke the skull, and stillness settled over the deck like a blanket. The only sound was the harsh panting of the living Assassin. His cheeks were stained with tears of rage.

Shay turned to the crew. “Check the wrists of the others.” They should have done it before; he’d lecture them about it later. Evidently the crew realised it too and they went about the task a little sheepishly. None of the others had hidden blades, but still Shay opened himself to the Vision. Nothing presented itself to him, even when he pressed hard.

“ ‘Died in the attack’?” Shay repeated.

Chien templier,” the Assassin spat. His gaze roved over the dead, then from Killian to Shay in turn. “Have you no honour? No mercy?”

“Honour?” Killian asked, his eyes hooded. He withdrew his sword from the Assassin’s head and came, cat-like, towards the man Shay held. “It requires honour to partake the role of a butcher now, does it? ‘Cause this, my friend,” he said, gesturing behind him to the bodies and the blood, “this is butcher work. I’m not proud of it, but it was necessary. Because of you.”

“They were not Assassins,” the man said. “They were innocents, merchants.”

A spasm passed over Killian’s face, and he levelled his sword at the Assassin. “And it hurts!” he shouted. “But they were touched by your Brotherhood. The sacrifices for peace are high, but if killing them means eradicating the rats like you, then so be it.” Shay stepped back as Killian rammed the sword into the Assassin’s chest. The Assassin jerked, soundless, but he closed his eyes tight, tilting his head back to the sky. The cords stood out sharp on his neck. Killian leant close to his ear. “ ‘Honour’,” he repeated. “Honour means nothing to me when I mean to live and see the likes of you go extinct. With our line of work, no one’s going to remember us. And I’m fine with that.” The Assassin slid off his blade, and Killian wiped it on the dead man’s sleeve. “And since no one’s going to remember us, where’s the harm in living a little longer, eh?”

“Leave him be,” Shay said. “We’re going.”

“Right you are, Pap. I’ll set course for Paris.” Killian looked back at the dead man and muttered, “Rest in peace and all that shite.”

Shay worried about Killian. He may have spoken of remorse, but his expression was calm as he sheathed his sword and walked away from his slaughter. Shay worried that his words of showing compassion to his enemies fell sometimes on closed ears. Killian was a man who felt deeply, who had compassion enough for oceans. But it could, and had done in the past, turned the wrong way. Shay had punished him before for digressions that had gone too far, Killian bore the scars on his palms to prove it, but there was always the fear in the back of his mind Killian never truly understood. Or that he was unwilling to understand. Shay watched him mount the poop deck, leaning close to Evans and muttering a quiet word to him as he placed an idle hand on the wheel.

Shay remembered an incident when Killian was twelve, and an Assassin had come after him, his wife Rachael, and their children when they had been living in Cape Town. The man had broken into their cottage, and it had been Siobhán’s wails that had alerted Shay to the intruder’s presence. He had killed the man at the foot of Siobhán’s crib and turned to find Killian at the nursery door, peeking around the frame with eyes as wide as saucers.

Killian, he had said, blood dripping from him, go back to sleep.

Is he one of them? An Assassin?

Yes. Shay was adamant about never lying to his children. Yes, he had told them half-truths when they had asked questions about the Order before they had been old enough, but he had never lied to them.

Did he come to kill us?

He did.

Killian had peered at the man, and before Shay could stop him, ran into the room, kicking the body in the side before Shay pulled him off. He moved Killian around by both arms and demanded, What do you think you’re doing?

And to his horror, Killian had repeated back what Shay had told him on his tenth birthday:

‘You must stop them. Control them before they can do anymore damage like I did in Lisbon. They must be killed before they can act.’

That was the first time Shay had had to reinforce the difference between blindly hating the enemy and killing them because they had a duty to; the second was when Rachael had been killed by another Assassin attack in Bombay the year before. That had been a hard lesson to teach, much less to adhere to himself. Looking at Killian now standing at the Morrigan’s wheel, tall and straight-backed and the Templar Cross glinting in the sun on his breast, those ghosts of old doubts came back into Shay’s mind.

The door to the captain’s cabin was slightly ajar, and Shay saw Aidan and Siobhán standing in the crack, peering out like creatures in the night. Aidan’s eyes were on him, but Siobhán’s were on the bodies. Shay went to them, jerking his head over his shoulder to the crew to throw the bodies overboard.

“Pap?” Siobhán whispered as he came to the door. She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Shay returned the embrace.

“It’s alright,” he murmured, running his fingers through her fine blonde hair — Rachael’s hair. “It’s alright….”


Café Théâtre, 8th November, 1794

Arno stared at the paper. The fire crackled in the hearth, warming the room and the kettle of tea above it. Outside, the sky was the soft orange of falling dusk.

 

Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent. Hide in plain sight. Never compromise the Brotherhood.

Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember: Nothing is true. Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember: Everything is permitted.

 

Arno written them twice: once in French and once in German, his other native tongue from his mother’s side. The longer he looked at the words, the more he hated them. He’d read the interpretations of the Creed made by others, from those lower in the Brotherhood’s ranks to Assassins of legendary prowess, but each of them hadn’t sat right in him. Trenet had said he’d flouted the Creed, but the frustration was born from the fact he couldn’t quite put his finger on where he had done so. He hadn’t blindly followed orders, had thought through his actions and concluded they had bettered Paris, so wasn’t that upholding the first part of the tenet? And wasn’t everything permitted? He felt like he had followed it to the bones, risking everything he had for the betterment of a world without the radicals of society like Germain. Oh, he knew why the Council had thrown him out, for not following their orders, but flouting the Creed….

Arno’s forehead thunked against the desk, and he gripped at his hair, a noise of frustration escaping him. Boxing his brain wasn’t getting him anywhere. He groped around the desk for the one remaining bottle of Merlot. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

Jesu ….

“You’re strung like a wire.”

Arno jumped up and spun around, looking for something to fight, but it was only Madame Gouze. He slumped at the realisation.

“The door was open,” she said by way of greeting.

“Was I disturbing you?” he asked testily; she’d given him enough of a fright to make his heart thump.

“I was wondering who took the Merlot from the cellar without logging it. I see I’ve found it.” She sat at his small table and chairs, placing her hands in her lap and giving him a searching look. “I’m worried about you, Arno,” she said bluntly.

Arno barely stopped himself from snorting in bitter amusement. He turned back to the desk, gathering his loose hair in an attempt at making himself presentable and draping it over his shoulder. He curled his toes into the carpet and leant on the back of the desk chair. “I am well, Madame,” he said. “Truly. You need not worry.”

“You’ve never been a good liar, you know that?”

Arno raised an eyebrow. “And here I was thinking that I had become quite adept at poker.”

“You’re too used to smiling,” she said. “This gloom doesn’t suit you.”

“Gloom. Right.”

She paled and stood back up. “Arno, I apologise. I misspoke.”

“Since the first day I was here I’ve been told to forget her,” he said suddenly. “By Bellec first. All he said that she was a Templar and such things never end well between us; someone was always killed. Then someone found out about her two months after I joined the Brotherhood, and soon it seemed everyone knew. I lost count how many times I was told to move on in the first months. I could see them saying it when I brought her before the Council, and I can hear it now that she’s …” Arno’s voice shook before it broke. “I can’t. I keep seeing her. I can’t stop thinking about her….”

Madame Gouze pulled him into a hug. At first Arno wanted to fight her off, but she tightened her grip on him. “I know how it hurts,” she said. “But it’ll get better. I promise.”

“How?”

“You live, Arno Dorian. That is how.” She pulled back from the embrace and gripped his arms. “Smaller things first. Find something to work on. Focus on it, and you’ll find the pain dulls.”

Work on getting back into the Brotherhood.

He turned back to his desk. He had more papers there, spread out and covering the length of the desktop. The Creed was the top sheet of paper, and the rest were covered in scribbled sentences. The Lady Eve. What he had been doing for the past three weeks since his meeting with the Council was walking amongst the people of Paris, listening and stamping his feet to warm them up. He frequented Invalides and Champ de Mars, hoping to find more information on the officer he had seen talking to Rose. He’d hoped the offices there could have held more information, and had broken into the commanders’ files and ransacked them. He had wanted to tear something when that had gotten him nowhere, and it seemed he couldn’t pick anything up by eavesdropping, either. The Lady Eve was proving to be nothing but a question mark, and the lack of information lent him to thinking about Élise, and so he had ended up back at Café Théâtre with four empty bottles of Merlot and a veritable storm of useless papers.

“Verne’s downstairs,” Madame Gouze said after a moment. “He wants a word with you.”

Arno didn’t want to see Verne, but he couldn’t say no. He lingered in his room, changing slowly and taking the excuse to sort out his socks on the pretext of finding matching ones to wear before going downstairs. The café was in the quieter night business hours, and so Arno didn’t have to search long before he saw Verne sitting at one of the booths, a cup of steaming coffee in front of him as he played idly with the Phantom Blade mechanism. Arno slid into the opposite bench, not bothering to hide his glare of annoyance.

Verne raised an eyebrow. “Did I do something?”

“You tell me. Madame Gouze said you wanted me.”

“I did?” Verne craned his neck to look back in the direction of the stairs, then said, “I think you’ve been played.”

Arno swore under his breath.

“I didn’t realise my company was that distasteful.”

“It’s not you: it’s her.”

“Oh, thank you for the clarification; I’m still hurt. So now that I’ve got you here, what do you propose we do?”

“If you have any information on an officer of the National Convention who, for all intents and purposes, has never officially existed, then be my guest to spill the beans on him.”

“Well,” Verne said, shrugging as he picked up his coffee, “my first thought on the matter is he part of the guard? Or is he just an impostor in a snatched uniform? What’s he done?”

“Passing information on,” Arno said, running his hands over his face. “Impostor officer, right. I’d best go talk to every washer-woman in Paris and Franciade and every other village within a ten-mile radius of both and see if they’ve misplaced a uniform, then search all the death records to see if any officers have been killed recently; that won’t be hard at all.” Verne stared flatly at him, his back straight and a forearm on the table. Arno was too annoyed to feel bad, and he asked, “Then do you know anything about a Lady Eve?”

“Me? No. But …” Verne leaned over the table. “Perhaps you could ask someone else?”

“What? Paton?”

“The man’s got a lot of fingers in all the right pies, and he still owes you and I a fair few favours after we saved his life. It’s worth a shot.” A maid came to the table, placing down a plate of pastries. She was a new hire, and Arno thought her name was Félicité; she gave him a shy, gap-toothed smile before she walked away quickly. Verne didn’t miss it. “You often get girls flirting with you?”

Arno did, and he felt like he was even more sensitive to it now than he had been before the events at the Temple.

“So, why are you interested in this Lady Eve?” Verne asked, ignoring Arno’s lack of reply.

Arno stole one of Verne’s pastries, ripping it in half and uncaring about the flakes that fell into his lap. “I told you what happened at Franciade.”

“You did.”

“The Lady Eve was the name I took from the man behind the deeper excavations.”

“The one not reporting to Bonaparte, yes?”

“Him. She wanted the Apple, and I want to know how she knows about it, and why she wants it.” He put the pastry on the table. Talking to Verne was helping him get his thoughts in order. “If I can crack this and find out who she is on my own and to do it by following the rulebook to the letter, then the Council has to let me rejoin.”

“I hope they see it that way, too.” Verne popped a pastry into his mouth and licked the sugar off his fingers. “If you need an escort to see Paton, I’ll rustle someone up who’ll keep their head down about what you want. Or I can get him to come up …?”

“It’s still too dangerous,” Arno said quickly. “Mark a man for death, and someone will always try to claim a reward for his return, no matter how old the charge. I’ll go to him.”

“That’s a done deal, then.”

They finished the pastries, talking of other things; politics, mostly, and whether coffee was such a good idea for Verne at this time of night. Arno only paid half a mind to it, new plans sifting around his mind. He’d talk to Paton. If he hadn’t heard anything, then he’d go after a different source of information. There were still Templars around; it’d be naïve to think otherwise. With all their resources, they had a chance of having something. If that turned up nothing, Arno supposed he could go to Bonaparte. After what he had seen of him in Franciade though, the idea didn’t appeal to him in the slightest.

They were disturbed by the sounds of a carriage in the courtyard. Arno craned his neck, peering out the window. He could only see the back end of the party, but it was of a substantial size. Félicité poked her head out from behind the bar, frowning.

Then there came a voice Arno dearly wished he’d never hear again: “Arno Dorian.”

Merde.


Pas-de-Calais, 1st November, 1794

Connor took the horse the Calais Assassins offered him instead of the cart. He preferred horseback and simply being outside. Part of the reason for his decline of the carriage too was that he wanted to see France. The little countryside they had ridden past was similar to England’s rolling fields, and looking at them, Connor wouldn’t have guessed that the country was tearing itself to pieces. But the same had been true of the farming communities he’d seen during the revolution in America. People still had to live, Prudence had told him. Not everyone fought by taking up a rifle.

“We should reach Paris in four days or so if we keep this pace up,” Marianne said from her own horse soon after they had left the outskirts of Calais, both of them riding a little in front of the cart Jean was driving; the Assassins back from Sweden sat inside, the four of them sleeping off their exhaustion. “That is,” she continued, “if we’re riding all day.”

“It’s not a problem,” Connor said. “I grew up riding.”

“What’s it like? America, I mean?”

Connor shifted his jaw to the side, thinking. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “The forests are much more dense than this, and more widely spread. The pines, they can reach huge heights. The valley where I was born is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and so it became a contested spot for both the British and the French because of the pathway it cleaves to Canada. My people, the Kanien’kehá:ka, were caught in the conflict.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I am, too.”

“And what are the settlements like?”

“Less … crowded than Calais.”

Marianne laughed. “Calais is a stinkhole. It’s not beautiful, but then again, what port town is?” She looked back over her shoulder in its direction. “I’m glad to leave it. For a couple of weeks, at least.”

“So why were you stationed there?”

“They needed someone. And I’ve worked with Jean in the past, so …” She shrugged. “I went with him.”

“And Jean?”

She shot a glance back at Jean, lazing at the cart’s reins and his seafarer’s axe on the empty seat beside him. “I think it’d be best if you asked him.”

Punishment, then. And Marianne must’ve done something, too. “You were both in Paris, then?”

“Yes. You call your America beautiful, but to me, Paris is the epitome of beauty. It’s messy and it’s far from perfect, but it’s home. It feels … right coming back. Like I can breathe easier.”

They ate lunch on the roadside, giving the horses a chance to rest and for Connor to properly meet the Assassins coming back from Sweden — Percival, Flavien, Alfons, and Selina. Jean had decided they’d go through the narrowest path of Forêt d’Éperlecques in the hope to avoid any bandits lurking in the deeper trees. Once out of the forest, they would cut south directly to Paris. Connor trusted Jean with the plan, and they made camp just before sundown in a clearing a hundred feet off the road. Tents were set up, and the horses unharnessed, tethered, and hobbled. They were left to graze as a camp consisting of three lean-to tents was set up. Connor’s old wound was aching a little; it would rain later. He mentioned it in passing to Jean, who looked at the sky.

“It’s clear,” he said.

“Trust me.” Connor slid his bow from its tubing and strung it. “Are there any hunting restrictions in these forests?”

Jean, who was tending the fire, shrugged. “If there were once, they won’t be any more.”

Connor nodded and stepped into the trees. He marked his path as he went, a quick X he cut into the trunks so he could guide himself back, and cast about for tracks. The work was familiar, and he sunk into it quickly, hardly thinking as he found and followed fresh deer tracks. From what he could tell, the size of the animal was little different from the deer back in America. The fading light made it difficult to keep the tracks, but the Vision meant it wasn’t anything hindering. He found the deer a little after an hour, and he crept to it on soft feet. He wanted to get in front of it and try to get a clear shot of it to the eye so he could sell the skin. The deer looked up, a younger buck judging by the number of tines the antlers had, and Connor stilled, reaching slowly for his bow. He didn’t look the deer in the eye; if eye contact wasn’t made, then Connor could get within arm’s reach if he was careful enough. He fitted an arrow to the string, drew, aimed, and released.

He came back to the camp a couple of hours later with the deer, bled and gutted, slung over his shoulder. Jean had gotten the fire going well, and he and the others looked up eagerly as Connor entered the firelight.

“He’s beautiful,” Jean said as Connor laid the deer down. “And it’s still perfect … The skin and antlers will sell well.”

Connor hung the deer by the back legs with rope he took from the cart and set to skinning it. The meat would be best eaten tomorrow, as would its preparation once rigor mortis set in. Connor set to scraping the skin on a makeshift frame of forest sticks as the seven of them sat around the fire, talking and laughing and content. Mostly the French wanted to hear about America. Connor had trouble not laughing as they tried to wrap their tongues around his name and many of the other Iroquoian words he said, taking them through one syllable at a time until they could speak the words passably.

“Your accents are terrible,” he lamented as he worked on the skin, and tapped the side of his nose. “It’s all through here.”

Marianne, who had had the worst trouble, stuck her tongue out at him.

The sky grumbled then, and Connor hid his wince as his wound throbbed a moment. He slid his hand surreptitiously to his side. Marianne and the Assassin he was sure was Percival noticed. Neither of them said anything, and Connor said, “I’ll turn in.”

Jean nodded, looking up at the sky. “I think it’d be a good idea all round,” he said.

Alfons made a noise of protest. “Night’s still young. We’ll bank the fire when the first drops fall.”

The discussion then turned to who was going to take the first watch. Flavien pulled the shortest stick from Jean’s fist and made his way to the edge of the camp, grumbling. Connor climbed into the cart, undoing the buttons of his shirt so he could get to his side. He massaged the tension away as best he could; it was the only way he had found to deal with the pain aside from the tin hot water container he’d gotten from Doctor White years ago, and he flopped down where he lay, sighing. The rain came soon afterwards, pattering on the roof. Connor was just glad he’d set a cover over the deer carcass, and he eventually drifted off to sleep, soothed by the sound.

Shuffling awoke him sometime before dawn, and there came a pained grunt as the smack of flesh on flesh echoed throughout the clearing. Connor put his arms under himself, moving to the front of the cart and twitching aside the canvas flap. His throat closed at the sight that greeted him. The rain had stopped, and from the circle of torches ringing the clearing, he saw the tents had been ransacked, their blankets thrown over the forest floor, and the horses unhobbled and untethered. The others had been forced to their knees, their hands bound behind their backs. Selina had been on the watch; had she drifted off? Connor found her quickly, and rage rose within him. She lay askew on the ground, her eyes closed and breathing shallowly. Blood ran down the side of her face. His sight of her was soon blocked by another.

“Check the cart. Quickly.”

Connor barely had the time to grab his belt and leave as quietly as a spectre before the first of the bandits trudged to the back of the cart. The first to reach it wrenched the back flap aside as Connor disappeared into the trees. He scaled the first good one he found, and was soon twenty feet above the ground, picking his quiet way back to the camp.

“What did you do to her?” Jean spat. Connor edged along the branches, manoeuvring himself slowly over the clearing, and gauging what was happening below him.

The Assassins were arranged in a line, with Jean in the middle and Marianne beside him, and Selina on the line’s left end. Their weapons were in a pile out of reach. The man who paced before them was obviously the leader. He looked the best of the road thugs, the meanest as well as the best dressed and most well fed. The others with him — Connor counted a band of twelve — looked desperate and half-starved. They were armed with rudimentary weapons, farm tools, stolen military swords, and flintlocks and muskets, half of them rusted beyond saving. Their clothes were made of scraps of fabric, half of it again scavenged or stolen. They edged the clearing, preventing any escape should one of their captives attempt it. All of them looked lean and hungry like wolves.

“What? This little bird?” the leader asked, nudging Selina in the side with his toe. “Why, we found her asleep down by the road. Thought to make sure she really was asleep.”

“You’ll die for touching her.”

“No — you will before the sun breaks the horizon.”

“Jérôme.” It was the man who’d checked the cart. He held Connor’s bow in hand, and thrust it at the leader. Connor sucked in a breath through his teeth, and a deep, simmering anger clutched at him. His bow wasn’t just a tool, it was a part of him, his identity and his people. To see it in another’s hands, and a white man’s hands at that, was wrong. It took effort not to leap from the tree then and there.

Jérôme took it lightly, examining it tip to tip. He ran his fingers along the paint of its body and the wrappings of the handle. Then he pointed to Jean with it and asked, “What is this?”

“A bow.”

Jérôme kicked Jean in the ribs. He doubled over, coughing, and spat something out a moment later. “The feather and paint shit.”

“It’s not mine,” Jean said hoarsely, looking at Selina, “it’s hers. Shouldn’t have hurt her if you wanted to know more about it.”

“I rather doubt a pretty little lady like her could draw back something as heavy as this.”

Connor checked his weapons. He’d fallen asleep with his hidden blades still in place, and upon his belt was the tomahawk, his pistol, and a single rope dart. He shouldn’t have left his bow behind. He slunk to the next branch, and the leaves shivered with his passing.

“There was more,” the man who’d searched the cart muttered. “Another bed in there. Blankets were still warm.”

“Another? Did you check the trees?”

“Ain’t found no one.”

“Then check again. Find them, and kill them.” He held the bow out towards the man and laughed. “And here you are! The perfect tool for the job!”

“Can’t hit a barn door with one of those things,” the man said. “Give me a gun any day.”

“Very well.” Jérôme called for a musket, and one of the others threw one to him. He dropped the bow onto the pile of weapons in the centre of the clearing and passed the musket to the other man. The man nodded, shouldering the gun and gesturing to another two men as they fanned into the trees. Connor waited until they were gone before he advanced further. He was right above Jérôme now, and he held his breath, waiting. Jean and the others were in too vulnerable a position for an early strike.

Jérôme waited until the men were gone before he took Jean by the collar and laid a knife’s edge against his throat. “Who is it?” he asked softly.

Jean looked at him from under his brows. “Who’s who?” he said, sweetly.

“Don’t play dumb. Who else is with you?”

“No one.”

“Don’t fuck with me.” It was the first hint of unease Jérôme had shown, and his gaze darted around the trees. Without half of his crew to see, he became an almost different person, skittish as a weasel hunting in a field. Connor could tell from a glance Jean knew he was above the scene. His posture was stiff, his eyes pointedly on the bandit leader as if he were determined not to glance up and so give Connor away. Connor unhooked the rope dart from his belt, weighing the barbed end in hand. He loosened it a little, letting it hang.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Jean asked quietly. “You’ve threatened my brothers.”

“I’ll kill you.”

“I don’t fear death.”

“Stupid and fearless; not a good combination.”

“Neither is impulsiveness and death threats.”

A muscle twitched in Jérôme’s jaw. He turned on his heel, and what remained of his band straightened themselves, waiting for his orders. “Ransack the camp,” he commanded. “Take what we need, and throw the rest into the middle here. Burn it, and with these morceaux de merde in the heart of it.”

“Is that a good idea?” one of Jérôme’s men asked.

Jérôme rounded on him, flecks of spittle flying from his lips. “You will burn this, all of this, if I demand it!”

“Yessir.” The man scurried away.

“Jérôme,” another called. He stood by the deer, still hanging from the branch Connor had tied it to. “What about this?”

“Cut it down, of course,” Jérôme said, turning his back on Jean and the others. “ ‘Take what we need’, or are you deaf —?”

Connor struck. He threw the rope dart towards Jérôme, and the man screamed as it sunk into his shoulder. Connor hauled him over the branch, leaving him to hang as he jumped on the other bandits, the tomahawk glinting in the light.

Jean must have been working at his bonds, for he then wrestled himself free in the confusion. One of the bandits noticed him, and Jean rolled under the wild blow the man aimed for him. He scooped up his axe from the weapon pile, straightening up and whirling it around double-handed all in a single movement. The head buried itself in the side of the man who had tried to strike him, and he fell with a shout. Jean levered it out of his ribs as Connor fell on two others, one of them dying before he had the chance to defend himself, and the other swaying back from Connor’s hidden blade. Connor grunted in frustration and went after him again. He leapt to the next man when Marianne sunk her blade into the first’s back, and Connor took his new target by surprise, drawing the tomahawk across his throat as Marianne darted past him and to the remaining Assassins to free them.

Someone else, perhaps the bandits’ second-in-command, was bawling something over the ruckus, but he went ignored. Many were running for their lives, a brave couple still trying to unhitch the deer from the tree. Connor drew his pistol and aimed for the one sawing at the rope around the deer’s ankles. He missed the gun pointing at him.

The bang was deafening, and Connor was lucky his fingers didn’t break when his pistol was torn from his grip. They still smarted something fierce as he turned on the man who’d shot at him. His pistol only had a single shot to it, and he was frantically reloading as Connor advanced on him. Connor grabbed the gun and wrenched it away, and the man froze, then fell to his knees a moment later. “Please,” he babbled, his hands held before him in the feeble attempt to protect himself. “Please spare me!”

“Go,” Connor said coldly. “And find yourself honest work.”

“I will. I swear.” He scampered away just as Jean dealt with the two by the deer. They were the last to die, and the clearing was silent after that.

Connor retrieved his pistol, sighing heavily. The ball had gone right through the barrel near the tip, and it was lucky that the powder hadn’t ignited. But it was beyond repairing, and he put it back in its holster, disappointed. He went to the weapon pile and retrieved his bow, relieved to have his hands on it again.

He was examining it for damage when Jean sat on his haunches next to him, his bloody axe leaning on his shoulder. His face was covered in spatters. “France is one of the finest makers of pistols in the world,” he said. “We’ll order a replacement. Custom made by a gunsmith friendly to our cause.”

Connor nodded. He was half paying attention. “How did they get you?”

Jean ducked his head. “They’ve, well, they had mastered walking silently in the forest. They took Alfons and Percival by surprise, but Marianne, Flavien, and me … they threatened Selina. They had a knife at her throat, and we couldn’t get a good shot on five of them at once. We came quietly.”

A whimpering broke their conversation, and they looked up. The bandit leader, Jérôme, was trying to alleviate the pressure on his shoulder around the tip of the rope dart. Connor went to him, wrapping his hand around Jérôme’s ankle.

No,” he pleaded in a whisper of pain, but Connor yanked him down, hard. Jérôme screamed as he fell to the ground, his shoulder ruined by the barb.

Jean had his hidden blade at Jérôme’s throat a moment later, and the man, before squirming in pain, went still. “I should kill you,” Jean whispered.

“Don’t.”

“You were going to burn us alive.”

“Mercy, please.”

Jean pushed his blade into his neck. Jérôme’s eyes bulged, and his mouth worked for air. Jean leant in close. “If not us, you would have killed others. I can’t let you do that.” Jérôme’s body fell, and Jean stood up. “May whatever anger and desperation you found in life be laid at ease in death,” he said gratingly. “Be at peace.” His gaze flitted over the clearing, and he said, “We can’t bury the bodies; the ground’s frozen.”

Selina woke as they were gathering wood for a pyre. Flavien stayed by her side as the others burnt the bodies. She was groggy, sick on the roadside a few times when the cart caught bumps, and she couldn’t think straight. When they left the clearing, the sun was high, and the smell of burning flesh clung to them.


The rest of the week proved uneventful, their progress to Paris slowed by Selina’s injuries. The rope dart was the centre of attention, and Connor let the others try it upon making camp at night. Jean in particular was smitten with it. “I have to get myself one of these,” he said for the third time in as many days.

“Speak to the Chinese, not me.” But Connor gave him one of his rope darts. Jean’s eyes glittered, and he looked for all the worlds if Christmas had come a month early.

They passed more people on the road the closer they came to Paris, and Connor began to see the scars the revolution had laid across the land. Many of the people they saw were leaving Paris, their belongings piled behind them on carts or hoisted over their shoulders. Fields, stripped bare for the winter months, looked harassed, the soil tired and disturbed. The villages they passed through became more and more empty, and those who had stayed were lean and beady eyed, wary of the strangers walking by their doors. Vandalism was apparent, and destruction brought by muskets and cannon peppered walls.

But there was a sense of joyfulness to these places too. People were feeling hopeful, celebrating the end of what they had called la Terreur, the same thing Jean had mentioned dying upon the beheading of Robespierre and the party he had headed, the Jacobins. When they stayed in tavern lofts overnight, they heard the song that rose from between the floorboards, the people shouting, singing, “liberté, liberté”. It was wild and unbridled, and listening to them, Connor found his mind shifting back through the memories of the revolution in America, of the mania that had infected the people upon Evacuation Day, upon the winning of their battles, of the sight of their boys marching off to war beneath their new flags and the rhythm of military drums. And from there, other sights and smells. Gunpowder and churned mud, blood and burning flesh, screams, the thunder of hooves and cannons, crows, tin flutes.

He rolled over on his side, the straw of his mattress poking into his skin, and tried to shut the sounds out.

He woke covered in a layer of cold sweat despite the chill of the morning, his dreams chased with blood and the whisper of his father’s voice — I should have killed you long ago. He pushed them aside with practiced ease, and scrubbed his face with the water in the pitcher in the corner of the room. Connor retied his hair before shrugging on his coat and heading downstairs.

The remnants of last night were still spread over the tables. Two men slept with their heads pressed together at a corner table, sleeping soundly as a chicken that had wandered in from the yard scratched around their feet, looking for crumbles. Tankards, ranging from empty to almost full, lay scattered about the place. A tired barmaid was piling a number of them onto a tray, and she shot Connor a weary glance. The Assassins were seated at the bar, digging into the breakfast before them. Jean and most of the others were wide awake, but Percival had almost put his elbow in his porridge, and it looked as if his chin were soon to follow. They were busy engaged in conversation, and Connor paused for a moment, listening to what they were discussing.

“If we push hard, we can reach Paris today,” Jean said as he piled scrambled eggs and sourdough bread into his mouth. “There’s about twenty miles or so to go.”

“Excellent,” Alfons said, throwing down his own fork and stretching his arms above his head. “I can’t feel my arse anymore. Listen, Jean, I have bruises the size of —”

“Alfons, no one cares,” Selina grumbled. Her head was still tender from the blow she’d taken to it, and she had developed the tendency to scowl at the raised volume of voices. Alfons’ jaw clicked shut, and he hunched over his breakfast, muttering something that no one else caught.

“Ah, Connor,” Jean said, brightening up as he spotted him coming down the stairs, “I wanted to have a word.”

“Ack, let the man eat first,” Marianne said, swatting Jean on the shoulder.

“What is it you wish to share?” Connor asked.

Marianne cast Jean a despairing look. Jean said, “It’s only fair.”

“He wants to talk to you about the state of Paris,” Marianne said as Connor slid onto a stool. “It’s, uh …”

“A shit show,” Jean provided. “And just to warn you: I can tell you all I like about what’s going on there, but it’s something you really need to experience for yourself to understand the depths of it.” He waved around the bar. “This here, last night? It’s only a taster.”

Connor nodded. He appreciated what Jean said, but there was a part of him that wanted to say, You think I am unaccustomed to mania? He’d experienced plenty of it during the war.

“And, erm …” Jean coughed, then went back to his breakfast. “We’re hoping to get there before seven o’clock this evening. Finally sleep under a familiar roof again.”

“You just miss your feather bed,” Marianne teased, elbowing him in the side for emphasis.

Connor had the feeling Jean had wanted to say more, but if he wasn’t going to surrender it, then Connor wouldn’t push him.

They left as soon as the horses had been saddled and harnessed, and their pace was noticeably quicker. Connor kept a close eye on Selina, but if she experienced any further discomfort, she said nothing; her mouth was pursed in a tight line throughout most of the day.

It was around an hour before sunset when Connor first caught sight of Paris. He rode on a little ahead of the group, standing up in the stirrups and squinting to get a better look at the city. It was a vast thing. It sat on an island in the middle of the Seine, surrounded by thick walls thirty feet high. He could see buildings there that rivalled the height of St. Paul’s in London, despite the smoke that hung like a cloud over the city. Candles sputtered in a few windows, hearth fires from others, and what looked like bonfire glow came from deeper into the heart of the city. And Connor fancied that if he strained his ears and the wind blew in just the right direction, he could hear the people singing like they had done along the road.

The road itself had become thick with travellers, many of them with their heads down and focusing simply on themselves and their burdens, whilst others stared at Connor openly.

“Ha!” Flavien rode up behind Connor, joining him on the ridge he had stopped upon. “Paris! Beautiful Paris! What a sight for sore eyes you are, mon amour.”

Connor couldn’t help but smile at his excitement, and his grin only widened when he heard nothing but similar sentiments come from the others. It made him think about America, and he suddenly ached with the want to be back at the Homestead, sitting at the Mile’s End and simply being in the company of those he loved, or perching in the crooks of rooftops in New York with Dobby, whose joints were staring to stiffen with age, or sighting down rifles with Clipper and his sons, or laughing himself a stitch at Stephane’s stories.

There was a line of people waiting to enter the gates, everyone from commoners to merchants to soldiers to foreigners. Most talked amongst themselves, a babble of languages filling the road. Soldiers dressed in blue patrolled the length of the queues — soldiers of the National Convention, Connor was told — and Jean nodded to them as they came up on horseback. They gave no indication they’d seen him, and rode on. Jean made a gesture at their backs at which Marianne snickered. The line moved slowly, and it wasn’t for another hour yet until they stood beneath the northern gates. The guards at their posts looked bored, irritated, and tired. Jean slapped the horses with the reins, and they trudged to the checkpoint.

One of the guards came forward. “Business.” It was little more than a grunt.

“Coming home,” Jean said, chipper. “But merchant by trade.”

A bored look towards the cart. “What’che got?”

“Empty cart at the moment; well, except for the cousins.”

“I’ll need an address of residence from you, sir, and a statement of your exact nature of business. Then we’ll get you through.”

They waited for Jean to fill out the papers, and Connor watched the guard. He looked like he’d rather be anywhere but there, staring at the sky and humming off-key.

“Here.” Jean handed the papers back, and the guard snapped out of his reverence long enough to check them over. He waved them through. “Thank you, gents.”

They were halfway through when the call came: “Wait.”

Connor closed his eyes and sighed under his breath as one of the other guards came around the front of his horse. She stepped, crow-footed, as he came up too close to her side for comfort, and Connor murmured in Iroquoian to calm her, stroking her neck.

The guard squinted at him. “What’s this?”

“My bodyguard,” Jean said. “I was trading sugar in Guadeloupe for some time, and hired him after that nastiness three years back. When I made to leave, the poor man threw himself down at my feet and begged to continue accompanying me. Doesn’t speak a word of French, only that queer tongue of his, but he’s not one I’d let go of lightly.”

“Shall I kill them?” Connor asked in Iroquoian, running a finger along the tomahawk’s edge. The guard stepped back warily, and a hand went to his own weapon.

Jean waved Connor down. “Poor man,” he repeated.

The guard narrowed his eyes. “He’s dangerous.”

“And all the better for it.” Jean leaned down and waggled his eyebrows. “Do not think I’ve not heard the fates of other merchants in this city. I’ll need someone like him to watch my back what with the turmoil in the streets.”

The guard opened his mouth, closed it, and then levelled a finger at Jean. “You keep a close eye on him, Citizen. Any whiff of unrest from him, and it’ll be on your head.”

Jean touched his brow and twirled his wrist in the smallest of bows. “Merci beaucoup.

They were waved through the gate, perhaps a touch irritably, and once they were out of sight, Connor raised an eyebrow at Jean. “‘Bodyguard’?”

Jean shrugged. “I did my best, Mentor. The people may have declared that all in France are equals, but attitudes take some time to change. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Connor had grown so used to it was like his heart had formed a thick callus to blunt the anger.

Jean frowned, regathering the reins.

Paris was a city of blues and greys, and it was heaving with people. The streets were messy and crowded with debris, cobblestones blackened with past fires, and the buildings hung with the new Convention flag of blue and white and red, sprinkled throughout other flags of red bearing a seal he didn’t recognise. Chants and song echoed down the streets, their volumes multiplied a hundredfold by the stone of the buildings. Somewhere close, Connor could hear the roar of a crowd.

“This way, Mentor,” Jean called from down the street; Connor hadn’t meant to stop and stare. Paris was unlike anything he’d ever seen before, and it left him slack-jawed. Perhaps Jean’s earlier warning had more merit to it than he’d first thought. Connor shook himself and turned his horse around, following on Jean’s heels.

“So?” Marianne asked him. “What do you think?”

Connor was equally fascinated and horrified by Paris. The part of him soaked in curiosity drank up the city like a sponge, but the part of him, equally dominate in his nature, hated the loudness and the bustle and the general chaos of the streets. That part of him longed for the quiet rustle of the leaves of the forests, where he could sit and hear his thoughts and not be disturbed by another person for hours at a time. He started when he heard a cannon boom in the distance. “I have …”

“Different, isn’t it?”

Connor laughed a little in disbelief. “You could say that.” Different was an inadequate way to describe what was going through his head. He provided his own word, then. “It’s overwhelming.”

“Eh, it’ll quiet down once full dark falls,” Marianne said with a shrug. “There’ll always be a fire going on somewhere, but the streets aren’t populated at night save for drunks and whores. If it’s quiet you’re after, you’ll find it then.”

They made their ways further south, and Connor couldn’t stop staring. He rode by Jean, his eyes unsure where to rest as his head swivelled around on his neck; he was hardly still. The sky was touched with orange now, and the people of Paris were still alive and merry. The Assassins in the cart had a job of constantly slapping curious hands away, Selina bellowing after potential thieves in the most unlady-like ways that at one point, another woman started shouting back at her, calling her a disgrace in the eyes of God.

“God is dead!” Selina shouted back at her. “Vive la révolution!” Connor heard one of the other Assassins choking on his laughs.

They came to the Seine after twenty or so minutes, Jean shouting at the others crossing the bridge for them to make way. Their destination was a smaller island, Île Saint-Louis, and behind it, Connor could see the towers of Notre-Dame against the sky.

They came to a stop on the far end of the island, outside a red-fronted café that looked to soon be closing for the night. It was a huge building, three-storeys tall by his guess. Café Théâtre had been painted above the entrance in gold, as had the two masks of the Muses to call the illiterate into the building. He could see a dome on the roof, and a rooftop garden on the second floor. An arch led into a spacious courtyard. Connor dismounted just outside the café’s door, looking around the place. It was certainly cleaner than many of the other districts of Paris he’d seen, but it hadn’t escaped the vandalism that had spread city-wide. Júsus nous sauve had been painted on one of the café’s walls, then crossed out and below it was Nous sauver. Similar sentiments had been written in other places, decrying religion and the monarchy and calling for freedom.

“I’d imagine other European powers are concerned with the going of the revolution,” Connor said idly to Jean as they entered the café’s yard. “If you shake off the collar of the monarchy and the aristocrats, then they must be scared to be next.”

“Amen to that,” Jean said as they passed around a fountain playing idly in the courtyard’s centre. Stables were on their right, and the café’s second wing was directly in front of them. “We’ve stopped an Austrian conspiracy to reinstate the royals, and are keeping an eye on what other kingdoms are doing; it’s why Alfons and the others were in Sweden. Good Duke Charles is getting nervous.”

“And the Assassins support the revolution?”

“We support the people’s rights,” Jean said. “The politics are a mess, and if you want to find out more about them, then I’m not the man to be telling you. But we’ve adopted what the people cry for: liberté, égalité, fraternité. But in reasonable amounts; Roux was a mess, let me tell you. But the Templars on the other hand … They thought to gain positions of power now that the old blood’s being overturned. For power equals control, and controls leads to peace.” The last part was said bitterly. “Fools; the lot of them.” Jean pulled the horses to a halt, then raised his voice and called, “Arno Dorian.”

Connor saw movement from within the café’s walls as the Assassins in the cart disembarked, stretching.

Jean!

A man charged from within the café, and when Jean saw him, roared a greeting in return. He leapt down from the driver’s seat and caught the man in a bear hug. The man was nearly a head taller than Jean and dressed in forest green robes. “Jean-Jacques LaHache,” he exclaimed, “I have not seen you for months! How are you?”

“Better than when you last saw me,” Jean said, barely able to contain the grin around his own mouth. “And how’s Francesco? He lurking somewhere around here?”

“Coming back from Nice; we got the pigeon a couple of days ago.”

“Oh, how wonderful; we can all be a merry little band once more.”

It was a new speaker, and their tone was one of the driest things Connor had ever heard. The man stood in the shadows of the door, his arms crossed firmly. All attention turned to him.

From what Jean had told him of Arno Dorian, Connor had expected to find an ill-tempered, middle-aged man too in his cups to be able to be of much help, and with the crack of a temper to match. What Arno Dorian turned out to be overturned everything Connor had thought to find. He was young, handsome in a way that Connor would call pretty rather than classical, and he was as thin as a reed. He visibly tensed as Jean’s smile dropped from his face.

Jean scowled. “Caught you on a good day then, Dorian?” he asked, standing up a little straighter and hooking his thumbs into his belt. “Not staggering out the door unable to stand?”

Dorian said bitingly, “At least I’m one to have good days.”

“I remember your wit to be somewhat … sharper.”

“Boys,” the man in green said, his voice low and filled with tension.

Both Jean and Dorian ignored him; they only had eyes for each other. “And I remember that you were stationed in Calais,” Dorian said, “and yet here you are. Care to offer an explanation as to why you are on my property, Monsieur?”

“I would vacate your little café as soon as I could, but I have business.” Jean turned to Connor. “Allow me to introduce Master Connor Kenway, Mentor of the American Brotherhood.”

Connor bowed his head. “An honour.” When he looked up, he was concerned that Dorian’s eyes were going to pop from his head. But he gained control of his expression after a moment and gave a bow in return.

“I’m sorry arrangements couldn’t be made in time for your arrival; it was unexpected.” The last part was said with a glare in Jean’s direction.

“I’m afraid it had to be,” Connor said. “I haven’t told many that I am here.”

“I’ll have rooms put up for you, Mentor. Madame Gouze!” Dorian looked back at Connor once over his shoulder before disappearing into the depths of the café.

“I’ll …” The man in green had been left standing awkwardly between the two, and he jabbed a thumb back over his shoulder with a wince of apology to Jean. “I’ll, erm, I’ll go help Arno. You’re busy and all.” He turned to Connor and gave a short bow. “Verne Lemoine, Mentor. Welcome to Paris.” He disappeared into the café.

Jean sighed then, and ran a hand through his hair. “And so you have it,” he said. “The drunkard Arno Dorian.”

“You hold contempt for him.” If Dorian hadn’t been one thing, it was drunk. His head was clear, of that much Connor was certain.

“After everything he’s done, it would be strange to not have contempt for the man,” Jean said.

Connor gave no response; he was too tired to get into an argument. And perhaps Jean was right, but he was curious enough about Dorian that he wanted to see the situation for himself. “You said that the Council was expecting me.”

“Yes. Yes, they are. Leave your bags with the staff, I’ll take you to them.”

Jean led the way into the café, and Connor was aware of the eyes upon him. They had come in through a door set into the corner of the building, and it opened out on a stairwell sweeping up to the second floor. It was blessedly warmer inside, and the soft carpet muffled his and Jean’s steps. Connor craned his neck, looking for the eyes upon him. Word of his arrival had sped through the place, and he found the group standing along the balcony. There were five of them, each Assassins judging by the blades at their wrists, and they ducked back from the balustrade at once, embarrassed to have been caught.

Ahead of him, Jean snorted. “Recruits,” he muttered, before gesturing for Connor to follow, raising his hood at the same moment.

Jean led him down beneath the building, opening a set of double doors that led into a corridor of rough-cut stone. Candles set in beds of wax burned bright to show the way, and they made their way along the tunnel. The floor was slick with water and algae, but Connor had less trouble keeping his footing than Jean. They came into an underground complex a few minutes later, deep under the level of the Seine by Connor’s guess. The corridor they had been spat out into led to a huge, domed room, with twin staircases flanking the walls covered in soft red carpet. White banners stamped with the Assassin’s crest hung on the walls, guarded by statutes of Assassins fifteen feet tall. A passage led off between the stairs, but Jean led him up.

“Are the Council here?”

