Kari from Digimon with a Light Fury for a friend. Honestly I’ve been avoiding doing line art because of my shakey hands but I forgot how effective it can be.
Kari from Digimon with a Light Fury for a friend. Honestly I’ve been avoiding doing line art because of my shakey hands but I forgot how effective it can be.
Hey, sorry to bother you, but I was wondering about the lu and gug post you made
It’s no bother! I’ve been meaning to continue/rewrite it but the braincell has been preoccupied by other things (some irl stuff but turns out Assassin’s Creed is a rabbit hole for a Renaissance history fixation). It’s on my list of things to continue when my interests circle back to LoZ. In the meantime, anyone is free to adopt the idea and I’m open to chat/ramble about it if anyone is interested.
What started as sketch from a dnd campaign turned out really nice
Before sunrise, Giovanni slipped out of the window. Desmond slept on, not even stirring even when Giovanni purposely made his footsteps heavier as he passed. Assassins were rarely ever heavy sleepers but the young man was completely dead to the world. Yesterday must have exhausted the poor boy. Stopping an assassination was tiring enough then dealing with nobles and their politics while nursing a stab wound only compounded that. Desmond had survived his first foray into the lion’s den admirably well, though, better than Giovanni’s first night at a Medici party and without the scandal of sleeping with a noblewoman. Then for him to still have the wit to be wary of Ludovico Sforza and gall to pickpocket the noble. Even though the young assassin admitted it was an impulsive decision, it still exposed Ludovico as a Templar - and all the troubling implications that came with that.
Giovanni pulled himself up to the roof with relative ease, the knots in his back straightening out from the stretch but the crack of his bones reminding him of his age. He strolled across the palazzo rooftops, only ducking behind turents to avoid the guards. Though this was his first time in Milan, he had been in enough palazzos, both welcome and unwelcome, to know there were more guards than normal. Reasonable considering the recent assassination attempt but he couldn’t shake Desmond’s comment that they were there to keep certain assassins in rather than out. Those with the Gift always saw beyond the mortal eye.
Despite the earliness, one set of windows were flung wide open, almost begging any nightfolk to step inside. The sun peeked over the horizon. Well, it wouldn’t do for him to be late for his meeting. Giovanni swung through the window and landed with a flourish that would have earned him a lecture as a novice for being too open and loud. He could have entered without a sound, quiet enough to be mistaken for a passing breeze, but his years with the Medici had taught him to be more accommodating to noble tastes.
The room he had entered wasn’t a study like he expected but rather an elaborate drawing room lined with rich foreign tapestries and elegant furniture. Duke Galeazzo lounged in an armchair by the fireplace like a throne.
“Close the windows,” he ordered. “Less we have anything else enter.”
Giovanni did so but kept to the shadow of the curtains, still within polite speaking range. One thing he would never do was stand to attention in the open like a soldier or a servant. Not while in his assassin robes.
“Gianni you indecisive fool, choose a side,” a mental voice that sounded too much like an exasperated Mario said. “This is how you always end up between the hammer and the anvil.”
The duke frowned but made no protest. “I have always been curious how Lorenzo paid for someone like you.”
“I know my accounts and the Medici pay well for those skills,” Giovanni shrugged with hollow mirth.
“But gold wouldn’t buy the skills he sent you here for,” Galeazzo said with a scowl betraying he had tried. “My father was a condottiero before he came to rule Milan… and there are certain relations shared within the mercenary circles. So imagine the surprise when word spread that the Auditore were in the service of the Medici.”
“Not the Auditore,” Giovanni corrected. “Just me.”
“And your bastard who saved my life.” Galeazzo said pointedly. “Then you have two more sons in Florence and a nephew who makes an awfully large amount of trips to and from Monteriggioni.”
“My choices remain my choices. My sons will make their own choices.”
“And will not your own choices have influence over them?” Galeazzo continued before Giovanni could respond. “Let us have bread be bread and wine be wine. What did Lorenzo do to have an Assassin of the Brotherhood be at his side? Money has no sway over your lot so was it status? The Mozzi are an old noble family and I hear that Maria was quite the beauty in her youth. Or was it something more carnal? Lorenzo is far from the fairest face among his siblings but that silver tongue of his could be skilled in other ways-”
“I do believe finding out who was behind the attempted assassination is of a more pressing matter.” Giovanni said curtly. He has had those words hurled at him before and they sting less coming from an entitled duke than from one of his brothers.
Galeazzo scoffed. “That is an easy solution. Your brothers here have made it clear they have no love for me. Though it is a surprise for them to act so publicly. It would be foolish of me to have you act against your loyalties…unless Lorenzo holds more of your heart than your Brotherhood.”
“Like you said, to act so publicly is uncharacteristic of the Brotherhood. It could easily be someone else trying to frame them for the crime.” Desmond had claimed there were Templars who knew how to use hidden blades and there was the ring pickpocketed from Ludovico. The ambiguity the young assassin’s intervention had caused filled Giovanni with a guilty relief. “Allow us some time to investigate the matter so that the right culprit will be brought to justice.”
The duke contemplated him with a cold, calculating gaze. Giovanni held his ground, not blinking or breaking eye contact. He knew better to presume Galeazzo saw them as equals but he would not be subordinate here.
“You will have until the new year.” Galeazzo conceded. “Though do not be all work, feel free to enjoy the best of what the city has to offer as guests…and should you wish for something more permanent-”
That was when Giovanni took his leave. He now had a clear idea of what type of man Galeazzo was and those rarely made for just rulers. But the question was if his shortcomings as a duke was outweighed by his alliance with the Medici. Giovanni knew he would end Lorenzo’s carefully crafted alliances if it was for the greater freedom of man. He would. He absolutely would.
Investigations in foreign areas should start with getting in contact with local allies. It was also customary, when entering a new city, for an Assassin to present themself to the local Brotherhood.
“Oh, so like Assassin Bureaus in the Levant.” Desmond said.
Giovanni hadn’t realised he had been musing out loud. Desmond was obviously a highly ranked assassin, if not a fully recognised master, but his youth and quiet deferment made Giovanni feel as if Federico was by his side, letting his mouth run to pass on the little tricks of their trade to his son.
His son. A likely bastard that was already a trained Assassin, well informed about the Brotherhood’s history and with a face that tugged at a distant memory. But it still wasn’t time for that conversation.
“Yes but not quite as formal.” Giovanni replied. Renato had tried to revive the concept but the peninsula’s political turmoil made proper bureaus difficult to establish. The idea, like many other things, fell apart after the old Mentor’s passing. “There is at least one known family to report to in most cities. They may not always be the one running the branch but will always be the first touchstone for any visitors.”
“So who’s the designated visitor center here? And I’m guessing you’ve already talked to them then?”
“The Milanese contact is the Visconti.” And Carlo Visconti was one of the dead assailants.
Giovanni didn’t have the time to report when had arrived in the city with barely a moment to spare before the leaked assassination. If he had, it may have saved him from interfering with another Assassin’s mark. But Desmond had also come to the city on independent information pursuing a Templar lead. The best course of action was to clear up matters but he felt that he had already soured relations between them. Accidentally causing the death of a fellow Assassin left a raw wound, even if it was caused by an honest mistake and misinformation.
As unfortunately common as it was becoming in his life, Giovanni felt as if he couldn’t freely approach the Brotherhood. So he turned to his only other reliable ally.
Desmond’s face twisted in disgust as they approached the Milanese branch of the Medici bank. “I didn’t know so many assassins worked for the Medici.”
“No, it’s just me.” Giovanni said, feeling the conversation take a familiar turn. “It may be prudent to have an outsider’s view on the current situation.”
“We are the outsider’s view and we’re completely lost about what’s going on.”
“That is true but perhaps a local and unbiased opinion might help first considering the apparent entanglement with the Brotherhood and Templars.”
“Or maybe we should just go to the Brotherhood and have them clear things up rather than listening to rumours from their target’s allies.”
They’re my allies too, was what Giovanni didn’t say. Instead, he weakly argued, “This branch is long overdue for a review and it would be easier to do while I’m here rather than requesting for the accounts in Florence.”
“So day job before the Brotherhood,” Desmond snarked but followed him into the bank.
Giovanni was far from the public figure Lorenzo or any other Florentine noble was and the Auditore had curated a boring unassuming reputation ever since his family started mingling with high society, but he was known well enough to have the entire building scrambling upon entering. His exact position in the bank was ambiguous, his younger self simply took interest in reviewing the financial reports Messere Cosimo left lying around out of boredom when the meetings between him and Zio Ilario dragged on and his responsibilities, however informal, grew from there. Now, he acted as Lorenzo’s right hand for all things finance. For all the young ruler was skilled in politics, his financial aptitude was severely lacking for someone whose power rested with the success of his bank.
“At peace, my friend, no need to get so worked up,” Giovanni said, cutting through the groveling babbles of “Messere Auditore” from the local manager. “I simply wish to inspect the records and ascertain this branch’s current position. Nothing more than a routine review. I’m sure there’s nothing to hide.”
The manager, a man around his age though soft and fat from his position, scurried off with the promise to have an office prepared. Giovanni suppressed a sigh. No wonder Lorenzo found it difficult to collect loan repayments from the duke when his local representative had the temperament of a startled deer and a backbone made of overcooked pasta.
“Huh, so putting the ‘audit’ in 'Auditore’.” Desmond mused.
Giovanni chuckled. “An odd name for fishermen when our family was founded but it makes more sense now, yes.” Then he sighed and lowered his voice. “I know this is far from a typical investigation and my methods can be tedious for someone so young. You came here independently and have no obligation to stay at my side.” Though part of him desperately wanted to keep his likely bastard close and learn more about him, Desmond was not Federico. He wasn’t a novice in need of guidance but a fully fledged assassin with his own mission. “Additionally, certain allies may be more amicable if you distance yourself from me.”
“Hey, I was the one who dropped from the ceiling and killed one of their guys. If anything, it’s me they’ll have beef against.” Desmond said lightly. “Though I don’t know how I feel being cooped here all day. Might check out some viewpoints, run a couple errands, maybe find something to pay back those servants…” He looked sheepishly down at his new outfit, a faded green doublet with hose that stopped above ankles and well-worn boots.
Giovanni was impressed by Desmond’s awareness of his appearance. The second tenet was the trickiest to teach new novices. Hiding in plain sight simply was more than lurking in the shadows and avoiding guards. It meant adapting to one’s surroundings and taking a persona that best suited the situation. Clothing, posture, speech - it was all essential in crafting a disguise that drew the least amount of attention. The young man’s initial outfit with its white hood had to be an assassin uniform of sorts and though Giovanni didn’t recognise the pattern, his pantalone were made of the coarse fabric from Genoa and Nimes. Desmond spoke unaccented Tuscan but with calling his pantalone “jeans” like the French and a surname like “Miles”, it was likely he was, or pretending to be, from France. Though if his mother was Moorish frenchwoman then she would have been extremely memorable yet Giovanni still couldn’t parse together her name or face…
“Yeah, it’s probably best to pawn off the ring,” Desmond mumbled. “It should be enough to give the servants a couple of florins each.”
Giovanni choked and snapped towards him. “Florins for cast-offs?!” He said harshly but softly as to not cause a scene.
Desmond winced. “One angry Italian rant at a time, sheesh. Giovanni first then you can yell at me after.” He said aside despite no one being there.
It was odd but Giovanni had seen odder ways the stresses of the assassin lifestyle affected the mind. What was more concerning was his lack of understanding of the local coinage. “What do you think a florin is used for?”
“For buying and selling? The usual things like bread and stuff.”
Giovanni had to stop himself from crudely laughing. Using florins to buy bread, maybe if it was for an entire village.
“As a part of the Medici banking staff, I get paid fifty florins a year.” Technically, it was a fair bit more but Lorenzo insisted on the extra florins as 'gifts’ despite Giovanni’s protests.
“Well that’s cheap.”
“Let me put it another way. The average daily wage in Florence is ten soldi which would roughly be thirty-three florins a year.”
“So you get paid almost double the average wage, nice. But…what’re soldi?” Dear God, what secluded castle did this princling waltz out of?
Giovanni took a deep breath. This was on par with teaching Mario how to budget. He pulled out a silver coin from his purse. “This is one soldo. During a decent harvest, it will buy you two loaves of bread. What you’re wearing now would cost fifteen soldi at most if it were newly tailored.”
“Okay, I’m following.”
“One florin is worth 110 soldi.”
Desmond’s eyes widened. “That much?!”
“You would only be handling florins regularly if you were a banker or a noble.”
“Well the Animus got that fucking wrong.” Desmond grumbled. “It wouldn’t have been that hard to show Nonno using something other than florins.”
If “the Animus” was a teacher, or God forbid, an accountant, then he should be banned from ever touching a ledger for the rest of his life.
The manager then returned, shakily announcing that the office was ready. With the time it took they either already had the accounts prepared or hastily cobbled something together that would fall apart at the slightest scrutiny. Giovanni didn’t care and beckoned Desmond to follow. One financially inept Auditore was enough in the family and even then, Mario could tell his coins apart.
Also, he definitely would have remembered sleeping with a Moorish princess in the past.
A drabble for an LU modern AU (or maybe just Hyrule Warriors) that I can’t remember where I was going
Impa arrives at her apartment completely exhausted. All she wants is to fucking sleep. So of course, as soon as she flops onto her couch, her phone rings and it’s not just any ring. It goes off like a goddamn fire truck racing towards a burning building which means it could only be one person.
“Fucking Warriors,” she groans into the faded leather.
She could just let it ring and get some well deserved shut-eye after that hell shift but Warriors never called for frivolous reasons. Which means the bastard fucked something up big time.
With another groan, she reaches for her phone and swears if this is a butt-dial…
“The fuck did you do this time, Loft?” Impa growls into the speaker.
“Someone broke into my apartment.” His voice is soft and whimpering, nothing like the arrogant concentration of confidence and charisma that she knew. Something isn’t right. This has to be more than some burglary.
“Don’t you have a sword?”
“I have a baby.”
Impa freezes and her phone nearly slips through her fingers. Her grip tightens, catching her phone before her screen cracks on the ground and adds another problem to her growing pile. If her hair wasn’t grey to begin, it would have lost all colour there and there.
She takes a deep breath, counts to ten and curses the day Lincoln ‘Warriors’ Loft sauntered into her life.
She grits her teeth and says, “What was that about a baby?”
Volga’s phone rings and he knows that his plan for a peaceful weekend has just gone up in flames. He pulls out a hidden flask of whiskey he saves for situations like this.
He picks up the phone and doesn’t bother with any introductions. There’s only one person who would call this number at this time of night.
“Volga baby,” Warriors says slickly but he knows that wavering tone that destroyed any facade of confidence.
In the background, Volga hears the cries of an infant and the running feet of a toddler.
Volga takes a swing from his flask. “I’ll be at your apartment tomorrow morning at seven sharp.”
“Seven?” Warriors yelps.
Volga knows how much his old flame hates doing anything paperwork wise before ten. This is his sweet petty revenge.
The cries grow louder and there’s the sound of glass shattering.
“Seven it is.” Warriors sighs.
“Call your brother.” Volga says as he starts filling out the adoption forms.
“He has children and supplies.” Volga curtly interrupts. “Call him.”
Warriors sighs again. “Only because you asked babe.”
“And make sure you have everything locked up.”
“Fuck, the swords!”
Time stares blankly at his phone. The contact hasn’t been saved on his phone but he recognises the number. His phone continues to ring but he hesitates to answer.
It has been years since he had last heard anything from his older brother and even longer since they’ve had an actual conversation.
“Link Lon speaking.” Time answers though he knows there’s no need for introductions. Then he hears the familiar sound of crying. “Warriors, did you kidnap a fucking baby?!”
“Why is that the first thing you assume, ya lil shit?!”
Been watching some live action series but failing to stylise real people so have Warriors in some Arthur-inspired armour
So was going through my wip docs and found one of my favourite fight scenes I’ve written in my first draft of Love is Not a Potato and wanted to share
He cracked his eyes open and stared into the empty abyss of the room. The shadows danced in time with the flickers of the candlelight…but there was one that was constantly out of step.
His breath steadied immediately. It could be a Sheikah, it might even be Impa, but his gut told him that shadow didn’t belong there.
What weapons did he have?
His fists and his dress…though he would rather this one not suffer the same fate as its predecessor.
He was still wearing his pegasus boots - its lightning magic coupled with the dress’s range would be effective enough, he had fought off kidnappers like this in the past.
His sword…was on the other side of the bed - and Artemis’s rapier was on the opposite side of the room. Dammit. He would have liked a proper weapon. Sadly he still didn’t know where Artemis hid all her knives, that was one secret that she never bothered to share with him.
There was the Dominion Rod and its accompanying statues lying inconspicuously within reach - but he wasn’t trained in using it and he knew better than trying to improvise with complex magic items.
The mirror was also an option - but breaking the glass would end with an injured hand that would only serve as a greater hinderance.
Apparently, the intruding shadow got impatient. Even if it hadn’t caught his eye before, then it definitely exposed itself now without even fully emerging.
The shadow lunged, a curved sickle gleaming in the candlelight.
Warriors quickly dodged out of the way. He got in one solid hit with the spin of his skirt then a second with his boots, sending his attacker careening into the mirror.
He recognised that whelp of pain - so Kohga had survived Volga’s onslaught. If one Yiga could survive a dragon’s wrath, then he should be prepared for more to appear.
In that split second, Warriors had three choices: his sword, Artemis’s rapier or a shard of glass.
He somersaulted over the bed, grabbing the covers as he tumbled. He threw them forward as he landed and was rewarded with another, and unfortunately familiar, screech of surprise.
Fuck. Zant was here too?
He grabbed his sword then heard something shift behind him despite there not being enough space for a person to fit there. In a single fluid motion, he unsheathed his sword then threw the sheath behind him. There was the sound of ripping canvas.
Warriors straightened with his sword on high guard. The candle had been blown out during the initial attack so he had nothing but dark shapes to guess where his opponents might be. Not for the first time he wished he had some sort of sense better than sight.
If Zant and Yuga were here, then it was likely that-
There was creepy high-pitched chuckle. Warriors spun around but it was already too late. His right arm was pulled against his back until he heard his shoulder pop and his left was caught before he had a chance to swing his sword. Sharp nails dug into his wrist until he was forced to drop his weapon.
“So you got a haircut princess?” Lips so close to his ear that a long tongue could lick the outer shell. A chill ran down his spine but he’d be damned if he let it show. “Such a shame…though I do admit you look cuter like this.”
“Fuck off, Ghirahim.” Warriors scowled in his princess voice. It was better they thought he was the princess than realise he was the hero.
“Aww…” Ghirahim squeezed his wrist tighter until there was the echoing snap of bone. Fuck, they really weren’t taking any chances. “Is that how royalty treats old friends?”
“Of course not. Normally, I’d greet you with punch to the gut.” Warriors hooked his leg around one of Ghirahim’s ankles - like all cocky attackers, he didn’t realise that his stance could be a target until his feet were pulled out from under him.
With an elegant spin, Warriors landed a kick into the sword spirit’s torso, launching him across the room and given the following grunts of pain, straight into Zant and Yuga.
Warriors took several quick steps back until he bumped into one of the parlor couches. Shit, his shoulder and wrist hurt like hell. There was no way he could hold a weapon for the rest of this fight.
Then he smelled the tell-tale stench of Sheikah smoke, or rather Yiga smoke. He threw his head backwards, headbutting Kohga and sending him careening backwards. Warriors gripped the edge of the couch, gritting his teeth at the pain but was able to backflip over it. Using the momentum, he threw the couch behind him where it made a satisfying squish on the Yiga’s fat belly. That was why he told Artemis to make all her furniture out of the lightest wood available.
He should ring the emergency alarm - but it was on the other side of the room and the response time was always painfully slow. Artemis’s rapier was closer. Yes, he was injured and outnumbered but he basically had all his foes incapacitated. He could fight them off.
Warriors gripped his right shoulder and took a deep breath. With a solid tug, he popped the socket back in place, ignoring the rush of pain down both arms. One working arm was better than none, even if it was his off-hand.
He dove for the rapier. Yuga’s frame attempted to intercept but Warriors quickly changed in trajectory for one of the many small tables that littered the room. He rammed into the table, pushing it against another and trapping the frame between them. In three light steps, Warriors jumped on the table, over the frame and onto the mantle to grab the rapier.
His force was enough to send the sheath flying off the blade and into one of his opponent’s faces - from the shriek, it was Ghirahim.
Zant spun towards him, a blur of turquoise-streaked black, but Warriors had the higher ground. He leaped off the mantle and bounced off Zant’s head. He kicked the back of his head with his heel and sent him tumbling forward. From the yelps and swears, Zant had landed on a Kohga who just freed himself from the couch.
Warriors jabbed the rapier forward but each of his blows were solidly blocked. Yuga may have been a magic user but sadly that did not mean he was completely vulnerable in close combat.
They traded several bouts and were frustratingly evenly matched. From the groans around the room, his other opponents were gradually regaining their bearings. Warriors tried throwing in several cheap kicks but Yuga weathered each one whether they landed on his shins or his crotch.
There had to be something to break the stalemate before Warriors lost what little advantage he had.
Then his feet knocked against something. Another sword.
Madame Ingrid could yell at him later for fighting with a broken wrist, all that mattered now was winning.
He kicked the blade up and caught it in his other hand. His wrist screamed in pain but with double the output he could finally break through Yuga’s guard.
But the second sword wasn’t his, it was Ghirahim’s.
The demon’s sword snaked around his arm, crawling all the way up to his elbow like a slimy black sludge. Then it yanked his arm back, dislocating his other shoulder before crawling up his spine and pulling his other arm back even harder.
Warriors tried to steady himself but a swift kick brought him to his knees.
He stared up, Yuga’s long nose and beady eyes gleamed deviously in the moonlight.
He should have rung the alarm was his final thought before Yuga brought his staff down on his head.
Leonardo heard a thump from his roof and was concerned when no one entered through his open window. His dear visitor knew to find him in his workshop and otherwise, his lights were on for all the city to see. Though the cost of oil hurt his shallow pockets, there simply weren’t enough hours of daylight for all work his mind planned.
He should have been working on his commissions but as much as he loved painting, he couldn’t remain on one task for long. He was blessed that the Auditore were so patient with him, to even employ him in the first place after the accusations. Though to be fair, they had their own reasons to keep him close and quiet. The chief one had decided that this was another night to loiter on his roof.
He blew out the workshop lights. Though he could never sleep longer than short naps every couple hours, he was certain to be too occupied to come back down here until daybreak. Upstairs, a pair of legs dangled from his bedroom window. It was unlatched, just like all the other windows of his bottega. He was constantly told it was an unsafe practice. He countered that windows lacked keys he could give when it was the prefered entranceway opposed to the door.
Leonardo opened half the window and leaned over the sill. His dear visitor must be in deep thought to still not have noticed him. “So you’ve decided that the top of my home is more cozy than the interior?”
After all the times Federico had snuck up on him, it was satisfying to see him jolted in surprise. Even for as quickly as he recomposed himself. “Return to your interests, Leonardo, or better yet actually have a full night’s sleep for once.”
“Ah but when you are here, you are my only interest then sleep has little place.” Leonardo leaned further out to just catch Federico’s amused smile.
“You’ve become bolder.” Federico chucked, nearly folded in half so that Leonardo could see all of his grinning face.
Leonardo couldn’t help but mimic the grin. “Only because I have someone to embolden me. Now help me up.”
“So demanding, Maestro.”
But Federico complied. He somehow managed to bend even further, as if he was about to somersault off the roof, then pulled Leonardo up like he weighed nothing, comfortably guiding him to the spot next to him.
It was odd that a young noble had the skill and strength of a master acrobat but it was one of the many things he had learned to hold his tongue on and wait for the answers to be given rather than to poke and prod. When he had been a boy in Vinci, before he had secured an apprenticeship under Verrocchio, he taught himself the lute thinking to become a bard to escape the village. He could imagine Federico learning acrobatics to do the same. His love had once joked of running away to Venice when Florentine life became too stifling. In the floating city, another masked entertainer wouldn’t be noticed nor his inclinations paid any attention. It was where Leonardo thought to move after the accusations if the Auditore hadn’t given him a reason to stay.
Oh his dear Federico, so quickly offering to go with him but Leonardo wouldn’t dare bring rumours of a sodomite elopement on Madonna Maria’s family after she had been such a kind and generous patron. If it weren’t for Federico’s honest surprise when Leonardo had come to the Palazzo to begin the portraits, he would have thought his love had orchestrated the large commission. It was an equivalent exchange for his own shock when he had seen Federico with Messere Auditore as Messere Machiavelli advocated for him and his co-accused. The accusations dropped before they reached trial.
Under the safety of the stars and moonless night, Leonardo leaned into Federico’s shoulder and entwined their fingers together. Looking out from the rooftops, Florence truly was a different city. The streets that were by day people-crowded and by night shadow-bearing now sprawled out below like the roots of a great tree. The air was free of the city musk and refreshed with every breath. The rooftops were now the roads for anyone quick-footed enough to leap between them. He remembered when Federico first dragged him up here, expressing the peace and freedom that came with leaving all his troubles on the ground.
