Roma, 1508 AD
My name is Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and like my fathers before me, I am an Assassin. My entire life has been dedicated to protecting those weaker than myself, and to ensure the survival and the free thought of humanity.
I am beginning to tire of this endless war. My story is like any other, it always has an end, and I feel that my story is nearing its end.
The world, however, is not ready for me to leave.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze looked out over the sprawling city of Rome, the Eternal City. As he observed, one thought came to him, all that he could see was his.
After the downfall of Cesare Borgia, the city had been born again, it’s true Renaissance, and it had all been due to Ezio’s efforts.
This is my city.
Ezio approached the edge of the tower he was standing on, it faced the river, Ezio let himself fall forwards, allowing the air to catch him and protect him, to lift him, like an eagle.
His dive was perfect. He landed in the water headfirst, and sustained no injury, and began to swim towards the island in the center of the river. Ducking under one of the island’s sewage entrances, Ezio lifted himself onto a set of stairs that had been secretly constructed in the entrance, at the top of the stairs there was a door, Ezio approached it and went through.
He lived in the building beyond the door, as did the rest of the Roman Assassins. As he rounded a corner, he entered the building’s main hall. Waiting for him, as Ezio knew he would, was Macchiavelli diligently working at his desk.
Ezio approached Macchiavelli; he looked up and smiled at the sight of his friend.
“Ezio, I was waiting for your return, where have you been?”
Ezio replied, “Around, what are you working on?”
Macchiavelli held up his manuscript. “It is a short story I have been working on.”
Ezio looked closely at the title at the top of the paper.
“<Il Principe> The Prince? What is it about?”
“You will find out when it is done.”
“What did you have to talk to me about?”
Macchiavelli stood up and began walking around the room.
”We have received word from Florence that a carriage full of weapons has just left the city en route to Rome, the transport was authorized by Cesare Borgia before his arrest.”
“Niccolò, Cesare was arrested five years ago, and he is now dead.”
“I know, the Assassins in Florence did think it was strange for an order to arrive to its customer over five years after the order was made. So they investigated, and found some disturbing information. It was made immediately after Cesare attacked Monteriggioni.”
“Impossible! That was eight years ago!”
“There is more, although we could not find out the specifics of the order, we discovered that the carriage intercepted was the one of the last of hundreds of shipments of weaponry to Cesare, which have been slowly entering Rome over the past eight years.”
“How many weapons are there?”
“Much more than what Cesare’s army would have needed. We’ve been investigating, and we think that the weapons were not meant for the Papal army.
“But Cesare made the order.”
“Yes, but we think that he had been shipping them to someone else since the beginning, and the shipments have not stopped since his arrest or death.”
Ezio nodded, as he understood Macchiavelli’s intentions. “So you want me to follow a shipment and see what this is all about.”
“Yes, it could mean nothing, the only thing that worries me is that these shipments which are all part of the same order have been going on for eight years, and also why they have not stopped in the past five years since Cesare was arrested.”
“Where can I find one of the carriages?”
“From what was discovered, there is only one more shipment in Cesare’s order. Tomorrow night it will stop in the Colli Albani, we don’t know where the destination is, but we know it is somewhere near or in Rome. Travel to the hills tomorrow, and wait for the carriage ordered by Cesare, and follow it to its destination.”
“It will be done.” Ezio turned around and began to walk away.
Ezio turned, “Yes?”
“This is the last shipment, if you don’t manage to follow it to its destination, we may never find out what is happening until it is too late.”
It was late afternoon when Ezio reached the shores of the small volcanic lake just outside Rome. He would have enough time to think of a plan.
There was a small checkpoint near the shore of the lake, in between two hills, carriages passing through the Alban Hills to get to Rome had to pass through this checkpoint, Ezio would have a small window of time when the carriage stopped and the rider would be absent.
Today was not his lucky day though. From his hiding spot in the bushes, Ezio could see two archers and an arquebuiser on the roof, along with two Seekers on the ground.
Ezio seethed, he knew he could not kill any of the guards, or the carriage would not be permitted to pass, and it would all be over. Ezio briefly wondered if the abundance of guards was in any way related to the incoming carriage, although he quickly dismissed the thought as he saw a carriage being pulled by horses down the narrow dirt road.
Ezio waited for a couple hours, staying crouched behind the bush, knowing when a carriage was coming before it came into a sight, and knowing it was not the right one even before it was halfway down the first hill.
As the sun began to set, one more carriage mounted the rise on top of the hill. As Ezio looked at it, he knew this was his carriage; his heightened senses could just make out the Borgia emblem on the side.
Wasting no time, Ezio ran towards the checkpoint while the guards on the rooftop turned to watch the carriage tumble over the hill rise. Ducking under windows, Ezio stealthily crept along the perimeter of the checkpoint, until he was at the corner and could easily watch the incoming carriage stop.
The carriage soon reached the checkpoint and stopped, the rider jumped off and walked to the small building on the side. One of the Seekers accompanied him. Now was Ezio’s time to move.
The man would be inside enough time to sign a couple papers, share some friendly words with an official, and then he would return to his carriage. It would be just enough time for Ezio to do what he had in mind.