The Assassin he’d asked nodded. He eyed Connor, and Connor sized him up. He was about his own age, his hood a pale grey and with a black scarf wrapped around his neck. His complexion spoke of Arab heritage by Connor’s guess.

“I didn’t expect to see you back here so soon, LaHache,” he said.

Jean gave him a cheery little wave. “Bonjour.” He strode off down the hallway, where people worked quietly in alcoves with books and maps.

It finished in a room that overlooked a larger chamber, the stone rougher cut that the one they had just passed through. Three people sat in the room, two men and one woman. They stood when Connor entered.

“Mentor, welcome.” The woman bowed low, and the two men followed her lead. Connor inclined his head. “Come, sit.”

Connor took the proffered chair. “My name is Sophie Trenet, and this are my associates: Guillaume Beylier —” she indicated the darker of the two men, “— and Hervé Quemar.” The other man inclined his head.

“Thank you,” Connor said. “A pleasure to meet you. Jean has told me about your work over the past few years.”

“And what are your thoughts?”

“Continue with it. Especially with the plans that were broached between François de la Serre and Mentor Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau. I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”

“Thank you, Master Kenway.”

“Connor, please.”

“And what have we done to receive such a visit from you, Master Connor?” Quemar asked, clasping his hands before him and laying his forearms on the desk.

“I’ve come seeking the letters Haytham Kenway wrote to his sister, Jennifer Scott,” Connor said. “I’ve learnt that they have recently come into your possession.”

“You wish them returned,” Beylier said.

“I would take copies of them,” Connor amended. “I understand that you have need for them, and I won’t take them from you. I need only the words they speak, not the paper on which they’re written.”

“Of course, Mentor,” Trenet said. She came out from behind the table and went to one of the desks along the side of the room under the bookshelves and marble busts. She opened a box there, and Connor felt his breathing ease when she lifted out a stack of letters in a black leather wallet. He had crossed half the world for them, and there they were.

Trenet proffered them, and Connor took them. “Thank you,” he murmured, bowing his head once again. “They won’t leave here. I will be as quick as possible.”

“Do not rush yourself,” Trenet said. “Surely you’re to stay a while?”

Connor paused. “I had planned to leave as soon as my ship was ready, which she should be by the time I arrive back in Calais.”

“But the journey is such a long one,” Trenet continued.

“It is, but I still cannot stay. There has been an increase in Templar interest in America. I would be there to oversee the Brotherhood.”

Trenet nodded mutedly. “A shame,” she said. “My deepest regrets.”

“I would stay, but unfortunately circumstance means I cannot.” Connor stood from his seat, fighting back a yawn. “If you would excuse me, please.”

“Of course.”

Jean was waiting to escort him back to the café, but he was called back by Trenet before they had gone ten feet. “LaHache.” Jean turned back on his heel, and Trenet said to him, “You’ve done admirably in Calais, and the Council thanks you for your services. But your talents are wasted there, and we need you back here.”

Jean bent his neck quickly. “Thank you, Madame.”

“Keep an eye on Dorian.”

A flicker of surprise crossed over Jean’s face, and he bowed. “Of course, Madame.”

Jean’s face split into a grin as he turned away. “Forgiven!” he whispered to himself.

Connor was glad at Jean’s elation. Jean himself couldn’t stop smiling as they made their way back up to the café. One of the maids were waiting for them, and Jean held out a hand. “I’ll see you soon,” he said as he and Connor shook. “I’ll be heading back to my own home. I hope Dorian doesn’t do anything that’ll piss you off too much.”

Jean left when the maid showed Connor upstairs. His bags had already been placed in his room, and the hearth was ablaze with light. There was a tub in the corner by it, a dresser, a desk, and armchairs and side-tables as well. A comfortable place all in all. The bed was a feather mattress, piled high with coverlets and duvets of goose down. But as much as Connor wanted to undress and fall atop it at once in his exhaustion, he took himself instead to the desk. There was fresh paper in the drawers, as well as pens and inkwells, envelopes, sealing wax and blotting paper. He pulled out the chair, lighting the candles on the desk and started to write a letter out to Aveliné, who’d agreed to take up residence at the Homestead and watch over the Brotherhood’s operations whilst he was away. He detailed his meetings with both Jennifer and the French Council, and wrote about the delight the French had for the rope darts. And he also wrote of Paris and how, in its own ways now he thought about it, reminded him of New Orleans. She’d like that, and he could imagine her laughing.

He wrote a second letter to Wilkes, telling him that he’d arrived in Paris and would be returning in two or so weeks. He wanted the Aquila ready to sail, and if they were lucky, they would be back home before the worst of the winter set in.

He sealed the letters and left them on the desk before he turned in, falling asleep as soon as he head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

Tuileries, 9th November, 1794

Killian had a gift for forging documents, so much so that half the time Shay saw his work and the original template side by side, the only way he could tell them apart was for the different names, or the fact Killian’s ink was sometimes still wet. His latest work had gotten them a dock in Paris, close to les Invalides. Although the ocean may have been Shay’s life’s blood, there was a certain relief knowing that he had a bed on dry land. Or they would do soon.

Shay roamed the Tuileries streets, half of his mind on his surroundings and immersed in the senses of the Vision, and the other half thinking through what to do next. Long years had taught him to be cautious in new cities that were known Assassin hives, and he kept his mind open to the possibility that both he and Killian were being tailed. As such, his hidden blades were ready, and his hand was never far from the pistol on his hip. Killian had taken to the rooftops. Shay caught sight of him every now and again, leaping the gaps and shadowing him closely. His clothes were plain, not the fine Templar ones that denoted his station in the Order.

Shay had a destination in mind, a safe house that he had stayed at when he had been in Paris nearly twenty years ago to retrieve the Precursor box from Versailles — had it been ’75, or ’76? ’77, even? He didn’t remember anymore, and nor did he think it much mattered. After all the places he’d been, the people he’d killed, it began to blur after a while. He just hoped the house would still be there; what little of Paris he’d seen had changed drastically since he’d last been here. The Tuileries Palace was empty of its royalty, ransacked by the common people, as were many of the finer houses surrounding it. Most of those he knew in the Order would have been affronted by the very thought of it, but all Shay felt was indifference. He’d been called a fence-sitter in the past, many snarling that it was the Assassin blood in him that made him apathetic when it came to the upset of social order. They were right in a way, but it didn’t stop Shay being furious at them. At the heart of it, he didn’t like people hurting others.

People gave him a wide berth on the street, some casting looks back over their shoulders at him, and many still keeping their heads down as they passed. He came to the streets of Vendôme, and continued on to the heart of the district and a long line of houses there. It gave him pause to see many of the windows were boarded up. This had been a rich and thriving area upon his previous visit.

He didn’t react when Killian dropped down into the street behind him. “Is this it?”

“This is it,” Shay confirmed. He flicked a finger to the door. “There’s someone inside.” He could barely sense them with his Vision; looking through walls was not one of his strong suits. Shay mounted the steps and knocked sharply on the door. He waited, Killian at his shoulder, and soon heard the soft steps of someone trying to stealthily approach the door. Shay felt exasperated for the man’s efforts, and he could imagine Killian rolling his eyes behind him. But it worried him at the same moment too. What had become of the Rite here that they were left sneaking around their own properties? It couldn’t have just been the effects of the revolution; the Templar Order had more pride than that.

Shay hammered on the door, and when he shouted, “I know you’re there!” the man gave up all pretence at stealth. A rough-cut peephole opened in the centre of the door.

“What in the world —?” he snapped, but he fell quiet when Shay held up his hand to show him the ring there.

Puisse le Père de la Sagesse nous guider.

The man’s eyes bulged, and he shut the peep hole. Shay heard a series of locks clicking before the door was flung open. “Welcome,” the man said, a little breathlessly.

Shay strode in, Killian behind him. The house was lavish, but even without Shay’s memories overlapping what he saw with what it had once been, it was in obvious need of freshening up. The wall decor needed repainting, the furniture was dusty, the windows reinforced with boards. The curtains were moth-eaten, the ceiling spotted with mould, and the house itself held a coldness to it that spoke to Shay of emptiness. Abandonment.

“Who are you?” Shay asked amicably, turning on his heel back to the man.

He lifted his chin. “Jean Sébastien, an officer for the Order. And I could ask the same for you.”

“Shay Cormac,” Shay said. He gestured back to Killian. “And my eldest, Killian.”

“Ah — turncoats,” Sébastien said bluntly. “I’ve heard of you. The Irish Hunter. You killed the Assassin back in ’76.”

So, it had been ’76. “You see,” Shay continued, closing the distance between himself and Sébastien, who backed into a wall, “I don’t like your tone. ‘Turncoat’?” He released his left hidden blade, jabbing it at the soft skin on the underside of Sébastien’s neck; the man flinched as the point nicked him. “Be grateful I’ve need of you, or this floor would be given a much-needed excuse for scrubbing.”

Sébastien nodded frantically. Shay eyed him a moment, then retracted the blade. Although he didn’t like what little of the man he’d seen, he had no desire to kill him, the fact that he was Shay’s only ally one of several reasons. The second was that he simply had no reason or want to. What he needed was to give himself a position of power. He didn’t have the time to be building up Sébastien’s trust as was his preferred method, but time was pressing, and so he had to press hard to get what he wanted. Now, he was taking a leaf out of Haytham’s book.

“Where are the others?” he asked. The next step was to remove the next piece of power Sébastien had over him. “Your superiors.” And the next.

“Dead,” Sébastien said. “Killed by Assassins.”

“Then the next in power.”

“I am all —”

“Are you an officer or a guard dog?” Shay asked, impatient now.

“If you want a person of standing, then I am all that’s here!” Sébastien exploded. “The Assassins have been picking us off for weeks! Dismantling the entirety of the Rite now that Grand Master Germain’s dead!” He clenched his fists, trembling. Then in little more than a whisper, “Everyone’s dead.”

“Don’t. Lie. Where is the door to the cellar?”

Sébastien’s brow furrowed. “Cellar?”

Shay crossed the floor, and towards the back of the room, ground his foot down. “She’s here. Twenty feet below us. Now, where’s the door?”

“You …,” Sébastien whispered, “you have the Assassin Sense.”

“I have the Vision. Now call your mistress up; I wish to talk.”

O-oui, Monsieur.”

The woman who Sébastien helped up from the cellar was surprisingly young, surely a year or two younger than Killian. She had delicate features. Her skin was pale from the lack of sun, and she was far thinner than was healthy. Her hair was dark, her doe’s eyes too, and she was a short woman, surely no more than five feet. She held out her hand for Shay and said in a clear, musical voice, “I am Mademoiselle Caresse Levesque.”

“Was, by chance, your mother Charlette Levesque?”

“My aunt, God rest her soul. How do you know the name?”

It had been on Achilles wall forty years ago, but Shay only said, “You’re a Legacy bloodline. There aren’t many of those left.” It was only then he took her proffered hand and kissed her fingers. “Shay Cormac.”

“I’m sorry about the deception, Monsieur Cormac,” she said, her eyes wandering to Sébastien, “but what Jean said was true: the Assassins have been killing us one by one. I’ve no wish to join the tally of the dead.”

“Of course not,” Shay said. “Who would?”

“In this day and age, many. Despair holds hands with the people of France, and devils stalk the streets.” Levesque’s eyes had gone to Killian, and she said to him, “I didn’t catch your name, sir …?”

“Killian,” he grunted, his hands in his pockets, “and I’m no sir, my lady.”

“Then what are you?”

“Just Killian’ll be fine.”

Levesque nodded, turned to Sébestien, and said, “If you would be so kind as to fetch something for our Hunter friends. They’ve come a long way.” Sébestien left, and Levesque continued, “Come; I assume you would like to be briefed on the situation.”

“That would be helpful.”

They went upstairs, passing empty rooms and yet more boarded windows. Dust lay thick on the carpets, and the grandeur of the place in Shay’s memory lay before him as nothing more than a ghost. The house was grey and tired, suffering from neglect.

“I’ve been holed up in here since two months ago,” Levesque was saying. “I’m afraid to step outside when I know Assassins are on the roofs. I hear them at night, running across the tiles like rats. I think they’re looking for me.”

“The infestation is that bad?”

She sighed. “It’s the worst Paris has seen since the death of Jacques de Molay. But I suppose five hundred years is a long time for no one to have the sole run of a city as influential as Paris. We’ve been tussling the Assassins for it for centuries, but the scale has never quite tipped so far in either direction since then.”

“How did it get to a state like this?”

“Infighting. All the Assassins had to do was sit back and watch as one Grand Master died and another rose into power with only half the Rite behind him. He killed and silenced the remainder of the old, and then the Assassins nipped the new in the bud; one of their victims was my sister, Marie, and they killed the rightful heir to the title of Grand Master too. To say we’ve been set on the back foot is an understatement. Legacy bloodlines have been rendered extinct, nine tenths of the highers in the Rite lay dead. It’s a bloody mess.” A mess that, from her dismissive tone, she viewed more as an inconvenience than a true danger, despite this dead sister she had mentioned. Either she had more information than she let on regarding a plan to take back Paris, misplaced faith, or she was a fool. Shay didn’t think it was the last one.

They came to a parlour, one of the only rooms Shay had seen that was cared for. It was free of dust, and the desk had papers scattered upon it. Shay flipped one of them over, but it wasn’t anything detailing Templar concerns as far as he could see. A pot of cold tea sat on a small table by the desk, chairs tucked underneath, and gas lamps burnt low on the wall. All the curtains were closed. Levesque sat at the desk, regarding both Shay and Killian. She interlaced her fingers. “This is quite the unexpected visit. Did the English send you?”

For a heartbeat, Shay considered lying and telling her that yes, the English had sent him, but didn’t in the end. The thought never crossed his mind of denying the question either, so he instead diverted the conversation. “Pieces of Eden were uncovered.”

Levesque arched an eyebrow. “And how did you find this out?”

“I have my sources.” He stood at the edge of the desk, placing the tips of his fingers on the surface. Behind him, Killian prowled the edge of the room, inspecting it for anything that could prove to them dangerous or yield some other clue as to who Levesque was. Shay had been in the business too long to blindly trust her. “A Sword and an Apple.”

Levesque nodded. “The Sword is the only one still left in Paris. The Apple was sent away to a location we have yet to discover, but we by all means believe it’s outside Europe.”

“Who’s this ‘we’?”

“I’ve been in contact with the other Rites. They’ve found nothing so far.”

“So I would understand that you are the acting Grand Master for the Parisian Rite?”

“I am.”

“Who do you have here in Paris?” he asked. “How many left?”

“Some, but I am the highest ranked,” she said. “I know there are some the Assassins won’t yet touch for fear of the chaos their deaths will cause.”

“Very well,” Shay said. “I’m here because I need a base to operate from. My ship is too recognisable to be docked so close to the city. I need a point here.”

“You may have this house, but I ask for something in return. I need to restore the Templar influence in the political sphere, but I will not step outside until I can be sure of walking down the street without fearing for my life.”

“Afraid for who?” Killian asked suddenly from the corner of the room he had gone to. “For you nobles? For us Templars?”

“Ah, but with the Cormac family here, then I will need to fear neither. I’ve heard many things about you.” She looked at Shay pointedly. “And so, in return for this house as a headquarters, I ask for your protection. Those are my terms.”

“And mine are that if we are to do this, then we must be given leave to hunt for the Pieces at our own discretion. It would include funds, and people.”

“Very well.” They clasped hands on it, and Levesque called Sébastien forward. As she whispered instructions to Sébastien, Killian, on the other side of the room, was still searching it. He opened a drawer in one of the side-tables, and slowly went through the contents. There were documents, inkwells, pens, a rosary, and the beak of an Assassin hood. He picked it up and felt the fabric, then brought it over to Shay. It was old, and smelt stale.

“There was this, too,” Killian murmured in Gaelic in Shay’s ear, and held a letter between them. “She seems to be telling the truth about who she is at least. There was an article from some paper too about the death of her sister. An Assassin attack; no doubt about it.”

Shay nodded. “Keep it all close.” Killian slipped the letter into a pocket. Shay cleared his throat, and when Levesque looked up, he said in French once more, “Thank you for your help. Now, if you’ll excuse us.”

Levesque’s eyes narrowed, but she gave them a cautious nod. Shay and Killian left, not out the front door as they had before, but through the back and cutting immediately to an alley. They only ascended to the roofs once they were several hundred feet away from Levesque’s house. Killian sat with his back against a chimney, pulling out the paper he’d taken and passing it to Shay.

It was a list of businesses, cafés to be exact. There were only three. “I know one of those,” Killian said. They still spoke in Gaelic, cautious in case of a tail they hadn’t detected. “Café des Invalides. There were correspondences we intercepted a couple of years back when we were in Austria, do you remember? Café des Invalides was listed as an Assassin spyhouse in Paris.”

Now that Killian mentioned it, it did tickle something in the back of Shay’s memory. He tapped the paper with a knuckle. “You think that these other two are also run by the Assassins.”

Ar ndóigh. Why else would they be grouped together?” Killian shrugged. “No harm in looking into them, I reckon. And even if they’re not, well, we have one that we know’s going to point us to results.”

Shay nodded, then jerked his head towards where the Morrigan was moored. “Come on, then. Let’s get your siblings settled.”


Île Saint-Louis, 9th November, 1794 

I’m dreaming, Arno thought.

There was no other explanation for why he found himself back then in Versailles, stiff lace at his throat and the scratch of velvet against his skin. There were people everywhere, noblemen and women alike who danced in perfect step to every other in the room. Arno knew in the vague way of dreams that there was music coming from somewhere, but he couldn’t pinpoint where. The people ignored him, flowing past him like a river around a stone. There was a touch at his elbow, and he was being swept into a dance by a young woman whose face he couldn’t quite ever make out, but he didn’t mind. The dance passed in a blur, as did the one after that, but the third had his heart leaping into his throat.

Élise’s fingers brushed his own, and for a single, perfect moment, everything was as it should have been as they took each other’s hands for the dance. Her skin glowed with an ethereal light, and her hair shimmered with fiery copper colours as if it were a living thing itself. She looked an angel. The emotion in his heart then was overwhelming, and he wanted to say so many things to her. He couldn’t get the words out, and settled for drinking in the sight of her, staring and staring. She moved like she had in life, but there was a blurriness to her features, and her voice when she spoke was muffled, as if coming from the other side of a closed door. Arno could feel his pulse in his throat. Élise?

She closed her eyes, her long lashes dark against her cheekbones, and when she opened them, Arno thought he would drown in the blueness of them. They were like oceans, and he could feel himself standing over their edge, his fingers slipping on the only anchoring rail that held him back.

Arno, she said, kissing the corner of his jaw. He leant into her, felt her hair tickle his skin. And he jerked back in pain.

He felt as if his throat had been punctured, and it had in a way. In Élise’s hand was a Templar cross of rubies, glittering in the low light of the room. She dug the corner of it into the hollow of his throat, her blue, blue eyes dead and utterly without feeling.

Élise! Arno shouted. Why are you doing this? But her lips did not move, and the first point of the cross disappeared beneath his skin. Arno clung to her, unable to push her away as he stared, horrified. He flinched as he felt hot breath by his ear. Look at what that Templar is doing to you, boy!

Bellec —

Look!

He turned back, and it wasn’t Élise whose hand he held in his own, but Germain’s. Instinct, hate, drove him to action, and he stabbed forward with his hidden blade. Germain’s mismatched eyes had haunted him in the weeks after the Temple, and they seemed branded on his skin even as he fell away. But it was Élise who fell to the ground, her eyes wide and her lips parted. All she croaked was, Arno?

He fell to his knees, cupping her head as he had done the first time. No, he choked. Don’t leave me. You can’t.

They’re all the same, a new voice said from above him. A woman’s voice that multiplied a thousandfold into the crowd of dancers surrounding them. The strings took on the consistency of nails on chalkboard. As are you.

Arno jerked awake, twisting his wrist to release the hidden blade, but it lay on the bedside table, the dust dancing above it in the early morning light. He sat up, shivering with the blood pounding through his veins. He hit the covers with a fist, biting his lip and his chest aching.

He’d been laying awake for a good half hour before a knock sounded at the door. “Arno?”

He stood, wrapping a blanket about his shoulders, and opened the door a crack. Jeanette was standing outside, rocking back and forth on her heels as she peered out the window. She heard the door and turned back around. “Good morning.”

“Morning.”

“Verne talked to me last night; said you wanted to see Monsieur Paton?”

“I … Yes. Yes, I did.” It had been driven from his mind in the excitement of Connor Kenway’s arrival. Arno hadn’t been dazzled by the Mentor as seemingly everyone had; it had been the preparation of quarters for him and anger for not having received word beforehand of the party’s arrival that had occupied him. He wanted to strangle LaHache within an inch of his life for not informing him or anyone else.

“I’m taking you down,” Jeanette said. “It’s all been approved by the Council, but we’ll have to be quick.”

Arno sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I’ll be with you in ten minutes.”

He was as good as his word. The café wasn’t yet open for customers, and the staff were going about their business, cleaning and wiping down surfaces, dusting the shelves, polishing the glasses. The smell of coffee was thick in the air, as was the scent of the morning bread. The sun wasn’t yet up, and the clock told Arno it had just gone six. Jeanette held a lantern to light the way, the flame reflecting off the damp in the Sanctuary corridor. Arno was glad to find no one else but the lone watcher by the tunnel’s mouth and the usual bustle of people in the library and map rooms awake. Many were stifling yawns against the backs of their hands, or reaching blindly for cups of fresh coffee.

“Do you want some?” Jeanette asked.

Arno shrugged. “If it’s not a bother.” His attention had turned to the back of a man hunched over one of the room’s many desks, his finger trailing down the lengthy piece of paper he had before him.

Paton looked tired and harried, hardly better than when Arno and Verne had found him hiding beneath the remains of Cimetière des Saints-Innocents the year before, following his disastrous execution. He had sought sanctuary with the Assassins and had offered himself once it had been explained why he had been saved, and the services he could continue to provide to the Brotherhood, and in the larger picture, the world should he join them. Part of Arno wondered how much of Paton’s resolve to help the Assassins was because he genuinely believed that the Templars’ doctrine was flawed and inherently wrong, how much of it was patriotism, and how much of it was to get back at Robespierre; Arno had yet to meet a man as capable as Didier Paton of holding a grudge.

Arno came up to him, and when Paton didn’t react to his presence, cleared his throat. “Monsieur Paton.”

Paton jumped as if Arno’s voice had been a thunderclap, then looked over his shoulder. “Monsieur Dorian,” he said. “By God, you gave me a fright.”

“I apologise.” Arno pulled a chair over to Paton’s desk and sat down. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I appreciate it.” Paton waved it away, and so Arno went on, “Monsieur. I need information, and I hope you can help me.”

“Ask away, dear boy.”

“Have you heard of a Lady Eve?”

Paton frowned, putting his chin against his hand and rubbing at his lips with the edge of a finger. “Lady Eve … You don’t mean Lady Evangelina Beaufort by any chance?”

“… Who is she?”

“She was a noble woman from Compiègne. She, erm, she meet her fate with the axeman several years back.”

Ah. “Unless she can come back from the grave, then she’s not whom I’m after. Is there anyone else?”

Paton blew out his cheeks and leant back in his chair. “Not anyone who immediately comes to mind. What is this for?”

“Some of my own research,” Arno said. “I got the name off a raider captain in Franciade. The … manner I acquired it through was enough to raise my interest.”

“Spare me the grisly detail.”

Arno glanced over to Jeanette, but she was busy getting the coffee he’d asked for, and chatting to one of the others. She trusted Arno. He leant closer to Paton. “Will you keep an ear out for me?”

“Of course,” Paton answered. “Anything for you.”

“And your discretion would be welcome too.”

“You have it. I’ll note down anything that comes up.”

“Thank you.” Whilst Paton put his ear to the ground, Arno would begin his own investigation. Jeanette tapped him on the shoulder, holding out the coffee.

“You take it black, right?”

“Black,” Arno agreed. It scalded his tongue. He didn’t mind, and placed it down on the desk. Paton watched him quietly, assessing him; the back of Arno’s neck itched with it.

Paton cleared his throat. “Is there anything else …?”

Arno considered for a moment. “Names,” he said finally. “Templar names.”

Paton pursed his lips, then he said, “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“What? Why?”

“I’ve been forbidden by the Council on letting you into Assassin affairs whilst you’re not … with them.”

“Then why are you free to give me information on the Lady Eve?”

“I can only do so much. This Lady Eve of yours isn’t currently part of Assassin concerns, so I can stretch the rules a bit and do some digging there. The Templars names you’re after, however, are. Most of the Brotherhood can’t have the names either, and the Council are, well, unwilling to let you in on information like this after your … history with killing Templars.”

Arno grit his teeth. “Then how can I get them?”

“You apply for them. Ask the Council, and if they approve, I can give them to you.”

Arno felt like laughing. His chest felt hollow, and his heart thudded against his ribs. He could see them agreeing to give him the names only after pigs learnt to fly. “Is this a joke?” he asked in a clipped voice.

Paton looked uncomfortable, and he shifted himself in his chair. “I’m sorry.”

The Templars had gone underground, even Arno knew that. He hadn’t missed the Assassins who came into the café through the dome during the wee hours, and had guessed enough to know that they had been either gathering information on Templar activities or stamping them out. It came as the most delicious of ironies — the Assassins taking advantage of what he had started, punishing him for it, and then refusing him this information once they had started acting on his work. He was quiet, wanting to protest, but instead forced himself to think on what to do next. He could find out the names of his targets himself, he supposed. Call in on favours he was owed by others in- and outside the Brotherhood both, follow Assassins as they left Île Saint-Louis on their missions, even perhaps talk to Verne or someone else and they to Paton to get the list for him. It was inconvenient, but he had the means to work around it.

Paton turned back to his work and said, “As I said, if I find anything on your Lady Eve, I’ll tell you. Now good day, Monsieur Dorian.”

Arno’s coffee wasn’t yet half gone, but he had no choice but to leave. The person he’d come to see on his business had concluded it, and so by the terms the Council had dictated, his presence in the Sanctuary was no longer required. Jeanette took him back to the café.

“Did you get what you needed?”

“Absolutely everything.”

She frowned at his tone. “Arno, I know it’s frustrating,” she started, and Arno wanted to interrupt her, but she ploughed on as if she knew what he was thinking, “but you aren’t helpless. You managed to take down Germain’s Templars without the Council’s help. Whatever it is you’re looking for, I’ve every confidence that you can do so without them.”

Arno smiled a little. “My thanks, Jeanette.”

They trudged back to the café in silence, and Arno made a stop by the kitchens to have some breakfast sent to him upstairs. He shaved as he waited for it, and opened the door when a knock sounded on the frame.

“Monsieur.” It was Félicité, balancing on her hip a tray with thick slabs of bacon, fresh bread, butter, and yogurt. There was a pot of hot water and tea as well. A simple breakfast, but Arno was too hungry to much mind. She put the tray on his table, then clasped her hands behind her back. “I …”

“Yes?”

She thrust a letter at him, and Arno took it, perplexed. “Good morning,” she said to her feet, then gave a curtsy and left.

Arno did his best to shove aside the ache in his chest; her clumsy flirting and girlish shyness was the last thing he wanted. He looked at the letter, turning it over in his fingers.

It had only his given name on the front in a handwriting he didn’t know, and the letter itself was relatively thin. He slit the envelope and pulled out the contents. There were two pieces of paper, and Arno’s heart was thumping as he unfolded the larger. It was a list of names, over two-dozen of them with addresses and various notes on movements and habits. Arno ran his finger down them, mouthing the words as he read. He was so engrossed he forgot about the second paper until he’d read the list twice over.

It was short, and in Paton’s hand:

 

And your discretion, Master Dorian.

 

“You have it,” Arno murmured, and tucked the list away.


In one moment of frustration, Connor thought extensively about how he would trap the hallway leading to his rooms. He could hear people walking past as he did his exercises, no matter how light they tried to make their steps, nor how loud he panted as he lifted himself up on his hands. New recruits, perhaps, wanting to catch a glimpse of the American Mentor. The next one to pass, he would take by the arm and explain, firmly, that his privacy was of first and foremost importance to him. Hopefully the message would spread, and his teeth wouldn’t be so on edge. New places had hardly ever been when he was at his most comfortable. He couldn’t shake the jumpiness that came upon him during these times, how he would hear or see something move from the corner of his eye and focus on it with such intensity before realising it was nothing. He couldn’t help himself despite how much it drove him mad.

He’d explored every corner of the room before thinking about his rumbling stomach that morning, noting the quality of the furniture and the coldness the rugs and bed had held, telling him no one had slept here for a long while. It was too stark in its cleanliness, making him feel all the more like the guest he was, and he hated it. He’d rumpled the room a bit in an effort to make it feel more lived in, shaking out the curtains and upsetting the way everything had been perfectly set out, from the pens on the desk to the tin basin and pitcher on their stands. The wardrobe he’d left open a crack, the chairs half-pulled from under the little table, one corner of the rug turned up.

After he’d done his exercises and eaten, he set off to visit the gunsmith Jean had told him about. His name was Hugo le Roux, once an apprentice to Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne, who had then come to Paris in order to sell to the revolutionaries. Soon after their arrival, he and the other salesmen had soon been forced into hiding after royalists had come knocking upon their doors. His new home in the Cité, some few blocks to the west of Notre-Dame was inconspicuous. He sold underground now.

“I’m a friend of Jean-Jacques LaHache,” Connor said when le Roux answered the door.

“LaHache,” le Roux muttered. He nodded absently, then fully opened the door for Connor to enter. Connor ignored the gun le Roux had unsuccessfully hidden behind his back. He was a man half gone to fat, his fingers callused, his red face good-natured, and Connor stood a full head and shoulders taller than him. His hair and moustache both were unkempt, and Connor noticed how he kept trying to surreptitiously smooth both as he sat them down at his table. One of the whites of his eyes was red with blood from what Connor assumed was an old blow to the head, and he tried to stop himself staring as le Roux gave him a smile. It was without warmth. “Any of Jean-Jacques’ friends are my friends. Now, how can I help?”

Connor placed his pistol between them. “I need this repaired.”

Le Roux took the pistol up, clicking his tongue at the damage and checking the lock. “Not a replacement?” When Connor shook his head, le Roux examined the pistol further. “A sentimental man, I see. The mechanism here is all well and fine, well cared for I must say. You take pride in your arms, you do.”

Connor was meticulous with its care. He didn’t want to lose the pistol; Achilles had given it to him. “How much would it cost?”

Le Roux shrugged, then pointed at where the barrel and the mechanism met. “It’s a lot of work; I can’t just take it apart and put new pieces back in an afternoon. And that’s not all of it. You see this here? This is a custom make so I can’t do much even about swapping the old barrel in for a new one. Got to make it from scratch to fit, and that costs. Job like this, I’d usually charge forty livres. But if Jean-Jacques sent you my way, then I’ll give it to you for thirty-five.” He tapped the pistol. “You could buy a new pistol for that price, and one that has more of a bite to it. Have you ever wished for a multi-shot pistol?” Connor didn’t tell le Roux that he’d used such things before as he went upstairs. Connor heard him rummaging around before he came back with a large wooden chest on his shoulder. He placed it on the table with a grunt and lifted the lid. A half dozen pistols sat inside, gleaming on their beds of straw. Le Roux lifted one out, the muzzle catching the morning sun streaming through a nearby window. “Now, this one’s a beauty. She fires off six good shots before needing to be reloaded. Haven’t had any problems with testing this one either. Reliably accurate from fifty paces if you’re a good shot, and she’s easy to reload and keep clean.” Pointing it at the wall, he cocked the hammer and made a motion with his wrist, a quick, hard circle which rotated the barrels. “Come.”

Le Roux led Connor out into the back yard, nothing more than a plot of dirt fifteen by fifteen feet — a luxury in a city as crowded as Paris, and ample enough room for Connor to get a feel for the pistol. Le Roux gave him the powder and shot he needed, and he lifted the pistol, sighting down the length. It had a good weight behind it.

“As I said before, that’ll give you six shots,” le Roux was saying. “But she’s got a kick to her. Nothing that you won’t be able to handle, weight you have in those shoulders.” He gestured to the courtyard wall. “Put a shot in it if you’d like.”

Connor aimed for a dark spot on the wall, and squeezed the trigger. As le Roux had said, the kick was huge. The ball went to the side, and Connor flipped the next barrel into place, readjusting his aim. It took some twelve shots before he was satisfied with his aim, and his shoulder was aching a little. However, le Roux was right: it was a beautiful weapon.

“I’ll have mine repaired,” Connor said. “I’ll take this one, too.”

Connor paid him half with the understanding to deliver the rest when he came back for the other pistol, and left for Café Théâtre. By the time he got there, the quiet business hours of the morning were giving way to the busier lunch ones. The café was full of patrons taking coffee and tea and pastries, smoking and talking amongst themselves as maids moved around the tables, bringing food and drinks and taking orders. An actor stood up on the café’s stage, announcing a play that was to be performed at noon. The barkeep nodded to Connor as he stepped in, and Connor nodded back before slipping through to the café’s stairs. At the top of them, he ran into Dorian.

Dorian hadn’t seemed to notice him, frowning at a piece of paper he held in his hand, and so he nearly walked into Connor’s chest. He hurriedly stuffed the paper away before seeming to realise who Connor was. He froze. “Monsieur Kenway —”

“Connor.”

“Mentor. Excuse me.” He continued down the stairs. He was dishevelled, his hair escaping its tail and his clothes were hardly anything suitable to go outside in, the sleeves threatening to unroll. His eyes were ringed by dark shadows, and Connor, with the Vision, could sense in him a deep well of frustration and simple anger. He hadn’t gotten far on his thinking before Dorian stopped in the middle of the stairs, sighed, then came back up. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “I, erm. I’m sorry. I haven’t had the chance to introduce myself, Master Connor. Not really.” He held his hand out. “Arno Victor Dorian. I own the café.”

Connor took his hand; it was rough with callus and old scars. “Well met. The café’s quite the establishment.”

It made Dorian bristle with pride. “Are you finding your rooms comfortable?”

“I am, thank you.”

“If you ever need anything, ask. Have you seen the rest of the café yet?”

“I haven’t.”

Dorian jerked his chin towards the door. “Come, then.” He peeled off to the left, vanishing down a hallway running along the back of the café. Connor followed, and Dorian pointed into a gallery. “Library, gallery, mementos, what have you. The upper balcony leads to the attic, and there’s more sitting space up there.” Connor only got the briefest of looks into the room — a plush space draped with velvet, the walls lined floor to ceiling with books, and cases full of statues and memorabilia — before Dorian had moved off again, taking a back, hidden staircase down to the ground floor. Here, the sounds of the café goers were muffled, but became clearer as they made their way along the corridor. To the right was the kitchen, and from it came the sounds of cacophony as meals were prepared and the general hum and roar of chatter. One of the maids called to Dorian a greeting, and he raised his hand in reply. He entered the next door. “Intendant’s study. If you need any kinds of funds, he’ll be happy to comply.”

Connor nodded. “You said the Council were unwilling to take steps to stop the Templars from their actions. I was told of what they were doing, hoarding food, inciting massacres. Why?”

“They were Templars, and they wanted power to so crown themselves the secret masters of the world,” Dorian said simply. “For the good of the people and those sorts of excuses, but it came back to the same old in the end.”

“Not always.”

“It was true for this faction. They were of the radical kind like the Borgia who were only concerned about themselves. Trying to purify the Order of ‘decadence and corruption’.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“When it’s a purification of fire.” Dorian pointed to the back of the room. “Back door’s there, and the mud room’s around the side. Before the revolution, the Parisian Rite was breaking into splinter factions, one of those reasons being a want to hold onto the ease of life the nobility lived in the Ancien Régime, and another for a truce we held with them. Some thought that it was nothing but idiocy that was driving their Grand Master and our Mentor to try for such a thing. A straying from the goals of the Order. There was a coup in ’89, and the truce fell to pieces in ’91. Monsieur de la Serre, the previous Grand Master … he passed. The events surrounding it led me to the Assassins, and I’m sure you heard the news about Mirabeau.”

“I did.” There it was again: the name de la Serre. Connor was quiet for a moment, assessing this new information. Dorian’s throat had seemed to close when he had said the name. A close connection? They came back out into the main stairwell and passed by the stairs leading down to the Sanctuary’s door. At the end of the corridor was another set of backstairs. Dorian gestured to them. “Up there’s the training room. We’ll come back to it later. This here is the formal dining room.”

It looked as if it hadn’t been used in a long while, the fireplace cold and a light gathering of dust along the edges of the room. Dorian fitted a key into the back-door’s lock, and opened it onto an alley. It was crowded with disused carts, and a single well stood in the middle of the place. “We own everything up to the buildings on the opposite side,” Dorian said, crossing to the well. He heaved the cover off and, after glancing around once, dropped into it. Connor perched on the lip after Dorian had called up, and he closed the hatch before joining him. “This is one of several of our more discreet entrances,” Dorian said. He held a lit match in hand.

There was a door in the back of the small chamber, and, one more locked door later, Dorian led them into a vast room. Racks and crates of weapons were spread about the room, enough to equip a small army, and in the centre of it all stood an empty iron cage, much like the one Connor would expect to find a bird in. “The armoury,” Dorian said, extinguishing the match and dropping it to the floor.

“What was in there?” Connor asked, pointing to the cage.

“A relic.” Dorian left the room, climbing a set of stairs Connor presumed led back to the main café. Dorian pointed to the left down a sewer-way. “Another entrance to the building there; you can get to it from the Seine banks if you follow the little pointers.” Another locked door met them, and Connor hung back as he waited for Dorian to find the right key on his ring of them. For some moments, the only sound was of their soft breathing and the jangle of metal.

“Who’s Élise de la Serre?”

Connor’s single objective then was to see who she had been to Dorian. He’d also never been good at getting to points in delicate ways; the keys slipped in Dorian’s fingers, and he flinched as if he’d been slapped. He asked tersely, “How do you know that name?”

For the first second, Connor was more curious as to an answer for Dorian’s reaction than concerned by the hurt he caused, though he felt the shame for his utter bluntness and the lack of empathy in his first thoughts a moment later. He felt wretched with himself, and he changed his tone to a lower one. “She’s the reason I’m here. I came for the letters she’d received from Jennifer Scott, and I was told she’d passed in July. I was told to seek you out from there.”

“By LaHache?”

Connor nodded, and Dorian’s mouth twisted into a soundless snarl. He jammed the right key into the hole, opened the door, and said bitingly, “Keep the door shut when coming back up. The smell’s a pain to get rid of.”

Connor did so, easing it shut, his attention on Dorian. He was angry; his grace was gone, and his movements instead were jerky and stiff. He pointed to the right. “The Sanctuary entrance you already know about.” At the top of the stairs, he asked, “What else has LaHache told you?” If Dorian was trying to sound casual, he didn’t succeed.

“That you own the café,” Connor said, and decided to bite his tongue on everything else. He wondered if Dorian too knew that he had more to say.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dorian said into the silence. “Why is it he hates me. Has he told you what he did?”

Connor arched an eyebrow. He had been thinking it, but it wasn’t something he had been itching to ask about. Whatever the business between Dorian and Jean was, it was their business. Connor didn’t like people poking into his, and so he never asked about the personal lives of others unless he felt like he had no choice. But here, well, Dorian was inviting him to ask. “Why does he hate you?”

Dorian leant against the wall, crossing his arms tight against his chest. “We went on a mission together,” he said, “and he almost jeopardised it. We had orders to kill only our assigned targets, and to do it as quietly as possible. Everyone else was to be disposed of non-lethally and if we were spotted, they were to be dealt with, all without a peep from them. He killed six people and drove our targets into a stronghold, and the only way we were able to escape with our lives was by painting the floor with blood. After I told the Council of his actions in our report, he was sent to Calais. He broke the tenets, and he was punished for it.” Dorian rolled his shoulders. “He’ll name me a hypocrite, you know,” he said through a tight throat. “I assume he’s told you what happened.”

“He told me a version of it,” Connor said.

“No doubt he’s painted me in an evil light. What else did he say? That I’m a rich drunk? In consortium with Templars?” He seemed to take Connor’s silence for confirmation, and he sneered. “I was banished from the Brotherhood because I wasn’t any good at following orders, only my nose.”

“So why aren’t you a hypocrite?”

“The people he killed he did so because they were in his way,” Dorian said. “The people I killed were those Templar fanatics. You asked what they were doing. They were working to starve Paris and bring it to chaos so they could step into vacated positions of power, the excuse being to show the people a supposed better way. The Council was doing nothing to stop it, and so I was banished because I did what they refused to do.” Dorian raised an imaginary glass. “ ‘Tout est permis’. Cheers to that.”

If that was Dorian’s logic, Connor had to agree with Jean on the hypocrite front. Both had defied orders. “Tell me in detail,” he prompted anyway.

Dorian looked at him warily. Connor just waited.

“We know what you did in America,” Dorian said eventually. “Master Assassin Connor Kenway: scourger of the Templars. You’re admired for purging them all on your lonesome.” Connor didn’t know if Dorian was trying to lead up to something or delaying in telling his story — perhaps even both — but he kept quiet. “You’ve seen the desperation on the streets, how badly the revolution has affected the people who’re too busy trying to get by instead of celebrating the downfall of the upper classes. That’s nothing compared to what it was like a year ago. The Templars were behind a bulk of the Terror; they were the ones who secured Louis’ head on a spike. I brought an end to it and saved uncounted lives, damn what the Council says.”

Dorian’s heart was in the right place, there was little question about that, but Connor still felt like he was missing a piece of the story. He hadn’t missed the bitter tone, nor how Dorian’s fingers tightened on his arm. What was it Jean had said in Calais? That he’d been running around Paris with Élise de la Serre, a Templar Grand Master-in-waiting? Why?

Dorian pushed himself off the wall and turned back into the main corridor. He didn’t look back at Connor to see if he was following as he continued on his way and came to the set of stairs at the corridor’s end. He stopped before them, one foot on the lowest step, as his shoulders slumped.

“Élise, she … she was my fiancée,” he said quietly.

Of all the things that first came to Connor’s head, it was Shakespeare: ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Then came memories of his delicate alliance with his father, and then the sudden, bitter wish that they hadn’t become enemies, and instead had managed to make peace like these two had. The peace Connor still hoped to make. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Dorian didn’t seem to hear him, shaking his head as if to clear it and continuing on up the narrow stairs. The room was huge, the panelled walls and floor marred by scratches and the scuff-marks of old boots. Weapons were mounted on racks and brackets, everything from pikes to sabres to pistols and rifles, maces to claymores and huge falchions, and a single, curious weapon that looked the bastardisation of an axe and a blunderbuss. Sunlight streamed in through great doors inlaid with squares of clear glass; beyond them was a rooftop garden, the curving iron frames of the trellises empty for the winter, and the hedges clinging to golden-brown leaves. More were scattered on the lawn divided into neat quarters, and in the middle of it all was a fountain, emptied for the coming winter.

“The rooftop garden,” Dorian said. “The gardener is Monsieur Colignon. Feel free to use it as you like, but don’t go around onto the balcony.” He then hooked down an attic hatch from in front of the room’s fireplace, and stood back as a ladder slid down. Dorian climbed, and Connor followed a moment later. The attic they came into was dusty, full of odd bits and pieces covered in dust cloths. Drying laundry was hung across the spaces, as well as barrels, extra tables and chairs, and props for the plays below. Dorian ignored it all, turning to the right and weaving through the maze of objects. When they came to a junction, he pointed down a narrow alley. “Don’t go down that way.” The wing Dorian pointed towards was where the balcony snaked around the outside of the building. Connor concluded that it had to belong to Dorian’s quarters, and that he shared the same attitudes to personal spaces as Connor did.

“The dome’s up ahead. If you need to come or go during the night, the window there’s always open. There’s always a guard on the desk.” They strode past the room, Dorian’s bored guard giving them a curt wave before returning to his book. They came out on the mezzanine to the library, and once they had descended the ladder, Dorian held his arms out, spinning in a quick circle. “And there you have it. Café Théâtre.”