And yet, Federico looked distant and distracted. On his other side, sat a bag filled with books. His head was bowed while his free hand rubbed along his well-worn rosary in a silent prayer. Leonardo placed his other hand over them and found the beads as warm as flesh. Something must be troubling him indeed.
“So what heresies do you bring tonight?” Leonardo asked.
“Nothing that would risk the stake this time.” Federico chuckled but his voice was hollow. “I was just reading the classics.”
“It still amazes me that you can read anything without any light at all.”
Federico smirked with an unspoken joke. “It’s a gift.” He raised his head, with some trick of the sparse light making his hazel eyes gleam gold. Then his mirth dropped into contemplation. “I was reading about Cassandra.”
“The Trojan princess?”
“The tragic prophet. How cruel of Apollo to let her see the future yet never to be believed. What did her family think when she first spoke of things beyond her - did they think her prophecies as nothing but hysterics at first instance then dismiss it as madness from then on? Did they never think there might be more to her words?”
Leonardo thought of the frantic young girl, young man, who threw himself into his arms and spoke answers to questions he had never voiced. Of the familiarity and fondness in the eyes of a stranger. “How is your brother?”
“Safely at home, asleep.” Then like a puppet cut from its strings, Federico collapsed into himself. “I thought it was just a concussion but from the very start he spoke of things beyond him…he knew of things he shouldn’t know…and…he insisted on sneaking into the palazzo even though it was before curfew. He didn’t want to see Mother or Petruccio, that it was too much too soon after seeing me alive.” He pulled both hands away to grip his rosary, the cross tightly buried between his palms.
Prophets never foretold of good comings during times of peace. Leonardo had been given reassurance of his future but words that were spoken over Federico clearly shook the young man to his core.
Leonardo drew in closer, placing his hands over Federico’s shaking ones. “Shall I pray with you?” Neither Madonna Maria nor Messere Auditore seemed to be particularly devout and Leonardo himself questioned the existence of some omnipotent god yet Federico found solace in faith. “For interpretation of your brother’s words?”
Federico exhaled a shaky breath. “Ezio spoke as clear as day, he even offered particulars if I had wanted more. There’s no need for further deciphering.” His hands were still tense but unfurled to push part of the cross into Leonardo’s palm. “I am asking the Lord to steady my shaking heart. To let my feet find purchase on solid ground so that I can support my brother in whatever his calling may be.”
Oh Federico, so quick to offer his support even when his foundations have ruptured. Leonardo could imagine that he didn’t dare show a hint of weakness to his siblings lest they see their older brother as anything other than completely unshakeable and wholly supportive. “Let us pray then.”
“When two or three are gathered in your name, there you shall be.” Federico muttered. “That is what you promised, Lord, so here we are.”
It was so long since Leonardo had last prayed on a rosary that he had forgotten the exact order and number of each prayer but Federico kept steady pace in a voice barely louder than the wind. Leonardo didn’t see how constant repetition of the same prayers would make a higher being pay more attention but he left the thought there as he saw the tension visibly melt off his lover with every word.
After the final amen, Federico had bounced back to his old self, confident and relaxed as he leaned back against the roof. “It is all in God’s hands now.”
Leonardo smiled down at him, “Your faith amazes me. Especially in light of what we are.”
Federico scoffed, sitting up on his elbows. “The ways of men are flawed. They see only appearances but God sees the heart. If what we are is so wrong then he wouldn’t have made us so in the womb.” Then he sighed and turned to the starry sky. “Though at times, I feel my faith is bringing me in conflict with the Creed.”
The Creed. Federico had mentioned it before, little slips of the tongue and soft musing that weren’t for Leonardo’s ears. There were other things, a set of Tenets and a Brotherhood, but Federico never elaborated and Leonardo knew it wasn’t his place to pry. Every man was entitled to his secrets, even between lovers, and it was up to Federico if he ever decided to share.
A sudden gust of wind made Leonardo shiver and sneeze. Almost immediately, he felt a warm arm wrap around him.
“It seems it’s time for you to return inside lest the chills leave you bed bound, my dear Maestro.”
“Oh?” Leonardo smirked as he snaked an arm around Federico’s lower back.
“I can think of something that can keep me warm and in bed.”
Federico grinned back, mischievous and loving, and Leonardo knew that his lover’s troubles were rested for the night.
Ezio always found it odd that no matter how he killed a target, whether by hidden blade or crossbow or even by signalling another assassin, he always ended up in the same position when the white void overtook him: on his knees gently lowering the target to the ground. Ironically, it was returning here that convinced Ezio that this wasn’t a dream nor the afterlife. Nothing could compare to watching the light of life fade from his target’s eyes. The crossroads of life and death shared over one last heartbeat.
“I did not think that Assassins could live to be old men.” Alberti coughed.
Huh. Ezio still felt the youth of his teenage body but it seems he appeared as he had died. “Not from a lack of Templars trying.” Though his old rage against orchestrator of his family’s murder stirred, it was distant and dim, sated by the traitor meeting an early end. “Now the Auditore will live.”
But Alberti gave a weak laugh. “Selfish and short-sighted, not that I expected anything less. You may still have your knight but that does not save your king from checkmake. The Medici tyranny will end.”
“So you can install a tyrant of your own.”
“You sound Florentine but you are an outsider, old man. Were you in my position, you would find yourself doing the same. Not for your sake but for those you love.” It was the same words Alberti had spoken to Ezio all those years ago. But now, with him older and more level-headed, they resonated deeper than they should.
Ezio thought that would be the end of it but after a long pause, Alberti said, “My family is innocent. They knew none of this.”
Ezio remembered what happened to the Pazzi after the conspiracy. The Medici had been merciless, completely wiping the family from history. “We stay our blade from the blood of the innocent. If they truly know nothing, no harm will come to them…which is more than what you intended to show your victims.” They had killed his father because he was in the way. They had killed his brothers to make a statement. “There will be mercy where you have shown none. Requiescat in pace.”
With that, Ezio snapped back into reality, once again a teenager. A teenager without the strength to support a lifeless corpse. He unceremoniously shoved it to the ground of the narrow alley before the full weight of a man could crush him. His body recoiled by the smell of death but he swallowed the bile and let decades of experience guide him. He stripped the body of anything identifiable or valuable and dumped it in the Arno, hopefully making the death look like a mugging gone wrong.
Ezio got lucky, very lucky. That was a sloppy assassination for his standards. His knees buckled from when he landed poorly. A new collection of bruises from Alberti struggling will greet him in the morning because he missed any vitals with his first stab. Most incriminating of all was the blood splatter on his clothes. He needed to burn them before he could go home.
Ezio had snuck out of bed with the intention of dealing with as many conspirators as he could, maybe all of them by the end of the night - then he nearly fell off a roof from misjudging his weight and balance. That had hit him with how ill-equipped he was for the task. He had the mind and memories of a seasoned Assassin but not the body of one. His armour was his brother’s old clothes and his weapon was a single dagger.
The codex page with hidden blade designs should still be in his father’s secret study. If Ezio had just been a little bit more patient, he could have commissioned Leonardo for the blade. Federico could have joined him in the assassinations, once he had processed his looming death. It was only the night of the 26th and the arrests didn’t happen until the 28th. There wasn’t much time but it was still there.
But then Ezio had spied Umberto Alberti below him, alone in an empty alley, and all he saw was red.
That was all water under the bridge now, or more fittingly, a corpse into the river.
Maybe he had acted too rashly but there was no way the Templars could carry out his father and brothers’ executions now, at least, not as publicly.
Ezio made his way across the rooftops more slowly and carefully than he normally would. It had been decades since he had used this way but there was a suspiciously large amount of red dotted around the city, especially before the conspiracy unravelled. It was all concentrated in a single direction, not Palazzo Auditore thankfully but…
There was no hesitation. Ezio changed course.
A pair of archers stood vigil the rooftops around Piazza Ognissanti, their bows trained on the entrance of Chiesa di Ognissanti, while six men lurked in the alleys - all glowing a vile red. They were clearly all sent to ambush whoever was in the church. Ezio made quick and silent work of the archers. Unfortunately, neither of them had a sword but another pair of daggers would do him well for the ensuing battle.
He leaped across to the roof of the church, leaning over the facade to see who would have warranted such an attack.
Cristina Vespucci stepped out and Ezio’s heart nearly stopped. Following her out was Lorenzo de Medici and another man. Ezio was both relieved and confused. What would Cristina be doing with the ruler of Florence? An affair?
“Thank you for keeping me company tonight, Signori Medici.” Cristina said.
“Thank you for allowing us into your family chapel. Simonetta was beloved by all but I can only imagine the sorrow your family must be going through.” Lorenzo said.
The other man scoffed. “As if Vespucci didn’t order her own death sentence with how he treated her while she was sick.”
“Giuliano…” Lorenzo said warningly.
“No, no. It’s understandable.” Cristina quickly interjected. “It wasn’t fair how my uncle treated his wife during her last days but I did what I could to give her comfort.”
“And yet that still wasn’t enough to prevent her from dying in the dungeon of her own home.” Giuliano growled.
“Giuliano, enough.” Lorenzo said, stepping between them. “I know you are hurting but do not take your anger out on someone who is equally in mourning.”
“Don’t stop him, Signore Lorenzo. There was more than one man responsible for Zia Simonetta’s death.” Cristina said sharply. “There are consequences to bedding another man’s wife.”
Ah, so there was an affair but not between the Medici and Vespucci he thought of. Ezio vaguely remembered gossip about Simonetta Vespucci being involved with Giuliano de Medici. That Cristina modelling for Botticelli was a way to console the artist after her death. But he distinctly remembered it being oddly peaceful leading up to the executions. An attack on the Medici like this wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.
Then the hidden men attacked.
Ezio leaped from the rooftop. He landed squarely one the attacker closest to Cristina and plunged his dagger into his neck. A clean kill.
He glanced backwards. The remaining five thugs had stepped back, not expecting anyone to come to their targets’ aid, but the Medici were unarmed. Dammit.
“Catch!” Ezio yelled, throwing the archers’ daggers at the men.
There was no time to see if they actually caught the weapons. Ezio drew the dead man’s sword just in time to parry an oncoming blow from another thug. But he neither had the strength to push him away nor the reflexes to take the opening for a counter-kill. Damn this weak body. The man above him grunted, pushing all his weight down on Ezio’s guard. He couldn’t win a battle of strength.
Ezio swiftly kicked at his groin. The man staggered back. Ezio leapt up, stabbing the man’s chest before he could defend. Two down.
The clash of steel told him that the Medici were fighting back. Good. He looked up to see they were decently holding their own - then he heard a metallic clank behind him. Ezio quickly spun around but not fast enough to stop the blade slashing at his back. Shit. Just barely, he blocked the next strike.
“So the Medici are hiring children as their bodyguards now.” the thug sneered.
“Two of your friends died to this ‘child’,” Ezio snapped. “And you’ll be the third!”
Unfortunately, this man was more heavily armoured than his companions and knew not to underestimate him. They traded several bouts and blows, none landing but each attack too close for Ezio’s liking. His mind knew how to fight but his body didn’t. Even in his elderly body, this man would be dead already.
The thug lunged at him. Ezio guarded but the crossed blades were pressed so close that his own blade was nearly at his throat.
“Give up boy,” the thug growled. “Whatever the Medici paid you isn’t worth your life.”
But then the thug choked and his body slackened. Ezio rolled out of the way before he could be crushed by the body. Cristina stood behind him, both hands shakily holding a bloodied sword.
“My beautiful knight, come to my rescue.” Ezio grinned, staggering to his feet.
Cristina dropped the sword and rushed to help him up. “Ezio…what are you doing here?”
“Just happened to be in the area.”
There was a thump of two bodies falling. Ezio gripped his sword tighter but thankfully, it was the Medici killing off the last two thugs.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” Giuliano said, kicking at the thug he killed. Then he looked up at Ezio. “Wasn’t expecting help either. Who are you?”
“Ezio Auditore da Monteriggioni.” Ezio said with a shallow bow. “This wasn’t how I was expecting to meet the illustrious Medici of Florence but a pleasure anyway.”
“Giovanni’s nephew.” Lorenzo said, lips pressed with something unsaid. “Did your uncle send you?”
“Oh yes, because your administrator would send a boy if he heard of an attack. That is, if Auditore really is just your administrator…” Giuliano said, throwing an accusatory glance at his brother.
Ah, so while Lorenzo was aware of his father’s true profession, the rest of the Medici weren’t as well informed.
“I had just arrived in the city and noticed there were a fair few men with pointy blades surrounding the church.” Ezio lied casually. “That never means anything good.”
“So no news of your uncle then?” Lorenzo asked.
“He’s not in Florence?” Ezio asked with genuine confusion. He may have avoided the rest of his family at the palazzo but his father should be back by now - unless something had happened to have him linger in Milan after the duke’s death.
The battle rush faded and Ezio sharply felt the pain in his back. He stumbled forward but Cristina quickly caught him.
“Ezio, you’re hurt.” she said concernedly, throwing a quick glance at the Medici.
Right, he couldn’t get any medical attention while they were here. He was lucky that it was dark enough that they couldn’t notice his loosening bindings.
“‘Tis but a scratch. Nothing that Zia Maria can’t handle.” Ezio said, forcing himself to stand straighter. Then he turned to the Medici brothers. “Make sure she gets home safely - and keep your blades on you, there might be another attack.”
“If you want to talk more, come by the palazzo tomorrow.” Ezio said, stalking off into the streets before anyone could stop him.
But the palazzo wasn’t where he was headed. With every step, his injuries further made themselves known but his feet knew where to go. Ezio reached a familiar door and knocked. It took longer than normal but it opened for him.
“What the- Ezio?!”
And knowing he was safe, he collapsed.
Giovanni wasn’t wearing the Medici cape but from the way he was acting, he might as well be. The man was more of a courtier than an assassin at the Sforza dinner table. Seated at Duke Galeazzo’s right hand, Giovanni was pure business, conversing about outstanding debts, trade routes and all sorts of other politics that flew straight over Desmond’s head and had nothing to do with the Brotherhood. While that wasn’t egregious to any extent, Machiavelli had balanced being a diplomat for Florence along with being the Mentor of the time, there was something unsettling about Giovanni blatantly being a Medici envoy.
Desmond had always found it odd how easy it was to strip out of Ezio’s robes, especially when he had both Altair and Ratonhnhaké:ton as comparison points. All three had layers upon layers of cloth, leather and steel to protect the wearer from offending attacks but Ezio’s had an unconventional amount of ties and buttons that made his robes unravel like a quick-change theatre costume. Ezio had never questioned it, especially when it allowed him to strip in less than a minute for whoever was his fuck of the day, and it never graced his mind when there was the more pressing matter of vengence. So he never thought to replicate the function as he grew out of his father’s robes and leaned more towards sturdier armour. But the design wasn’t made for easy sexual conquests as with the reversal of a couple folds and fabrics, Giovanni had completely transformed his assassin robes into a nobleman’s attire that would have searching eyes completely pass over him. With white hooded scholars not being as prevalent in the Renaissance versus the Levant, it was an ingenious way to hide in plain sight but it made Desmond wonder how many times Giovanni went from an assassination straight into a business meeting.
Assassins didn’t have a place at these tables unless it was to stab a target then get the hell out. Yet Giovanni commanded everyone’s attention which honestly was a relief for Desmond. Otherwise, he would have ended up the curiosity of the night. There was no way he could fumble through the praise of saving the duke by flattening him let alone direct the conversation to something suitable for Renaissance sensibilities. It really was a testament to the Auditore charisma when Giovanni, looking little more than a drab noble, managed to be more fascinating than Desmond in a poorly fitting doublet over his ripped hoodie strategically hidden underneath a borrowed cape while still wearing his jeans and sneakers. There was no time to procure any more era appropriate clothing but that was the first thing he would do as soon as they were out of here. Thank fuck they were all sitting down because he has no clue how to deal with any questions about his clothes.
They shouldn’t have stuck around. For as important a political player Milan when it came to Italy in general, it was a footnote in Assassin history. Galeazzo Sforza’s death was simply the start of the downward tumble that led to the Auditore hangings. But the Duke still lived and there was no telling how that would affect the Templars’ plans in the rest of Italy. Giovanni had sent a warning letter but what could a novice and a couple guild masters do in the face in a conspiracy reaching its fruition? Giovanni had faith in them but knowing the future robbed Desmond of that. Ezio’s bitterness was wrapped up in how Paola and Volpe only seemed to act after half his family was dead. They needed to get to Florence or Monteriggioni or anywhere that wasn’t Milan, injuries be damned.
If only his stab wound was the only thing holding them up. Giovanni had loyalties and had to play nice with Galeazzo lest he endanger the Medici’s alliances. Ezio had never entertained things like this, either being too much of an impulsive revenge driven teenager completely ignorant of the extent of his father’s legacy or a weary old man with the wisdom not to get too deep into local politics. Suleiman was the rare exception and that had devolved into an utter mess in the end with only a dead brother and an empty library to show for it. Desmond hadn’t even been here for a day and his gut told him this was going to be another Constantinople.
Desmond remembered the week he spent on enforced Animus break after the violent desynchronization during the hangings. Aberti just screamed suspicious from the start and so he had been more ready than Ezio had to shove the crowds aside and rush to the front. He managed to just break through the guards before the lever was pulled and…the simulation fell apart and he had fallen face first out of the Animus with the mother of all headaches. Lucy gave him a scolding reminder that he couldn’t change the memories, that this was all ancient history and there was nothing he could do about an execution that happened four hundred years ago.
But already, Ezio had begun to Bleed through. Desmond had only spent a handful of days, a couple of hours in reality, with the Auditore family yet he was flooded with all the love, sorrow and rage. Just as his ancestor had meticulously and desperately researched the events surrounding his family’s demise, so did Desmond. Wikipedia became a rabbit hole of all the big names of the 1400s Italy and when the articles were too vague, there was a snarky historian on site who would indulge him with the right amount of prodding and needling.
And yet while Ezio had come to the conclusion of messy politics then later Templars trying to get into the Vault by any means necessary, Desmond couldn’t help but wonder why the Assassins were even involved before the Apple came to Venice. The Pazzi Conspiracy was the culmination of failed trade agreements, mining debacles, unwanted archbishop appointments and a feud between Lorenzo and the pope. The Pazzi may have been Templars but it was the Medici that were the despots, princes of Florence hindering the function of a proper republic. A generation later, they would overturn the republic and Ezio had to rescue Machiavelli and several other Assassins from their torture chambers. Anyone looking in would have thought the Brotherhood would have supported the Conspiracy - or at least remained neutral until the opportunity came to take out the Pazzi and restore proper democracy to Florence.
And the Brotherhood had remained neutral. Everything with the Pazzi Conspiracy was Ezio acting on his own with Mario and the others giving him enough skills so he didn’t die. It was only after Ezio was revealed to be the prophet that the Brotherhood took any united action.
Desmond absently tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table where Giovanni still kept talking. Last time they were talking about silk trade but now it had somehow shifted to cathedral architecture which he was certain that no one on the table had any interest or expertise in - and yet, the Duke, his wife and his brother hung off every word of boring nonsense that Giovanni spouted, nodding along as if he had passed some sort of secret noble test to be considered “one of them”.
As much as he hated to admit it, Giovanni had brought this fate on himself. He had thrown his lot in a fight that the Brotherhood had no need to be in and his whole family suffered as a result.
Compromised. That was what Giovanni had been accused of. And now, Desmond couldn’t help but think the same thing.
It made Desmond glad that was relegated to the kids’ side of the table, as insulting as it should have been, rather than be dragged into the local politics that Giovanni had dived into. Seven children, none of them in their teens and the youngest likely just recently weaned, yet they were surprisingly well behaved but the quick fearful glances they sent to the end of the table was telling of why they were so subdued.
Across from Desmond sat their rude room visitor, Gian Sforza - who was more interested in cutting his food into mush than actually eating it. In another timeline, this would be the night that seven-year-old boy lost his father and became Duke of Milan, then spend the rest of his life being caught in the power struggle between his mother and uncle for regency before being poisoned at the ripe old age of twenty-five.
Power and politics. That was what it all amounted to. The worst part was that it wasn’t just Templars who took part in it - that lust for control and subjugation could be found even without the race for precursor technology. Assassins had a duty to not get caught up in that mess, though he wouldn’t turn down help to navigate through it all.
The Bleed was so subtle that Desmond barely noticed it happening. A ghostly afterimage of another dinner party that happened here in the past overlaid the present. It was more fleeting than any other memory from his ancestors, phantoms filling the empty seats or even sharing ones that were already occupied. Both Giovanni and Galeazzo had ghosts that looked like them with an extra decade or two added on, talking just as animatedly. Desmond feels a brotherly arm being slung over his shoulder, even though none of his seatmates were tall enough to do so, with mumbled words in a playfully needling tone being whispered in his ears. And he, his ancestor, felt…resigned. That this wasn’t the life he wanted but he had a family duty to fulfill and he would do so with excellence-
“…though may I venture, are you Federico?” Desmond was asked abruptly by the girl sitting next to him, breaking him out of the memory. They had ignored each other for most of the night so he was surprised that she would try talking to him now. He was pretty sure she was saying something before that but it was Federico’s name that caught his attention.
“You should have been aware.” A voice whispered, male and Italian but distinctly not Ezio or Giovanni. “Socialise. Children may be ordered to keep silent but they observe more than anyone expects, especially those born into nobility. Make conversation. Form connections. That is what you need.”
Great, as if he couldn’t get any more crazy. Was he going to Bleeding every random ancestor in his genome now?
“No, you’re not Federico.” The girl said, taking his silence as a negative. “Federico Auditore just had his twentieth year, and you look like you have nearly thirty. And Maria de Mozzi does not have a drop of Moorish blood in her. Then again, stopping an assassination takes considerate amount of skill…such of which you would not expect of an heir dismissed from his own father’s business.”
“Watch it.” Desmond bristled, sounding more defensive than he intended.
“Protective, I see.” The girl smirked.
“Why bring up Federico if you knew I wasn’t him?”
“To see how you would react.” Her grin grew wider and more cattish, oddly sparking some familiarity. “You are not resentful towards the Auditore heir…and you speak his name with such familiarity and fondness.”
There was some sort of political double talk here that he wasn’t picking up on. The unknown Italian ancestor sighed but then Ezio jumped to the forefront of his mind.
The girl was the oldest of the Sforza children, somewhere in her mid teens, but there were hints of the beauty and cunning that Ezio was intimately familiar with-
“Caterina Sforza,” slipped out as recognition dawned on Desmond as well as the shock of seeing Ezio’s most volatile lover so young. Everyone would be younger now - Machiavelli would be some kid in Florence and Cesare would be a literal baby. “…aren’t you supposed to be in Imola with your husband?”
Caterina smirked again, a hint of the fierce woman she would become peeking through. “You are well informed. I will be joining him there upon the new year now that I am old enough to consummate the marriage.”
Desmond bit his tongue. Right, the legal age was lower in this era. He should be glad it wasn’t consummated earlier. “I wish you a happy marriage.” He muttered, though he knew it would be far from that, ending with Caterina orchestrating her husband’s death.
“Happiness is for the bard tales. My best hope is that my husband won’t tire of me too soon…though for once I do not resent being born a girl. Marriage is a kinder alternative to…” Caterina made a broad gesture up and down Desmond.
“…What are you trying to say?”
“People like us should at least make acquaintances.”
“The disposable pawns.” Caterina leaned forward, directing Desmond’s gaze to the other end of the table. “Barred from inheritance but our sires still find use for us.”
Then it clicked. Caterina was a bastard and thought that he was the same. “Giovanni is not my father.”
“But you still care for his children. That much we have in common.” Caterina stood up before Desmond could respond, joining the servants in herding the younger children to bed.
Thankfully, it seemed that everyone decided to retire as the adults gave one final cheer to wrap up whatever conversation they had. But of course, the politicking wasn’t over because the Duke’s brother decided to escort Desmond and Giovanni back to their room instead of leaving it to a common servant.
Ezio knew of Ludovico Sforza like Desmond knew of the particularly infamous governors of other states in his era, save that news spread through town criers and pigeons rather than TV and click-bait articles. Ludovico would become to Milan what Lorenzo was to Florence, an investor of industry and a patron of arts. The man was also the reason why Leonardo was constantly making trips between Venice and Milan to serve two illustrious patrons (or rather, Leonardo kept returning to Venice instead of settling in the Milanese court to continue supporting Ezio). But Ludovico also poisoned his nephew to get his position and basically kicked off the Italian Wars by inviting the French king to invade - which also backfired when the French decided to sack Milan along the way.