Ezio pulled out a special bomb that Leonardo da Vinci had recently crafted for him. It had the same theory of the smoke bomb, although instead of smoke it simply made a loud, unexpected noise. Ezio could not throw it at any of the guards, they could be harmed in the blast, and then they would know something was wrong, instead, he threw it at the horses.
As he threw the bomb, Ezio was painfully aware of how Leonardo had told him that the bomb was only a prototype, and he had strongly advised him to test it before using it in the field.
Luckily, the bomb worked perfectly. The bomb exploded a couple feet away from the horses, enough for them to be scared, but not harmed, and their kicking and neighing certainly covered the sound of the bomb from the guards.
The horses kicked up a storm of dust, which was exactly what Ezio wanted. He swiftly slid into the dust cloud and, praying he was nowhere near the horse’s flying feet, slid under the carriage. In the second before the dust cleared, Ezio had latched himself onto the bottom of the carriage and was holding himself high enough that the guards could not possibly see him.
He heard a door banging open, some yells, and then two pairs of feet rushing towards the carriage. The Seekers began examining the carriage. The horses were still relatively agitated, so the guards steered clear of them and, exactly as Ezio had planned, from the small skid marks left by the bomb.
One of the guards walked away, he suggested that a snake had scared the horses. The other Seeker remained behind. Ezio was holding his breath. The Seeker had crouched down by the carriage. The guard’s companion yelled something to him, and the Seeker yelled something back and continued to observe the underneath of the carriage. The Seeker suddenly stood up, and Ezio relaxed, only to hold his breath again a second later when the Seeker began poking his spear around the bottom of the carriage. The guard was getting dangerously close to Ezio, who knew that if the Seeker found him with his spear it would be all over.
Just as Ezio was about to jump down and start fighting, the official yelled harshly at the guard about wasting time. The Seeker retracted his spear and left Ezio to breathe.
Minutes later, the carriage began to tumble off up the hill. Ezio, very mindful of not losing his footing, managed to pull himself up and around the backside of the carriage, gently landing inside. Ezio looked back, the checkpoint and the guards were now out of sight. As Ezio turned around to sit down, he jumped. The carriage was not filled with weapons, or at least not the weapons Ezio was expecting. Ezio looked more closely at what was in the carriage, he could not be mistaken, he bought the same material regularly from doctors, although much less concentrated and in smaller doses. The carriage was filled with innumerable and highly concentrated amounts of poison.
The cart jumped slightly as Ezio approached the rows of the deadly fluid; Ezio lurched a bit, and balanced himself before falling onto one of the rows. Now he was close enough to examine the small vials. It was indeed the same substance he bought from doctors for his poison blade, although he could read the labels which specified that this was a much more lethal concentration of poison. As Ezio looked ahead, he noticed that there were many different types of poison. There was cantarella, cyanide, and even several poisonous herbs.
The carriage suddenly began to slow down. Ezio was suddenly aware that he had never thought of how to leave the carriage without anybody noticing. He looked out through a crack in the wood on the side of the carriage, and realized that they were now in the city again. After a moment, Ezio realized where they were, it was the Lateran quarter of the Campagna district, one of the few areas where the Assassin presence was not particularly strong, and the land was mostly owned by the thieves’ guild, the Cento Occhi.
The Cento Occhi were rivals of the Assassins, and former allies of the Borgia. Since Cesare’s arrest, the gang had generally lost influence in the city, although it was still an occasional problem for the Assassins.
The carriage stopped, the door in the back opened just as Ezio had found refuge behind one of the rows of poison. For a moment, Ezio thought he was safe, until a guard yelled at his companion to check the rows. Ezio could hear the guard was approaching, he knew he had only one choice. Fortunately, the rows were tall enough to hide the guard, and also tall enough to hide Ezio as he jumped up to confront him. In a swift movement, before the guard could cry out, Ezio had straightened himself from his hiding position, lashed out with his left hand at the guard’s throat, almost choking him, so that he would not yell, lashed out with his right fist at the guard’s stomach, making him bend over, and finally kneeing him in the face, indefinitely knocking him out. Ezio caught the guard before he hit the floor, and gently lay him down. As Ezio observed the unconscious man, he began checking his armor as well. Ezio smiled, it seemed that the armor could fit him perfectly.
Ezio had just fitted the guard’s boots on when his companion called for him, asking what was taking so long. Ezio adjusted his helmet, so that it would hide most of his face, and stepped out of the rows of poison and jumped off the carriage.
The moon was high in the night sky when Ezio jumped off the carriage. Turning around, he immediately took scope of his surroundings. He could see the Lateran Palace to the west, meaning he was on the outskirts of the city. Ezio realized that there was no place in Rome that had a lesser Assassin presence, and also that if something was to go wrong, he would be completely on his own. He was in a small camp, so seemingly insignificant that Ezio had never known there was a guard camp in this area of the city. There was a building with dormitories for the captain guards; a small structure, which Ezio guessed housed weapons, a stable with two horses, and about half a dozen ragged tents. The guard calling to Ezio helped him off the cart and began speaking.
“Is everything in order?” Ezio nodded.
“Good, start unloading the cargo while I go call some others to help, and be careful to let anything fall.”
The guard walked away. Obediently, Ezio began to carefully unload the poison from the carriage onto the ground. Minutes later, the guard returned with about five others. They immediately began helping Ezio unload the carriage. Soon, a Leader guard was yelling orders for people to pick up the boxes of poison.
