Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 95

Ezio stepped away from the pyres. Standing at a short distance, he saw Machiavelli, Paola and La Volpe watching him. Machiavelli caught his eye and made a small gesture of encouragement. Ezio knew what he had to do. He mounted the stage at the far end from the bonfires and all eyes turned to him.

‘Citizens of Florence!’ he said in a clarion voice. ‘Twenty-two years ago, I stood where I stand now, and watched my loved ones die, betrayed by those I had counted friends. Vengeance clouded my mind. It would have consumed me, had it not been for the wisdom of a few strangers, who taught me to look beyond my instincts. They never preached answers, but guided me to learn from myself.’ Ezio saw that his fellow Assassins had now been joined by Uncle Mario, who smiled and raised a hand in salute. ‘My friends,’ he continued, ‘we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. Not Savonarola, not the Pazzi, not even the Medici. We are free to follow our own path.’ He paused. ‘There are those who would take that freedom from us, and too many of you – too many of us – alas – gladly give it. But we have it within our power to choose – to choose whatever we deem true – and it is the exercise of that power which makes us human. There is no book or teacher to give us the answers, to show us a path. So – choose your own way! Do not follow me, or anyone else!’

With an inward smile he noticed how disquieted some of the members of the Signoria were looking. Perhaps mankind would never change, but it didn’t hurt to give it a nudge. He jumped down, pulled his hood over his head, and walked out of the square, down the street running along the north wall of the Signoria which he had memorably walked down twice before, and vanished from sight.

And there then began for Ezio the last long hard quest of his life before the final confrontation he knew was inevitable. With Machiavelli at his side, he organized his fellows of the Order of the Assassins from Florence and Venice to roam throughout the Italian peninsula, travelling far and wide, armed with copies of Girolamo’s map, painstakingly gathering the remaining missing pages of the Great Codex; scouring the provinces of Piedmont, of Trent, of Liguria, Umbria, Veneto, Friuli, Lombardy; of Emilia-Romagna, the Marche, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo; of Molise, Apulia, Campania and Basilicata; and of dangerous Calabria. They spent perhaps too much time in Capri, and crossed the Tyrrhenian Sea to the land of kidnappers, Sardinia, and wicked, gangsterized Sicily. They visited kings and courted dukes, they battled those Templars they encountered on the same mission; but in the end they triumphed.

They reassembled at Monteriggioni. It had taken five long years, and Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, old now, but still strong, remained Pope in Rome. The power of the Templars, though diminished, still posed a grave threat.

Much remained to be done.

28

One morning early in August 1503, Ezio, a man now of forty-four, his temples streaked with grey but his beard still dark chestnut, was bidden by his uncle to join him and the rest of the Company of Assassins there assembled, in his study at his castle of Monteriggioni. Paola, Machiavelli and La Volpe had been joined by Teodora, Antonio and Bartolomeo.

‘It is time, Ezio,’ said Mario solemnly. ‘We hold the Apple and now all the missing Codex pages are collected here together. Let us now finish what you and my brother, your father, started so long ago… Perhaps we can at long last make sense of the prophecy buried within the Codex, and finally break the inexorable power of the Templars for ever.’

‘Then, Uncle, we should begin by locating the Vault. The Codex pages you have reassembled should lead us to it.’

Mario swung back the bookcase to reveal the wall on which the Codex – now in its entirety – hung. Near it, on a pedestal, stood the Apple.

‘This is how the pages relate to one another,’ said Mario as they all took in the complex design. ‘It appears to show a map of the world, but a world bigger than we know, with continents to the west and south which we are unaware of. Yet I am convinced they exist.’

‘There are other elements,’ said Machiavelli. ‘Here, on the left, you can see the traced outline of what can only be a crozier, indeed what may be a Papal staff. On the right is clearly a depiction of the Apple. In the middle of the pages we can now see a dozen dots marked in a pattern whose significance is as yet mysterious.’

As he spoke, the Apple began to glow of its own accord, and finally flashed blindingly, illuminating the Codex pages and seeming to embrace them. Then it resumed its dull, neutral state.

‘Why did it do that – at that precise moment?’ asked Ezio, wishing Leonardo had been there to explain, or at least deduce. He was trying to remember what his friend had said about the singular properties of this curious machine, though Ezio didn’t know what it was – it seemed to be as much living thing as mechanism. But some instinct told him to trust in it.

‘Another mystery to unravel,’ said La Volpe.

‘How can this map be possible?’ asked Paola. ‘Undiscovered continents…!’

‘Perhaps continents waiting to be rediscovered,’ suggested Ezio, but his tone was one of awe.

‘How can this be?’ said Teodora.

Machiavelli replied, ‘Perhaps the Vault holds the answer.’

‘Can we see where it is located, now?’ asked the ever-practical Antonio.

‘Let’s look…’ said Ezio, examining the Codex. ‘If we trace lines between these dots…’ He did so. ‘They converge, see! On a single location.’ He stepped back. ‘No! It cannot be! The Vault! It looks as if the Vault is in Rome!’ He looked round the assembled company, and they read his next thought.

‘It explains why Rodrigo was so anxious to become Pope,’ said Mario. ‘Eleven years he’s ruled the Holy See, but he still lacks the means to crack its darkest secret, though he clearly must know he’s at the spot itself.’

‘Of course!’ said Machiavelli. ‘In a sense you have to admire him. He’s not only managed to locate the Vault, but by becoming Pope he has control of the Staff!’

‘The Staff?’ said Teodora.

Mario spoke: ‘The Codex always mentioned two “Pieces of Eden” - that is, two keys – it can mean nothing else. One ‘ he turned his eyes to it, ‘ is the Apple.’

‘And the other is the Papal staff!’ cried Ezio, in realization. ‘The Papal staff is the second “Piece of Eden”!’

‘Precisely,’ said Machiavelli.

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