The Bureau was too quiet on an evening like this. It was so quiet that galloping horses could be heard in the distance. The sound of the approaching enemy.
Malik shuddered. It wouldn't be long until those damned Europeans were upon them, waging war for an unjust cause. How many more innocents will die before the week's end? He slammed his fist down in anger. The sound echoed throughout the empty room. It was too quiet.
There was a crash of thunder outside. Malik started.
"Rain? In Jerusalem?" he wondered aloud.
Suddenly a voice came from the shadows behind him.
"Rain foretells doom."
Malik whipped around to face the shadows. All he could make out in the darkness were golden eyes, as cold as stone.
He growled. "Alta´r...What business have you in Jerusalem on a night like this?"
The assassin stepped out of the shadows, his face hidden within his hood. His left arm hung down by his side, revealing a blade dripping with blood.
Malik suddenly realized that the room had become very cold.
"War is almost upon us", replied Alta´r quietly. As he spoke, his breath crystalized in the air.
Thunder crashed again.
Malik sighed in frustration. "You say that as if I am not already aware of it, novice." His voice came out more harshly than he intended.
"Isn't it time we headed back to Maysaf?" the assassin questioned.
There was a flash of lightning, and then came the downpour of rain.
Malik scowled. "Fine. You go back to Maysaf. Go back and hide in your sanctuary, while I stay here and do the real work."
It was Alta´r's turn to scowl. "You have been here for many months, Brother. Why do you refuse to come back?"
Malik turned away from Alta´r, hiding the look of despair on his face. It was true, he had been in Jerusalem for a long time. Too long, it seemed. But since the death of his brother, he could not bear to return to the sanctuary. How could he enter the doors of Maysaf alone? It was as if a part of his spirit had died, had left the earth with his brother. No. Maysaf held too many memories. He could never go back. Not after he'd lost so much.
Out of the corner of his eye, Malik could see Alta´r fidgeting with something. He paid no attention to him until he saw a flash of white. Alta´r had pulled out a feather, and reached out to hand it to Malik. Its tip was covered with dried blood.
Instead of taking the feather, Malik just waved his hand towards a drawer. "Put it there, with the rest", he said dismissively.
Alta´r hesitantly complied, and placed his feather on top of the pile. He looked at the collection of feathers, wondering how many used to be his. How many men did he kill?
Heavy rain buffeted against the roof. Wind howled through the only window, surging past the walls like a vengeful spirit.
Malik shuddered again. He did not like this weather. Yet despite the loudness of the rain and the thunder, he could still hear the army in the distance. The marching was getting closer. The sound of battle drums pulsed in his ears. Who knew that corruption had such perfect rhythm?
Alta´r still hovered nearby. "You really expect to stay here and survive, Malik?" he asked as he looked up at the roof.
The assassin's voice made Malik's blood boil. Who did he think he was, telling Malik what to do? Rage flowed through the bureau leader like a rupturing volcano. It was Alta´r's fault that he could never return to Maysaf again. It was Alta´r's fault that he had to give up his life as an assassin. Even that which he dedicated his life to had been taken away because of this...novice. This fool. He did not deserve all of the praise and honor that the others so eagerly gave him.
And yet he could not face Alta´r. Despite all of the misery that man had caused him, Malik didn't have the heart to be vengeful. He couldn't tell Alta´r that he was the reason why he could not return home. Malik sighed, frustrated. He felt powerless.
Alta´r came closer again. "My Brother", he began, "I think it best if you-"
"Do not call me Brother!" Malik shouted impulsively. His dark eyes lined with tears. Alta´r just stared in surprise, but Malik couldn't take it any longer. He grabbed a fistful of feathers from the drawer and fled, his robe flying around the corner as he disappeared outside.
There was a shrine on the rooftop. Malik had kept it a secret for months, secretly coming to mourn his brother's name. Here he found himself now, kneeling before the shrine as rain poured down his back.
Malik still clutched the feathers in his hand. He subconsciously tightened his grip on them, trembling with anger and shivering with cold. Horses galloped in the distance. The approaching army. Blood pounded in his ears with the rhythm of the battle drums. Their ceaseless beating coursed through his veins, sounding the chant of death. A blanket of fear seemed to be draped over Jerusalem. Malik felt suffocated.