That however, did little to help Desmond judge the man when he was walking right beside him. Ludovico had a shrewd gleam to his eyes, but the same could be said about every noble. Under eagle vision, he glowed a dull gold - not an ally or enemy but simply someone important. Giovanni, having spent dinner becoming acquainted, seemed to have decided Ludovico was someone to be wary of. His posture didn’t change from that of a cheery nobleman but his footsteps were as silent as a ghost.
“There’s more that you know. Think, child.” The unknown Italian ancestor said, sounding like the trainers at The Farm, impatient he wasn’t reaching their expectations. “What did the boy say about his uncle? Why would a noble be doing the job of a servant? Put it together. You’re refusing to see it because you don’t want to get more involved.”
Well, yeah. That was exactly it. They didn’t need to get mixed up in another city’s politics when there was a ticking time bomb named Alberti over in Florence.
“Your mind is clouded and narrow. You figured out how Giovanni soured his relationship with the Brotherhood, you can figure this out too. Alberti only had that opening because Lorenzo was called out of Florence due to the Duke’s death. The Duke is not dead. So-”
“Oh lay off the lad, m'lordling.” Another voice, but not a new one, interjected. Desmond had begun to bleed the pirate ancestor in the Grand Temple, during the little moments when he wished for peace and freedom and Bled his way into the Caribbean. “We’re so far up shit’s creek we’re in the bloody mountains. Let him knacker off a bit.”
Before the two ancestors could start arguing, Ludovico spoke, cutting through the silence of the oddly empty hallway. “Galeazzo has constantly told Signore Lorenzo and all of his envoys seeking to collect our father’s debt that we lack the funds to repay. All of us know this is not the case.”
“A lot can be said about a man’s wealth when he sprinkles gold flakes on his food for the ‘health benefits’.” Giovanni said carefully.
Desmond slowed his pace, falling a step behind the two older men. He didn’t want to be in the middle of this.
“But listen,” the unknown Italian ancestor stressed. “Observe.”
“With the right management, it could be completely paid off by spring.” Ludovico said. And when a man proves they can repay his debts, then banks can be more secure in offering credit.”
“Yes, that is how it goes. Business would go bad when debtors become doubtful.” Giovanni looked relaxed but Desmond could hear the tension coiled up in his words.
“Milan has great potential. We are more than just our military. We have the best silk this side of the Mediterranean, our metal refineries have so much potential and everyone knows the value of a well bred Milanese stallion. With the right leadership and investment, this city will flourish, becoming a greater partner to her allies.” Ludovico said, punctuating each point with grand sweeping gestures. “Though the Medici’s reluctance to provide more funds is understandable. ”
To his credit, Giovanni kept his voice perfectly even. “The Medici and Sforza have been allies for many generations. Such a friendship offers some allowance and patience.”
“That is true, yet Galeazzo wears it thin. Even thinner with how Signore Lorenzo looked after his previous two visits.”
That was when Giovanni shifted. “I cannot make any promises on behalf of the Medici.” He said sternly.
“Fear not. There will be no need to act behind your master’s back.” Ludovico said. Both Giovanni and Desmond winced at the word. "You are here though to ensure that his interests are safe and secure. I assure you, they will be. You can tell Signore Lorenzo that yourself…in person.”
“Do you see what he wants now?” The unknown Italian ancestor said. He could have been smug but he sounded more tired than anything.
But Desmond could see it now. Galeazzo’s assassination would have been perfect if Isu bullshit didn’t literally send him crashing in. He and Giovanni were wild cards in Milan’s political game and Ludovico wanted them taken out. A promise to pay back the debt to the Medici and to be a better ally than his brother if they did nothing and left - a tempting offer if Medici interests was all they cared about. Besides they needed to get back to Florence as soon as possible-
No. They didn’t need to return to Florence. It would be easier - Desmond knew how the story went and what beats needed to be changed so that the Auditore men wouldn’t end up at the gallows. But stop Alberti from ever getting the opportunity to frame them, then the Auditore are safe as long as Lorenzo stays in the city.
And that meant keeping Galeazzo alive…but if the Milanese Assassins wanted him dead…
“Your room, gentlemen.” Ludovico said. “It has been a harrowing day. I can have a carriage arranged for you in the morning. Rest well.”
Then as the noble walked away, his shoulders bumped into Desmond.
“Hey lad! Loot that knave!” The pirate ancestor goaded.
And well - Desmond never turned down the opportunity for loot.
“Sorry,” he muttered, stepping out of the way as he seamlessly pickpocketed the man and followed Giovanni into the room.
Desmond expected the coins, mostly gold but none of them florins, but it was the ring that caught his attention - and the red cross that adorned it.
There were some things that were oddly consistent when Ezio was alive. Having his wallet pickpocketed whenever he entered a new city was one. Getting stabbed in the stomach had happened enough times to be considered another. The most surprising third, however, was encountering Duccio de Luca.
In Florence, it was completely expected. In Rome, it would have been an amusing coincidence if he hadn’t been preoccupied with finding his kidnapped artist. In Constantinople, some higher being must draw great entertainment from their meeting - and the beatings that always ensued.
And it seemed even in death the pattern continued.
Ezio easily spotted the little bastard among the crowd. Duccio had the misfortune of puberty hitting him young with all the force of a runaway horse and carriage. At fourteen he already had the look of a middle-aged man but it was that “maturity” that initially drew Claudia to him. Ezio wouldn’t judge his sister’s tastes, with both her first and second husbands sharing that same plain workman’s look, but he would judge Duccio for being an unrepentant cheating dick. So it wasn’t a surprise, almost expected actually, to see him with another girl in his arms - though it was a slimmer one with dark hair, different from the one Ezio remembered but he just amounted to another difference from the event happening two days early.
Another difference was that Ezio wasn’t alone this time in catching the brat’s unfaithfulness.
“Ezio, why did you sto- that’s Duccio.”
“That it is.”
“…groping some whore in public.”
“They seem to be kissing now too.”
Federico shoved the box of paintings into Ezio’s arms and slipped into the crowds with surprising expertise. If not for his trained eyes, Ezio would have completely lost sight of him.
He had always wondered how much his brothers knew about the Brotherhood before their deaths. Poor Petruccio was too young to have known (to even understand why he was going to die) but with Federico, it was a possibility. Watching him now, with enough skill and grace that Ezio would have promoted him to a full assassin if he were one of his novices, made Ezio’s heart ache once again for the life cut too short.
If Duccio had been a target, poison would be the way to go. Federico definitely had the skill to inject him as he passed and casually walk away as the poison did its work. But sadly, being a cheat didn’t make one deserving of death. A good punch to the jaw, however…
But Federico’s anger always ran colder than Ezio’s. Where Ezio had made his introduction with a fist to Duccio’s chin, Federico simply gripped the boy’s shoulder, greeting him with a “Good afternoon” and a bright smile that promised pain.
The bastard was rightfully trembling after that. “Fe-Federico, my friend. I-I was just - I wasn’t…wasn’t-”
“Wasn’t cheating on my sister behind her back?”
“Sister? What’s this about Duccio?” The girl asked. Huh, so not all of the girls had been aware of the bastard’s cheating ways.
Duccio’s eyes quickly darted between them. “It’s just a misunderstanding, my dear-”
“Yes.” Federico interjected. “It seems our friend here misunderstands what it means to be engaged.”
“Engaged?!” The girl shrieked.
“It’s just a minor thing-” Duccio started.
“Well if it’s such a minor thing, I’m sure you won’t mind me informing Claudia of your casual treatment of the engagement.” Federico didn’t smirk but it definitely slipped into his voice. “Or perhaps bring it up with my father and yours.”
“N-no!” Duccio squeaked. Not even a single punch and Federico already had the brat cowering. “It’s just that letter writing and poetry can be so dull and she insists on holding onto her virtue-”
“So you saw me as an easy lay?!” Then the girl slapped Duccio across the face and stormed off.
Ezio had forgotten. While he had won people over with charisma and confidence, Federico was truly the one with the silver tongue. He always knew what to say, whether to ridicule an opponent or comfort a sibling. It was another thing Ezio hadn’t realised he missed about his brother until he was faced with what he had lost.
But that didn’t mean Federico was above physical violence.
Federico hauled Duccio into an alley to continue their “friendly chat” while Ezio dutifully kept watch of the streets for city guards. Though, not that anyone would intervene. The scene in the piazza justified whatever punishment Duccio was dealt with while the gossip mills would make quick work of the bastard’s reputation. The only downside was that Claudia would also be dragged into the gossip and learn about her fiance’s unfaithfulness through more public means. But Ezio had no doubt she would turn it to her advantage like she did, she would do, with the whispers of Rome.
“There once was a man named Duccio, a rat with lecherous taste,” Ezio hummed. “Whenever he would show himself, my fist would meet his face.” And it just wouldn’t be right for him to walk away without getting at least one hit on the bastard - it was basically tradition at this point. Federico wouldn’t approve but he didn’t have any right from the sound of the one sided beatdown.
Then his eye caught a hooded figure watching from the shadows. La Volpe, Ezio thought at first, but no - while the master thief always wore a hood, it was always distinctive from assassin robes and there was no mistaking the style of their watcher even from this distance. A style that was also strikingly familiar and out of place for his childhood Florence.
Huh, he was starting to think this afterlife was getting too consistent. Dreams of memories always bled and mixed together so it made sense that the dream-like afterlife would be the same.
Ezio walked over to the shadowed corner, casually as if it were a planned meet up between friends - the differences in their physical age aside. “It’s fifteen years too early to be seeing you, Il Fantasma di Firenze…or do you mind me calling you Girolamo da Lucca?”
Girolamo didn’t as much as flinch, but the quick shift in his eyes might as well have been a full body jump for an assassin. He didn’t respond straight away. Girolamo had always been careful and quiet despite his towering stature. More than once, Ezio had to drag him into the post-mission celebrations lest he spend the entire night brooding in the tavern corner. But overall he was a reliable and trusted brother and worthy of his title as the Warrior Assassin. It was such a shame that he chose to stay in Spain with Aguilar rather than return to Italy.
He eyed Ezio up and down. If there was ever a moment for the afterlife’s environment to shift and Ezio to gain a decade or so, now would be the time. But they still remain in Florence with Ezio still seventeen and holding a box of Leonardo’s paintings.
“…if this is Gianni’s attempt to make amends, then he best not try at all.” Girolamo finally grumbled.
“…no one goes by Gianni in the Brotherhood.” Ezio said. They had a dozen-so members named Giovanni if the thieves and mercenaries were included, but oddly none of them took that particular diminutive…wait. “You know my father?”
Girolamo raised an eyebrow. “How else would you know me?”
“The Spanish expedition. You, me, Uncle Mario, Machiavelli and several others from the Italian Brotherhood were called to assist our Spanish brothers…” But hadn’t Ezio been the one to recruit Girolamo into the Brotherhood? “…how would you know my father?”
“There are other Assassins in Florence.”
“Hired killers maybe, but not members of the Brotherhood, not properly trained Assassins.” Ezio said, biting back the bitterness rising in his throat.
“You say that with such certainty.”
“I am certain. There are no other brothers in Florence during this time because none would have stood by while my father and brothers were hanged.” The words come out much colder and harsher than Ezio intended. He knew that was nothing but a lie he started telling himself after the Brotherhood made itself known. Machiavelli was a fellow Florentine and a decade younger than him yet had been inducted before him. Someone in Florence had to have trained him other than La Volpe and Paola, whose help was too little too late to stop the executions. It was decades in the past and he had long made peace with it but being confronted with all this again stirred an old resentment and the hurtful “you should have done more!” that he never yelled at the other Florentines.
By some divine intervention, that was when Federico emerged from the alley with an arm slung too tightly around Duccio’s shoulders to be friendly. There were no visible bruises but Federico, ever the smart one, knew how to make half the amount of punches more lasting with a few choice words. But whatever last words of warning were cut short when both their eyes passed straight over Ezio and to the out-of-place assassin.
“Federico, how do you know him?” Ezio demanded.
“He is Duccio’s father. He has been to the palazzo before. You were out at the time.” Federico said sensibly, straightening his posture to make himself presentable as he could be before a man after beating his son. Which Duccio was not. Because if Girolamo had any children, and had actually known Ezio’s family before their meeting in 1490s, he would have mentioned that they were Duccio de fucking Luca. “Signore Girolamo. It is good you have returned in safely. How goes your business?”
“As well as my line of work can go.” Girolamo responded as if he belonged in this time and was already acquainted with Federcio. Then he nodded towards Duccio. “Son.”
“Father.” Duccio replied with all the familiarity Ezio had seen from other boys with fathers more preoccupied with business rather than family. Which was fitting and also completely not.
Ezio jabbed his thumb back at the assassin behind him who shouldn’t be there at all because it was a decade too soon. “Girolamo da Lucca. From the city of Lucca.” Then he jabbed his thumb forward to Duccio. “Duccio de Luca. Of the Luca family. Those are two different things.”
Because this had to be the point where this whole dream world fell apart. This is the sort of nonsense that sleep addled minds and death pantomimes create. Or it could be the most cruelest unusual torture by planting the thought Duccio of all people, was the son of an assassin. The thought of welcoming Cesare Borgia into the Brotherhood was more palatable than that.
Federico took a step forward. “It’s best that we take our leave. My cousin had a nasty fall from his horse on his way from Monteriggioni and-”
“You expect me to believe that Il Fantasma is the father of the dick who cheated on our sister with six other women?” Ezio growled.
“How do you know that?!”
“There was more than one?!”
Ezio continued on, “And if Girolamo is supposedly Duccio’s father, then he would have been the one who said that he could ‘do better than an Auditore’.”
“That wasn’t about the engagement,” Girolamo spluttered.
But Ezio had enough. He dropped the crate and started climbing up the closest building to hopefully where things would make sense again.
Because if this wasn’t some twisted afterlife, because if this was the past and not some recreation of his memories, he didn’t know what to think.
(He didn’t know what he would do knowing that there was someone who could have helped but didn’t.)
There was a primal comfort that came with being on the highest point in an area, whether it be the top of a tower or the spire of a church. The streets were always crowded with people and the rooftops were shared with archers and thieves but these vantage points were solely places for assassins.
If this were a dream, then it should have all fallen apart when Ezio started climbing. The wall should have stretched up into the heavens with each ledge becoming farther and farther to reach until one misjudged jump would send him tumbling to the abyss below. Then he would wake up. Maybe in his bedroom with a worried Flavia and Marcello snuggling up to his side and Sophia scolding him for pushing himself too hard again but relieved their family had another day to remain whole. Or maybe before the Judgement Throne where the Judge would throw his bloodied soul into Hell, or sentence him to several thousand years of Purgatory if He was feeling merciful. Or maybe in that white void again where he might encounter another descendant.
But Ezio made it to the top of the tower. His limbs burned from the strain, his breath was harsh in his lungs but his body vibrated with a youthful energy he hadn’t felt in decades. It all felt real, too real for him to deny it. The confusion from the concussion couldn’t hide it any longer.
He was alive.
The past was now his present.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted - heh, what a rueful thought that the Creed applied even to death.
“Your technique has gotten worse, Uccellino.”
Ezio didn’t turn around. It wasn’t a memory of Federico. It was Federico. Alive, breathing and poorly hiding how worried he was. And Ezio was poorly hiding his tears. He had already cried and hugged his brother earlier, but now he wanted to do so again and never let him go.
“My technique has improved, you’re just jealous that I’m faster than you.” He choked out instead as the revelations kept tumbling through the haze of his mind.
Father. Petruccio. Christina. They were all alive as well. Alive and so blissfully ignorant of how their lives will be ruined in three days.
“Then we’ll just have to race to prove it.” Federico said. But then he sat down beside Ezio and pulled him close. Ezio let him, letting his head fall against Federico’s chest and listening to the warm thump of his heart. Every beat was a second closer to his premature death. “Something’s the matter.”
“It’s just the concussion.”
“Now that’s a pail of shit and you know it.”
Ezio hummed, looking out to the city but still keeping an ear on Federico’s chest, his heartbeat grounding him to reality. Sophia. Flavia. Marcello. Did they not exist anymore? “It was a good life we led, brother.”
“It is a good life we lead.” Federico corrected.
“But it will change and we will change with it. But the dead don’t change. They don’t grow old, as we who are left grow old.” What would Federico have looked like, aged and full of years? If he had lived to see the new year, would he have become an old man or have died tragically young in some other way?
Federico grabbed Ezio by the shoulders and gently pulled him up. “Uccellino, Ezio, you know you can tell me anything. And don’t say I won’t understand. Maybe I might not but that doesn’t compare to whatever burden you carry with silence.”
Because that was how Federico was. Love first and let understanding come from it.
“It’s fantastical.” Ezio said with a sardonic laugh. “Utter nonsense. Completely unbelievable.”
“Can’t be any more so than mistaking my little brother for a little sister for over ten years.”
“I have sixty-five years.” Ezio said bluntly. “And I died right there, on that bench in the piazza. Forty-eight years before that, you died in that same piazza, hanged with Father and Petruccio on false charges fabricated by our enemies.” He turned to look Federico in the eye. “That will be in three days’ time. The morning of the 29th.”
Federico acted as expected of a man told about his own death. “That can’t be true.”
Ezio grinned. “Nothing is true.”
“…Everything is permitted,” Federico gasped. “Ezio, when did you-”
“Learn of the Brotherhood? In several years in Venice when I learned that I wasn’t as alone as I thought, in several weeks in Monteriggioni when Uncle Mario said there was still work to be finished, in several days when I find Father’s robes in his hidden study and give the proof of his innocence to his executioner.” Amusement filled him, partially of a younger brother needling his elder, partially of an old mentor purposely speaking cryptically to young novices. “I told you this is madness.”
Federico massaged his temple with one hand but with the other drew Ezio closer. “You’re not mad. I just…need time.”
Ezio had time now. Not a lot of it but it was more than he could ever wish for. Time to save his family. Time to undo all his mistakes. Time to be the one three steps ahead instead of two behind.
He looked out to Florence with his gift, honed with forty-five years of experience taken from another life. Eight red-gold targets glowed bright.
Trying to work out how black paper works. Please send help.
Zero context fic spoilers:
Team Milan: wine and dining enemies, arguing with allies and spending the rest of the year contemplating whether a target deserves to be stabbed
Team Florence: half a dozen people told about their future, two men dead and one new recruit and that’s just at the end of the first day
In another timeline, Maddalena knows Marco Bello is innocent.
A saddle bag only a couple weeks old could not have contained evidence of a crime that happened many months ago. But before she could say a word, Marco’s loyalty had been questioned and his trust was broken. The proof of his innocence is not enough to bring him back and the threat of being resold to the slave markets hangs over her head.
She stays in the Medici household and gives birth to her master’s son under the watchful eye of the mistress who despises her.
The boy is named Carlo by his sire. He grows up not hated but not fully welcomed by the rest of the family. He knows from a young age that his half-brother sees him as a threat to his inheritance. When his nephew is born, he knows his days in the household are numbered. He accepts the holy position forced onto him with a resigned grace. A bastard has a slim chance to be named heir but a priest could never be.
In this timeline, Maddalena knows Ugo Becini is guilty.
By chance she finds the old accountant planting the evidence in the dead of night. A knife is pressed into her throat before she could scream but a hidden blade is plunged into Ugo’s back before he could scream. Marco is completely unfazed by taking another man’s life but stumbles when she throws herself into his arms, begging to be taken away.
He whisks her away to Monteriggioni, not yet known as a den of thieves, murders and whores but still a sanctuary for any member of the Brotherhood.
She finds herself home and gives birth to her son surrounded by the support of her sisters in all but blood.
The boy is named Giovanni by his “grandfather” whose eyes twinkle with an untold joke. He grows up loved in a family that consists of more brothers and sisters than he could ever count. He knows that his half-brother, though skilled with swords, is useless with numbers so takes up the ledgers to support him in whatever way he can. He has an easy smile and charm that is more deadly than the blade strapped to his wrist. He becomes an Assassin and is acknowledged as an Auditore, both titles that have him brimming with pride.
Marco Bello is not his real name. That is obvious from the start.
It is common for men to take aliases. As to why, there are too many reasons to count. Some are disowned from their noble name while others are bastards who never had a name to begin with. Some have many enemies that they wish to hide from while others have those they wish to protect. Whichever way, one man may be known across the peninsula by twenty different names and no one would be any wiser.
Marco is a common enough name for one to blend seamlessly into the crowd. Bello is more of a descriptor than any kind of surname, laced with a heavy coat of irony when attached to a man with a rough stubble, wild hair and clothes that always looked disheveled no matter how fine their make was.
Cosimo knew that name was fake the moment it was uttered but false identities were the least of his problems when there was a man bleeding to death before him.
Marco Bello was the man that Cosimo de Medici saved and so Marco Bello was who that man became.
There were times when the thought of asking who he really was crossed his mind, of where he came from or if he had any other family. But like a thief in the night, the thought slips away just as quietly as it slipped in. Marco Bello served the Medici with fierce loyalty and asked nothing in return. It seemed irrelevant to question who he once was with how well he melded into the household, becoming a permanent fixture at his side. A brother that he would never admit he loved more than his actual brother.
But there were still questions in his silent footsteps and his readiness to kill. How a single whisper has would-be assailants backing away. The reverence and respect that he commands with mercenaries, thieves and whores that reminds him too much of the Medici with their merchants.
Questions would remain unasked for many years when Ugo Becini was found dead, a single precise stab wound through the heart and a bill of sale for hemlock over it, and Marco Bello was gone, Maddalena along with him.
He doesn’t lie when he calls little Giovanni “the dear son of his brother.”
The elder of the two brothers is as notorious a womaniser as he is an Assassin and half of the children running around the fortress are the fruits of his conquests from beyond its walls. No one bats an eye when the younger brother returns from his decades long self-exile with a very pretty and very pregnant woman claiming that she bears his brother’s child. Everyone knows that the younger is too stiff and honourable with no leanings towards women to ever father a bastard and the elder readily accepts the unborn child as another part of his ever growing rabble.
But brotherhood is more than just blood. He doesn’t lie to Giovanni. He can’t find it in his heart to. He has more than one brother with a bond stronger than the water of the womb.
One time, Giovanni de Medici had extracted Marco Bello from his son’s side and brought him to a quiet room. “I should have had you kicked out months ago. My family will have nothing to do with your secret wars and blades in the shadows.”
Marco towered over Giovanni by over two heads yet he felt like a mouse under an eagle’s gaze.
“Neither of my sons can see what I can see. All they have to go off is the words and actions of men which can be so easily faked or fooled. They don’t see the colours of a true friend or enemy.” Giovanni’s sly eyes, shrewd and cunning, gleam a brilliant predatory gold.
Then he laughs, patting Marco in the back with surprising strength. “Your blue is the brightest I have ever seen. Keep it that way and you will always have a place in this household… no matter what your Brotherhood might think of you.”
But though Eagle Vision can see what is unseen, it cannot see everything.
A man can wish for your death while still glowing the brightly of friendship.
That was the death of two men named Giovanni.
The Auditore family is impressive in how unimpressive they are.
They claim connections to many great names such as Dante Allegheri and Niccolo Polo but never do they flaunt it. They are bankers but their business is unremarkable, never flourishing like the Medici or Pazzi yet never falling into ruin like the Bardi. They were as unassuming as nobles could be, the only gossip stemming from how they are rarely seen outside of their countryside villa in Monteriggioni.
When the Auditore brothers emerge from the fortress to revitalise their dormant family business, the city’s gossip is set ablaze. Most focus is placed on the elder brother Benvenuto with his charming smiles and sweet words, winning new partnerships in both business and in the bedroom. But it is the younger brother that catches Medici eyes. His face is clean shaven and his hair is tamed by a tightly knotted ribbon, but there is still a scruffiness in his fine robes and a sharpness in his eyes that his oversized glasses couldn’t hide.
They are cordial in public. Officially, this is the first time either brother has been in Florence. They make it clear from the start that Benvenuto is only here temporarily while it will be his younger brother staying to manage the business. As such, it is only natural that Cosimo extends invitations to the younger without the elder’s presence.
But once they are behind closed doors, Cosimo immediately disposes of any social pretenses. “Ilario di ser Renato Auditore da Monteriggioni.” His face is like stone but the lightness and joy in his voice betrays him. “Marco Bello actually suits you better.”
In another timeline, this was the room where he chased away his closest friend but in this one, he welcomes a dearly missed friend home.
(But as before, many things remain unsaid. Why did Marco flee after uncovering Ugo’s guilt? What became of Maddalena? Why lie about his identity when his family came from noble and respectable standing? Questions that fester in the mind like a putrid wound and prevent the closeness that they once shared. Yet none are asked so no answers are given. There is a tense peace built on a card tower of omissions and half truths. A tower that comes tumbling down when Cosimo’s grandson is dragged out of the Arno by the bastard he never knew he had.)
Though the blade was an assassin’s most iconic weapon, it was far from the most important one. Sharpened steel could take a man’s life but so could a heavy blow to the head or a vial of poison. Life was such a fragile and precious thing with so many, too many, ways to take it away - all of which Giovanni was intimately familiar with. A blade was simply the most convenient and could easily be replaced if one had enough creativity.
