Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 99

‘Never! The Assassins will always fight for the betterment of humanity. It may ultimately be unattainable, a Utopia, a heaven on earth, but with every day that the fight for it continues, we move forwards out of the swamp.’

Rodrigo sighed. ‘Sancta simplicitas! You’ll forgive me if I’ve grown tired of waiting for humanity to wake up. I am old, I’ve seen a lot, and now I’ve only so many years to live.’ A thought struck him and he cackled evilly. ‘Though who knows? Perhaps the Vault will change that, eh?’

But suddenly the Apple began to glow, brighter and brighter, until its light filled the room, blinding them. The Pope fell to his knees. Shielding his eyes, Ezio saw that the image of the map from the Codex was being projected on the wall which was dotted with holes. He stepped forward and grasped the Papal Staff.

‘No!‘ cried Rodrigo, his claw-like hands futilely gripping the air. ‘You can’t! You can’t ! It is my destiny. Mine! I am the Prophet!’

In a terrifying moment of clear truth, Ezio realized that his fellow Assassins, so long ago in Venice, had seen what he himself had rejected. The Prophet was indeed there, in that room, and about to fulfil his destiny. He looked at Rodrigo, almost in pity. ‘You never were the Prophet,’ he said. ‘You poor, deluded soul.’

The Pope sank back, old and gross and pathetic. Then he spoke with resignation. ‘The price of failure is death. Give me at least that dignity.’

Ezio looked at him and shook his head. ‘No, old fool. Killing you won’t bring my father back. Or Federico. Or Petruccio. Or any of the others who have died, either opposing you, or in your impotent service. And for myself, I am done with killing.’ He gazed into the Pope’s eyes, and they seemed milky now, and afraid, and ancient; no longer the glittering gimlets of his foe. ‘Nothing is true,’ said Ezio. ’Everything is permitted. It is time for you to find your own peace.’

He turned from Rodrigo and held the Staff up to the wall, pressing its tip into a sequence of the holes spread across it, as the projected map showed him.

And, as he did so, the outline of a great door appeared.

Which, as Ezio touched the final hole, opened.

It revealed a broad passageway, with glass walls, inset with ancient sculptures in stone, marble and bronze, and many chambers filled with sarcophagi, each marked with Runic letters, which Ezio found himself able to read – they were the names of the ancient gods of Rome, but they were all firmly sealed.

As he passed along the passageway, Ezio was struck by the unfamiliarity of the architecture and the decoration, which seemed to be a strange mixture of the very ancient, of the style of his own time, and of shapes and forms he did not recognize, but which his instinct suggested might belong to a distant future. Along the walls there were carved reliefs of ancient events, seeming not only to show the evolution of Man, but the Force which guided it.

Many of the shapes depicted seemed human to Ezio, though in forms and clothing he could not recognize. And he saw other forms, and did not know if they were sculpted, or painted, or part of the ether through which he passed – a forest falling into the sea, apes, apples, croziers, men and women, a shroud, a sword, pyramids and colossi, ziggurats and juggernauts, ships that swam underwater, weird shining screens which seemed to convey all knowledge, all communication…

Ezio also recognized not only the Apple and the Staff, but also a great sword, and the Shroud of Christ, all carried by figures who were human in shape, but somehow not human. He discerned a depiction of the First Civilizations.

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And at last, in the depths of the Vault, he encountered a huge granite sarcophagus. As Ezio approached it began to glow, a welcoming light. He touched its huge lid and it lifted with an audible hiss, though featherlight as if glued to his fingers, and slid back. From the stone tomb a wonderful yellow light shone – warm and nurturing as the sun. Ezio shielded his eyes with his hand.

Then, from the sarcophagus, rose a figure whose features Ezio could not make out, though he knew he was looking at a woman. She looked at Ezio with changing, fiery eyes, and a voice came from her too – a voice at first like the warbling of birds, which finally settled into his own language.

Ezio saw a helmet on her head. An owl on her shoulder. He bent his head.

‘Greetings, Prophet,’ said the goddess. ‘I have been waiting for you for ten thousand thousand seasons.’

Ezio dared not look up.

‘It is good that you have come,’ the Vision continued. ‘And you have the Apple by you. Let me see.’

Humbly, Ezio proffered it.

‘Ah.’ Her hand caressed the air over it but she did not touch it. It glowed and pulsated. Her eyes bore into him. ‘We must speak.’ She tilted her head, as if considering something, and Ezio thought he could see the trace of a smile on the iridescent face.

‘Who are you?’ he dared ask.

She sighed. ‘Oh – many names… When I died, it was Minerva. Before that, Merva and Mera… and back again and again through time… Look!’ She pointed to the row of sarcophagi which Ezio had passed. Now, as she pointed at them in turn, each glowed with the pale sheen of moonlight. ‘And my family… Juno, who was before called Uni… Jupiter, who before was named Tinia…’

Ezio was transfixed. ‘You are the ancient gods…’

There was a noise like glass breaking in the distance, or the sound a falling star might make – it was her laughter. ‘No – not gods. We simply came… before. Even when we walked the world, your kind struggled to understand our existence. We were more… advanced in time… Your minds were not yet ready for us…’ She paused. ‘And perhaps they still are not… Maybe they never will be. But it is no matter.’ Her voice hardened a fraction. ‘But although you may not comprehend us, you must comprehend our warning…’

She drifted into silence. Into that silence, Ezio said, ‘None of what you are saying makes sense to me.’

‘My child, these words are not meant for you… They are meant for…’ And she looked into the darkness beyond the Vault, a darkness unbounded by walls or time itself.

‘What is it?’ asked Ezio, humbled and frightened. ‘What are you talking about? There’s no one else here!’

Minerva bowed down to him, close to him, and he felt a mother’s warmth embrace all his weariness, all his pain. ‘I do not wish to speak with you but through you. You are the Prophet.’ She raised her arms above her and the roof of the Vault became the Firmament. Minerva’s glittering and insubstantial face bore an expression of infinite sadness. ‘You’ve played your part… You anchor Him… But please be silent now… that we may commune.’ She looked sad. ‘Listen!’

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