Mindful of staying in the back of the group, Ezio picked up his box and began following the other guards. They were leading him towards the stables. Ezio expected the boxes to be left there, but his escort veered around the stable to the back. Behind the stable there was a closet that stored hay for the horses. The guard in front put down his box and opened the closet. He began moving the hay and throwing it out. Ezio, who was becoming more confused by the minute, began edging closer to the closet to see what was happening. Suddenly, the guard in front backed out of the closet, picked up his box and walked into it. More guards followed the first. Ezio could not understand how the small closet could hold so many people. When Ezio’s turn to enter came, he was not all surprised to find a waist-sized hole in the ground where the hay had been moments before. Ezio looked down; there was a ladder, only a few rungs tall that descended down to a tunnel built below the stable. A guard was expectantly holding his hands up to Ezio, waiting for him to hand him his box. Ezio handed it down to him and began climbing down the ladder. At the bottom, he turned around to observe the tunnel. It was long and narrow, Ezio could see because of the torches that lined the wall of the tunnel, although he could not make out the end. A loud shout distracted Ezio; another guard was telling him to take his box. Ezio grabbed the box and began walking down the tunnel.
Ezio had no idea of where he was headed, although he knew he was going west, which meant that his final destination would probably be inside the city. That made his task slightly easier. The group of guards walked for several minutes. Ezio started feeling the tunnel sloping gently upwards, and soon faced a set of stairs ahead of him. As Ezio began ascending them, he noticed something. The walls of the tunnel, which had previously been simply dirt and rocks, had turned into stone, and then to marble at some point during his journey. Ezio reached the top of the stairs. On the other side of an open door was a large room. Ezio immediately remarked the beauty of the room, there were ancient Imperial Roman frescoes decorating the walls, a high vaulted ceiling dominated the room, with more frescoes of angels. The floor was scattered with boxes of poison and various weapons.
Ezio lay down his box and followed the group of guards through another door. Ezio let himself fall behind the rest of the guards. They soon reached another set of stairs, shorter this time. At the top, Ezio entered a large hallway, as the guard behind him came up, he closed the door between the stairs and the hallway. Ezio turned around, the door was in fact part of the wall, painted with more frescoes, it blended in perfectly with the wall, and no one would ever know there was a staircase behind it.
Ezio looked around, and finally realized where he was; it had been years since he had been there, although it was in the same state of disrepair as it had been the last time he visited. He was inside the Lateran Palace.
Letting the guard behind him overtake him, Ezio quietly slipped to the side into a separate room. He was in a large hall, alone now. Ezio stopped at the sight of the room’s contents. The walls were lined with more racks of weapons and the floor was littered with boxes of poison. Looking around, Ezio saw more weaponry, cases of ammunition, bombs, crossbows, bow and arrows, and armor littering the floor and covering the walls. Ezio realized that the whole Palace must be hiding more weapons, and that there would be enough for a large-scale battle.As Ezio walked down the hall, keeping close to the wall’s shadows, he realized that the shipments had been directed to the Lateran Palace for years, there were so many questions left unanswered though, and Ezio planned to uncover them before he left the palace.
Ezio had taken off the guard’s armor ad stashed it in one of the cases. He knew that his best choice was to remain undetected, and find someone to interrogate about what was happening in the Lateran Palace. Ezio climbed the weapon racks and lifted himself onto a balcony on the second level of the palace. This level held the smaller, more private rooms of the building, and he would have a better chance of staying unnoticed. As Ezio walked through the rooms, he heard a loud, magnified voice. He was distracted by it for a second, and in that second he did not hear the approaching feet of two guards. They rounded a corner just as Ezio turned around to confront them. The two guards remained shocked by Ezio’s presence. In the heat of the moment, Ezio grabbed one of his throwing knives around his waist and threw it straight into the skull of one of the guards. The other one reacted quickly, he unsheathed his sword, but Ezio knew he was not experienced, for one thing, he should have yelled for help immediately. Ezio ran forward and ducked underneath the man’s sword. Straightening himself up behind the guard, Ezio grabbed his head, and in a swift, fluid motion, cracked his neck. As the man fell to the floor, Ezio realized his mistake, he should have let at least one of the two live and interrogate them. Ezio pulled his knife out of the first guard’s head and wiped it clean on the man’s sleeve. Sheathing the knife, Ezio decided to head towards the source of the loud voice that had distracted him in the first place. Ezio saw a balcony overlooking an enormous room two rooms over. Ezio realized the noise was coming from the palace’s basilica. Looking down over the balcony, Ezio saw about fifty people in the church, all listening to one man, whose voice echoed throughout the building. Ezio could not understand the preacher’s words, since they were all Latin, but it did not seem to matter, the ceremony seemed to have just finished. The people listening to the man all left the basilica through a door on the side of the church. The preacher, instead, began walking towards the backside of the basilica. Ezio knew where he was headed. Ezio lowered himself from the balcony to the ground, landed as lightly as possible, and ran up the stairs on the side of the basilica, again making no noise. As Ezio expected, the preacher was nowhere to be seen, Ezio knew where he was though. In the back of the basilica was the almost hidden entrance to the shrine of the Followers of Romulus. It was fortunate that Ezio had been there before, or else he wouldn’t have had any idea of where to go. There was a ladder leading down to the shrine, Ezio descended it carefully. The preacher was in a room adjacent to the shrine. Ezio hid behind a desk and waited for the man to come out. When he came out, Ezio took in every detail about him. He was an older man, in his late sixties, his garb indicated that he was descended from a rich family, or whoever employed him paid very well. Ezio waited until the man was ahead of him, then he slowly straightened himself out of his hiding place and stealthily crept up behind him. Once he was close enough, Ezio rapidly kicked out at the preacher’s knees, making him bend over. He then slipped his hand over his mouth to prevent him from yelling. The preacher was still unsure of what was happening, it took a second for the panicky realization to hit him. It was the same with everyone. First, the victim would stay still, unsure of what was happening, and then they would begin squirming and trying to free themselves. At this point, Ezio would unsheathe his hidden blade from his wrist and point it at the victim’s throat, in a way that he could see it. They would all stop squirming by then. “Stay still, if you move, I will kill you.” The man didn’t respond, instead, he became even more rigid. After a couple seconds, Ezio gently took his hand away from the preacher’s mouth, keeping his hidden blade pointed towards his throat. Ezio moved around him until he was looking him in the face. “Stay still. Don’t shout. If you do anything, I will cut off your tongue,” Ezio unsheathed his dagger, “and your fingers.” The man nodded, and then spoke. “You are the Assassin?” Ezio nodded. The man tensed even more. “What is happening here? Why is the palace filled with weapons and guards?” The preacher looked down to his feet and mumbled his answer. “We were ordered to.” Ezio leaned down and lowered his dagger towards the preacher’s hand. The man’s eyes went wild.
