"So," Desmond murmurs mostly to himself while scanning the scenery, and partially to the egg under his palm. "I guess that's a probability for you. Or in this case, for me. Because fuck me, I guess."
He'd thought he'd understood probability, when Clay dumped what was in his head into Desmond's head, giving him that terrible final glimpse of his life and memories and everything he'd seen and learned, like a mental datadump. Also a bit like a great big cosmic fuck you to the Isu probably – here's all the things you don't want Desmond to see, now screw you. Anyway, along with Clay's thoughts and memories had come some of his understanding, and Desmond had been able to piggyback on that, a bit. And he thought he got probability.
In Clay's memories Desmond had seen versions of himself, the ones Isu had considered and which Clay had at the time found more suitable for his task. The Desmonds who grew up as Assassins and never ran away, or the Desmonds who actually amounted to something after they ran away. The Desmond who learned martial arts and became a bouncer maybe? Or maybe the one who met a really smart girl on a bus who got him to fake his ID and go to a community college with her, marry her, eventually have a kid with her?
That, he'd figured, was probability. Small changes that led to different outcomes throughout people's lives. And he'd kind of figured that the whole thing went just one way – branching out towards the future, each option leading to different outcomes, different date – different, but overall still mostly the same alternate universe.
But the past was the same for every one of them, right? After all, why would it change, the past is the past. Right?
Yeah, apparently not.
Desmond hums, and it rumbles deep in his chest like distant thunder, a little unnerving. In the distance the dragons of Florence give him some leery, nervous looks, while the people clambering about their harnesses prepare something. Desmond thinks he can hear someone call for cannons. Which, a little worrisome, that. They want to shoot him with cannons. But mostly Desmond is kind of thrown by the dragons.
Florence has dragons. There are dragons, and they're flying with Florence's banners on the rigging that's strapped all over them. Also, dragons.
So, probability is a weird thing, he knew that before. But maybe it's also older than he'd realised and more widespread, like, sideways – because how far back in time do you have to go to get to the decision that led to world with dragons? And yet, despite that truly monumental change – Florence still looks like Florence. Which is, even for the weirdness of probability… pretty weird.
Desmond watches as they bring out the cannon – hauled in by a horse despite the dragons being just there and big enough to carry the thing under their arms, but okay. The soldiers begin setting the canon up hurriedly, aiming it his way and obviously planning to blow a cannonball-sized hole in him.
Desmond waits until they've secured the canon before unwinding his six limbs, uncoiling his ridiculously big body, and shifting out of the firing range. There are some dismayed shouts from the men and snarling from the dragons while he rolls the egg gingerly over with him, before trying to balance it between his – hands. Or whatever they are called now. He doesn't have thumbs anymore, so maybe paws? Seems a bit off.
"Come on, guys, I'm just sitting here," he says. "I'm not even doing anything!"
"If you will not subject yourself to being restrained, you will leave, or you will be killed!" one of the dragons shouts back at him. The humans at their side – who look so tiny – say something to the dragon, and the dragon adds, "And you will leave the egg!"
Well, that's not going to happen. "It's my egg," Desmond says, though, honestly, he's not sure. "I don't even know you, I am not going to let you have my egg. Especially after you shot at me!"
"Ferals aren't welcome!" the little dragon snaps at him. "If you will not submit and give us the egg, you will be shot at! It's what happens!"
"Well," Desmond answers. "It's rude."
"You are attacking out city – it is you who are the rude one!"
Desmond sputters. "I'm just sitting here," he says, plaintively.
"In our territory!" the other little dragon says, baring their teeth. "Without a captain, or rider, or anything! Not a strap of harness! Or a banner!"
"It is indecent!"
Okay, that. What? Desmond makes a face at them as they ruffle their proverbial feathers at him, puffing their chests. It's hard to tell if they're showing off their banners at him or if they're trying to make themselves appear bigger, but it's kind of – ridiculous and also completely absurd. What, are there like… dragon decency laws?
The cannon is being aimed for another shot, okay, fine. Desmond can take a hint. The Florentine soldiers – and dragons, can't forget about the actual dragons – are obviously looking to kill him, or at least chase him away, though, so, whatever his hands are called is probably not that important.
"Thinking we better not stick around," Desmond says to the egg and then, with the egg carefully held between his awkward, long-nailed – taloned – hands, he goes to test out his wings.
He probably looks ridiculous, trying to figure out how to fly with the big floppy things on his back while awkwardly balancing on his legs – well, hind legs? He probably looks like those lizards running on their back legs to get away from predators or whatever, but it does eventually get him and the egg in the air, and just in time to avoid being shot at, so he calls it a win, even with the Florentine dragons snickering at him.
The cannon is fired – turns out it doesn't actually fire cannon balls, but instead something which poofs out a big cloud of smoke or something, it looks noxious. Some sort of anti-dragon smoke cannon? Well, at least it’s a little more nicer than just shooting a cannon at him, if not by much.
"Yeah, run away, coward!" one of the little dragons shouts, also taking to wing. "Run, like the fat worm you are!"
Rude. Well, whatever, Desmond is way bigger than them anyway. And he can fly. So. Ha.
Desmond didn't have much of a plan, coming back in time. It was more of a litany of "oh screw this, screw Juno, screw Minerva too, and Tinia, and everyone, I don't want to do this, I want to go back home, screw this screw this screw this." And then his life flashed before his eyes, and he just sort of – knew. That he could just screw it.
Then it was kind of a moment of panicked impulse stopping of time, where he knew he could go, but where and when? Back to the Farm maybe, since everyone always goes on about how it was a mistake? But no, the idea of going back to his own childhood, it just turned his stomach, no way is he doing that. Back before Abstergo, when he was still a free man and could maybe run away and hide, and boy, that sounds depressing as hell. Connor's time? Even more depressing.
Yeah, there was really only one place in space and time he wanted to go, which only cosmic reality-bending powers could take him. Renaissance Italy.
The Animus and living Ezio's life for so long might have given him a bias, which made Renaissance seem like the sensible option instead of, like, going back to immediately before some company became a big successful thing. Like Apple or something. He could've invested with future knowledge and become a millionaire.
"But no, I wanted Italy," Desmond sighs to the egg, nosing at it to get it under his wing, where it would stay warm. "And this way lie dragons."
The egg, obviously, doesn't answer. Desmond noses at it a little more – just to make sure it's alright – and then leans back to look at it. It looks good, he thinks dubiously, no cracks, nothing, the burnished gold of the shell looks unbroken. They hadn't flown for long, just until he was sure he was far away enough that no one would roll a cannon to his face, and Desmond had tried to keep the egg warm throughout. But still, it was an egg.
