Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 77

Rodrigo chuckled. A sound like bones rattling. ‘You claim not to be a Believer,’ he said. ‘And yet here you are. Do you not see the Prophet? He is already present! I am the Prophet!’

Ezio’s grey eyes widened. The man was possessed! But what curious madness was this, which seemed to transcend the rational and the natural courses of life itself? Alas, Ezio’s pondering left him momentarily off-guard. The Spaniard drew a schiavona, a light but deadly-looking sword, with a cat’s-head pommel, from his robes and leapt from the loggia, aiming the thin sword at Ezio’s throat. ‘Give me the Apple,’ he snarled.

‘That’s what’s in this box? An apple? It must be a pretty special one,’ said Ezio, while in his mind his uncle’s voice reverberated: a piece of Eden. ‘Come and take it from me!’

Rodrigo sliced at Ezio with his blade, slashing his tunic and drawing blood at the first pass.

‘Are you alone, Ezio? Where are your Assassin friends now?’

‘I don’t need their help to deal with you!’

Ezio used his daggers to cut and slash, and his left-forearm guard-brace to parry Rodrigo’s blows. But, though he landed no cut with the poison-blade, his double-blade stabbed through the velvet robe of the Cardinal and he saw it stained with the man’s blood.

‘You little shit,’ bellowed Rodrigo, in pain. ‘I can see that I’ll need help to master you! Guards! Guards!’

Suddenly, a dozen armed men bearing the Borgia crest on their tunics stormed into the courtyard where Ezio and the Cardinal were confronting one another. Ezio knew there was precious little poison left in the hilt of his right-hand dagger. He leapt back, the better to defend himself against Rodrigo’s reinforcements, and at that moment one of the new guards stooped to sweep the teak box off the ground and hand it to his Master.

‘Thank you, uomo coraggioso!’

Ezio, meanwhile, was seriously outmatched, but he fought with a strategic coldness born of an absolute desire to recapture the box and its contents. Sheathing his Codex blades, he reached for his bandolier of throwing-knives and shot them from his hands with deadly accuracy, first bringing down the uomo coraggioso and then, with a second knife, knocking the box from Rodrigo’s gnarled hands.

The Spaniard bent to pick it up again and make his retreat, when – shoof! – another throwing-knife hurtled through the air to clatter against a stone column inches from the Cardinal’s face. But this knife had not been thrown by Ezio.

Ezio whirled round to see a familiar, jovial, bearded figure behind him. Older, perhaps, and greyer, and heavier, but no less deft. ‘Uncle Mario!’ he exclaimed. ‘I knew I’d seen you earlier!’

‘Can’t let you have all the fun,’ said Mario. ‘And don’t worry, nipote. You are not alone!’

But a Borgia guard was bearing down on Ezio, halberd raised. The moment before he could deliver the crushing blow which would have sent Ezio into an endless night, a crossbow bolt appeared as if by magic, buried in the man’s forehead. He dropped his weapon and fell forwards, a look of disbelief etched on his face. Ezio looked round again and saw – La Volpe!

‘What are you doing here, Fox?’

‘We heard you might need some back-up,’ said the Fox, reloading quickly as more guards began to pour out of the building. It was as well that more reinforcements, in the shape of Antonio and Bartolomeo, appeared on Ezio’s side.

‘Don’t let Borgia get away with that box!’ yelled Antonio.

Bartolomeo was using his greatsword Bianca like a scythe, cutting a swathe through the ranks of guards as they tried to overpower him by sheer force of numbers. And gradually the tide of battle turned back in favour of the Assassins and their allies.

‘We’ve got them covered now, nipote,’ called Mario. ‘Look to the Spaniard!’

Ezio turned to see Rodrigo making for a doorway at the rear of the loggia and hastened to cut him off, but the Cardinal, sword in hand, was ready for him. ‘This is a losing battle for you, my boy,’ he snarled. ‘You cannot stop what is written! You’ll die by my hand like your father and your brothers -for death is the fate that awaits all who attempt to defy the Templars.’

Nevertheless, Rodrigo’s voice lacked conviction and, looking round, Ezio saw that the last of his guards had fallen. He blocked Rodrigo’s retreat at the threshold of the doorway, raising his own sword and preparing to strike, saying, ‘This is for my father!’ But the Cardinal ducked the blow, knocking Ezio off balance, yet dropping the precious box as he darted through the doorway to save his skin.

‘Make no mistake,’ he said balefully as he left. ‘I live to fight another day! And then I’ll make sure your death is as painful as it will be slow.’

And he was gone.

Ezio, winded, was trying to catch his breath and struggle to his feet when a woman’s hand reached down to help him. Looking up, he saw that the owner of the hand was – Paola!

‘He’s gone,’ she said, smiling. ‘But it doesn’t matter. We have what we came for.’

‘No! Did you hear what he said? I must get after him and finish this!’

‘Calm yourself,’ said another woman, coming up. It was Teodora. Looking round the assembled company, Ezio could see all his allies, Mario, the Fox, Antonio, Bartolomeo, Paola and Teodora. And there was someone else. A pale, dark-haired young man with a thoughtful, humorous face.

‘What are you all doing here?’ asked Ezio, sensing a tension among them.

‘Perhaps the same thing as you, Ezio,’ said the young stranger. ‘Hoping to see the Prophet appear.’

Ezio was confused and irritated. ‘No! I came here to kill the Spaniard! I couldn’t care less about your Prophet – if he exists at all. He certainly isn’t here.’

‘Isn’t he?’ The young man paused, looking steadily at Ezio. ‘You are.’


‘A prophet’s arrival was foretold. And here you have been among us for so long without our guessing the truth. All along you were the One we sought.’

‘I don’t understand. Who are you, anyway?’

The young man sketched a bow. ‘My name is Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. I am a member of the Order of the Assassins, trained in the ancient ways, to safeguard the future of mankind. Just like you, just like every man and woman here.’

Ezio was astounded, looking from one face to the next. ‘Is this true, Uncle Mario?’ he said at last.

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