“No, no, please, I am only following orders from my superiors, I do not know who they answer to.” “What are you doing here?” “We are storing weapons.” Ezio firmly grasped the man’s hand. “Speak the truth Templar.” "Stop, I will tell you the truth. The Templars are storing weapons here, for years in fact. They mean to store them for the thieves.” “The thieves?” “The Cento Occhi.” Ezio recoiled as the realization hit him. “The Templars are keeping weapons here for the Cento Occhi. Why?” The man looked around nervously, Ezio made contact between his dagger and the man’s finger. "No stop! The Cento Occhi approached the Templars about eight years ago, the Templars were asked to supply the thieves with enough weapons for an army to use. They offered the Borgia an enormous sum of money. The order was made for the weapons to be delivered soon afterwards. The order was immense; it would have been suspicious if so many weapons were delivered at once. It was decided to have the deliveries divided out over time. The weapons have been stored in various places in the city, including the Lateran. That is all I know.” Ezio knew he was telling the truth this time. “So these weapons were meant for the Cento Occhi?” The preacher shook his head. “The Cento Occhi approached the Templars on behalf of a third party. I don’t know who it is, I swear.” “Why have the orders not stopped since Cesare’s arrest?” The preacher, who had been stuttering up to that point, looked up at Ezio with confusion in his expression. “Cesare did not make the order.” Ezio was so shocked that he dropped his dagger to the floor. The loud clang of the metal echoed throughout the shrine and the basilica above. A voice sounded, “Luigi, are you okay?” The preacher did not answer, he was too nervous to make an audible shout, and Ezio knew he could not pass off the preacher’s croaky and broken voice. Soon, he heard steps running towards the entrance of the shrine, Ezio grabbed the preacher, unconcerned about being delicate. ”Whom do you answer to?” The preacher could not make himself well heard the first time, Ezio shook him as the guards drew closer, and he made himself clear. “Cardinal Massimo Sarvo” Ezio threw the preacher to the ground, picked up his dagger, and began making his way towards the exit he knew was at the other side of the room, but he was too late. Four guards had already descended the ladder and were beginning to circle him. Ezio could tell these were more experienced than the two guards he had killed earlier. He held his dagger up high, waiting for the first attack. As he expected, three guards attacked him at the same time and out of the corner of his eye, Ezio saw the other one pulling a crossbow from behind his back, and carefully tailing Ezio with the steel arrowhead. Ezio had expected the guards to attack simultaneously; he focused on one and ran towards him. While the other two turned their heads, the crossbowman followed Ezio with his weapon, his finger tightening on the trigger. In the split second between the crossbowman firing and the guard Ezio was running at to raise his sword, Ezio had reached him and sunk his dagger into the man’s shoulder. Ezio used the leverage to vault over the guard and duck behind him. He heard the dull thud as the crossbow bolt hit the guard in the chest, and then the body went limp. Ezio wasted no time. He immediately unsheathed his own crossbow, let go of the dead man’s body and fired into the shocked face of the crossbowman. As the second man fell, Ezio sheathed his crossbow and raised his dagger in the face of the two remaining guards. They were scared now, they had seen the Assassin’s skill firsthand, and were unsure of how to act. Their insecurity made them reckless. One guard ran towards Ezio alone. The guard wielded a hammer, and was attempting to sweep Ezio’s feet. Ezio nimbly moved around him, raised his dagger and plunged it into the back of his victim’s neck. Ezio could sense the last guard moving towards him. Ezio grabbed the dead man’s arm and took his hammer. Without even aiming, Ezio brought it swinging around and crushed the last guard’s skull with it. Ezio let the hammer fly along with the last guard’s body. Ezio turned around, and realized that the preacher had run away. Ezio could hear him yelling for help. Ezio ran towards the exit, a dark and narrow hallway. He sprinted down it, he didn’t know if he was being followed or not. The hallway opened up to the city’s sewage system. To Ezio’s right there was a ladder. Jumping onto it, Ezio thought he could hear the sounds of guards approaching. Ezio punched open the grate on top of the ladder and lifted himself into the early morning sunshine of Rome. It was too early for anyone to be around to criticize Ezio’s arrival through the sewers, and Ezio managed to sprint off to the nearest stable uninterrupted. Ezio mounted the closest horse and began galloping off towards the fields. He had not made much progress though, when he heard yells from behind him. Ezio turned, emerging from the shadow of the Lateran Palace, were five soldiers mounted on horses, with their weapons swinging in the air, and their angry shouts directed towards Ezio.