Why the heck there was an egg with him when he came through to this side, he isn't sure. But he's going to take care of it, because… because he is.
"You'd better not be Juno, because I will be so mad," Desmond mutters at the egg, before closing his wing over it and looking up.
The Tuscan countryside is as beautiful at sunset as he remembered, but also more so. In the Animus colours could sometimes come out a little faint, and Ezio had this – this sheen to the way he saw things sometimes that made Desmond wonder occasionally if the guy had a little bit of colour blindness going on? Sometimes yellows and greens both came through as kinda brown from his view. Might've been memory deterioration, Altaïr's memories were almost sepia-toned, after all – and Claudia's dress was all red, and Ezio's own vest was proper green at the start, so important things definitely stayed in colour. Whatever.
Either way, everything looks a hell of a lot more vibrant through Desmond's own eyes. Everything is in higher definition and so crisp – and there's none of that blurry haze that always lingered in the Animus, because Ezio didn't actually memorise everything he ever came across, and Desmond and the Animus had to fill in some of the blanks. Reality is so much more detailed, and Desmond can just see miles away now, apparently.
About half a mile away, there's a pen of sleepily grazing cattle – Desmond can see them clearly enough to count them. Fourteen cows. Mmm, he's hungry.
"Aww, hell," he mutters. He's about the size of a semi truck now, maybe bigger, it's hard to tell. The hell is he going to eat? Whole cows maybe? That sounds expensive as hell, and he figures since there are dragons in Florence being ridden by people and all, then there's probably more dragons out there, and they're domesticated and… probably not allowed to just raid the countryside as they pleased. Not that he wanted to.
Eating any creature whole and maybe alive – and definitely raw – does not particularly appeal to him. Cows are so sympathetic looking too. Poor little Bessies.
Sighing, Desmond lays his head down, peering up the darkening sky overhead. He'd never turned down a nice burger, but maybe he can be a vegetarian dragon?
Because that's what he is now. A dragon.
He's a dragon.
"I'm a dragon," Desmond tries. It sounds a bit off, so he tries again. "I'm a dragon. I'm a dragon. I'm a motherfucking dragon."
Still doesn't sound real to him. He'd not sure if he's horrified or thrilled either, it's kind of a strange mix of both. Like, what are you even supposed to feel when you turn into a dragon?
It's kind of the coolest, most awesome thing he never wanted to happen.
"I am a dragon," Desmond murmurs, yawning. And just when he got adjusted to being an Assassin, too.
The next day, with the egg precariously held between his palms again with all the care he can take to make sure it doesn't get cold, Desmond heads for Monteriggioni. It's kind of all he figures to do, at this point. Of course, there's no telling if it would be the same at all, and if the fortress is even there, then who knows if it's occupied by Assassins, if Assassins are even a thing here. Would be just his luck that for dragons to exist it means that Assassins don't.
"Better not work that way, because I swear," Desmond mutters to the egg. "I will find a tower and kidnap a princess and go out in a blaze of fairytale glory, if that's the case."
The egg doesn't answer, being only an egg, but he likes to think it agrees.
Monteriggioni is… not as far as he remembers it being. Or maybe it's just the fact that he can fly, and pretty fast at that. Watching his own shadow on the rolling hills below is all sorts of cool, Desmond kind of loses track of time watching the shadow dragon go up and down below him and, whoops, there's Monteriggioni. It takes him, like… less than a couple of hours. He could've totally just flown all the way to the fortress last night, without having to stop on a random hill to sleep.
"Make a note of that, distances work differently when you're a dragon," Desmond says to the egg, while beating his wings harder, to get higher. He can see the alarm it's raising below – people are running on the streets outside the fortress and hurrying inside, like little ants scurrying along into their ant hill, it's kind of hilarious. Except for the fact that they're obviously scared of him.
Dragons and fortresses. Yeah. Maybe Claudia is around and will do for a kidnapped princess? She'd beat him over the head with a sword, maybe. Or just stab him.
Desmond circles around the fortress walls, peering at the rooftops and trying to figure out if it's the Monteriggioni he knows or, like… an alternate history copy, which is magically in the same place, but never in its existence knew Assassins.
At these heights it's hard to tell… but it seems bigger? Like, there are gardens inside, there's greenery, trees – actual little farm plots, inside the walls. The houses are concentrated in the middle, and then the sides, under the walls, there are green spaces, and not just around the Villa. Which – there is a villa.
There's a villa.
The Auditore build that villa, right?
And then, from the wall, there comes a little pop as someone fires something. Moment later, there is another little pop in the air not that far behind Desmond, and a cloud of smoke blows out of it, like a firework of just smoke. Smoke and – pepper?
Right. Dragons and fortresses. And alternate reality with dragons, which might, as consequences, develop anti-dragon artillery? In a form of… what, cannon form of pepper spray? Pepper cannon? Whatever it is –
There's another pop, and this time Desmond spots the explosive rising in the air – it is a firework, sort of, kind of pseudo… missile, maybe? It's shaped like a cannon shell, he thinks, sorta pointed and –
Then it explodes way too close to his face for comfort. He doesn't quite get a face full of powder, but he smells it and the sneeze that blows out of him, entirely without his say so, is loud and harsh, and it almost makes him drop the egg.
Sputtering and coughing, Desmond dives under the cloud, pulling his wings to his side and then snapping them open when he's close to hitting the rooftops below, turning his dive into a glide and landing, not very gracefully, on the platform just beside the villa, narrowly avoiding ramming his head in and through a window.
The egg, miraculously, survives his tumble.
A tree and a flower bush in the perfectly maintained garden, don't.
"The ballista, someone aim the ballista!"
"Can you turn the cannon –?"
"Quick, before the beast can recover –"
"Oi, I can hear you," Desmond snaps at them, his eyes watering and his nose itching as he tries to hold another sneeze. "Also, what the hell, people, do you shoot at everyone who comes here?" and then he sneezes, carefully turning his head away from the egg and making the flower bushes blow back.
There's a moment of silence, and when Desmond looks up. On the walls the mercenaries are hesitating – a lot of them are aiming crossbows and rifles at him, not that those would do much, while on the side someone is running towards the villa. It's too late, though, or maybe too soon? Either way, people are already coming out, having heard if not the shots of the pepper guns, then the shouting – and Desmond's sneezing.
Which he does again, into another bush – vindictively.