What was most vital to an assassin was information. One letter could determine if a man is to be killed or spared. One whisper could make the difference of a mission being a success or suicide. At its most basic, information was needed to make an informed choice and that became all the more important when lives were being balanced on a blade’s edge.
Giovanni had to write a letter. That much was obvious. This was more than just a disgruntled populace growing tired of their leader, it was a conspiracy that spanned the entire northern peninsula. Even if he had his doubts about the source, he couldn’t keep this information to himself. The question was, to who? The hands that the information landed in was just as important as the information itself. Evidence proving a man’s innocence in the possession of the one who wants him dead was guaranteed tinder.
His first thought was to report to Lorenzo. Giovanni would not fool himself, he was in Milan for Medici interests. Lorenzo had dispatched him to ensure his ally’s survival and would demand to know the current situation. But with Lorenzo surrounded by suspected Templars - no. He would get word to the young ruler eventually but this letter wouldn’t be for him.
Then he thought of sending the list to Mario. They were on better terms than they have been since the aftermath of the Florentine assault on Monteriggioni and the whispers of him being compromised began. Though Mario was far from the Mentor Renato Auditore had been, he was still the closest thing the Brotherhood currently had to a leader. His men would be dispatched in a matter of days after receiving the list of their ancestral enemies. But Mario had all the subtlety of a wild horse let loose inside a palazzo. For a born and raised Assassin, his brother had no skills in subterfuge whatsoever and with his family so exposed and vulnerable, Mario’s way of doing things was more likely to endanger them.
There was also Baccio and Gironi. They were both based in Florence, yes, but to call his relationship with his fellow Assassins rocky was an understatement. Gironi didn’t completely hate him, their families were soon to be joined by marriage and he was also on decent terms with the local guildmasters - but the man was like a ghost at the best of times and there was no telling if the letter would reach him in time. Baccio was in the better position to receive the information but the words yelled and the knife thrown last time they crossed paths made the sentiment, or lack thereof, clear.
That left only one person to be the recipient of the letter, who was frankly in the perfect position to carry things out but…
I am sorry my son, Giovanni both thought and wrote as he began the letter to Federico. This would put his firstborn through a trial by fire. He had full faith that Federico could accomplish the tasks he set but to have the lives of his mother and siblings dangling over him was too much for the boy’s first mission.
Giovanni folded the coded letter with a heavy heart. It was fitting work for a novice coming out of training: gathering intel, alerting allies, investigating leads - all the sort of work he had done when he was younger than Federico, younger than Ezio even. But back then he had worked in a team with three other novices with the support and supervision of senior Assassins. Federico would be sent out with none of that. Not to mention, Federico would be forced to deal with all the grudges and animosity that Giovanni had left behind - his boy didn’t even know that the Brotherhood extended beyond their family and the guildmasters. Then Ezio -
Ezio would find out. His two eldest were as thick as thieves and though he commended Federico for keeping the Brotherhood a secret from his siblings for so long, he doubted that the poor boy would be able to fend off Ezio’s tenacious curiosity on his own. This was not how Giovanni wanted him to be introduced to the Brotherhood. Extenuating circumstances aside, he should have started training Ezio a year ago. He should have started training Claudia earlier this year. If only he had, Federico would have had his siblings at his side rather than let them become additional burdens.
It took all of his self control not to jump on a horse and ride back to Florence to deal with this himself. But he couldn’t. Not with how Milan currently was.
“You’re going to need a courier or pigeon to carry that, a discreet one.” Desmond Miles, the greatest conundrum Milan had thrown at him, said.
The enigmatic Assassin had remained silent but no doubt observing Giovanni as he wrote - another reason why the letter had to be carefully coded. Desmond had given answers to questions he never asked while dodging all the ones asked of him. Knowledge and experience dictated it was still too early to trust the man yet something in his gut said he was trustworthy.
Desmond coughed. “I could take it-”
“No.” Giovanni said immediately. “You are still recovering and any strenuous rides will reopen your wounds.” And he wasn’t going to let an unknown party so close to his family. Even if he was the one to reveal the current dangers.
“It’s not that bad-” But Desmond’s protests were cut short by a single stern look. Ah the skills gifted by fatherhood.
“Even if you could ride, which you can not, it would still take too long for you to get to Florence for a letter this urgent.”
Giovanni then opened the window and whistled.
“Huh. I was expecting an eagle.” Desmond said, eyeing the raven that flew in and landed on the desk.
Bella ruffled her feathers and cawed at the bed-bound stranger. She then hopped up onto Giovanni’s outstretched arm and immediately began pecking at his pouches in search of food.
“As symbolic as they are, eagles draw too much attention and pigeons are already known messengers. Ravens are common enough to deliver letters without being taken down.” Giovanni said. Bella then pecked at his gauntlet, triggering the mechanism of his hidden blade, and it was by sheer reflex that he didn’t lose a finger to a bird’s irritation. “Devilishly smart as well.”
“So hiding in plain sight - or open skies I guess.” Desmond said though his hesitant expression read, ‘would she take my hand out if I tried to pet her.’
With his free hand, Giovanni flicked a treat in Desmond’s direction. Bella leapt, grabbing the treat mid-air but nearly startling the young man out of bed. He didn’t fall out and luckily the shock didn’t aggravate his injuries. Bella landed on the bed frame, lowering her head to allow herself to be petted.
“Didn’t expect you to be into bird rearing.” Desmond said, gently running a finger over Bella’s wings.
Giovanni chucked. “I’ve been told that my brain shares the same size as one.” It reminded him of the playful jabs thrown at him back when the entire Brotherhood didn’t despise him. ‘If Gianni’s head isn’t in the clouds then it’s between someone’s legs!’
Watching Desmond trying to coax Bella onto his arm brought back memories of when he first introduced Federico to the little flock. If Desmond was a couple years younger, his skin slightly fairer and his hair a tone darker - maybe the young man could be mistaken for his eldest son-
Giovanni eyed Desmond a little closer. The curve of his lips, the shape of his eyes, and didn’t Mario once joke that the most noticeable Auditore trait was the nose?
…did he remember sleeping with a Moorish beauty in his youth? Because even if he didn’t, there was proof sitting right across from him. He had often said that Ezio’s promiscuity was too much like himself when he was younger, but at least his second child would never have to deal with surprises like this.
An impatient caw and sharp peck at his ear drew Giovanni out of his thoughts. Bella cawed again, this time right next to his ear. Right, letter first, dealing with bastards…maybe when he was slightly less sober.
It was good that he always brought a raven with him when travelling or else his only option would have been to send his bastard to his wife. Maria was well aware what his youth had been like and he had remained faithful since they married but his beautifully wicked love would never let him live that down.
With Bella making her flight to Florence, Giovanni could place his full focus on Milan. Thankfully, that involved more pressing matters than determining if Desmond was a result of the many nights of passion from his youth. Though the assassination had failed, there was still the question of whether it had been orchestrated by the Brotherhood or the Templars. Then should it be the former… Sforza was still a key ally of the Medici. He would finally have to confront the third tenet. As uncomfortable as it made him, the information he had wasn’t as conflicting as it first appeared. All the captive in Florence had revealed was that there was a plot against the Duke of Milan but never once said, even under torture, that the Templars were behind it.
He turned to Desmond who was equally deep in thought. Now that he noticed the resemblance, it was impossible to ignore. There was also something achingly familiar to his looks. It was something in the shape of his jaw, the scar across his lip, that scratched a long forgotten memory.
No, focus. There would be time to dig up his old conquests later.
“We need to find Olgiati or rather, we need to make contact with the local assassins.” Not that he knew who else would be in the Milanese Brotherhood. His only contacts outside of Tuscany were in Rome or Venice, and to even call them contacts was a stretch considering he hadn’t even talked to most of them since his novice days. Even then, the Milanese have always been the most distant of the Italian branches when the Brotherhood was more connected, second only to the Neapolitans and Sicilians who for all purposes might as well be Iberian. For all the Creed disavowed the laws and boundaries of men, Assassins were still subject to them as much as any other man. What point was there in saying Nothing is True when the Nothing kept them divided? “We also need the Duke’s permission to investigate the city.”
“Permission?” Desmond said incredulously. “What’s next, applying for permits and licences for freerunning and murder?”
“It’s for courtesy. The Duke has been a gracious host so far.” And so their investigations don’t accidentally make an enemy out of Sforza. Politics, if anything, were petty and alliances had been broken over smaller things.
“Right. And ‘gracious hosts’ post guards with kill orders outside their guest’s rooms.” Desmond was looking straight past Giovanni and out the window, his eyes gleaming an eagle gold.
“You have the gift?”
Desmond blinked in surprise, his eyes darkening to its normal hue. “You don’t?”
“I was not born with the talent and even after decades of training, the gift never came to me.” Though it seemed his lack of talent was made up with his children’s proficiency. Federico was steadily developing the gift and Ezio was a natural despite never training at all - and now Desmond, who had the brightest gold he had seen since his grandfather’s ever twinkling eyes.
“Huh. That actually explains some things.” But Desmond didn’t elaborate and instead said, “It doesn’t look like there’s too many guards. We could probably take them.”
Giovanni sighed. Desmond either didn’t understand politics or had no patience for them. He wished he still had that luxury. “Do you believe that you are in any condition to be running on rooftops or dodging arrows?”
Desmond straightened and opened his mouth in protest but then immediately shut it and winced in pain.
“Rest first. At the very least, we will be safe here until we can find better company elsewhere in the city.” Giovanni said with a wry smile. “You could even find someone to keep you further company.” That would be a good way to see if Desmond had any other Auditore traits.
The young man blushed, surprisingly shy and flustered.
But then there was a gentle knock on the door. Before either of them could stand, it opened - and Giovanni was certain that he had locked it. A boy, about seven or eight, strode in with his head held high like he owned the place and from his ornate clothing, he likely would have if this afternoon had turned out differently.
“Good evening, Messeri, It seems you have settled in well.” The boy said with an impressive balance of polite and haughty.
Desmond stared at the boy like he didn’t know what to make of him - even flashing his gift. Though from his narrowed eyes, he didn’t glean much. He turned to Giovanni with a blank look he had seen whenever one of his children had a younger sibling plopped into their arms for the first time, What do you expect me to do with this tiny thing?
Then again, for a little lordling to waltz into a guest’s room uninvited took a special kind of arrogance - or an agenda.
“The Sforza have been the most accommodating with their hospitality.” Giovanni said, carefully polite and neutral.
“As it should be. It is the very least that can be offered to my father’s saviours.” The boy rocked on his heels, eyes darting between the two men. “Though for your line of work, it must have been odd preventing as assassination…Messeri Assassini.”
There it was, a dare and an accusation. Giovanni had expected it eventually but never from the mouth of a child. But if watching Lorenzo grow had taught him anything, one could never be too young for political games.
“You are well informed for your age.”
“It is a matter of survival in some cases.” The boy eyed each of his weapons - a sword, throwing knives, a crossbow. So many ways to kill a defenseless child. “The Duke will extend an invitation to the both of you to join us for dinner.”
“We would graciously accept. Though you are an odd choice in a messenger.”
“He will send a messenger, another couple hours from now after he has been satisfied in the torture chambers.”
Giovanni frowned. They had already extracted all the information they could from Lampugnani’s servant - he was there before Desmond had woken.
The boy continued, “You have leisure hours until then. Uncle would be here shortly, to persuade you that he is a more fitting ally to your lord than his brother. He wants more supporters for his claim, wherever they might come from. Mother is picking out her dress and perfume to see if you would be persuaded by more pleasurable means. She wants her line to be secured should anything happen to Father.”
This was like the carriage ride to his first Medici ball, barely more than a teenager with Uncle Ilario coaching him, warning him, of the various factions of high society that would try to sink their teeth into him the moment he entered. Except now, instead of a shrewd old man wise in court ways, there was a scared boy trying to hide his fear.
“And what do you want, Signorino?”
The boy’s facade cracked. His head dropped and in a small voice he said, “I want to live.”
CW: some misgendering of a character not yet out
There was an odd relief that came with Federico dragging Ezio to the closest street doctor. Even now, in the middle of the busy Florentine streets of his youth, Ezio’s gaze was still fixated on his brother. It had been forty-five years since he last saw Federico alive, twenty-five since the last painting of his brother’s likeness burned in the attack on Monteriggioni. He was like the streets surrounding them, hints of familiarity wrapped in things long gone to create something that was both foreign yet nostalgic. His hair gleams in the sun like Mother’s before she had gone grey and his smirk was like Claudia’s when she had found the key information to incriminate a target. In all that, however, there was something uniquely Federico in his laugh and brotherly teasing, something that Ezio had forgotten as the flow of time ebbed away at his memories. His heart ached for all that had been lost to life and time. And that was just Federico. How would he react to seeing Petruccio and Father alive and well? To Claudia and Mother still filled with the life and innocence that had been lost at the gallows?
The streets were easier. Returning to Tunscany after his retirement had made Florence more home that it had been in years but he still saw the changes that had happened - will happen. There was a butcher’s that would one day become a goldsmith’s, a construction project that would take another decade to finish, a building still standing where it would one day be demolished. It was amusing to see things in reverse, with the new now overlaying the old.
But all this reminiscing came at a price. Feelings and insecurities that Ezio had long since outgrew reasserted themselves with a vengeance. His hands were too bloody, his soul too dark, for this to be heaven. Purgatory, if the divine had been generous, hell at their worst. Either way, there had to be penance or punishment and this was proving to be a cruel and unusual one. The unease he felt in his own skin even though he had come to peace with his body years ago. The frustration at being seen, or even being leered at, as a woman even though it had become his favourite disguise to slip in and out of places undetected.
Even now as the doctor cradled his cheek more tenderly than he did when he had come as a boy fresh from a brawl rather than a girl who had a clumsy accident. The cut wouldn’t scar, the doctor was quick to reassure him, which was fair because a tree branch would do less damage than rock, but the apologetic tone the doctor adopted when he said that a mark would linger for a couple weeks filled him with more irritation than it should for a man his age. But it was perfectly fitting for the insecure teenager he had once been, who he now physically was. Hell was having all his teenage emotions bubble underneath the surface, never enough to take control but enough to make his head throb.
Though maybe the greater hell was knowing that in a couple days, this idyllic peace would come to an end.
“Certainly a concussion as well.” the doctor said, finally releasing his face and turning to Federico. “Best to keep her inside for at least a week…and keep the windows locked as well.”
“How are we to pay for this treatment? I fail to see any bodies to scour.” This afterlife was still based on his memories after all and Ezio remembered having to procure his own funds from his fallen foes.
“I always keep a coin or two in case of little birds falling out of trees.” Federico said, procuring said coin from his pocket.
“Ah, so you have yet to spend it all on women and wine.” Ezio said with a lopsided grin. “How does that generosity fare birds injured in cockfights?”
“Do you expect to be getting into a fight?” Federico asked, half jesting, half concerned.
Ezio shrugged. “I might say something in the near future that could possibly lead to a fight tomorrow evening.”
He couldn’t remember what argument led to the brawl but it was Vieri and his younger hotheaded impulsive self, it wouldn’t have taken much. He even spotted the bastard on the other side of the street, now with a lackey on either side. They locked eyes, Ezio daring him to come over and start a fight, but surprisingly, Vieri guiltily looked away. Ah yes, in a dress, the face-blind bastard only saw ‘Aquila’, the maiden he thought to fool with sweet words and kind gestures while showing his true colours out of ‘her’ sight - only to show them in full view of ‘Ezio’.
Vieri stalked off without another word and with the doctor rambling to Federico about other concussion symptoms and hysteria for some reason, Ezio felt his feet dragging him elsewhere. Though he hadn’t been bashed over the head as many times as he had been stabbed in life, he was still familiar with how a concussion felt and the afterlife had recreated it in all its ear-ringing, vision-blurring glory. He knew he shouldn’t be wandering the streets but what was the worst that could happen, he dies again? He already passed the bench where his heart gave out and death was less daunting the second time around. None of this was real anyway.
Ezio stopped as he came to face a familiar door. In life, he would always find his way to Leonardo’s workshop if he was injured. In death, his feet had brought him here once again. The Leonardo behind the door would likely be just as young and untouched as the Florence around him. If they were following the script of his memories, he would not meet Ezio for another two days. He absently licked his lip wound. That had come a day early so maybe the afterlife would let him introduce himself to an old friend early as well.
Even though he had built a home in the Tuscan countryside with Sophia and their children, nothing could compare to the feeling of home when he knocked on the workshop door and was greeted by a face that he had missed for five years.
“Good day, Signor - Signorina?!”
Leonardo stumbled backwards as Ezio launched into a hug. He had missed a hug once in Venice and he promised he would never miss another one again. Death had kept him waiting too long for his closest friend in life and he didn’t care that this Leonardo was too young and just a phantom of a memory. It was still the same skinny bony form in his arms that stayed constant over the years - first from forgetting to eat then not having enough to eat then from ailing health and old age. He still reeked of oil paints and charcoal though it was refreshing there wasn’t the underlying smell of steel and coal that never left him after he was forced to build those war machines.
“It’s good to see you again, my dearest friend.” Ezio smiled. It hadn’t been long enough for time to rob the familiarity like it had with Federico. There wasn’t any lingering pain or doubt that plagued him like the rest of his family. The baggage between them had been settled at Leonardo’s death bed as the last rites between two old men. All that was left was pure euphoria.
Leonardo didn’t look at him but over his shoulders to the street. “Is there someone after you, Signorina?” he whispered, carefully hugging him closer.
Ezio pulled away but kept Leonardo’s hands clasped in his. “No, I just couldn’t help but visit you again.”
“But…we haven’t met before?” There was confusion in those intelligent eyes but behind them, the gears of Leonardo’s brilliant mind churned to find a solution.
“We would have been introduced in two days but after death and a lifetime, I thought it fair to see you again sooner.” Ezio brought Leonardo’s hands up to kiss each knuckle. “Let me reassure your more youthful self, your work does have purpose - there is a beauty in the way you capture the world that is unlike any other. Preserving so much that was lost in a single painting. That is something to cherish.”
“Th-that is very kind of you Signorina but-”
“You want to change the world, no? A mind like yours cannot be confined to a single field and you will be a beacon of light in the darkness.” Leonardo’s hands were calloused but still so soft compared to his later years. He was still just a painter, not yet an engineer of war machines and impossible feats. “You will change the world. You will make so many destructive and wondrous things that will shape the very course of history. Never, though, blame yourself for the yoke placed on you by cruel patrons. Have pride in the work of your hands, no matter what may become of it.” And, if Ezio would be given a second chance at life, he would do everything in his power to prevent Leonardo from having to plead for his own creations to be destroyed.
“…are you an oracle?” Leonardo breathed.
Ezio laughed. “I am only an old man with the hindsight of death.”
A cry of “Uccellino!” had them both turning to the streets but surprisingly it was Leonardo who muttered, “Federico” first. Then any scolding Federico had for Ezio died as he said “Leonardo” just as softly with a growing blush.
Ezio remembered the many nights he and Leonardo had spent together in the artist’s Venetian workshop - a bottle of wine between them and all their sorrows laid out to bare.
“I never wish to compare or compete with our pains,” Leonardo once half slurred, half sobbed into Ezio’s lapels when they were both deep into their cups. “But we both lost someone precious at the gallows that day.”
“This…this was not how I wanted to introduce you to any of my siblings.” Federico stumbled, losing his normal swagger and charm.
“Oh - ah, well…there are things outside of our control.” Leonardo’s hands quickly retreated to his side and oh - did Ezio know that blush colouring his cheeks all too well. “So, ah - this is Claudia?”
“Ezio.” Federico corrected. Ah, so that explained Leonardo’s lack of surprise the first time he had treated Ezio’s injuries.
“My - my apologies,” Leonardo said to Ezio. “I shouldn’t have assumed-”
“I am in a dress. That is a valid assumption to make.” Ezio said, amused. “Maybe you can make it up by letting me borrow some bandages and breeches - perhaps a pair of Federico’s if he left any lying around.”
Leonardo flushed an even deeper red while Federico let out a scandalised, “Uccellino!”
But Leonardo did have a pair of Federico’s breeches in his workshop, as well as quite the collection of his brother’s other clothes.
Ezio hummed as he got dressed, the throbbing in his head feeling something between a drunk buzz and an actual headache. Though not even the pain could stop his mind from whirling. He knew, from what little Leonardo had shared, that there had been a fondness between the artist and his late brother - a bud nipped too soon. Now, it seemed, death had pulled back the curtain to show him a new perspective.
Leonardo had always been quick to reassure Ezio, especially during those years in Venice, that whatever was between them wasn’t a replacement for what was lost. For Ezio, Leonardo had started as an ally in his darkest hour, a partner in his bloody mission and a rock in his constant turmoil. They both didn’t think they would be anything more than friends and that was their downfall. Feelings left unspoken festered like an infected wound. They continued to dance around each other, not wanting to shake the status quo yet still wanting so much more. Even after that night with too much wine and not enough sense which both overturned everything and gave them a new rock to stand on, they continued on with that forced ignorance. Then the fall of Monteriggioni and the Auditore being cut in half a second time…
No. Watching from the doorway to the workshop, what Leonardo and Federico had was sweeter. More honest and as open as it could be for something the law deemed as illegal. It was shy yet adventurous touches, secret smiles and carefully chosen words that were like messengers in the night. It was a young love that couldn’t have been more than a couple months old yet promised to become the songs of the most lovestruck bard.
But where Ezio had time and squandered it, Federico never had the time at all.
“You two fit each other. I approve.”
Then Ezio laughed at how Leonardo and Federico go from nearly sitting on top of each other to opposite sides of the workbench in a blink of an eye. Leonardo stared too intensely at his sketchbook to actually be paying attention to what was on the page but Federico looked up and locked eyes with him. There was that brotherly annoyance that Ezio never knew he missed so much but also relief. Surprising, but at the same time not, that Federico would give his unconditional support and acceptance and not expect any in return. If only Ezio had the chance to show that when they were both still alive.
Ezio sauntered to his brother’s side, not so subtly pushing him closer to Leonardo. “It seems you have a habit of running the rooftops pantsless, dear brother - I found plenty of your hose yet none of your doublets.” Ezio grinned as Federico both blushed and scowled.
“I come home with more clothes than you do after fleeing Christina’s bed.”
Oh Christina. The name stirred both old warmth and pain in his heart. She would likely be another encounter during this pantomime of his youth. Another one that he wasn’t sure if he was prepared for. “Ah, but I am more often chased out. Is there someone here threatening to emasculate you?” But the words slipped out before he had a chance to put any thought to them. Dammit, was it before or after the hanging that Leonardo had been arrested for sodomy?
Leonardo stiffened in fear but before Ezio could apologise, Federico gave a friendly but sharp elbow to the side. “If you actually had balls, you would be using them more than your brain - not that you put it to much use as it is.”
“I am the pretty one after all. You’re supposed to be the smart one.” Ezio said while fluttering his eyelashes. But then, more seriously he said, “If you need a lady cover, so to speak, I am happy to offer ‘Aquila’ for service.”
“Pardon?” Leonardo asked, slightly confused while Federico said, “Ezio, you don’t have to-”
Ezio waved them both off. “I’m already doing this for Claudia, what’s helping out one more sibling?” He then gave an overly dramatic swoon. “Oh poor Aquila, distraught after hearing her betrothed had tried to force himself onto her dearest friend, finds solace in the arms of a young artist recently commissioned by the family. Then Federico, the ever dutiful and protective older brother, would of course chaperone her to and from the workshop. What happens between closed doors - well that can be left to the imagination.”
That would have been quite the addition to the web of romances of his childhood. Before life had been overtaken by murder and conspiracy, his greatest concern had been how to gracefully exit ‘Aquila’ from society while transitioning ‘Ezio’ in. For as complicated as it was, it had also been a much simpler time. As the eldest daughter of a noble family, ‘Aquila’ couldn’t be sent away to a nunnery or elsewhere without harming Claudia’s chances of marriage. Then high society frowned upon the younger daughter getting engaged before the elder.
So with Claudia already infatuated with Duccio, before the bastard had shown his true colours, ‘Aquila’ had accepted the courtship of Vieri de’ Pazzi. All Ezio had known of the snake at the time was that he was the least likely of the suitors to push for marriage, so allowing the engagement to be prolonged and peter off while Claudia’s was fulfilled. ‘Ezio Auditore da Monteriggioni’ was introduced to the Florentine nobility as a flighty young man under Giovanni’s tutelage with Christina, the amazing friend that she was, playing the part of a lover to further give the newcomer a presence in the city. He hadn’t expected Vieri’s attempted assault on Christina nor had he expected for his first friend to become his first love.
Then executions cleaved through their games like a claymore through silk. The one colosolation of it all was that he could leave ‘Aqulia’ behind for good and christen becoming ‘Ezio’ with the blood of the conspirators.
