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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
 


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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood


  Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

  Oliver Bowden

  Most of the translations from foreign languages in the text are my own, but for the quotation from Machiavelli’sThe Prince and the quotation from Virgil’s The Eclogues (though I have adapted the latter very slightly). I am indebted to the late scholars George Bull (1929–2001) and E. V. Rieu (1887–1972), respectively.

  —OLIVER BOWDEN, PARIS, 2010

  Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

  PURE INSTINCT

  “Lay down your weapons and surrender, Assassins. You are surrounded and outnumbered!” shouted the lead soldier, stepping forward.

  Before he could utter another word, Ezio had sprung from his stance, energy returning to his weary limbs. The lead guard had no time to react, not expecting his opponent to be so bold in the face of such overwhelming odds. Ezio’s sword arm circled in a blur, the blade whistling as it sliced through the air—the guard tried in vain to raise his sword to parry, but Ezio’s movement was simply too quick. The Assassin’s sword hit its mark with unfaltering accuracy, slicing into the guard’s exposed neck—a plume of blood following its impact. The three remaining guards stood motionless—astonished at the speed of the Assassin, and idiotic in the face of such a skilled foe. This delay was their death. Ezio’s blade had barely finished its first lethal arc as he raised his left hand, the mechanism of his hidden-blade clicking as the lethal spike revealed itself from his sleeve.

  It pierced the second guard between the eyes before he could even twitch a muscle in defense.

  PROLOGUE

  The events of the past extraordinary fifteen minutes—which might have been fifteen hours, even days, so long had they seemed—ran through Ezio’s head once more as he stumbled, his brain reeling, from the Vault beneath the Sistine Chapel.

  He remembered, though it seemed like a dream, that in the depths of the Vault he had seen a vast sarcophagus made of what looked like granite. As he’d approached it, it had begun to glow, but with a light that was welcoming.

  He touched its lid, and it had opened as if it were light as a feather. From it a warm yellow light glowed, and from within that glow arose a figure whose features Ezio could not make out, although he knew he was looking at a woman. A woman of unnatural stature, who wore a helmet, and on whose right shoulder sat a tawny owl.

  The light surrounding her was blinding.

  “Greetings, O Prophet,” she said—calling him by the name that had been mysteriously assigned to him. “I have been waiting for you for ten thousand seasons.”

  Ezio dared not look up.

  “Show me the Apple.”

  Humbly, Ezio proffered it.

  “Ah.” Her hand caressed the air over it but she did not touch it. It glowed and pulsated. Her eyes bore into him. “We must speak.” She tilted her head, as if considering something. Ezio, raising his head, thought he could see the trace of a smile on the iridescent face.

  “Who are you?”

  “Oh—many names have I. When… died, it was Minerva.”

  Ezio recognized the name. “Goddess of Wisdom! The owl on your shoulder. The helmet. Of course.” He bowed his head.

  “We are gone now. The gods your forefathers worshipped. Juno, queen of the gods, and my father, Jupiter, its king, who brought me forth to life through his forehead. I was the daughter, not of his loins, but of his brain!”

  Ezio was transfixed. He looked at the statues ranged around the walls. Venus. Mercury. Vulcan. Mar…

  There was a noise like glass breaking in the distance, or the sound a falling star might make—it was her laughter. “No—not gods. We simply came before. Even when we walked the world, Humankind struggled to understand our existence. We were just more advanced in Time.” She paused. “But, although you may not comprehend us, you must take note of our Warning.”

  “I do not understand!”

  “Don’t be frightened. I wish to speak to you but alsothrough you. You are the Chosen One for your Time. The Prophet.”

  Ezio felt a mother’s warmth embrace all his weariness.

  Minerva raised her arms above her and the roof of the Vault became the Firmament. Her glittering face bore an expression of inexpressible sadness.

  “Listen! And see!”

  Ezio could hardly bear the memory: He had seen the whole Earth and the heavens surrounding it as far as the Milky Way, the galaxy, and his mind could barely comprehend his vision. He saw a world—his world—destroyed by Man, and a windswept plain. But then he saw people—broken, ephemeral, but undismayed.

  “We gave you Eden,” said Minerva. “But it became Hades. The world burned until naught remained but ash. But we created you in our image, and we created you, whatever you did, however much cancerous evil was in you, by choice, because we gave you choice, to survive! And we rebuilt. After the devastation, we rebuilt the world and it has become, after eons, the world you know and inhabit. We endeavored to ensure that such a tragedy would never again be repeated.”

  Ezio looked at the sky again. A horizon. On it, temples and shapes, carvings in stone like writing, libraries full of scrolls, and ships, and cities, and music and dancing. Shapes and forms from ancient civilizations he didn’t know, but recognized as the work of his fellow beings.

  “But now my people are dying,” Minerva was saying. “And Time will work against u… Truth will be turned into myth and legend. But, Ezio, Prophet and Leader, though you have the physical force of a mere human, your Will ranks with ours, and in you my words shall be preserved—”

  Ezio gazed at her, entranced.

  “Let my words also bring hope,” Minerva continued. “But you must be quick, for time grows short. Guard against the Borgia. Guard against the Templar Cross.”