"Oh my good lord," a faint voice says, and Desmond turns his head around to see three women in the front of the villa, just coming out of the building. They're all frozen at the sight of him, staring up at him, gaping.
Maria Auditore stands ahead of the others, her face pale and her dark eyes wide. Beside her stands Claudia Auditore, trying to, ineffectually, pull her back, looking horrified. The third woman is a maid or something, trying to help Claudia, but like them, she looks completely frozen.
Desmond, a little self-consciously, realises that he might look a bit scary, being so… big and all. Coughing to clear the last of the pepper from the back of his throat, he lowers his head and says, as quiet as he can – which isn't very quiet, "Hello. Sorry for dropping in on you like that, but your guys were shooting pepper or something at me, and I didn't want to drop the egg."
He looks down to the said egg, still held carefully between his not-hands, and the women follow his eyes, stare at the egg for a moment, and then look up at him again, Claudia looking even more concerned now.
"You – speak," Claudia says, still trying to pull Maria back. Around them, mercenaries are hurrying down from the walls and up from the town, armed to the teeth and obviously ready to fight.
"Am I not supposed to?" Desmond asks, leaning back a little, so that he's not quite so close to any of the people. They're so small and fragile looking. "Dragons back in Florence spoke."
"You're from Florence?" Claudia demands to know, her eyes narrowing a little.
"I just flew over it, and everyone threw a hissy fit. They shot pepper at me too," Desmond says and then coughs. "That's beside the point, um." He should have a point. He doesn't, though, he's got no idea what he's doing, and no way to explain why he came to Monteriggioni or how he even knows about it, or Ezio. Or if Ezio is even alive. Claudia and Maria are and that's indicative of things, but – better check.
"Do you have a brother?" Desmond asks Claudia.
Claudia straightens up. "What do you want with Ezio?"
Ezio exists! Awesome.
"I don't know yet," Desmond says honestly. "I just – want to see him. Is he here?"
Claudia's eyes narrow even further. "Lucia, take Mother indoors," she says, tugging at Maria's shoulder. She doesn't budge, though, staying staring at Desmond. "Mother, please, it's dangerous – please go inside with Lucia, she will make you a nice cup of tea and –"
Maria ignores her and then, with some strength given to people that are not entirely there maybe, she pulls herself free from Claudia's and the maid's hold. Desmond eyes her warily as she steps closer, but she's so small and looks so fragile that he barely dares to breathe in her direction, as she reaches to place a hand on his – finger?
Around them the mercenaries ready arms, but Claudia stops them with a quick, violent wave. "Not while Mother is in the firing range!"
Desmond ignores them and looks down. God, her hand is so tiny, he can barely feel it on the scales. "Hello," he says, very soft, while around them everyone holds their breaths.
"Let me see," Maria says, gentle but firm, and, at her gesture, he lifts his fingers enough to show her the egg. She puts a hand on it, stroking fingers over it. "Hmm… it's hardening, but still soft. A week, maybe two, and it will hatch."
Desmond blinks and looks down at the egg, stroking his – fuck it, he's calling them fingers – over the egg's shell. "Okay?" he says.
"It needs to be kept warm," Maria says, with authority. "Will you be brooding it, or should we get blankets and cloth and set a fire?"
"Um," Desmond says, blinking at her. She looks a little dark around the eyes, her skin van and shallow. She doesn't look well, but it sounds like she knows what she's talking about. "Yes? No, I don't know. Whatever you think is the best, I guess?"
"We'll get blankets then," Maria says, patting his finger again and turning to Claudia. "And a basket, or a box, to keep it in so that it will not roll over. Claudia, do we have something like that?"
Claudia blinks, looking bewildered. "Y-yes, Mother," she says. "I'm sure we can find a box for the egg."
"Good, good," Maria says, heading back inside. "Backyard should do – yes, we will set the egg in the backyard."
Desmond peers after her uncertainly as she heads into the villa, and then looks down at Claudia, whose eyes are teary, and her breath catches. She clears her throat quickly and then lifts her chin. "Right," she says and turns to Desmond. "How do you know Ezio?"
"I – just… sort of… do?" Desmond offers, shifting a little and tucking the egg closer to him.
Claudia narrows her eyes further, folding her arms and, judging by the looks of it, coming this close to tapping her foot impatiently. And of course Claudia would be the one to stare down a dragon, and funnily enough, despite how damn small she is and how easy it would be just to swipe her aside… it kind of works.
"I heard about him?" Desmond says feebly. "I mean. Ezio Auditore da Firenze, am I right?"
Claudia is quiet for a moment and then she sighs. "Oh, Brother," she sighs. "Now what have you done?"
Warning for the after effects of fairly bad stomach injury.
My most esteemed Brother
I hate to –
What have you been up –
There is a Dragon in Monteriggioni. A Dragon in Monteriggioni. And I do not mean a small courier, no, this is a Fighting Beast if I ever saw one – it is big enough that laying down it can rest its head on the balcony. And not a strap of harness or Captain in sight! And It is looking for You.
I swear to God –
What have you done now, Brother?
Mother has come out of her fugue, for which I would thank God and Angels and Saints, only it was to Tend to the Dragon and his Egg – for the Dragon brought with him an Egg. Mother has it in the back courtyard where the dragon can brood on it in peace without all of the town watching – and fearing – the Dragon. Mother says it all reminds her of when she was young and visiting the coverts with her father, back when the Mozzi sponsored Dragons of Florence – she's saying all these things about then, knowing things I never knew she knew – she's worried about the Dragon not eating, of all things!
You had better come home now, Brother
, or I Swear to God I will take the Dragon up myself, fly to Forlí and have him set your Bedroom on Fire, wherever it is!
There is an Unharnessed Dragon in Monteriggioni, with an Egg That Is About To Hatch, and he's looking for You, Brother.
With most Extreme Irritation and Vexation
Your ever Patient Sister
It takes Ezio a whole day, five different horses, and pushing forward a couple hours later into the night than advisable, to ride back to Monteriggioni from Forlí. By the time he reaches it, his latest stolen horse is quite done with his treatment, and so is his stomach, where the still healing gut wound does not agree with the treatment it's getting either.
But to see Monteriggioni still standing, not a lick of flame or any obvious sign of damage in sight, is worth the pain.
"Ser Ezio, thank god," the guard at the gates says at the sight of him. "Thank god you are back – we didn't know what to do – the beast –"
"Had it attacked anyone? Killed anyone?" Ezio demands while sliding down from the horse's back, smothering a grimace.