Ezio knew that the guards would do their best to chase him into more populated areas of the city, where they would have reinforcements. Knowing this, Ezio galloped eastward, towards the Forum, taking routes that he knew no guards patrolled at that hour. The guards were catching up with him. One of them was pulling ahead of the others; he pulled a crossbow from behind his back. Without hesitation, Ezio lifted his left arm and fired his hidden gun. Years of practice had made him and his gun one weapon, and the bullet was certainly true. Ezio could see the guard’s shocked face, as blood began seeping from his neck, he didn’t even know what had hit him. The guard fell off his horse. The four guards following narrowly avoided his body and continued pursuing Ezio. Ezio encouraged his horse to gallop even faster, and tricked the guards by sending his horse up a small rocky rise. Now he was a meter above the four remaining guards. Slowing down, Ezio pulled out his crossbow and fired one bolt into the back of the nearest guard’s neck, leaving three guards to deal with. The rise evened out. Ezio was unexpectedly galloping alongside the three remaining guards. Ezio recuperated first. He punched the guard next to him in the face. The guard was unprepared for the blow, and slipped off the front of his horse. Ezio turned his head, preferring not to watch the guard being trampled to death by his own horse. The two remaining guards pulled out their swords, and tried to get closer to Ezio. He dodged their attacks, and abruptly slowed down the speed of his horse. He was now behind the two guards. Pulling up behind one, Ezio plunged his hidden blade into the guard’s spine. The man gave a final spasm before Ezio pulled him off his horse. There was one more guard left. Ezio could tell by his armor, robe color, helmet, and weapon that this was a much higher ranked guard than the others. His attacks with his sword were a testament to this. It was all Ezio could do to dodge his attacks for enough time to retreat farther away. Ezio considered pulling out his crossbow or firing his gun again, but decided against it. He would have to aim carefully to kill this guard, which would be impossible at this speed on a moving horse. The man was coming in for another attack. Ezio dodged his sword and put on a sudden burst of speed. A wild idea came to his head; he would be lucky if it worked. Meanwhile, Ezio saw the Coliseum rise up to his left, and the Forum to his right, Ezio put on as much speed as possible; the guard put his energy into galloping as fast as Ezio. Ezio reached with one hand to a length of string stretching over the right side of his chest plate. He pulled it hard, and immediately felt himself being lifted into the air by the parachute developed for him by Leonardo. Ezio began gaining altitude. He had calculated every detail perfectly. When the guard was directly beneath him, Ezio’s legs were at the height of his shoulders. Ezio grabbed onto the guard’s neck, and brought him flying off the horse with him. The weight of the extra body was too much for the thin parachute lining. Ezio fell the few meters between him and the ground. Pushing the guard off him, Ezio rolled onto him, held him down with one hand, and with the other stabbed him in the neck with his hidden blade. Ezio slowly got to his feet and cut the bonds connecting him to the fluttering chute, letting it be swept away by the wind. Ezio began heading off towards the Capitoline. The chase had distracted him for some time. Now he had some time to reflect on what had happened to him in the past day. Ezio shook off his growing worries, but he could not shake the feeling that what he had seen that day could upset the careful balance he had managed to create in Rome.
By the time Ezio reached the Tiber Island hideout, it was early morning, and more and more people were leaving their homes to begin their day. As always, the hideout’s main hall was littered with various apprentices at this time of the day, waiting for the other Assassins to give them missions or take them training. Ezio sought out Macchiavelli, he was in the gallery, giving an apprentice his orders for the day. Macchiavelli stopped speaking to the apprentice when he saw Ezio, and told the apprentice to go find another Assassin to give him orders. The apprentice walked away as Macchiavelli approached Ezio. “Ezio, I was starting to get worried, you have been gone for nearly a day.” Macchiavelli looked down at Ezio’s robes. “You have blood on your robes, what happened?” Ezio looked down at himself. There was in fact blood on the front of his robes. It seemed that the stunt with the parachute and the subsequent fall had taken this small toll on Ezio. Ezio gently touched the wound, and winced. “Come with me, we’ll get that cleaned up.” “Wait, Macchiavelli. We don’t have much time.” “What do you mean?” Ezio looked down at his wound again. “Gather Bartolomeo, Volpe and Claudia as soon as possible. Tell them to meet us here.” “Very well. What happened?” “I will explain when you gather the others.” Macchiavelli headed off to the hideout entrance, bringing two Assassins with him. Ezio walked over to the medicine hall to take of his robes and clean his wound.