Leonardo and Federico stared at him, both lost for words…or maybe Ezio had pushed the afterlife too far with his deviations. Would it all end now? Would he be forced to play this all again? Would he be dropped into another memory? The dizziness was getting worse - or maybe he was paying proper attention to it now that the joy of seeing Leonardo again had worn thin.
There was a steadying hand on his back - when had Federico gotten behind him?
“Maybe it’s time for little birds to return home to roost,” Federico said. “The doctor ordered for bedrest, Ezio, and you should before that concussion has any more control over your lips.”
“It’s not a concussion.” Ezio protested. He was just dead. “And I’m serious about that. If I could, I would. You both deserve happiness.” Leonardo and Federico deserved so much more than what life had dealt to them.
“Concussions are not to be taken lightly. It’s best that you rest, young Ezio.” Leonardo said. “If you’re on your way back to the palazzo, might I trouble you to bring some paintings for Madonna Maria?”
“Hey, that was the thing I was supposed to help with. Two days from now when we were supposed to meet.” Ezio chucked. So there were some things that still stayed the same. “Outlets besides vaginas - ha! Leonardo could teach me some things there.”
Leonardo spluttered while Federico gently rapped him on the head. “Keep your eyes on Christina, Uccellino.”
“I mean painting. I’ve done a little. Mostly targets but they were decent looking targets. The portraits, I mean. Most of the targets were ugly old men.” Wouldn’t that have been sweet? In another lifetime, Ezio could have become Leonardo’s student in the arts and made sure that Federico got a proper chance with him. And keep weasels like Salai away. “You have first claim to the pretty artist, brother.”
Leonardo coughed, his face a deep red. “It’s a little early for me to be considering students but I will keep you in mind. As well as your…offer of service. Oh - that reminds me, I haven’t started your portrait from your family’s commission.”
“You didn’t start it until Venice, you procrastinator.” And didn’t finish until Rome, after the Borgia had been disposed of. It had been an odd peace offering between them and the first time they properly talked after Monteriggioni.
“I know Madonna Maria would have preferred you in a dress…” Leonardo said. Oh right, that was a thing - didn’t Ezio have an argument with Mother about that? Such a petty thing, looking back on it now. “But if it isn’t too much of a hassle, you can come by my workshop and pose for it in more preferable clothing.”
A familiar warmth filled his heart. “…you are a treasure to the world, Leonardo.” Ezio grinned. What a fool his younger self was for never being honest with him. “If Federico hadn’t already claimed you, I would spread you out on my bed and-”
“We are going now, Uccellino!” Federico said, pushing him forward with the crate of paintings.
But a little side step and a foot extended had Federico stumbling over Leonardo and giving him an accidental kiss.
Yes, they really did suit each other.
Desmond heaved as he was startled awake. He jolted upright which - ouch, bad idea. Right, he had been stabbed - lots of times but that was just another factor of his crazy life…afterlife? No, life. He took another deep breath, relishing the air filling his lungs. Breathing was something so simple yet so grounding. Not even the Animus could perfectly replicate that. The breath of life. Life. He was alive.
And oh. The pain. Yup, couldn’t have life without that either.
Then he noticed the hooded person in white by his bedside, unmistakably dressed in Ezio’s first set of assassin’s robes.
“Nonno Ezio?” slipped out before Desmond could stop himself.
The person turned and fuck, it wasn’t Ezio it was-
After over a decade, the robes still felt too big for him to fill. The absurdity of it all still lingered. His father still existed as a banker and a nobleman in his mind despite everything his uncle and other assassins had told him. He felt disconnected from the idea of Giovanni Auditore running on rooftops and murdering people. Yet at the same time, there were so many places where the robes felt too loose, that he was nothing more than a child playing dress up in his father’s wardrobe no matter how fine his patiently smiling relatives said he looked.
Now though, with his father right before him in full assassin regalia he-
Fuck. Desmond bit his lips, hard enough to taste blood, before he blurted out the “padre?” bubbling in his throat. He was not Ezio, he was not Ezio, but fuck did seeing Giovanni Auditore alive and in his assassin robes make his heart lurch. He would have tackled the man into a hug right then and there if that wasn’t the fastest way to get a hidden blade to the gut.
He quickly looked away, focusing on the window on the other side of the room. The skyline was definitely Renaissance Italian. The lack of power lines and other modern trappings breaking up the neoclassical architecture probably meant he was also in the Renaissance, if the long dead ancestor by his bedside hadn’t given it away.
Then again, this could all be one giant Bleeding Effect episode - but there were things that didn’t add up. Seeing Giovanni was one thing, but dreaming of his father- no, Bleeding Ezio would have him picture the Auditore patriarch in his nobleman attire. Then there was the city. While it was definitely Italian, it wasn’t one that Ezio had ever visited. There weren’t the grand churches of Florence, the canals of Venice or the old ruins of Rome nor the walls of Monteriggioni or the towers of Forlì.
The foreignness pushed Ezio back into the part of his crazy mind his ancestors lived rent free, like the bums at a bar who never ordered anything and security was just waiting for a reason to kick out. Ezio had never been here and Giovanni was not his father-
“An odd thing to say, that I am not your father.”
Fuck, he said that out loud. “S-sorry.” Desmond stumbled. He turned back to face Giovanni while pushing down the mental Ezio who was jumping around like a sugar-high brat at seeing his father alive. “Just the blood loss probably - makes you see things that aren’t really there.” Though honestly, he was more likely to hallucinate Giovanni or any of his other ancestors before William Miles at his sick bed for comfort. Injured people tend not to like seeing the ones who put them there in the first place. Wasn’t that a sad thought.
“Then you should take time to rest and recover your strength, my brother.” Giovanni said patiently but there was a tightness and weariness to his smile. “May I ask your name? Seeing as you already know mine. It has been so long since I have been aided by another member of the Brotherhood.”
Giovanni flashed that casual Auditore charm but Desmond knew he was suspicious as fuck. His injuries and the assumption that he was a fellow Assassin probably saved him from a full interrogation.
“Desmond Miles.” He answered. Lying to a Master Assassin was always a bad idea and he was a shitty liar to begin with. Besides, with Giovanni alive it should be early enough in the timeline for that name to mean nothing. “Mind if I ask where we are? And what date it is…my memory’s pretty fuzzy.” He quickly added to the end.
“It is the late afternoon of the 26th of December 1476.” Giovanni said, watching Desmond’s reaction carefully. Well if there was one thing he could do, it was keep up a poker face. “We are currently under the hospitality of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, duke of Milan…and the man who you saved from an assassination attempt.”
Desmond’s first thought upon hearing Sforza brought up Caterina but surprisingly, it was his mental Ezio who dragged his mind out of the gutter and reminded him that Duke Galeazzo Sforza’s assassination was what Giovanni was investigating before he was murdered. Who was apparently still alive because Desmond couldn’t exist five minutes in the past without majorly fucking up history.
“So the duke lives.” Desmond said slowly. Which on one hand, was a good thing because it stopped, or at least waylaid, whatever Templar plot was brewing in Milan but on the other, the first paragraph of Galeazzo Sforza’s Wikipedia page called him ‘lustful, cruel and tyrannical’ and Shaun didn’t have anything better to say about him other than it sucked that his kid got poisoned by his uncle in a power grab - so not exactly the sort of guy you want running things.
Giovanni nodded. “In no small part thanks to your efforts. Pardon my questioning while you are still in an injured state but…how were you aware of the plot? It only came into our knowledge the night prior and I had rode all night and morning to barely make it in time. Coming as far as you have, it would have taken a week at the very least…unless you were already in the city.”
Well shit, that wasn’t exactly something he could explain. “Where do you think I’m from?” Desmond asked instead.
Giovanni looked unamused as his poor attempt to deflect his question. “You spoke English in your delirium but with an accent I am unfamiliar with…yet now you speak the Tuscan dialect like a fellow Florentine.”
“My…mentor was from around that area. He taught me the language during my training.” Desmond wasn’t technically lying, he would readily call Ezio his mentor as well, now, his grandfather and almost all of his assassin skills had been gleaned from his memories - but Giovanni eyed him with all the scrutiny of a father of four mischievous children.
“Your ‘Nonno Ezio’, I presume?” Giovanni hummed and Desmond gulped. “Ezio is… a rather unique name. It is not one that any of my contemporaries or elders are called by.”
Yeah, but not in the generation that came after Giovanni. The memory threatened to overtake Desmond’s vision, a parade of staticky ghosts dancing behind his bedside inquisitor.
His ancestor had put more thought than Desmond had in choosing his name - he vaguely remembered seeing the name in some book or magazine on the Farm then declared that ‘Desmond’ was his new name and everyone just went with it, never bringing up his old one once everyone had adjusted. It was like a hat that didn’t fit so he got rid of it and got one that better suited him. For Ezio, while the metaphorical hat was still a crappy fit, he liked the colour - or in this case, the meaning. ‘Aquila’ meant eagle, named after his gleaming amber eyes, and ‘Uccellino’ was a nickname he had since he learned how to crawl around…and up every high ledge his little limbs could carry him to. So he had wanted his new name to have the same spirit. It was a family bonding experience pouring over books until one day the boys started poking at some Greek manuscripts in Giovanni’s study and the word aetos lit up gold. From there, they got Ezio.
There were likely thousands of ‘Giovannis’ in Italy, hundreds of ‘Federicos’ and probably a couple dozen ‘Petruccios’ - but ‘Ezio’ was a name that carried too much weight in Auditore circles.
Giovanni waited with endless patience and growing suspicion. Did he think it was supposed to be some sort of code? A warning? A threat?
Desmond shrugged, loosening the tension in his shoulder. He couldn’t lie, he would definitely be caught if he tried to lie. That would lose him any trust he had built up with Giovanni, if his evasive answers hadn’t done that already. “Ezio was what I knew him by but he insisted that I call him nonno first chance he got. Last time I saw him was when he passed away.” Still not lying but it still left him feeling guilty as fuck.
“I am sorry for your loss.”
“Don’t be. He got to die peacefully of old age surrounded by family. That’s more than what people like us could hope for. Maybe one day, we’ll get to meet again.”
Desmond had to stop himself from snorting. Ezio would be what, seventeen right now? Still probably juggling with the identities of ‘Aquila’ and ‘Ezio’ because of some pretentious nobility bullshit Desmond barely understood. Guy forced to dress up as a girl and is courted by his mortal enemy while being the best friend of the girl he’s courting? It was something straight out of a Shakespearean comedy and old Willy hadn’t even been born yet. But it was such an innocent drama compared to the shitshow his life later became. Will become.
…might never be if Desmond played his cards right. Because right in front of him was Giovanni Auditore, still alive and beyond the reach of the conspiracy. It was three days before the hanging.
He already fucked up history by saving the duke, why not screw with it some more.
Demond took a deep breath. “The men who tried to kill the duke…were their names Carlo Visconti, Gerolamo Olgiati and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani?”
Giovanni’s eyes narrowed and hardened. “Lampugnani was the man you killed and the duke’s guards killed Visconti. One of Lampugnani’s servants was also captured and he confessed that Olgiati was the conspirator that escaped.”
“Some time ago, please don’t ask how because that’s information I can’t exactly share at the moment, I came into possession of a list of suspected Templars. They were all Italian so that was why I was in the area. If three of them are true then…” He beckoned Giovanni closer then whispered the names of all the members of the Roman Rite of the Templar Order, throwing in the Venetian Templars as well so it wouldn’t be too suspicious that the whole list was Florentine.
Giovanni pale and his eyes grow wider in disbelief. “Do…do you know who any of those people are?” he asked shakily.
“Not really but I’m assuming they’re people in high places.”
“I’ve worked closely with Antonio Maffei during this investigation and Uberto…” Giovanni leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his hair. “His position and titles aside, Uberto is one of my closest friends. That list of yours carries some very hefty accusations.”
Desmond gently patted Giovanni on the back. “It was only a suspected list.” And that was his first lie. He knew each of those men were sick power-hungry fuckers who would gladly hang a child to prove a point, Alberti chief among them. His mental Ezio, young and full of vengeance, bubbled with rage at the mere suggestion that those men didn’t deserve immediate death. “Let’s hope for the best…but prepare for the worst.”
Giovanni gave a sardonic laugh. “Maybe that list of yours isn’t all Templars. Olgiati is an Assassin.”
Now that was a curveball Desmond wasn’t fucking expecting. “You sure? But you were trying to keep the duke alive, right? And that guy was trying to kill him…shouldn’t you guys be on the same side?” Assassins against Templars was a tale as old as time but Assassins against Assassins? That was a disaster waiting to happen.
“He had a hidden blade.”
“A hidden blade isn’t the only thing that makes an Assassin.” Desmond retorted. “I’ve dealt with a Templar who also used one. Had me fooled until I caught him meeting up with others.” To think Haytham Kenway would be less of a headache than whatever this was shaping out to be. Said Templar ancestor began loudly protesting in his headspace before he was dogpiled by his other ancestors. Fuck, he really needed to get his mind sorted out before he goes completely crazy.
“That is a possibility but…” Giovanni turned to him and damn, did the guy look exhausted. Florence to Milan wasn’t too bad of a trip if one had the modern convenience and comfort of a car but on horseback then having to deal with all this? It was truly a testament that he hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion yet. “The Italian Brotherhood has not stood united for many years and I stand as a pariah among my brothers. I somewhat expected opposition from another Assassin but your support comes as an honest surprise.”
“Did you break one of the tenants?” Desmond didn’t know much about Giovanni’s Assassin career but he didn’t seem like the type to recklessly kill an innocent and if Ezio could manage to hide in plain sight with pure white robes then his old man could likely do the same which left…
“Many believe I have compromised the Brotherhood by aligning myself so closely with the Medici. My brother and I were at odds for years until other family matters drew us together again while another one of my contemporaries, someone who I have known and trained beside since I was a novice, never fails to mock me and declare such unnecessary aligences would bring trouble to my family. What allies I do have in Florence are personally indebted to me to go against the general consensus but none of them are properly-trained Assassins.” Giovanni sighed and rubbed his temples. “I do not believe I have compromised the Brotherhood, not truly. Yes, Lorenzo knows more than most outsiders should but I have not disclosed any of our secrets. Assassinating those in power can only go so far - true freedom is birthed from stability, not mindless chaos, and for that you need a good leader. Someone who stands in the light to be the stronghold for the freedom we work so hard to protect.”
“So it’s a matter of perspective.” Desmond said, but he couldn’t help but feel the others had a point. There was something more to Giovanni’s relationship with Lorenzo de’ Medici. Ezio had picked up on it while working with him and got the hell away when it looked like the strings of his father’s legacy would strangle him. Giovanni held his duty to the Brotherhood and loyalty to the Medici in equal regard. As the old saying goes, a man cannot serve two masters. Those ropes pulling in two opposite directions had strangled Giovanni as much as that noose.
“If we still had a Mentor, there would be someone to corral those perspectives. Someone to judge who is in the right and who is wrong. The Italian Brotherhood is as divided as the peninsula itself and we have little news of how the other Branches fare.” Giovanni sighed again, this time more wistfully. “It takes a special sort of person to lead the Brotherhood. To build her back up from broken foundations and squabbling parties. To take our Creed with all its contradictions and forge it into a weapon to be wielded for freedom. That sort of leader only appears once every generation. I hope to see the day one rises.”
No wonder Ezio was such a big deal. Altair undoubtedly made the Brotherhood more than a collection of soldiers huddled away in a mountaintop castle but it was Ezio who reunified them and laid the groundwork to make them as unified and widespread as they were in the modern era…and it was his tragedies that shaped a carefree noble into the greatest Mentor in history. A Mentor he would never become if his family lives. A skilled assassin, most definitely, but the maturity, understanding and wisdom that tempered his natural talent and charisma into what the Brotherhood needed the most…only experience could shape that.
The future of the Brotherhood…or the happiness of one boy.
Fuck it. Desmond was not heartless enough to stand by and let the Auditores get slaughtered again. Keep all of them alive and then he could worry about loftier goals.
“Let’s focus on what we can do right now. We’ve unearthed the Templars’ plot so now we’ve got to stop it.” Desmond said. “We need to get in contact with the local Assassins and figure out what exactly their deal is.”
Giovanni straightened, a new steel in his posture and fire in his eyes.“Yes, and there were also clues on Lampugnani leading to Venice, not to mention the dangers that lie in Florence…”
Desmond placed a hand on Giovanni’s shoulder. “Make sure your family is safe first and then we’ll go from there.”
Maybe this might wipe Il Mentore from history but it would be worth it if Ezio Auditore could actually live his life.
Within the Brotherhood there was an unwritten fourth tenant: do not meddle in politics. Assassins fought for the liberty of the people with corrupt kings, dukes and high ranking officials generally being their targets. With such power came corruption and to kill the viper, one must aim for the head.
Friendships and alliances were not forbidden, connections in high places often allowed Assassins to work freely after all, but there was a clear line between assisting a decent political leader and being in the direct service of one. Their blades had to be impartial and free of political influences less they get tangled in that web as well. It was a line that was several leagues behind Giovanni when he pledged his loyalty to the Medici.
His decision had estranged him from most of the Brotherhood, he wouldn’t even be on speaking terms with Mario if it weren’t for his second child’s…circumstances, but he stood by it. Assassins worked in the shadows to serve the light and Lorenzo de Medici was a shining beacon that Giovanni would gladly lay his blade down for even if it meant standing alone.
Which was why he was utterly flabbergasted when a white hooded figure dropped from above and saved the Duke of Milan from a fatal blow.
“Assassin!” Someone cried while the hooded figure was ironically making quick work of the duke’s would-be assassins.
However, this was no time to clasp his hands and remain stunned. Giovanni weaved through the fleeing masses to the church altar - regretting his decision to blend in with the civilian crowd instead of finding a higher perch. He hadn’t the time to scout the church and had doubted he would find any sympathies among the Milanese Assassins when he arrived on Medici business, not that he had the time to even search them out. Though it seemed their goals had aligned in this case.
The main conspirator, the one who had bowed down before the duke and was the first to pull out his knife, was dead courtesy of the other Assassin while two of his accomplices were being swiftly dealt with by the duke’s guard.
One, however, slipped into the crowd - blending in with such ease that it made Giovanni’s stomach turn. He quickly intercepted, grabbing the fleeing conspirator by the wrist. His grip tightened when he felt the familiar mechanisms of a hidden blade on his vambrace and the damning brand on his ring finger.
“So the Florentines really are nothing more than Medici dogs.” The conspirator, the Assassin, spat.
“I had thought this was orchestrated by the Templars.” Giovanni breathed.
“If you had actually thought rather than blindly followed your master’s whims, then you would have let the Templars be.” The other man took advantage of his shock and twisted out of Giovanni’s grip. “Galeazzo Maria Sforza is not someone you should have saved.”
The Milanese Assassin disappeared into the fleeing crowd. Giovanni thought to pursue him but his attention was drawn to the duke’s guards roughly throwing the hooded figure off of their fallen lord. He made two quick strides to catch the figure before they fell. Their doublet was oddly plain yet a pure white he had only seen before on doves, stained with three growing patches of red blood.
“Careful there, brother.” Giovanni said as he gently laid the figure to the ground. None of the wounds hit anything vital but the amount of blood they were losing could prove to be fatal.
The figure mumbled something in…was that English? What was an English Assassin doing in Milan?
Giovanni set that thought aside for later with the growing pile of questions from this past hour. There was more afoot here than simply preventing a Templar assassination attempt but it would do him no good to have this man die on him.
There was an odd lack of any buttons or fasteners on the doublet and Giovanni didn’t have the time or patience to be fiddling with foreign fashion. Taking his dagger, he hooked the blade under the doublet and any other clothing underneath and made a quick cut down the centre to reach the wounds.
The fallen assassin was still babbling away in English as Giovanni began dressing his wounds. One of the duke’s guards had knelt by the injured man’s other side to help keep him upright, making it easier for Giovanni to wrap the bandages. They were lucky that no vital organs were hit or else there would be no saving the man.
“Oh fuck, right… I’m supposed to speak in…in Italian…” The Englishman slurred, in Tuscan with a perfect Florentine accent. “Sorry about that…Grandpa Ezio…”
Before Giovanni had a chance to question him, the man fainted against his chest.
There was no time to contemplate that as Duke Sforza loomed over him, looking slightly bruised and winded but otherwise completely unharmed.
“I had heard that Lorenzo had white knights who served from the shadows…to think he would dispatch them to preserve my well being.”
Giovanni was not fortunate enough to be born with the Gift of Sight like his grandfather and two eldest children but the duke’s cattish, dare he call it leering, smile sent chills down his spine. The escaped conspirator’s words echoed, “Galeazzo Maria Sforza is not someone you should have saved.”
They couldn’t risk staying here.
“Apologies, Your Grace,” Giovanni said, keeping his head bowed as he redressed the unconscious assassin in his torn clothes, trying to keep the tension in his face hidden. “We were alerted of the plot on such short notice and as such had to resort to…desperate measures.”
Duke Sforza chuckled. “Unorthodox, yes, but your companion swooping down from above saved my life - almost like my own guardian angel.” The words were innocent enough but on such high alert, Giovanni couldn’t miss the covetousness that laced his tone.
“His Magnificence would never let any harm befall his allies if he could prevent it.” Giovanni said carefully. “And pardon, Your Grace, but we should not impose on you any longer. My companion may be in need of further medical treatment and we are to return to Florence before the day’s end.”
“Such a harsh master young Lorenzo must be.” Duke Sforza laughed. “There is still much daylight left before your required return and your companion would benefit from the extra rest. Besides, what sort of a man would I be if I failed to show hospitality to my rescuers.”
The guards closed in behind Giovanni, killing off any of his half formed protests. They were going to partake in the duke’s ‘hospitality’ whether they liked it or not.
Why did he get the feeling things would have been simpler if the duke had been left to die?
The toll of the noon church bells snapped Ezio to consciousness.
A quick scan of his surroundings revealed that the afterlife was…a noblewoman’s bedroom?
What sphere of heaven did this fall under?
Ezio was alone, sitting on the side of an untouched bed with no fair lady in sight. Would she appear in a flash of light like Beatrice to Dante and explain why someone with such bloodied hands was worthy of paradise? Maybe she would offer a more sensual reward. Maybe she might appear as his dear Sofia, if death had orchestrated a meeting with his grandson from the distant future then it was possible that it could make the decades between himself and his beloved feel like an instant.
However, the afternoon hour bells tolled and nothing had happened.
Perhaps he was required to do something before all was to be revealed to him.
Ezio stood up slowly and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of creaks in his knees and aches in his back. How nice of death to restore his youth. Sofia loved him in his twilight years but he would be sure to show her all the pleasures of his prime.
Taking a step forward, he found his centre of balance was completely off and the edge of a floor length skirt that he subsequently tripped over. He caught himself on the bed frame and a single elegant curl fell over his eyes. He hadn’t curled his hair like that since -
He looked up…and straight into the vanity mirror.
A bewildered young noblewoman stared back at him.
What ring of hell was this?
Familiarity washed over him like nausea after a heavy night of drinking.
This was Aquila’s bedroom in Palazzo Auditore, the one that had been converted into a guest bedroom when 'Aquila’ moved to Monteriggioni while 'cousin Ezio’ moved to Florence and had taken another room next to Federico’s. But this room was still lived in. He spied his old practise sword tucked under the bed and Federico’s old clothes peeking out from the closet. Little bits of himself hidden in the shadows. Heh, no wonder the second tenant came so easily to him.
He stumbled towards the vanity with legs trembling like a newborn foal. He tried fooling himself, saying that he was just trying to get accustomed to this younger body, but it was more than a lack of balance and coordination that had him shaken.
There had been moments in his adult life where he donned dresses and styled his hair. Sometimes it was a necessity of the current mission, others was because he looked good in a dress and wanted to indulge in his vanity. Those times, however, he was unequivocally Ezio, an Assassin doing what his work required with a few oddities that he would laugh with his colleagues about over drinks.
But his reflection showed Aquila, second child and eldest daughter of the Auditore, a beauty of Florence adored by many suitors and-
Bile began to rise in his throat and his nails dug into the wood of the desk.
Dammit, he was a sixty-five year old dead man - far too old to have this affect him.
His gaze locked onto a coarse brush and a red ribbon lying on the desk. Feverently, he began brushing away the curls, well aware of the many hours it took to create them, back to its natural fluffy texture and tied it all back in a hasty low ponytail.
There. He stared right back at his reflection. Now he looked more like Ezio. All he was missing was his lip scar and he wasn’t desperate enough to carve up his own face…yet.
And it wouldn’t be hell if Vieri de’ Pazzi didn’t show his ugly face. Ezio left his bedroom window open so it would be easier to sneak out, not for unwanted suitors to sneak in.
It had been so long that it took him a moment to remember why Vieri would even want to climb up to his window. He had nearly forgotten, the memory buried by time and the ashes of his old rage, that Vieri de’ Pazzi had been infatuated with 'Aquila’ to the same degree that he had despised 'Ezio’ - and the fool died without ever learning they were the same person.