“You’ve every right to be proud of it,” Connor said.

Dorian nodded. “There’s more to it out on the main floor; I can show you once we’re closed for the day. I shouldn’t keep you, Mentor. You have the letters to copy. Excusez-moi.” He opened the door to leave.

“Arno,” Connor called. He stopped in the door, turning his ear back. “Thank you.”

“Pleasure,” Arno mumbled, before he left.


Le Marais, 10th November, 1794 

Arno found his first Templar the day after speaking to Kenway. Germain’s death had sent his loyalists crawling back into the woodwork, but Arno had Paton’s list of Templars in his pocket. Upon returning to his room in Café Théâtre, Arno had picked a random name and, the following night, being careful to make sure a tail hadn’t been set on him, gone to the address written next to it.

He was irritable, and he couldn’t stop thinking about his and Kenway’s discussion. Why had he decided to call Élise his fiancée? Because he’d lain awake how many nights during their year hunting Germain and thought about proposing to her, marrying her and starting a family once it was all over? Cradling their children, cradling her in the night? A muscle in his face twitched as he sent a tile crashing to the ground; he’d misjudged the landing and hit the roof at the wrong angle.

He prowled the rooftops of le Marais, directly east of the old Bastille site. All of Paris had been touched by the revolution, but the Marais as a whole had faired better than other, poorer areas of the city. The streets were relatively clean, the stretching pieces of greenery on rue Saint-Antoine well maintained, and although the houses were no longer occupied by the wealthy, craftsmen and artisans had taken the buildings. It wasn’t one of Arno’s favourite places to free run over the roofs simply because they were too far apart in comparison to the closer-confined quarters to the west or the southern Saint-Jacques tannery districts. But it was certainly easier to get a firm footing on the tiles, and he was more confident in the anchor points of the street-spanning ropes and chimney handholds; God only knew how many times he’d felt something lurch beneath him in other areas. It was easier to move unnoticed here in the rich districts, and to vanish. He’d found that money made people less wary, and so less inclined to really see the likes of him transversing their streets and rooftops less ridden to crime. Arno thought then of the fingers he’d broken in Saint-Marcel when a woman had thrown a brick at him from her window, screaming him a thief using the rooftop highways and calling for the guard to shoot him down. Francesco and Jean had laughed themselves to hiccups.

He was a shadow here, wearing black from head to toe. He had a thin cotton cloak around his shoulders, hiding him further when he hunkered down, and he’d smeared the skin around his eyes and the bridge of his nose with burnt candle wicks he’d crushed into a powder; the rest of his face he’d covered with a scarf, and had wrapped the metal guard on his bracer with old cloth and blackened the flat of the hidden blade. He’d also swapped his stiffer-soled boots for softer ones, sacrificing the cushioning they provided for more muffled steps. His feet were going to be aching by the time he returned; the sharp and uneven ledges on buildings dug painfully into them. He also carried a canvas bag cinched tight across his back.

His destination was a series of houses off of rue Payenne, a small street filled with cafés on one side and residential housing on the other. The houses overlooked a small yard filled with trees and groomed hedges. There were guards patrolling both it and the surrounding streets, but Arno kept to the middle of the roofs, well out of sight, and dispensed of the gunner leaning against the chimney stacks, whose eyes drooping as he struggled to stay awake. He was groaning as Arno dragged him out of sight, tying his wrists and feet together and them to a metal strut before ripping off a strip of his shirt to stuff into his mouth. Arno was acting out of habit as he emptied half a cup of cheap wine over the man’s shirt and broke the mechanism of the rifle, still thinking about Kenway and Élise and damn LaHache of all people. Why had the Council allowed him to return to Paris instead of shuffling him back to Calais as they’d been doing for the past year? To spy on him, he supposed; he was in the right position to do so.

Arno threw the rifle into the backstreet below, and shimmied down the façade of the building, clinging to a windowsill as he engaged his hidden blade. He slipped the blade into the crack between the doors and, after a moment of jiggling it about, eased back the window catch. He opened the window as carefully as he could. He had a tin of grease in case something became too squeaky, but he was lucky. This Templar had been a supporter of Germain’s faction, and Arno figured it was as good a place as any to start. He almost laughed when he saw the study; the man, a lawyer named Jean-Louis Moreau, valued order to the bone. Templar indeed. The office was spotless, not a paper out of place, and Arno was sure to memorise where everything was so he could leave the room exactly as he had found it. Now he just had to hope that the two Rottweilers he’d noted of downstairs didn’t hear, or smell, anything out of the ordinary.

He lit the candle he’d brought with him and set it on the desk. The drawers were full of papers, but most of them turned out to concern the legal cases Moreau took. He abandoned them after the third drawer of much of the same, instead turning his attention to the shelf full of leatherbound journals set in a neat row in a cabinet above the desk. The lock on the cabinet door was easy to pick, and he chose one of the journals at random, shuffling through the pages upon pages of notes. They were meetings, dates; Templar concerns.

This is more like it. Now: Lady Eve, he thought, flicking through the journal. Is there anything on you?

Arno’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The journals might’ve told of Templar happenings, but none of it was particularly interesting to him. It would have been to someone in the Brotherhood, but that was their problem, not Arno’s. The journals just seemed to detail squabbles between those in the Order of how to achieve certain, inconsequential, goals. The Assassins had records like these, but Arno had never been interested in those little politics, either. He sighed in defeat after a fourth journal had yielded nothing, and scrubbed his face. “Merde tout.

Arno nearly bit off his tongue when he heard steps outside the door. He blew out the candle and leapt back into a corner as the door opened and a new candle lit the room. His breathing relaxed when he saw its holder was only a child, a blonde girl of perhaps seven or eight. She padded in, and Arno crouched closing his eyes and instead reaching out to her with the Vision. Light cast the deepest of shadows, and he was hoping that the candlelight would hide him from her. The girl looked around, frowned at the open window, then closed it.

Leave, Arno thought desperately, and his temple gave a throb. Leave, leave

“Err …,” the girl whispered. “Hello?”

Arno raised an eyebrow; he couldn’t help himself. He wondered if any thief worth his salt had ever responded to a ‘hello’ when someone walked in on them at work. He was perfectly still; any movement, no matter how small, could betray him. The girl swept the candle around the room, but Arno was out of its reach. She didn’t come looking, perhaps too scared of the monsters children were convinced lived in the dark to venture further, and soon left.

Arno was very careful to shut the window on his way out.

Next, he went to visit the rats. When he had killed le Roi de Thunes, he had seen in his memories the man raging against Monsieur de la Serre for dismissing his services. Arno, despite himself, had to agree with the Beggar King in theory. Rats were useful, able to slip into the cracks and find new secrets many others couldn’t. Arno made his way further north, intent on visiting the next name on his list, a Pierre Gauthier. Le Roi de Thunes had been in possession of a gift for turning up dirt the Templars hadn’t been able to find again. They’d tried, but the best they had found was Gauthier. However, competing with both Paton and de Sade — especially de Sade — had left him with little more than scraps. De Sade wasn’t bent on helping the Assassins or the Templars, only concerned with having the underclass beneath his sole reign; as far as Arno cared, he was welcome to it, but he’d heard stories of many beggars after de Sade’s seizing of power being found with the odd knife wound every so often. He culled the rats, and it was a source of endless frustration for both sides. Paton, bless the man, had worked his magic, and Arno had names.

Arno had picked Gauthier to ask for a note that Paton had scribbled in the margin: Insomniac; often found walking northern Arsenal & Temple streets.

There was shouting in the distance, but Arno ignored it, running along roof peaks and ropes as he moved back north-east. He just hoped that Gauthier would pick tonight to go walking, or he’d have to repeat this charade yet again. He had no illusions as to how close an eye the Assassins were keeping on him. To find Gauthier, he was relying on his Vision; the streets were too packed and too dark to chance himself with facial recognition. He didn’t know how the Vision worked precisely, nor, if he were to be honest about it, was he much interested in finding out. All that mattered was that it brought results. Whenever he found a lone walker, he used it, growing more and more frustrated when he found nothing. After a near hour of searching, he was about to call it a night when something flickered on the edge of his awareness. He turned towards it, crouching low and still and pressing with the Vision. He hummed to himself when he identified Gauthier, and made off silently.

Gauthier was walking one of the wider streets, staying clear of any larger groups and nodding to the people who looked towards him. Arno shadowed him along boulevard du Temple, waiting patiently for an opportunity to confront him. Gauthier stayed well within the range of the gas lamps, and he didn’t turn down any of the streets that hadn’t any windows, and so the light that they provided. Arno clicked his tongue in annoyance. He skirted on ahead, shimmying down into a darkened alley. He pressed himself to the wall, waited until Gauthier was in sight, and shouted.

“Help! God help me!”

He was up the wall to a perch as soon as Gauthier was coming. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, and he stood in the mouth of the alley, squinting. Arno held his breath. He only needed Gauthier to take two or three steps into the alley to get him out of the lamplight, but the man wasn’t moving. Arno threw his voice to the end of the alley, and that got Gauthier to step forward. His hand hovered over the hilt of his sword.

Arno positioned himself above Gauthier and whispered, “Pierre.”

People responded to their names; it was a behaviour near-instinctual. They couldn’t help but react, and sometimes the reaction was a full turn of the head, or it could have been something as small as a slight change in the breathing pattern. Gauthier flinched and looked around to see who had spoken, and Arno moved as soon as Gauthier had. He jumped from the roof to land behind him, and disarmed the man before he could get his sword clear of its sheath. He pushed Gauthier to the wall, jamming his forearm under his chin and pinning his crossed arms against his chest with the weight of his body. He brought the hidden blade up and pointed it at Gauthier’s eye.

Shh.” He almost crooned the word.

Gauthier choked and went still, his chest rising and falling rapidly. Fear clung to him. “What do you want, Assassin?” His voice was a near squeak.

“I’m not an Assassin,” Arno said in a monotone, roughening his voice at the same moment to mask his upper-class accent, “just a Good Samaritan. As for what I want: answers.”

“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!”

“I want you to sing.”

“Whatever you want, Citizen, just let me live!”

A co-operative man; Arno was pleased to cut straight to the point. “Who is the Lady Eve?”

Gauthier looked so bewildered for a moment the panic vanished from his face. “The Lady who?”

“Eve, as in Adam and Eve. Who is she?”

“I don’t …” He coughed against the pressure on his throat. “I-I-I don’t know anyone called that.”

Arno hit him around the face; it elicited a yelp. “Who is she?”

“I’m telling the truth,” Gauthier wheezed. “I don’t know anything. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.”

“Tell me what I want, and you can have your ruddy life.”

“I can’t do that! I can’t tell you what I don’t know! I swear it on God’s good name! I’m sorry!”

“Swear it on the blade at your throat, not God. This is France, and God is dead.”

“I do! I’ll swear it on whatever you bloody want.”

Arno narrowed his eyes, considered Gauthier for a few moments longer, then uncurled his fingers from his shirt. Gauthier fell on all-fours; his coughs bordered on hacks. Arno was sure he hadn’t been pressing that hard on his neck, only squeezing enough to frighten. He absently clenched his fingers as he turned away, reaching for a handhold. He was on the roofs before Gauthier looked back up, and perched on the lip like a church gargoyle, watching him. Gauthier didn’t stay long. He looked down the street once each way, then did a courtesy sweep of the rooftops before collecting his sword and running as if the Devil himself were after him. Arno followed. Gauthier stuck to the narrow, twisting alleys, and then when they spat him out, rue Saint-Antonie.

Clever dog, Arno thought, if a little mockingly. He couldn’t jump the gap, but there was little stopping him from crossing the high-ropes when Gauthier wasn’t looking. He made his crossings quickly, ducking behind chimneys every time Gauthier looked around. Sometimes Arno would have to wait for minutes until Gauthier resumed his flight. Gauthier came to a stop near a derelict storehouse, putting his hands to his knees and drawing in ragged breaths of air. Arno slotted himself into the crook of a chimney and rising rooftop, watching him.

It took a couple of minutes for Gauthier to catch his breath. He straightened up and went briskly to one of the houses, knocking on the door. Arno edged closer, then focused on him.

“I am a fellow of Hugues de Payens,” Gauthier whispered against the door. The door opened, and he slipped quickly inside. Arno inched across a rope leading to the other side of the street, padding to the edge of the roof and leaning out over it. Concentrating, letting the Vision burst from him, he caught the voices of two men. They were talking rapidly.

“Pierre, slow down. Tell me what happened.”

“An Assassin happened!” Gauthier sounded in near-hysterics; Arno could sense him pacing and wringing his hands.

Gauthier’s friend paused. “An Assassin? And you escaped?”

“Bloody let me go, he did.”

“Are you sure you weren’t followed?”

“I don’t know. I checked and checked again. I didn’t see so much as a bird. I swore to him I didn’t have anything he wanted. Told me he wasn’t even an Assassin, but that blade on his wrist said otherwise. Oh God, oh God.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t one of them?”

“No. This one was a born and raised Frenchman. But what does it matter? I told him nothing. If the old man’s testing me, then I’m sure he has nothing to worry about.”

“Here, my good man. Take a deep drink of that, and then tell me everything.”

Slurps from the rim of a cup. Arno’s arms were beginning to ache and his head to throb with the effort of the Vision, but he didn’t dare shift himself.

“Asked about some … some Lady Eve,” Gauthier mumbled a moment later.

“Eh now?”

“Crazy bugger. I thought he was gonna ask about cells, but he just kept going on about Lady Eve.”

“Whoever that is.”

He had been telling the truth. Arno eased himself up. He thought about opening up the attic hatch the building had and killing the both of them, but slunk away without so much as testing the lock. From the sounds of it, both men were low-ranked within the Order. If he killed them both, then the Templars would know the safe house compromised, the Assassins that someone unauthorised had gotten the list of names, and Arno would have had to start from the beginning again. Spare them, and that gave him access to a stream. And this old man. A new and rising Grand Master to take Germain’s place? He’d have to find another Templar on his lonesome to get the information. Gauthier he had used, and now that his friend had his warning, he couldn’t use him, either. Knowledge made people bold. Luckily, he had his extensive list.

Arno sighed, checking once more to see if he was unobserved, then left the area. That, it seemed, was all for the night.


Café Théâtre, 13th November, 1794

Connor needed a break from copying the letters. He leant back on his chair, shaking his hand out and bending his fingers back one by one. His father had been no less than thorough when he’d written the letters, and it made Connor wonder all the more why, in the end, he had been so set on the impossibility of the Assassins and Templars ever reaching a viable peace.

It had been four days since his arrival in Paris, and he only had three of the letters left to copy. If he pushed hard, he would be done by midday tomorrow, and then leave for Calais the day after. He’d started packing up his belongings, and spoken to the Assassin who was taking Jean’s place as Keeper back in Calais; they would be travelling together. He was looking forward to seeing the Aquila’s crew again, and to being on their way back home for their sakes. He felt guilty for having brought them further than they had originally thought to travel, and for delaying their departure back to America by a near-month. But Connor didn’t want to leave Europe behind either; it was so different to America he wanted to learn more about it, see the capitals he had only heard about and never really thought he’d visit. His duty was, and had been since he was little more than a child, to the Brotherhood at home. It didn’t leave much room for travel.

He’d finish the letters and return the originals to the Council. The rest was that. Though he did want to see that the Pieces of Eden Arno had uncovered were safe, if only for his own peace of mind. Although he had encountered Washington’s Apple almost fifteen years ago, the memory of it was still branded in his mind and he’d feel the wolves and eagles and bears in his blood. He’d asked to inspect the Pieces, and the Council had agreed.

A knock came on the door frame. “Mentor. You summoned me?”

Connor looked up, then nodded. “I did. Come in.”

Verne Lemoine entered the room, if a touch cautiously. He trod lightly, and perched like a bird on the edge of the chair Connor indicated. Connor hadn’t been able to get a hold of Arno over the past three days; he’d been so wrapped up in his own business Connor had barely seen him except late at night when he returned from Paris’ streets. He didn’t answer anyone’s questions as to what he’d been doing either, barricading himself in his rooms and only calling out for food. One sentiment Connor had heard bandied about on his behaviour was that he was still grieving for his fiancée; many seemed disgusted by the very notion of it. Others said he was onto something, a third Piece of Eden. It was cock and bollocks by Connor’s reckoning, but it was what he’d been wanting to talk to Arno about: the Pieces. He wanted to know before this Council meeting exactly what events had transpired around the Pieces that had ended with them in Arno’s possession, which was why he had asked for Verne. As far as he could see, Verne was Arno’s closest friend.

Verne frowned at Connor’s questions, and crossed his ankles before answering. “The events …? I don’t know much about what happened, I’m afraid; Arno won’t talk about it.”

Connor grimaced; he’d come across the likes before on the battlefields in America. Men too traumatised by what they had seen they couldn’t speak about it. Some of it was for unwillingness, but much of it was for the memories their stories conjured. Connor had experienced his own share of it.

“Anything you know would help.”

“It happened at the Temple,” Verne said. “He was hunting the Templar Grand Master, and he was the one who had the Sword. He went with Élise de la Serre, then came out with her body and the Sword on his belt. I don’t know the details. The Apple I know was a part of a lantern from the third century, and that Arno snatched it from a company that was raiding the old royal crypts up north in August.” Verne tapped his fingers against his legs, not making eye-contact with Connor. “There’s just so much we don’t know about them, and the Pieces terrify me. I’ve heard stories of what they’re capable of, and Jesus, the scars that Sword left on Arno’s skin …” He shuddered. “We’re bloody fools to try and use them. Guarding them against people who want to wield them is the only sensible course of action as far as I’m concerned. Better yet, sink them in the deepest part of the ocean.”

Although Connor couldn’t picture how, he was certain that one day humanity would be able to dive to the bottom of the ocean. When that day came, the Pieces would be put into play once more, and the bloodshed would start anew. Whenever he thought of the Apple, he wished he’d destroyed it instead of doing what Verne had just suggested. It was the only failsafe way as far as he was concerned.

“How did you meet?”

“Hmm?” Verne was roused from his contemplation.

“Arno. How did you meet?”

“The barracks,” Verne said, a little absently. “I’d been with the Brotherhood for two years at that point. Jean had been for four, and Francesco was born into it, but’d only just taken his oaths. We were assigned to a mission together in late ’89, and we worked so well as a unit that we kept being sent off together. Arno and Jean were the closest out of us, believe it or not, before their … fight.”

“What happened? Arno told me his side of it, and Jean’s told me his.”

Verne sighed. “They’re both right and wrong in their own ways, but they won’t sit down and talk it through. If they did I swear they’d be friends again by dinner.”

“Tell me.”

“You know about Élise de la Serre?” Connor nodded, and Verne asked, “And what Jean did?” When Connor nodded again, Verne continued, “Arno, he … after Jean killed the people he did and sent Marcourt, the target we had, into his stronghold, he was afraid he’d lose the information that Marcourt had for his own hunt. He shouted at Jean, Jean got angry in his own right and shouted back at him. He called the lady a, erm, a ‘Templar cunt’.” Verne’s eyes were pleading as he looked at Connor. “There were other words said, but they don’t bear repeating; it was more of the same. Neither of them really meant what they said. It was all done in the heat of the moment, and it was all Francesco and I could do to stop them killing each other. But Arno’s stubborn. He cut contact with Jean after that, and Jean’s angry because of it, and so here we are fifteen months later.”

Once again, Connor didn’t voice his thoughts. In his experience, what was often said in anger was the closest truths to the heart many had. He didn’t want to quench Verne’s hope that a friendship would reignite, but unless God moved Heaven and Earth to do so, Connor thought it unlikely. He was surprised at the disappointment he felt; he liked Arno and Jean both, perhaps Jean a little more so, which was only understandable as he’d spent more time with him, and the idea of them revelling in the other’s company and putting forth their best feet as Connor had seen of them, made him content in a way.

The mantel clock above the fireplace chimed the quarter-hour, and Connor packed his writing utensils away, standing and stretching. Verne jumped up a moment later. “It’s time?”

“It’s time,” Connor agreed.

“Christ, I need to escort Arno down.” Verne made a hurried exit, and Connor pulled on his coat, boots, and checked his weaponry. The hidden blades he wore wherever he went, as he did with the tomahawk on his belt, but he left everything else in the room, locked in the cupboard. He’d been offered to have them stored in the armoury, but Connor had declined; his weapons he always kept close.

The café was in its quiet business hours as Connor filed down the stairs, nodding back to those who greeted him, and waiting at the Sanctuary door for Verne and Arno. They appeared a couple of minutes later, each of them looking pale in their own ways. Verne looked nervous; Arno looked as if he were barely keeping the contents his stomach down. Connor felt sorry for him as they descended into the Sanctuary, keeping him in the corner of his eye. The Sanctuary was quiet, almost eerily so. Connor couldn’t hear the usual chatter from the barracks, and the halls were deserted from all except the sentries. They pointed them towards a larger chamber beyond the library, made of rock half-quarried from the island and fitted with marble. Pitch torches burnt in brackets along the walls, and at the far end of the room was a balcony. Upon the top of it was an altar. Connor felt the hissing crackle of the Sword’s energy before he saw it, and the hair along his arms stood. The air tasted of a storm.

The Council was there, and they bent their necks when Connor drew up beside them.

“This is …?”

“Yes,” Beylier said. He offered the Sword for his inspection on its stand. Connor crouched, looking at it from the side. It was nothing like any sort of sword he’d seen before, more like a medieval cruciform than the basket-hilted swords and finger-guarding sabres popular in the modern age. The blade was, by Connor’s estimate, just over four feet in length, and a near hand in width. The fuller was narrow enough that he could have laid his little finger snuggly within it. It was bulky instead of elegant, but it didn’t make the Sword itself a ridiculous thing to look upon. With its deep golden colour and the etching of hexagonal patterns running from point to pommel, it was nothing short of troubling.

“What do you make of it, Master Connor?” Quemar asked.

“That whoever it was that made it was serious about their business,” he said. “It feels …”

“Wrong,” Arno supplied. He was leaning on a far wall, his shoulders hunched in discomfort, and eyed the Sword with distaste. Connor nodded agreement; wrong was as close to a good description as he could come up with. He didn’t want to touch it for how it grated on him; he shuddered to think what it would have been like to stand before it unbroken.

Trenet’s expression was one of scholarly curiosity. “ ‘Wrong’?” she repeated. “What do you mean?”

Arno looked helplessly on at Connor, and he thought he understood why. “It’s … difficult to explain. It’s like it’s not all there. It feels like sandpaper on my skin.”

“It’s not natural,” Quemar said.

Connor was surprised. “You can feel it?” From what the others had said, it felt like nothing to them. He was sure as well that if Quemar, like Connor and Arno, had the Vision, he would have at least known it.

“No, I can’t,” Quemar said, “but I’ve eyes enough to see that it goes against every law of nature.” With nods from both Trenet and Beylier, Quemar lifted the Sword from its stand. From the way he held his arm, loose in a swordsman’s stance, Connor concluded that the blade was by no means heavy. “The edge is far sharper than anything we’ve seen before. I would all but swear it can cleave the very air in two.” He waved someone forward, and a young trainee came from a corner of the room, Quemar’s student Connor thought, and placed on the altar a pane of glass that looked like it had been popped from a window. It was half a foot long on each side, and everyone stood back as Quemar hefted the Sword high. He brought it down with all his strength. There was a sort of ringing, a strange crick in the middle of it all, and when Quemar took the Sword away, the glass lay in two perfect pieces. Connor ran his fingers over the edge, exhaling a little when he cut himself. He looked at the blood, his mind working. “That’s …”

“Not natural,” Quemar said again as he placed the Sword back on the stand.

“Extraordinary,” Connor said instead. He put his finger against his teeth, sucked the blood away, then shook his hand out.

“We’ve tried to trace the history of the Sword, and what we’ve so far found is that it’s belonged to at least two people of note,” Beylier said. “Jeanne d’Arc, and Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay. Before him, we’ve found nothing of its history. Jeanne d’Arc used it to inspire devotion in her followers, not for her, but for her cause. The sources speak of, to borrow your word, extraordinary happenings and achievements she used it in conjunction with. But it vanished in 1429 following her attempt to take Paris. And now, it’s resurfaced.” He trailed off, then said in little more than a murmur, “I wonder and worry whose hands it has been in since.”

“And what about de Molay? What did he use it for?”

Beylier spread his hands and sighed. “We don’t know. If we’re to find records, they would be in Templar archives. All we know was that it vanished on the night he was arrested. Apart from those two, sources say it has appeared every so often since man first put words to paper. There’s even a painting of something suspiciously like it in a system of caves down in Niaux.”

“Jeanne d’Arc used it to inspire devotion, you said? Do sources tell of other powers this Piece of Eden has?”

Arno spoke, then. “It … when Germain had it, it shot something. Like lightning.”

“Lightning?” Connor was thinking of Franklin’s experiments.

Arno shook his head, his expression pinched. “I tried to make it do it again. Can’t figure it out. Must have broken in the explosion….”

“This thing caused an explosion?”

Arno nodded, and absently rubbed his arm.

“From what Monsieur Dorian described, we think the explosion may have been caused as an act of the Sword defending its wielder,” Trenet said. “Master Assassin Thomas de Carneillon’s journal spoke of this lightning also, but the description there makes it sound like a firearm of the likes we’ve never seen. But, again, we haven’t been able to reproduce the effects, despite extensive testing.” She then cleared her throat. “Our next best guess is that it can only be made to show its gifts if the master of the Sword has the right blood.” She looked at him pointedly, and Connor needed only a moment before he understood what she was referring to.

Connor didn’t want to touch it, but he had to, to see if this theory of blood held any kind of merit. He gripped the Sword, but aside from the same chill that raced down his spine he had felt when handling Washington’s Apple, nothing of note happened. He lifted the Sword nevertheless.

“Master Connor? Can you feel anything?”

“Nothing more than what I’ve already told you.”

“Dorian?”

Arno peered at Connor a moment, then shook his head. “With Germain, there was a little something, but nothing like what the sources say Jeanne d’Arc had,” he said, massaging his temple with two fingers. “Either she was much more powerful in the Vision than either me or Master Connor or Germain ever were, or she had access to some secret of the Sword we’re missing.”

“It has to be the second one. Germain was one of the Sage-kind, wasn’t he?”

Arno nodded hesitantly.

Trenet pursed her lips. “It’s a shame we know so little about them. Do you have any further information, Master Connor?”

“I only know of them,” he said, putting the Sword down. He was glad to release it; he hated the crackling rush of energy it gave him, and the lessened scratching of it against his skull. “My grandfather encountered one in the Caribbean some eighty-odd years ago, but I’ve not found any reliable accounts about it. They were destroyed when the Brotherhood fell there.”

“We’ve sent out messages to other branches of the Brotherhood asking for information on Sages, but we’ve yet to hear anything back.” Trenet rested her knuckles on the table, frowning as she thought. Connor brought his hands together before himself, waiting for her. “There was apparently a Sage present on the night that Philip the Fair had de Molay arrested, and that it was him who directed the lightning at de Carenillon. My thoughts are that perhaps … perhaps this lightning is tied to a place of power.”

“Ridiculous,” Quemar snorted. “Haven’t we had this discussion already? What would be the point of having something as powerful as this relic and not be able to use it wherever it was needed?”

“We’ve already addressed the use that Jeanne d’Arc used it for, and perhaps she had the right of the Piece after all.”

“Stop,” Connor called before an argument could rise. Trenet’s words had latched him onto the idea. It wasn’t past the Precursors to use their artefacts for specific locations, such as the Amulet which had been useless outside of the Temple. He waited until all attention turned to him, and he rested his knuckles on the altar. “Arno,” he said, and Arno looked up at his name from the corner. “If you would be so kind,” he said, “as to show me where you found the Sword.” Perhaps he would be able to identify some crucial elements to the site that no one else had yet spotted.


Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, 14th November, 1794

Killian often wondered how much his father had guessed of the depth of his hatred for Assassins. He readjusted himself on his belly, easing his weight off his elbows as he waited and watched Café des Invalides’ door. His da was beside him, his focus equally intent. Night was around the corner, and their breath fogged on the air. Killian cast a sideways glance at his pap, crouched as he was and shifting his weight every now and again to ease his joints. His da wore his Templar robes, his rifle over his shoulder and his hidden blades on the outsides of his sleeves; the plan needed him to be obvious as to what he was. Killian’s eyes went back to the building. He was itching to move for the blood thrumming through his veins, demanding action. It was the music that was riling him up, the joy that floated on the notes out the windows. Killian hated that the Assassins had what Caresse Levesque’s house was so deprived of, that it was this vermin that had what he and the Rite didn’t.

The first Assassin he remembered seeing wasn’t the one whom he’d seen lying dead at the foot of Siobhán’s crib as his father thought, but was when he was younger, far younger. The memory was blurred at the edges, and sometimes he thought he’d gotten it mixed up, that it wasn’t a memory but a dream so vivid it fuzzed the line between the two. But whichever it was, Killian always thought of the howls first. He’d never known men could make such a noise, and the only reason why he knew it was a human voice instead of some animal’s was because he’d heard his mam make something similar when she’d lost the baby in her belly a few weeks before. It had echoed through the manor’s floorboards and had driven him to finding his da. He had been no older than three or four, living in a house with men Pap had called his business friends. Killian had always had a gift for stillness, and so it hadn’t taken him long to find the secret door in his pap’s friend’s house by crouching on the stairs and watching others come and go. The noises had been coming from behind the fake door in the hallway; it hadn’t been properly shut.

Killian snuck to the crack, and he remembered the light most vividly — the burning orange of a half-dozen torches in their brackets, and the shadowy figures surrounding the edges of the room, their faces hidden by the deep contrast of the light. Killian searched for his da amongst the men, but if he was there, he couldn’t tell which of the five or so men he was. His search was called off when he saw the figure kneeling on the floor. The blood was a brilliant red on the flagstones, reflected like moonlit oil on water. The man knelt in the centre of it, blood dripping from his fingers with small plinks into the puddle beneath. Killian didn’t get much more of a look at him before his line of sight was blocked. One of the standing men had come before the kneeling man, and Killian caught a flash of metal as the man raised his fist and drove it into the second’s face.

The box, the man bellowed. Where is the goddamn box?

Steady, now, another said. We need him alive.

I need him to talk.

Aye, talk being the one thing we need him to do, yet you insist on breaking his jaw. That had been his pap’s voice, dry with cynicism. Killian found him then, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed against his chest.

The man with the metal on his knuckles pointed at his da. This is your bloody assignment, Cormac. You should be the one desperate for the information he’s biting his tongue on.

You ’re the one who insisted on this method of interrogation .

The first man scoffed. This is the only way to get them to talk. You’re too soft of these sons of bitches.

His da had pushed himself off the wall and strode forward, catching the first man by the lapel and giving him a shake. You’ll watch your mouth, Wilson. Need I remind you of what they made me do and their lack of reaction upon my report? Of how many of them I’ve killed for the Order?

Killian turned his attention to the man kneeling on the floor, and he froze when their eyes met. His teeth were covered in blood, and he mouthed to Killian a single, small word: Go.

Killian had scampered upstairs and into his bed. He’d tucked himself into a ball, laying perfectly still as if doing so would mean that what he had seen downstairs had never happened. He was still awake when his da came into his room later, smoothing his hair back from his forehead and pressing his lips there. Killian had fallen asleep quickly after that.

He’d known even before that night, in a vague sort of manner, that his da hurt people. He wasn’t stupid; he’d seen the weapons he and his mam carried, the displays on the walls in their room on the ship where they lived half the time. This is a scimitar. It comes from a land very far away from here, his da had said, talking in Gaelic as he always did when they were on the Morrigan. He went around the cabin, touching one weapon at a time. This is a dao. This is a katana. This is a hidden blade.

He’d never told anyone about that night. He didn’t have a particular reason for not saying anything, but if he had to pinpoint it on something, it wouldn’t have been in fear for his da’s reaction, good or bad, nor because he’d been frightened by it. It would have been for the Assassin. Go. It had struck him, like a pact for silence. Whenever his da spoke of showing respect to their defeated enemies, Killian thought of that moment, but only that moment. Everything else that Assassin had been, and everything that the others had been, were, and would be, he hated deeply. They sought to bring the world to ruin, and that, that Killian couldn’t abide by. If they wanted to ruin the world, then Killian would ruin them first.

“Kil,” his pap said lowly, and Killian watched as a man left the café. Killian’s eyes first went to the man’s left wrist, and he found the blade there a moment later. Next, they went to his face. The man was in his fifties, white, and his head was shaven. He shivered a little in the chill, and nodded a farewell to someone else in the café over his shoulder before turning south on avenue de Villars. Killian got to his feet, re-shouldering the musket he’d taken from the Gordon, and he and his pap shadowed the Assassin from the rooftops. They were careful to keep just out of sight, dropping back every now and then as the man looked to the roofs before continuing on his way west onto rue Plumet and then south once more on rue du Bac. They waited until he had gone some distance before dropping to the ground in an alley.

“Ready?”

Killian nodded and lifted his arm. His pap released one of his blades, bringing it around and into the side of Killian’s Assassin coat. They’d taken it from the Assassin on the Gordon — clothes were always in demand on ships, and so any that fell wind of them were stored — and the bladder of pig’s blood that had been sewn to the lining burst. It soaked the coat and the undershirt in a moment, dribbling down Killian’s leg.

“You’d best go, or you’ll bleed out.”

Killian nodded, handed his pap his musket, and sprinted out onto the street.

He ran, stumbling, and people stared after his flight. Someone screamed when they saw the blood, but Killian ignored them, his eyes on the Assassin’s back. He pulled out his pistol, turning back in his pa’s direction and putting a shot into the house on the corner of the alley. There were more screams, but Killian wasn’t focused on them. The Assassin jerked back around, hidden blade snapping out. Killian came skidding to a halt, panting and out of breath. “Run,” he gasped in English, before he tore off once more.

The Assassin was beside him in a moment, his eyes on the blood. “What —?”

“Hunter.”

His pap had come out of the alley by then. He’d drawn his mask over his nose and mouth, the red cross on it stark against the black, and he aimed at Killian with the musket he’d given him. Killian planted his hand on the Assassin’s back and forced him to duck down as Shay Cormac, Assassin Hunter, shot at them. Killian knew that the shot was empty, but his heart still jumped into his mouth at the noise. Killian fired his pistol again, each barrel now containing nothing more than powder, and his pap ducked to the side, his walk breaking into a jog. He released his blades.

“Go go go!” Killian shouted.

The Assassin lifted his left arm, and Killian barely had time to see the springing of the crossbow there before the bolt was flying. His da ducked, changing directions once, twice, three times as he charged up the street. The Assassin drew a long knife and met Shay blade to blade. The fight was nasty, short blades flying and jabbing and parrying in a blur of steel; sweat beaded his pap’s brow after they disengaged a half minute later. Shay struck again after a moment, and scored a hit across the Assassin’s side. The Assassin hissed out a breath as Shay knocked him to the ground. He kicked his knife away and raised his hidden blades. Killian leapt over the Assassin with handful of dirt in his fist, and threw it into his pap’s face. Shay stumbled as Killian hooked his arms under the Assassin’s and hauled him to his feet. “Run,” he pleaded. “Godsakes, just run.”

Killian ran into an emptying market place, the stall owners packing their things away for the night, and several people screamed as he, the Assassin, and his pap following them all, tore through like a hurricane. Wood exploded by them as his pap fired his two pistols, and whilst the Assassin forged ahead, Killian was babbling, “Oh shit, oh shit, shit!”

“Up!” the Assassin roared. They had reached the end of the market. The Assassin threw a bomb behind them, and worry clutched at Killian for a moment about what kind of bomb it was; the Ottoman Assassins had been ruthless with them. Smoke exploded in the street, and the Assassin grabbed Killian by the arm. “Can you climb?”

Killian nodded weakly. He had to scuttle up quickly, feigning weakness on his right. He pushed himself over the lip of the roof, and the Assassin took him around the waist, hauling him upright. Killian slapped at him to let go. “Follow.”

Killian trailed behind him, huffing like a bull as the streets flashed by. They didn’t get far before the Assassin was leaving the rooftops, slowing his rapid descent with loose ropes and iron rings embedded into the walls of the alley he had chosen. Killian was impressed with the old man’s dexterity, and he followed, nearly stumbling when he hit the ground. “Stay low.”

They huddled in the shadows. Half a minute later, Killian saw his da jump the gap. He didn’t slow, and his footsteps echoed long after he had disappeared from sight. The Assassin seemed to breathe easier, and he turned to Killian. “Who are you?” He spoke in halting English, and Killian joined him in the language, putting on a Cockney accent to go with it.

“Michael Stockton.” It was a pseudonym he’d used before. Michael Stockton was an East London dockworker, and he’d turned to the Assassin Brotherhood after the death of his sister at Templar hands. Michael was skittish around people, rough and loud when he felt threatened by others, and petrified of being touched. The detail gave Killian more time to procure information if he didn’t allow people to get close. Killian spat on the ground. “I’m with the English. Came back with the two who you sent over a month ago.”

“Where are they?”

“Dead,” he rasped. “My brother is … Oh God, he… Stephane … Stephane told me … come here. Find others. Need to find … find a safe place.”

“There’s a safehouse near here. Quickly, now.”

The Assassin introduced himself as Javier as they crossed district lines, and came to a stop by a church in Faubourg Saint-Germain. Javier passed it, coming to a row of houses and knocked hurriedly upon the door of one before entering. Killian came in after him. “Josephine!” Javier shouted up the stairs in French. “Help me here!”

A woman came thundering down, sucking in a breath at the sight of the blood. She reached forth to touch his side, and Killian flinched back. He shouted in turn, “Don’t!”

Javier and Josephine hesitated. “Don’t touch me,” Killian whispered, curling in on himself.

“We need to see the wound.”

“Bleeding’s slowing,” Killian said. “My shirt’s stuck to it. I just … I can’t have people touching me. Not yet.”

“You’ll die if we don’t get that seen to,” Josephine said in French.

Killian, still feigning his ignorance of the language, ignored Josephine. His attention was fixed solely on Javier. “Cloth,” he said. “Can I have some cloth to press on it …?”

Once Javier translated, Josephine looked as if she were to protest, but Javier waved her down. He gave Killian a long strip of linen, and said before he passed it over, “My rules are that we’re to see in five minutes, yes?”

Five minutes. Killian nodded, and pressed the linen against his side.

Javier said to Josephine in French, “Go back and check on Marc.” Josephine left back up the stairs.

Javier was eyeing Killian, and he didn’t think he imagined the hint of suspicion on his face. He switched back to English: “Now, who are you?”

“Michael Stockton,” Killian repeated dully. He curled up his knees to his chest, wrapping his free arm around them. “Part of the English Brotherhood. We got your letter about the Pieces of Eden.” Javier nodded, and Killian continued in little more than a murmur, “My Mentor wanted us to come and see the Pieces for ourselves, and to bring back a report on them. Me, my brother, our master, and your two, we left Peterborough on the twenty-third. We were ambushed in the Channel two days later, and the ship was scuttled. Everyone else died. I escaped because I’d been thrown overboard, and I swum to the shore on a bit of wreckage. The Hunter came after me. What’s … what’s the date?”

“November fourteenth.”

Killian closed his eyes. “Then it was nearly three weeks ago, and I’ve been running since then. Hunter caught up with me today.” He was expecting a response of something like, ‘Lucky that you were in Paris’, or, ‘Suspicious it was so close to our door this happened’, but Javier sat in silence, considering him. Killian knew that look. “You think I’m a coward.”

Javier shook his head and sighed. “No, not a coward. I think you’re young.”

“I’ve been blooded,” Killian snapped. “I’ve earned my blades and my title.”

“That’s nothing to do with my view of you,” Javier said. “I’ve cared for children ten-years-old covered in blood, and yet when they’ve turned older than you, still I call them young.”

Even if Javier was talking to Michael Stockton, it didn’t make Killian feel any better, only belittled. “I … I …”

Killian’s lip twisted, and his shoulders twitched. “What’s so awe-inspiring about these bloody Pieces?” he snarled. He drove his fist into the tabletop, tears stinging his eyes as he shouted, “My brother’s dead!”

“And I’m sorry,” Javier said, his voice calm. If he thought the change in subject strange, he said nothing on it. Killian hoped that his acted grief was enough to not make Javier ask any questions on it, but he was acutely aware that he was running out of time.

Killian threw off the hand Javier placed on his shoulder. “Convince me why I shouldn’t go back,” he said bitterly. “What is this Sword thing? The Apple?”

“Relics one of us found,” Javier said. Killian sat, his shoulders hunched in utter misery, but he was paying rapt attention. One floor above, he could sense his pap listening too, the bodies of Josephine and Marc still cooling beside him. “I don’t know much other than that, and that it was Jacques de Molay’s. I’ll see what I can do for you tomorrow. After Council business tonight.”

That was it. Killian itched then and there to kill the man, but he held himself in check. Perhaps he’d spill more — the name of the one who had found the Sword, where it was now, where the Apple was, and information on what the Assassins knew about Templar activities.

Killian snorted. “What’s the point in that if that Hunter’s only going to finish what he started and kill me tomorrow?”

“We have our tunnels. If you’re worried about safety in Paris, well, Assassins are good at secret business, yes?”

Killian didn’t respond to Javier’s stab at humour. He shook his head. “That bastard’s been after me since Cambridge. Forgive me for being sceptical about your offer of safety.”

Javier became solemn again. “Don’t worry about the Hunter, Michael Stockton. I’ll inform the Council about him tonight, and I promise we’ll see that he’s dead in one week. We’ll avenge your brother, and the others. But for now, rest.” He gestured to the blood on Killian’s side “May I see?”

“But —”

Killian’s attempts at fishing more information from the Assassin were cut short. Javier shook his head firmly. “No. My rules, yes? You’ve had five minutes. Nothing more until that’s fixed. You’ve lost a lot of blood, and you won’t bleed to death on my floor.”

They’d gotten enough information to work with, perhaps not as much as Killian would’ve liked, but enough.

Killian limped over to the wooden chair Javier waved him towards as he went to get alcohol, needle, and catgut. Killian was silent as Javier ran the needle through a candle flame and then sat down next to him. Killian shrugged his coat when asked, leaving him in his shirt. Javier looked at his side, raised the bottle of alcohol, and then froze.

“The wound …” Realisation dawned on him as Killian surged forward, and Javier barely had the time to flinch away before Killian buried the lengths of the blades into his lower gut. He exhaled long and loud as Javier clutched at him. “You …,” he whispered.

Killian titled his head to the side, regarding him with a cool eye. He took the blades out, and Javier grunted in pain. He fell out of the chair onto his hands and knees, wheezing and trying to stem the flow of blood.

“Thank you,” Killian said in French. There came a knock at the door, and Killian cast a glance at it. He looked back to Javier. “We’re not done yet.” Killian crossed to the door and opened it. His pap stepped in, pulling his mask down and his eyes going at once to Javier struggling on the floor. He frowned.

“Did you get what we need?”

Killian said, “Some, but not all of it yet. Did you want to, or should I?”

His pap waved the offer away. “Don’t extend his suffering.”

Killian wanted to spit on the floor. Why? This man was no innocent. But his pap had that look in his eye which Killian knew meant he knew exactly what he was thinking, and so he huffed, turning on his heel and padding back to Javier. He thought it a feat that the man was still upright on his own, but his legs were shaking like a newborn foal’s. His breath came in harsh gasps from between his teeth, and blood dribbled between his fingers to soak into the carpet beneath him. Killian crouched before him, and took Javier’s face between his hands. “Shh.” He looked Javier in the eyes. “Shh.” He pressed their foreheads together, and the Vision rushed through them both like a river.

When Killian opened his eyes, his surroundings were dark, and his only companion Javier, laying as he did outside their minds bleeding on the floor.

“So,” Killian said, standing over him, “now we can be honest with each other.”