Ezio had just finished wrapping up his wound with a bandage when Macchiavelli walked in, closely followed by Bartolomeo, Claudia and Volpe. Ezio sat up straight and asked them all to sit down as well. Macchiavelli was the first to speak. “Speak Ezio, what did you see?” Ezio recounted the events of the past day to his allies. They did not speak as he told his story, although Macchiavelli’s face became grave when Ezio spoke about the enormous stash of weapons in the Lateran, and that there were similar stashes spread throughout the city. When Ezio had finished, Claudia spoke. “Do we have any clearer idea of what is happening, what the weapons are being used for?” “No, the preacher told me everything he knew, but it is certain that they will be used for something large-scale.“ Bartolomeo interrupted. “A battle maybe? That is unusual for the Cento Occhi, yes, but it would explain why there are so many weapons.” Ezio shook his head. “The order was meant for a third party.” Vole spoke. “If Cesare did not make the order, how come the deliveries were traced back to him then?” the room remained silent, which was an answer in itself. Macchiavelli spoke exasperatedly. “Do we have any leads at all?” “Yes.” The four Assassins turned their heads towards Ezio. “The preacher gave me a name, it is insignificant to me, and hopefully you might know him. He is the man the preacher answered to, cardinal Massimo Sarvo.” Bartolomeo, Volpe and Macchiavelli did not show any sign of knowing a similar name, but Claudia leaned forward in interest. “Yes, he used to be a patron of the brothel. It is several months since I have seen him, and I do not know where he officiates, but my women told me that he was always seen around the Pantheon everyday at noon.” Ezio stood up. “Then that is where I will go.” He turned around and grabbed his robes on the table and started adjusting his armor. “Are you sure Ezio? You could wait until tomorrow.” Volpe said. Ezio had just finished adjusting his hidden blades and was now grabbing his sword and dagger. “The early bird catches the prey, Volpe.” Ezio slipped his hood over his head and walked out the door.
The sun was high in the sky when Ezio reached the Pantheon, and Piazza della Rotonda could not have been more crowded.
Ezio made his way through the crowd to a small, empty street. Making sure there was not anyone around, Ezio jumped onto a stack of boxes and climbed up the building to his right. Once on top, Ezio had a magnificent view of the entire piazza. Ezio blocked out all other senses. He was suddenly only able to see the piazza, and the people inside. Ezio looked around, he could only see neutral citizens, uninteresting to him. He focused more.
There. He saw him; he knew this was the man he was looking for. Ezio shut his eyes for a second, allowed his senses to return to him, opened his eyes, and began moving.
Massimo Sarvo was dressed in a white robe, sweeping down to his feet, with a golden necklace with a cross at the end hanging off his neck. He had just left the Pantheon and was walking away from the piazza. Ezio was lucky that he had chosen to take the road directly beneath him, which was also empty of people. Ezio tensed himself, ready to jump, when a guard walked into the path of the cardinal.
Ezio retreated, until he noticed that the guard and the cardinal were speaking to each other. He leaned closer to hear.
“The Master wants to see you, Cardinale.”
“There has been a turn of events in one of the hideouts under your jurisdiction.”
The cardinal looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“Come with me.” The guard grabbed the cardinal’s arm.
“I know the way.” The cardinal pulled his arm out of the guard’s grip.
The two men began walking down the street, with Massimo Sarvo taking the lead. Ezio followed them, staying on the rooftops. Ezio wondered if they were purposefully taking narrow streets void of people, which also meant that he could not follow them by ground, leaving him open if any rooftop guards were to see him. He was lucky; there were no guards in sight.
Ezio sensed that the journey would not be long. In fact, barely five minutes after leaving the Pantheon, the two men had reached a small square. The square was deserted. Even though it was high noon, a shadow seemed to cover the little square.
One end of the square was dominated by a building. It was not imposing, nor insignificant. It simply stood there, not necessarily commanding attention, but it had a place in the city.
The two men were heading towards the building. Ezio, trusting that the shadows would keep him hidden well enough, lowered himself onto the ground. Keeping low, Ezio took refuge behind a wooden bench, and observed the two men.
They were knocking on the front door. From his hiding place, Ezio could see everything, but could not hear. A voice answered from behind the door, Ezio could not hear him well enough to distinguish words. The men answered back, again Ezio could not hear. The door opened, with another guard inviting the two men inside. When the two men had entered the building, the guard began closing the door.
Ezio stood up and ran to the door. Just before it closed completely, Ezio put his foot between the door and the wall. Before the guard closing the door could react, Ezio went through the opening and rapidly stabbed him in the chest with his hidden blade.
Pulling his blade out of the man’s body, Ezio caught him and lay him down. He looked around. The inside of the building was nothing like the exterior. There were elegant red carpets covering the hallway Ezio was in, and beautiful paintings decorated the walls.
Ezio saw a door to his left. Gently opening it, he noted that it was a storage cabinet. He dragged the guard’s body inside and hid him under a stack of blankets.
Ezio walked out into the hallway, he was aware that it provided him with no cover whatsoever in the case that someone walked out in front of him.
Ezio was lucky though. Nobody crossed his path. Ezio began tracking the cardinal. Following his trail, he made a left, and stopped suddenly when he sensed the presence of more guards.
Ahead of him was a set of stairs, the cardinal was in a room beyond them, but three guards were posted at the top of the stairs.