“Leave, Vieri.” Ezio said curtly, pitching his voice several tones higher for Aquila’s voice. At least he hadn’t forgotten how to do that. “You have no business here.”
“But don’t I have business courting my sweet little songbird?” And damn, he did not miss Vieri’s terrible flirtations one bit.
“Courting does not involve climbing up to a lady’s window unannounced.” Ezio always asked for permission first before climbing up to Christina’s window. At least Vieri had some courtesy not to step into his room uninvited. “Climb down before I make you fall down.”
“You’re acting shrewish again, my dear. I thought we had trained you out of such contrary behaviour.”
The old memory played out in his mind - the same memory the afterlife was forcing him to live through again. Then, he had grown tired of Vieri’s unwanted advances, coupled with the slight fear from how he tried forcing himself onto Christina then continued to deny it to Aquila despite Ezio being the one to stop it, and he had simply pushed the bastard out of his window which landed him with a limp that still showed the following evening during the fight on the bridge.
Ezio could do it again and be rid of the boy but there were still some embers hidden in the ashes of his rage. Back then, Vieri was just an annoyance with little regard for boundaries but now, Ezio knew he was a Templar and an active participant in his family’s murder. Whether this was the actual Vieri here to torment him in the afterlife or just a phantom following a script - Ezio wouldn’t deny himself the satisfaction of feeling his nose crunch under his fist.
He spun around with his fist aimed at Vieri’s face - but with the return of his youth came the loss of the strength and muscle memory he had built up over the years. He swung with too much force for his current slighter build and not only missed Vieri entirely, but knocked himself off balance and sent them both tumbling out of the second storey window.
Ezio tried to break his fall by latching onto a tree branch but since this was hell, the branch snapped under his weight and hurled him down the tree, hitting every branch on the way down and finishing with his head banging against the trunk.
That was a fall so spectacularly terrible it would make a newly recruited novice wince.
“Figure out how this body works again,” he muttered to himself as he nursed his throbbing head and bruised pride. Even before he became an Assassin, he never fell as badly as that.
“My love! Are you alright? Where are you injured?”
Vieri leaned over him before he could protest. He was surprisingly gentle but Ezio couldn’t let his guard down. Vieri was the sort of bastard to take advantage of this compromising position for his own pleasure.
“Fuck off before I make you a corpse again,” Ezio growled. With a headache forming and his ears ringing, his patience for Vieri was thinner than a knife’s edge.
“But you’re bleeding-”
“Vieri, you son of a bitch! What are you doing to my sister?!”
That shout immediately had Vieri fleeing - and Ezio was frozen, completely rooted to the spot. It was a voice he hadn’t heard in over forty-five years. Could he even remember the face that went with it? Could he even hold back the - no, the tears were already welling in his eyes. When Federico stepped into view, he couldn’t stop them from falling.
There had been many times in his life that Ezio had imagined reuniting with his dead family members - so many flirtations with death from injury, illness and finally old age where he would start scripting what he would say when he saw his father and brothers again. None of those words could be summoned when his older brother stood before him - Federico the familiar stranger who hadn’t aged a day since he was buried.
“Brother? Ezio? Are you okay?”
Fuck maintaining composure, Ezio was dead and he finally got to see his big brother again after decades of mourning him. He all but threw himself into Federico’s arms, who caught him readily and wrapped him in a firm embrace.
“That bastard couldn’t touch me even if he tried. I just fell out of the window and into a tree.” Ezio said firmly. “Enough about that dick. It has been too long, Federico. I’ve missed you so much.”
“…brother, you saw me this morning at breakfast. You insulted my facial hair.”
Ezio laughed. That’s right, this was only a simulation of a memory long gone. Was this what Desmond’s ‘Animus’ was like? “For you it would be but for me it has been years since I had the pleasure of seeing your ugly face.”
Federico chuckled but kept a concerned arm around Ezio’s shoulder. “Let’s get that head of yours looked at, that was a fair way to fall - and that lip of yours too. That pretty face is the only asset you have.”
Ezio licked his lips and tasted blood and a familiar wound that was there a day too early. He must have cut it during his fall. “Oh, go fuck yourself.” He grinned.
Stupid little brainfart:
Warriors (Linked Universe), Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed) and Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist) fit the standard adventuring party set up of knight, rogue and mage but they all have the personality of a bard.
Desmond expected death to be many things but Florence wasn’t one of them.
Juno had lied to him, big fucking surprise. Dying was painful, a scorching heat that engulfed his arm the moment he touched the Eye and then spread to his entire body. It was as if he became the shield that absorbed the solar flare. Maybe he actually was feeling the brunt of the flames, he wouldn’t put it past the Isu to have something like that in their technology.
But as suddenly as it started, the pain stopped and then - Florence.
There was no mistaking this piazza. It had haunted Ezio’s memories and the grief had bled into Desmond’s mind. He half expected to see the gallows in the centre, that tragic day playing out again with him - with Ezio trying to claw through the crowd in a futile attempt to reach his father and brothers in time. In two lifetimes worth of nightmares, he never did.
All his ancestors had struggled, being pushed and pulled around the world as if they were nothing more than pieces in a game played by bastards that were millennia dead - but call Desmond biased, having lived through almost the entirety of the man’s life with his own name being echoed throughout it, Ezio was the one who got the shortest end of the Precursor bullshit stick. Forty years of being thrown from one place to another, of losing home after home, family member after family member, only to be left with unanswered questions and unsolvable mysteries, all leading to his defeated resignation before Altair’s corpse.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t witnessing the Auditore men being hanged on false accusations. The scene is static, frozen in place and bleached with white and greys like an overexposed photograph, but the piazza is full of peace and life. Frozen in the moment are merchant stalls lining the sides, couples dancing to minstrel’s tunes in the centre and people going about their daily business - but it wasn’t entirely peaceful. Something had caught the people’s eye, some having just noticed while others were frozen running towards it. At the centre of it all was an old man slumped on a bench. Desmond immediately knew who it was.
The old man broke from the scene like a corpse awakening, perking up at his name and turning to him…or rather a coloured yet transparent version of him turned while his body remained still. Ezio stood up, slow and laboured - a spirit leaving the body.
Then the world dissolves to pure white - that familiar realm where targets give their final words to the one who assassinated them. Desmond had thought it was just a mechanic of the animus - was he still in the animus? Reality had become harder and harder to discern, part of him half expected to wake up and find out this was all a simulation.
But Ezio locked eyes with him, so old and tired yet still bearing a warmth that life hadn’t completely smothered. He was older than when Desmond last saw him in Masyaf, hair completely grey and more wrinkles lining his face.
“Are you the Angel of Death, come to collect my soul?” Ezio’s lips quirked into a smirk, still having so much roguish charm despite his age.
“Nope, just another dead man.” He paused for a moment. Ezio deserved answers and so much more - and they were both on death’s door anyway. “I’m Desmond.”
Ezio’s eyes widened. “You're…” but whatever else he was about to say died in his throat. Then he sighed, looking every inch of the exhausted old man he was. “So it’s at death that the god finally reveals himself to his prophet. Did my message serve you well?”
“I’m as much of a god as you are.” Desmond said. “But yeah, we stopped the earth from getting barbequed by the sun - though there was a lot of Precursor bullshit wrapped up in it. The device to save the world demanded a sacrifice and, well…”
“And you died?”
“I died. It’s a bit more complicated than that but…”
Ezio made a wide gesture to the white void surrounding them. “It doesn’t look like there’s anywhere else to go. We have all the time in the world. Come, sit with me.”
They sit roughly on where the bench Ezio died on would be. Desmond hadn’t seen any stab wounds so likely the old assassin had died peacefully - give or take a couple hours, he could have passed away in his sleep.
“I’m not sure where to begin…” How do you even start to explain five hundred years of the future and a seventy-five million year old hidden history in a way that makes sense to a renaissance assassin?
“Who you are would be a good point, no?” Ezio said with a calm and patient smile.
“Right. So my name is Desmond Miles. I’m an Assassin from about five hundred years into your future…and I’m your descendant.”
Desmond expected the long silent pause - there was no soft way to drop that bombshell and things were going to get crazier from here. He braced himself for many reactions - shock, disbelief, accusations of lying. A hug was completely unexpected.
Ezio was surprisingly strong given his age, nearly squeezing the life (afterlife?) out of Desmond - then again, it was even more absurd to think of il Mentore as anything weak. Even when Ezio did release Desmond, his hands were still firmly clamped on his shoulders and he smiled so wide it could have split his face in half. His eyes watered and glistened with something. Pride, Desmond realised. He had seen it before as the new recruits made it through training, when Claudia was inducted into the Brotherhood - but he had done nothing yet to have earnt Ezio’s bright beam. So why…
“My apologies, pardon this old man but-” Desmond didn’t think it was possible but Ezio’s smile grew even bigger, threatening to consume his entire face. His hands, warm, calloused and one of the leading causes of death in Italy, cupped Desmond’s face so tenderly. “But look at you. My descendant. My grandson. So strong. So healthy. So handsome.”
“Grandson might be pushing it. There’s dozens of generations between us.” Desmond said as a blush creeped into his cheeks but he didn’t retreat from Ezio’s touch. It was…nice, the warmth blooming inside him. To be loved so strongly, immediately and unconditionally for simply existing. Did William ever look at him the same way? Did his mother?
“But that does not change that we are family. You are my family.” And that word felt so loaded coming from Ezio, a man who had systematically seen his family tree shorn down to a few twigs, fearing for the safety of those that remained at every turn. “I dedicated my entire life to the Brotherhood, built her up to be strong and found family within her walls. They will forever be precious to me but I started my own family so late in life. I had hoped to see my children grown, that I could have lived into my nineties like Altair…but to be blessed to see a future generation… to know that my own flesh and blood will survive for centuries to come…”
And dammit, if Ezio started crying, there’s no way Desmond could stop himself either.
By the grace of some higher power, Ezio doesn’t but the old man (“please, call me Nonno!”) kept his arm slung around Desmond’s shoulder, holding him close as if he would disappear to the winds. Maybe he would, this white realm only lasted long enough for the dying to give their last words - who knew how long they had before death whisked them away.
Desmond had promised himself that he would answer any questions Ezio had to the best of his ability and he did…but they weren’t the questions he was expecting. Yes, he stumbled through an explanation of the Isu, Abstergo and the Animus as well as the true purpose of the message Minerva spoke through him but Ezio, his nonno, only hummed with the same passive interest as he did when listening to Leonardo’s ramblings and then leapt into questions about Desmond himself. His job (“I was a bartender…uh, it was kind of like working at a tavern or an alehouse…” “Ah! Then you would have a well cultured taste, I see!”), his hobbies (“I picked up a bit of guitar here and there…” “Finally! Someone in the family with the gift of music!” “I wouldn’t call it a gift, and don’t you hate minstrels?” “Bah! Those minstrels are not my grandson - regardless of your skill, I would love to hear you play!”), his lovers (“You are just as handsome as I was at your age - maybe even more so! Men and women must have been swooning at every corner!” “Ezio…nonno, please…you’re one of the last people I want to talk about my sex life with…” Ah, but it must have been a prolific one, no?“).
When it felt like Ezio had quizzed him on every aspect of his life, Desmond asked quietly, ”…are you disappointed in me?“
Ezio stared at him, his eyebrows rising so high that they threatened to disappear into his hairline. "What makes you say that, mio nipote?”
“I fled from the Brotherhood. I spent almost a decade thinking that Templars and Assassins were the ravings of a mad cult. I got captured by said Templars and-”
Desmond was cut short by Ezio pulling him into another hug, softer than the previous one but no less firm.
“You have done nothing to be ashamed of.” Ezio said, the solid tone of il Mentore that left no room for questions. “Do not blame yourself for what the Templars did any more than you would blame yourself for the actions of another man. That is not something you have any control over.”
“But what about running away? Spitting on everything you and my other ancestors built up?”
Ezio sighed and released Desmond from the hug but still kept an arm wrapped around him. “It took me so long to understand why my father hid his legacy from us and though I started to understand when I became a mentor, it was only when I became a father myself that I was able to fully comprehend it. The life of an Assassin is not one to be taken lightly. To serve from the shadows to protect a light that you can never return to. To bathe your hands in another’s lifeblood so that others may remain clean and unspoilt. To fight a war that will never end and never be recorded, with your deeds lost to the sands of time. That is a heavy choice that must be a choice. Our Creed says ‘Everything is permitted’ but that does not mean we are above the consequences of our actions. To take up the blade, you must be aware of the gravity of it, of the consequences that will flow from your choice.” He snorted then turned to Desmond. “You cannot expect that from a child who was raised to know nothing else, who has never even seen a Templar yet is expected to dedicate every day of their life to fighting them. I will not judge William Miles for how he runs his Brotherhood, for I know that there will be desperate times that will call for such desperate measures, but I will judge him for hardening his heart and depriving you of the love you deserve. Being the Mentor does not supersede your duties as a father…you should have been loved and I do not fault you for leaving when you found none.”
Desmond wanted to say something but his voice choked in his throat and threatened to bring tears out with it if it escaped. Instead, he buried his face in Ezio’s collar as his nonno rubbed circles into his back and muttered comforting nothings.
“Twenty-five is too young, too too young.” Desmond heard him mumble. “You should have been given more time…so much more…”
After a few minutes, or maybe an hour - there was no way to tell time in this bleach white place, Demond finally managed to compose himself, his heart suddenly feeling lighter.
“So I have exhausted all the questions I want to ask.” Ezio said brightly. Desmond knew his nonno had so many more but all the important ones had been answered. “Is there anything that you want to pry out of this old man?”
Desmond paused. Yes, there was something but the question was how to broach the topic tactfully.
The first memory Desmond had relived of Ezio Auditore was his birth. It wasn’t his actual birth, thank God he had not idea how he would have processed that. Instead, it was of a crying child, twelve almost thirteen, curled up on a bed in a dark room with a dress hurled into the furthest corner like it had caught the plague. It wasn’t the dress’s fault, it was beautifully made and perfectly tailored to the child and who wouldn’t admire the fine craftsmanship. No, the dress came with showerings of “Such a lovely lady”, “What a beautiful girl” and other phrases coated in “she” and “her” that hollowed the child out from the inside and left nothing but misery that couldn’t be explained. “Aquila” was such a pretty name that should have inspired flight but to the child it weighed as heavy as a millstone.
Then in snuck Federico, full of smiles and mischief, with ears ready to listen and a heart so big that he accepted and loved first even if he didn’t understand.
It wasn’t the first time the child’s older brother had brought out his old clothes to dress his sibling in and it was far from the first time the two eldest Auditore children snuck out for midnight rooftop races but on the rooftop of a church, both huffed from running and climbing, the child let words flow like a guilty confession to a priest. Federico listened, he accepted and then he stood up and said, “It’s time to go home, fratello.”
Though the name hadn’t been picked out, that was undeniably the moment when “Ezio Auditore” was born.
Altair was enough of a dick without even having one and Ratonhnhaké:ton was two spirit but it was always Ezio that Desmond felt the strongest connection to. He admired Ezio for more than just his deeds, the skills that bled into him and the sheer amount of time he spent with him but for his unwavering confidence and certainty in his identity even when the world tried to push the other way.
“While other men blindly believe in physicality and what is assigned at birth…” Desmond started.
Ezio raised an inquisitive brow but said, “Nothing is true.”
“While other men are bound by societal roles and expectations…”
“Everything is permitted.” Ezio’s eyes sparkled. “Ah, so you are a man after my own heart in another way, mio nipote.”
“It was inspirational that you were so firm and true given the times you lived in.” Desmond said. “Also it’s a solid 'fuck you’ to all the asshole historians who say being trans was a fad that started in the eighties.”
Then a shock ran through his right arm and it began to pulse as golden geometric glyphs appeared along its length, glowing through the sleeve of his hoodie. Isu bullshit had the worst possible timing.
“Ah, so our time here is up.” Ezio said.
Desmond bit back a scowl. He had forgotten that they were both technically dead, or dying, but he wished he had just a bit more time to talk with his nonno. “Any regrets before we get sent off to wherever dead people go?”
“An old man like myself has many regrets but I am sated knowing that my life is one well lived.” Ezio hugged him closer with one arm while taking his glowing one in the other. “ Though it sounds as if you had a fair few regrets of your own.”
Desmond sighed. “I wish I could have done more to stop Juno rather than just hoping that someone in the future would finish the job.”
“It was cruel for them to force you to make a choice like that.”
“It wasn’t even a choice at all.” Another shock ran up his arm and its glow intensified. “I wish there was a way to have saved your family.”
A second shock ran up his arm but Ezio’s grip on his hand tightened. “That is not something that you should be having regrets about.”
“What happened was fucked up. You didn’t deserve that shit.” Maybe Desmond could have been more eloquent but based on the glowing arm clock, they were running out of time.
“Make a wish for yourself then.” Ezio said softly.
“I wish…” What does he want for his dying wish? They were nothing but words on the wind but was it pathetic that he couldn’t think of anything for his own life? “I wish…I wish I could have lived to be old and…open my own bar or some shit like that.”
“A business of your own, that’s a good thing to wish for.”
But Desmond didn’t get a chance to reply as the light from his arm flashed, blinding him and-
Desmond barely has time to comprehend falling before he landed on something - no someone. It was definitely a person under him - and that was definitely a knife going through his shoulder. Fuck, that hurt.
His sight was still blurred from the Isu flashbang but instincts honed from Altair, Ezio and Ratonhnhaké:ton had him stabbing his hidden blade into the attacker in front of him.
Huh, so the afterlife was Italian as well.
I a little too afraid to ask but here it goes, can I request a fic where the bois spend some time in Wild's era hot springs in death mountain? Like all of them just get a deserved care day, chatting and enjoying the warmth and the view of the hot spring, eat some hot spring cooked eggs. Wild showing how to holding it down to cook, letting the shell in a floating bowl passed between them, maybe attempt to cook something else,i dunno i know is strange and too simple sorry
Sorry it took a while, the past couple months have been pretty busy but this is such a sweet fluffy prompt! I might have strayed a bit from it but hopefully I’ve done it justice.
If there was one piece of common knowledge between nearly every hero, it was Death Mountain.
Firstly, it was a giant molten rock spilling volcano and that was pretty hard to fucking miss if it even existed in that era.
Secondly, it tended to be the home of the gorons and they have been a consistent ally through the ages.
Thirdly, some sort of dungeon boss monster always ended up calling the heart of the mountain its home so a hero’s adventure will eventually drag them there.
Finally fourthly, if it wasn’t an extremely dangerous monster, then some important item was hidden inside its caverns which was needed to progress on their journey.
So when Wild said a day of rest and relaxation awaited them on Death Mountain the moment they arrived in his era, Four and every other hero were skeptical (not surprised though - this was Wild after all).
Said local hero skipped at the head of the ground, unnervingly jolly with his arms locked with Hyrule who, despite being Wild’s partner in crime, looked rather apprehensive about running head first to a place that literally had death in its name - as he should be.
“If his idea of ‘relaxing’ involves surfing down an active volcano, I’m tossing him into the fucking lava,” Legend grumbled and part of Four would happily help him in that case.
“What, the heat a little too much for you?” Warriors teased, leaning his elbow over Legend’s head.
“Oh fuck you,” Legend said, swatting the arm away. “You’re getting tossed in straight after him.”
Sky and Wind, being the only two heroes lacking the iconic volcano in their era, were excitedly chatting away as if the name 'Death Mountain’ didn’t already give them a hint of what to expect.
“The gorons of my era live in a desert,” Sky said, “though they always complain about it being too cold for them, especially with the dramatic temperature drop at night. I’m glad that they’ll find a more hospitable place in the future.”
Yeah, if 'hospitable’ included the threat of being roasted alive.
“The gorons back home have great stories about their home before the Great Flood.” Wind said excitedly. “They said that it used to explode - do you think we’ll get a chance to see that?”
No, we absolutely do not want to be anywhere near here if that happens.
From the corner of his eye, Four saw a (smartass, sly, odd, annoying) smirk on Twilight’s face.
'He seems very calm considering this is likely Wild’s mischief.’
'That bitch fucking knows something and is being all high and mighty about it!’
'So that means there’s nothing to worry about, right?’
'He’s Wild’s mentor for a reason so best to be cautious.’
Time seemed to share all of Four’s opinions. “You seem rather approving of this expedition.”
“Let’s say that this era’s Death Mountain has something extra unique about it.” Twilight said and Four could hear the fucking smirk grow wider in his voice. “It will definitely be worth the detour.”
“If you say so,” Time said with well deserved scepticism.
If things did end going pear-shaped, then Four was also kicking the mangy mutt into the caldera right after the captain.
As they continued to follow Wild to what was likely trouble hotter than goron spice, several things caught Four’s attention.
Firstly, the mountain’s incline wasn’t as steep as it was in other eras.
Secondly, the road was wide and well-worn, which indicated a lot of travel.
Thirdly, there hadn’t encountered any monsters despite Death Mountain being known for hosting all sorts of dangerous creatures.
Finally fourthly, there were road makers along the side of the path like this was a tourist destination or something.
If only Four could read this era’s script, then he would know what Wild was trying to keep them in suspense for.
The reveal comes another metre or so up when Wild led them off the beaten track as the mountain plateaued. White transparent steam that smelt too clean to be from lava filled Four’s nose as a series of natural pools came into view. The water was clearer than any lake that Four had seen before and the steam filled the atmosphere like an outdoor bathhouse spa.
“You dragged us all the way up here for a swim?” Legend said incredulously.
"Not a swim, a soak.“ Wild corrected, already stripping down. "Nothing’s better for weary bones than a trip to the kingdom-famous Death Mountain hot springs! You’ll never feel more refreshed in your life.”
Before any more questions could be asked, Wind dove into the closest and deepest pool, throwing off his clothes onto some dry rocks with the ease and accuracy of coastal upbringing. Water splashed onto all of them, giving them all taste of the water’s surprising heat.
Wind emerged from the water’s depths a moment later, red faced but with a wide grin. “Shave me belly with a rusty razor, this water is fucking warm. No way is this natural!"
"It one hundred percent is, hero’s guarantee.” Wild said as he slipped into the same pool. “What else do you expect if you put water over a constant heat source.”
“You sure we won’t be boiled alive in there?” Legend asked.
Wild laughed. “Only if you fall asleep in one.” Then his eyes lit up and he reached over for his Slate. “Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I had some authentic hot spring boiled eggs."
"So if it’s hot enough to cook eggs, should we really be jumping in there?” Legend grumbled.
Before he could say any more, Sky began gently pushing him towards the water. “Give him this one for once. Veteran muscles means that they need the unwinding the most, right?"
Legend sighed and smiled. "You and your way with words.” He said as he began to undress.
On the other side of the pool, Twilight was helping Time strip out of his armour.
“A pleasant surprise and a treat for your old man bones, don’t you think?” Twilight said, hooking Time’s pauldrons over some overhanging rock.
“One of the better ones, yes,” Time said, unclasping his greaves. “Maybe it will work enough magic so I can keep up with you boys.”
Twilight gave him a playful pat on the back. “Don’t say that like you didn’t sneak frogs into the captain’s bedroll last night in this clanking armour of yours.”
Time gave a fake gasp. “How dare you accuse me of such a crime.”
Four bit back a chuckle and turned to Warriors to see if he had overheard that exchange. However, the captain was nowhere near the water. He scanned the overhanging cliffs ('maybe he wants to pull a prank?’) then the other pools ('he’s always been one to value his privacy’) and even the depths of the current ones ('he can be sneaky if he wants’) but Four finally found him the farthest away from the water, seated on a rock where the hot springs split off from the main path, eyeing the area like he was on watch ('Oh. This again.’)
Four approached him slowly and casually from the front ('You know how jumpy he gets’ 'Yeah, don’t want to get almost stabbed a second time’) and made a small nod of acknowledgement when he caught Warriors’ attention.
“Scared the heat is going to shrink you even more?” Warriors grinned, but still oddly ('or not so oddly’) subdued compared to his usual banter.
“Ha! As much as you’re afraid of pruning ruining your 'spotless complexion’.” Four said, leaning against the closest cliff wall. It was still warm but not as burning hot as he knew some of the rocks of Death Mountain could be.
“I’ve got to take care of my greatest asset.” Warriors said with a wink but then he leans forward on the hilt of his drawn sword. “You join the others. I haven’t been to a natural hot spring before but I know how much a good hot bath can cool a constantly active mind."
"We’re all chilled out up here,” Four said, playfully knocking his forehead. “But thanks for the concern. You should take your own advice too. Constant vigilance is going to make you go grey sooner.”
Warriors laughed. “Just being here makes me grey. I need that vigilance when that little shit is here with three more brats who take direct inspiration from him.”
It was during these rare moments that Four got a glimpse of what laid beneath the Warriors’ mask. Time might be their old man and Legend was the most experienced by sheer quantity of adventures but there was something older and wiser that the captain rarely let anyone be privy to.