“You betrayed the Brotherhood.”

“No. That was my pap who did all of that; I’m a Templar born and bred.”

“You lied.”

“A little,” he confessed. “We did sink a ship in the Channel, and we killed your brothers after they almost killed mine and my little sister. I couldn’t have that.” He smiled sharply. “What’s your secret Council business, eh?”

“You won’t get a word from me,” Javier wheezed.

Killian was shaking his head before Javier had finished. He raised his arms and walked before him. “You see this place? It’s under my control. It’s my mind, healthy and whole, against your dying one.” He knelt before Javier. “I can press on your every nerve and get what I want, and I promise you it’s nothing short of ugly. Unless you wish for your last waking moment to be something of agony, you answer me straight. It’ll make this easier for the both of us.”

Javier raised himself as best he could on his elbows and spat in Killian’s face. “I’m dying already,” he said. “I only need hold on until I am gone.”

Killian wiped the spit away with the ball of his thumb, inwardly fuming. “Fine,” he said, his voice carefully neutral. “The hard way.” He attacked.

The ugly way was what it was. It was breaking and smashing, tearing through memories and the very heart of one’s soul and taking what was sought. Many forgot everything they were as the light left their eyes. Killian didn’t like looking at those ones; it made him shudder for the emptiness of them. Most people gave in after mere moments, telling him everything he had wanted to know until he let them go to death. Javier was no different. He may have put up a fight, but he broke in the end. He told Killian what he knew, and only once he was satisfied did he let Javier die. He opened his eyes. His pap was watching him as he straightened up. The whole exchange had taken less than three seconds.

“Pap,” Killian said. “I know where they’re going.”


Temple, 14th November, 1794

Arno fought to stop the bile rising in this throat as they came to the walls of the Temple. The clock had just struck eleven as he’d led Kenway and the other three accompanying them up to the Temple’s southern side. It was a different route to the one he and Élise had taken, but even seeing the place again was like a punch to the chest. By the end of the night, he’d have revisited the chamber in which she’d died, the one Germain had called Jacques de Molay’s vault. Germain…. Arno’s chest went tight with hate. Would he be nothing more than bones yet? Halfway to becoming them? Or would his body even be there? For all he knew, the Templars could have retrieved it. He hoped to God they hadn’t.

“Arno.”

He blinked, swaying where he crouched atop the roof. Juste was next to him, worry etched on his face. Arno fixed his position; he’d been over-balancing, and a few more seconds would have seen him fall forward onto the cobbles forty feet below. “I’m fine.”

“Jesus, you’re far from fine —”

“I’m fine.” He descended to the street level, ignoring Juste and landing in a crouch.

They were on Assassin business tonight, and for it, the Council had given Arno permission for his robes, the blue ones. He felt more himself in them as he crossed to the Temple wall, casting a casual glance around before signalling to the others. They followed, Juste first followed by Kenway, Lucien, and the rear brought up by Flavien. Flavien pressed his back against the wall, cupping his hands together and nodding to Arno. Arno placed his foot there and Flavien launched him up with a grunt. Arno leapt at the same moment, scrambling up the wall. Just as he was losing his momentum, he found a crack in the stonework with the very edge of his toes and used the extra push to hook his fingers on the battlements. He grunted as he hoisted himself up, perching in the gap and losing himself in the senses of the Vision to determine if they were alone. The National Convention had taken control of the Temple in the recent weeks, and they had timed their arrival to the middle of the two patrols circling the battlements. The plan from there was to make their way to the vault without alerting or disabling anybody, inspect the place, and then leave the way they’d come. If they found nothing, then they would find a way to return with the Sword, but bringing it out into the open was a risk no one wanted to take. They were to be away from the area by the first hour past midnight, but Arno was praying that they’d be gone long before then.

He held the Vision as long as he could, and once he was satisfied the way was clear, dropped the rope he’d been carrying back down the wall before securing it to the bars between the battlements. Kenway was the first up, and he held the vigil with his stronger Vision as the others clambered up after. Kenway nodded the clear, and they made their way from the ramparts to the grounds below, weaving between the headstones and storage boxes. Every now and then, Kenway would pause, cocking his head to the side and closing his eyes as if listening. His lips moved soundlessly during these times too, and he would move them away from the path to cover as bored guards trudged past on completion of their rounds.

“I’m starving,” one muttered to his companion.

The second, his shoulders hunched and his hands stuffed beneath his armpits, shrugged. “Better starving than cold. Can’t feel anything down there.”

The first snorted. “Giselle won’t like that, now will she?”

Their argument was lost to the night, and the Assassins continued on their way, hugging the shadows and moving as quick as they dared. Arno froze when he saw the entrance to the vault, and Lucien near ran into his back. Arno couldn’t move. His hands were trembling, and his breaths were coming in sharp, harsh wheezes.

“Arno,” Lucien hissed.

The next thing Arno was aware of was Flavien crouched before him, telling him to breathe. His throat was closed and ragged, his head throbbing and his chest aching. Arno sucked in a breath. “Now breathe out,” Flavien said. Arno did so. Juste and Lucien took up positions around them, watching for guards. “Arno, look at me, listen to me,” Flavien was saying now. “Look! Can you finish this?”

Of course, Arno was going to say, but couldn’t. He was still shaking, his head light with the lack of air; he settled for a tiny nod.

“Jesus,” Flavien said under his breath. “What were the Council thinking? You’re in no shape for this —”

“I’m not weak.”

“Weak? God no, but you’re not prepared for this. Look at you!”

“Get off me, Flavien!” Arno clung to the anger, using it to force away the shivers and hoist himself from the hole had been threatening to swallow him. He was glad then that his team wasn’t here; the Council had needed Verne’s chemist’s skills for other business, and Arno had refused to work with Jean. “I will finish this.” He glared at him, then stalked out before the others. “This way.”

He didn’t fail to notice that Kenway was the only one to not give him some look of sympathy, instead watching him with calculation. Even though it was by no means what Kenway had meant it to be, Arno was glad for the lack of pity. He moved between the headstones quickly, slipping and ducking out of the way of another patrol until he stood before the underground entrance. It was smaller than it was in his memory, but no less dank and dark. Arno became perfectly still, fighting off as best he could that same blackness which had taken him in its grasp minutes before. He looked back to the others, then gave the smallest jerk of his head towards the door.

“It’s through here —”

A gunshot sounded in the night, and Arno barely had the time to register it before Juste collapsed.

Chapter Text

Temple, 14th November, 1794

Take cover!” Connor bellowed in English. The sudden shot had disorientated him, and for a second he was back in the revolutionary war, commanding troops at Lexington and Concord as the regulars fired upon them. A second crack shook the night, and he saw Flavien spin at the impact of the ball before he managed to duck out of the way, searching with every sense he had for the gunman. Arno was beside him, pressed against one of the gravestones and staring at Flavien and Juste’s bodies.

“Shit,” Lucien whispered. He was loading his pistol, his hands shaking, and his eyes rimmed with white. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Connor shook his head to clear it, then whispered in French once more, “Be ready,” as he took out one of his smoke bombs and dropped it at his feet.

Arno was away before him, and Connor was close on his heels, Lucien bringing up the rear. A third shot rang out, and from the corner of his eye, Connor heard Lucien cry out as he stumbled and fell. He was dead when Connor went back to help him, chest thick with blood. Connor bore his teeth. Whoever it was they were dealing with, they too had some kind of Vision, being able to both see through the cover of the smoke and to fatality hit a moving target. From the time between shots as well, Connor concluded as he hurried back, there were either multiple shooters or they had more than one rifle on their person; the shots came too close together for a single person to reload one rifle, aim, and then fire. Not even Clipper was that fast. Arno had stopped, and Connor shoved him into a new place of cover as a fourth shot came at them. It missed by a hair’s breadth; stone chips went flying where it sunk into the headstone they were behind. Shouts were sounding in the distance, and a bell began to toll.

“Are you alright?” Connor asked Arno, but Arno was already in action. He drew out his own pistol, a multi-barrelled beast of a thing, and fired two shots off in the direction of the attacker before dashing to the closest mausoleum. He hauled himself up, jumping from the roof to the ramparts and then dropping over the battlements and onto the street below within the space of mere moments. Connor drew his pistol, taking another smoke bomb from his belt and throwing it against the mausoleum. The Vision gave him time to roll out of the way of the next ball as he mounted the rampart and ran along. There was a tower close by, and he climbed up as fast as he could, rounding the far side for cover. When he crested the tower’s roof, he turned to the street and, without hesitating, threw himself into the air. The roof he had jumped for was a good twenty feet below him, and despite the roll he made upon impact, he landed painfully, loose tiles crashing to the street below. He’d have a bruise blooming on his side soon enough, but he didn’t have time to worry about it; he was lucky as he was that was all he’d sustained. He ran, ignoring the pull of his old wound as the first drops of the rain fell. Through it, he hoped to lose the sniper for long enough that he could formulate a plan of attack.

Connor ran, jumping streets and alleys and crossing a couple of them over large buntings of tricolore flags, his attention solely on getting away from the Temple, and on finding Arno. Arno came up behind him a couple of minutes later. “We’ve got go back,” he shouted. There was a shallow cut on his cheek, mostly likely made by shards blown from the gravestone. “We need to get their bodies.”

“We need to save our lives first,” Connor replied, grunting as he hoisted himself up and over a set of chimney stacks.

Arno stopped, and Connor, bewildered, did too. “I can’t leave them,” Arno said. “I’ll stand and fight.”

Connor wanted to shake him, but if he’d learnt one thing, Arno was as stubborn as they came. Connor pursed his lips. “So be it,” he said.

They had come to stop on a non-descript rooftop overlooking a park, and their flight had given them a head start. They picked their ground, looking for both height and a flat place. As they looked, Connor found himself bitterly missing the houses in America. The rooftops here may have been wider, but the lead tiles were oil-slick with the rain; one misplaced step would see his feet slide out from beneath him. They settled for a place with the dark shape of the Temple overlooking them. The roof was long and flat, hemmed in by two lines of chimneys, and a wooden walkway stored there would provide some form of grip in a fight.

“I’ll take the higher ground,” Arno said. Rain dripped from the rim of his hood. “I’ll jump on the bastard.”

“Fine,” Connor said, a little snappishly. “If you get a good position, wait for my command. I want to find out who was shooting and why.”

Arno snorted, muttered something about memories, but did as he was told. His blue coat blended well with the roof tiles, answering Connor’s unspoken question about the odd colour choice, and soon he had vanished from sight.

Connor drew the tomahawk before the sniper arrived a couple of minutes later. He had pulled the hood further over his face to shadow it and, he hoped, to cause intimidation. He may have been fast approaching forty, but he was no less small than he had been at twenty-six, nor any weaker, and he knew what the huge silhouette of him achieved.

The Hunter came to the rooftop like a shadow. His robes were heavy with rain, a curious mix of flowing Assassin attire and sturdy expeditionary wear. Connor wondered if this man was an Assassin traitor or of the bloodline of one. He came to a stop at the opposite end of the roof, settling his stance into a steadier one. Connor readjusted his own weight.

“You,” the man said in English. He spoke with an Irish brogue, and sounded surprised. “You’re Haytham’s boy.”

Connor gripped the tomahawk, his skin crawling. “Who are you, Templar?”

“Call me an old friend of his.”

“I killed all his friends,” Connor said. “And I will kill you, too.”

“My contempt is mirrored for the Assassins.” Lightning broke the sky, the boom of it echoing loud against the tiles, and Connor caught the glimpse he needed to see the rifle pointed at him. It was strange, too short and bulky to be something military issued, nor did it have the sleeker design of a hunting rifle. A custom make, then. Connor lowered his weight, ready to flee if need be. His hand inched towards his pistol. Something was niggling in the back of his mind. He felt like he should know who this man was; there was a spark of recognition.

“Stand down,” the Templar said.

“Lower your weapon, and I’ll lower mine.”

Connor saw a shadow moving along the high row of chimney stacks, slinking like a cat into position above the Templar. Arno. Connor did his best to ignore him.

“If you’re expecting one of us to count to three, then you’re to be disappointed.” The Templar raised the rifle higher, and Connor bent his knees, ready to jump. “I’ll give you one last chance.”

Arno jumped first, and would have struck the man if he hadn’t rolled aside. The Templar nearly slipped on the roof as he threw Arno off his shoulders as if he were nothing more than a ragdoll. Arno was caught unprepared, and he misjudged his landing. He went sliding down the tiles on his back head-first, and Connor heard him scrambling to find something to get a hold onto. He lurched forward to help, but Arno was gone a moment later and left Connor staring numbly at where he’d vanished, despair clouding his mind. He hadn’t managed to keep any of the French alive, and if he didn’t act fast, Connor would die too. Snarling, he drew his pistol and fired at the Templar. The Templar ducked aside and the shot missed, roof tiles exploding inches from his head. Connor cursed under his breath, flipping the new round into place. He barely moved in time to avoid the second man who came up behind him. Connor dropped the pistol, and it spun away to land somewhere in the street. He lashed out with the tomahawk, the dagger in the man’s hand catching beneath the tomahawk’s head and he pulled it away. Connor was stronger than him, and the man nearly lost a hold of the dagger. His lip was curled in a snarl, and Connor grimaced in return, extending the blade on his left wrist and pivoting it around to grip. He disengaged, looking to regain his balance and backing away to size up his opponent. This second man looked like a younger version of the first, a handsome boy in all; his son, then. His hair was dark and cut short, and a Templar badge of office gleamed on his lapel.

“Well, didn’t expect to find a half-bred savage in France,” he panted.

Connor spat in reply, “Nor I to see a Templar with hidden blades at his wrists.”

And it clicked. The blades, the accent, the possession of the Vision. “Cormac.”

“Kenway.”

Arno pelted back up the roof, shouting, “Derrière toi!” as he tackled the younger man. Connor barely had the time to feel the utter relief at his survival before he whirled and brought his blade up to slice the dart aimed for his neck. The sharp end nicked his cheek as it fell in two; he winced. Like it had been with the bullet, it was the extra senses brought by the Vision that had allowed him to catch the dart in flight, and he charged at Shay Cormac, murderous. It was you. You were the key to bringing down the Brotherhood. Shay Patrick Cormac — Assassin traitor, Templar convert. The air rifle should have given it away.

He shouted as he swung at Cormac, but the man was quick despite his age, parrying Connor with the body of the rifle and kicking at his knee in an attempt to trip him. Connor jumped back, falling against a chimney. He braced against it and pushed himself into the fight again. His fall back had given Cormac time to draw a dagger. He used it and the rifle to keep Connor at bay, and they fell into a dance, their bodies and weapons twisting in patterns familiar to them both. Both of them managed to score hits on the other, but they were small things, more so nicks and scratches than true wounds.

The fight gave him time to gauge Cormac too, and Connor quickly saw that it was a struggle for him. He guessed that the man had to be over sixty, and despite Connor’s old wound pulling at his side and aching for the weather, it wouldn’t take long for him to overpower Cormac. He landed a deeper cut across Cormac’s arm than he’d managed before, made with a quick jab of the hidden blade. Cormac hissed and aimed a strike at Connor’s wrist; Connor moved it to the side, and the dagger bit nothing but air. Cormac retreated a few steps, but Connor was relentless, diving after him and eager to press his advantage. He could, and would, beat Cormac into submission. He could hear steel clashing behind him as Arno and the younger man fought sword to sword, but they were background noise.

He beat Cormac back, crowding him against the same chimney stack he had been pushed against before, and raised his tomahawk for the final blow. He hadn’t yet made up his mind on whether to kill Cormac or not. He certainly deserved it for what he had done, but … he was sick of killing Templars. The second of hesitation cost him, and Cormac rammed the butt of the rifle into his stomach. Connor stumbled back, winded, and he shook his head to clear it. Then he over-balanced.

Connor fell hard, the breath knocked out of him and his cheek smacked on the rooftop. His body felt sluggish, and his mind was slowing. He was panicking as he got his hands under him. What was wrong? When he felt the blood on his cheek, he remembered the dart. The dart had grazed him, and it had to have been coated in some kind of toxin; in all the stories Achilles had mentioned sparingly over the years concerning Cormac, he had talked about his fondness for toxins. Was it poison? A sleeping agent? He didn’t know, and it terrified him.

Connor heaved himself back to his feet, but he was staggering, stunned from the pain and drowsy from the toxin.

“Still got some bite to me, it seems,” Cormac panted. “Still some luck making.”

Connor grit his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut in an effort to clear the stars from his head.

“All the stories I’ve heard of the famous Connor Kenway, a one-man army,” Cormac proclaimed, “and look at you. What a disappointment I find.”

“I will not fall to you,” Connor panted. He had survived worse; the scars across his body were proof of that. He had killed his father after taking cannon shrapnel across his entire left side, had staggered half-dead across the Frontier in pursuit of Lee, had been shot, had broken bones, had fallen countless times from trees and buildings only to rise back up again and keep going. He could ignore pain, ignore his broken body for as long as he needed to in order to get a job done, and he was determined not to die under Shay Cormac’s hand. It was a gargantuan effort to stand up straight, and he lunged for Cormac, bringing the tomahawk down as hard as he could just as Cormac raised his rifle.

A gunshot sounded, and Connor bellowed as a bullet tore through his arm. His strike went awry, and he barely kept a grip on the tomahawk. Cormac’s son stood some feet away, pistol upright and smoking.

“No!” Arno burst from the rain, sabre raised, and the Templar turned to the threat. The sword point tore through his face.

Killian!” Cormac’s scream was horrific, and he turned his rifle to Arno, firing twice in quick succession. Arno rolled to avoid the shots, the momentum turning into a slide along the peak of the roof. His foot smashed into Cormac’s ankles. Cormac fell almost on top of him as Connor stood, his arm alight with pain. Arno had to roll out of the way to avoid the dagger point coming down for his chest, and Connor shouted, “We’re done! Come on!”

Arno’s hidden blade had snapped. A jagged bit of metal poked from his sleeve, useless to inflict anything more than scratches. Arno, it seemed, agreed with Connor’s shout to leave. He was far more dexterous than Connor had ever been, jumping from the roof and down to the street level all before Connor had gotten to the balcony halfway down the building’s side. He hit the paving stones with a grunt, rolling to absorb the impact and tearing off after Arno. He could see Arno in the distance, ducking down alley after alley and only stopping after crossing what felt to Connor half of Paris. The back of the Hôtel de Ville loomed across the street, and Arno collapsed into an alcove, breathing like a bellows and clutching at a wound on his chest. Blood soaked the front of his robes, and he spat on the ground.

Connor stumbled to a halt beside him, his lungs burning from the sprint. He threw his hood off, eager to get the air on the back of his neck. They stayed there for some minutes, catching their breaths. Once Arno’s breathing had eased, a tremble set into his body and tears shone in his eyes. If it was for the deaths of the others or the wound, or perhaps even both, Connor didn’t know.

Par ici.” Arno went towards the Seine, climbing, exhausted, over the break wall. Connor followed him mutely, hand clamped to his arm to stop as much of the blood as he could. It leaked through his fingers, running with the rain. He hoped it looked worse than it was. Across the Seine, Notre-Dame’s bells struck midnight with a deep peal; had they really been perched on the roof across the Temple a mere hour ago? The hotel’s clock rung a moment later, and similar notes from the throats of other bells echoed across Paris. No one heard them land in the mud, nor the squelch of their boots as they waded along the bank.

There was a sewer entrance under the docks, and Arno was already picking the lock by the time Connor arrived. The gate swung inward a few seconds later, and Connor closed it quietly behind them. They moved along in silence, Connor staggering after Arno as they ducked through the sewers. Secret tunnels led them beneath the Seine and so back to Île Saint-Louis.

“Arno!” an Assassin called when they came to Sanctuary some minutes later. “Where —? Christ tout-puissant.

They were herded through and soon surrounded by other Assassins, and led to a chamber serving as a sick bay. Arno shrugged out of his coat and shirt as soon as they arrived, wincing as a nurse pushed him onto one of the beds and poked at the slash. Connor gingerly took things off as well, uncomfortable under all the stares. His gaze fixed on Arno, and he in turn caught himself staring at the root-like scars crossing his skin. Verne had mentioned the marks the Sword had left on Arno’s body; he hadn’t expected anything quite like that.

Connor’s head was aching, and he was all too glad to lay down as the nurse touched his shoulder. One of them spoke English, and she was telling him that the bullet had been fired at close enough of a range that it had gone cleanly through the arm, and so long as he didn’t do anything particularly strenuous for two or three weeks, he should gain the movement back. Connor nodded along, waving away a dose of opium offered to him to dull the pain; he couldn’t stand how it muddled his head. His and Arno’s wounds were being cleaned when the Council came in.

Quemar demanded, “Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?

Arno grimaced, pushing himself upright. “Une embuscade, maître. Ils nous ont pris par surprise.

Templiers?

Oui, maître. Deux.

Connor closed his eyes, too tired to make sense of the French.

Quemar’s voice again: “Savez-vous qui ils étaient?

Non.” Arno. “Ils … ils n’étaient pas français. Irlandais, je crois.

The conversation was slipping away, and soon Connor gave in to his exhaustion, his mind utterly quiet.


“You say Master Connor recognised them?”

“He called a name, but I didn’t catch it.” Arno’s head was pounding, and his right side was burning. He concentrated on the steaming mug of tea in his hands. “The younger man was called Killian; I believe they were father and son.”

“How old?”

“Killian was around twenty, the older in his sixties. He had some kind of silent rifle, and whatever it was that it fired grazed Kenway.” Arno glanced over at him, but the American was asleep.

“We’ll search the records,” Beylier said, “and see if we can find anything on known Irish Templars operating in America. Any defining features to them?”

“The son does now,” Arno said, and reached up to trace the wound he had inflicted over his face. “I got him across his nose. The father had a scar over his right brow and cheek. Dark eyes, square jaw, both of them clean-shaven, and the son had dark hair; maybe the older did too when he was younger.”

Beylier nodded, thoughtful.

“Thank you, Dorian,” Trenet said. “Rest for now. Recover your strength.”

Arno was only too happy to do just that. But first the wound on his chest had to be closed; Gabrielle was waiting to the side with vodka and catgut.

He drank a mouthful of the vodka, then braced himself. He barely kept himself from shouting when more of it was poured over the wound, exclaiming through his teeth and throwing his head back. This part never got easier, and the size of the wound certainly didn’t help. He couldn’t imagine what it had been like for Kenway when he’d received the wound that had scarred so much of his side. The needle afterwards was nothing, and he sat quietly whilst Gabrielle sewed it together with quick, efficient stitches. They were tight and annoying when he breathed, and he found himself hunching in an effort to minimise the stretch.

“Thank you,” he said when Gabrielle was done.

She nodded as she washed his blood from her fingers in a bowl of water. “I’ll need to check it regularly. After you’ve been dismissed, I’ll come and see you twice a week or so until they come out.”

“And when would that be?”

“If you want it to heal with minimal scarring, two weeks if you don’t do anything too strenuous.”

So no climbing; it put a dent in his plans to find more on Lady Eve. Unhappy, he nodded his understanding.

Gabrielle smiled at him, but it was the ghost of one. “Try and get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He tried to sleep, but for the first time in months he felt alert and wide awake. He lay staring at the ceiling instead. The wound on his chest was a constant throb of pain, and Kenway’s gentle snores were too much for him to bear, he was so used to sleeping alone. He got up at two in the morning after more than an hour of useless trying, holding his right side and limping out of the medical bay. He knew he wasn’t allowed to wander without an escort, but the thought of even looking for someone to accompany him was less appealing than usual. Those who saw him only offered condolences and didn’t say a word about his lack of supervision either. Despite the late hour, Sanctuary was buzzing with activity, and the one word Arno heard over and over again made the bile rise in his throat: Chasseurs. Hunters. As he blindly wandered the corridors, his mind was back with the fight.

When he’d jumped on the Templar, the man had used Arno’s own momentum and weight to tumble him, and before he’d known it, he was falling. The rain had made every step potentially treacherous, and he hadn’t managed to right himself in time before he had been swept from the lip of the roof. For half a second, his world had been one of blind panic as he’d twisted like a cat trying to find something to grab, and all he could hear was François de la Serre saying, I told you this would happen if you kept climbing.

The owner of the building’s love of plants had saved his life. All around Paris, he’d seen and run along several of the little shelves intended for flowerpots attached to the sides of buildings; they were little more than planks of wood held up by iron brackets. Luckily the shelf had been empty of pots, but Arno had still hit the planks hard, and he’d screamed at the crack as one of them snapped under his weight and the bracket underneath jabbed him between the ribs. But the shelf had broken his fall enough that when he’d bounced onto the balcony beneath, he’d already taken the hardest of the hits. Standing up had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. His breath came in wheezes, and his vision flashed in red and white.

The chime of steel had forced him back up the roof, and he’d made himself ignore his pain when he saw the first Templar aiming his rifle at Kenway as he fought off the second. Arno would have tried to take the older man had he not been so hurt, but he wouldn’t have made it in time. He’d tackled the younger instead, springing his hidden blade at the impact. He’d hoped to kill him within the moment. The Templar had grabbed Arno’s left wrist as he thrust the blade at his neck, seemingly more on reflex than anything else, and forcibly drove it into the rooftop. It shouldn’t have broken; the blade’s mechanism meant that if there was enough of a force pressed on the point, the spring would reset and slide the blade back into its casing. But the Templar had made a twisting motion with his wrists, and the blade had snapped cleanly. Arno had barely enough time to register what had happened before he was scrambling away from the dagger coming at his chest.

What had followed was one of the most ferocious duels he’d ever been in, including his duel with Bellec. It was instinct instilled by long hours of daily training that had saved his life, and he reacted more on muscle memory than quick thinking. His sabre sliced the rain, and it found air when it didn’t clash against the steel of the Templar’s own sword. It only got him so far, though. It didn’t help that he’d been injured, and the pain from the fall had slowed him enough that he’d missed the parry for the dagger the Templar wielded in his left hand, opening the wound on his chest. The sudden pain had shocked him, and it was the space the Templar had needed to shoot Kenway. When Kenway had shouted for retreat, Arno had been all too glad to obey. Flavien, Juste, and Lucien’s deaths still hurt, but he wasn’t stupid enough to keep fighting when he felt as if he’d cracked half his ribs. At least he’d gotten a good strike in.

Arno took in a sharp breath and came to a halt in the corridor, soaked in sweat and trembling as if with fever. His hand flew to his chest, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the pain to leave him. The corridor he was in was one that was sparsely populated. The recruits often used it to get away from the others for a myriad of reasons; Arno thought himself lucky that, at this moment in time, there wasn’t anyone tucked away into one of the alcoves with someone else. He leant heavily against the wall on his shoulder, sliding down until he came to huddle into a ball, dripping with sweat. He closed his eyes, his entire focus on the feeling of a bead of moisture hanging from the tip of his nose. His fingers and toes were numb, but his face was burning with heat. He shivered in his thin shirt.

Arno. He tried to shut out Flavien’s voice, and curled tighter into himself. Breathe.

You’re dead, Arno thought. I have a fucking gift for it. If I hadn’t frozen, we would’ve made it to the vault before the shooting started.

He barely realised that someone was calling his name in the now, and it was only when he lashed out at the hand on his shoulder that he came back to himself. Verne’s face hovered above his, and Arno released his death-grip on his wrist. His other arm was positioned to stab him with his snapped hidden blade, despite the fact that the bracer was back in the medical bay with the rest of his things.

“Arno,” Verne said, his voice much steadier than it had been a moment before. He had crouched down to his level, and Arno stared dumbly at him before he saw the second person behind Verne. It was Jean, and Arno pursed his lips.

“Jesus,” Verne hissed as he hooked Arno’s arm around his neck. “I heard you were injured, but I didn’t realise …” He tried to heave Arno to his feet, but Arno couldn’t stand; he was a dead weight, and he made no effort to help. Verne cast a pleading eye to Jean. “Help me, Jean.”

Jean visibly paused before he moved into action. Arno moved away from him as much as he was able as he tried to stand on his own, but the cold had made his side seize up; he refused to meet LaHache’s eye as he helped Verne get Arno to his feet. They made their slow way back to the infirmary. “What the hell were you doing out here? It’s freezing, and look where that got you,” Verne was saying, angry.

“I needed … needed air,” Arno said through gritted teeth. “Kenway snores.”

Verne snorted. “You should have more respect for the Mentor.”

“He’s not my Mentor now, is he?” Arno wheezed. He tapped his sternum. “Kicked out, ‘member?”

LaHache being who he was, he expected a remark of some kind, but he was silent. Verne was the one to talk all the way back to the bay, his voice dropping to a whisper when they entered, but Kenway was so deeply asleep Arno suspected not even a storm could’ve awoken him. He tolerated Verne’s lecturing, nodding along when he was expected to, but his thoughts were elsewhere, mostly with the dead.

Verne left when Arno promised he would do his best to sleep, and the words were barely out of his mouth when LaHache, who had stayed himself by the door, left without so much as a glance back over his shoulder. Verne sighed heavily, then gave Arno a weary nod before he left too. Arno was up again the moment the door had closed, and set about the room searching for his things. They’d been tossed somewhere in the initial panic, and he found his coat tangled under his bed. He held it up to the lantern light, sighing. The front was covered in blood, and the undershirts wouldn’t be able to be saved, though the waistcoat might make it. The belt was fine, and Arno took out the broken hidden blade from its casing and laid it on the bedside table. He wondered how hard it would be to replace it — there was no question in his mind that he’d go without it.

He laid it all out on the bed, reaching into the coat’s inner pocket and pulling out Kenway’s pistol. He’d seen it fall past him, and hadn’t thought twice about stuffing it inside his coat. He’d forgotten about it. He placed it beside the hidden blade, hung the rest of it over the end of the bed frame, and sat cross-legged on the mattress. He didn’t know how long he’d been staring at the wall, opening and closing his father’s watch absently when Kenway stirred in the next bed over. Arno turned to him, watching him without much interest. It was a good half hour by his guessing before Kenway opened his eyes and sat up.

Arno felt sorry for him when he panicked at the sight of the room, then, seemingly remembering where he was, relaxed a fraction. He held his head in a hand, and with the other the sheets so tightly Arno feared the maids would never be able to iron the creases out.

“How are you?” Arno asked quietly.

Kenway fixed his eyes on him, and he scrubbed at his face. He nodded to Arno’s watch. “What time is it?”

Arno took out his working one. “A little before six,” he said. He tucked his back into his coat pocket, his father’s into his trousers, and said, “The Council’s trying to determine the identities of who attacked us. I’d assume they’ve also dispatched people to retrieve Flavien, Juste, and Lucien.”

Kenway bowed his head. “I only knew Flavien,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry he’s dead.”

“Me too.” Arno stood, taking up Kenway’s pistol and sitting in the chair beside his bed. He laid it down. “Here.”

“I …” Kenway blinked, surprised. “I didn’t expect to see it again.”

Arno shrugged. “It fell after me.”

“Thank you.” Kenway eased the covers off of him, a hand going to his head as he groaned in pain. With his free hand, he groped blindly for his coat. He rummaged through the inside pockets, then brought out a pellet. He put it into his mouth.

Arno cocked his head. “What’s that?”

“Willow bark,” Kenway answered. “For the pain.” From Kenway’s grimace, it hardly seemed to help.

Arno crossed his legs. “The Hunter,” he started. “You were talking to him. I didn’t understand much, but you said his name. Who was that?”

Kenway chewed on the bark-flesh for a few seconds. “Shay Cormac, an Assassin turned rogue. He … he was the pin that enacted the fall of the Colonial Brotherhood during the Seven Years War.”

“Must be getting on then.”

“Sixty-three if I’m not mistaken. The last I had heard of him was in Bombay after he killed an Assassin there. He must have come here only recently.” Kenway fixed his gaze on Arno. “For the Pieces of Eden.”

Arno kneaded his fingers in the sheets. “The Sword is safe, as is the Apple.”

“They need to stay safe.”

Arno gave a snort of laughter. “Oh no, the next step in our plan was to run to the Templars and offer to be friends with them via the exchange of gifts.”

Kenway sighed, and from the slight twitch of his fingers, Arno thought he was resisting the urge to drum them. “Cormac is good at what he does. He possesses a powerful form of the Vision, and he has made it his mission for the past forty years to hunt down Assassins and stop us in our tracks.”

“What? Templars do that?”

Listen to me,” Kenway seemed to barely keep himself from snarling; Arno was unflapped by it. “That man is nothing like you’ve ever come up against. By the time of the last report I had on him, he had over fifty Assassin deaths under his belt, including seven Masters and one Mentor.”

Arno’s temper snapped. “Oh yes, at least fifty-three now,” he said viciously. “Flavien, Juste, and Lucien all lie dead this night by his hand. They were my friends. And God knows how many of those I’ve lost over the years. I know the danger. Believe me when I say that I want to end the bastard and keep the Sword from him as much as he does us.” Why was Kenway the newest in a long line of people who thought him grossly incompetent? “I know the stakes. Don’t lecture me about what’s to happen next.”

“You act callously.”

“And the Pope is Catholic.” Arno took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down and shove his anger back. It was difficult. “I just … I’m sorry.”

Kenway shook his head. “It’s been a long night.”

Arno chuckled. “You could say that.”


“I’ll kill him! I’ll kill the bastard!”

Killian had been raving for two days now. Shay had sent for a doctor as soon as they had staggered back to the safehouse, and the man had done his best to close the wound on Killian’s face. Once the blood had been cleaned away, Shay had hissed at the extent of the damage. Mercifully, the swordpoint had missed Killian’s eyes, and the cut went from his left brow, across the bridge of his nose, and ended on the corner of his right jaw. Every expression hurt him, and although the doctor had pleaded Killian to keep his face as still as possible to speed the healing, Killian talked. And talked. Of revenge mostly, or whispered of how much the wound hurt. Shay’s greatest anger was for the fact that he could do nothing to help his son. So he paced, and he worked.

Shay had sent out spies every dawn since the attack with orders to find out where Haytham’s son was, and to determine the identity of the Assassin who had done this to Killian. Shay hadn’t gotten a good look at his face except to see that his jaw had been covered in day-old stubble, and that the tail end of a scar crossed his left cheek. He had been young and dark-haired, a pretty-boy by all means, and even though he knew it wasn’t much to go by, he was frustrated at the lack of results.

“He was so sad,” Killian whispered from his cot. Shay looked back at Killian’s fever-bright eyes. “I felt it, Pap, a loss that’s hurt him deep. I want to dig my thumb into that wound.”

“Using the Vision on me won’t help you recover any faster,” Shay admonished. “Stop it, and sleep.”

“Don’t get pissy with me, Pap.” Killian’s words were so slurred with exhaustion and opium Shay barely made them out, and soon his soft snores filled the room.

Shay went back to his work, sorting through the darts on the desk he’d had brought in. He had extensive stashes of each of his usual kinds, but a new dart lay before him, and he had spent the majority of the two days fiddling with a new formula — a poison designed to make the victim suffer. He’d had fancies over the years of creating poison darts, but what had stopped him before now was what Hope had done with it. His eyes watered with memories of the glasshouse he had found her in before he’d killed her, and he hated the panic that rose in him simply looking back on it. Choking on her poisons, struggling to reach fresh air, and then his desperation to keep moving as whatever it was that she had stung him with made its way towards his heart to still it. Shay Cormac was not fond of poison, and he hadn’t wanted anyone to suffer the terror he had at its hands. Except the Assassin in Bombay.

There came a knock at the door, and Aidan slipped in a second later. His eyes were on his older brother as he whispered, “How is he?”

Shay sighed and pushed the darts to the other end of the table. “Much as he was yesterday.”

“Have you found anything on Kenway and the other Assassin?”

“Not yet.”

Aidan wrinkled his nose, and his gaze slipped back to Killian. He loved his brother fiercely, as Killian did him. They would die for each other. “I thought he was going to lose his nose.”

“Oh, I don’t think your brother’s vanity would allow that.”

The corner of Aidan’s mouth twitched in a smile, and he came up to Shay’s side, his shoulders rounded. “Careful,” Shay warned as Aidan picked up one of the new darts.

Aidan shot him a look. “I know, Pap.” He sniff the tip. “Hemlock?”

“Aye. Now hand it over.” Aidan did. “Where’s your sister?”

“Downstairs,” Aidan said.

“Do me a favour and keep an eye on her.”

Aidan frowned. “But she’s fine —”

“Now.”

“Yes, Pap.” Shay didn’t have the room to feel much too sorry for Aidan as he slunk out. He was too wound up with worry about Killian, and he was thinking of Kenway; his eyes mostly. Traitor, they had said.

The way Shay understood the sequence of events as Achilles had seen it, and so the version he would have told Kenway, his betrayal to the Assassins had been solely for Lisbon. The truth of it was Lisbon had been the final straw in a series of discomforts. Once Shay had been a true convert of the Creed, but when he had seen its ugly side, it was too much for him to ignore.

After his da had passed when he was sixteen, Shay had gone down a bad road. He had been anarchic, running with the gangs by the New York docks, stealing, fighting, drinking, and he’d felt the thrill of it because it had all been so easy. He lived a simple existence of taking what he wanted, because who could have stopped him? He made a name for himself as well, enough of one for many of the gang bosses to know him by sight and for stories to reach his aunt. Those who didn’t know him as the Cormac boy called him names like Blood Knuckles for the account of his hands always being skinned from fighting. He remembered his satisfaction in seeing even people like the hulking Dane Mads the Mute, named for how he never seemed to shut up, flinching at the sight of him. Shay had simply grinned back through teeth covered in blood.

Then Liam had come back into his life. Shay remembered so, so clearly the look he had worn upon finding him curled in a back alley, nursing his latest bruises from another fight in a tavern. Horror for a moment, and then determination. But Shay remembered too that it was like Liam held the Light of God in his face, as if he’d been privy to some sort of grand revelation. And he had in a way, Shay supposed. But he hadn’t cared then, laughing and spitting something along the lines of, Well, where the fuck have you been?

I’ve found a Way. Shay had imagined that word then, as he did now, with a capital letter, as if Liam’s Way, Liam who he hadn’t seen in five goddamn years, was his new religion. Shay’s only god then had been the bottom of his latest bottle, and he’d been aware enough of it to hate himself and his shallow, selfish choices for it. What would his da think of him, seeing him like this? So when Liam had shown him his Way, it was little question that he had grabbed at it with both hands. It had been a chance to be a part of something greater than himself, to become a better man.

For those years after Liam had introduced him to the Brotherhood, Shay had been happy, more or less. The work was in his blood, Achilles had said, and Shay believed him because he could see it, knew it deep within his bones. The climbing came to him as easy as breathing, the hidden blades sitting on his wrists felt like missing pieces of himself, and Achilles knew what his Vision was, and what it could do. He called it a gift coveted amongst the Assassins, a true blessing. Shay had seen no reason for Achilles to lie to him when the results had bloomed before his eyes. For four years, he was convinced he had found his calling.

Perhaps that was why Achilles had thought him content, if not a little slack with the Creed, and his betrayal to have come from an over-reaction to the events at Lisbon. Despite how he accelerated in his lessons, how much learning these skills felt like discovering treasures he had thought lost long ago, there had always been a clanging bell of alarm in the back of Shay’s mind when it came to the Creed. It went beyond the teasing of the others as they trained, their general belittling of him, and sometimes even their bitterness for his gifts. The skills may have felt as natural as anything, but the environment, and the employment given to them by the Assassins, had rubbed him wrong. He’d tried to hide his insecurities about it all after being unable to figure out what these feelings of wrongness were, even more so when his broaching the debates brought him nothing but chiding and dismissal by others. He’d tried to hide the feelings even from himself, but after his Templar targets’ words to him and the earthquake, it had all begun to unravel, and he’d found the answer — the Assassins were nothing more than the gangs of the New York docks, and he’d been falling into the same trap with them as he had the gangs. The individual; thinking about only oneself and being oblivious, or uncaring, to the consequences of those surrounding the destruction caused. He’d almost broken his mind in two upon the journey back to the Colonies from Portugal, curled up in his hired cabin and hating Liam and Achilles and himself more than anyone, a hair’s breadth from suicide. The only difference between the gangs and the Assassins, he concluded, was that they had a Creed to hide behind. At least the gangs had no illusions about what they were doing. The Assassins had not been the greater Shay had been looking for.

All Shay had wanted was to better himself, to be a part of something great, and the Brotherhood had not been it.

The year following the events at Lisbon as he started his hunt for the Assassins, he’d felt nothing but hatred towards them. He’d felt it for years, even after he discovered those who had lent him their aid were their sworn enemies. The questions that had haunted him as he killed the Assassins, that had roared in his heart and mind, were, What have you done to me? What have you made me do? Killing them all felt like the only way he could begin to redeem himself for the lives he had taken in the Assassins’ name. It had only been upon Hope’s death that the question had changed. A small change, but a vital one: What have I done to myself? He’d been sinking yet again into the mire he had been so desperate to dig himself out of. It had been at that little voice’s urging that he’d pleaded for Haytham to spare Achilles’ life, and he had left the Arctic with the determination to become a better man and make his own luck more than ever.

He wasn’t going to force others to do the same. Some in the Order wanted that, but to Shay, that was little more than foolishness, like asking a tiger to change his stripes. He was a Hunter for one purpose, and one purpose only: to stop the Assassins from ruining the lives of others as they had his. Shay wasn’t a man fat with ambition, or one with the next great idea in his pocket to save mankind as many higher in the Order were, but simply a man who wanted less hurt in the world than which he had inflicted. He was a soldier, a cog in a machine, and he didn’t mind.

What concerned him currently was that Kenway was here. He’d met and fought Master Assassins numerous times, killed them too, but none of them had had the reputation Kenway had. It worried Shay some; the man was famed for his ruthlessness, and his being here was hardly a small obstacle in the way of the Pieces. It was the only reason Shay could think of that he’d crossed the ocean, and what worried him the most was that their meeting was simply coincidence. He was the last person that needed to be told that the Atlantic voyage was anything but easy. And so, meeting with Kenway was a priority. He needed to determine what it was that had brought him here, and the danger he represented. Shay knew that if he hadn’t gotten that shot in with the sleep dart, he would be dead. Kenway had been formidable and had fought with brutish force, and Shay wasn’t under any illusions that had he not hesitated, he would have killed him. That he had allied himself with the Parisian Assassins would make looking for the Pieces even harder than it already was.

I need to distract him.

With Kenway put aside, then the way would be clearer. The question was how to do so. The most obvious answer was to offer himself as bait; Kenway’s mind wasn’t made up about him, it would’ve taken a blind man to miss that, and he trusted in Killian’s and Aidan’s abilities enough that they could continue to do the needed work without him to look over them whilst he confronted Kenway. The boys had initiative, and determination, and Aidan was itching to do something. It would keep him from doing something stupid, too. But, again, he couldn’t move until he knew the why behind his actions. Perhaps he could use the threat of Caresse Levesque to take Kenway’s attention from the Pieces.

Shay snapped the casing of the dart on, and looked it down the length. He’d test the flight later that night, when no one but he would’ve been able to follow the flight with the Vision, then placed it in the silver snap-case where he kept his other darts, and put that into the pouch on his belt. He stood, cursing as he knees protested. He was well past his time in the field. It was difficult, and he was only still going on missions for sheer stubbornness on his part, but even that would fail him soon. He was looking at retirement in the next three years, if that, and hell for his joints for the rest of his life, if his knees were anything to go by.

He found Aidan and Siobhán downstairs, Aidan doing his best to be attentive to his sister as she read aloud for him in French. She paused mid-sentence, and tossed the book aside when he came down. “How’s Kil?”

“Fine,” Shay said. “Did you want to go see him? He’s sleeping.”

Siobhán cast a glance back at Aidan, and some silent communication seemed to pass between them before she went up. Aidan looked after her, and his gaze returned to his father after she’d disappeared beyond the bend in the stairs. Shay made sure with his Vision she was out of earshot before he spoke. “I’ve a job for you.”

“What is it?” Aidan asked, lifting his chin.