"No, not yet – but it's right up there, behind the villa, and Madonna Claudia forbid us from chasing it away or shooting it because it's so close, and Madonna Maria is with it all the time and…"
The stable hand is long since asleep, it looks like, so Ezio takes the horse quickly to the stables himself, barely taking off its saddle and giving it hay and water, before heading into the town.
"Keep quiet," Ezio says to the guard. "Let's not alarm the beast – I want to take a look without the whole town waking up."
"Yes, ser Ezio, of course," the guard promises quickly. "Are you going to kill it?"
"In going to take a look," Ezio says firmly. "And then do what I must to secure the town. It's my uncle here?"
"No, ser Ezio, he's gone to Venezia," the guard says.
Then it would take him awhile to catch up, granted that Claudia had sent a message to him also. Hopefully a better written one.
"Thank you – return to your post," Ezio says quietly.
"But the gate, ser Ezio, it is shut."
"I'll climb the wall – it's alright."
The guard nods slowly and then watches with interest as Ezio turns to the walls to find his way up them, without the guards having to open the gate and thus wake half of the town with the noise.
Climbing, on top of the long ride he's taken, does not agree with him in the slightest, and he's sweating with some pain by the time he makes his way up, his stomach twisting as though it's been stabbed anew. The wound hadn't opened, it's healed enough for that, but good lord…
No more climbing tonight if he can only avoid it, Ezio decides, and after taking a breath to gather his strength, he turns to head towards the villa along the wall, instead of climbing down from it – talking to the guards on duty as he goes. All five tell the same story.
"It came from the North this morning, just flew straight in. We took a few shots with the pepper guns and would have chased it away, but it landed then, and straight beside the villa! We couldn't very well fire a cannon inside the town, so we were going to get the ballista. But then it spoke to the ladies, and Madonna Maria went right to it, and it didn't do her any harm, and well, we couldn't very well shoot at the thing with your mother in the way, sir, so…"
So the dragon had just stayed, at his mother's pleasure, apparently.
"And it hasn't hurt anyone?" Ezio asks, to make sure.
"No one, ser Ezio, though it did make a mess of the garden – knocked over the tree, and I don't think the bushes will survive."
Ezio sees the damage soon after, and it's not nearly as bad as all that. You can definitely tell that something big passed though the garden without much care, but if he didn't know better, he could mistake it for the damage of a runaway horse gone wild, rather than a dragon.
Then, carefully making his way down the stairs from the wall, Ezio sees the dragon itself. Or rather, its tail end. The dragon has stuck as much of itself into the inner courtyard of the villa without forcing it and breaking the balconies, but it's shape is so vast that it couldn't fit more than a half – with its hindquarters sticking out like those of a cat trying to stuff itself into a basket too small for it. It makes determining its still size somewhat difficult – but it's certainly big. Perhaps big enough to be classified as heavyweight.
Not that Ezio knows that much of dragons – he prefers not getting into engagements so big that dragons are required – but he's seen some of the beasts of Forlí and Venezia at a short distance, and he thinks this one could give them a run for their money. Ezio can't place the breed though. He doesn't think he'd ever seen a dragon in such a shade of warm, golden brown. It's almost metallic in its sheen – and there are smooth, even streaks of brighter yellow that run over the dragon's hind and tail, almost… golden.
Then the dragon moves, backing away with sort of catlike clumsiness, wings tucked close to its back and – oh, it's rather… long. And now that Ezio sees more than its tightly wound up backside and tail, it seems – much bigger. Standing up, its head is easily level with the villa's main roof, and measured lengthwise, it surpasses the villa entirely.
Ezio very rarely feels fear for himself, these days, but when the dragon swings its great head around to face it, he feels very small and fragile and not in the best health either. He didn't think –
"Oh, there you are," the dragon says and turns to face him fully, tail carefully coiled to keep it from hitting the trees. "I thought it was you – hi."
"Hello," Ezio says, and somehow it comes out level. The dragon's eyes are deep, dark brown, and bigger than his head. With one bite, it could swallow him whole. "My sister tells me you're looking for me."
"Well, yeah," the dragon says, shifting its – or rather, his – footing awkwardly. "I didn't actually think what I'd do or say once you got there though. Hmm."
Ezio draws a breath to say something – though he can't for the life of him say what – and then the dragon leans down and Ezio is completely frozen. The dragon's snout comes right in front of him, enormous teeth showing just way past the beast's scaly lips, and then it inhales with a force that actually tugs at Ezio's hood, it's so powerful.
It's like – stories. From his youth, when the world was still full of light and Mother used to read for them before bedtime. She told them the story of Antonius and how he harnessed the first dragon, Vincitatus, and –
Ezio reaches out to touch the scaly hide before him. It's warm under his fingers, and softer than he'd expected – like tough, hardened leather, rather than metal or stone. Against it his fingers look pale in the near complete darkness, and Ezio finds himself feeling a little faint, feeling how much more massive the creature is in comparison to himself.
His blades would do no damage to this being, they likely wouldn't even penetrate the tough hide. A bullet might make a hole in it, but likely not a very deep one. Even a smoke bomb would prove little more than momentary irritation. Nothing short of a cannon – or another dragon – could kill a best like this.
What a humbling, dizzying thing, to be so close, to touch such a creature. And what's more, the dragon hums and leans his head down a little, pressing against Ezio's hand, and there's deep intelligence in his eyes when he looks at Ezio.
"So, uh," dragon says, even while nuzzling his hand. "This is a bit awkward, but – can your tell what year it is?"
Ezio clears his throat, feeling a little shaken all of a sudden, and not only because of the gut wound – though its persistent sting certainly does nor help. "It is 1489," he says. Do such things even mean anything, to dragons?
"Oh. That's – early. Nice," the dragon says and then hums. "But you would've lost the Apple to Savonarola? Or did you – was that a thing here, the Forlí attack and all that? Is the Apple even a thing here?"
Ezio's already stilted brain pulls to a complete halt. "I'm sorry, what?" he asks.
"I mean, dragons and all, might be that the Isu weren't the same here, maybe the whole prophesy thing isn't even a thing," the dragon muses, thoughtful and casual as though he isn't speaking of secrets that had fundamentally changed Ezio's entire life.
The dragon looks at him, his big eyes flashing golden when the moonlight hits them. "Do your have the Apple of Eden, did your ever have it, and did your perchance lose it to a nine-fingered monk?"
Ezio's world tilts and his knees buckle. The dragon watches him go down, eyes widening and pupils expanding into wide, all-swallowing pools of black.