Alta´r slowly approached Malik, making not a sound. He watched as his friend knelt before his brother's makeshift grave.
Suddenly Malik threw the feathers to the ground and shouted, "It isn't fair!" He buried his face in his hand as the tears fell freely.
Wind blew the feathers in all directions. Alta´r scrambled to fetch them, and, after he had picked them all up again, approached Malik and knelt beside him.
The two sat in silence as the rain poured relentlessly from the sky.
A horse whinnied in the distance.
The drums drew closer.
Malik lifted his head and stared at the shrine, wishing that it could give him all the answers, but knowing it could not. It was many long moments until he noticed Alta´r sitting beside him, holding the feathers with his head bowed.
"Nothing lasts forever", Malik stated flatly.
Alta´r looked at his friend. "We must cherish what we can while he have it, and when it is no more, we must live on in its memory." Reaching out, Alta´r handed the fistful of feathers to Malik.
Malik took the feathers, this time holding them delicately, cherishing each one as if they were a flock of birds. He shook his head. Alta´r was right. The same man that had brought him suffering had also brought him joy. Redemption. Peace. And that is what mattered now.
He gently placed the feathers upon Kadar's shrine as he stood. Alta´r stood at the same time.
A trumpet announced the arrival of King Richard the Lionhearted. The army gathered at the gates of Jerusalem. A final drumbeat signaled their coming.
Malik looked at Alta´r and smiled. "Come, my Brother. Let us return to Maysaf before we get ourselves killed."
Ezio Auditore leaned against the doorway of the villa's main entrance. The Florentine sun shone brightly down upon the valley, illuminating the Auditore estate like a painting. Green, grassy hills, spacious stables filled with powerful steeds, perfectly paved cobblestone roads, and an elaborate flag waving softly in the breeze composed of this seemingly perfect day.
The young Auditore watched as two men on horseback approached him swiftly. They wore full suits of armor, making Ezio suspicious.
Ezio waited at the entrance as if to block the strangers from intruding. It had only been a month since the death of Ezio's family, but he had already taken over the role as guardian. It was not an easy job, but it's not like there was anybody else to do it. Ezio was the man of the house now. He had to take full responsibility.
One of the two men rode up to Ezio, and chuckled as he stared him down.
"I say", laughed the man, "You Auditore boys keep getting younger and younger, don't you?"
Ezio narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms.
The man reached his hand out to Ezio. "Buongiorno!"
Ezio didn't budge.
The man lowered his hand. "I have a message for you, Signore Auditore." He then reached into his pocket and produced a single feather. The white hairs were covered with blood. Ezio took the feather from the man's hand and looked it over with a worried expression on his face, as if it evoked a terrible memory within him.
He must have drifted off, for the second man on horseback turned to leave, and the first man sat staring at Ezio with a confused expression.
"Are you alright, boy?" he asked.
Ezio quickly tucked the feather into a pocket and looked up at the man. "Si", he replied.
"Is there anybody else home, ragazzo?" the man asked.
Ezio stood tall. "Just my mother and my sister and I."
"And your father? And your brothers?
Ezio fought to keep a straight face, but his eyes betrayed him. Glaring at the man, he answered in a broken voice.
"They are...no longer here", he said as straightforward as he could manage.
The man looked confused. "Giovanni? Dead?" Suddenly he threw his head back and laughed. "Well, that serves him right! The poor vecchio couldn't-"
Ezio grabbed the man by the shirt and pulled him roughly off of the horse, throwing him to the ground. Fists of rage punched the man repeatedly in the stomach, and the Auditore cried out with rage.
"Do not speak that way about my father!" he yelled. "You don't know a thing, you pezzo di merda!"
The second horseman came flying back, and pulled Ezio off of his friend. Ezio struggled against his tight grip.
"Let me go! Get out of here!" he spat. His lip was bleeding.
Suddenly a voice from within the doorway was shouted.
"Stop! Don't hurt him!"
A young girl appeared in the doorway, wearing a tattered dress and holding a large book. Hair was stuck to her forehead in sweat.
Ezio tried to stand and brush himself up. "Claudia...I'm fine, see?" He couldn't show weakness in front of his dear sister, his only living sibling. "Now go back into the house, sorella".