“Your brother and I killed three Assassins a few days back,” Shay said. “We need to get their bodies from where we put them.”

Aidan’s eyes glittered. “Where?”


Arno thought it said something on his injuries that Francesco, upon his return to Sanctuary, dropped his prized rifle by the door and hurried to Arno’s bedside. It was just the two of them; Kenway had vanished somewhere on urgent business a half-hour beforehand, and left Arno playing backgammon with himself. After two days his wound had become stiff and painful enough that he couldn’t move around easily. The restrictions he was placed under meant that he couldn’t venture beyond the turn of the corridor without an escort over his shoulder, and so it had only been a matter of minutes before boredom had set in. It didn’t suit him, and after two days he felt as if he would crawl out of his skin if he didn’t move soon. He’d tried everything to stave it off — sleeping, perusing the books Verne and Gabrielle had brought him, playing games, examining and trying his best to find a way to fix the broken hidden blade, and without success. When he’d asked Verne about replacing it, he had only gotten a vague promise for an answer. It confirmed Arno’s fears: replacing it even with an old one, and even his hadn’t been new when he’d received it in ’89, would be difficult. He wasn’t a part of the Brotherhood, and so he had little right to be requesting their equipment. There was little chance he’d get another one unless he was leant one by someone sympathetic to him, stealing one, fixing the old one, or being reinstated to the Brotherhood. As for leaving the sick bay, he would be released back to Café Théâtre come the night, but the wait was chaffing at his every nerve. His sour mood was lifted at Francesco’s arrival.

“This isn’t exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to see you come back to Paris,” Francesco said, his lips in a tight line.

“I’m back, though,” Arno said, slapping the dice down on the board balanced on his knees.

“And cut up like a ham. Verne told me what happened, and you’re lucky to have gotten out of there with your life.”

“How was Nice?” Arno asked then, his voice clipped.

Francesco narrowed his eyes. “Fine.” Evidently he was itching to get back on the subject of the attack, but Arno didn’t want to talk about it.

“So what was the mission?” Arno asked, as he rolled a two and a five.

“Templar on the run from Paris. Gunned him down.” Francesco tapped the space between his eyes. “Clean kill.”

“Didn’t expect anything less. That’s how many people now — fifteen?”

“Thirteen. I’m not the murderer you and the others think me to be.”

“So we’re not a cult of murderers? I’ve been doing everything wrong then, no wonder I was banished.”

“Oh Jesus, Arno.”

Arno shrugged and moved his pieces. Francesco took up the dice before Arno had finished, looking at the board critically before rolling. “I’m sorry about Élise,” he said quietly. Francesco had always been soft-spoken, but unlike when Arno had received these same words from others, there was genuine sympathy in his voice. “I liked her.”

“I … Thank you.” In the light of the attack and the revelation of the Hunters, the pain had buried itself somewhat, and the lashing out he had dealt to others whenever she had been brought up never came. Madame Gouze had been right — focusing on something new brought his attention away from it, but this had hardly been the reason anyone had wanted. “Flavien’s dead. You were friends, weren’t you?”

Francesco’s face darkened, and he stabbed his pieces down on their triangles. “Verne told me. Juste and Lucien on the fourteenth too. Did they die well?”

“As best they could.” A musket ball in the dark wasn’t something one could fight against, so in its own way, it wasn’t a lie.

“Verne told me about the Hunters as well.”

The question left a dangling end for Arno to pick up, but he didn’t until he and Francesco had each taken a turn in the game. “They’ve disappeared as far as I can tell,” Arno said eventually. “I haven’t heard anything about them.”

“So what happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Arno cursed under his breath as Francesco jumped on one of his lone checkers, trapping it on the bar.

“Did you see the Mentor fight?” Francesco asked, unconcerned with Arno’s huff of annoyance.

Arno rolled the dice. “He was a beast —”

The door opened, and Francesco was on his feet within a heartbeat. He relaxed when it was only Jeanette, but there was evidently something amiss. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she said quickly, “Come on.”

“Me?” Arno asked.

“Both of you.”

Arno hurriedly pulled on his coat, gasping at the iciness of the flagstones. Jeanette had already disappeared around the bend in the corridor by the time he’d made it outside, and from there he could hear the general disturbance. Arno’s stomach dropped. He knew then someone else was dead. Francesco was by his shoulder, rifle slung over his back and his expression folded. It wasn’t difficult to find where the centre of the commotion was; seemingly every Assassin in Sanctuary had converged in the main hall. Arno pushed his way through the throng, and his throat closed when he beheld not one body, but three. They were laid in the middle of the hall atop the Assassin insignia, two pale men and a woman with their hands clasped over their chests. But it was what was on the bodies that was generating the discussion. The younger man and the woman had been left relatively unharmed, their only wounds their open throats, but the older man … Arno’s mouth tightened when he saw what, above the two small, identical wounds in his abdomen, had been carved into his bare chest.

 

Regards.

 

A cross was underneath, and sick rose in Arno’s throat.

“Back,” one of the Master Assassins barked, and Arno stumbled away before he could put any names to the dead.

“Hey, Florian —” Francesco started, angry, but Florian said, “You stay back too.”

Francesco looked angry. “Florian —”

“ ‘Cesco, not now.”

Francesco’s jaw clenched, and he barely reacted when, from the depths of the crowd, Verne clasped him by the arm. “Come on.” Verne tugged both him and Arno away. Arno was too numb to much care that Verne took them back to LaHache, but there was a stiffness between him and Arno as Verne said to all of them quietly, “They were found near the Temple two hours ago.”

“How long have they been dead?” LaHache asked, all business.

Verne shook his head. “Three, four days? Not more than a week.”

“Who are they?” Arno asked Francesco. Francesco would know; whilst Arno had been in Versailles, Jean working cargo in Marseille’s docks, and Verne studying at the Sorbonne, all of them ignorant of the Assassin and Templar war, Francesco had grown up around these people. It came with huge advantages — he was able to wriggle into places the others couldn’t, and ask questions they wouldn’t have been able to get away with at the ranks they held.

“Javier,” he said, quivering with rage. “Marc and Josephine are the other two.” He turned to Arno. “You think it was the Hunters who killed them?”

“Of course it was them,” Arno said darkly. “Those puncture wounds were made by a hidden blade, and from the angle of the wounds the killer wore two of them, like Kenway has. I’ll bet my life on it.”

Verne was gnawing on his thumbnail, and he cast a surreptitious glance back to the crowd. The Masters were clearing the rest of the Assassins away, one of them speaking in a low, angry tone to another. Arno stilled himself, listening to them. “Discretion, Nicodème. What is this, the circus? You keep them out.”

Arno turned his attention away from the two, then froze. Now that the crowd had cleared, the bodies had once again come into view. He broke away from the others, walking the two steps needed for them to come into the proper range of his Vision, and so find the invisible message that had been painted across Javier’s chest:

 

Noon, au Vieux cru Normand, Les Halles.

 

The sick bastards, Arno thought. “What’s the time?” he asked.

Verne checked his pocket watch. “Ten in the morning,” he answered. “Why?”

“We’re leaving. Now.” Kenway had gone on business, and Arno had an inkling he knew where.


Au Vieux cru Normand, a brasserie sporting the name of their most peddled product, was situated on rue de Callone, a street coming off the market in Les Halles. Cormac had said noon, but Connor arrived at nine, sick to his stomach with what he had seen. The clouds hadn’t moved on from Paris, and instead sat in the sky, grey and fat with yet more rain. As such, the streets were a little emptier than Connor had yet seen, but the comparison was like saying there were less fish in a pond of them after one had been taken out. Even for how early he was, Cormac was already waiting for him. Connor waited, watching Cormac and his surroundings until ten before he sat opposite him without a word or action of greeting. Cormac had a tankard of beer before him, and although Connor noted that it was still full, the foam had disappeared; Cormac had been waiting for longer than the hour Connor had. Cormac looked at him, and Connor stared back. He was content to let the other man break the silence, comfortable to sit and wait with the patience of a spider on a wall.

“You look like your father,” Cormac said by way of greeting. “Eerily so.”

“You didn’t need to send me a message like that,” was all Connor said, then lapsed back into waiting.

“They were already dead, and unless you wish to leave an address as to your residence, what else could I do?”

“They were people.”

“I don’t like it any more than you, Kenway.”

“That’s not my name.”

Cormac seemed to deflate, and he traced the grain of the table. Connor was seething. Finally, Cormac rapped his knuckles on the table and asked, “How’s your arm?”

Connor narrowed his eyes. “Painful.” The last few days had seen him try not to move it at all.

“I’m sorry it happened. I had, and still have, little wish to kill you.”

“What of the dart you shot at me?”

“That? Nothing more than something to put you out for an hour or two. Harmless in the long run. As I said, I don’t want you dead.”

“How’s your son?”

“Angry. Very angry. As am I. The other you were with?”

“Agitated, discontent; he wants you dead for killing his brothers, and for the risk you pose to the rest of the Brotherhood. He regrets having to run.”

“Running was the smart thing to do. You just got there before we did.”

Connor nodded, then asked, “Why are you here?”

“We were meeting here.”

“In France.”

Cormac eyed him and responded in a deadpan, “Could ask the same of you.”

Connor looked away, watching the passersby whilst he thought of an answer that wouldn’t give too much away. “My father’s correspondences,” he said after a few seconds. “I went to London for them, and was told that they were here.”

“And how is Jennifer?”

“Well enough. Your turn.”

“Protecting those who can’t protect themselves.”

“Sounds a very Templar state of mind.”

“Does it? Have the Assassins formally changed their philosophy to one of rampage and murder?”

“No.” Connor leaned forward and said in a low voice, “What is it that you seek to protect others from? I know your story, about what happened in Lisbon to drive you away from the Brotherhood.”

Cormac was almost successful in hiding his flinch. His eyes narrowed all the same, and he took a swig from the tankard. “Let’s stop beating about the bush then and talk plainly.” He put the tankard on the table a little harder than was necessary; beer sloshed over the side. “You know why I’m here. Pieces of Eden were uncovered, and I wish to acquire them and so keep them from foolish hands.”

“And I won’t let you have them. The Brotherhood wishes only to guard them as you do, but I don’t trust them in Templar hands. How many times throughout history have you uncovered Pieces of Eden and sought to use them for your own gain?” Connor raised a finger for each instance he listed. “Masyaf, Torquemada, the Borgias, Salem, my grandfather, the Colonies not forty years back. Do you wish me to continue?”

“The Assassins are no less innocent.”

“Achilles was mistaken. He sought to protect others by keeping them from you.”

“And didn’t that turn out wonderfully?”

“Don’t. Talk of him like that.” Connor’s shoulders bunched, and his voice was deadly quiet. “You did not see his remorse. You knew the man before that betrayal, I knew him after, and I saw year after year the pain he lived with because of what happened. People change, Cormac, I can attest to that.”

“If you think to change my mind, I won’t. Templar teachings speak of imposing order so that no harm can be done by things like these. What I’ve come to learn over the course of my life that you can’t stop people from being good, or them being bad. They will always exist, but actions? We can control those. When people are left to freedom of will as the Assassins fight for, they will poke and tinker with what is best left alone. If that is allowed, then I shudder to think of how many more Lisbons will come to pass.” He looked almost sad as he said, “The Templars aren’t perfect either, but their ideals align more with mine than the Assassins’ ever did.”

“And what gives you the right to decide what is the best for these people?” Connor asked tightly.

“Nothing,” Cormac said. “I’m just here to stop you imposing what you think is the only correct future for them.”

“And so give them to your own vision? These people are not children.”

“It’s not my point. There’s a point when good becomes too far entrenched in fanaticism that it becomes a keg of gunpowder waiting for the stray spark to set it alight. I won’t have people running unchecked like you’re desperate for. I’m here to remove you so that the world doesn’t descend into anarchy.”

“Then we really are at an impassé.”

“I suppose.” Cormac stood, flagging down one of the waitresses and pressing two deniers into her hand. He turned back to Connor and jerked his head to the side. “Let’s walk.”

Achilles had told Connor that Shay Cormac had turned not only a traitor, but deranged as well. He hadn’t spoken of the fallen Brotherhood much, and when he did, it was only to impart the lessons he’d learnt from his mistakes, or the occasional. quiet comment that another name could have taught him a certain skill better, or that Connor reminded him of another of the dead. Cormac, Achilles had said, was one of his biggest mistakes. The story had taken a long while to come out, mostly told in bits and pieces before Connor had the full picture. Achilles had been sorry that it had turned out like it had, and yes, he acquiesced that he had not done more to listen to Cormac’s story, he’d been so angry at the deaths of his wife and son, but, he’d been insistent on saying, Cormac turning his back on the Assassins was the worst thing he could have done.

You trust in your brothers, he’d said, poking Connor in the chest with a finger. That was Shay’s biggest failing — he didn’t trust.

Connor wasn’t proud to admit that, now standing here before him, perhaps Achilles had been wrong. Perhaps Achilles had not built up the trust Cormac had needed in him, and so he had gone to find it in another cause.

Cormac spoke then, and although Connor knew he was picking up the thread of their previous conversation, it sounded uncannily like Cormac had been privy to his thoughts. “I’ve seen and done enough in my life that my convictions are iron. I’ve struggled for most of my life with the question of what the right thing to do is, and this path, it’s the best one that I have found for myself. I think you’re much the same when it comes to yours.”

“Yes.” Connor kept some distance between them. He wasn’t worried that Cormac would harm him, in fact Connor was certain that that was the last thing he’d do to him, but he was still repulsed by the message Javier had carried. “I’ve seen enough freedom struck from others it makes the bile rise in my throat. I value my independence, Cormac, and I’ll fight until my last breath tp have it for myself and others.”

Cormac cast a glance back at him. “Then why the interest in the Grand Master’s letters? What’s so important about them that you’d cross an ocean?”

“Peace.”

Cormac raised his eyebrows. “Between the Templars and the Assassins?” His eyes were like flint as he shook his head. “If you want peace, you’re to find yourself disappointed. I’ve seen both sides of this fight, and I’ll tell you here and now that what you want will never come to pass.”

“By my understanding, the Parisian Brotherhood and Templar Rite held a peace treaty between them for some years.”

“My guessing is that it didn’t last,” Cormac said. “I’ve learnt that your Assassins here have been hunting down the Templars one by one and killing them. Ideologies aren’t in the business of compromise. If you can tell me how a party that prioritises security over individualism and a party that values the opposite, and that each will kill to bring their visions about, can make peace, be sure to tell me.”

“Then why are you here making peace with an Assassin?”

Cormac stopped, and he put his hands in his pockets, looking Connor in the eye. “I’m here because I’ve come to cut you a deal, Kenway,” he said. “You want peace? Very well, we can have it. If you turn over the Pieces of Eden.”

“I won’t give them to you.”

Cormac shrugged, as if he’d expected the answer. “Then more people are going to die.” He sighed in resignation. “I don’t want to kill you,” he said. “I really don’t, but if I must, then so be it.”

“And I would rather not spill your blood,” Connor replied.

Cormac opened his mouth to reply, but then came up short. “There’s someone following us.”


Arno knew au Vieux cru Normand, and he, Verne, Francesco, and Jean made their way there at once. Arno just hoped they would arrive in time. He forced himself to ignore the ache of his wound and push through the stiffness of his bruises as they ran across Paris, and soon he could feel blood seeping into the bandages circling his chest. He didn’t care about the scar it would leave, no one except himself would be seeing it, and led the way over the rooftops, scattering tiles and pigeons in their wake.

“How do you do this all the time?” Verne hissed at him as they leapt a gap.

Arno frowned, hoisting himself up. “Do what?”

“Head off on your own. Without informing the Council about, oh, deeply intricate Assassin related affairs?”

“Easily.” Arno felt no guilt about it, only a burning desire to see justice for Assassin deaths delivered. He may not have been a part of the Brotherhood anymore, but they had been his brothers, nevertheless.

“You know,” Verne huffed, “that your position for getting back into the Brotherhood is tenuous as it is, right? Have you considered the thought that this … this striking out without permission will see you turned out on your arse again? For good this time? Perhaps even earn you a knife in the back?”

“Not for this.”

Jes— Yes for this, Arno! You think delivering justice will be an adequate shield for an order that would fall to pieces without some kind of hierarchy? One that which you’re at the bottom of? You’re falling into the same bloody trap again as with Germain.”

Arno ignored Verne as he came to the lip of the roof some doors down from au Vieux cru Normand, breathing deeply. “Then stop me,” he said lowly. When Verne made no move or comment, Arno turned his attention to the front of the brasserie. “You weren’t there,” he said. “The Hunters gunned down Flavien and the others like they were animals. Javier was taken by surprise; their wounds were too clean.” He gripped the edge of the roof. “They died without honour, and I can’t let that go.”

“That’s how Assassins work,” Verne said.

They fell quiet as the others joined them. Francesco was the first to spot Kenway and Cormac. He pointed silently to a far table, and Arno pressed himself flat to the rooftop once he caught sight of the two. “Verne,” he said quietly, “I want you on the other side of the street. Jean, you’re on the ground. Francesco, I want Cormac on your rifle.”

They slid away, all of them falling back into the group’s dynamics without a word of complaint. Arno was watching Jean as Francesco checked his rifle, then took cover behind a chimney stack to load and then aim. He pulled his hood up, shaking out his shoulders before settling into his stance. He pulled back the cock and brought the rifle up to eye level. After a moment of adjustment, he whispered, “I’ve got him.”

Arno fell into a crouch beside him, and he flicked his eyes to the roof opposite. Verne was equally focused on what was below, his pistols at the ready. “Arno,” Francesco said from the corner of his mouth, still sighting down the rifle, “can you see him from here with your Vision?”

Arno shook his head. He was nearly thirty feet too far away, and he didn’t dare take the chance of moving closer. He focused though, and felt nothing. Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. He extracted himself from the Vision and cast his gaze towards the other nearby roofs, frowning when he saw nothing. He wished that he wasn’t injured; the need to hunt the threat was pounding through him. He gripped his own pistol, focused on his senses.

The clothing was unmistakable — it was Cormac; Arno’s lip curled at the sight. Kenway sat opposite him, and he looked uncomfortable. They were talking quickly, and Arno was just about to settle in to read their lips when they stood. Cormac put some coins into the hand of one of the waitresses, and then the two of them left the brasserie’s deck, walking towards the Seine. Francesco slung his rifle over his shoulder and was off before Arno, no doubt looking for another place to get a potential shot off. Verne was shadowing them on the opposite side of the street, and down below, Arno could see Jean pushing his way steadily through the crowd, fast enough that he was given several dirty looks.

Arno focused his Vision, and when they came in range, he caught snatches of their conversation. Much to his disappointment it was all in English, but he did his best to follow along. They were talking about a deal, Arno discerned, and more deaths. That part sent a chill down his spine, but his blood turned to ice when Cormac said, “There’s someone following us.”


Connor fought to keep his surprise, and his anger, from showing. He tapped into his Vision, then frowned. He wanted to trust in the Assassins enough that Cormac was trying to trick him into giving something away, but he didn’t think it was the case. “I feel nothing.”

Cormac kept his eyes front. “Oh, they’re there. I’ve got two of them on the rooftops.”

Connor felt nagging doubts in the back of his mind. Achilles had told him how Cormac too was gifted with the Vision, and the blood had amassed itself in stronger ways than Connor’s had. Cormac could hold people in his mind’s eye through barriers, and he could single people out even if they were trying to hide. He had killed Assassins jumping on his shoulders, had shot them through dense foliage. Where Connor’s Vision was expansive and without range, Cormac had trained his into a tool of honed precision.

Cormac himself was barely holding his annoyance in check. “I believe we had a mutual understanding that this was to be a private meeting.”

“You’ve proven yourself dangerous to the Brotherhood here,” Connor said quickly. If someone was indeed shadowing them, Connor would’ve hedged his bets on it being Arno; he was the only other in the Brotherhood with the Vision, and Connor had been exceptionally careful to make sure a tail hadn’t been set on him. Arno also had the motivation to be going after Cormac. But giving Cormac the information that there was another in Paris that had the Vision was nothing short of stupid, tactical advantage that it was, and so, in the end, the decision to forfeit Cormac’s trust was the only one he had. “Safety, above everything else.”

“I’m disappointed about the lack of trust you had in this meeting, and in me.”

“Can you blame me?” Connor asked lowly.

Cormac lifted his lip, and Connor could feel the anger boil from his skin. He ignored it, instead sending his eye to the rooftops to try and pick out the Assassins. He still couldn’t sense them with his Vision, and it was beginning to frustrate him.

“Four of them?” Cormac asked then. “Isn’t it a bit excessive?”

Connor said nothing, and Cormac shook his head. “Dammit,” he said under his breath. He looked back the way they’d come, and Connor felt a lurch of anger deep in his gut when he saw Jean standing in the crowd. Cormac cast a glance back at Connor. “Another time, then,” he said. “And hope to God that we’ll meet under a white flag instead of on the battlefield again.”


Francesco’s finger twitched on the trigger to fire, but he froze when the Hunter walked past Jean. Kenway gave him a single look of warning, and Jean’s hidden blade disappeared back into its casing; he let Cormac pass him without a word. Kenway’s eyes went to the rooftops, and he found Francesco a moment later. Arno wrenched his gaze away from Francesco and the scene below, sweeping the crowds for Cormac. He’d vanished, and Arno was still too far away for his Vision to single him out. He made a noise of frustration, and looked over to the opposite rooftops where Verne was crouched. His hope faltered when he saw Verne searching the street wildly.

Jean’s loud whistle from down below tore Arno’s attention back to him, and he saw Jean following Kenway in the opposite direction Cormac had gone. Arno wanted to ignore him, but Verne’s words were echoing in his mind. He followed Francesco to the ground, angry at himself and Kenway. Verne joined them a minute later, and Kenway jerked his chin in the direction of the Seine.

“Back to the café. Now.”

“He was just gone,” Verne spat at himself as they moved off. “I’ve never see anything like it.”

“Cormac’s a Hunter with forty years’ experience,” Kenway said, his arms crossed.

Not a further word was said as they trudged back. Arno kept an eye on his surroundings, searching for Cormac or his son on the rooftops and in the streets, but he found nothing. Kenway had thrown his hood back, and people were staring at him, mistrust written on some of their features, and outright curiosity on others. It was the beads in his hair, Arno thought, and the feathers. Either Kenway was too angry or too used to the stares, for he didn’t so much as blink at them as they walked across the isles and back to the café. They entered through the side-door, and one of the maids coming out of the kitchen hung back as they crossed the hall. Saint Michel, sunning himself on the bottom step, sprang after them, meowing.

“What on earth were you doing?” Kenway spat at them as soon as they were in the dining room.

“I saw the message,” Arno started. He kicked irritably at Saint Michel as he tried to wind himself about his legs, and the cat gave him a baleful stare before moving onto Verne. “ ‘Noon, au Vieux cru Normand’. You can’t expect me to ignore it.”

“And what were you going to do? Kill Cormac in broad daylight?”

“To observe his movements,” Arno lied. “Learn for later. I thought you would appreciate the help.”

“If I wanted help, then I would have taken someone with me. But because you were there during a parlay in which Cormac expected me to come alone, he’s no trust in me.”

“You want peace between us?” Arno asked, aghast. “He killed —”

“He killed every one of my brothers before me,” Kenway said over him. “He saw my mentor crippled, I have no forgiveness in my heart for him for those actions alone.”

“Then why the peace?”

Kenway gave him a flat glare. “Why are your Council insistent on peace with the Templars? The same reason I want it: I’m tired of fighting with them, and people like Flavien dying for it.”

Arno thought it was interesting how LaHache clammed up at that. All of them there had been affected by the Templars at some point in their life, Jean perhaps the worst of them along with Arno. Jean-Jacques hated above all else two things in his life: nobles, and Templars. It was what had originally driven his dislike towards Arno and Verne when their group had first been put together by the Council, and although the barrier had somewhat eroded over the years, it had never disappeared in its entirety. When in a moment of anger Arno had asked him what it was Jean had hated about him back in ’89, Jean’s answer had been along the lines of how he’d spent his life bending his neck to noblemen like Arno and well-to-do families like Verne’s. He’d first learnt to wield his axe on the pretext of killing the nobleman who had touched his eight-year-old sister when he was eleven, and how his hatred had solidified when his brother had had his hand taken for the theft of half a loaf of bread when he was sixteen. The revolution had been nothing short of welcome for him, and Arno could imagine if it wasn’t for the Brotherhood and the lure of killing Templars it brought, Jean would’ve been out there on the front lines. And then what the Templars had done to his family …

Verne must’ve sensed Jean’s animosity too, because he said quickly, “And what did Cormac say to it?”

“Enough to keep my interest,” Kenway said. “Now, tell me why I shouldn’t tell the Council what you’ve done?”

The tendons in Arno’s neck stood out. Verne had been right, and Arno felt queasy. If the Council found out, they would reject his petition to rejoin.

“We weren’t thinking,” Francesco said quietly. All attention turned to him, and his face reddened. “I grew up in the Brotherhood; I know … knew, all of those who’re dead. I wanted justice, and the others did too.” He bowed his head. “We apologise. All of us.”

Verne nodded, and Arno copied. Jean crossed his arms and said nothing. If Arno had to guess what he was thinking, he was probably still chewing on Kenway’s earlier comment about peace. Jean was very firmly Bellec’s disciple in that regard.

Kenway’s expression was still hard, but he said nothing else as he left the room. When he closed the door with a snap behind him, Francesco said into the ensuring silence, “You think we’re off the hook?”


Master Wilkes,

I write this in urgency. There has been a series of attacks in Paris that have left six Assassins dead, and they lie at the hands of an American Hunter. I must shoulder the task that Achilles and his Brotherhood failed to finish, and end this threat before more are killed.

Please — go home. I don’t know how long I am still to be in France. A month. A year. Ten. I cannot be certain. What I do know is that I will not leave until I have dealt with this threat.

If you would tell

Tell them I’m sorry, and I will follow as soon as I am able.

— Connor

Chapter Text

Café Théâtre, 26th November, 1794

They had burnt the bodies in the Sanctuary as soon as they had retrieved them from the river barges. The Parisian Assassins hadn’t had a mass cremation for nearly seventy years, and a lump stuck in Arno’s throat as he looked over the pyres, laid out in two rows of three and each of the dead dressed in ceremonial white attire; their hidden blades were laid across their chests beneath their folded hands. It was hardly the first funeral Arno had attended, nor was it the first of a brother, but it didn’t make it easier. His life had been a parade of funerals the past months. Many of the Assassins ringing the room were hard-faced, but there wasn’t a lack of tears. Arno had never been one for crying, and he was numb and dry-eyed as he was invited up to say some final few words over Juste, Lucien, and Flavien before the torch was put to the woodpiles. Arno kept his head bowed as the crackle of the flames built, the noise of them accompanied by the voices of the Assassins echoing throughout the halls, speaking old Arabic words that had been said over their dead for centuries. Even though the smoke was pulled away by small ventilation shafts throughout the room, the smell of burning flesh clung to Arno for hours afterwards. It filled his nose as he sat at a table in the empty café with Verne and Francesco, sharing a bottle and talking quietly as they put their cups together in toast. Arno couldn’t think about the Assassins though, only of Élise and how sorry he was.

The week following had passed slowly, and Arno had spent each day dwelling on and feeling wretched about everything that had happened. He’d found himself drinking more and more often, but it just made him feel worse. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the Assassins at the Temple had died for his hesitation, but a part of him also blamed Trenet and Kenway for suggesting they return in the first place. When he wasn’t sleeping the daylight hours away or cloistered in the attic, so drunk the world tilted on its axis, he spent his time in a state of anger and frustration.

He also dreaded summons from the Council so to demand answers from him for going after Cormac. But as the days went by without contact from them, Arno began to let the tension go. After ten days, he had to conclude that Kenway hadn’t told the Council anything about the intervention to his meeting, if they had been aware it was taking place at all. Verne and Francesco had insisted to Quemar that he’d returned to the café after Javier and the others had been brought in, and the Council seemed to have accepted their word for it. Arno liked to think that they hadn’t so much as lied but told a half-truth; he had returned to the café after the bodies had been discovered, but not as quickly as they’d implied. He was certain Gabrielle knew he wasn’t telling the entirety of what had happened, and for it, she had kept an uncomfortably close eye on him as he healed. By the twenty-third, even though most of the bruises had faded from black to a mottled yellow and green, Arno spent the nights tossing and turning, twitching in his sleep as dreams dogged him.

The first snow of the winter came on the twenty-sixth, and he watched as Verne and Francesco made France’s smallest snowman on the rooftop garden, stuck with dead grass and leaves and barely staying together. Arno’s fingers were curled around a bottle neck, his other hand tapping the end of his pen against Paton’s latest report for him.

 

Nothing direct so far, though I have some leads which might interest you.

 

There were more names, and Arno glared at them. He was tired of names. He wanted something with more foundation than simply names. But the Lady Eve had taken a lesser priority to him after the emergence of the Cormacs. She was less of a threat now that the Brotherhood had the Apple, whereas the Cormacs had killed six of their number within the space of a week. What was more, they had vanished into the air after Kenway’s clandestine, off-book meeting. Arno wasn’t supposed to be involved in the Cormac case, but Francesco had been telling him about the developments. Their spies had seen and heard nothing, not even an increase in Templar activity, which was worrisome in itself. They had no idea if the Cormacs were working with the remnants of the Parisian Rite or were here of their own volition doing freelance work, and it muddied the waters about the course of action the Council had to take in regards to smoothing over the relationship between the Assassins and Templars. The targets the Council had assigned to the Assassins were the dead leaves that needed to be pruned from the tree, stripping away the rot Germain had set into the Rite in an effort to steer it back in the direction Mirabeau and Monsieur de la Serre had been intent towards. Arno knew somewhat that they were in contact with Templars elsewhere in France, but the partnership was by no means a strong one; talk was that it would collapse within a year, hence the Council’s eagerness for the Haytham Kenway letters. Francesco said that Paton was running himself into the ground trying to find answers as to how the Cormacs fit into it all, and so Arno had to admire that he’d found time to assemble this newest list for him.

As for himself, Arno was hoping that Killian Cormac was suffering greatly from the wound he’d given him, hoping even that it had become infected and so life-threatening. But he couldn’t afford the luxury of hoping for it; one of the first things he had been taught was not to count the dead until the body had been seen, but there was comfort in the knowledge of Cormac’s injury, some small exaction of justice. It was the only thing that kept Arno from spearheading the hunt for the Cormacs himself, no matter what Gabrielle tried to keep him resting. It left Arno with too much room for thoughts of the dead, and the pent-up energy and the regrets for everything were driving him to madness. He wanted to do.

He left the desk after five minutes, pacing first around the room and then pulling on more robust clothes to take a walk. He lapped Île Saint-Louis, then his feet carried him to Paris’ north until he found himself staring into the hole left by the Bastille, his mind moving sluggishly. He couldn’t grasp onto any of his thoughts, and it took him a moment to realise that someone was watching him. He turned around, forcing himself to concentrate as he tried to find the eyes on him. He had his sword on his belt, he didn’t go many places without it, and his wrist felt acutely uncomfortable and too light for the missing blade. He wrapped his hand around the hilt but didn’t draw the sabre, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. Maybe it was one of watchers the Council had set on him; he hoped it was one of the Cormacs.

It was a man he didn’t recognise. Arno held him in the corner of his eye, perfectly still and itching to act. He was too far away for his Vision to mean anything, but Arno didn’t need it to see the dislike on his face. The man was of middling height and age, his hair black, and his face pudgy and pockmarked. Though he was balding, his moustache was thick, and his hands were buried deep in his coat pockets. It looked as if it had once been expensive but it had been worn to threads; it made Arno suspect that it was something looted. It had become shapeless enough too that he couldn’t see if the man had any weapons concealed beneath it.

The man continued to do nothing but stare at Arno. Arno moved further down the street, doing his best to relieve the tension in his shoulders. The man didn’t follow him, but he kept watch, his eyes boring holes into the back of Arno’s head. Arno moved into a side street. He climbed to the rooftops, wincing as the wound on his chest twinged. He remained low as he circled back around, intent on getting a closer look at the man with and without his Vision. By the time he reached a vantage point, the man had vanished.

Arno swore under his breath; he sat, pinching the skin between his eyes. Years ago when he had first joined the Brotherhood, Verne had said something to him which had stuck out sharply in his memory: the training made you paranoid, and this new paranoia that had come to him after the attack had manifested itself in more ways than one. Was the man an Assassin? If he was then he was one Arno didn’t recognise, and he knew each of the Assassins in Paris by sight if not by name. The man was a stranger. Then perhaps he was a Templar, another Hunter like Cormac. There were few with the skill of vanishing so quickly, and he remembered how well Cormac had mastered it.

Arno forced himself to sit down and think, to push the panic away, and recalled the image of the man. He had been half made of fat, and the skill set demanded by the Assassins quickly stripped any unneeded fat away. The Hunters had possessed similar skills, and so logic followed that the same would happen to them. Arno’s breathing eased, and he berated himself. “Paranoia,” he muttered as he dropped back to the street. “Calm down.”

He didn’t waste any time getting back to the café though, his mood soiled. He took the underground passages as an extra precaution, and was deposited just beneath the café. He made sure to enter the café as surreptitiously as possible, closing the side-door quietly and heading to the stairs.

“Arno!”

It was hard for Arno not to snap at Verne as he came into the doorway of the main café floor; behind him, Francesco was sitting in one of the chairs, buckling up his boots. “Francesco and I are going to …” Verne trailed off and tilted his head to the side. His jovial tone had been replaced by something quieter when he said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Arno stuffed his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “It’s nothing,” he muttered. “I … I’m just jumping at shadows.”

“Cormacs, or …?”

“Cormacs,” Arno said tersely. “You and ‘Cesco go; I’m fine.”

“Do you want to come? We’re going dicing.”

Arno shook his head. “No. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“If you’re sure.” Verne shrugged on his coat and Francesco unfolded himself from the chair, following him. Arno watched them go down the street and didn’t move until he felt Saint Michel winding around his feet, meowing for attention. Arno sighed and picked the cat up, absently scratching him behind the ears. “Why do you like me?” he murmured over the loud purr. “Or are you just after something to eat, hmm?” He didn’t put the cat down however, and lay on his bed, settling Saint Michel on his stomach. He could hear someone yelling at another person in the street, and closed his eyes, listening to them. He had been sleeping earlier and waking later ever since July, and so despite the hour, he didn’t stir.

When Arno woke the next morning however, he found the room destroyed, Saint Michel dead, and Paton’s names gone.


Vendôme, 21st November, 1794

The first time Killian woke without the delirium that had plagued him for the days after the fight with the Assassins, his twenty-third birthday was two days gone. He woke alone, and his only concern was that he wasn’t beneath the quilts of his bunk on the Morrigan. He was on his guard immediately. He was in a house, a lavish but dilapidated one, and naked from the waist up. His blades were on the table beside the bed. He reached for them clumsily, cursing under his breath as jammed his shaking hands through the straps and buckled them tight. He slid the blades out to check they were functional before he took a further step. His Vision showed no one in the room, but it hardly settled him. His mind was working furiously, his eyes darting around the room as he identified every hiding space, every possible route of entry or escape, but still found no one there. His panic began to ease somewhat as he padded to the window and twitched back the curtains. It was dusk, and snow was falling onto the street below.

He knew where he was then — the Vendôme district in Paris, Caresse Levesque’s safehouse. Where was his pap? Aidan and Siobhán? His face itched furiously, twinging with the movement, and the memory of what had happened came back with a rush; what he could recall of it, anyhow. The images of the fight with Kenway and his Assassin friend were fragmented, but the pain was a white-hot brand on his mind. A gurgled moan rose in his throat as his fingers came to the bandages wrapped about his head, and he looked around the room now for a mirror, his heart thudding like a drum in his chest. His face, the sword. He remembered screaming, his and his pap’s both, and pieces of them staggering through the streets, the bulk of a coat pressed against the wound and the agony of it all. He had barely been able to see, and the tears streaming from his eyes had only aggravated the pain. He remembered the ranting, the litany of promised vengeance against the Assassin, and he remembered, he felt, the grief that had sunk itself into every fibre of the man’s being as his sword came down.

Killian focused on that imprint, using it as an anchoring point to help calm himself. He took it within his mind, pinching it between thumb and forefinger and turning it over. He straightened his back, deepening his breathing at the same moment. There were few true empaths left, the skill itself a subset of the Vision, and it came naturally to Killian. He could choose mostly when to focus on an individual’s emotions when he used his Vision, a shield to keep the world from overwhelming him, but sometimes it lashed out. It had in the moment the Assassin’s sword had struck, and Killian was glad for it. It would help him find the man, and he would use the knowledge of that grief to pay him back in kind before killing him. For he would kill the Assassin; there was no doubt in his mind of that.

Killian’s head snapped around when he heard the click of the door’s lock, and he charged into the man with a shout as soon as he had turned the handle. His blade was nearly in the man’s throat before he realised it was Jean Sébastien.

“Monsieur Cormac,” he whispered. An upturned tray of food lay on the floor beside his head. “Y-you’re awake.”

Killian was still for several more seconds before he let Sébastien up. Sébastien scrambled away, and Killian eyed him, trying to hide the tremble in his jaw. He could still put his blades into the man’s throat within a moment, but he looked at the floor, his brows knitted. “Where’s my father?” He said it in English, in no mood to speak any other language other than his first.

“Not here,” Sébastien said quickly, still in French. “Your siblings …”

Killian snorted. He was sure to keep Sébastien in the corner of his eye as he said, “Get Aidan.”

“Monsieur.” Killian could feel Sébastien’s resentment beneath the stink of his fear, but he was too absorbed in the bandages on his face to worry about Sébastien’s attitude. He found the edge as Aidan came to the door, and he hissed as he pulled them off. They stuck to his face, and once he’d finished, he threw them aside with disgust. There was a mirror above the room’s fireplace, and stood with his head bent before it, nervous to see what the scar looked like. He lifted his head after several long seconds and suppressed a sob. The edges of the scar were puckered and an angry red, the line of it broken up into segments by the jut of his nose and cheekbone. His skin was stiff with dry fluid and a little blood from the lifted scab, but it was healing well; Killian fervently hoped that it would soon be nothing more than a faint line. He was livid with the prospect of it, but it was better than some of the thick scars he had elsewhere.

“It’s … it’s not that bad,” Aidan said.

Killian barely kept himself from driving his palm onto the mantelpiece in his anger. He didn’t want a word from anyone about it, and for a moment his vision was blurred by tears. Aidan said nothing else as they tracked down his face.

“I’ll kill him,” Killian whispered. “The one who did this to me, I’ll kill him.” He said to Aidan, “Where is he?”

“We haven’t heard anything, not about him or Kenway,” Aidan replied; Killian noticed he couldn’t stop staring at the scar.

“Not even a name?”

Aidan shook his head. “They’ve disappeared. We haven’t seen any Assassins for days.”

“Good.” Killian found one of his shirts neatly folded on a chair, and he pulled it over his head, scrubbing at his hair so it stuck up on end. “Put the fear of God into them. They know we’re coming.”

He would kill them all.


Café Théâtre, 26th November, 1794

Connor had spent the week deep in discussion with the Council about Shay Cormac, telling them everything he knew about the man. It had been Achilles who had kept notes on his actions at first, and then Connor had taken over those duties as he had everything else when the old man had died. Cormac was too dangerous to be left to wander unchecked, and the years had seen him travel all over the discovered world. From what Arno had said, the man Cormac had been with was his oldest, which left the nagging question of where his second son was, another Hunter as far as Connor was aware. As for his daughter, Connor knew nothing of her except her existence. The mother though, a Welsh woman named Rachael who had been a high-ranking Templar in her own right, had been killed in Bombay a little over a year previously, and the gruesome work Cormac had left of her assassin was the last report Connor had had of him.

The Council had sent letters to Connor’s contacts and their own about Cormac, asking after new information, and it wouldn’t be until some weeks later that the first would come back. Otherwise, he was scouring Haytham’s journal for any information. The first time he had read it, he had noticed that between 1758 and 1774, there had been missing pages. They had been taken out of the book, so neatly that Connor wouldn’t have spotted the remains of them had he not wondered why his father had failed to record anything for sixteen years when he had before so studiously kept note of his thoughts. It had been information that Connor wasn’t supposed to see, that he was sure of, and perhaps the pages had been removed only days before he and Haytham had confronted each other at Fort George upon his decision to bequeath his journal to Connor post-mortem. The missing dates corresponded to the annihilation of the Colonial Brotherhood, and with it, any possible mention of Shay. All that remained in evidence of his existence was a single letter that he had sent to Haytham in ’76 from Paris. It was encoded, and Connor had no inkling as to what the message was; unsurprisingly, Haytham hadn’t left a key for it.

 

Haytham, my friend,

I’m afraid news has taken a turn for the worse — Absolon is still ill, and my sister is afraid that he will not see the spring. It’s been too cold a winter this year, and he shivers so. His mother says he started coughing blood a month ago, and she’s deathly afraid it won’t go away. I fear she is right.

 

It went on for two pages, and Cormac had signed off using a pseudonym at the bottom. Connor had given up long ago trying to decipher it, but it was all he had on Cormac from his father. If he had hoped for inspiration to strike in regards to it, he had been disappointed.

The Council had sent out feelers for the Cormacs too, and had been sending Assassins searching for their safehouse. Connor was in agreement with the Council that any potential safehouse was in Paris. Cormac had come and gone too quickly and quietly for it to be anywhere of huge distance, and the spy master, Didier Paton, was confident that they were closing in on a location. There had been talk in Paris’ north of elusive figures seen on the rooftops.

Over a week of such things had left Connor with the barest thread of patience. He was bored and restless, and had had trouble remaining at the café and Sanctuary sorting through information. He too was so desperately homesick in those moments his chest ached.

There was a knock on the door, and Andrea called, “Monsieur, I have breakfast and coffee for you.” She opened the door after Connor’s invitation, and placed the tray balanced on her hip on the small table by the room’s window. Cold winter sunshine spilt white light into the room, accentuating its airy-openness.

“Thank you,” Connor said, relieved for an excuse to get away from the desk.

The bread was still warm from the oven, and he was buttering it when Andrea said, “A letter arrived for you this morning.” She held out an envelope for him. It was small, no bigger than his palm. Connor immediately recognised Wilkes’ untidy scrawl. He took it from her with a nod of thanks, and broke the wax seal on the back. It was a reply to the letter he had sent the day of his and Cormac’s meeting.

 

Kindly, Captain, we refuse. The Aquila will be waiting for you in Copenhagen.

—Wilkes

 

Dammit, Wilkes. Connor put the letter onto the fire, and he crossed his arms, looking at the logs. His first instinct was to write back and demand them to go, no matter the fight that Wilkes would put up, but with more letters going back and forth between them, the more chance there was that they would be intercepted. He was still there when he heard the yell from the other end of the building. Connor snatched up his tomahawk and bow, stringing the latter quickly before heading down the corridor. He couldn’t see anything amiss with his Vision, and the shout had attracted others, staff members and the few Assassins that lived in the building alike.

Connor pushed himself through the throng, and once he was at the front, stopped dead. The room had been a bedroom, and a fine one. It was spacious and would have been a welcoming thing to come back to if it hadn’t been in ruin. Feathers and chair stuffing lay scattered across the floor, the glass in the windows cracked and broken wine bottles mixed with everything. Splinters from broken furniture was strewn about, as were ceramic shards and ripped canvas paintings. Clothes lay torn and hanging out of the wardrobe, the mirror shattered, and ashes heaped from the fireplace across the floor. Papers from the desk lay everywhere, and in the centre of it all stood Arno. He was wearing clothes that he looked like he had fallen asleep in, and Connor found himself staring dumbly at him. He didn’t know what to think.