Before the blackness swallows him, Ezio thinks he can hear the dragon mutter. "Ezio Auditore, the swooning damsel in distress, hmm." And then, "I dig it. Now I just need a tower, and we're all set."
It's probably the delirium speaking, though.
Ezio wakes up in a bed, a wet cloth on his forehead and scent of fruit in the air. He feels a little feverish, and with a sigh figures the wound is acting up again, and he's in for another bout of fevers and infection – the whole dragon excapade must've been a delusion his mind conjured up, a delirious dream…
Then he opens his eyes to find that he isn't in his rooms in the Rocca di Ravaldino of Forlí, but in his bedroom in Monteriggioni. And he'd not alone.
Mother is sitting beside him, quietly peeling an orange.
She glances at him and smiles. "There you are, dear. You gave everyone quite the fright – poor Desmond has been beside himself. I was starting to think that we would have to move you into Claudia's room in the back and then take down the balcony railing so that he could stick his head through the door and see you."
Ezio sits up so quickly that the cloth on his forehead flies off – and then he feels his stomach. "Oh, god," he groans and falls back down, clasping both hands over it.
Maria tuts. "You have a stomach wound, Ezio, you shouldn't be moving that much."
"Yes, I am rather thinking the same – but, Mother, you're –" dare he even say it?
She looks at him, frowns a little, and then looks back at the orange in her hands. "You shouldn't make your dragon worry so much," she says. "They become such handfuls when they're worried, utterly impossible to control."
Ezio eyes her dubiously. Maybe he's delirious, after all, and imagining this? "Dragon," he says slowly. "Yes." What in the world...
"He's a dear one," Maria says, humming. "And the egg should fetch a good price, if we can get him to release it, and find a suitable buyer. I can't quite tell his breed, some kind of crossbreed obviously, but the egg is likely his, so the offspring will be big, too, a heavyweight certainly. Very valuable, heavyweights – Father got nearly five thousand Florins for Iustitia' egg, when it was sold to Milan…"
"A very respectable price, yes," Ezio says and coughs. "Is Claudia anywhere near, Mother? I would speak with her."
"Of course, of course," Maria says and hands him the peeled orange. "Here, my son, to bring up your strength."
"Thank you, Mother," Ezio says faintly, accepting the fruit. "Very – very kind of you, thank you."
She leaves the room then, and Claudia enters not much after, looking harassed and weary. She looks him over and then sighs.
"I didn't know you were still so poorly," she says, guiltily. "You should have at least taken a carriage – lord, you must have ridden your horse half do death to make it here in the time you did."
"I changed horses at every opportunity," Ezio admits with a sigh. "I didn't imagine it then. The dragon in the backyard, there is really a dragon in our backyard?"
"Yes, and you did no favour to anyone by fainting in front of him!" Claudia harrumphs and sits down in the seat vacated by their mother. "Everyone's afraid of the dragon, of course, he's a dragon, but you're the first that fainted. Half of the guards think the dragon did something to you, and the rest are making fun of you. And you deserve it – I hear on top of riding all day with a still healing stomach wound, you also climbed the wall?"
"Opening the gate makes noise, and people were asleep," Ezio says, a feeble excuse even to his own ears. Claudia looks like she's gearing up for an argument, so he cuts her off with a, "Mother was here – she's talking again."
The wind goes out of Claudia's sails and she sighs. "Doctor Gaspari thinks it's the reminder of things from her childhood which brought it on," she says quietly. "Our grandfather sponsored dragons, and Mother visited them with him, and read about them too, when she was only a little girl. Do not talk to her about Father and our brothers, she doesn't take it well. But yes... she speaks again, and she's been more alert, since Desmond came here."
"Desmond being the dragon," Ezio guesses, shifting slowly into a seated position, his back against the headboard. "Where did he come from – and the egg, he has a dragon egg?"
Claudia gives him an odd look. "Wait, you mean to say you do not know him?"
"I don't, no. I have never so much as conversed with a dragon, never mind about getting to know them," Ezio says, picking at the orange.
"Well, he certainly seems to know you," Claudia says, harrumphing. "Came all the way from who knows where here, just to see you. And Mother is now completely convinced that he's your dragon, and you his Captain."
"Christ," Ezio murmurs.
"If the dragon ran away from somewhere, we will likely be seeing people demanding him back. But the fact that he could run away, and did so without a bit of harness on him, that speaks volumes," Claudia says. "A dragon without a captain. A feral."
"Hmm," Ezio agrees. "A dangerous thing even in a normal circumstances." And, if he hadn't imagined what the dragon had said, these are not normal circumstances. The dragon… knew things.
Claudia considers him. "Monteriggioni cannot support a dragon like this," she says flatly. "Never mind two. Mother says a dragon of Desmond's size would need to eat a cow per day to stay fighting fit – with that kind of rate, all the herds in the area would be expended within three months. With pigs and sheep we might be able to stretch it to six months, but we haven't the money to pay for that kind of expenditure anyway. Even with your income, it's too much."
Yes – Monteriggioni couldn't even afford a courier dragon, though it would have made life simpler at times, never mind easier for him, having such fast form of transport available. But courier beast would be a terribly expensive thing to invest into, and so easy to lose to enemy dragons. It had not been worth the risk.
Ezio sighs. "Has the dragon eaten? Can we feed it enough to keep it complacent?"
"For a week, perhaps," Claudia says dubiously.
"Then," Ezio says, "I had better figure out what the dragon wants and then, hopefully, see him on his way."
And yet, thinking of what the dragon had said, if it truly happened… it wouldn't be so simple.
The dragon is once more crammed into the courtyard, forelegs curled around a bundle of blankets, nosing idly at the bronze-hued egg sitting there.
Now that Ezio is a little clearer headed and it's light outside, he sees what it is the dragon reminds him of. The streaks of paler yellow that mark the otherwise golden brown hide, the smooth expanse of it – the dragon has no horns or spikes, the hide is quite bare but for the markings.
He looks like the Apple of Eden, turned dragon. Even his eyes have that tint of strange dark metal, tinged with gold.
Spotting him at the doorway, the dragon lifts his head. "Ezio, hey," he says. "You're up – are you alright? You scared the bejesus out of me."
The what? "I am – recovering from a recent injury, but I am getting better. Yesterday I simply pushed myself too far too fast," Ezio says, warily. The dragon looks somehow both smaller and bigger in daylight. "You have my apologies."