Warriors’ gaze drifted towards the springs and Four followed. All the heroes had congregated to the largest pool. For one, they all lounged around the edge of the spring save for Wind who kicked and dove despite the heat flushing his entire body red ('It’s like he’s part Zora.’ 'Yeah, thought there was something fishy about a flooded Hyrule not having any Zora around.’) For two, Legend was slumped over the side, obviously overheated but refusing to get out of the water as Sky and Twilight fanned him with some giant leaves ('Bet those came from the Slate.’ 'What can’t be found in that fancy brick.’) For three, eggs bobbed in the middle like a bird’s eye view of Wind’s Great Sea ('I don’t want to remember how we fucking know what that looks like.’ 'It wasn’t that-’ 'It was. It absolute fucking was.’) with Wild and Time both inspecting the Slate for what else could be made into a hot spring snack. For finally four, he turned back to Warriors who stared out at the springs with longing.
He wants to join them. Why doesn’t he?
“Mind if one more joins the dry gang?”
Instinctively, both heroes pointed their swords in the direction of the voice, only to find Hyrule - completely dry and fully clothed.
'Fuck! He knows better than to sneak up on anyone.’
'I knew the headcount was coming up short.’
'Would have thought Wild had thrown him in there first.’
'It’s impressive that he managed to get away at all.’
With the blades lowered, Hyrule sat down cross legged on the floor between them, angled to join the conversation but not with his back exposed to the main road. Casual but cautious, as expected of their traveller.
“Hot springs not your thing?” Warriors asked. “Or is it just a water thing? You weren’t too keen on jumping into the Great Sea either.”
“I could say the same for you.” Hyrule turned to Four with a smirk. “I could understand why you wouldn’t want to get into the water though.”
“Fuck you. If that stupid bird hadn’t caught me off guard-” but the others quickly pulled Blue back into line to be Four again. He coughed. “It’s a more enclosed space here and Wild would have warned us about giant kidnapping monsters in his era. I would have joined but someone has to keep the captain company when he decides to brood.” He playfully nodded towards Warriors and he gave a slight grin back.
“…It’s the vulnerability, isn’t it?” Hyrule said suddenly, catching the other two heroes off guard. “Stripping down means you can’t carry any weapons without questions being asked and there’s nowhere to hide them. Then monsters have no honour, one well placed strike when your guard is down is all it takes…then your blood is theirs for the taking…”
'Hyrule really has courage in spades.’
'Doubt we could ever do that.’
'We shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone has their issues but to be so open with them…’
'That’s true courage.’
Warriors had his head bowed, bangs falling over his eyes to completely obscure his face. Four knows the two of them have their own bond but Hyrule must had hit it right on the nail-
“Well that’s why someone needs to stay on watch.” Warriors raised his head with a genuine cocksure grin. “ To be the eyes and steel when they need to relax. To protect them from threats that might come from the outside…or from within.” Then his eyes fell. “…and if you’re vigilant, you can’t be vulnerable.”
Oh. So that was how it was.
First, Warriors (and Hyrule…and all of them if they were being honest) still didn’t fully comfortable (still didn’t fully trust, feel safe) with the other heroes but-
Second, he still saw their rag tag team as something precious to protect and-
Third, he had to find a way to deal with both without completely breaking the persona he built so-
Fourth, he stood guard. To guard them. To guard against them. (To maybe even stand guard against himself)
So Four leapt up to sit on the closest flat rock - ending up just above Warriors and Hyrule’s eye line.
“Sticking around then, smithy?” Warriors asked with an amused grin.
“The more the merrier isn’t it with this vigilance stuff,” Four said. “And you look less brooding loner with others around.”
Warriors scoffed incredulously. “I let the first one slide but I never brood.”
“Sorry cap but your resting bitch face is worse than the old man’s.” Hyrule smirked.
“Betrayal!” Warriors dramatically exclaimed, flopping backwards with the back of his hand to his forehead but there was no hiding the small smile peeking out.
Some time later, Wild approached their look-out trio with a bowl of hot spring boiled eggs.
“Sorr- I mean, thanks for taking first watch.” Wild said, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck. “We’ve already worked out a rotation to relieve you…and there are more private springs close by if ever.”
“You didn’t have to-” Hyrule started.
“I want to.” Wild interrupted. “We all deserve a break and I should have considered that it might look different for some people."
"This place is definitely worth showing off,” Four said.
“And a good warm soak always makes an impromptu watch worth it.” Warriors added.
Wild grinned. “Don’t think it ends just with the springs. I’ve got a few recipes from Kakariko that would be perfect for when we’re all dry like shabu shabu-”
“Who told you about shabu shabu?!” Warriors exclaimed alarmed.
“The hot pot kind, not the other kind.” Wild quickly corrected. Then his eyes narrowed. “Though how do you even know about the other one.”
Warriors glared back. “I could say the same with a greenie like you.”
“Greenie?! I technically outrank you!"
There were four things Four could say but one thing was certain: even though they weren’t there yet, Wild’s hot spring detour had brought them all a little closer.
Rehydrated Maz Koshia and made him HW!Impa’s goofy older brother
Hi. Not dead. Have pretty picture.
A/N: I…was not expecting for this to blow up the way it did. The response has been overwhelming, thank you. I don’t have any solid plans for this so we’ll see where this goes.
Wild would never admit it, but part of him is disappointed that he didn’t get more memories back.
Memories didn’t matter in the beginning. Staying alive was more important than who he was before the shrine. Two voices guided him back then. One loud and desperate, so deafening that it forced him to freeze whenever it called out, so distressed that he was compelled to help even if he had no idea who it was.
“You are the light - our light - that must shine upon Hyrule once again.”
He learned that was the princess he had sworn to protect, that in another life he had died for, that in this life was his friend and companion in exploring the wild frontier of the former kingdom.
The other was quiet, soft and distant like a memory forgotten long before the Calamity. It wrapped around like a scarf (Why a scarf and not a blanket or even a coat?), warm and comforting. It was a phantom touch that guided him through battle and congratulated him after every victory.
“Ang galing-galing ng anak ko!”
He still has no clue who that is. The voice didn’t even speak in Hylian or even Sheikah - or at least, not the Sheikah they spoke in Kakariko. The one time he tried to, Dorian had immediately hushed him and warned him never to speak it again while within the village. Besides, the voice didn’t sound like a native speaker - like the few Hylian traders who tried picking up Sheikah.
Purah suggested that it was his father and even had a few videos salvaged from the slate but the captain of the royal guard, serious and stern with a harsh voice that always demanded and never asked, can’t be the voice. He didn’t say anything, of course, but he didn’t have to.
“We’ll find a way to get the rest of your memories back.” Purah said. “It’s the least we can do for all you’ve done.”
But as he stared down at the photo she printed for him, of a picture perfect Hylian family with a homely mother, a soldier husband and two children, he felt nothing. Not even going to the house in the photo, which ironically is his Hateno home, sparked the slightest recognition when even less had sent him spiralling into the past.
He doesn’t think there’s a mystery or conspiracy, only that something is missing. Something that was lost for too long that he needs help to find again.
It’s a warm summer night, the evening breeze cools the house from an open door. A gentle tune fills the air, an ascending melody played by mechanical beeps and gentle toots.
It’s one of the few nights that he has both of them here.
He’s snuggled in a blue scarf, proudly won in a game of tug-o-war, and he leans against a warm body, all firm lean muscle except for a soft bump in her tummy, but what he’s more mystified by is the curtain white that falls just within his tiny reach.
“Ang haba po ng hair mo, Nai!” He says.
Nai laughs. “Mas mahaba ng hair ng daddy mo noong una kaming nagkita."
He turns swiftly to Daddy, half his face obscured by his bangs and the other covered by a thick beard but with hair that barely reached his neck.
"Bullshit!” He declares.
The music abruptly stops.
The ocarina drops from Daddy’s hands and his wide-eyed shock and horror gives away that he knows he’s in trouble with Nai.
Wild startles himself awake, fished out of the pool of long lost memories. The campfire had died down to a handful of smoldering embers, just barely providing enough light to outline the sleeping forms of the other heroes. Oh right, he was supposed to be on watch.
A blanket, wait no - a scarf, is draped over his shoulders and that same song from his dream still plays. Warriors sits on the opposite side of the fire, still playing away.
“Where did you learn that song?” He asks, pulling the scarf closer around him. If Warriors gave it to him, then he wouldn’t mind if he held onto it for a bit longer.
The music stops. “Time did, many years ago. I used to play it a lot for y- my son.” Warriors bows his head, turning the ocarina around in his hands. “Go back to sleep. Our shift is nearly over and Time wakes up for his like clockwork.” But there’s a melancholy that coats his words.
Wild stands up and moves to sit next to Warriors. “We’ll find him.” He says, wrapping the scarf around Warriors’ neck. “Hateno’s only a couple hours away. We can even wake the others up earlier. They won’t mind.”
“Yeah…” Warriors says, sounding resigned instead of hopeful.
“What’s wrong?” Wild asks, punching Warriors’ shoulder. “Don’t tell me you caught Twi’s cynicism.” But the knowledge that they might be too late for the kid weighs heavily on his mind.
“I know we’ll find him, alive and well. That tiny guardian is a hard egg to crack and…and I have to hold onto that hope.” but then Warriors sighs. “It’s just…”
“What do I say to him?” Warriors looks up at the sky. “I know blaming myself for what happened will get us nowhere but who knows what sort of dangers he faced…all alone, in some foreign world…I promised that I would do everything to protect him, to make sure he never had to face all the bullshit I had to…but now…” he turns to Wild, eyes dulled with desperation and sorrow. “ What can I say after so long?”
Wild pulls him into a hug. Warriors stiffens under him so he hugs tighter. “It’s simple. Just say ‘I love you’ then worry about everything else later."
He feels Warriors pull him into a deeper embrace. "M- thanks Wild.”
It feels warm in Warriors’ arms, a nostalgic safety that pulls him back into the realm of sleep. He tries to stay awake, he didn’t need to make things weird by accidentally falling asleep while trying to comfort his fellow hero, but Warriors starts humming that song again and rubbing gentle circles into his back. It’s a futile battle.
“Sleep now, you’ve done so much.”
He feels another memory overtake him. It’s brief. A blanket being tucked around him and a gentle kiss on his forehead. “Mahal kita, anak.”
“You didn’t tell him.”
Warriors sighs. He tries to stand up but he feels a familiar tug on his scarf. T- Wild, he’s Wild now, tightly grips fabric in his not so little hands. He was warned that children grew up fast but he’s pretty sure that they didn’t mean like this. He unwinds his scarf and Wild turns on his side, hugging it close. At least that hasn’t changed.
After retucking the blankets, Warriors stands to face the other heroes. Objectively he knows that Time is intimidating, a scarred scowling face with a full suit of armour and a giant sword is sure to get a flinch out of the most hardened of soldiers, but it’s impossible to see him that way after knowing him as troublemaking child that can easily be bribed with sweets. Twilight isn’t much better, his attempt to mimic his mentor’s scowl only made him look more like a puppy or maybe war and fatherhood highlighted to Warriors the more childish aspects of his companions.
“We’ve been putting you two on the same shifts for a reason.” Twilight says. “Wild’s going to notice eventually and when he does, he’s going to be asking why.”
Warriors chuckles softly. Why had always been his little boy’s favourite question. Just a few short weeks ago, he had been carrying him in his arms with his every statement being met with a “Bakit po yan?”
Wild is too big for that now. Maybe Warriors could still carry him if his claims of only being eight apples heavy were true (and didn’t that give him a heart attack - was Wild not eating enough? Did something happen on his adventure?) but he doubts a teenager, a young man for all respects, would appreciate that. (It was only five weeks, not even two months and he missed out on his son’s entire life.)
“It’s…not the right time.” Warriors says, biting back the true “it’s too late”. He hesitated and his son paid the price. This is a fitting punishment.
“Right.” Time says and Warriors immediately recognises that ‘grown-ups are stupid’ tone. “Just like it isn’t the right time to tell Twilight you met Midna?”
“You met Midna?!” Twilight splutters. “What? When? How?”
Warriors scowls, that’s a can of worms he was planning to deal with later. “That was uncalled for, little shit.”
But Time’s frown remains firm without even a glint of mischief in his eye. “He’s going to find out one way or another - you don’t get to control that. What you can control is whether he finds out on your terms or someone else’s.”
“Don’t what?” Time snaps. “Where’s the captain who reclaimed Hyrule Castle from the Demon King? What happened to the man who fought back against the Guardian of Time herself? You are a Hero of Courage. Stop being such a coward.”
Warriors winces. That was harsh but more sensible than he cares to admit. “You take too much after the general.”
Time gives a tired smile. “She is your better half. Just tell him. The rest of us will help deal with the fallout. After all he has been through, he deserves to know that he still has a family.”
Wild turns in his sleep, his scarred side facing Warriors. He’s a grown man now, a hero in his own right, but all Warriors can see is the little boy who would stealthily sneak into his parents’ bed in the middle of the night, who made him turn grey with his spontaneous games of hide-and-go-spook, who has a heart bigger than the entire kingdom and deserves better than what Fate dealt to him. Warriors sees the challenges he has overcome and the trauma he still faces and wants to wrap him in his arms and tell him that everything is going to be okay, that he did an amazing job and has earnt his hard-won peace and so much more.
Warriors wants his son back.
“I’ll tell him in the morning.” And hopefully, he hasn’t lost his chance.
Link is fine. He is perfectly fine. Tip top soldier shape.
He’s not stressed. Well, maybe a little bit - but who wouldn’t? Maybe he shouldn’t have charged into battle when he was only a trainee but he didn’t join the army to run in the face of danger! Who did that anyway? (A lot of the army as he now knows - if he was stressed, which he definitely wasn’t, all the fleeing instead of fighting would have doubled his stress) And sure, diving between the general and a fire-breathing dragon knight wasn’t his brightest moment but you couldn’t blame him for having an impulsive moment of heroism (he could have died there, oh fuck, he could have been crispy Link charcoal). The actual honest to Farore Triforce of Courage was absolutely not expected but he’s honoured to have been divinely chosen and that in no way added to his non-existent stress (he’s the hero, the damned goddess fucking hero. He isn’t qualified. He isn’t prepared. He literally joined the army last week! Why the fuck did the goddesses think he was the perfect choice for their glowy triangle? And he’s not only the hero now but a captain too?? He can barely manage a flock of cuccos yet now he’s expected to lead several battalions of men who outstrip him in skill and experience?) And the princess disappearing didn’t add to his stress (is she kidnapped? Dead?? Princesses always get kidnapped in stories but the hero is there to rescue her - except he’s the fucking hero and he is not at all stressed by knowing the safety of the princess regent is on his shoulders) and neither did the little kid they found isn’t making his tear his hair out because he’s more competent than every soldier in the army combined and he’s a tiny child on the goddess damned battlefield oh fuck fuck fuck fuck-
He stands to attention and salutes. General Impa, however, looks completely unimpressed.
He shoves the magic rod even further behind him. Proxi, the traitor, is hovering by the general’s shoulder instead of being close enough to be his voice.
He gives a charming smile. Well, it isn’t that charming when all of Faron Woods is burning behind him.
Lana gives an exasperated sigh. “Maybe you should find something to help destress.”
He is not-
A tree crashes down behind him. Still on fire. Like the rest of the woods.
Okay, maybe he’s a little stressed.
Everyone suggests he gets a hobby. He protests that he has tons of hobbies but they tell him to pick up a new one that doesn’t involve training, scouting, sparring, battle tactics, weapon maintenance and above all no tinkering with the old artifacts we found on the battlefield, dear goddesses Link are you trying to blow up camp?!
He pouts. That’s too many restrictions but General Impa threatened to give him service leave if he doesn’t find something new to do, even though he’s the hero and none of the soldiers can hold their own against a stalkid let alone hold a keep and he’s the fastest when it comes to SOS responses that seem to happen every five seconds on the battlefield-
…maybe he does need a hobby.
But what exactly? There isn’t much to do in the middle of a war once everyone war-related is taken out of the equation. Reading was his favourite pastime before the war but he’s read the few books he has so thoroughly that they’re falling apart at the seams and new ones take more rupees and effort than they’re worth to find. Writing is also out of the question - that paper and ink is better off going towards reports and letters for those who still have family to write to.
He observes his fellow soldiers from afar in hopes of some inspiration…and finds nothing. Smoking always left a nasty aftertaste in his mouth that he never got used to - besides, he always trades the officer cigars in his rations for extra soap or sugar. Alcohol is the same and it also dulls his senses more than he can afford to. Cards and dice look fun but that requires socialising with the other soldiers, laughing and joking and all those other things that plunges another knife into his back when they inevitably die or turn traitor.
He returns to his tent with a sigh after a wasted day of people watching. He had worn his trainee tunic and without the bright greens and blues of the hero tunic, no one spared him a second glance. Some passing soldiers had even sniggered he looked so green that he would be dead by the end of the week. There really isn’t anything remarkable about him once his combat ability and hero status is taken out of the picture.
Said hero tunic isn’t neatly folded on his cot like he had left it. Instead, it became part of the cloth cocoon in the middle of it with a tiny child in the center who has no right being on the battlefield but is too stubborn and effective to keep off it. Who also looks cuter than he has any right to be swaddled like a baby for all the murder he’s capable of.
Link sits down on the cot by Young Link’s feet, the mattress being so tough that it doesn’t even sink or bend under him - and this is an officer’s cot, he can’t imagine the rocks the soldiers have to call bedding. He has a lot of privileges from being skyrocketed to a captain - a large tent to himself, extra rations, first pick whenever they have access to hot water - but that’s not enough for a child. The night chill barely bothers him but Young Link shivers under the many layers of his cloth cocoon. They aren’t far north enough for it to be snowing but winter is only going to get colder - definitely too cold for a boy who runs around in short sleeves and without pants. He wraps the blanket, the outermost layer of the cocoon, tighter around the sleeping boy and he snuggles deeper into his scarf which lies at the innermost.
Maybe there is a hobby he could pick up. There’s a small town an hour’s walk from camp which hopefully has an old lady with the time and patience to teach him how to knit.
Goddess bless little old ladies. Not only did the town have a knitting club, or more precisely a grandma gossip club, that met in the local tavern every night, they enthusiastically took him under their wing and crammed as much knowledge into his brain as they could in one night. His cheeks still ache from all pinching and it was unnerving how casually they were about admitting to murdering their former abusive husbands and fathers (maybe a granny brigade might be the most reliable unit in the army) but he returned to camp with enough yarn to clothe the whole army and a warning to never buy yarn from Herba. “It looks pretty and is local, dearie, but that yarn is a fucking lie. I lost two sets of good needles to stringy shit.”
There’s a surprising amount of nothing between life-or-death battles for the fate of the kingdom but it gives Link the time he needs to practise his knitting. More once he’s mastered the ability to knit while marching or riding. Sometimes odd looks and snickers get thrown his way but he didn’t care about them before and he certainly didn’t now when he needed to keep his stitches right and straight.
Young Link steals little glances with thinly veiled curiosity. It’s adorable catching him staring, utterly mesmerized by the clicking of his needles, only to quickly turn away the moment he gets caught. Link humours him, holding the little knitted fabric against the boy with contemplative hmmms before returning to work. It becomes a little game: the kid inches closer, silent as a Sheikah, while Link knits away but when he looks up, Young Link innocently pretends to be doing something else. Eventually, Link feels a tiny chin resting on his shoulder and arms wrap around his neck as Young Link settles into his favourite perch (though he would prefer it if the brat didn’t do it while they were walking because feet squeezing against his ribs hurt).
Knitting is surprisingly relaxing. He avoided small repetitive tasks because he thought they would be boring and tiresome but anything can become boring after a certain amount of repetition and predictability. Look at war. Monster slaying felt like cutting grass and rescuing captains felt more like a chore than assisting allies. He now understands Volga’s constant search for stronger opponents. There might have been a lot more than a slightly charred forest if the (not-stress, he was absolutely not stressed) had gotten to him.
Knitting was a little fragment of peace plucked from his short past before the war. Of quiet moments where he could just exist in the now without worrying about whether he’ll still have tomorrow to live. Of being productive without further staining his hands a bloodier red. Just letting his mind go blank as his hands mechanically followed muscle memory.
“So you done yet?” a little voice pipes behind him.
It takes all of Link’s self-control not to stab the brat in the gut with a knitting needle. “One day, doing that is going to land you in the healer’s tent.”
“Someone’s got to actually land a hit first.” Young Link plops himself next to Link on the cot. “So is it done?”
“You’re awfully excited.” Link smirks, tying off the last tassel. “It’s as if you think this is for you.”
“Who else would it be for?”
“It could be for Epona.”
“If you’re trying to choke her maybe.”
“Or it could be for Proxi.”
“Something that big. For a fairy.”
“Fairies can get pretty big. She can grow into it.”
Young Link pouts and Link has to resist the urge to pinch those puffed cheeks lest he lose a finger. Instead he laughs and wraps the completed scarf around the kid’s neck. It’s thicker than his own scarf, being made out of wool rather than cotton and he didn’t have the skill to replicate the embroidery but it’s good honest work.
Immediately, his scowl fades and he snuggles into it with a content sigh. “It’s warm, and not as stinky.”
“Keep it away from monster guts and it’ll stay that way.” But part of Link knows that it won’t stay clean for long. He would be surprised if it lasts longer than a month given that he doesn’t know any of the enchantments that kept his own scarf in one piece throughout the war.
“I’ll take good care of it, better than you do for your scarf!” Then suddenly, Young Link hugs him. “Thank you.” he says softly.
“You’re welcome, kid.” He smiles gently while returning the hug. “At least there’s something to keep you warm since you refuse to wear pants.”
Then the brat knees him in the gut.
“You little shit.” Link gasps, doubling over.
Young Link hops off the bed and blows a raspberry then saunters out of the tent without looking back.
“Brat,” he mutters, straightening as the pain ebbs away.
At the very least Young Link will be distracted for the next couple weeks showing off his new scarf.
From his knitting bag, Link pulls out another knitting project - a red cloak that he hopes to get done before they head too far up north. At least with this, he can ensure that pantsless brat won’t be catching a cold.
While in Wild's Hyrule, as Wild is off getting beds at a stable, the gang notices someone glancing contemplatively in their direction. Eventually, the person approaches the group and asks a question. "This is probably a really weird question, but... Are you Link's dad?" They ask, not at Time, but Warriors.
While in Wild's Hyrule, as Wild is off getting beds at a stable, the gang notices someone glancing contemplatively in their direction. Eventually, the person approaches the group and asks a question. "This is probably a really weird question, but... Are you Link's dad?" They ask, not at Time, but Warriors.
Why Warriors decided to become a postman. A prequel to Down to the Letter.
In another timeline, Courage does not choose him. He hears the yells and shouts of his parents and buries himself deeper in the tales of legendary heroes to escape reality. He simply accepts that his mother ‘dies of plague’ several months later despite her being the picture of perfect health. He resigns himself to being the useless second son, belittled by his father, ignored by his brother and used by his aunt as a replacement for the children she lost. He moves to Castletown, into the thick of noble politics and bigotry where a soft spoken little boy with a love of books and flowers is completely drowned out and overtaken by a snooty uncaring noble just as callous as the next. He finds his only solace in chasing the ideal of a girl who never existed, clinging to the image even as it drives away his only true friend.
This is not that timeline.
He hears the row echoing through the manor but instead of continuing his willful ignorance, that little boy creeps out of his room, down lonely halls where no one would spare a second son a second glance. More than once, he thinks about turning back but a warm tingle in his left hand urges him to push forward.
The night air chills his bones through his thin night clothes but he continues to the manor gardens. A woman with hair as red as roses and eyes as green as grass, traits that he didn’t inherit but his brother did, is crying. She gives no concern about propriety, weeping into her hands as the flowers around her bow their heads in condolence.
He can’t crack his father’s heart of stone and have love flow into their loveless marriage. He can’t speak up when his father has little patience for disobedience and even less for his second son. What he can do is hug his mother’s leg, still so small that he can barely reach her knee but providing a simple comfort that blankets her.
“I love you, mama.” He says, hugging her leg tightly like a shackle to the noble life she never wanted. “Father is mean but I love you. I’ll always love you.”
She hesitantly runs her hand through his strawberry blond hair and he leans into her touch. His brother complains about their mother’s rough peasant hands, still bearing the marks of a simpler life, but he loves the gentle texture that reminds him of soft dirt and smooth bark.
He looks up at her through wide-rimmed spectacles, magnifying eyes as blue as his father’s but with none of his cruelty. She remembers when her second son was born, a spitting image of his father that she expected to grow up to be just as heartless. How wrong she was to condemn her sweet boy so soon.
“I love you, mama…but I know you can’t stay with father.” He has seen this all play out in his storybooks. When the mean husband becomes too much, the wife disappears. Everyone has their limits and he knows mama is reaching hers. “It…” he chokes back a sob. This is where he has to be brave for mama. “It’s ok. You - you can go…”
There is kindness in those deep blues along with an awareness that no child should be forced to have. “Oh, Link…” She picks up her boy and hugs him close.