“What is this?” Arno was panicking; Connor could feel the emotion rolling off him in waves as his eyes darted around the room. Connor’s gaze was drawn to the floor, and his throat closed. He didn’t know where to direct his attention — to the dead cat and its slashed belly, or the messy words written clumsily across the floorboards in its blood. He was horrified at it, and furious. Saint Michel looked so small curled in death, and Connor had had nothing but good interactions with the cat; he had often come to curl up in Connor’s lap as he finished copying Haytham’s letters, and had been nothing but affectionate to both the café staff and the Assassins that frequented the backrooms. He could hear one of the maids crying as he crouched next to Saint Michel, sinking his fingers into his fur. The cat was cold and stiff; hours had gone by since his death.

Connor forced himself to look at the words, and a new chill raced down his spine at the new layer of uneasiness. The words weren’t French, nor were they English. They were his language, Iroquoian, but mangled as if the writer had only the barest idea how the grammar worked. He stood, ill at ease.

“How the hell did they get in?” Arno was shouting in the background, and there was also the noise of the gathered crowd, gasps and furious mutters. “How did …? I don’t …”

Connor turned to him. “You heard nothing?” Silence fell as the room waited for a reply.

Arno opened his mouth, closed it, then swallowed once. “I don’t know how this happened,” he forced out. “I’m not a heavy sleeper, none of us are after training. I don’t know …”

“Sit,” Connor said, picking up one of the chairs from the floor.

Arno sat, his elbows on his knees as he stared dumbly at Saint Michel. “I would’ve woken …”

“It is not your fault,” Connor said.

Arno’s laugh was humourless, and his eyes were pained when he turned them on Connor. “‘Not my fault’? I’m starting to lose count how many people have died around me in the past half year. Even the damned cat’s dead. How can this not be connected?”

“Out,” Connor said over his shoulder to the onlookers. “Now.”

There were grumbles, but Connor’s glare was enough to send even the most curious and stubborn away. Once they were gone Connor put his weapons down and nodded to the words on the floor. “That is my language.”

Arno’s brow crinkled, and it took him a moment to respond. “Y-yours? What does it say?”

Connor stared at it for a moment, struggling to make sense of it enough for even himself before he could think about translating. Eventually, he puzzled it out. “‘Turn away from me’.” He frowned. “It’s worded wrong, though. Whoever wrote it has only a basic understanding of my language.”

“Then why is the cat dead on my floor? Why my floor and not yours?”

“I would give you the answer if I had it.”

“Was it Cormac?”

“I doubt it. I only know of one Templar who spoke Iroquoian; others do not think it … significant enough to learn.” Connor gestured around the room. “And why would he go to this kind of trouble without drawing your blood or stealing any information?” Arno’s eyes flicked away for the barest moment. “Monsieur Dorian. What was taken?”

“I …” Arno ground his teeth. “I have leads,” he said. “My own investigation, my task to redeem myself in the Council’s eyes. When I found the lantern — the Apple, I mean — I found a name: Eve. A Lady Eve. Paton gave me names to leads, and they’re gone. And yesterday …” His eyes widened. “That man.”

“Man?”

“At the Bastille. He was watching me, and after I left his line of sight I doubled back. I never found him.”

“A Templar you think?”

Arno pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes and growled, “I don’t know. It might’ve been coincidence that he was just …”

“Describe him.”

“Middle-aged, black hair. Middling height and fat.”

Connor didn’t recognise the description, and he leant back against the table. “Have you seen anything else?”

“No …” Arno shot a look to the floor, then looked away again just as quickly. “I need to move him,” he muttered. “The cat. I … Jesu.”

“I’m sorry,” Connor offered.

Arno stripped one of the pillowcases from the bed and laid it over the body just as a new racket came from down the hall. Verne burst into the room, followed by Beylier. Arno was on his guard immediately, standing to his full height. “Master —”

“What happened?”

Arno repeated what he had told Connor, though he was far more composed as he did so. He emphasised that he had heard nothing despite the destruction, and when Beylier asked the same question Connor had in regards to goals of the looter, Arno told him with a perfectly straight face that nothing had been taken. Connor didn’t intervene, though he wanted to.

Beylier for his part didn’t look entirely convinced. He gestured to the writing. “Well what about this? Whoever it was, they wanted something with you.”

“Master Connor said he recognised the words,” Arno said.

Beylier turned his attention to Connor. “Mentor?”

“It is my language,” Connor told him, a little irritably for Arno’s surrender of the information before he’d had the chance to do so himself, “though why it is here and who wrote it, I am as curious as anyone.”

“You don’t think this has anything to do with the Pieces or the Cormacs?”

“Not the Cormacs, no,” Connor said. “The Pieces remains to be seen.”

“And what about your Lady Eve, Dorian?”

“I don’t know,” Arno said. After a beat, he asked, “Permission to speak?”

“Speak.”

“I want to investigate this myself.”

“Denied, Dorian. This … attack concerns more than you now. It has pierced deep into a property that was considered secure —”

Was?

“Yes — was. This is too big to leave to a single person to uncover, much less one who’s not part of the Brotherhood.”

Arno looked outraged. “Master —”

“Master Beylier,” Connor interjected. “I will help with this.” He waved towards the words once more. “Your concerns lie with the connections this Brotherhood seeks with the Templars. I want to be sure that the Cormacs are not tied to this, and I think such a responsibility mine to bear. Cormac is the product of my predecessors; this is mine to fix.”

“Mentor, do you think such a thing wise? He has killed six of our number already, and you’re too important to be murdered by him.”

“Your sentiment is appreciated, Master Beylier, but unneeded.”

“Safety is of the primary concern here. Too many people, good people, have died because of this Hunter. We are a Brotherhood, Mentor. We have the resources, so we should use them.”

Connor was independent by nature. His first reaction was to take on tasks himself, and it often escaped him that he could ask for help. He’d always been like this, and if anything the independence had manifested all the more whilst he had been the sole Assassin on the Homestead. Even years later and with the Brotherhood thriving, Connor still forgot. He stood silent for a moment, his hands before his abdomen and turning Beylier’s words over in his mind. He hated bringing people into his personal problems, and Cormac felt to him a personal problem. The Colonial Brotherhood had created him, and so Connor would end him.

But Beylier was right. Cormac had killed six Assassins, and he wasn’t alone. He had one, maybe two young and trained Hunters working with him, and even with all his skill Connor wouldn’t be able to defeat them in a fight if it came to it, and he suspected that in the end that was exactly what it would become.

Connor nodded towards Arno. “I’ll borrow Monsieur Dorian, then, and I want LaHache, Lemoine, and Marechal’s services at my disposal.”

Beylier nodded. “I’ll see it done.” He looked to Arno. “Dorian,” he said, and Arno lifted his head, “if there’s … there’s anything that either myself or the Brotherhood could do for you …?”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Arno answered stiffly. “Merci, maître.

Beylier then said something else in a language Connor thought was German, and Arno simultaneously flinched and looked utterly surprised. He gave a short little nod though before Beylier left. Once the door had shut, Arno turned to Connor. “Why?”

Connor raised an eyebrow. He knew what Arno had asked, but he wanted it out of his own mouth.

Arno cleared his throat. “Why help me?”

“You seem to be of central interest to the events of past months that go beyond Germain,” Connor said bluntly. He didn’t like sugarcoating the truth, and he never had. He didn’t believe in the coddling of adults. “The Pieces of Eden, this break-in; I can’t put it aside as coincidence.”

“And how do the Cormacs tie to this?”

“I don’t know if they do, but I can’t rule the possibility out.”

Arno heaved a sigh. “I need to clean this up,” he said. He put his head into his hands and laughed quietly. “I didn’t even like him, and here I am. Fuck.

Connor gathered his bow. Arno was looking out the window, his gaze unfocused, and Connor said, “If you wish to talk, find me. I won’t judge you.”

Arno made a dismissive sound. Instead of replying to Connor, all he said was, “I need to find a shovel.”


Six people came to Saint Michel’s burial — Arno, Francesco, and four of the café staff. They had decided to bury the cat in the rooftop garden under the hedges instead of tossing his body into the river as people were inclined to do with dead animals, and Arno had spent the better part of the morning hacking at the frozen soil with Colignon’s shovel to make a hole just big enough for the body. It was still wrapped in his pillowcase, and he felt it was wholly inadequate as Francesco laid it down in the grave.

“I’m sorry, old cat,” Francesco muttered before he stood. “You, erm, you’re going to be missed. You were soft, and affectionate, and you didn’t deserve to die in such a horrible fashion.” There were answering murmurs from all around, and there wasn’t much left to say after that. Arno rolled his shoulders before he got to piling the soil over the body. The staff left one by one, until only Arno and Francesco remained.

Francesco put his hands beneath his armpits, watching Arno. “So what now?” he asked.

“I find who did this, and I kill them.” Arno leant on the shovel. Kenway had taken him under his command. He had heard stories about him, of course he had after everything that had happened in America, but he didn’t feel anything particularly special about it. He was more concerned with finding out what had happened in the night not so much for Saint Michel, although the cat’s death was a large part of it, but for the accomplishment of sneaking around him at his most vulnerable. The very idea of it unsettled him to the core. He hadn’t been the same after Élise’s death, it would have been a miracle if he was, but Assassin habits weren’t ones to be shaken off quickly. Not a week ago he had been woken by a book falling over on his shelf on the room’s opposite side. To think that not only had the intruder destroyed the room under his nose, but had also murdered Saint Michel in such a gruesome fashion without waking him … Arno put the next shovelful of earth onto the grave a little harder than he should have.

The Iroquoian words were gone by the time Arno and Francesco had finished outside, and the maids had begun to tidy the room. Arno didn’t want to sleep in it; he retrieved the latest bottle of wine from under the bed, blackberry if he remembered correctly, and left without a backwards glance. Francesco followed him as Arno turned towards the guest rooms and opened the door to one of them. The bed wasn’t made up and the room itself cold, but it would do. Arno undid the ribbon in his hair and let it fall forward, scrubbing at his face. Francesco watched him.

“Can I do anything to help?”

Arno shook his head as he uncorked the wine.

“We never finished that game of backgammon —”

“ ‘Cesco, please.” Arno took a drink.

Francesco stayed a moment in the doorway before he sat down on the bed and held out his hand for the bottle. When Arno passed it over, he drank and made a face. “This is disgusting.”

“It’s cheap.”

“Promise me,” Francesco said, “that this is the last bottle.”

Arno didn’t answer him.

“Do you really think Eve is responsible for this?” Francesco asked a few minutes later. They’d passed the bottle back and forth until it was finished, and it lay on the bed between them.

“As far as I know, I haven’t made an enemy of myself except against her and the Templars,” Arno said. “And if the Templars had done that, then it’s a miracle that we haven’t all been butchered.”

Francesco made a sound of agreement. “What a horrible way to die.”

Arno nodded bleakly. “I just hope that it was quick.” But he knew it hadn’t been, and seemed Francesco knew it, too. Arno had seen men die with their intestines in their hands, their bellies ripped open by the Guillotine Gun, and screaming as he left them behind. He’d been so numb in the immediate aftermath of the Temple he hadn’t cared about their suffering, and a part of him still didn’t. But he was coming back to himself now enough that he looked on his actions in horror. He knew how long it had taken those men to die with how their screams echoed through the tunnels. He groped for the bottle, growling under his breath when it gave him nothing more than the last drops. He got to his feet, intent on getting another; Francesco grabbed him around the wrist before he was at his full height.

“That was the last one, I said.”

“Let me go,” Arno said flatly.

“I lost my uncle to the bottle,” Francesco said. “My mother’s brother. He was one of the best of us, and then one day a mission went wrong, and fifty-seven people died. He died two years later. He was active for fourteen years, and for all of that, he wasn’t downed by steel. I’ve watched you lose yourself to it since the execution, and when … when Élise brought you back to Paris, I saw the purpose you had. Now it’s all gone to nothing.”

“And you know why,” Arno replied, then shook himself free. He left the room, and five minutes later was looking at the labels in the café’s cellar. Francesco had been coddled most of his life. He had grown up in the heart of the Brotherhood, had had the best of educations, had support, family. He had suffered loss, but he had about him such a sunny disposition it bled over into other aspects of his character. He didn’t understand the need Arno had to forget for a few hours, to stop being him and just exist, nameless, for a short time. He felt that if he didn’t, then the weight that had been set on his shoulders by loss after loss would crush him flat. Francesco had never had a need to do that, he didn’t understand, and Arno resented him for it sometimes, deeply.

Francesco was gone by the time Arno returned upstairs, and he sniffed. He was glad he’d vanished. The bed had been made up, and Arno flopped down upon it, putting the wine on the side table. Despite how early it was, he wanted nothing more than to sleep. He pulled off his shoes and curled over on his side, ignoring his hunger and closing his eyes. The wine had left him with a pleasant buzz, and he sighed.

He listened to people walking along the outside hallway, and heard the hushed conversation between two of the staff about whether they should disturb him for dinner. He prayed they wouldn’t, and they left soon after. Arno was alone with his thoughts again, and his mind turned to Kenway. His language, he had said, and he had asked Beylier to help him with the investigation into the break-in. The words he had imparted to him rung in his mind: “For the love of God obey your orders, Dorian.” He hadn’t known Beylier spoke German.

Why is this happening? he thought. If he’d left France when he’d had the chance, then he would have escaped all of this; he would never had stumbled across Eve, the Cormacs would be half a world away, and he wouldn’t have Francesco looking over his shoulder like a mother hen. But he would have given up the very last thing he could claim some kind of happiness to, Francesco, Verne, the café, and would have left them to fend off the Cormacs by themselves whilst he was drinking himself to death in Portugal or wherever de Sade’s ship would have taken him. As much as he hated to admit it, this, whatever this was turning out to be, it was better than what it could have been.

It was the only thing of comfort he could cling to; that he was helping here.


Vendôme, 4th December, 1794

News came that Cormac’s sloop-of-war had been found anchored at the town of Argenteuil ten miles outside Paris. Connor didn’t think that Cormac was using the Morrigan as a base, it was too far away to be useful, and so he had spent the last week of November combing the richer districts for the Cormacs. It only made sense that they would be in one of those areas; what Connor had heard of the Parisian Templars, and simply from his own experience with them, there was a higher chance that they had made their homes in affluent places. His hunch had been rewarded when he located the house in the Vendôme district some minutes walk from the Tuileries Palace, but he didn’t act on the information. He spent two days sitting across from it, keeping himself what he hoped was far enough away that Cormac’s Vision couldn’t reach him, but close enough that he could observe easily enough the comings and goings of the residents.

As far as he could see, there were only two who regularly exited the building. The first was a short middle-aged man who always looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and the second a teenage boy. He had to be Aidan Cormac, and Connor wondered why he moved about so openly. It would have been naïve to assume that the safehouse was indeed safe, and Connor didn’t think that the boy would be a fool considering the family he came from. He took after Shay Cormac, but his colouring must have been his mother’s; he had the older man’s features, although they were softer, and his short blond hair stuck up at odd angles. He slouched too, and had an appearance of level-headedness that Killian Cormac had seemed to lack. Connor couldn’t make out any hidden blades on his wrists, and wondered at that. Both Shay and Killian were proficient with them, and they quickly became habit to wear. He kept a musket close every time Connor had seen him though, the strap over his shoulder and one thumb hooked underneath it. He seemed restless, bored, and most of the time Connor had seen him it had been simply to wander to an alley near the house and scratch the cats there behind the ears. If he were keeping watch for anything, he was going about it an odd way.

A little before midday on the fourth of December, a carriage pulled up in front of the house, and Connor caught his first glimpse of Shay Cormac since their meeting. He was dressed much more smartly than he had been last time, his clothing fit for halls of government, and the only weapons Connor could see on him were his twin pistols. The sword and dagger he had had last time, as well as his rifle, were nowhere to be seen. But what Connor was more interested in was the woman he helped into the carriage. The dress she wore didn’t have the wide hips Connor usually saw, the skirts instead flowing from beneath her breasts and dropping modestly to the floor. It was a pale blue, with a deeper coloured petticoat over the top, and a bright red sash reminiscent to those the Assassins favoured around her waist. Her hair was hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat adorned with ostrich feathers. Connor read a thank you on her lips and the name Sébastien before Cormac climbed into the carriage after her, and the driver whipped the horses into movement. Connor hesitated, then decided to continue with his original purpose.

He let the carriage go, and twenty minutes later, strode across the street to the house. He had removed the decorations from his hair, the animal skins, and the adornments on his robes to appear as inconspicuous as possible. In America, those things were given at most a curious look, but in France, they were openly stared at. It saddened Connor, but he couldn’t afford to stand out in a crowd.

As far as he was aware, there were only three people remaining in the house — the middle-aged man, Aidan Cormac, and his sister. If everything went well, none of them would know he had been there, and Connor would leave as quietly as he came with the information he wanted in hand. He couldn’t afford to attack anyone yet, not when he and the Assassins were so in the dark about what the Cormac presence meant. Connor was beginning to think that letting the carriage go had been a mistake when the middle-aged man came out the front door. Connor paused, then followed him. This, he thought, had to be the Sébastien the woman had mentioned. There was a piece of paper in his hand, a shopping list perhaps, and Connor followed him only until he took an alley shortcut.

Connor silently thanked him for being quite so stupid, and jogged after him. He slowed to a quick walk when he was close behind him, then raised his hood and released his hidden blade. He closed the two steps between them before Sébastien sensed something wrong. Connor laid the edge of his hidden blade against the back of Sébastien’s neck. “Don’t turn,” he said quietly.

“Assassin.” Sébastien’s voice was shaky, and Connor adjusted his hold on the handle of his blade.

“You and your mistress host the Cormacs.”

“What do you want from me?”

“What do they plan to do?”

Sébastien’s breathing was quick and shallow. “It is not my place to say.”

Connor pressed the blade harder against Sébastien’s skin, and the edge drew a thin line of blood. “I have a method in mind to make you talk, but it would require your life,” he said. “So speak, and you may yet live.”

“We will crush your kind,” Sébastien said. “We always do.”

“And likewise so shall we,” Connor replied. “We did so not six months ago. Talk.

“I am loyal.”

“Start with a name,” Connor said. “Who is the woman?”

Sébastien was silent, and Connor grabbed him by the shoulder. He turned him around and shoved him against the nearest wall. Sébastien cried out in pain, and Connor put the hidden blade into the soft skin of Sébastien’s throat. “The woman.” When Sébastien still said nothing, Connor retracted the blade and took Sébastien into a choke hold. Sébastien thrashed, but Connor didn’t let go until the man slumped. He bound him before he could come back around, and placed him behind a stack of crates, boxing him in with a couple more before he returned to the house further down the street. He climbed up to the first floor window quickly and pried it open with his hidden blade. He slipped inside, crouching on the floor and stilling his breathing as he listened for any movement. His Vision showed him nothing, and he made his way through the room. It was carpeted with thick rugs, and the lavish wall décor gleamed softly in the light.

The room Connor stood in looked to be a lounge room, judging from the couches, literary bookshelves, and boardgames scattered around the place, but what he found curious was the layers of dust it all held. The building was dilapidated on the outside, several of the windows boarded over, but Connor had expected it to be … lived in, inside. It troubled him more than he would have liked as he continued. When he reached the staircase, he stilled when he heard life downstairs.

“A-clack and a-click, two swords go. A-click and a-clack, you’re too slow.”

It was the girl, and with every click and clack she spoke, Connor heard a corresponding echo of two wooden sticks hitting each other; not hard, but not gently, either. It left Connor baffled. What was Cormac doing bringing a girl, his daughter, here? He couldn’t imagine if … Connor pushed away the very idea that threatened to creep up and swallow his heart. He needed to leave the house.

Connor took the next flight of stairs up two at a time, and when he found the closed door at the top, put his ear to the keyhole. He heard nothing, and so picked the lock and entered.

It was what he was after: an office. The desk was in the centre of the room, and kept in neat, conservative order except for the finely made rag doll on its top, dressed in patterned scraps and with yellow wool for hair. Connor went to the desk, interested in the paperwork. He looked it over. All of it was unrelated to Templar and Assassin business, and Connor opened the drawers, searching for anything with a false bottom. All he found there was a tightly folded note tucked into the drawer’s frame with Je t'amie written on it. Connor put it back, and turned his eye to the other papers. He frowned.

He didn’t know much about the politicians in France, but he knew enough to recognise names if nothing else. He picked the papers up, shuffling through them. There were studies on five he saw, from a range across the political spectrum judging by what had been written. A chill went down his spine. It was America again, with Templars slotting themselves into or close to positions of power. It wasn’t a new phenomenon, but it was enough to scare Connor. The Assassins had just rooted out the government Templars, and here they were looking to put more into place. Connor read the names, memorised them.

 

Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès

Lazare Carnot

Jean-Lambert Tallien

Étienne-François Letourneur

Napoleon Bonaparte

 

He returned the papers and looked to the others. Some were letters, and on a sheaf of what looked like party expenses, Connor found what he had been searching for: a name.

“She’s a Levesque,” he said quietly to himself. Keeping an eye on her was imperative. As old as the Levesque family was, he didn’t like the prospects of them working with the Cormacs in favour of the Templars, and a Levesque had been one of Germain’s closest allies. Achilles and his Assassins had intercepted numerous letters from a Levesque branch dating back from the Seven Years War, and so Connor knew only too well of their mindset. They were traditionalists, and they were the kind Connor both detested and welcomed, and for the same reason: they were far less likely to be able to be reasoned with. It made them easier to kill, but harder to make peace with — what he wanted.

The conclusion made his shoulders slump. Back at the café, his father’s letters were tucked safely in his bags. The Cormacs couldn’t be reasoned with, his meeting with Shay had told him that much, and if they were working with the Levesques, they were of like mind. Assassin killers, both of them; the Cormacs directly, the Levesques through association. There would be no room for peace talks so long as they were determined to wrestle control of Paris back from the Assassins, and so it would come to death, if only for the Assassins to protect their own. When the Homestead had been attacked and Connor had stood above the bodies, he had told himself that although he had killed because it was necessary, peace was still possible. But …

Was this the same road Haytham had taken before his death? A single slip of faith that had led to his conviction that peace would never be possible? Achilles had been adamant that the Assassins and Templars could never make peace, but after Haytham, Connor had always harboured a hope that they could reach a peace between them. If not for himself, then for the people he loved.

He shook his head, angry with himself. He hadn’t crossed an ocean to find the same sentiments he had been told for as long as he’d been an Assassin, that the Templars needed to die for the sake of humanity, because Connor believed in the peace the Templars preached, but not their methods of obtaining it. He had to keep fighting, but it was a fight he needed to have a chance of winning. He wouldn’t with the Cormacs and the Levesques.

He returned to where he’d left Sébastien, and found him trying to get the ropes off his wrists; the skin of them was rubbed red. He was afraid to hurt himself, Connor noted, otherwise they would have been spotted with blood as well. Sébastien started to panic when he caught sight of Connor, and he shouted through his gag as Connor hoisted him out of the crate stack.

Quiet,” he hissed. He needed to think how to transport Sébastien. He was far to dangerous to leave be. The rooftops were Connor’s first instinct, but he couldn’t climb with him struggling as he was, nor did Connor want to render him unconscious again; it was a mistake he’d made before, and one he was loathe to repeat. He cast an eye to the street, sighed, and cut Sébastien’s ropes. His hidden blade was at Sébastien’s abdomen before he could draw breath to shout for help. “Follow,” he said quietly. There was a safehouse little more than two streets away, one that Connor had eaten at over the past couple of days before returning to the rooftop and so his vigil through the night, and near there an alley which he could blindfold Sébastien in before taking him the rest of the way through the winding back streets. “If you say a word, I will put this into your spine, am I understood?”

“Yes.”

It was a tense walk, but Sébastien didn’t make a sound. Connor lowered his hood and readjusted weapons away from Sébastien; he didn’t miss how his gaze kept flicking around to them as they walked. Ten minutes later, Connor was bundling Sébastien up to the attic room of Café du Louvres.

“You’ll be alright with him?” Connor asked the owner, a burly man named Julien.

“Won’t touch a hair on his head,” Julien said. “He’ll be ready for you when you are.”

“Two days,” Connor told him, then left to wait for the Cormacs to discover the break-in.


Tuileries Palace, 4th December, 1794

Caresse Levesque was the only woman in attendance at the Assembly of the National Convention. As a member of the public she was there for curiosity’s sake; as a Templar Knight, she was there to fill the hole Maximilien Robespierre had left. With the chaos left by the Reign of Terror in politics and on the streets, both Shay and Levesque were in agreement that Templar influence in government needed to be established once more, quickly, and as a new beast instead of Robespierre’s radical left-wing positions.

Order, purpose, direction, as Haytham used to say.

Shay was aware of each glance in their direction as they walked along the wings of the Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace, and searched faces and body language for any hint of aggression towards Levesque that could prove a danger. He was otherwise consumed by his Vision and the touch of her hand on his arm; her grip was tight, and it was now of all times he was reminded of how young she was, only months younger than Killian. Aside from that vice-like grip, she hid her fear. He was convinced she was telling the truth about her status in Paris as one of the last, if not only, remaining person of influence in the Order, and so her injury or death would spell an end to the Rite. Neither they nor the Order could afford that.

Levesque’s goal today wasn’t to sway the Convention’s politics at all, but simply to recruit. She had sat with Sébastien and planned her moves for the days Killian had lain abed in the room above, shouting in his delirium. Levesque’s face had been grim throughout. His pain will be avenged, she had promised Shay. It wasn’t one he had needed; he would see to that himself. Since Killian’s recovery a week ago, Shay had set him and Aidan new tasks more suited to their hot-headed youth whilst he and Levesque tackled this one. Shay caught himself remembering then what it was like to be young, not needing to think about the bruises and aches that now plagued him for days, his painful joints, nor worrying if his lack of speed would spell the death of him. He was still feeling the effects of the fight with Kenway. He was careful to conceal his discomforts from his children, especially from Killian. Despite what the boy thought, Shay could see it written plain across Killian’s face how disappointed he was in him for not being the Hunter he had forty years ago. Killian wanted more than past stories of ruthless conquest from him, but the simple facts were that Shay couldn’t anymore, and he wasn’t happy with it. There was too much that needed to be done. He thought of Gist then, and a lump stuck in his throat. He had died only the January past, and one of the last things he had said to Shay was, Trust. He felt awful that he had to extend that sentiment to his children who he should have trusted his life with. Killian’s recent actions though had made it … difficult.

Shay came back to the present when Levesque’s fingers shifted on his arm, and he heard a smattering of applause mixed with shouts of disapproval from the gallery below as the speaker finished his piece. The Salles des Machines had been a theatre before the Convention had moved here. It was a tall-ceilinged, circular room, and the benches curved around the centre stage. On the upper balconies, a few politicians sat in booths, and the speakers stood on the stage in the place of actors.

“This way,” Levesque said. “I cannot go down there,” she said at the very edge of the gallery. She pointed to the sea of government and murmured, “You see that man there? His name is Jean-Lambert Tallien, and I believe that he will be willing to listen to what we have to say.”

“To what you do, my lady,” Shay said.

Levesque gave a little snort of laughter as Shay left the gallery. He sidled between the rows of benches until he was directly behind Tallien, and said nothing for some time as below, two new politicians from opposite sides of the room took to the stage and argued with each other, accompanied by shouts from their parties.

“Master Tallien,” Shay said eventually.

Tallien turned around. He was younger than Shay had thought, surely not thirty yet, with dark hair beneath his wig and a large wedge of a nose. He looked Shay up and down suspiciously. “Monsieur?”

“I come of the behalf of a lady of mine,” Shay continued. “She wishes to speak to you.”

“Who are you?”

“You come, and you’ll learn.” Shay stood, and he waited until Tallien rose from his seat. Shay noted his reluctance as he led the way back up the benches, and found Levesque standing towards the back of the gallery. When Tallien saw her, he relaxed.

“Why, Mademoiselle Levesque,” he said, surprised, and Shay watched as he became a different man as he came to her. “I didn’t expect to see you here.” Quietly, “My sympathies for your sister.”

“Thank you.” Levesque’s voice had taken on an almost shuddering quality as if she were barely holding back tears as she extended her fingers for Tallien to kiss. “Your kindness is appreciated.”

“Such a difficult thing to go through, the way … They say it was frightening.”

“Yes. A man; I thought he was flying when he dropped from the balcony onto her shoulders.” She blinked and took a deep breath. “I’m sure you understand I would like to avoid further talk of it if possible.”

“Ah yes, of course. Forgive me, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“Do not worry yourself, there is nothing to forgive.”

“You are a strong woman.”

Levesque let out a little, self-depreciating laugh. “I don’t feel it.”

Shay couldn’t fault her for the acting of her grief. From what he understood of the relationship Caresse had held with her sister, they had gotten along neither in personality nor in outlooks for the direction the Order should take. Caresse was part of a third faction that the Rite had split into some years before, one that valued neither the de la Serre’s more peaceful approach to the Assassin Brotherhood nor approved of a frivolous life, or Germain’s extremism and want to return to the Order’s archaic roots instead of adapting to the modern age. It was the same channel of thought Shay followed.

“But you,” Levesque continued, “I heard there was an attempt on your life! I hope you weren’t hurt too badly?” Shay raised his head a little.

“Yes, but thank goodness that the would-be killer was anything but efficient. But without it, well, France wouldn’t be where it is today, dare I say.”

“Are you sure it was sloppy? I mean, it must have been terrible thing to feel. And the Assassin …”

“What’s this talk of assassins? To put a bullet in my arm and inflict a light knife wound little more than a scratch? No, to call that madman, that rogue, an assassin is to give him credit he doesn’t deserve.”

A coincidence, then. If the Assassins wanted someone dead, they were thorough in their going about it. Sometimes Shay was so used to the proper nouns that many things in his life took that he forgot that the ordinary people outside of the war would also want for things like assassination.

Levesque nodded and asked after Tallien’s pregnant wife. Shay let their conversation fade into the background, instead focusing on the tiers of benches and the politicians sitting on them. Some of them where Tallien had been sitting were looking around for him, then when they spotted him in the gallery, turned back to the assembly. Shay shifted his weight against the pillar he had his shoulder on and re-crossed his arms.

“Monsieur,” Levesque said quietly, “is there somewhere more private that we can retreat to?”

“If I may ask why?”

Levesque’s gaze darted to the assembly. “I would rather these things I wish to say to you to be done in private. My bodyguard will be with us the entire time.”

“If … if we must.” Tallien gestured down the gallery space, and Levesque took up her skirts. Shay fell into step two feet behind her, hidden blades at the ready.

Tallien was speaking quietly to Levesque, and if it hadn’t been for the Vision, Shay wouldn’t have heard him say, “Your bodyguard is a bit … old, don’t you think? I’m sure you could find someone more physically able to protect you.”

“I have full confidence in his abilities. I trust him with my life.”

Shay snorted.

Tallien took them to one of the upper booths, and Shay drew the curtains behind them as the other two sat. Shay didn’t leave his position by the doorway, and kept an eye on the balcony lip. If someone wanted to shoot either Levesque or Tallien, they would have to take to the opposite balconies as they were sitting so far back into the booth.

“Now,” Tallien said, “you have me at your mercy. What did you want to discuss?”

“I have some ideas that I wish to impart to you,” Levesque said. “Well, more so questions, and perhaps, if you would be so good as to listen, some suggestions.”

Tallien’s body language had become more relaxed still, and Shay noticed that his answering smile didn’t quite meet his eyes when he agreed, as if he were just humouring her. Shay waited.

“I have been in hiding these past months,” Levesque started. “I fear these same people who came after you and your party will be coming after me.”

“You, my lady?” Tallien asked. Once again his body had changed, coiling with tension. He blinked rapidly as he asked in a near scoff, “And what would you have to fear from a rabble?”

“The king said the same thing when the revolution was gaining sway, and now he is two years dead,” Levesque said. “And I have told you why — I have ideas of my own, Monsieur Tallien, and there are people out there who do not agree with them. Where I want peace, they bay for anarchy because they are convinced such a thing would secure their freedoms.”

“And your ideas are political of nature I am to understand?”

“In a fashion.” Levesque ran her hands down her skirts to smooth them. “I would call them cultural rather than political. Imagine this, Monsieur: a society of peace, where no one would want for anything, not food nor shelter nor warmth, nor even to harm a fellow man. A still world guided by order, and nothing like the one outside.”

“Your ideas are wanted by many in this room, Mademoiselle,” Tallien sighed, and he stood. “Now, if you excuse me, I shall return to debating how to bring them about with my colleagues.”

“I know how to achieve them.” Levesque’s voice was so clear-cut that Tallien stopped. He pivoted on his heel, and although Shay saw the scepticism in his eyes, he hadn’t yet left. Levesque’s were full of determination, and she indicated the seat he had vacated with a single, gloved hand. Tallien sat.

“My family belong to an order whose ideas we have subscribed to for many generations,” Levesque said. “My sister and I grew up with them, and I know she took these ideals with her to her grave. I mentioned before that I feared for my life, Monsieur. I do not fear the mob, but the men who killed her because they did not agree. They are extremists of a more deplorable kind than you find outside, and they despise these ideals of peace so strongly that they thought it fit to dispatched one of their agents to the Luxembourg Palace, and after he bypassed every measure of security, had him take my sister’s life before every guest and guard in the room. He killed nine others that day to do so and fled without an alarm raised or scratch to his person.”

Tallien’s face had drained of colour. “Good God….”

“I hope you understand what this means to me,” Levesque whispered. “Please. Hear me out.”

“Caresse —”

“For Marie, if not for me.”

She was good. She had hooked Tallien to his seat, and Levesque nodded at Shay. “This man here is like me; he wants this peace too. Monsieur Tallien, may I introduce you to Master Shay Cormac, an acquaintance from America.”

“Sir,” Shay said, inclining his head. Tallien nodded back.

“Perhaps you would be willing to tell Monsieur Tallien about your experiences with these people?”

Although she hadn’t meant it, Levesque’s words brought back memories of his friends. Hysteria made Shay want to laugh. Bloody experiences all.

“I’ve been actively against these people for forty years, Monsieur,” Shay said. “You could say I know how they operate … intimately.”

Tallien offered the same empty smile to Shay he had Levesque, but his eyes went to the pistols and dagger on Shay’s hip. “Caresse,” he said quietly, “this is … this is a lot to take in.”

“I understand,” Levesque said. “Tell me, what is your knowledge of the Crusades?”

“As much as anyone who studied it as a boy.”

“Then you will know of the Knights Templar and their adversaries, the Assassins.”

“Oh, Caresse. What is this about?”

“The Knights Templar sought to bring enlightenment to the world, and that mission is alive and well today. My family has been a part of this tradition since the 14th century, we who are Knights in name and practice.”

“You’re addled. I understand if Marie’s death has shocked you —”

“I can assure you, Monsieur, it hasn’t.” Shay cocked an eyebrow; the sudden snap in sentiment had surprised Tallien as well as it had him. Tallien gaped at her. Levesque settled herself. “It … it hasn’t because she drew too much attention. After the Third Crusade, the Assassins followed the Knights Templar back to France, and they have stayed ever since. Marie, Citizen Louis-Michel le Peletier, Général Marcourt, all of those good lives were taken by the Assassins.” Levesque held her hand out to Shay, and he took from a pocket a thick envelope. He handed it to her, and she to Tallien. “In there are eye-witness reports of the deaths of not only my sister and the men whose names I spoke, but of more deaths, and all of them have a pattern.”

“Caresse, enough.” Tallien stood quickly. “You are a woman, and you are grieving. You have my sympathies, but this is the stuff of stories. I do not have time for this.”

“If you reconsider what I have told you,” Levesque said, “then there is a contact and address written in that envelope. If you are in at all way convinced of my words, go there in a week. Master Cormac will be there.”

Au revoir, Mademoiselle. I must be going.”

Tallien left the booth, but Caresse remained where she was, looking over the balcony and to the politicians below. Shay watched with her as Tallien re-emerged, and he waved off the questions others aimed at him before resuming his seat.

“He will come,” Levesque said. “He wants what is best for France, and this is it.”

“I have faith you, Mademoiselle Levesque. But we should leave; I don’t like how many people are here.”

Levesque nodded. “He will come,” she said again, and Shay didn’t comment on how she seemed to need to convince herself more than him.


Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, 8th December, 1794

Killian’s ears were sore with the cold. He was crouched atop the same roof he and his pap had originally spied Javier from as he left Café du Quartier Latin nearly a month ago. He pressed himself to a chimney warm with the fire beneath, musket clutched in hand and breath smoking in the air. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it; he needed to be silent tonight. His face was itching something mad, but he ignored it, waiting for the midnight bells to peal. Whilst his pap was buttering up the politicians with Levesque, Killian’s task was to start dismantling the Assassin networks in the city. Levesque hadn’t been exaggerating when she said they ran across the rooftops at night, and it had taken every inch of Killian’s willpower not to pursue them when he’d heard their footsteps. His pap had talked him into lay low for a fortnight, and after Sébastien’s disappearance four days ago, he’d judged that tonight was enough time to wait.

He was starting small to get him back into the swing of the work. Tonight wasn’t about killing Assassins, but destabilising them. Aidan had returned to Café des Invalides two days previously, examining the premises before confirming what their pap, and Killian himself, had thought. It was an Assassin front, and not only was it a place to gather intelligence for the crowds that found the café an attractive place to hold discussion about the arts, sciences, and politics, but it generated income, and a fair amount of it. However much of the total cut the café took, some of it still made its way to Assassin pockets, and so gave them resources to fight the Templars with. If what his pap feared was right, then Café des Invalides was one of many such Assassin-run businesses, and the sooner they were dealt with, the better. Killian was to burn the place to the ground, and Aidan had taken the second café on Levesque’s list to do likewise in a few days time.

His plan was simple in its design — he was to be thorough, killing the café’s owner and anyone else under his roof in the name of security, and take as much information and monetary values he could find before burning the place. As for himself, he wanted to inflict revenge. Perhaps he’d be lucky tonight and find the blue-cloaked Assassin inside, or even Kenway. He was thinking about what he would do as he slithered down the side of the building, dropping the final few feet to the ground and laying still a moment to assess his surroundings. There wasn’t a hint of movement, and Killian straightened, striding directly towards the café’s door. He broke the lock and pushed ever-so slightly at the door; the hinges creaked. Killian frowned, squatting down and taking out a tin of pig fat from his belt. He greased the hinges as best he could, testing the door little by little until the gap was wide enough for him to slip through.

The room was dark except for the smoldering coals in the fireplace. Killian became more wary then; no one sane would leave a spark in the hearth without a watcher. He spotted the boy curled up at the foot of it a moment later, his back turned to the room and huddled under a thin blanket. He couldn’t have been older than twelve. There was also a bird in a cage behind the café’s counter. Some sort of songbird from Asia, Killian thought as he approached it slowly, dropping to a crouch when he found a squeaky floorboard. It peered at him with a beady eye as he checked beneath the counter for record books and coin, then ruffled its feathers and tucked its head against its shoulder to sleep. Killian ignored it to keep half an eye on the sleeping boy as he continued searching the counter, and after he’d found nothing, he crept through the tables towards the boy, his hidden blade out. He sliced the boy’s throat before he could think much about it, and he woke only in time to see Killian’s hand clapping over his mouth as he died. Killian grimaced throughout, feeling wretched with himself. Better this than to burn, he reasoned, and he couldn’t let anyone live.

He made sure there was nothing else on the ground floor before he climbed the stairs to the second, sneaking anything of value he found into his pockets and killing another boy, this one a few years older than the first, before finding what he was looking for. The office was on the top floor of the building, separated from the bedroom where the café owner and his wife slept. The café’s accounting ledger lay closed on the desk, and behind that was a locked wooden coffer. Killian left the ledger and coffer for the time being, instead creeping to the door and nudging it open. He wished for his pap’s rifle then. He’d killed Assassins in their sleep before, but it had never been easy. Killian knew only too well how alert they could be even in sleep, and that it wasn’t something that changed with age. The two were asleep, their arms curled around each other, and the woman’s hand slipped beneath her pillow. Killian’s first instinct was that she had a knife there.

He rubbed more of the fat onto the hinges, and it was another fifteen minutes of tediously opening the door wide enough that he managed to slip inside. He froze, steadying his breathing and standing straight. Like with the boy, he had already extended his hidden blades, too wary to risk the sound they made within the confined space of the room, and jumped. He drove each into the skulls of the couple, and both twitched violently. Killian had heard it said that such a strike would have left victim unaware of their death, but he hoped fervently that they had each felt something.

Killian left the room, careful to keep himself clean of blood, and went to the desk. He leafed through the papers, and when he was satisfied with what he’d found, stuffed the ledger into his coat. He took the money that was in the coffer too before he upended the lanterns and their oil onto the carpets. He found further cannisters of oil and emptied those too, then toppled the logs from the office’s smoldering grate, and watched a moment as the carpets went up in flame. Killian left from the window just as the smoke started to make his eyes water, and he settled across the street as the building burnt and the first people came from their homes, shouting for help. He sat with his back against a chimney, reading the ledger by the light of the fire.

 

Café de la Bièvre — Julien Guillemette — Payment of 9 livres

Café du Quartier Latin — Vincent Huard — Payment of 26 livres

Café du Louvres — Émeric de Andrade — Payment of 24 livres

 

And down the bottom, a huge sum of money that made Killian whistle through his teeth.

 

Francis-Claude Beaulieu — Payment of 115 livres

 

Killian tilted his head. It was a false name, he was certain of that, and he held the book close to his nose, squinting at it, as if doing so would offer him further clues. Unsurprisingly his Vision showed him nothing, and he sighed, standing up and snapping the ledger shut. He was confident they were on the right trail — Café de la Bièvre was one of the businesses listed on Levesque’s scrap of paper that had put them onto Café des Invalides in the first place, and the other two were new names. He would have to send Aidan to look further into those; no doubt descriptions of him and his pap were already circulating around the Assassin circles, and the scar didn’t help.

He left the rooftop, striding through the streets against the flow of the crowd as they rushed to the burning café, and turned up his collar against the cold.


L’Arsenal, 9th December, 1794

Arno was speechless when he heard of the loss of Café des Invalides. It had burnt the night before, and after the break-in at Café Théâtre, it left him paranoid. Earlier that day, he had examined the bodies that had been pulled from the building — the café’s owner, his wife, and two sons, Assassin sympathisers all — and his heart had burst with fury when he beheld them. There wasn’t much left of any of them, they had been little more than blackened things in the shape of people, but enough was there for Arno to see they had been murdered, and from that it was plain the building had been the target of arson. It was the Cormacs, of that he was certain. How they’d found the café, he had no idea, but its burning had lost more than the lives of the family. It had cut a large source of funds for the Assassins, for bribes, medicine, supplies, even food; they could rebuild the café, and that was what the plans were, but it wouldn’t be ready for a long time yet. It also meant their other businesses were in danger, and for it the Council had posted one fully-fledged Assassin to each of them to watch, but Arno wasn’t convinced it would do much to help. He had seen what the Cormacs were capable of, the new scar on his chest spoke of that, but there wasn’t much he could do. He had to trust that everyone could play their own parts.

Café des Invalides spurred Arno into action on the front of Eve. If he couldn’t do anything about the Cormacs because of the Council, he reasoned, then he could do this.

Arno was sick of hunting for Eve. He knew enough about looking for people who didn’t want to be found that one of three things would happen. The first was that they would disappear forever, which Arno was determined to not see happen, and assumed wouldn’t given he was ignoring the warning for him to stay away; the second that they would slip up and expose themselves either directly or through a channel as had Germain through Robespierre; thirdly, though highly unlikely, blindly stumbling across his target. Arno was convinced that the third would happen only when rain started falling up, and all of his efforts to find a loose thread that would lead him to the second had come to nothing, already evidenced by his original search for Eve, and one that he would still be chasing had it not been for this man. He was hardly a stranger to the long hunt, but he no longer had patience for one now that a second path for finding her had been opened. Arno’s intentions were to take it by the throat. Instead of finding the man, he would turn the tables and bring him closer instead.

“Why am I here, Dorian?”