The two men stood as well, ashamed to have been seen fighting in front of a woman. The first man could hardly stand, and was covered in blood. It was the last time he would underestimate an Auditore. The second man, however, felt sympathy towards Ezio, and questioned him.
"Do you have no one, young Auditore?" he asked softly.
Ezio scowled. "I have some people..."
"Do you have friends to help take care of your mother and sister?"
Ezio glared defiantly. "I need help with nothing!"
The second man backed off. "Scuzi. I just meant...what about that one friend of yours? The painter?"
Ezio shrugged. "Leonardo is away. I never know when he comes back or not."
Ezio suddenly looked so small and helpless standing next to the two men. He was a grown man, but he felt so much like a small boy. He had no one to be forever by his side, no constant companion to show him that not all of life is cruel.
"You miss him, don't you?" the man asked.
Ezio sighed. "I miss many people. But missing them will not bring them back."
Ezio was surprised to feel the touch of his sister's hand on his arm; he had not known that she came outside. She gently pulled him towards her.
"Come back inside, Ezio. Please?"
Ezio didn't feel the need to argue. He reached back into his pocket and touched the feather, and then looked back towards the two men. The first man was still struggling to stand, while the other one waved in dismissal.
He shook his head in confusion and walked back into his house. He shuddered as he looked around. The house was disturbingly empty. No more would the walls echo with the sounds of his brothers laughing, no more would the sword of his father hang mounted on the mantle. It didn't seem like his home anymore.
"Claudia, where is mother?" Ezio asked.
Claudia pointed up the stairs. "The same place she's been all month. She still won't speak."
Ezio peeked again at the feather, and then started to go upstairs. His mother hadn't spoken to him since the day his father and brothers were hung at the hands of Templars. It was the most tragic event of their lives, and it instilled vengeance within Ezio's heart. He swore to channel his rage towards avenging his family's unjust death, which made him all the more eager to follow the path of the assassin. But he still felt a twinge of pain every time he spoke to his mother, only for her not to respond to him. Did she not love Ezio as much as she loved the rest of the family? Why else wouldn't she even acknowledge her only surviving son?
Ezio entered the room where his mother sat, gazing out of the window, but looking at nothing. Ezio knelt beside her and took her hand.
"Mama? It's me, mama. Ezio. Won't you look at me?"
Ezio opened his mother's hand and placed the feather on her palm, and then closed her hand around it. He stroked her hand and kissed her cheek.
"It's a feather, for you, mama. Isn't it beautiful?"
Not even a blink.
A tear rolled down Ezio's cheek. "Please mama...say something to your figlio...your Ezio is here for you, mama, won't you please speak to me?" He began to shake. The helplessness was overwhelming. He sat for a moment longer, stroking his mother's hair and speaking softly to her, but she did not respond. Ezio held his breath as to not burst out crying. He gave his mother a final kiss on the cheek and left the room, closing the door behind him.
He could not hold it any longer. He ran back down the stairs and outside into the back garden, losing himself among the towering plants and statues. He ran further and further into the mini forest, trying to escape the clutches of despair.
He let the tears flow freely. He cried for injustice, for his pain and his heartbreak, for the pain inflicted on those he loved...and lastly, he cried for himself. For the responsibilities he was not ready to handle. The world had taken away everything close to him. And now, collapsing under the shadows of a tree, he realized that he was truly alone.
He cried, trembling with rage and confusion and sorrow. It was too much to bear. He laid in the dirt, wishing he could just sink into the ground and be forgotten. It's not like the world would mourn him, anyway. Even his own mother had abandoned him.
Something tickled his head. Ezio sat up with a start. It was dark, he must have fallen asleep. He reached to his head and felt something soft.
He held the precious white feather in his hands. It was so delicate, so fragile, yet it could defy the very force of gravity, it could carry a living thing in flight, going beyond what the human mind can comprehend and reaching new heights. And yet here it was, cradled in Ezio's hand like a chick.
He sighed. "Nothing lasts forever".
A warm, familiar voice came from behind him. "We must cherish what we can while he have it, and when it is no more, we must live on in its memory."
Ezio didn't have to look to know whose voice it was.
"Welcome home, Leonardo."
"I thought I'd find you here", the artist said softly. "Now come, let's get you inside before it starts raining."
Ezio smiled as he took his friend's hand.