She can’t take him with her. Her Lord husband demanded an heir and a spare even though her sweet little boy deserves more than to be treated as a spare.
He buries his little nose in her neck, taking in her sweet floral scent that no perfume could replicate. “I can read, mama.”
She chuckles softly. “That you can.”
“Write to me please?” He asks, hugging her tightly.
It’s such a small humble request that she would never find the heart to turn down. “Of course, my little forest.” She says, pressing a small kiss to his forehead.
And so time splits.
To be a postman is to have the most thankless job under the sun. There are many examples such as running from one side of the kingdom to another for a delivery only to find out that the recipient has moved to another damned town, having your feet so sore that blisters have formed, popped then formed again but still having a full quota to fill the next day because the office is understaffed or Elias’s current predicament, being chased through a noble’s hunting grounds by their spoiled heir’s pet wolves for the crime of trying to deliver a fucking letter.
“I’m getting too damn old for this,” he mutters.
The chase has barely put a dent in his endless stamina and he could probably outlast the wolves without even breaking a sweat. However, that would put him so behind in schedule that he would be playing catch up until his legs gave way. He was already two minutes and 23 seconds behind and for a postman, that is completely unacceptable.
Then there is a whizz from above followed by a sharp tha-whack and a pathetic canine whine. Two more shots follow in rapid succession, both hitting their targets with a pair of satisfying thwacks and a thump as one wolf is knocked unconscious. The rest whimper and turn tail, running back to their master.
Elias sighs in relief, thankful for the reprieve. “Your aim’s gotten better, boy.” He calls out.
There’s a childish giggle from above.“Gatty’s stupid wolves had it coming for peeing on my plants.”
The leaves rustle before a boy drops down in front of him. His clothes, rich and fancy by objective standards but for a member of the wealthiest family in the kingdom are plain and poorly-fitted, are carefully free of any dirt and leaves despite the boy just being in a tree. The postman hat, though, is new.
“Bribed some newbie to sell you his uniform, eh?” Elias chuckles.
“Nuh-uh, I made this all by myself…with a tinsy-tiny bit of Auntie Doll’s help. It’s just like a real postman hat!” And being the perfectly to scale replica that it is, the rim slips off its perch on his thick glasses and engulfs half the boy’s face. “Gah!"
Elias laughs again and pulls the hat up. "Maybe you should have asked your Auntie to fit it to your egg head.”
The boy holds the hat up with hands on either side. “I’ll grow into it. One day, I’ll be a postman just like you!"
That pure adoration forces his smile just a bit wider. Highborn brats always fixate on the oddest of things. Their naivety and position of privilege make the most mundane things seem magical and Elias has learned to enjoy that innocence before the noble stick of snobbery gets shoved up their ass.
"That reminds me…”
Elias pulls a letter out of his messenger bag and the boy’s eyes light up. It’s cheap pulp paper without a stamp, address or even a name. Standard procedure would have it thrown out as junk or a prank, a letter without an address is undeliverable after all, but on the request of the friend of a cousin of someone Elias owed money to, he found himself taking a detour on his busy route every fortnight to deliver these letters scrawled with 'My dear little forest’.
“You can chitter and chetter but don’t forget the letter,” the boy recites as he greedily snatches the letter out of Elias’s hand. He has no clue where the boy learned the postal office’s many slogans but now isn’t the time, as he hugs the letter to his chest, a poor substitute for whoever is on the other side, before opening it.
The boy reads slowly, savoring every word like a high-class meal for the eyes. Elias’s smile tightens. In the several months of making these extra deliveries, it’s clear that the boy isn’t loved in his household. There’s no yelling or beating, that would be too unbecoming of any noble family, but he never forgot how the lord’s neutral smile twisted into open disdain the moment he mentioned his second son or the teenager who was so intent on ruining any sliver of joy for his little brother that he has made increasing elaborate attempts to keep the postman away. Most damning of all is that first delivery where Elias found a downtrodden boy staring down a torn storybook and a trampled garden bed with a resignation no child should have. It’s none of his business who has been sending unmarked letters to the youngest son of an ex-general and most powerful noble second only to the crown. It can be the fucking demon king for all he cares but for the happiness it brings this little boy, then Elias will gladly run the breath of the kingdom and behind schedule for these deliveries.
The boy’s smile as he finishes reading could put the sun to shame. “Do you have time for me to reply?"
Elias is 10 minutes and 17 seconds behind schedule with his next delivery being two provinces over, not to mention the shitload he has to make before sunset. "It’s a slow day kid. Take your time.”
The downside of the best way of sending information being a running man in obscenely short shorts is that news travels slowly. Even if it was sent on horseback, something that the postal office’s miniscule budget could never cover, then it is expected to be a week out of date.
It is exactly three hours, 43 minutes and nine seconds after sunrise or 15 days, two hours, 57 minutes and 36 seconds since his last delivery for the boy, when Elias arrives at the manor.
The brother is waiting for him, arms crossed with a deep scowl and a wolf by his side. Elias learned long ago not to pull the letters out of his bag until the recipient is right in front of him, a lesson many newbies learnt the hard way by the letter being blown out of their hands or soaked by rain as they pull it out the closer they get to their destination. Had the letter been out, he would have lost it to the wolf’s jaws and likely his hand as well.
“Didn’t you hear?” The brat says haughtily. “ That little shit 'died of plague’.”
“Plague.” Elias repeats incredulously. This isn’t early Hyrule. Plague isn’t the harbinger of death that it used to be, especially to nobility with full access to the latest medical advancements.
“Yes, plague.” The brat spits. “Now leave before I have you arrested for trespass."
Elias doesn’t put up a fight but he does hear the brat mutter "good riddance” the moment his back is turned.
Either the boy actually caught plague and died from neglect or his family is trying to cover up an unsightly disappearance. Either way, wherever the boy is now is leagues better than this shithole.
Link is as common as names get. Blame it on Hyrule’s long history of heroes who all coincidentally shared the same name and the numerous uncreative parents who decide that it’s the perfect one for their newborn son.
The Triforce, if it even existed, only appeared once every millennia but the name Link is so tied to Courage that even bearing the name imparts a bit of its power. It’s the ambition to aim higher, the drive to keep striving, the hope for something better. That is why, for all the Links in Hyrule, there has never been one at the dead-end job of being a postman.
The name Link looks fake on the documents, he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just an alias for their newest recruit, one who waltzed in head high like he had finally achieved some long desired dream.
Elias peeked over his glasses to the young man who wore none. His clothes are simple and weathered but there’s not a speck of dust on them despite how far he claimed to have travelled. The postman hat fits perfectly on his head despite no one having given him a uniform yet. He really did grow into it.
“So what would make you a good postman?” Elias asks despite the papers already being stamped.
The young man smirks and tips his hat. “I’m pretty good at running.”
It starts with a bard visiting a small village.
Bards are entertainers, their job is to amuse. In towns and cities, they find their place in theatres and street corners and central squares where they are free to indulge in their craft all day with the chance that someone passing by might spare them a coin for them to eat and live and to perform another day.
They have no place in rural villages, not a permanent one. A bard is welcomed during feast days, where their skill in the arts takes centre stage and they have all the glory of kings. But a bard does not weave nor not bake, does not till fields nor forge steel. They are not productive in the way rural life demands. They are nothing more than an extra mouth to feed that does not contribute to the community’s survival.
Worse, they are a foreign face. Should even the slightest bit of misfortune befall the village, it is the bard - the stranger, the outsider - who takes the blame. They must flee lest a more terrible fate befall them at the hands of the enraged villagers.
In the countryside, a bard is a passing wind - sweeping into a village for a couple days and entertaining the children with their stories and songs before blowing away. They leave behind fleeting memories to be forgotten in the monotonous working days. Sometimes, they leave behind something more permanent - in those case, the bard deserves whatever the village has planned.
A bard visits a village and he expects it to be like any other. During the evening, he plays songs at the local inn to earn his bed and board. During the morning, he sits in the village square surrounded by children with wary parents watching from the distance.
He tells his stories, his collection of tales gathered from years on the road. He tells of the one-feathered bird who coveted the more feathered tails of other birds, of the hare who grew overconfident and a race to a tortoise, of the tricky spider who won the gift of stories from the goddess of secrets herself. To the older ones, he has more exciting tales to tell. A pair of warriors who pretended to be brides to retrieve a stolen hammer. A woman so beautiful that her kidnapping sparked a decades long war. A boy with wings of feathers and wax who flew too close to the sun.
His young audience is thoroughly entertained and the adults have yet to light their pitchforks. He has been a bard for many years and a traveler for twice as long, he knows when he has overstayed his welcome.
But in this particular village, there is a child. Wide-eyed and curious who has tailed the bard since he first started spinning his tales. Were it not for the child’s mother, the bard was sure the child would have been on his tail from sunrise to sunset to sunrise again. He had little followers in the past so he paid the child no mind as he did other children who were enamoured by their village’s visitor.
One late afternoon, the bard’s last day in the village before he left for his next destination, the child still lingers even after all the other children had grown bored and returned home. The child holds scraps of cloth and lumps of charcoal with eyes alight with a boundless curiosity.
The bard smiles at the child while keeping his eyes on the mother afar. “What is it, little listener?”
“Tell me your stories again.” the child says. “I want to write them down so I can remember them forever and ever!”
The bard blinks. This is the first time that he has had such a bold request, the first time that anyone ever wanted to remember him. “A village child knows how to read and write?”
The child shuffles. “No…I don’t know words like the old general - but I can draw pictures! And the pictures will help me remember your stories!”
The bard smiles. “But how will you remember what those pictures mean one or two or three seasons from now?” he asks kindly, not cruelly. “Won’t their meaning be lost?”
“Then I’ll try my best to remember! I don’t ever want to forget!” the child says defiantly.
The bard’s smile widens even further. He has never met someone who showed so much enthusiasm. Maybe this might be another bard in the making and he’ll have a whole village cursing him to the grave. “How about I teach you a way so that you will always have the stories with you - that even if you forget, a single glance will bring everything back word for word.”
“Really mister?!” the child beamed. “Show me! Show me!”
“Well then, first may I know the name of my little pupil?”
“My name is Link!”
“That’s a good name.” A common name. A name that the bard has heard a thousand times before and will hear a thousand times again.
The bard sits back in the village square and pulls out a blank notebook along with a quill and a well of ink. Link stares at them with awe, such materials are as rare as gold in such a small village.
“I know many stories about many different Links.” Old stories, more legendary history than fanciful tales like his others. He doesn’t bother telling them most times but for this little Link, he will commit them to paper and ink. “As a parting gift to my little listener, let me tell you the stories of the legendary heroes…”
The bard didn’t know how different this Link would be from the countless others he had encountered. He wouldn’t know how indulging in their little request would resonate through the streams of time. He would never know how his final stories to the child would forever shape the course of the kingdom’s history.
One sparse lesson isn’t enough to teach an illiterate child how to fluently read and write but Link is completely enthralled by the stories. He commits each of the bard’s words to memory and matches them to the words written down. Every night he reads until the tales of heroes passed become deeply ingrained into his mind.
The rancher hero who transformed into a wolf.
The child hero who stopped an evil king before he betrayed the kingdom.
The smithing hero who had a sword that could split himself into four.
The flying hero who lived in the sky in a time and defeated a god.
They are different from the bard’s shorter stories, yes, but from the moment Link first hears them, they resonate even deeper than those initial tales could ever hope to do.
The bard had left many pages of the notebook blank with a sharp quill and a full inkwell. He had encouraged Link to try writing himself, to practice the letters and words to further cement his newfound skill. The bard had expected for ink to be wasted and the quill to blunt, the remaining pages filled with the mindless scribbles of a bored child - but Link is diligent and dedicated.
From what little words he knew, he crafts a new story to join the leagues of the others. Another heroic Link to grace the pages but for this hero, he gives many adventures.
The hero that Link writes is from a smithing family just like the smithing hero - but he lives with only his uncle who is secretly a knight. Link doesn’t have any uncles but from the other uncles in the village he knows they are jovial and kind and full of more interesting things than mothers and fathers. His hero Link has a dream, just like the child hero, but in his dream the princess calls out for him directly. Then just like the rancher hero, his hero Link gets turned into an animal - but not a wolf though, because wolves are mean. No, his hero Link turns into a bunny because those are fast and fluffy and much friendlier than wolves.
Link writes about his hero until his ink runs dry and his pen goes blunt - but he still has pages to fill. He sharpens lumps of charcoal to a quill like point and continues writing.
Like the flying hero, his hero Link visits foreign lands but they lie across the sea instead of below the clouds. He makes up the lands of Holodrum and Labrynna for his hero Link to explore, much cooler names than The Surface. Then like before, his hero has to fight the evil Ganon - who this time starts and stays as an ugly pig demon because Link found Ganondorf the man boring.
Then, just as his hero Link was about to start his fourth adventure, Link runs out of pages in his notebook. He knows he has to find more.
In a solitary house just outside the main village lives an old man. He may not have as many years as other old people but the military has weathered him down to a man twice his physical age. He is a general but he feels like a cheater - raised up on the bodies of more deserving soldiers to reach the other side of the war.
He is the watchman of the village, not that there is much to watch out for in the middle of nowhere. All he has to do is send a report every month about how much nothing he sees. He is part of the village but not of the village. The villagers don’t bother him and he doesn’t bother them. He’s perfectly fine with this arrangement - really, he is.
But reports mean paper and one day, he catches Link trying to break into his house.
The old general has no tolerance for little children and even less for little thieves.
He holds Link by the scruff of his tunic and like every other foolhardy boy his age, Link isn’t the slightest bit repentant.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t send you home with a beating.” the old general growls.
“Because the hero has to wake the Windfish!” Link cries.
“The what-?” The old general drops the boy at the absurdity of his words.
The boy holds out a notebook, overstuffed and dog eared and absolutely not the sort of thing that should be in possession of a simple village boy.
“Who did you steal that off?” The old general demands while mentally preparing a report for whatever disgruntled noble comes whining about theft.
“It’s mine.” Link insists. “It’s the stories about heroes and I’m adding to them!”
The old general scoffs and snatches the book out of the boy’s hand. This is a tiny village, one so small that it doesn’t even have a name. There’s no way this boy can read, let alone write.
He recognises the first four stories, the Crown’s propaganda tales of heroes and glory used to lure foolish young men to the battlefield. The general doesn’t believe in heroes. If the legends were true, then why didn’t a Link rise up and end the last war as swiftly as he ended the demon king? Many foolhardy men had tried but all failed despite wearing green and being named Link. The hero was nothing but a farce.
But the fifth story caught the old general’s eyes. Thick blocky yet legible letters proclaimed a hero unimaginatively called Link. A hero who struggled through trial after trial, battle after battle. Whose story didn’t end at the defeat of the demon king but continued onward to more struggles and tribulations.
It’s clearly written by a child, riddled with grammatical errors and simple sentences recycled from the previous takes but it has the old general completely enraptured.
He reaches the end and finds himself yearning for more. “The hero has to wake the Windfish.” he finds himself muttering.
And Link, the boy, grins cheekily up at him. “See?”
With a grumble, the old general surrenders the paper. He wonders if he has found himself in a Windfish’s dream as well.
The old general finds an odd companionship in the little village boy named Link. He provides the paper and Link creates the stories. Soon, he discovers that Link is as much an avid reader as he is a writer, devouring every piece of written word he can get his grubby little hands on whether it be trashy romance novels to dull military reports.
It amuses him to no end as the boy shuns sunshine to spend his days with a musty old man and even mustier old books. He finds himself flipping through those old books alongside Link, discovering a joy in even the driest of words with such an enthusiastic companion by his side.
But boys will be boys and of course Link would eventually be drawn to the combat manuals and battle techniques.
“Teach me how to fight like this.” Link says one day, holding open a particularly dense book.
The old general is certain that the complexities completely fly over Link’s head but he decides to humour the boy who has brought some much amusement to his dull life. He expects to spend the day wildly flailing around the sticks that have been deemed their ‘swords’ yet he watches Link carefully correct his stance and move with a clumsy grace as described in the book.
“You actually read it.” The old general says incredulously.
Link huffs. “Of course I read it!”
And the old general can’t help but laugh. He stops treating Link like a child at play but like one of the soldiers he once trained. He desperately hopes that he wouldn’t have to bury Link like one as well.
But as the seasons come and go, so does peace. In far too short of a time, the tides of war return and men are demanded to fill its jaw.
There are always foolhardy youths who blindly waltz into battle for glory and honour but in this village too small to have a name, there is a disproportionate amount and it is all the fault of a young man named Link.
Like the bard had said, the memories of the stories he told had faded from memory but the ones that remained were those that were written down. Link is a productive member of the community, taking up his parents’ craft and contributing to the greater whole, but every evening as the day draws to a close, people crowd the tavern to hear him tell his hero stories.
They are centuries old tales told by many passing bards but Link’s silver tongue breathes a new life into them. They know about the hero who turned into a wolf but what if he was caught in a love triangle between two princesses? They know about the smithing hero that was divided into four but what if a part of him turned traitor? They know about the child hero who foresaw the future but what about his journey afterward? They know about the hero from the skies but what about his devotion to the woman who would become Hyrule’s founder?
Link feeds these tales to the village crowd and they eat it out of the palm of his hand. Punctuated with elegant swordsmanship that rivalled knights from the capital, his stories enrapture his village in a way a travelling bard never could.
Maybe there was a reason that bards are relegated to travellers without a home. A home builds faith and trust and stories gain so much more weight from the mouth of someone familiar.
When the draft comes, every able-bodied young man immediately enlists. Link’s tales of heroes and glory sugar-coated war in a way that the old general could never have imagined.
Link enlists as well because he is as enthralled by the stories he tells as his eager peers. He leads the hoard of young men, nearly half of the small village, on the march towards Castletown. On his lips and in his notebook overflowing with pages is a new story about another hero Link - a humble traveller from nowhere who started with nothing but a wooden shield yet in the end saved the kingdom from the demon king.
It spurs them forward, some to glory, many to death but all towards the disillusionment of war.
It is common to find young men dressed in green named Link at the castle gates claiming to be the next incarnation of the hero. With the tales of the heroes past so widespread and the name Link so popular, it is simply a natural consequence.
The standard procedure for dealing with a Link is to have them join the castle guard. One of them has to be the hero’s spirit reincarnated and after waiting so many years, the best course of action is to keep all possible candidates close. The fact that it places more willing bodies between the royal family and invaders makes it all the more convenient.
Impa thinks nothing of the new Link at the castle gates trying to talk his way in. The two guards are also named Link, a particularly bitter pair that don’t take to any new 'competition’ to the hero title kindly. She is certain that none of those men are truly the goddess’s chosen hero reborn.
She overhears the new Link’s tale, rambling on about the young Hero of Time. Often Links would try to 'strengthen’ their claim by tying themselves to a past hero. Normally it would be the Hero of Twilight or the Hero of the Sky. The Hero of Time is an odd choice.
But it is the twist to the old tale that catches Impa’s ear.
“What if it wasn’t a prophetic dream? What if that hero had come from the future?” the new Link says with a charming smile. “The royal patron Nayru is tied to time - what if the hero was sent back to stop a fate from ever occurring?”
She doesn’t know what led the conversation down that route but it contains a truth that very few knew. The true nature of the Hero of Time’s title is a secret carefully guarded. The knowledge to alter the flow of time itself has deadly consequences if left to roam wild.
For this Link to even suggest it, could it be…?
Impa intervenes and a new Link joins the many dozen of the castle guards. He has the same insufferable arrogance as his peers but she keeps an eye on this particular Link.
A part of her isn’t a bit surprised when the Triforce shines.
Link’s heart swells when he is gifted with green tunic and is named the Hero of Courage. Overnight, a rookie who has barely been there for a week is promoted high above the command of soldiers who had spent their lives training in the castle guard.
With each new warrior that joins the Hyrulean ranks from across the eras, Link’s pride soars as their accounts match with the twists he added to the old tales. It is the small things, little details that would be forgotten over time yet Link is able to recall because he is The Hero. Even the hero he had fabricated turned out to be true. Why else would the songstress of dreams and the cowardly merchant he created for his stories be among the warriors he led if the hero’s spirit didn’t give him a glimpse of another time?
That weathered notebook filled with his stories of heroes is as much proof of his destiny as the mark on his hand.
Then when he obtains the Master Sword, Link knows he is invincible. Like in the stories, like the heroes before him, victory is in reach now that he has the legendary blade in hand. He will be the greatest hero of all time with a tale that will dwarf all his predecessors.
But maybe, that bard should have written down other stories rather than the legends of the heroes in the book he gave that young child.
There is a story about a boy with a coat of many colours whose boasting about his gift of prophecy led to his brothers turning against him. Maybe that would have prepared Link when his men betrayed him on Skyloft.
There is a story of a woman so beautiful that her face started a bloody war. Maybe that would have lessened the blow when Link discovered that the conflict was sparked by Cia’s lust for the hero.
There is a story of a boy with makeshift wings of wax and feathers who, in his hubris, flew too close to the sun and crashed into the sea. Maybe that would have kept Link’s pride in check before it manifested into shadows that overwhelmed him.
Link sits by the fire just barely alive. His body aches but that is nothing compared to the pathetic pool of wax his foolish pride has become.
Had his allies arrived just a moment later, there would have been nothing left to save.
The stories that once filled his head have now wrung him completely dry. The Hero of the Sky would have never let the Master Sword’s power go to his head despite being the one who forged it. The Hero of the Four Sword would have never walked straight into a trap that left him completely vulnerable. The Hero of Twilight would have never lost to mere shadows no matter how numerous they were. The Hero of Time -
The Hero of Time, Young Link, leans against his side. He hugs Link tightly and he can feel the boy trembling through his grip, fearful of him slipping away again. There’s no need for words between them. Link scared him with his recklessness. Link failed him.
Across the fire, Marin and Ravio watch him with worried eyes but now Link knows it’s not him they see. They see their Link, the Hero of Legend who completed adventure after adventure without fail. He is nothing but a poor copy filled with hot air and empty words.
Ganondorf holds both Hyrule Castle and the entire Triforce.
Their numbers have been decimated by both death and turncoats.
All their forces have is a useless hero on a broken pedestal.
What can they do now with the odds stacked against them?
Something falls out of his tunic and into his hands. It’s his notebook, falling apart at the seams and bursting with stories that did nothing but fill him with false hope. He is nothing like the heroes who came before him and he never will be. A part of him wants to hurl that damn book into the flames but his knuckles grip it so tightly that he is completely frozen in place.
Link looks up. The entire camp is huddled around the dying embers. The soldiers waver with weariness, not one of them is another man from his village - those poor inexperienced fools were some of the first to die. Link should have been among them if it weren’t for that damn triangle that he lost. But they still all look at him. They still look up to him.
Useful or not, he is still the only hero they have.
He looks down at his notebook again. He opens his mouth.
The words gush out like a raging waterfall, spinning the tale of a hero of a world that the goddesses had given up on. A hero who wasn’t chosen by fate or destiny but simply wanted to rescue his sister then return to a quiet life. The hero forced the goddesses to pay attention with his sheer willpower and brought Ganondorf down with a single strike.
Link doesn’t know if that hero is real or if he is just nonsense that his desperate mind is spewing. But that doesn’t change the waves of hope and life that run through the camp like a second wind.
If that hero is real, Link hopes that he would live long enough to meet him.
The war comes to an end.
They win - or rather, they didn’t lose.
Ganondorf is once again sealed away and cynically, Link wonders how long it will be until he is once again free. He knows the stories, they are deeply engraved in his mind, heart and soul.
But the stories never say what the hero does after their adventure.
Link can’t return to his home village. He was the one who filled his peers with the stories that lead to their deaths and now not a single one is still alive.
Link can’t become a bard. He is too recognisable, and he lacks the wanderlust to go from village to village without a place to go home.
With no other choice, Link stays in Castletown.
The royal library has no shortage of books and so he indulges in his childhood love. He devours book after book until he needs glasses as thick as his shield to see even a metre in front of him.
Romance, horror, drama.
History, geography, physics.
He doesn’t care about the contents as long as it provides a distraction from his reality.
No one bothers him. He has done his duty. There is no use for him.
But his self-destructive indulgence ends with a stack of blank paper in front of him, a quill in his hand and a well full of ink.
There is no epiphany or grand moment of realisation. Reading has always led to writing, so it is inevitable when he starts filling page after page with his messy scribbles. Even after all these years, his handwriting never improved beyond a child’s scrawl.
He writes hero stories because that’s all he knows how to write - but he pays careful attention to the little things, the small details that make the heroes more human than legend. Only so much can be remembered and the broad strokes of the bard tales focus solely on the grandness of the adventure. He writes about struggle and pain and hubris and folly in hopes that the next hero who reads them won’t fall into the same trap he did.
…Of course, when the other heroes find out, they don’t take too kindly to their lives being serialized as trashy romance novels.