Arno sipped at his coffee, one arm over the back of his chair and his legs crossed. Opposite him, LaHache had done nothing but sit with his limbs crossed tighter than the Gordian Knot. It was five in the afternoon, and the café they sat in was buzzing with activity. They were sat towards the back of the floor, a coffee pot between them — Arno was the only one who’d touched it — and a crowd of debaters surrounding them. Arno and LaHache ignored their talks of philosophy, and, for LaHache, ignored the stares aimed his way. He didn’t blend well with the richer surroundings; his hair and beard were in need of trimming and washing, and his clothes, made of canvas and leather instead of the richer cottons and velvets others wore, of repair. If anything he seemed to take pride in his appearance in the eyes of the rest of the patrons; amongst the Assassins, LaHache had a well-known disdain for the rich. His axe was propped against the side of the table, and his mud-flaked boots on a padded chair.

“I’m offering my own form of apology,” Arno said, a touch primly. “Excuse the absence of a dog-fighting pit.”

“What is this, a show-up?”

“A differ in taste.”

“Spit out want you want from me, already.”

Arno put his cup down and leant his head closer to LaHache’s so to speak directly to him instead of having to fight with the chatter of the rest of the café. “Has anyone by the name of Eve come through Calais?” He had put a little emphasis on her name, and tapped into the Vision at the same moment. He became hyper-aware of the rest of the café, and left the Vision to simmer like water over a stove in the back of his mind as he continued his conversation. It was the same method he used whenever he was on a mission, and instead of burning up his reserve in a manner of moments as had been his only way of using it before the training the Assassin’s archive had informed him of, he drew it out in a trickle. He couldn’t hold it indefinitely, but it helped it last for near-on three minutes. It had saved his life during his open fights, as he had been able to sense the swing of a sword at his back and put his in the way, and even to roll away from the ball of a sniper’s rifle before the man himself had consciously made the decision to pull the trigger. Now he used it to sense any perk in interest around the café.

LaHache tilted his head to the side. “Your elusive Saint-Denis name? Jesus, you must be desperate if you’re asking me for help.”

“We’re brothers,” Arno said, and pulled up the corner of his mouth in a smile without warmth. “Officially.”

“And here I was thinking you might apologise.”

Arno’s head throbbed a little. “I won’t forgive what you said about Élise, god damn you for thinking otherwise.”

“Like I won’t forget what the Templars did to my family?” LaHache shook his head. “Never.” He paused. “With Marcourt … I didn’t want to kill those soldiers. I had the choice of killing them and letting our mission succeed, or letting them live and risking both the mission and our lives.”

Arno wanted to laugh. Did LaHache think that apologising for the Marcourt disaster would excuse what he’d said about Élise? Arno had moved past that, he’d done so months ago, but not about Élise. He could still recall the moment with perfect clarity, Jean spitting at him as Verne had held him back, and the bruises Francesco had left around Arno’s upper arms as he’d fought against him to reach LaHache. He’d forgiven the scar that ran half the length of his thigh, a final gift from Marcourt before Arno had shot him between the eyes, but not what Jean had said.

You’ve used us for the sake of your Templar cunt.

Arno took another sip of coffee. “Is there any information from Calais?” He trod on LaHache’s toes. He’d caught something then on the edge of his awareness, a small stir, and he needed to pluck that thread. After Bellec’s efforts, Arno and Jean-Jacques had worked on enough missions together that despite the positions they stood in now, they still understood how the other worked. LaHache’s mouth stretched in a tight line. Cottoning on to the fact Arno was establishing some scheme, LaHache lied, “I heard some whispers.”

“How many?”

“Nothing on activity, but enough that the name stuck. Looking for the …” He leant closer. “Well, you know.”

“I thought it wasn’t taken through Calais.”

“Marseille.”

It hadn’t — it had gone by land to Venice, and from there to Cairo via Alexandria — but what mattered was laying the bait. Arno may not have gotten on well with LaHache for over a year now, but he couldn’t deny that he had foresight, and that after Bellec had made them push past their initial loathing of the other, they worked well together.

Arno shifted his weight in his chair. “And that’s it?”

“That’s it.” LaHache stood. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“Trenet ordered me to spy on you,” LaHache told him bluntly.

“I thought so.” Arno looked up at him. “Are you going to tell her about this?”

LaHache put his axe on his back and scrubbed at his hair. “I haven’t decided yet.” He left then, and Arno stared into his cup. He ignored the woman who left one of the nearby tables, and finished the cooling pot of coffee.

Two days later, Arno returned to the Arsenal. He hadn’t been idle during the time, and had instead been in contact with Paton, and Paton had directed him towards the beggar community he used for his intelligence gathering. Arno had talked to them, asking after Lady Eve. But his goal wasn’t to get information from them, although that in itself would have been welcome, but to spread it. Scattering the breadcrumbs around until he brought something in. He had defied the Council and donned his Assassin robes, walking the streets with the hood up unlike he usually would and prowling around the poorer districts and returning to Invalides. He asked many people about her, and by the end of the second day, he was satisfied to see that he had attracted interest. He didn’t return to Café Théâtre that night, and instead spent it pressed against a terracotta chimney stack, wrapped in several stolen blankets and the only warm thing in him whiskey. The watcher didn’t leave him, even though when morning had come, everything had been covered with a fine layer of frost.

He was stiff and freezing when he met up with Verne the follow afternoon. “You have something?”

“Oh yes.” Verne was leaning on the wall of an alley, and he took a bite from the apple he held before jerking his head to the side. “Come on.”

“Thank you for this.”

“ ‘s nothing.” Verne pushed himself off the wall and Arno followed him. He was acutely aware of the tailer.

Verne looked up at the sky. “Didn’t Augustin say it was going to rain later?”

“He did.”

It was a simple affirmation that they had used on multiple occasions before when they had an objective. One of their number asked another a yes or no question, and depending on the answer, it confirmed whether what they were hoping to achieve was working. Arno’s tailer had moved off after them, and Verne said, “Augustin owes me, then.”

“How much?”

“Two livres.”

“Damn. Must have been confident.”

“Well, his loss. This way.” Verne finished the apple core and led Arno through the streets. The cold had driven many indoors, and their breath fogged on the air. Arno rubbed his hands together. Verne led him away from the wider streets of the Marais, and west towards Porte-Saint-Denis. The houses became more closely packed, the streets dirtier, smellier, and the sky faded from a clear winter afternoon to near-dark in the space of a half hour. There was a shift in activity during this time; lanterns lit in windows, and there were shouts from doorways. Every brasserie they passed was busier than the last, and the whores more numerous, the streets and alleys choked with waste. There were cats screaming somewhere close by, and the sound made Arno’s head ache.

“Handsome,” a woman called to him, “you look lonely. I can help with that.”

Arno couldn’t look at her. When he had been in Versailles, he had met a woman, a bed acquaintance he had known before the revolution, and in his aching for Élise had tumbled her in the hope that for even a few minutes he could forget. It had only made him feel worse, and less than two hours later he had left Versailles with nothing but the stinking clothes on his back and a letter to explain to Frederick Weatherall where he’d gone, but not the whole reason of why. Thinking about that night made him shudder.

Verne flicked Arno a glance. “Your fish still have the hook in his lip?”

Arno pulled himself out of his moroseness and checked on the tailer with his Vision. “Yes.”

“There’s a quiet spot coming soon, with a rope spanning the rooftops. We can jump him there.”

I’ll jump him there,” Arno said. “I want you up on the roof; keep an eye out.”

“You know, I can’t shoot him if you’re having a tussle on the floor,” Verne said, amused.

“I don’t want to kill him — I want to subdue him.”

“I can restrain myself.” But Verne peeled off when they reached the street he’d spoken of. There were few windows overlooking the area, a wider space with a unkempt patch of grass and an old tree in its centre, and the ground was slippery with frozen mud. The high buildings made the place even darker, and above him, the rope’s anchoring creaked in the wind. Arno cast his eye around, looking for somewhere he could conceal himself. The dark wasn’t a burden for him; with the Vision he knew the layout of the space as if it were bathed in sunlight. His eyes were still dark, but he could sense where everything was. Off to his left, Verne cursed as he slipped on his climb, and he settled himself on a window flowerbox. He had a rag wrapped around his hand, and a flask in the other. Next to his boot he laid a box of matches.

They waited five minutes, ten minutes. Arno desperately wanted his hidden blade when the tailer came into the space; he didn’t want to kill him, far from it, but it offered a sense of security. Verne soaked the rag as the tailer prowled the edge of the buildings, wary of something. Arno couldn’t blame him.

Arno caught Verne’s attention, then held up a finger, put it alongside his nose, touched his left wrist, and then pointed to the man. Watch him. Put your blade on him. Then he snuck forwards. He was aware of where he put his feet, moving silently, but steadily, towards him. As Arno went to grab him around the neck, the man turned. He barely avoided being punched in the mouth, and he leapt back, a snarl on his face.

“I know your tricks,” the man rasped. Verne had lit the rag and thrown it on the ground, and the firelight threw deep, contrasting shadows over the walls, but it was enough for Arno to recognise the man he’d seen at the Bastille. Arno didn’t have any time to feel much satisfaction for his identity as he leapt for him, ducking beneath the man’s second swing and driving his shoulder into his stomach. He could hear Verne shouting as they grappled on the floor, but it was nothing more than background. Arno disengaged when he heard a knife leaving its sheath, and he bent around the first wild stab. Verne shot the man in the shoulder with one of the Phantom Blades, and Eve’s man turned with the blow, but he didn’t make any sound of pain. His clothes soaked up the blood, and it looked as if the bolt had hit deeply. Arno aimed a blow for the wound, but the man caught his fist; Arno punched the crook of his elbow to release the man’s grip on him.

“I can feel them in your tainted, tainted blood,” the man hissed. “Tainted, tainted … Scratching at me like chickens. Where is the Sword? The Apple? They cling to your skin give them to me!” The knife came for Arno again, and he stepped around, but the man’s free hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt. Arno was pulled down, and the knife almost went into his chest. He pushed all his weight onto the man’s arm, trying to get it away from him, but the man was surprisingly strong. Verne was yelling at Arno to roll over, but Arno was afraid it would be the opportunity the man needed to stab him.

VERNE!” Arno roared. “Shoot!

The bang of Verne’s pistol almost deafened Arno, and Eve’s man screamed as the ball hit his knee.

Arno grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and shook him. Verne reloaded his pistol as he came to stand behind Arno.

“Who are them?” Arno demanded. “Who’re you?”

The man snarled at him through red teeth. “You have their blood,” he spat. “Their blood; tainted, cursed, vile blood. You carry a Fragment of Knowledge.”

Arno didn’t know what the man was talking about. A Fragment? He shook him. “You make sense, or I’ll slice your throat.”

“She wants what’s hers,” the man said, ignoring Arno’s threat. He grabbed the collar of Arno’s own shirt and pulled him close. “They are hers; her Apple, her Sword.”

“Eve’s?”

“Eve. Eve Eve Eveveveveve.” The man’s jaw chattered.

He’s insane, Arno thought. “You killed my cat,” he said aloud. “You broke into my home.”

The man didn’t seem to hear him. “Eve,” he whispered again. “Eve.”

Arno only noticed the pellet under his tongue when it was too late. Whatever it was, the man bit down upon it, and Arno jammed his fingers into his mouth to try and pull it out. It seemed to be too late however, and Arno watched with equal amounts of horror and fascination as the man spasmed on the ground, jerking and garbling nonsense. It was poison, but nothing like he had ever seen or dreamt of. The man was frothing at the mouth and writhing like a snake with its head cut off, and his eyes were fixed unblinkingly on Arno as he spat nonsense. “Eve,” he said between his harsh sounds. Arno only realised what was coming from the man’s mouth were words mere seconds before he slumped dead. They were nothing like he’d ever heard before, and he tried to grasp them, remember them. His fingers were caught in the lapel of the man’s jacket, and he forced himself to uncurl them; they were stiff as if with cold, and he watched in a numb state as the body slid down the incline.

“The devil is going on?” he asked himself. “What the hell —?”

“Arno, move.” Verne crouched next to the body and put his fingers to the neck, looking for a pulse. Arno didn’t need that to know the man was dead; he had ceased to exist in the senses of the Vision. “Dammit,” Verne said softly. He opened the mouth, sniffed deeply, then said again, “Dammit.

“What?” Arno asked.

“We need to take him back to Sanctuary.”

“You know what this was?”

“I have an idea, but I need my equipment. Help me here.” Verne threw one of the man’s arms around his shoulders, and Arno took his other.

“He’s drunk,” Verne called to a couple of passersby who had turned to stare at them. He affectionately patted the dead man’s face with a smile. “He’ll be alright come morning.”

Arno’s shoulders were aching with the weight by the time they got the body through the grates under Île Saint-Louis. “Verne,” he panted.

“Hmm?”

“What do you think it was?”

Verne furrowed his brow. “I’ll have to research it some more, but I have a poison in mind. Only reason I’m hesitant to put a name to it is because … well, it’s difficult to acquire, even more so than something like arsenic or aconite. It’s not widely known outside of scholarship.”

The Sanctuary was quiet, but someone must have spotted them for they were soon greeted by two Assassins. The one wearing red was the same who had taken Arno down here to see the Council in October. He looked Arno up and down, no doubt seeing the robes. “What is this, Lemoine?” he demanded.

“I saw this man drop dead within the space of seconds,” Verne bit back, jostling the corpse at the same moment. “I want to find out how. Now excuse us.”

“If you must, but not him.” The Assassin pointed at Arno.

Verne stared. “I’m letting him —”

“You don’t have the authority to allow that,” the Assassin said. He turned to Arno. “I’ll see you back to the café.”

“I need his assistance, Laurent.”

“If you want to examine the body, then find Damien.”

“Arno has information I want.”

“Then he can give it to the Mentor. He’s not supposed to be here without the Council’s permission; that was the agreement.”

“Arno, stay here. I’ll find one of the masters if that’s what this idiot wants.”

“No; it’s fine,” Arno said icily.

Satisfaction gleamed in Laurent’s eyes, and soon Arno was standing outside the café. He was tired, and although he was angry, exhaustion was getting the better of him. The café was tending to the last customers of the day, and so Arno managed to pass unnoticed by everyone except Matthis behind the counter. Arno nodded back at him before climbing the stairs slowly, sluggishly.

She wants what’s hers.

Eve.

EVE.

Arno thunked his head against the wall, groaning.

“Master Dorian?”

He turned. Kenway was standing on the landing, a bowl of soup in his hands. Much to Arno’s surprise he looked concerned. Arno sniffed and leant his shoulder on the wall, crossing his arms and ankles. “Mentor.”

“I’ve heard there’s a fight in the Sanctuary concerning you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Master Lemoine came to me about giving you permission to enter the Sanctuary.”

“Oh … and what did you say?”

“He couldn’t get it from me. I do not have authority over the precedents the Council have set.”

“Kenway —”

“That’s not my name,” he said flatly.

“I didn’t— I’m sorry.” It had slipped out, and Arno hung his head. It was obvious Kenway … Connor … the Mentor, wasn’t pleased with him; Arno could see the annoyance in his eyes.

“Kenway was my father’s name,” he said. “I never took it.”

“I apologise. Did Verne tell you what happened?”

“A little. Tell me the rest.”

Arno did. The crease between Connor’s brow deepened the more Arno talked, and by the end of it the soup had gone cold.

“He was saying something before he died, and I thought it was nonsense at first.” Arno repeated what he remembered. He knew he had mangled the words hopelessly, but it gave Connor pause. He waited, resisting the urge to fidget. Connor muttered under his breath, but Arno couldn’t understand a word of it; whatever he was saying though sounded like what the man had said.

“You’re certain?” Connor asked him a moment later.

“Certain enough. Why?”

“I know the words, but the only thing that makes any sort of sense is …” Connor’s frown deepened. “‘Save us’.”


Saint-Marcel, 11th December, 1794

Shay sensed Tallien coming before he saw him. The brasserie was crowded, the space overwhelmed with sound, and cheap alcohol flowed like water. Shay had secured a table early in the night, and had glared at anyone who so much as thought of taking the second chair tucked under the opposite side of the table. His dagger lay alongside the tankard of beer he had purchased to quiet the bartender’s ideas of running him out.

Tallien looked conspicuous as he came in, so much so Shay was moved to near-pity as he tried to skirt the edge of the room. On the other side of the room, one of the patrons nudged his companion and thrust his chin in Tallien’s direction. Tallien may not have been recognised outside of the Convention, but he acted and dressed like a rich man. Shay prepared himself to the idea of spilling blood.

Tallien made it to the table without fuss, and he sat down hesitantly. Shay nodded to him. “Monsieur.”

“Master Cormac, wasn’t it?”

“Aye.”

“Caresse’s papers … they have me intrigued,” he confessed. “Will you tell me more?”

Shay took a drink. “Whatever you want to know. Monsieur.”

Chapter Text

Assassin Sanctuary, 12th December, 1794

It was early morning when Connor and Arno met Verne in the Sanctuary. Verne looked exhausted; there were shadows dark as bruises beneath his eyes, and he invited them into the room whilst stifling a yawn against the back of his hand.

Connor nodded at him. “Good morning.”

Verne’s reply was lost in another yawn.

“Do you want coffee?” Arno asked from behind Connor.

Verne waved the offer away, staring bleary-eyed at the table. “I’ve been drinking so much coffee that I feel like it won’t help now. Or my heart will explode.”

“You’ve found something?” Arno pressed.

“I’ve found a lot of things.” Verne patted a pile of books next to him, and although he was tired, he looked happy with himself. Various pages had been marked with scraps of paper, ribbon, and a broken quill. He opened the top book, and Arno went to stand beside him, conversing quietly as they looked through it. Connor took in the rest of the room whilst they were doing so.

It was messy, and more a laboratory than anything else. Glass beakers, thin tubing, metal instruments, and flasks of various shapes and sizes amongst other things sat on the tabletops, and scattered throughout it was everything from jars of metal shavings and powders, to empty coffee cups, half-eaten meals, novels, newspapers, wafer-thin clay bomb casings, jars of gunpowder, and bolts for the French hidden blades steeping in a jar, warmed by a low-burning candle. There were bookshelves lining the walls, groaning with the weight of their loads, metal-rods wrapped in a canvas bag, a large bucket of used chemicals, and a pistol in four pieces. Connor had never been a particularly neat person, but the room made even him hesitate. He wanted to take a closer look at many of the things, but was so cautious about touching any of it that he stayed by the door, waiting for Arno and Verne to finish speaking. Luckily he didn’t have to wait much longer.

Verne cleared his throat. “Damien cut the body up and gave me this from the stomach,” he said, and waved his hand towards one of the pieces of glassware; Arno wrinkled his nose at the soupy liquid inside. Verne rolled to his feet and took hold of a second, smaller beaker, and brought it in line with the first before he lost his balance and sat back down in the chair once more. The liquid in this beaker was more watery than in the first, but the most immediate difference was that it was a dark blue. It meant nothing to Connor; he stared at it blankly.

“Before last night I’d only heard about poisonings like this….” Verne tapped a paragraph in one of his books. It wasn’t a traditionally bound book; it looked like a collection of monthly articles strapped between wooden boards. “Blausäure, a poison that can kill within moments. The symptoms fit with what happened — the frothing at the mouth, the swiftness of death, and the bitter smell. It took a while to find the right way to test for it, but when I did find the right chemicals to use, sodium hydroxide, iron-sulphate, heating, etcetera, it gave me this.” Verne flicked the beaker with the blue liquid, then ran a hand down his face. “I just … how did he get his hands on it?”

“ ‘Blue acid’?” Arno asked.

“Mmm.” Verne turned to them. “It was only first prepared, or deliberately made if you like —” he tallied on his fingers quickly, “— twelve years ago, and like I said last night, unless this man had connections in high places, I don’t know how he could’ve gotten his hands on it.” He crossed his arms and leant back in his chair, switching his gaze between Connor and Arno. “I first came across mention of it during my studies and from papers published by l’Académie des sciences. Altaïr too wrote about what he called cyanide in the Codex, and how to detect it.” He pointed towards the blue beaker. “Other than those places, I’ve never seen mention of it. It begs the question of where on Earth your madman got enough concentrated blausäure to kill him that quickly.”

Connor worried at the skin on the side of his finger with his teeth, thinking. “Where would you go for it?”

“If I didn’t have a laboratory,” Verne said, “I’d go to the chemistry faculty at Collège Royal; this isn’t something you can get at an apothecary.”

“Collège Royal,” Arno said slowly. “Are we thinking of the same one which ran out of funding and was closed?”

“There’re some people still left,” Verne said. “Someone’s looking after the building, and where can the professors go?”

“Knowing Robespierre, he would have turned them out on their arses and told them to go home.”

“That was the Sorbonne and it happened because of their religious affiliations, which last I noted near the entire country is against,” Verne said with exasperation.

“Regardless, it’s closed, the Sorbonne’s closed; every university is closed. How does it help us?”

“The professors are still around, and teaching,” Verne said. “Many of them love their academics more than they love their mothers. The collège is their lives, and closing it won’t stop them from pursuing the same knowledge they have for decades. There’s no point in them straying far if they don’t fear for their lives, which so long as they don’t teach anything religious, they won’t. If for some reason they were afraid, they know the people around there, and who’ll keep their mouths closed should the wrong people come knocking. They wouldn’t have wanted the university closed either. Birds of a feather flock together and all of that.”

“The university is one thing, but what if this poison’s not tied to it?” Connor asked. “What about underground practices? Surely there must be some.”

“There are,” Verne said. “I know some of the people who run them. If blausäure’s been moving through their markets, I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of it, and I pride myself on keeping up with the latest happenings in those circles. And its not something I’m particularly eager to see go around after the Terror.” He sighed. “Still, if things have changed and it’s something I haven’t caught wind of, it was only a matter of time. But I’m almost sure that whoever the supplier is, they’ve a private contract, or the poison’s coming directly from a member of the group. Well, I’m assuming yesterday’s madman was from a group.”

“I’ll be surprised if he isn’t,” Arno said. “I’ll go to Collège Royal. One lead’s better than none.” He seemed to grapple with himself for a moment before he asked Connor, “Is this permissible, Mentor?” He almost sounded bitter about having to ask. From a quick glance at Verne, Connor saw he thought likewise.

Connor nodded, disgruntled by Arno’s obvious resentment for his situation. It was like he was determined to fight the leash the Council had put on him, and to let everyone know it. “Granted.”

“Then let’s go,” Arno said to Verne.

“M-me?” Verne looked uncomfortable. “You know it’s not a good idea …”

“It’s been nearly ten years, Verne. No one’s going to recognise you.”

“You’re so certain, are you?” Connor had never thought Verne to be a person as quick to anger like this. From what he had seen, Verne had a patience both Connor, to a large extent, and Arno, to a smaller one, lacked. Verne glared at Arno, and had balled his fists so tightly his knuckles turned white. “I’ll give you everything you need,” he said quietly, “names, floor plans, whatever you want, but I will not go back there. People don’t forget, Arno, especially when you’re some kind of … some kind of grotesque.”

“You’re not a grotesque.”

Verne’s laugh was hollow. “Tell the world that.”

“Verne —”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Connor thought Arno was going to continue arguing, but he didn’t. He nodded and said, “When can you prepare everything?”

“A day? I just need to write everything down and find the right maps.” Verne strode off as soon as he’d finished speaking. Connor glanced at Arno, but Arno was looking at where Verne had gone, his expression stony.

“I want words with you,” Connor said in the effort to break the tension, and jerked his head towards the door. He led the way out, holding the door open for Arno and then walking down the corridor until they reached the junction. Connor leant against the wall and crossed his arms, waiting for a moment before speaking. “Is there something going on between you two that I need to know about?”

“No. I misjudged; that’s all.”

That was all Connor cared about for now. He was concerned about what Verne had said, and he had his suspicions at to what he’d been referring to, but like it was with Arno’s, Verne’s business was his own. “This dead man was the one you spotted at the Bastille?”

“Yes; I told you yesterday.”

“And he spoke?”

“Yes.”

“Did he have a foreign accent?”

“Not that I can recall. Why? Do you have an idea who he is?”

“I want to know how my language came to be on your floor. It comes from such a small corner of the world and only a handful of thousands speak it I …” Connor had been afraid, perhaps stupidly, that it had been one of his own people. He knew the fear had been irrational, especially when the words had been written incorrectly, but the idea had lingered. “I remember when I was a child the French would come to trade with my village.” They were vague memories, but there nonetheless. The memories came from before his mother’s death when the French had been trying to secure the valley as a trading route to Canada. Washington had ended all of that with the use of force, and the French had stopped trading with them in ’63 following their defeat. The dead man was middle aged, so it wasn’t entirely unfeasible to assume that he could have been shipped over to America as part of the army as a young man; the French were known for offering their colonies the protection of many new recruits and too few seasoned men, and that he had learnt the language during the deployment. There would have had to be a huge element of luck getting a lead from military records, though. He could have been a company trapper, or a sole trader trying to find a way to survive, or even a man who had looked to find a new life and then returned home.

Arno seemed to think such a probability low as well. “The best bet is to find the origins of the blausäure and then find out how he knew your language.”

“I agree, but it is still a lead to pursue if Collège Royal should turn up nothing.” Connor paused a moment before asking, “Nothing else happened last night?”

“No. I didn’t sleep last night,” Arno muttered. “I couldn’t.” Couldn’t or wouldn’t, Connor didn’t ask.

“Stay away from your bed for the next week, two if possible. If you have nowhere else to go I’ll see about securing you a bed down here.”

Arno nodded. He wanted to leave the conversation and be on his way; Connor could see it as clear as a signal beacon, but he wasn’t finished yet. “If the Cormacs weren’t presenting such a problem I would dedicate all of my energy to finding out who Eve is,” he said. “I’ve read your reports and seen records, and I’m confident in your skills and your motivations. I’ll leave the tracking of her to you.”

Arno stared at him. “You’re …”

“I have conditions. For the satisfaction of the Council, report back everything to them and me both; I think this was part of the original agreement you struck with them in October?” When Arno nodded, Connor said, “Two copies; one for them, one for me. If Eve has anything to do with the Pieces, be silent about it, and I’ll keep the Cormacs busy.”

“Of course.”

“There is one more thing.” Connor tilted his head and shifted his weight. “Beylier spoke to me after I took you under my watch of your … predilections towards your work left him concerned. So: I’ll trust your judgement to act on a situation should the need be dire, but if the matter can wait for more than the next few minutes, I want you to report back to me.”

“I will.”

“Then do as you will. And my luck to you.”


Faubourg Saint-Germain, 18th December, 1794

Jean-Lambert Tallien hadn’t remained sceptical of the Templar Order for long after Shay met him in the brasserie. In some ways he was everything that one would hope for in a new member, his head bursting with ideas of how to move the Order, expand it, and the hunger to know more. Whilst Shay was impressed with his earnestness, there were times he found himself close to losing his patience, specifically when it came to Tallien’s want to tell more people about the Order, and his not taking no for an answer.

“Why shouldn’t we tell more people about this?” Tallien asked Levesque, spreading his hands on her desk.

“And have them react how you did?” she asked him back. “I doubt that would please many.”

“You convinced me, didn’t you? Why not them?”

“Because that’d just be puttin’ targets on ours backs,” Shay said. “That attempt on your life? Would you like that to become a common occurrence?”

“And after everything the populace has done during the course of the revolution,” Levesque said, “us coming to knock on their doors and declare ourselves people of guidance would sound to many like the reestablishment of the very thing they have shed blood and tears to rid themselves of. What my, and I say this with little warmth, former colleagues sought was to bring the people willingly under guidance through filling them with fear. Thinking of it sickens me, how they twisted what we truly teach and so killed thousands. May my sister burn for what she did.” Levesque said to Tallien, “This is why I need your help. You are what I am not: a man, and a politician. The only way to bring this revolution to a peaceful end is in the halls of government, and to keep the country peaceful we must be there to oversee. The politicians are too concerned with themselves and their careers to truly do well for the people that someone must do it. The people want nothing to do with anything that so much reminds them of the Jacobins, and that is you. Monsieur, what are your ties to Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès?”

“I can’t claim to know the man well,” Tallien said. “We’ve conversed, but our politics have their differences; I do not agree with much of what he has to say.” Levesque’s words had rankled him. “How does he help us?”

“He planted the seed of the revolution with his pamphlet,” Levesque said. “He has the ear of the people, whether they and even he know it or not. I believe that with your influence in government and his influence over the population, we can start to rein this madness back. This isn’t about differences in politics, Monsieur. If we’re to truly be successful with our goals, we must put such things aside and work together. To marry our strengths and so hide the weaknesses.”

Tallien took a moment to respond, and when he did his voice was quieter. “I assume you have others you wish to talk to as well?”

“I do. The ear of those directly involved with the military would be a start. We also need eyes and ears on the streets; my man Gauthier was found dead two days ago. As it stands I have less than twenty people at my disposal, and the numbers dwindle by the week. Monsieur Cormac and his family are the best I have, but even they are not enough against the might that the Assassins currently wield. They have ownership of the cobblestones themselves, and if we must claw them back one-by-one to see this city and so country saved, then I will dedicate my every breath to doing such a thing.”

“And what are they, exactly?” Tallien asked. “The Assassins?”

“People who say they want good in the world but don’t do much in the way of makin’ it so,” Shay said. He gestured to the window. “They see the likes of outside and call it the freedom people deserve. Doesn’t seem like the best thing for anyone if they’ll just use it to do as they please no matter whether it be good or ill.” He considered saying that it was his job to hunt and kill as many as he could, but held his tongue for now. It would be detrimental, he thought, to have Tallien know he was working alongside a self-confessed murderer, no matter who he did the murdering for. Even he didn’t like thinking about what he did in such terms; it just made him think of Lisbon and the deaths he’d caused. The whispers of murderer had followed him for forty years.

“The Muslim world called the Hashashins outcasts, degenerates, and it’s a fitting description. Some of us theorise they want what they do for themselves to be outcasts from society no longer, but I don’t believe that. I believe they do think that what they want is what’s best for humanity, but their method is deeply flawed, and they won’t listen to reason. They kill us and others so they don’t have to listen to it. They think their lunacy sense, and they will lay their lives down for it.” Levesque drew a breath and resettled herself in her seat. “If they lay their necks before me as they continue to do with enthusiasm, then we’ve no choice but to keep swinging the axe, or manning the guillotine if we’re to be modern.”

“I see …” Tallien said to Shay, “You seem to know much of them. Your tone tells me as such. There’s … a passion there.”

“I’ve history,” was all Shay said.

“History…. So mysterious, and one of only many mysteries I’m not satisfied not knowing the answers to.”

“Monsieur,” Levesque said lowly.

Tallien ignored her. “I’ve little idea who you are and how you fit into this picture, Monsieur. You’re no politician, and you’ve no influence in any position of importance, but yet here you are, with no badges and a past shrouded in secrets.”

“Secrets that’ll remain mine,” Shay said testily. “If you don’t trust me, fine. But Mademoiselle Levesque trusts me, and you need to trust her. I’m not a politician, aye, but don’t think that because you don’t see the reach of my work that I sit all day doing nothin’ but watch over Mademoiselle Levesque’s wellbeing. Likely before this is over I’ll have saved you a half-dozen times and you’ll not even know.”

“Gentlemen, please,” Levesque cut in.

Shay glanced up when he saw Killian from the corner of his eye standing at the door, and excused himself, somewhat tersely, from Tallien and Levesque. Killian leant against the wall with Aidan next to him, a rolled map in hand. They pushed themselves off and followed behind Shay as he took their conversation to another room down the hall.

“You’ve found the buildings?” was the first thing Shay asked, switching from French to Gaelic; he didn’t entirely trust their surroundings, and it was better to be overly cautious than dead. The change wasn’t difficult for any of them, much like they spoke English without thinking. Shay had grown up speaking both languages, Gaelic more than English in his early years for his aunt who could only speak that and nothing else. English was something he’d used around his father, and then later when he’d met Liam and Liam made him speak it with the dockworkers. All of Shay’s children had woven in and out of a world of English, Irish-Gaelic, and Rachel’s native Welsh since they could walk, able to switch between the languages at the bat of an eye.

Killian nodded. “Aside from the one I burnt, there’re six more cafés.” He unrolled the map and spread it on the room’s table. Shay tilted his head as he looked at it; it showed the immediate districts of Paris, with red crosses marking locations around the city.

Killian pointed to them in turn. “Paper trails and tailin’ led us to these locations, and Aidan’s confirmed that there’s at least one Assassin in each building at all times. They know what we’re doing. Best thing I reckon is to cut the whole mess from under them in a night, and then maybe we can put the final piece together.”

“What piece?”

“Pseudonym we haven’t cracked yet, and I’ll stake my life that that’s the gem in the crown of this café empire the Assassins have. For the little ones though, we move quickly and we all take two each; shouldn’t be a problem.”

“For you, perhaps,” Shay said. “I’m not exactly the most spry of people.”

“We’re spry,” Killian said, “you’re experienced.”

“Experience won’t count for much if I can’t do the work.”

“It’s less demandin’ than what we did last month,” Killian said. “Go to a couple of places, kill everyone inside and burn ‘em in the dead of night; easy. Any idiot with a torch could do it, has done it by accident more times than we know.”

Killian had a point. To those standing outside, many would shake their heads and call it fire being fire, and maybe some would put the pieces together that these burnings were a deliberate act, but what could they do? To stop the Assassins and take the Pieces, Killian was right — it was best to sweep the rug out from under them in one go.

“I said we should do it on the thirty-first,” Aidan said.

“And I said that if he wants the date because of it being the last day of the year and he’s hoping the city’ll be distracted by it,” Killian said, “then we may as well do it tomorrow because they’ve thrown the calendar out.”

“The thirty-first is fine,” Shay said, just to put an end to it. “Don’t rush this, Kil. One mistake, and I’ll have nothin’ of you to take home except your bones.”

Killian grumbled something in Welsh Shay didn’t catch, but Aidan gave him a flat look. Hearing the language just made him think of Rachael and the ache she had left came back like a sudden hit to the chest. He hid it from his sons.

Shay cleared his throat and tapped the map. “Start scoutin’ the places, learn every in, every out, every routine. When the night comes be efficient, and make sure no one can find us.”

“We will,” Killian said. “I’ll take du Quartier Latin and de la Bièvre, Aidan’s said he’ll do du Marais and du Louvres, which leaves the one on Île de la Cité and du Ventre de Paris to you.”

“Fine,” Shay said. They were close together, which he was grateful for. “The whole thing’s to be done in two hours, we understood?”

Aidan nodded briskly, Killian a moment later.

“Good.” Shay caught Killian’s arm as he was leaving, and he ushered Aidan along. When he and Killian were alone, Shay said quietly, “I can feel your want to get revenge, and I understand it. If you find that Assassin, kill him only if the opportunity’s right. If you find Kenway, don’t touch a hair on his head; he’s mine.”

“Why can’t I take an opportunity for this?” Killian asked, jabbing at his scar. “He’s a thorn!”

“A thorn who got the better of you last time you fought. I don’t doubt your skills, but your life is more important than his.”

Killian shook him off. “I know since Mam you’re … I’m not a child anymore, Da.” His voice was small when he finished, his eyes cast to the ground.

“I know,” Shay said lowly. “But I won’t stop worryin’ until I’m in my grave.”

“You trained me,” Killian said. “I can take him. Just was distracted last time.”

“It almost killed you.”

“And I’ll do better this time, I swear. Let me have this, Pap.”

Shay set his jaw to the side, then relented, “I trust you to make the right decision. Don’t play with him; make it clean.”

“Sure,” Killian said, but Shay knew if by some chance Killian found the blue-cloaked Assassin that had opened his face, clean was the last thing the fight would be.


Vendôme, 31st December, 1794

Sébastien had lost weight in his three weeks of captivity, and his skin had turned grey with lack of sun. He’d been given free-reign of the room after the first week, and Julien had said he’d spent the first day shouting and screaming for help; none had arrived, and he’d become tight-lipped.

He looked up as Connor closed the trapdoor behind him, and the heavy clunk of the bolt echoed through the room a moment later. His hood was down, his weapons on the table the room below; he only wore his hidden blades.

Sébastien twitched when Connor took the first step forward. He held his ground after he saw Connor take up one of the two chairs in the room, turning it around and sitting on it backwards. He rested his arms on the back and said, “You’ve been well?”

“As well as a prisoner can be,” Sébastien retorted. “It’s been how many weeks, and you’re only coming back now?”

“I’ve been busy,” Connor said, which wasn’t exactly a lie, but not the whole truth either. He’d been very busy, though he’d had gaps of time coming all the way to Café du Louvres would have been a possible thing. He’d wanted Sébastien to wait, so when this time came he’d be more … malleable. He had come back after the initial two days he’d told Julien to wait after leaving Sébastien with them, but had held off meeting with the Templar until now. It was late at night, the café closed for business, and Julien had said he and his wife were to retire to bed after Connor was done. As such he wanted to be finished quickly.

Connor gestured to the second chair and said, “Sit.”

Sébastien remained standing, which didn’t surprise Connor.

“If you’re just to keep me here cooped up like an animal,” Sébastien asked, “why won’t you kill me and be done with it?”

Connor asked in turn, “Do you want to die?”

“If I must, then I will.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Connor said. “Your help would be appreciated.”

“So you can, can what, plunge this city and her people back into the madness it’s just starting to leave behind?” Sébastien asked in disgust.

“Then you are mistaken with our wants,” Connor said. “We want freedom from you who would take it away and pen us like sheep.”

“It’s the same thing,” Sébastien said. “We provide structure, Kenway.”

“Structure brought by putting the powerful back into power? To make the suffering of these people count for nothing so you can make the country as it was before?”

“You’re a damned fool if you believe that.”

Connor spread his hands. “Then educate me.”

“You think that we want to put our boots on the neck of the world,” Sébastien said. “We don’t. All we want is to better the world.”

“I have heard these arguments fall from the lips of men I then witnessed bringing death and destruction. These men thought that in order to bring advancement and protection we must all be reduced to what we are worth to the future than what we are worth now. We will spend our sweat and blood, but we will do it on our own terms. Those men I spoke to dictated a narrative that suited only their world view, and put into play actions which they said were for the greater good, but in reality brought nothing but suffering. Build a house here, help a family in poverty there; all good causes, but they count for nothing when those same bringers of charity turn around and watch those they disagree with burn because it benefits what they say are the bigger numbers.” Connor had stood up at some point, and he settled a blanket of calm over himself as he paced before Sébastien. “I have never witnessed a freed slave clamouring once more for his chains, and I have seen enough suffering from the actions of the powerful to know that what you seek is something I want no part in. I do not want your oppression, and neither does anyone I love.”

“Can you hear yourself?” Sébastien asked, aghast. “You want anarchy? All the Templars want is to leave the world better than when we entered it.”

“Aye, perhaps,” Connor said, “but you don’t care about the cost of obtaining it. You are too busy staring into the future to care about those you spit upon and trample beneath your feet. What may be best for you in a hundred years is causing hell to those who live now. I believe in progress, but I don’t believe in your throwing people into the way of harm to bring it about for you.”

“This freedom is the last thing these people now need!” Sebastien exclaimed. “They’ve had freedom for years, and they’ve done nothing but run amok with it! We don’t want to lord over them: we want to guide them back to the path that does not involve destruction. This path that the people have tread has done nothing but evil. Tell me when your freedom has stopped the man with a grudge against his neighbour killing him at the first opportune moment, or when punishment towards the man who took what he wanted from an unwilling woman has been delivered? Will you stand there and bleat about freedom to the orphans of this revolution? This anarchy is the reason the revolution has gone on as long as it has, and so has destroyed more than tens of thousands of lives, but an entire culture. Many will not recover from these events. All you believe in is an ideal, but the world doesn’t work like that. I’m too old to think otherwise.”

“The freedom I believe in does not include that of running ‘amok’,” Connor said. “It is freedom from outside control, from the men and women who say that I must belong to where I was born, and so sit silent whilst they live their lives untroubled by the suffering others endure to fit their boxes as said by society.

“But enough. I’m not here to discuss semantics with you. We’ve been on our own sides too long to change our ways of thinking so we will do nothing but argue in circles until we’re dead. I want your help with Shay Cormac and his children.”

Sébastien laughed without amusement. “I won’t sell them.

“Start with how long the Cormacs have been in France.”

Brumaire,” Sébastien said. “Or November.”

Connor found it eerie that they, for all means and purposes, had arrived at the same time. “How did Shay Cormac contact you?”

Sébastien chuckled weakly. “That was an old house. We shouldn’t have been there, but I insisted, fool I was. They’ll be long gone by now.”

Which they were; the house stood abandoned, and Connor had yet to locate their new residence. “And how did he know about it?”

“He was here years ago, at the end of ’76. Don’t know why.”

That date matched that of the encoded letter in Haytham’s journal.

“You’ll get nothing more from me, I promise,” Sébastien said.

“I will,” Connor said. “The Cormacs hunt for Pieces of Eden, and I want to know how much they know about them.”

Sébastien was shaking his head before Connor had finished talking, and he laughed under his breath. “Even if I knew anything, I would say nothing.”

“Then what is he doing with Levesque? What do the names Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Lazare Carnot, Jean-Lambert —” Connor froze, and looked back towards the trapdoor. He’d felt something with his Vision, the merest disturbance, but enough to catch his attention.

“What is it?” Sébastien asked, and the bravado that had before been in his voice had vanished.

Connor ignored him. He stood over the trapdoor and knocked on the wall above it for Julien to let him back down. He wait for a half minute before he knocked again. No one responded. Connor closed his eyes and opened himself to the Vision. Sébastien’s signature was bright in his mind, and he pushed past it, straining to find something below. He crouched despite it not doing much, like how sucking the air in when passing a man on a tight road on horseback did nothing. Something wasn’t right.

He jumped when he heard a crash, and he stamped on the wood above the bolt. It groaned, and Connor stamped again. It took him almost a minute to break the wood, and he almost fell through the trapdoor. He didn’t have a thought for Sébastien as he dropped through the trapdoor, grabbing his weapons off the table and sneaking to the top of the stairs. Sébastien hadn’t followed him; perhaps he was too cautious to do so. It was fine by Connor; his whereabouts was one less thing to think about. Connor descended to the next floor, and he could see and sense nothing out of the ordinary. There was a breeze from an open or broken window to his right, and he pursed his lips. He trod slowly, intent on being silent, and he was so concentrated on that he didn’t see the bodies until he was standing on top of them.

Julien and Fabienne Guillemette’s throats had been slashed. There had been a struggle, but it had been so small as to amount for nothing. Judging by the wounds Julien had died first; Fabienne’s hands were cut, and the wound to her throat was jagged unlike Julien’s clean one. Shaking, Connor said some words over them and moved on. His every sense was alert and his body coiled tight as a wound spring as he made his way through the café, checking every room feverishly.

Connor found Aidan Cormac one floor down, standing behind a desk and reading through a thick ledger by candlelight. Sheets of paper were further spread along the table, as were a few coins. He was alone, his musket propped against the desk. At first, Cormac wasn’t aware of Connor’s presence as he made his way towards him, too engrossed in the documents he’d spread out over the desk, but looked up when Connor was little more than fifteen feet from him.

“Y-you. Kenway.”

Connor started circling around the desk towards the side where the musket was, but  Cormac took it up before he matched Connor in the opposite direction. Connor stopped before he got too far, keen to have the door easily accessible should the boy try anything brash. “You killed them,” he said.

“They were in my way,” Cormac said with false bluster. “I’ll kill you too if you don’t stay back.”

Connor said, “Come quietly.”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Cormac hissed. “Go back to your mud hut and weave grass into your hair.”

Swift rage bore Connor forward, and the boy barely jumped back in time to avoid the hidden blade. Connor caught him against the wall, jamming his arm across Cormac’s collarbones and baring his teeth. “Then I pity you if that is all you can see of the world,” he said. He saw the fear flash through the boy’s eyes, but he side-stepped as Cormac slashed at him with a knife drawn from his belt. No hidden blade, Connor thought as he stepped back a second time. Why? Shay and Killian Cormac had used them.

