Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 97

He turned to go, but then a peculiar thing happened. The Spaniard’s hand curled round the Staff he had been holding. Immediately, it began to glow with a brilliant white light, and as it did so the whole great cavern of a chapel seem to whirl round and round. And the Spaniard’s cold cobalt eyes snapped open.

‘I’m not quite ready to rest in peace, you pitiful wretch,’ said the Spaniard. There was a mighty flash of light and the attendant priests and cardinals, together with those members of the congregation who were still inside the chapel, collapsed, crying out in pain, as curious thin beams of translucent light, smoke-like in the way they curled, emerged from their bodies and travelled into the glowing Staff which the Pope, now standing, held in a grip of steel.

Ezio ran at him, but the Spaniard shouted, ‘No you don’t, Assassin!’ and swung the Staff at him. It crackled in a strange way, like lightning, and Ezio felt himself thrown across the chapel, over the bodies of the moaning and writhing priests and people. Rodrigo Borgia rapped his Staff briskly on the floor by the altar and more smoke-like energy flowed into it – and him – from their hapless bodies.

Ezio picked himself up and confronted his archenemy once more.

‘You are a demon!’ cried Rodrigo. ‘How is it that you can resist?’ Then he lowered his eyes and saw that the pouch at Ezio’s side, which still contained the Apple, was glowing brightly.

‘I see!’ said Rodrigo, his eyes glowing like coals. ‘You have the Apple! How convenient! Give it to me now!’

‘Vai a farti fottere!’

Rodrigo laughed. ‘Such vulgarity! But always the fighter! Just like your father. Well, rejoice, my child, for you will see him again soon!’

He swung his Staff again and the crozier’s hook smashed against the scar on the back of Ezio’s left hand. A shock thrilled through Ezio’s veins and he staggered back, but did not fall.

‘You will give it me,’ snarled Rodrigo, closing in.

Ezio thought fast. He knew what the Apple was capable of and he had to take a risk now or die in the attempt. ‘As you wish,’ he replied. He withdrew the Apple from his pouch and held it aloft. It flashed so powerfully that the entire lofty chapel seemed for a moment to be illuminated by bright sunlight, and when the gloom of the candlelight returned, Rodrigo saw eight Ezios ranged before him.

But he remained unruffled. ‘It can make copies of you!’ he said. ‘How impressive. Hard to tell which is the real you, and which a chimera – but that’d be hard at the best of times, and if you think such a cheap conjuring trick is going to save you, think again!’

Rodrigo swung out at the clones, and each time he hit one, it vanished in a puff of smoke. The ghost-Ezios pranced and feinted, lunging at the now worried-looking Rodrigo, but they could do no harm to the Spaniard other than to distract him. Only the real Ezio was able to land any blows – but they were minor glances, such was the power of the Staff, that he was unable to get close enough to the vile Pope. But Ezio quickly realized that the fight was sapping Rodrigo’s strength. By the time the seven ghosts were gone, the repulsive pontiff was tired and out of breath. Madness imparts an energy to the body that few other things can, but despite the powers the Staff imbued in him, Rodrigo was after all a fat old man of seventy-two, and suffering from syphilis. Ezio put the Apple back in its pouch.

Breathless after the fight with the phantoms, the Pope sank to his knees. Ezio, almost equally breathless because his phantoms had necessarily used his energy to disport themselves, stood over him. Looking up, Rodrigo clutched his Staff. ‘You will not take this from me,’ he said.

‘It’s all over, Rodrigo. Put the Staff down and I will grant you a swift and merciful death.’

‘How generous,’ sneered Rodgrio. ‘I wonder if you’d give up in such a supine way if things were the other way round?’

Summoning his strength, the Pope rose abruptly to his feet, at the same time slamming the foot of his Staff against the ground. In the dimness beyond them, the priests and people groaned again and new energy whipped from the staff against Ezio, hitting him like a sledgehammer and sending him flying.

‘How’s that for starters?’ said the Pope, with an evil grin. He walked over to where Ezio lay winded. Ezio started to take the Apple out again but too late, for Rodrigo crushed his hand with his boot and the Apple rolled away. The Borgia stooped to pick it up.

‘At last!’ he said, smiling. ‘And now… to deal with you!’

He held the Apple up and it glowed banefully. Ezio seemed as if frozen, trapped, for he was unable to move. The Pope leaned over him in fury, but then his expression calmed, seeing his adversary completely in his power. From his robes he drew a short-sword, and, looking at his prostrate foe, stabbed him deliberately in the side, with a look of pity mingled with disdain.

But the pain of the wound seemed to weaken the power of the Apple. Ezio lay prone, but watched through a haze of pain as Rodrigo, thinking himself secure, turned and faced Botticelli’s fresco of The Temptation of Christ. Standing close to it, he raised the Staff. Cosmic energy arced out of it to embrace the fresco, a part of which swivelled opened to reveal a secret door, through which Rodrigo passed after casting one last triumphant look back at his fallen enemy. Ezio watched helplessly as the door closed behind the Pope, and only had time to fix the location of the door before he passed out.

He came to, he knew not how much later, but the candles were burnt low and the priests and people had vanished. He found that although he was lying in a pool of his own blood, the wound Rodrigo had delivered had cut into his side and touched no fatal organ. He got up shakily, leaning against a wall for support and breathing deeply and regularly until his head cleared. He was able to staunch his wound with strips torn from his shirt. He prepared his Codex weapons – the double-blade on the left forearm, the poison-blade on the right – and approached the Botticelli fresco.

He remembered that the door was concealed in the figure, on the right-hand side, of a woman bearing a fardel of wood to the sacrifice. Stepping close, he examined the painting minutely until he had traced the barely visible outline. Then he looked carefully at the details of the painting both to the right and left of the woman. Near her feet was the figure of a child with an upraised right hand, and it was in the tips of the fingers of this hand that Ezio found the button that triggered the door. As it opened, he slipped through it, and wasn’t surprised that it snapped shut behind him immediately. He would not think of retreating now in any case.

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