Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 13

As he entered, his right foot encountered a flagstone which moved beneath it, and as it did so, oil-lamps set into the passageway’s walls suddenly flared into life. It ran a short way, sloping slightly downwards, and termin ated in a circular chamber decorated more in the style of Syria than Italy. Ezio’s mind flashed on a picture which hung in his father’s private study of the castle of Masyaf, once the seat of the ancient Order of Assassins. But he had no time to ponder whether or not this curious decor could be of any special significance. The room was unfurnished, and in its centre stood a large, iron-bound chest, securely sealed with two heavy locks. He looked around the room to see if a key might be anywhere, but aside from its ornamentation it was bare. Ezio was wondering if he’d have to return to the office, or make his way to his father’s study, to search for one there, and if he’d have time to do so, when by chance his hand brushed against one of the locks, and at that, it sprang open. The other one opened as easily. Had his father given him some power he did not know of? Were the locks in some way programmed to respond to a certain person’s touch? Mystery was piling on mystery, but there was no time to dwell on them now.

He opened the chest and saw that it contained a white hood, evidently old, and made of some perhaps woollen material which he didn’t recognize. Something compelled him to put it on, and at once a strange power surged through him. He lowered the hood, but did not take it off.

The chest contained a leather bracer, a cracked dagger blade connected, instead of to a hilt, to a strange mechanism whose workings were beyond him, a sword, a page of vellum covered with symbols and letters and what looked like part of a plan, and the letter and documents his father had told him to take to Uberto Alberti. He gathered them all up, closed the chest, and retreated to his father’s office, closing the secret door carefully behind him. In the office, he found a discarded document pouch of Giulio’s and stashed the contents of the chest in it, slinging the pouch across his chest. He buckled on the sword. Not knowing what to make of this strange collection of objects, and not having time to reflect on why his father would keep such things in a secret chamber, he made his way cautiously back towards the main doors of the palazzo.

But, just as he entered the fore-courtyard, he saw two city guards on their way in. It was too late to hide. They had seen him.

‘Halt!’ one of them cried, and they both began advancing quickly towards him. There was no retreat. Ezio saw that they had already drawn their swords.

‘What are you here for? To arrest me?’

‘No,’ said the one who had spoken first. ‘Our orders are to kill you.’ At that, the second guard rushed him.

Ezio drew his own sword as they closed in on him. It was a weapon he was unfamiliar with, but it felt light and capable in his hand, and it was as if he had used it all his life. He parried the first thrusts, right and left, both guards lunging at him at the same time. Sparks flew from all three swords, but Ezio felt his new blade hold firm, the edge biting and keen. Just as the second guard was bringing his sword down to sever Ezio’s arm from his shoulder, Ezio feinted right, under the incoming blade. He shifted his balance from back to front foot, and lunged. The guard was caught off balance as his sword arm thudded harmlessly against Ezio’s shoulder. Ezio used his own momentum to thrust his new sword up, piercing the man directly through the heart. Standing tall, Ezio rocked on the balls of his feet, raised his left foot and pushed the dead guard off his blade in time to swivel round to confront his companion. The other guard came forward with a roar, wielding a heavy sword. ‘Prepare to die, traditore!’

‘I am no traitor, nor is any member of my family.’

The guard swung at him, tearing at his left sleeve and drawing blood. Ezio winced, but only for a second. The guard pressed forward, seeing an advantage, and Ezio allowed him to lunge once more, then, stepping back, tripped him, swinging his own sword unflinchingly and very hard at the man’s neck as he fell, and severing his head from his shoulders before he hit the ground.

For a moment Ezio stood trembling in the sudden silence that followed the mêlée, breathing hard. These were the first killings of his life – or were they? – for he felt another, older life within him, a life which seemed to have years of experience in death-dealing.

The sensation frightened him. This night had seen him age far beyond his years – but this new sensation seemed to be the awakening of some darker force deep within him. It was something more than simply the effects of the harrowing experiences of the last few hours. His shoulders sagged as he made his way through the darkened streets to Alberti’s mansion, starting at every sound, and looking behind him frequently. At last, on the edge of exhaustion but able somehow to bear up, he arrived at the Gonfaloniere’s home. He looked up at the façade, and saw a dim light in one of the front windows. He knocked hard on the door with the pommel of his sword.

Receiving no answer, nervous and impatient, he knocked again, harder and louder. Still nothing.

But, at the third time of trying, a hatch in the door opened briefly, then closed. The door swung open almost immediately thereafter, and a suspicious armed servant admitted him. He blurted out his business and was conducted to a first-floor room where Alberti sat at a desk covered with papers. Beyond him, half-turned away and sitting in a chair by a dying fire, Ezio thought he could see another man, tall and powerful, but only part of his profile was visible, and that indistinctly.

‘Ezio?’ Alberti stood up, surprised. ‘What are you doing here at this hour?’

‘I… I don’t…’

Alberti approached him and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Wait, child. Take a breath. Collect your thoughts.’

Ezio nodded. Now he felt safer, he also felt more vulnerable. The events of the evening and night since he had set out to deliver Giovanni’s letters were catching up with him. From the brass pedestal clock on the desk he could see that it was close to midnight. Could it really only be twelve hours since Ezio the boy had gone with his mother to collect paintings from an artist’s studio? Despite himself he felt close to tears. But he collected himself, and it was Ezio the man who spoke. ‘My father and brothers have been imprisoned – I do not know on whose authority – my mother and sister are in hiding and our family seat is ransacked. My father enjoined me to deliver this letter and these papers to you…’ Ezio drew the documents from his pouch.

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