  The Vault darkened. Minerva and Ezio were alone in it, bathed in a fading glow of warm light.

  “My people must now leave this world. But the Message is delivered. It is up to you now. We can do no more.”

  And then there was darkness and silence, and the Vault became a mere underground cellar again, with nothing in it at all.

  And yet…

  Ezio made his way out, glancing at the writhing body of Rodrigo Borgia, the Spaniard, Pope Alexander VI, Leader of the Templar faction—bloody in his apparent death agonies; but Ezio could not bring himself, now, to deliver acoup de grâce. The man seemed to be dying by his own hand. From the look of him, Rodrigo had taken poison, no doubt the same canterella he had administered to so many of his enemies. Well, let him find his own way to the Inferno. Ezio would not give him the mercy of an easy death.

  He made his way out of the gloom of the Sistine Chapel. Out—into the sunshine. Once on the portico, he could see his friends and fellow Assassins—members of the Brotherhood, at whose side he had lived so many adventures and survived so many dangers—waiting for him.

  PART I

  It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious. These ways can win a prince power, but not glory.

  —NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI,THE PRINCE

  ONE

  Ezio stood for a moment, dazed and disoriented. Where was he, what was this place? As he slowly regained his senses, he saw his uncle Mario detach himself from a crowd of people and approach him, taking his arm.

  “Ezio, are you all right?”

  “Th-th-there was a fight—with the Pope, with Rodrigo Borgia. I left him for dead.”

  Ezio trembled violently. He could not help himself. Could it be real? Seconds earlier—though it seemed like one hundred years ago—he had been involved in a life-and-death struggle with the man he most hated and feared—the leader of the Templars, the vicious organization bent to the last on the destruc
tion of the world Ezio and his friends in the Brotherhood of the Assassins had fought so hard to protect.

  But he had beaten them. He had used the great powers of the mysterious artifact, the Apple, the sacred Piece of Eden vouchsafed by the old gods to him to ensure that their investment in humanity did not vanish in bloodshed and iniquity. And he had emerged triumphant!

  Or had he?

  What had he said?I left him for dead? And Rodrigo Borgia, the vile old man who had clawed his way to the head of the Church and ruled it as Pope, had indeed seemed to be dying. He had taken poison.

  But now a hideous doubt gripped Ezio. In showing mercy, mercy that was at the core of the Assassin’s Creed and which should, he knew, be granted to all but those whose life would endanger the rest of mankind, had he in fact beenweak?

  If he had, he would never let his doubt show—not even to his uncle Mario, leader of the Brotherhood. He squared his shoulders. He had left the old man to die by his own hand. He had left him with time to pray. He had not stabbed him through the heart to make sure of him.

  A cold hand closed over his heart as a clear voice in his mind said:You should have killed him.

  He shook himself to rid himself of his demons as a dog shakes itself to throw off water after a swim. But still his thoughts dwelled on his mystifying experience in the strange Vault beneath the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome. The building from which he had just emerged, blinking into the unfamiliar sunlight. Everything around him seemed strangely calm and normal—the buildings of the Vatican standing just as they always had, still resplendent in the bright light.

  The memory of what had just passed in the Vault came back to him, great surges of recollection overwhelming his consciousness. There had been a vision, an encounter with a strange goddess—for there was no other way of describing the being—whom he now knew as Minerva—the Roman goddess of Wisdom. She had shown him both the distant past and the far future in such a way as to make him loathe the responsibility that the knowledge he had gained had placed on his shoulders.

  And whom could he share it with? How could he explainany of it? It all seemed so unreal.

  All he knew for sure after his experience—better call it an ordeal—was that the fight was not yet over. Perhaps one day there would be a time when he could return to his hometown of Florence and settle down with his books, drinking with his friends in winter and hunting with them in autumn, chasing girls in spring, and overseeing the harvests on his estates in summer.

  But this was not it.

  In his heart he knew that the Templars and all the evil they represented were not finished. In them he was pitted against a monster with more heads than the Hydra and, like that beast, which had taken no less a man than Hercules to slay, all but immortal.

  “Ezio!”

  His uncle’s voice was harsh, but served to snap him out of the reverie that had him in its clutches. He had to get a grip. He had to think clearly.

  There was a fire raging in Ezio’s head. He said his name to himself, as a kind of reassurance:I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Strong, a master of the traditions of the Assassin.

  He went over the ground again: He didn’t know whether or not he’d been dreaming. The teaching and the revelations of the strange goddess in the Vault had shaken his beliefs and assumptions to the core. It was as if Time itself had been stood on its head. Emerging from the Sistine Chapel, where he had left the evil Pope, Alexander VI,apparently dying, he squinted again in the harsh sunlight. There were his friends, his fellow Assassins, gathered around, their faces grave and set with grim determination.

  The thought pursued him still:Should he have killed Rodrigo—made sure of him? He had elected not to—and the man had indeed seemed bent on taking his own life, having failed in his final goal.

  But that clear voice still rang in Ezio’s mind.

  And there was more: A baffling force now seemed to be drawing him back to the chapel—and he sensed that there was something left undone.