Cormac had put Connor back into the centre of the room, and Connor shifted his grip on his blade, sliding the second, non-pivoting one out as well.

“You won’t win,” Cormac said. “We’ll bring you down — my brother and my pap and me. We’ve done it before.”

“As have I to the Rite your father helped build.”

Cormac’s face coloured, and he lunged; not at Connor as he’d been expecting, but at the lantern to his left. Connor rolled away as Cormac threw it at him, and it broke against the wall. Flames licked at the wooden shutters, and Connor whirled about to face them as Cormac vanished through the window on the opposite side of the room. Connor had the choice of following him or saving the building, and he let out a frustrated hiss as he vaulted through the window, just managing to catch sight of Cormac’s foot vanishing over the lip of the roof. Connor scrambled up, the tiles leaving his hands as soon as he touched them in his hurried climb, and gave chase.

The roofs were slippery with ice, and Connor almost lost his footing before he leapt the gap to the next roof, immersed in the Vision. Cormac was a little ways ahead of him, intent on fleeing rather than fighting. It made Connor think. He was sure that if it were either Shay or Killian he was fighting, they would have stood their ground. Was, perhaps, Aidan Cormac not as confident in his skills? Connor drew his pistol and fired into the air, hoping that it would wake enough people to alert them to the fire before it consumed the café, or even worse the row of houses the building was apart of, and charged on after him.

Cormac was fast. He was already two roofs ahead of Connor, and didn’t hesitate to leap the gap when the houses broke for an alley. When he ran out of roof, Cormac threw himself forward into space. Connor was startled until he saw the rope Cormac had caught a hold of, and Connor muttered a curse under his breath before he followed. He didn’t consider himself old, but this was certainly something he would have been more happy to do in his youth than now. He caught the rope, and further along Cormac fought for his balance. He glanced back and quickened his pace.

Idiot boy, Connor thought. He was going to fall, he could see it plain as day. He followed, and closed the gap.

Cormac leapt for the building the other end of the rope was anchored to, and he cried out as he hit the wall chest-first. First he tried to pull himself up, but then let go of the ledge once he saw Connor catching up. He hit a wooden awning, and a plank snapped under his weight. He cried out again, seemingly in pain instead of surprise this time, and limped on. Connor stepped onto the rooftop, matching Cormac’s pace on the street below.

Connor ducked as Cormac shot at him with a pistol, and Connor huffed, putting on a burst of speed and jumping onto the roof below. He rolled with the landing, springing upright into a run once more and then leaping over the side of the roof. He took most of the weight of the landing, grunting in pain as he tackled Aidan Cormac to the cobblestones. They landed in a mess and tangle of limbs, Cormac struggling and hitting at him like a wet cat in a sack, and Connor clamped his hands around his throat and squeezed. Cormac choked, opening his mouth to try and breathe and his eyes bulging. Connor didn’t relax his grip even when Cormac’s struggles became weaker; he only let him go when he became slack. He rummaged quickly through Cormac’s pockets. The sleep-dart he found was more reminiscent of Connor’s hand-held ones than what Shay Cormac used with his rifle, and so Connor sniffed it, making certain that it wasn’t lethal with both scent and Vision. Connor had only guessed that for it to be there seeing as how Shay was reliant on it, and so it made sense that he would have trained his children in his same techniques. Aidan was stirring when Connor pressed the dart’s end into Aidan’s leg, and the boy tensed for a moment before he relaxed. Connor put his fingers to Aidan’s neck to ascertain a pulse; it was weak with exhaustion, but there.

Connor hung his head, and buried his face in his hands.


Collège de Sorbonne, 31st December, 1794

The Sorbonne’s main building was one of the few places that wasn’t crowded at night. Arno was grateful for it; it allowed him time to think as he assessed the square below, waiting. He missed the hidden blade acutely, though he still had the bracer and the Phantom Blade on its underside. He’d taken a knife of the approximate same size from the armoury under the café, but it wasn’t the same. Verne’s hastily drawn maps had shown him that the layout of the floors, and the only people that would be inside he’d said, were Convention guard, and likely ones green behind the ears. Arno couldn’t see any lights flickering in the windows, nor sense anyone with his Vision, but it didn’t mean much.

For the past few days, he’d loitered around the Sorbonne and Collège Royal, trying to find leads on those professors Verne had said would be lurking. Luckily for him he didn’t have to search far to find something solid. The Sorbonne district in itself was a draw for academics, and the revolution had, in one of its moments of positive influence, been nothing but encouraging of people to seek education, so long as that education was seen as something useful, the hard sciences being one of those things. The problem was, Arno found as he leant surreptitiously against the back wall of a lecture he’d slipped into, finding a lead in a sea, and that relied on Verne’s suggestion of seeking out the Parisian academic spheres unearthing anything in the first place. He wished Verne were with him, but the only time Verne had set foot anywhere near the Sorbonne district since his expulsion from Collège Royal had been during the hunt for the Louvres’ missing paintings the year before. After that had been finished he’d left the area as quickly as he could.

I can feel eyes on the back of my head, he’d snapped when Francesco had asked him why. Arno knew that it hadn’t been the case, no one was so much as interested in them, but he hadn’t needed any kind of Vision to see how distressed Verne had become. After they’d returned to the Sanctuary Verne had shut himself away in his laboratory, and the next time Arno had been in the place had stunk of burning things. Verne had looked terrible, and he’d had none of his accustomed cheeriness around him. Behold what happens when you’ve a burden of years of being called a sodomite gets you, he’d whispered. And then the Templars getting into your head to finish it off.

Arno shook his head to clear it, focusing on the lecture at hand. The professor was speaking about sulphuric acid, and Arno didn’t understand much of what was going on. He shifted his weight when he noticed the young man staring at him from one of the many seats in the room, and so Arno’s first true lead was nothing more than sheer dumb luck.

“You …”

Arno turned. He was sitting on a bench not far from Palais du Luxembourg, wanting to rest his feet after standing motionless in the classroom for three hours. He looked up, not knowing what to expect from the same man from the classroom standing before him. He worked his mouth for a moment, as if he were unsure as to whether to continue. “You … you’re the one who helped with Professor Marcel, weren’t you?”

Since when was ‘Cesco a professor in anything?

He realised a moment later that the man had said Marcel, not Marechal, and was wondering just how exhausted he was when he remembered. “The murder with the nitric acid, yes.”

“Yes … You asked me questions about the professor during your investigation. Do you mind if I sit?” Arno shrugged, and the man sat. “You don’t remember me.”

“Sorry,” Arno said.

“It’s alright; I would’ve been surprised if you did.” He held his hand out. “Lionel Viala. I never thanked you for solving the case.”

Arno nodded as he clasped it. “Wait,” he said in sudden, stupid realisation. “Nitric acid. You’re a chemist student.”

“I am …”

“Is your school part of Collège Royal?”

Viala nodded. “Was before it closed and the professors … Well. We’re not in the main building anymore. But what does this have to do with the professor?”

“It doesn’t so far as I’m aware. I’m not here for the sake of it, Monsieur. I’m searching for clues about another case, and I haven’t been able to find anything satisfying. I need to speak to one of the professors, and I’ve had it told to me many would still be in residence around here.”

Viala’s body language had become defensive, and it was enough for Arno to ascertain Verne had been right.

“Why?” Viala asked, suspicious.

“People are dying,” Arno said. He weighed the benefits of telling Viala the reason why he was hunting one of the professors, and decided there was little harm in it, unless his luck was extraordinarily bad and Viala was connected to something. He didn’t think so, though. From what he remembered Viala was an honest, open book type. If he had something to hide, it would be difficult for him to do so without Arno noticing. “There have been deaths, and the responsible party has been using a new chemical I’ve never seen before. I’m searching for someone who could offer more information on what such a thing could be.”

Any misgivings about Viala were dismissed when the young man faced Arno more fully, his eyes wide. “New poisons? Of what kind?”

“Forgive me for not saying more. This is nothing like what I and the others of my acquaintance have seen, and we want to keep such a poison away from public knowledge for as long as possible. Do you know anyone who could help me identify such a thing?”

Viala nodded. “I can ask to have a meeting arranged if you like —”

“Thank you, but no thank you. Names would be fine.” Arno smiled and said, “If there’s a guilty man somewhere, it’d be best not to do anything to tip him off, oui?”

Viala nodded again. He tapped his fingers together and said in such a low voice Arno had to strain to hear it, “I’ll see what I can find.”

There had been nothing for a week, and then Arno had spotted him sitting on the same bench, waiting. Arno slid in to sit by him.

“I followed the professor.” There was something like giddiness in Viala’s voice. “He said something strange in class the other day about research he was doing, and it’s not out of the ordinary for the professors to talk about what they’re studying, but he diverted the subject. So I followed him. He’s using the Sorbonne’s main building.”

“What?”

“The laboratories have been moved there and set up as they wanted. Collège Royal’s been used as a warehouse now, but the Sorbonne’s officially empty. The professors, they’re bribing the guards to not say a word about any of what they’re doing.”

Arno’s first question was, With what money? The last he’d heard academics were hardly the most wealthy of individuals. “Who is this professor?”

“Professor Gabet,” Viala said. He was pale, but his jaw was set in determination. “If he’s killing people … please, stop him.”

“I will.”

Viala had taken him to a class. In truth Arno had sat on the roof listening to it, surveying the scene when he could with his Vision. Gabet was a man in his late fifties, and from what Arno heard and sensed, he liked the man. There was an underlying piece of him Arno could feel though, a lie or pretence, a secret, sitting on him like a grease film. He’d followed Gabet later that night to his residence, and when he’d fallen asleep had broken into his study.

Arno had at first been looking for receipts of some kind, but after searching for a while hadn’t found anything in the way of paperwork. What he had found though were fat purses of coins hidden behind a loose plank of the wall behind the desk, which led to a hollowed out space. Arno hesitated before he put his hand into the hole, wary of any kind of precautions Gabet could have taken to stop someone simply stealing the money, but there wasn’t anything Arno could find with any sort of sense. There were sixteen bags in total, and Arno grunted in surprise at the weight of the first one he picked up; it was like picking up a cannonball. He spilt the money of the first bag out onto the tabletop and pushed the coins around, then replaced them and did it with the others. By the time he was done almost two hours had gone by and he’d counted a small fortune, worth years of the regular pay any professor would have had. With what money, you ask? This money. It brought up another question, though.

“Who on Earth is flush with enough money these days to spend it like this?” Arno murmured, holding a coin up to the lantern he’d lit; light shone off the edge. “And how long has this been going on?” By his count there was over five thousand livres there; that was enough to buy two, maybe three farms complete with house and barn. Even Arno, who’d grown up surrounded by luxury and wealth, had seen so much money in one place a small handful of times.

He glanced towards the stairwell and so to where Gabet was sleeping unaware above him. He could have gone up, woken him, and demanded answers then, but Arno left without doing so. Viala had said Gabet was using the Sorbonne building as a place for something, and Arno wanted to see it. Three days later he was sitting on the Sorbonne’s roof. He’d spotted a window likely for entry, and he watched the doors to the courtyard, still as a statue. Three guards, all of them younger than him, were patrolling. They shared a lantern between them, the one in the lead holding it aloft, and the youngest of the group, maybe still in his teenage years, had been talking since Arno had first laid eyes on them.

“… not gonna get caught?”

One of the others snorted in derision. “Not if you’re careful. You can trust some of the others further up the ladder to keep their mouths shut about this, especially the ones who were serving before the revolution and things like this went hand-in-hand with the job. No, it’s the honourable ones who join the ranks because they want to do something right you’ve got to be wary of. Conscripts like us? We do what we need to to survive.”

“If you call spending as much as you can on whores necessary to survival,” the last one laughed. “Don’t look at me like that! Gonna string me up for tellin’ the truth?”

“You do it, too.”

The man shrugged. “Your face turns red when it’s brought up. Aye, I do it, we all do it, but you’re the only one to get embarrassed by it. Ain’t nothing to be embarrassed by. Men are men, and we have our needs.”

The first one grumbled as the third man put a key into the Sorbonne’s main gate and opened it. Gabet stood in shadow, nodding once to the guard before dropping a stack of coins into each of the guards’ hands. “Gentlemen,” he said, then strode into the main square. He disappeared into the building, one of the guards following him whilst the others patrolled the courtyard, and Arno clambered down the side of the building, opening a window and slipping inside. He followed the echoes of Gabet, pausing in the junction of a corridor as he climbed up to the top floor, the same floor Arno was on, and into one of the Sorbonne’s far corners. Arno soon found him, and kept a little distance between them. He stayed in the shadows, and watched as Gabet stopped outside a locked door.

“Thank you,” he said briskly to the guard as he unlocked the door, then stepped inside. Arno waited for some minutes after the guard had gone to let himself in.

The smell made Arno blanch, and he put a hand to his nose and mouth. It didn’t stink so much as was strong. There was sulphur heavy in the air, as well as a metal tang and something else that was bitter. His eyes were watering after a moment. The room itself was like Verne’s laboratory in some ways, what with its glassware, instruments, metals and powders. It was bigger though, and there was leftover pieces of the Sorbonne’s furniture in the room that had nothing to with Gabet’s work — empty cupboards, spare chairs. There were tables loaded with glass and bowls, and a bucket of water. Gabet hadn’t realised the door had been opened again. He was hunched over work, muttering under his breath and surrounded by jars. It must have been some innate quality of chemists, Arno thought, to be messy. He wasn’t sure it was the best of ideas.

“Gabet,” Arno said.

The man started and looked around. To Arno’s surprise he didn’t flinch or demand what he was doing there. He said, “Oh, it’s time already? I’ve the next batch here.”

Arno blinked, then composed himself. Improvise, he told himself. If it’s an easy business, then the better for everyone. “Good,” he said, and went to Gabet with his hand out. Gabet, however, held back. He was staring at Arno with suspicion, and Arno said, “I’m in a hurry, Monsieur.”

“Stay … stay back.”

Arno gestured to Gabet again and said, “The Lady’s waiting.”

“Stay back!”

So much for that, Arno thought, and vaulted over the table. He grabbed Gabet by the front of his coat and swung him bodily around into the nearest wall.

Gabet let out an oomph when he hit the wall, and when he got his breath back wheezed, “Who are you?”

“You’re making blausäure; I can smell it. Who are you making it for and why?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“I don’t have the patience for this. A man died before my eyes because of the poison you’re making,” Arno hissed. “Who are you selling it to?”

“I … I …”

Arno put his knife at Gabet’s crotch, and the man squeaked. Arno held his throat. “Who are you selling the blausäure to?”

“I-I-I don’t know his name!” Gabet spluttered, suddenly compliant. “I’ve never set eyes on him!”

Not ‘her’? Arno pushed up with the knife. “And?”

“He’s a man from Versailles, w-well-off by how well spoken he is in his letters.”

“Where are these letters?”

“Gone,” Gabet said. “I burn them; all of them.”

Arno made a tch. “Where in Versailles?”

“I don’t know! I just send the finished bottles with a messenger he sends and I get paid. That’s all.”

“And this messenger, who are they?”

“Different every time, but they all act the same, and they speak in this … this tongue I’ve never heard anyone but them speak. That’s how I know it’s for the same client.”

“When do they come?”

“Once a month? They’re not consistent with the date, but I see them once a month. I saw the last three weeks ago.” Gabet quivered. “That’s all I know, I swear. I was paid to make poison, and I needed the money. I would’ve had to stop my research, I’d have been turned out on the street and starved.”

Arno believed that he had nothing more to say. He took his hand from Gabet’s throat, and the man had a second to look relieved before Arno put his hand to Gabet’s forehead and smacked him back against the wall. Gabet fell into a heap on the floor, and Arno stepped back. He wondered what to do with him; he was worried Gabet would give him away before he tracked down the buyer, but killing him was hardly the solution Arno wanted. It would tip the blausäure buyer off too if his man vanished under mysterious circumstances. If Arno restrained Gabet, he would buy himself some time. Nevertheless, he’d have to leave for Versailles tomorrow morning if he was to be certain of an advantage.

Arno ducked as a projectile flew over his head, and he whirled around, instinctively trying to release his hidden blade.

“I’d hoped to find you,” Killian Cormac said from the door.

He looked as healthy as he had the last time Arno had seen him except for the new scar that divided his face, the edges still a sore red. Arno scuttled back into a patch of shadow, crouching low and holding the knife ready before him. How had Cormac found him? Was he following him? His appearance was so sudden Arno had to thank God that he’d had the time, and the habit of using a piece of his Vision for awareness, to react. Cormac didn’t move from the doorway. He had another knife in hand, twin to the one he had just thrown, and he held it by the blade between his fingers. Arno shifted to the balls of his feet, ready to jump aside.

“I’ve a lot to discuss with you,” Cormac said, “starting with makin’ you answer for what you did to me.”

“You should thank me,” Arno replied scathingly. “It gives me something interesting to look at.”

Arno dove out of the way of the second knife. He righted his bracer, springing open the Phantom Blade mechanism and aiming it towards Cormac. He missed the shot, taking up one of the long-necked flasks from the table with his other hand and throwing it at Cormac’s shadow. If the glassware hadn’t been so unbalanced, Arno would have hit him. It shattered against a cabinet, and Cormac came out from behind it with his hidden blades drawn. Arno had little choice but to run. He didn’t want to test his chances with the knife, and the space was far too cramped for swordplay. He vaulted over the tables, scattering glass in his wake as he fled the room. His Vision showed him that Killian was at least on his own in this wing, and Arno dreaded he’d find the younger brother or, even worse, Shay himself waiting outside.

With that thought, Arno took the first turn he found in the corridor outside, making directional decisions at random as he searched for an escape. His hood was torn off in his flight, and he could hear Cormac hard on his heels. Arno jerked to the side to avoid Cormac’s first pistol shot, and the second missed when he dove into a classroom empty of furniture. He suspected that Cormac had the Vision, and so there was little point in trying to hide in the shadows then steal past him unseen. His every thought was on escaping, and he threw himself through the first window that was wide enough. The impact with it hurt, the frames snapping and the glass shallowly cut him on the neck. It was training that made him roll when he hit the ground, but it was painful nevertheless. He had fallen two floors, and for a moment he was stunned; he forced himself to stand. He had to find a point to climb, and quickly.

Arno fell over one of the courtyard’s benches as he heard Cormac’s boots hit the ground. He put another bolt into the Phantom Blade, and then his other hand to the smoke bombs on his belt.

“It took me days to recover,” Cormac was saying. “Lyin’ in some godforsaken bed, and the pain … I couldn’t eat, couldn’t do much more than drink. I’ll catch you, Assassin, and pay you back in kind. I’ll make sure children run when they see how I’ve carved the stumps of your limbs, and only after you’ve lived a lifetime will I come back and kill you.”

“Tell me, Killian: is melodrama a Templar trait?” Arno inched away from the bench and towards a statue in the courtyard’s centre. The marble was splattered with paint and filth, and a paper dunce hat sat lopsided on its head.

Cormac gave a chuckle. “I’ve been called many things, but melodramatic isn’t one of them.”

“Yes, I can imagine you’re more used to names like ‘scar face’.”

“You think you’re goddamn funny, don’t you?” There was a soft step from the other side of the courtyard, and Arno expanded himself with the Vision. Cormac stood just on the edge of his range, still far away enough that Arno would have several seconds to react should he charge at him.

“I’ve been told I am,” Arno said.

“And no modesty. I hate that in people.”

“That’s what people who aren’t funny say.” Arno shot the Phantom Blade at Cormac, and Cormac knocked it aside with the flats of his hidden blades. That was enough for Arno to acquiesce he had the Vision, and he threw a smoke bomb at Cormac’s feet. Arno ran for the wall, climbing quickly enough that by the time he reached the top, he thought his heart would burst. He had no time to recover; Cormac was behind him, and Arno barely moved his foot in time to avoid the first stab of the hidden blades. Arno rolled onto the roof, scrambling to his feet and hurriedly assessing where he was. There had been a rope of the west side of the building he’d noted when he’d arrived earlier in the evening, and he made for it, avoiding another shot from Cormac’s pistol. He wouldn’t make it to the rope and so, muttering a pray, threw himself for the opposite building instead. He caught the ledge and hoisted himself up. He would have run further had Cormac’s fourth shot not blocked his path.

Arno skidded around on his heel, panting and reaching for his sabre. If Cormac wanted a fight, he’d give him one. This rooftop was flatter anyway. He drew his sword with his right hand, and held the pistol’s handle in the small of his back with his left. He pointed his sword at Cormac, his spine straight and shoulders back. He lifted his chin for good measure. “We’ve done this before,” he said lowly, “and I won.”

“Barely,” Cormac said, and drew his own blades. They were different from what he’d had in his last fight, a heavy broadsword and matching dagger Arno wasn’t confident his own, thinner sabre could stand a prolonged battering of. He vowed to finished the fight long before then. “A shame you’ve healed with nothing to show for it.”

“My, someone’s insecure,” Arno replied, and took a step to his right; Cormac did likewise. “I took my scar with dignity, and for all you Templars spend time in higher circles I’d have thought you would at least try to as well.”

“We can talk when I do the same to you what you did to me.”

“Limb hacking is off the agenda, then? Good to note; I’m rather fond and attached to my limbs.”

“Well, why not both? Give the children two things to scream about.”

“You’ve experience? Do tell: I’m curious to hear what I have in store.”

“Shut your mouth before I do it for you.”

Shut my mouth? I thought you wanted to spilt my face open. You can’t have both, Monsieur Cormac; pick one.”

Cormac spat between them, and Arno whirled to the side as something long emerged from Cormac’s sleeve. He saw the glint of a metal dart on the end of a rope fly into the space where his head had been, and he drew his pistol in the same moment, firing twice and missing both times when Cormac twisted aside. Arno growled; ranged combat wouldn’t work with how they could both anticipate where shots and darted ropes were coming from. Arno charged, feinting twice before aiming a blow for Cormac’s head, and huffed through his nose when Cormac’s dagger blocked him. He leapt back to avoid the broadsword, putting space between them and brought his guard to a neutral position.

Cormac twirled his sword and cricked his neck. “We’re to take this slow, are we?”

“A waltz,” Arno agreed. “But more blood.”

“I will kill you the next time shit words come from your mouth, I swear.”

“With the weight of that sword I’d be surprised if you could catch me.”

“If I can kill a rabbit with this then I can kill you.” Cormac came to him this time, and Arno put both of his hands on the hilt of his sabre to ward off the blow Cormac took at him, and leant into block to duck and so avoid the dagger swipe Cormac had aimed for his head. Arno was thrown back as Cormac shifted his weight and shoved Arno away, kicking him in the stomach for good measure. It took all of Arno’s concentration not to lose his balance and fall, and he rolled away as Cormac stabbed down with his sword, splitting the roof tiles. The time Cormac needed to get his sword free was enough for Arno to dart back again, trying to think of a new strategy. He could break his guard, stagger him as he had done and use the opportunity to land a blow on him, but it would have been difficult with the long sword, and he didn’t trust himself to draw his knife in time.

Cormac discarded his sword and dagger though, resheathing them and snapping out his hidden blades. Arno swallowed and lifted his sabre once again. He’d never learnt to fight with his hidden blade, it was too risky a thing to do, but the Brotherhoods that did teach their recruits it were fast and deadly; they became boxers with knives instead of fists. It was hard to stop something so small without getting cut up in the process. The only thing Arno had to guard against it was the metal on his bracer, but even so he didn’t fully trust himself to catch every last blow on it.

“Whose blades were they?” Arno yelled. “Did you kill the man they belonged to?”

“I don’t know and don’t care whose they were,” Cormac said. “They were a gift from my pap.”

“Two people died so you could have them and slander their purpose!”

“Only one did, and how’s it any different than us killin’ others for the gold of their temples so to melt it down and make a rich woman’s necklace? We’ve been spilling blood for millennia for things far less practical than hidden blades.” Cormac held them aloft. “Least I’m doin’ some good in the world.” He attacked, and Arno beat a hasty retreat, concentrating to keeping Cormac’s swift jabs as far from his person as possible. He deflected some of the strikes on his sabre, caught others on the bracer, and all the while he was painfully aware he was running out of rooftop. Arno dodged to the side, trying to kick Cormac’s legs out from under him, but it proved to be a mistake. Cormac stamped on his knee, and Arno yelled, falling beneath Cormac. He couldn’t think as Cormac stood panting above him, his hidden blades angled down.

Pistol, Arno shouted at himself, but he couldn’t get it out from under him. His sabre had flown from his hand, and Arno aimed the Phantom Blade once more at Cormac. Cormac was forced to get off of him to avoid it, and Arno used to opportunity to get back to his feet, but it didn’t matter. Cormac had just rocked his weight back and then forward again, and Arno choked as Cormac’s hidden blades punched into his shoulders. The pain was a shock, and his head banged against the rooftop as he fell, Cormac on top of him; it drove the blades in further and Arno gasped for breath.

“You know my name,” Cormac panted. “Just polite to tell me yours.”

Arno felt a writhing in his mind, and he screamed, pushing it away as he kicked Cormac off him. Cormac tumbled bonelessly across the roof, his face covered in sweat and his hidden blades in Arno’s blood. Arno staggered to his feet, shuddering with revulsion. He didn’t think that he would have succeeded in fighting Cormac off if he hadn’t experienced Germain’s Vision swallowing his own  upon his death, and even then the push had been closer to a reflex than an active decision. He scrabbled about for his sabre.

Cormac slowly picked himself up, and he looked far more haggard than Arno felt; his skin was grey, and his limbs were quaking. Arno’s sabre was leaden in his hand, but he forced himself to raise it. Cormac’s expression was twisted in pain. He took a couple of stumbling steps towards him. Arno was in no condition to fight, but he came towards Cormac, intent on killing him whilst he could. Cormac still had enough fight left in him that he slashed wildly at Arno with his dagger. Arno tried to step away, but overbalanced and fell a third time, Cormac following him a moment later as if they were both drunks struggling to stay on their feet. His world was spinning and he could barely see, like he’d been caught up in the stunning light of one of Verne’s magnesium bombs.

And his head … there were fragments of experiences there Arno had never had — a ship’s wheel in his hands and salt on his lips from the sea; a little sister wrapped tight around him as he read to her, his brother snoring softly by his side; a mother running her fingers through his hair as he quivered with the shock of his first kill; a father teaching him how to shoot; mountains; ocean; salt and spice. His eyes were thick with tears.

Arno heard Cormac throw up behind him, and he backed away on his hands and arse. He exclaimed through his teeth when more false memories flashed through his mind, and when they finally cleared and he looked up, panting, Cormac was close, and there was murder in his eyes.

“What did you … What did you do to me?” He jerked to the side at the same moment a gunshot sounded. The shot missed as he darted back, and he dove away again as a second crack echoed over the roofs.

Cormac pulled out his pistol, pointed it at Arno, and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened; he hadn’t reloaded it. Frustration and disbelief flashed across Cormac’s face, and he gave Arno one last filthy look before he fled.

Arno fell back, panting and trying to understand just what had happened between them. It had to be something to do with the Vision, but what it had done he couldn’t say. He lay on his back, sprawled on the roof with his arms out to either side. The puncture wounds in his shoulders ached, and his head was splitting itself apart. He was turning the encounter over in his mind. It was painfully obvious that, although Cormac was skilled, he was over-confident. He had to have reached out to Arno’s mind before he’d leapt at him he’d been so sure of landing a killing blow, and perhaps he would have had Arno not retaliated in kind. The strike had left its mark on Cormac far more than it had on him. The Vision was a mystery to the Assassins. They knew it came from the Precursors, but the blood was so diluted that it was difficult to understand the truth depths of what it did. He would have to ask someone in records about it.

When he came back to himself, someone was calling his name and patting his face. It took him a moment to recognise it was Francesco. He must’ve drifted into unconsciousness for a few moments; he had no recollection of Francesco coming up to him. What was he doing here? Arno was certain he’d been alone; no one had been tailing him as far as he’d been aware. Francesco on the other hand was filthy. He was covered in soot and sweat, and there was blood on one of his arms. As if he’d been through a …

Fire.

“ ‘Cesco,” Arno grumbled as he sat up. “What happened to you?”

“What happened to you? I heard you scream.”

“I don’t know. Cormac … reached out with his Vision, and I fought him off.”

“What? How?”

“It felt like … I’m not sure what happened myself.”

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Where’s Cormac?”

“Gone.”

Arno stared at Francesco. “You let him go?”

“I’m sorry I care more about your well-being than killing him,” Francesco said dryly.

It made a lump stick in Arno’s throat. “How did he look?”

“Like he’d been kicked in the head by a horse.” Francesco glanced around. “We need to leave.”

Arno didn’t argue. He was already feeling better, and Cormac would be recovering too. The wounds in his shoulders throbbed; he wasn’t in fit fighting condition.

Francesco led the way, his rifle strapped securely across his back and vaulting over the chimney stacks. Arno stuck to his heels, concentrating far more than he usually did on not tripping. Francesco’s hand darted out when Arno’s injured knee buckled beneath him, and he caught him by the lapel of his coat.

“My God, you’re worse than I thought.”

“It’s nothing. Not like it hasn’t happened before.”

“Look at me.” Francesco put his hand under Arno’s jaw and squinted at his eyes. “You’re not focusing on me.”

Arno frowned. He was trying, but as Francesco said, he wasn’t able to focus.

“We’re sitting for a while.”

“Cormac —”

“If he comes, I’ll put a hole in his head.”

“What happened to you?” Arno asked again. “How’re you here?”

Francesco’s face fell. “Cormac did. I was stationed at Café du Quartier Latin this week. He came, and he … It’s gone, Arno, like Café des Invalides. I did my best but he trapped me and left me to burn. I couldn’t get out; there was smoke in my lungs and I was choking I— By the time I managed to free myself it was too late for the building. I went after Cormac, and I found you.”

“We’ll kill him,” Arno promised.

“We’d better kill him quickly. First des Invalides, and now this. Two months and there’ll be nothing left.”

“I won’t see anymore of my cafés go up in flame,” Arno muttered, just as his eyes were dragged to the north. His stomach dropped when he saw, past the smoke that must have come from Café du Quartier Latin, a second column near Sainte-Chapelle, and a third further beyond.


Killian’s mind was full of red hair. He hadn’t gotten far from the Assassins before he slumped, clutching his head and feeling very sorry for himself. He had found himself a stack of crates soft with rot to rest on whilst he waited for his head to clear. It had been a damn stupid thing to do on his count, but he had been so caught up in the moment he hadn’t stopped to consider that he wouldn’t kill the Assassin and then entrap his mind.

He had seen things — card games; the Paris rooftops bathed in moonlight; fish in a summer pond; blausäure; dog teeth; meringues; the pain of the wounds in his shoulders.

And this red hair.

After several minutes, Killian forced himself to his feet. He felt as if he were experiencing a blistering hangover his head was aching so badly. He groped his way out of the alley he’d secluded himself in.

No one looked at him; at this time of night and in an area rife with brasseries, as well as the shouts from the direction of the fire echoing throughout the district, he was just another drunk student. Killian preferred it that way; it was easier to hide. The pounding headache lessened the furthered he walked, and he was soon back on the rooftops, searching for the Assassins. To his annoyance, but not surprise, they were gone. Killian huffed. Every part of him seemed to ache with hurt, and with that he bitterly accepted his defeat for the night, and that he only had himself to blame. He had had both the Assassins in his hands, and at his mercy, but then he couldn’t help himself and had cocked it up so thoroughly even his pap, who was generally understanding of mistakes and complications, would be wholly unimpressed, especially after he’d told him not to go looking for the blue Assassin.

He was back at the Sorbonne before long. The break-in had been discovered, and people were moving throughout the building. Killian frowned and stayed on the roof. What had the Assassin — Ar- … Ar-something; Killian had been thrown away before he’d gotten anything more — been doing here? He wanted to search the room that he’d found him in, but it was too risky. He blinked, swaying as he looked at the rooftop where the fight had been. There was blood and vomit on the tiles, and when Killian tried to use his Vision to see where the Assassins had gone, the sensation stabbed him behind the eyes and drove him to his knees. Killian wasn’t worried this would be a permanent injury much like he never worried about cuts and bruises being permanent, but he did worry as to how long it would last. Having his Vision taken away was as terrifying a prospect of losing his hearing or sight or any other of his senses, and stumbling around blind or deaf for any length of time outside of a few minutes wasn’t something he found desirable.

So: both of the Assassins had gotten away, and it was his own fault. Killian screamed through his teeth. Pap was right: You’re an arrogant fool, Killian Liam Cormac.

He blew into his hands to warm them. He couldn’t stay here. Who was to say the Assassins weren’t to come back and kill him like he’d been hoping to do to them? He wouldn’t die on a Paris rooftop dragging himself to imagined safety because he couldn’t lift a sword. He needed to rendezvous with Aidan too before they went home. Killian groaned as he got moving.

The ache lessened the more he walked, and when he caught sight of Pont Neuf he was confident that he could hide anything suspicious. He wasn’t going to tell either his pap nor Aidan he’d gone after the Assassin, he’d decided; what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Killian was late as it was, and knowing Aidan he’d be getting worried. He tried to use his Vision again, and he was pleased to note that it was recovering. Trying to sense anything through it was like trying to look at fine detail after he’d been staring into the sun, but at least it didn’t hurt anymore.

To his surprise Aidan wasn’t waiting for him beneath the empty plinth where a statue of Herni IV had once stood. Killian stopped, and worry gnawed at his own mind. Aidan wasn’t a tardy person, Killian was the one always late for things. Still, complications happened sometimes. Killian sat by the plinth, checked his pocket watch; it was almost one-thirty in the morning. Happy new year, Killian thought dryly. To France it was just another day, officially. He wondered if there were other people thinking the same as him.

Killian cleaned the blood from his hidden blades, but he wasn’t thinking. Ten minutes had passed, and he knew something was wrong. He started at every sound, every pair of footsteps, then always hunched his shoulders when he realised it wasn’t any of his family.

When bells pealed two in the morning, Killian was pacing. “Aidan?” His mouth was dry. His feet carried him away from Pont Neuf and to the north end of the bridge. He jogged past that, along the length of the river and was soon sprinting past the Tuileries Palace. He didn’t care he was out of breath, and he forced himself into the Vision, clutching to it despite the pain and how much it slipped between his fingers like oil-coated butter. He could hear people before he saw Café du Louvres. It had been the second café for Aidan to burn, the Marais his first target, and Killian couldn’t see him anywhere. He shoved his way through the crowd, ignoring how they scolded him as he stood before the café’s door. The building hadn’t burnt all the way; the ground floor was intact, the top a blackened ruin, and Killian’s mind jumped to the worst case scenario.

“Aidan!” he screamed. “Aidan!


Assassin Sanctuary, 1st January, 1795

Aidan couldn’t stop shivering. The cell was cold, the walls damp, and it seemed in itself big and empty. It surprised him. He lay curled in a ball, wishing fervently that images of the fight would leave him alone. He could see now every mistake he had made, and could recite them all, and how to prevent them. He thought about Kil and his pap a lot, too. Kil would be disappointed in him, and he didn’t think he wanted to know what this was doing to his pap after what had happened in Bombay with his mam. Thinking of her brought hot, stinging tears to his eyes, and he wiped them away angrily with the heel of his palm. His ankle too was a throbbing mess of pain. He didn’t think it was broken, but nevertheless it was sore and swollen and he couldn’t move it without whimpering. He’d not been given anything for it, nothing to soothe the pain or wrap it with, and he wasn’t surprised. Most likely he thought it sprained, but it was little comfort in the fact of how much it hurt. Since he’d woken he’d known nothing but misery.

Kenway had been there, leaning on the wall outside the cell. Aidan’s head had been pounding, and his eyes filled with tears so at first Kenway had been nothing more than a blurred shape; he had only recognised it was him by his bulk and the colours of his coat. He rolled from his side and off the mattress he’d been laying on as soon as he had though, ready to spring. Although his first sharp spike of emotion was that of fear, he scowled. “Where am I?” His throat had been parched, and so his voice hoarse. His wiped his eyes quickly.

“Safe,” Kenway replied.

“Like hell I am.” Aidan stood and pressed his back to the rear wall. His eyes darted around the space, looking for anything he could turn to his advantage, but he couldn’t see anything. He fixed his attention back on Kenway, and tried to make his tone as angry and demanding as he could when he asked, “What d’you want with me? Is Sébastien here too?”

“You’re the only one here at the moment,” Kenway had said. “Monsieur Jean Sébastien died in the fire at the café.”

Aidan’s heart felt like a thunder shock through his ribs. The fire at the café, which would have meant he’d have …

He snarled, “You’re lyin’ through your teeth.”

“I’m not lying,” Kenway said, and then after a moment, “You don’t have the Vision.”

Aidan tensed. No, he didn’t, and for years he’d felt a failure for it. He remembered long years of frustration of Killian being able to do so much more than him, find things, know things, that Aidan had never been able to do all because of the Vision. He had hidden his lack of it for years, pretending that he had it until his da had talked to him, gently, about it, and said that not having it was nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes it still stung, and it did so now. He didn’t answer, and it was a fight to keep the colour from rushing to his cheeks. Whatever he did, Kenway seemed to have found all the evidence he needed written all over his sorry face. He nodded slowly, more so to himself than anyone else. Aidan felt his pulse fluttering in his neck.

Kil, he thought, Da. Where are you? And then, Keep him talking. Figure it out, Aidan; you can get out of this.

“Where am I?” he asked again. The air was cloying and damp. Underground, too far for fresh air to reach easily, and it was already driving him to madness. He wanted more than anything in that moment for the salt air of the sea, and the wind stinging his eyes.

“It’s not your concern,” Kenway said. “You’re to be kept from harm, and comfortable.”

Aidan barked a laugh. “I don’t believe you,” he said. “You’re an Assassin. I’m a Hunter.”

“You’re a boy,” Kenway said. “None of us here are killers of children.”

“I’m not a child,” Aidan spat. He’d killed, he was trained and ready.

“No,” Kenway agreed, “but you’re still a boy.”

“Won’t stop me from killin’ you.” Aidan lifted his chin and threw his chest out. “So what’re you going to do if you’re not gonna kill me? Hold me here forever?”

“For now.” Kenway pushed himself from the wall. “Between here and the outside world, there are trained and tried Assassins that will catch you and cut you down in a heartbeat. I know what your father’s capable of, and not even he would have been able to escape this place in his prime. Take that for what you will.”

“Fine,” Aidan said, “but if it’s between me dyin’ in here or dyin’ for a chance to get out, then I know what I’ll pick.”

“I’m not going to kill you.”

“I don’t believe you. My family destroyed your Assassins, and I know your penchant for revenge.” Aidan wasn’t quite sure why he was trying to provoke Kenway, but either way he was relieved that Kenway didn’t rise to the bait; he gave a frown and then left.

“You’re dead,” Aidan shouted after his fading steps. “Dead!”

Two days later Kenway was certainly not dead. He knew it had been two days because, although he had nothing to do to stave off the boredom except sleep and shit in a bucket, the taper in the high alcove outside the cell had been changed some four times. He’d been brought a meal every time the taper was changed too; stale bread and gruel that had a thick layer of grease and looked to have been taken from the dregs of the pots, and a single cup of water. Aidan hadn’t had much choice but to eat it all; he had been relatively sure none of it had been poisoned after rolling it around his mouth, mixing it with water and gargling it, trying to find anything potentially sweet or bitter that he would taste in the back of his throat. He’d been given nothing so far, but it would be a fool thing to drop his guard.

The cell wasn’t uncomfortable, with a straw mattress, fresh water, a clean bucket, and new straw on the floor, but it was a far cry from what he was used to. He hadn’t been given any blankets for one, and his coat had been taken from him as well as his boots, belt, outer shirt, and mask. He’d been left to shiver in his thin cotton undershirt; he would’ve traded its soft luxuriousness for wool in a heartbeat if it meant he’d be warmer, because wherever he was, and he suspected it was under the Seine for the damp that seemed to cling everywhere, it was freezing. He could feel himself getting weaker from the lack of food, poor sleep, and anxiety. His face was starting to grow a scruff as well, and he felt more self-conscious about it than he thought he should have; he couldn’t stop running his fingers over his jaw and grimacing at what he felt there. Although the hair was fine enough that it didn’t yet show much, he wanted it gone.

After three days, he took to laying on his back and singing as loudly as he could. Riling the warden was the sole piece of entertainment he had, and he would grin at him as he trudged up to the bars, scowling and with heavy shadows under his eyes. “Would. You. Shut up!”

“I’m not doing anythin’,” Aidan would say, alternating between Gaelic and Welsh each time, and grinning wider when the warden spat at him and moved on.

Four days after that, a girl was brought in. Aidan watched as she was marched, blindfolded, past his cell, and watched a little longer as she was placed into one three down from his own. “Hey you,” Aidan shouted in French.

“She doesn’t speak it,” the warden said.

But she did speak Dutch. Aidan had learnt a little of it from the colony in South Africa, and brushed up on it with one of the crew on the Morrigan. He had his mam’s knack for languages. Like Killian and Siobhán, he had spoken English, Gaelic, and Welsh from the cradle, and his education had included fluency in French for its use as an international language as well as a smattering of Dutch and Spanish.

“Why’re you here?” he asked her, having to dredge the words up from his memory. The only thing she had said in response was, “Do not talk to me.”

She was gone two days after that. Aidan didn’t get any information on who she was or where she had gone, and he didn’t like to admit that her sudden appearance and disappearance had spooked him. He needed to get out. When Kenway had first left him, Aidan had checked every last scrap of clothing he’d been left. His first hope had been dashed, as Kenway had found the tiny picks sewn into the top of his trousers in the small of his back. Although it was disappointing, it was unsurprising nevertheless. He was powerless for the first time outside of his da’s training, and it was both unsettling and frightening. He had rubbed his palms seemingly without end on his knees to dry them of sweat, and the damp air of the underground was suffocating. He’d caught a rat the day before, and had killed it quick. He’d waited until he was sure the warden was sleeping or off-duty to bring it out and bite into it, choking on the fur and opening the belly. He wasn’t interested in the meat or organs, but the bones. He’d snapped the ribs off and then had tried to pick the cell’s lock. He’d tried for hours, but the ribs had either broken or slipped in his grip, and the most pins he manage to lift was three; he’d felt six.

He’d cried into his elbow, hopeless. He was going to die down here, he was convinced, all because of the mistakes he’d made in that fight. He shouldn’t have run; he should’ve stood his ground and fought. If he hadn’t killed Kenway out of luck, at least he’d have had an honourable death rather than the suffocating one in the dark he was going to endure. Singing didn’t hold nearly as much fun the next day, and he instead lay quiet and morose, a thread away from weeping again.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I’m sorry Pap, Kil, Siobhán … Mam.”

He barely stirred when the cell door opened, and he thought about how much he hated that lock. Of course you open so easy now, you fuckin’ piece of shite.

“Aidan Cormac,” the Assassin said.

Aidan lifted his head, squinting. It was a woman. She wasn’t much older than him, in her early twenties by his guess. She was fine-boned, her hair brown, and her skin pale. He turned away from her. “What d’you want?” he muttered.

“You’re to come with me,” she said. “The Council are waiting.”


Versailles, 3rd January, 1795

Arno hated Versailles. It held nothing but bad memories for him, and faced with what had happened over the past year he could think of very little about the place to associate with any sort of happy memory. He shuddered, reshouldering his pack and ducked his head as he walked down the street. He hoped to find the man Gabet had spoken of soon; he could feel something awful clawing at him, a melancholy that he’d first noticed after escaping the Bastille, and that had been a shadow over him for the past two years.

Arno dug a hand into his hair, taking a moment to focus on the pain and push away everything that Versailles reminded him of. It was the one place on Earth he would be more than happy to never set foot in again, but here he was. Eve, he thought, whoever you are … you’d best have a trail here.