Ezio managed to take cover behind a wall before they saw him. He stood still for a minute, evaluating his options. When he was ready, Ezio took a deep breath and unsheathed his crossbow from behind his back. Without looking around the wall, Ezio aimed blindly, relying on his other senses, and fired a bolt.
His blind aim was perfect. The bolt hit one guard in the throat, killing him instantly and preventing him from crying out.
The guard fell to the floor. Ezio’s aim had been impeccable; the bolt had gone through the neck into the man’s skull, so that there would be little to no blood.
The other two guards made their way to their companion. Ezio wasted no time. Jumping out from his hiding spot, he ran as light as air up the stairs while the guard’s heads were turned. The man closest to Ezio turned his head as he came into range. Ezio thrust his crossbow into the man’s abdomen, making him bend over. Bringing the crossbow around the man’s back, Ezio shot the other guard in the chest while he was still reaching for his sword. At the same time, Ezio had stabbed the first guard in the back of the neck with his hidden blade.
There was no time to hide all the bodies, so Ezio simply dragged all three into a shadowy corner. After hiding them as best he could, Ezio set off for the room beyond the staircase. There were no guards here. Ezio was in front of a large door, the cardinal was on the other side, but Ezio could not possibly be able to open the door without drawing attention to him.
Ezio noticed a thin staircase beside the doorway. On top there was a small grate that gave him a perfect view over the room below him.
The cardinal was standing in front of a group of men. Four were guards, two on each side of another man, also wearing armor, although Ezio noticed that it was much more elegant and refined. Even through all the armor, Ezio could see that he was extremely well built. He knew that this was an important man. The man did not have a helmet on, and Ezio could make out his face. He had short grey hair, which the man had combed back over his head. His beard was also gray, although it still retained some of the darkness of the man’s younger years. The man’s eyes were completely black, a black that seemed almost unnatural to Ezio. The man was sitting in a royally built elegant throne. The guard who had accompanied the cardinal left his side and stood at the side of the room.
The cardinal was the first to speak. “You called for me, Master?”
The man answered in a deep voice, “Yes, are you aware that someone broke into the Lateran Palace last night and managed to interrogate one of your preachers?”
The cardinal’s tone was proud and unwavering in response. “No. That is news to me.”
The other man laughed lightly. “Well then, let me explain. Late yesterday evening a man managed to provide himself with one of your guard’s garments, and entered the Lateran through your secret entrance. He then proceeded to interrogate the preacher, from which he extracted some valuable information.” The man paused, “Would you like to see him?”
A door slammed open at the side of the room, two guards walked out, holding the preacher Ezio had interrogated. They threw the preacher to the ground and left.
“This preacher gave our friend a fair amount of valuable information, information that we had managed to keep secret for years.” The man sighed, “We cannot have this sort of behavior at this stage of our operation, we are so close to starting this city’s true Renaissance, any weakness could prove to be a liability.”
The man suddenly got off his throne, unsheathed his sword, and in a quick, fluid movement, decapitated the preacher.
All the guards turned their heads away from the scene, but the cardinal remained standing. Ezio was impressed by the clergyman’s strength of mind. He did not flinch, even when the preacher’s head rolled to his feet.
“This is what happens to people who betray us. It is not unfair, quite the contrary, this is war.”
The cardinal nodded, “So you will let me live?” His voice was broken.
“Until you betray us.”
The cardinal began to turn towards the doorway when the man raised a hand.
The cardinal turned.
“Find out who infiltrated the Lateran, and bring him to me, at all costs.”
The cardinal nodded once more and left.
Ezio made his way up to the top of the stairs. He was suddenly aware of how stupid he had been not to hide the three bodies in front of the room. He would have to make his escape before anyone found him.
At the top of the stairs, he reached an attic-like hallway. It was tall, not ornamented, and spider webs dominated the ceiling. There were also a series of windows on the side of the hallway. Ezio made his way to the closest one and opened it. He was not as high up as he had imagined, although he still could not possibly jump to the ground without injuring himself. He could not even climb down; the palace walls were too smooth. Ezio made up his mind and began to carefully climb out of the window and lower himself as much as possible. When he could not descend anymore, he kicked off with his legs and twisted in mid-air. Ezio just managed to grab onto the ledge of the building beside the palace. As he was pulling himself up, Ezio heard the door of the palace open and close, the cardinal had also left the building.
Ezio kept low to the rooftops as he tailed the cardinal. He seemed to be walking aimlessly; he was taking random and senseless turns into deserted streets. The cardinal finally stopped in the middle of a deserted alley. Ezio slowly and carefully lowered himself down to the ground and crept up on the man from behind.
Ezio was about to make his move when the cardinal suddenly fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands. Ezio stopped and silently observed the man. He decided to take a different tactic to interrogate the man.
Ezio spoke, “What they did was wrong.”
The cardinal did not jump at the sound of Ezio’s voice. Instead, he turned his head, saw Ezio, and slowly got to his feet.
“Who are you?”
“Someone who can end this injustice.”
The cardinal narrowed his eyes. “You are the one who infiltrated the Lateran, you caused this.”
Ezio shook his head, “No, I did not cause this. I am just trying to understand, so that I can bring about the punishment of those who really caused this.”