  Not Rodrigo. Notjust Rodrigo. Though he would finish him now!

  Somethingelse!

  “What is it?” Mario asked.

  “I must return—” Ezio said, realizing afresh, and with a lurching stomach, that the gamewasn’t over, and that the Apple should not yet pass from his hands. As the thought struck him, he was seized with an overwhelming sense of urgency. Tearing himself free of his uncle’s sheltering arms, he hurried back into the gloom. Mario, bidding the others to stay where they were and to keep watch, followed.

  Ezio quickly reached the place where he’d left the dying Rodrigo Borgia—but the manwasn’t there! A richly decorated papal damask cope lay in a heap on the floor, flecked with gore; but its owner was gone. Once again the hand, clad in an icy steel gauntlet, closed over Ezio’s heart and seemed to crush it.

  The hidden door to the Vault was, to all intents and purposes, closed, almost invisible indeed, but, as Ezio approached the point where he remembered it to have been, he found that it swung open gently at his touch. He turned to his uncle and was surprised to see fear on Mario’s face.

  “What’s in there?” said the older man, fighting to keep his voice steady.

  “The Mystery,” Ezio replied.

  Leaving Mario on the threshold, he walked down the dimly lit passage, hoping he was not too late, that Minerva would have foreseen this, and would show mercy. Surely Rodrigo would not have been allowed entry here. Nevertheless, Ezio kept his hidden-blade, the blade his father had bequeathed him, at the ready.

  In the Vault, the greathuman, yet, at the same time, superhuman figures—but were they statues?—still stood, holding the Staff.

  One of the Pieces of Eden.

  The Staff was apparently welded to the figure that held it, and indeed as Ezio tried to pry it loose, the figure seemed to tighten its grip, glowing, as did the Runic inscriptions on the walls of the Vault.

  Ezio had remembered that no human hand should ever touch the Apple unprotected. The figures then turned away and sank into the ground, leaving the Vault void of anything save the great sarcophagus and its surrounding statues.

  Ezio stepped back, looking around briefly and hesitating before taking what he instinctively knew would be his final leave of this place. What was he expecting? Was he hoping that Minerva would once again manifest herself to him? But hadn’t she told him all there was to tell—or at least all there was that it was safe for him to know? The Apple had been vouchsafed him. In combination with the Apple, the other Pieces of Eden would have accorded the supremacy Rodrigo craved, and Ezio understood in the fullness of his years that such united power was too dangerous for the hands of Man.

  “All right?” Mario’s voice, still untypically nervous, floated down to him.

  “All’s well,” replied Ezio, making his way back to the light with a curious reluctance.

  Once reunited with his uncle, Ezio wordlessly showed him the Apple.

  “And the Staff?”

  Ezio shook his head.

  “Better in the hands of the Earth than in the hands of Man,” said Mario, with immediate understanding. “But you don’t need me to tell you that.” He shuddered visibly. “Come on! We can’t linger.”

  “What’s the hurry?”

  “Everything’s the hurry. Do you think Rodrigo is just going to sit back and let us stroll out of here?”

  “I left him for dead.”

  “Not quite the same as leaving himgood and dead, is it? Come on!”

  They made their way out of the Vault then, as quickly as they could; and a cold wind seemed to follow them as they did so.

  TWO

  “Where did the others go?” Ezio, his mind still reeling from his recent experiences, asked Mario as they made their way back to the great nave of the Sistine Chapel. The gathered Assassins were no longer there.

  “I told them to go. Paola has returned to Florence. Teodora and Antonio, to Venice. We need to keep ourselves covered in all Italy. The Templars are broken but not destroyed. They wi
ll regroup if our Assassins’ Brotherhood is not vigilant. Eternally vigilant. The rest of our company have gone ahead and will await us at our headquarters in Monteriggioni.”

  “They were keeping watch.”

  “So they were. But they knew when their duty was done. Ezio, there is no time to waste. We all know that.” Mario’s face was earnest.

  “I should have made sure of Rodrigo Borgia.”

  “Did he harm you in the fight?”

  “My armor protected me.”

  Mario clapped his nephew on the back. “I spoke hastily before. I think you were right to decide not to kill needlessly. I have always advised moderation. You thought him as good as dead, by his own hand. Who knows? Perhaps he was faking—or perhaps he genuinely failed to give himself a fatal dose of poison. Either way, we must deal with the situation as it is now and not waste energy pondering what we might have done. In any case, we sent you—one man against an entire army of Templars. You’ve done more than your part. And I am still your old uncle, and I’ve been worried about you. Come on, Ezio. We have to get out of here. We have work to do, and the last thing we need is to get cornered by Borgia guards.”

  “You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen, Uncle.”

  “Just be sure to stay alive, then, that I may hear of them. Listen: I’ve stabled some horses just beyond Saint Peter’s, outside the precincts of the Vatican. Once we reach them, we’ll be able to make our way safely from here.”

  “The Borgia will try to stop us, I expect.”

  Mario flashed a broad grin. “Of course they will—andI expect the Borgia to mourn the loss of many lives tonight!”

 
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