"Don't worry about it, you can't help a stomach wound," the dragon answers, lowering his head to look at him. "And I guess meeting a dragon in the middle of the night right next to your home with all your stuff and loved ones in it can't be good for your blood pressure. Um. Maybe you should sit down?"
Ezio shakes his head. "It's fine now, I can stand," he says. "Your name is Desmond, yes?"
"Yeah," Desmond agrees and noses at the egg. "I dunno who this is yet," he admits. "Hopefully not Juno, anyway. I'll introduce you once they hatch."
Not sure he even wants to know, Ezio asks, "Who is Juno?"
"A bitch," Desmond says, earnest. "She's an Isu. Or was an Isu, and she wants to enslave humans and stuff, really nasty piece of work. If it's her, I imagine I will have to kill her," he says, threateningly, speaking to the egg. "So you better not be, you hear me?"
Ezio coughs, uncertain. "An Isu," he repeats. "Is that a species of dragon?"
Desmond looks. "No, that's – they're the Precursors, the First Civilization. You know," he nods. "The ones that came before?"
Ezio's eyes widen. "How – how do you know that? Where did you learn that – who –"
"It's a, uh. Long story," Desmond admits, making a wry face – or what Ezio assumes is a wry face, for a dragon. "But I guess I have nothing but time, and no timeline mishaps to worry about, this being an alternate reality and everything, so… I'll tell you. On a, well. One condition."
"Which is?" Ezio asks warily.
"We're kind of homeless here, so… a place to stay?" Desmond asks. "Would be appreciated. Please."
Great, just what he needs right now. A refugee dragon and his Egg. "Tell me what you know, and I will consider it," Ezio says. The dragon throws him a look which seems almost hurt, and Ezio sighs, taking a seat. "A dragon is an expensive guest to keep in comfort," he admits. "And we haven't a rich republic's treasury. I'm sorry, I cannot give such expensive promises on nothing more than a word."
"Oh, well," Desmond says. "I wasn't planning on freeloading or anything. I'm sure I can, you know. Work for a living. Dragon and all, I bet I'm ace at heavy lifting."
"I imagine so," Ezio says, thoughtful. Isn't that an idea? "But tell me what you know anyway, and perhaps then we can talk about it."
The dragon settles in to speak, and no, it really isn't as simple as just hearing what the dragon has to say and seeing him on his way. Not so simple, at all.
My Dear Leonardo,
How are things in Milan, have you completed your studies you mentioned, on the human skull? My uncle was most interested in the results.
You once complained to me, in a moment of drunken honesty, that I only ever come to you when I need something – after which you immediately said that you never mind, that the problems I bring to you are quite interesting and bring some spark of adventure into your life. Well, I'm afraid I must now prove this assessment of yours true in a letter as well as deed.
I am in desperate need of your assistance. We have a visitor here, in Monteriggioni, who is quite upturning everything I have ever thought conceivable, and I fear I can not keep up with it. I dare not put more into a letter for the fear of it being intercepted, even with this wonderful code you devised, but rest assured, my plea is urgent. I need your intellect, my friend, and your reason.
I think you alone will be able to make sense of any of it.
And, to put a pretty carrot on this stick – do you remember what we talked about, that night in Venice when all the fires were lit and your invention took flight, concerning your sad lack of study opportunities? I daresay I can offer you a most excellent one now.
And if that is not enough, I will actually pay you.
Please. Come, if at all possible, as soon as you can.
Your friend, always,
Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
With a letter like that, how could Leonardo not go? No, he'd read the letter once and he'd packed his things and been out of the door before his assistants got a word in edgewise – Leonardo ends up leaving his instructions with rather irritated Marco on his way to the stables.
"One of these days, you must bring us along on these adventures," Marco says, sullen, as he helps Leonardo shove his things into the saddlebags.
"And then pay for your board and food, never mind your salary – and, on top of it, listen to your complaining all the while?" Leonardo asks wryly. "I think not."
"But Monteriggioni! There's bound to be all sorts of… entertainment there, yes?" Marco asks, eager. "The Fortress of Sinners! I hear they have a brothel there, right in the fortress."
"Don't call it that – and don't speak so loud," Leonardo shushes him. "Ugh, your eagerness makes me that much less inclined to bring you, or any of the others along. You'd wreak havoc, and then I would have to excuse myself, and you, before the Auditore, and I'd rather not have the hassle. Just keep the workshop clean, and if you decide to drink, buy your own wine. And no drinking in the studio!"
"Yes, yes. Why would we anyway, it is so depressing there," Marco huffs. "Your disgust with your own artistic process permeates the place, it's ghastly."
Leonardo laughs at that, and then takes to the saddle. "Take care now, lest I fire you."
"Would that I'd be so lucky," Marco harrumphs. "Ride safely, Maestro – tip that Assassino of yours into a bed maybe. Would do your artistic process some good, a muse like him."
Leonardo shushes him again, feeling himself blush. "I would never."
"You would, in a heartbeat, given the chance," Marco says and waves a hand. "And I bid you all the luck in the world that you should succeed. Fare thee well, my teacher. Fair winds, and all that."
So, Leonardo is off, with an embarrassed flush and little bit of mischievous thrill in his heart. Mario Auditore had given him an open invitation to the villa, but he had not visited yet – and he'd only seen Monteriggioni once, in passing, and hadn't had the time to stop then. To go there, summoned by the lure of Ezio's letter…
The thing they had spoken of, when Leonardo had been hurriedly trying to get his flying machine to work, was the construction of dragon wings, and how Leonardo wished he could be able to, if not to autopsy one, then at least outwardly study them. But he was never allowed, Florence and Venice both are very protective of their coverts' secrets, and so far Milan is no different.
Of course, Leonardo understands, on a surface level. The art of dragon husbandry, breeding and even their feeding, they are all jealously guarded state secrets – for should a state figure out even the smallest advantage in any of the three, it could elevate the pedigree of their dragons immensely. As such, no one keeps any records public to people not engaged in the act of dragon husbandry, and no artists are welcomed to peruse the dragons.
Leonardo has time or two even offered coverts money for the chance to see – and sketch – their beasts and figure out what it is that makes a creature so big capable of flying. None of his models, even the simplest, lightest of scale model, do more than crash to the floor – there must be some trick to it, a near magic, but…
But he is not allowed to study dragons, and when his interest becomes more apparent to the local lords, they tend to ban him from the coverts, more's the pity.
And now, somehow, by some luck of the Assassins… Ezio is offering him just that chance.
Ezio really does bring such exciting things into his life.