The cardinal looked down to his feet. “My masters have always told me that you and your kind are demons to us, God’s helpers.”
“We are demons to those who pretend to help God, we are saviors to those who are victims of injustice.”
The cardinal looked up. He was less wary now, and seemed more relaxed.
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything you know, I am here to help you.”
The cardinal smiled, “Very well, what else is there to lose at this stage?”
Ezio nodded his head.
“Who was that man in the palace?”
“I do not know his name, I do not know anyone who does, he wants himself to be known as Gabriel, after the angel.”
“What is his plan?”
“He does not see this city, this world, as most people do. He believes we are still living the Dark Ages. Gabriel wants to deliver this city its true Renaissance.”
“How does he plan to do that?”
The cardinal laughed.
“You should know of all people the most effective way to bring about change in this world, Assassin.”
The cardinal stared down at Ezio.
“And what might that be?”
Ezio could still not see the full picture that the cardinal was trying to paint in his mind.
The cardinal nodded.
“Some believe that the reason our great world is still living the Dark Ages is because of the people. Gabriel believes this statement, although he says that other members of society rot the people away from the inside. He has been planning for years, he and a tight circle of colleagues alone know the details of this plan. We work for him, we don’t ask questions, and we get paid. What we know is that Gabriel is planning something major, a war, to be fought inside the city. We do not know how it will change anything, or how it would lift the world from it’s Dark Age, but Gabriel believes that if the city of God can be reborn, the rest of the world will soon follow, in one way or another.”
Ezio took all this information in at once.
“What about the Cento Occhi and the Borgia? What do they have to do with all of this?”
“They were Gabriel’s pawns in all of this. We do not know much of the man’s past, but we know he has had an extensive military career. He is not native to Rome. When he came to this city over a decade ago, he did not know how things worked, so he enlisted some help from one of his military contacts in the Roman underground, who put him in contact with the Cento Occhi. We also know that Gabriel is incredibly wealthy. He paid the Cento Occhi an incredible amount of money to have weapons delivered to him. This was around the same time the Borgia forged their alliance with the Cento Occhi. The thieves placed the order Gabriel had asked them to make with Cesare. Cesare made the order under his name, but its recipients were always members of the Cento Occhi. That is why the order have not stopped since Cesare’s arrest or his death.”
“Cesare just made the order on behalf of the Cento Occhi? That does not sound like him at all.”
“He was trying to seem like a good business partner to the Cento Occhi, he also did not see any disadvantage from it. The Borgia even made some money out of it.”
Ezio looked away for a second. He was shocked by the realization the cardinal’s story was giving him. It all made sense, and it was so intricate that nobody would have ever known or have been able to trace it back to anyone. The question remained though, what was Gabriel planning?
“Do you have any idea of what the orders were meant for? You said Gabriel was planning to start a war. How and when?”
The cardinal shook his head, “I have told you everything I know. The details of Gabriel’s plans remain with him and his handful of colleagues.”
Ezio looked the cardinal in the face.
“Where can I find them?”
The cardinal smiled.
“This is my parting gift to you Assassin, use it well.”
“Gabriel and his colleagues are meeting tomorrow evening to finalize their plan.”
“There is an intricate network of tunnels underneath the Roman Forum. They have arranged to meet there.”
Ezio nodded. He knew of the tunnels. He had visited them on several occasions himself.
“Thank you, and one more question. Why are you working for Gabriel, if you are so willing to share this information with me?”
“I was working for the Borgia before Cesare’s arrest. I was chosen to mange the Lateran hideout before the arrest. After the Borgia’s downfall, I continued to serve Gabriel. Not much changed, the pay was good, and I have a family of my own in Naples that I had to support without Gabriel’s knowledge. He is a very strong Christian.”
Ezio nodded once more, and was about to speak when he hear footsteps behind him.
Ezio turned. Facing him in the narrow alleyway, were three guards, their swords were already unsheathed.
The guard in front spoke, “The Master knew you would betray us. We will have to bring him both your heads.”
Ezio turned to the cardinal and whispered, “Stay back.”
The guard in front came towards Ezio, and began brandishing his sword. Ezio kicked out to the guard’s hand, and disarmed him. Ezio then ran forward and stuck both his hidden blades into the man’s abdomen.
Throwing the guard off himself, Ezio unsheathed his own sword, and faced the two remaining guards. They attacked simultaneously. Ezio moved swiftly to the side, and blocked one guard’s attack with his sword. The other one swept the air uselessly.
Ezio was by the side of one guard now. He pushed him onto the other guard. They both flew clumsily into the narrow alleyway wall, and lay stunned on the ground. Ezio brought his sword about and stabbed one in the chest while he was still one the ground. The last guard got to his feet and raised his sword, though he was still slightly stunned. Ezio punched him in the face with one hand, grabbed the back of his neck with the other, and brought his sword plunging into the bent-over shape of the guard.
Ezio let the guard fall to the floor and walked over to the cardinal. He was staring at him defiantly.
“If you kill me now, I will not stop you.”
Ezio sheathed his sword, and saw the tension in the cardinal’s shoulders released.
“Run away, leave this city. You said you had a family in Naples. Go there, they should be able to protect you.”
The cardinal nodded.
Cardinal Massimo Sarvo turned around and fled the murder scene in the alleyway. Ezio waited for a moment, then left as well.
To be continued...