Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 96

‘My God, you are right!’ Uncle Mario barked. He suddenly became grave. ‘For years, for decades, we have sought these answers.’

‘And now we have them,’ added Paola.

‘But so, too, might the Spaniard,’ put in Antonio. ‘We don’t know that there aren’t copies of the Codex – we don’t know that, even if his own collection is incomplete, he nevertheless has enough information to…’ He broke off. ‘And if he does, if he finds a way into the Vault…’ He dropped his voice. ‘Its contents will make the Apple seem a trifling thing.’

‘Two keys,’ Mario reminded them. ‘The Vault needs two keys to open it.’

‘But we can’t take any risks,’ said Ezio urgently. ‘I must ride now to Rome and find the Vault!’ No one disagreed. Ezio looked at each of their faces in turn. ‘And what of the rest of you?’

Bartolomeo, who had hitherto remained silent, now spoke, with less than his usual bluffness: ‘I’ll do what I do best – cause some trouble in the Eternal City, some uproar – cause a diversion so you can get on undisturbed.’

‘We’ll all help make the way as clear as possible for you, friend,’ said Machiavelli.

‘Just let me know when you’re ready, nipote, and we’ll all be behind you,’ said Mario. ‘Tutti per uno e uno per tutti!’

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‘Grazie, amici,’ said Ezio. ‘I know you’ll be there when I need you. But let me carry the burden of this last quest – a lone fish can slip through a net that catches a shoal, and the Templars will be on their guard.’

They made their preparations fast, and soon after halfway through the month, Ezio, the precious Apple in his custody, arrived by boat on the Tiber at the wharfs near the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. He had taken every precaution, but by some devilry or the astuteness of Rodrigo’s ubiquitous spies, his arrival did not pass unnoticed, and he was challenged by a squad of Borgia guards at the gates to the wharfs. He would have to fight his way to the Passetto di Borgo, the half-mile-long elevated passage that linked the Castel with the Vatican. Knowing that time was against them, now that Rodrigo must know of his arrival, Ezio decided that a quick, precise attack was his only option. He sprang like a lynx on to the mantle of an ox-drawn cart that was taking barrels from the docks, and skipping on to the higher-most barrel he leapt up to an overhanging gantry. The guards watched open-mouthed as the Assassin launched himself from the gantry – cloak billowing out behind him. Dagger drawn, he slew the Borgia sergeant atop his horse, and relieved him of his mount. The whole manoeuvre had unfolded in less time than it had taken for the remaining guards to draw their swords. Ezio, without looking back, rode off down the Passetto far faster than the Borgia uniforms could pursue him.

As he arrived at his destination, Ezio found that the gate through which he had to enter was too low and narrow for a horseman, so he dismounted and continued through it on foot, dispatching the two men who guarded it with a single deft movement of his blades. Despite his gathering years, Ezio had intensified his training, and was now at the peak of his powers – the pinnacle of his Order, the supreme Assassin.

Beyond the gate he found himself in a narrow courtyard, at the other side of which was yet another gate. It seemed to be unguarded, but as he approached the lever at its side which he assumed would open it, a cry went up from the ramparts above: ‘Stop the intruder!‘ Glancing behind him, he saw the gate through which he had entered slamming shut. He was caught in that cramped enclave!

He threw himself on the lever controlling the second gate as the archers ranging themselves above him prepared to fire, and just managed to dash through it as the arrows clattered to the ground behind him.

Now he was inside the Vatican. Moving catlike through its labyrinthine corridors, and melting into the shadows at the merest hint of now alerted guards passing, for he could not afford confrontation which might give his position away, he found himself at last in the vast cave of the Sistine Chapel.

Baccio Pontelli’s masterpiece, built for the Assassins’ old enemy Pope Sixtus IV and completed twenty years earlier, loomed around and above him, the many candles lit at this time just penetrating the gloom. Ezio could make out wall paintings by Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino and Rosselli, but the great vault of the ceiling had as yet to be decorated.

He had entered by a stained-glass window which was undergoing repair, and he balanced on an interior embrasure overlooking the vast hall. Below him, Alexander VI, in full golden regalia, was conducting the Mass, reading from the Gospel of San Giovanni.

‘In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in pricipio apud Deum. Omnia per ipsum fact sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil quid factum est… In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth…’

Ezio watched until the service came to its conclusion and the congregation began filing out, leaving the Pope alone with his cardinals and attendant priests. Did the Spaniard know Ezio was there? Did he plan some kind of confrontation? Ezio did not know, but he could see that here was a golden opportunity to rid the world of this most menacing Templar. Bracing himself, he threw himself outwards and downwards off the embrasure to land close to the Pope in a perfect crouch, springing up immediately, before the man or his attendants could have time to react or call out, and driving his spring-blade hard and deep into Alexander’s swollen body. The Pope sank soundlessly to the ground at Ezio’s feet and lay still.

Ezio stood over him, breathing hard. ‘I thought… I thought I was beyond this. I thought I could rise above vengeance. But I can’t. I’m just a man. I’ve waited too long, lost too much… and you are a canker in the world that should be cut out for everyone’s good – Requiescat in pace, sfortunato.’

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