It is nearly four days on the road, by the third of which Leonardo wishes he would've stopped to find himself a wagon instead, and perhaps also packed a little better. He is feeling harangued and very travel-worn by the time he makes it to the fortress. The sight of it is enough to boost his spirits, but still… he is feeling saddle sore and perhaps just a couple of years too old to be riding out so suddenly and with so little a plan. Surely, if Ezio could wait the days it took him to ride, he could've waited the hours it would've taken for Leonardo to secure a wagon?
Well, it is too late now, and Monteriggioni, with its delightful secrets and discoveries, awaits. With new energy, Leonardo urges his tired horse forward, cantering the last of the way with greater vigour.
"Who goes there?" the guard shouts at him from the gates – which, despite the fact that it is the middle of the day, are closed. "You're no local – state your business here!"
"Ah, my name is Leonardo da Vinci – Ezio Auditore invited me?" Leonardo offers, glancing at the gates oddly. Both Ezio and Mario seemed like they would be rather easy lords to have, for any town, and as far as Leonardo knows, they've kept the region peaceful these last few years at least – why keep the gates shut at daytime? "As did Messere Mario – I've ridden all the way from Milan, and it's been a long ride indeed."
The guard considers him suspiciously and then shouts up at the tower above the gate, "One Leonardo da Vinci to see Ser Ezio – Enrico, run and confirm he's been invited!"
Leonardo dismounts and then awkwardly waits for that confirmation, not daring to do much for his horse. He is certain of his welcome, but the tension with which he's being considered makes him nervous. "Has something happened?" Leonardo asks warily. "Some attack, or…"
"We wait for confirmation," the guard says, firm and looking a little pinched.
It's a long tense moment until they get an answer – in form of Ezio himself, Leonardo is glad to see, coming down the street on the other side of the gate, waving to the men above to open it. There's a moment of noise of clattering and straining as the gate is opened – old mechanism, Leonardo thinks, sympathetic – and then Ezio crosses over to meet him.
"My friend, you do not know how happy I am to see you," Ezio says, welcoming him with a quick, tight hug. "Come, we must hurry inside – take what you need from the horse now. The gate will be closed after, so you will not be able to later."
"Why such security – has something occurred?" Leonardo asks, even while taking the saddlebags quickly off the saddle.
"Not as such, I will explain inside," Ezio says, guardedly. "Do you need help carrying?"
"I can manage, thank you."
Ezio ushers him inside, and, true to his word, the gate is immediately lowered behind them, sealing the town shut. Inside the atmosphere is strange, tense – guarded. There are few people out, and those that they meet move about quickly and do not linger to so much as say hello to Ezio.
Ezio sighs, looking a little tense himself.
"A week ago, it was now," Ezio says quietly. "A dragon flew to Monteriggioni. It is still here – do you have a fear of dragons?"
"No, I do not think so," Leonardo says, though a little nervously. Something is obviously wrong. "Though I admit I have never gotten close enough to really feel anything other but excitement over the beasts. Why did the dragon come here – from where? And why seal the town over it?"
"That is the thing," Ezio says and looks at him. "The dragon comes from the future. He knows things. And before I knew to take what he said seriously, before I realized the danger of it, people had overheard what he was saying, and the rumour had gone all over town already, and now everyone knows."
"Future?" Leonardo mouths, and Ezio ushers him through the short main street of the town and towards a grand winding sets of stairs, leading up to a grander villa above them. Outwardly, though a sight to behold, there seems to be nothing too special about the villa. Leonardo has seen and visited many great houses and palazzos, and though this one is special for its inhabitants, he has seen greater.
"Antonello, take Leonardo's bags, take them to my old room," Ezio says to a servant who comes to meet them, and then motions Leonardo to follow him – not into the villa, but around it and to the back.
And there is the dragon.
And, lord, it is very much a dragon.
"A heavyweight," Leonardo murmurs, trying to gauge the size of the beast, it's length, weight… "Not any breed I can recognize – I know they have some copper-hued beasts in England, but I believe they're quite covered in spines…"
"You won't find a breed like his, I suspect," Ezio says. "I fear he's wholly unique, and entirely strange."
The dragon lifts his head from where he'd been resting it, near a bench occupied by an elderly woman – oh. Oh, it is Madonna Maria sitting there – and now the dragon is looking at Leonardo, his eyes widening and narrowing, pupils expanding and contracting, and Leonardo is quite caught in his stare.
"I can hear you, you know," the dragon says. "Why do people keep thinking that just because I'm big, I don't hear them?"
"I suppose for our peace of mind we like to pretend," Ezio admits ruefully and shakes his head. "Leonardo, this is Desmond. Desmond, I expect introductions aren't necessary?"
"Well, no," the dragon says and turns and – oh, the conformation of the forelegs, Leonardo had wondered how the muscles worked. And his back, and the wings, beautiful, Leonardo would need to see them open and extended, of course, but even from here he can see – yes, there are blood vessels in the membrane, it is not dead skin like some suspected. And his neck –
"Hello," the dragon says, looking at him. "Did Ezio send for you to make sense of me, Leonardo?"
"Oh, you know me?" Leonardo says, wondering about dragonic tongues and lips, how they can so easily form words – and then thinks, future, Ezio's message. Hmm. "Yes, I suppose he did at that – how do you know of me? What do you know of me?"
"There's… so much stuff to know. Do you want the whole litany, or just the best bits?" Desmond asks, sitting down and then settling down on his stomach on the tiled flooring. His large head is still higher than theirs, even from such position. "In the future you and Machiavelli try to steal the River Arno, that's my favourite."
Leonardo blinks. That. Is not what he expected. "Um. I see? Why do we try to do that?"
"Something about Florence and Piza and trying to starve Piza out by stealing their water?" Desmond shrugs. "It wasn't even a bad plan, from what I heard. You even got money and a go ahead from the Medici – but then somebody hired a bad contractor who failed to actually construct the project right, so it kind of folded over."
"I see?" Leonardo says again and turns to Ezio in confusion and mounting amazement.
Ezio clears his throat, looking almost embarrassed and more than a little resigned. "Desmond here is from five hundred years into the future," he explains. "He knows things I cannot even begin to understand, never mind quite deal of personal history – and apparently, because of this whole prophecy nonsense, it is now my problem."
The dragon looks a little offended at that, leaning his head back. "That's nice," he says, in tone that suggests the opposite. "I can just go and take my future knowledge elsewhere, you know. I bet other people would be happier with me."
"Would you really?" Ezio asks, seeming morbidly curious at the idea.
"Well… no. But it's a possibility," the dragon says mutinously, and glances at Maria on the bench. "Maria, tell your son to stop being mean to me."
"Stop being belligerent yourself, Desmond," she says calmly, watching them with a book in her lap. "It's not how a dragon should treat his Captain."
"He's not my –" the dragon starts and then stops, closing his eyes and shaking his head, while Ezio does very nearly the exact same thing, giving that resigned, oh give me strength sigh of a man who wants to argue, but can't.
Leonardo looks between them and then strokes his hand over his beard, fascinated beyond anything. It is ludicrous, of course, but so is the Apple of Eden and all the terrible things involved with it – why not this as well? And as it is, with Ezio… these things do just tend to happen. "How is it you've come back in time then, Desmond?" he asks, curious.
"An Isu temple," Desmond says and turns his vast, warm brown eyes to him. "Think the Apple of Eden but times a thousand. Maybe hundred thousand. Really, really powerful, world-changing machine. Don't ask me how it works, I come from techy time and it still seemed like magic to me."
"Isu being Those That Came Before," Ezio explains with a shake of his head, and Desmond nods in agreement. "According to Desmond, they weren't terribly nice people."
"Some of them were, not all of them, and it's always the worst people that live the longest," the dragon muses, looking at Ezio and then turning his eyes away, towards something in the inner courtyard.
Leonardo, trying to keep up and not get ahead of himself with fantastic speculation – because, oh, there are such things one could speculate from here on – follows his gaze. There, in a bundle of blankets, sits a great big dragon egg, bronze in hue, iridescent in the sunlight. A heavyweight's egg, likely, being so large.
"They came with me," Desmond explains in a low rumble. "The egg. Maria says it will hatch in a week. I don't know who they are, but there is a small chance it's Juno, who was the Worst of the Isu, so… that's a thing we need to worry about."
"I see," Leonardo says again, confused, not sure what else to say.
At his side Ezio sighs, again. "I have been with him for days now, and I still get confused by all of this nonsense, and I am all but at the end of my rope here," he admits, while the dragon gives him a look of a kicked puppy. Ezio winces, but ignores him. "Leonardo, please, for my sanity. Will you see if you can make any sense of it?"
"It would be my utmost pleasure to try, certainly," Leonardo says earnestly, looking between the man and the dragon. "But I think, first, the question should be asked. Desmond, why come back in time at all? Surely there was a reason?"
The dragon blows out a breath. "Before I realised it was another reality, I guess it was to change history," he says and shrugs his wings. "Now I guess I just… wanna share?" he offers. "And make sure I didn't bring with me a megalomaniacal goddess looking to enslave all humanity. That's all I got."
Leonardo arches his brows. "It's… certainly a start," he offers.
Ezio claps him on the back. "Do your best, my friend, I trust you utterly," he says and then turns to Maria. "Mother, come, let's go inside. It is getting late…"
Leonardo rests a hand on his hip and watches Ezio retreat with Maria, before turning to Desmond. The dragon is gazing after Ezio with such wistful longing that it's almost startling – as is the sudden, heartfelt sympathy Leonardo feels for him.
"He doesn't like this whole thing, because it's… expensive and dangerous and stuff," Desmond says, with surprising understanding. "And because it makes Maria act a bit weird, and now he's had to close up the town to keep secrets from getting out, because Monteriggioni has some spies in it, and they sure as hell would go and tell the Templars about me, as soon as they can."
"Ah, that's why the town's been closed up," Leonardo says, humming. "I'm sure it's nothing personal. It sounds like a quite a deal of stress, for Ezio."
Desmond sighs. "Yeah. I didn't mean to be difficult, I just wanted to tell him the truth," he muses. "Probably doesn't help that he's had stomach wound related relapse and this is time before antibiotics. That's gotta suck."
"… antibiotics?" Leonardo asks, blinking
"Future medicines that combat infections and stuff," Desmond hums. "Kind of fighting fire with fire, but inside your body. Back where I come from, a wound like Ezio's would've been on the mend inside a week, with good luck."
"Ah," Leonardo says, faint, not sure what else to say. "Well…"
The dragon sighs. "He's so small, it's weird," he muses. "Everyone is so small. Being this big and scary, it's weird."
"You… weren't always this big?" Leonardo asks, wary.
"No, I was just a guy. Human," Desmond says and turns to look at him. "Apparently time travel to alternate reality turns you into a dragon. The more you know. Honestly, I'm still not sure if it's cool or not."
Leonardo opens his mouth and then closes it. Then opens it again. "Ah," is in the end all that comes out.
For a moment there he'd thought he maybe died on the road and turned up in some obscure heaven where dragons had all the answers to things he hadn't ever even thought to ask. But maybe this is some sort of strange purgatory instead, where he hasn't even the time to sit and consider what he is learning, before something new is thrown his way for him to try and keep up with. Either way…
He's starting to see why Ezio called him here, definitely.
And also why he ran away at the first opportunity.
Warning for... draconic... sanitation?
Claudia has gone over the numbers again and again.
They're relatively comfortable these days in Monteriggioni, thanks largely to the occasional boosts Ezio brings by hauling in ludicrous amounts of money from his assassinations – and robberies – and due to her own management of the funds. Between them, they've managed to breathe life into Monteriggioni's business, and the brothel, as unsightly as some find it, brings a great deal of funds. It works as a tavern and inn also, so it has brought revenue from people travelling too, as they have only one place to stay the night in the fortress, and the girls there are very good at making people spend a little extra on luxuries. The blacksmith, the doctor and the tailor also have given them some small revenue, as has the establishing of a settled food market.
They are no longer poor, there are even some savings, and Mario and Ezio have been thinking, daringly, of updating the cannons on the walls, adding a few more, just in case. Though the region is peaceful for now, it's an awkward place Monteriggioni exists in, between Firenze and Siena, forever on the knife's edge of threat of war between the two. The Assassins have kept Monteriggioni neutral, these past ten years, and that in turn has tempered Florence and Siena somewhat, but all it would take is for someone to throw a particularly well-aimed rock and they'd be at war again. And Monteriggioni would be an advantageous prize for either, should they succeed in claiming it.
So, better cannons might not be amiss, and in two, maybe three years, they could've comfortably afforded it, should things proceed along the same track. Even without Ezio's income, they might've afforded it, and Claudia wouldn't have felt so uneasy about the expenditure. The bigger savings they can keep for a rainy day, the better, in her books. It's one of the reasons why Monteriggioni fell into such ruin in the first place – because Uncle Mario could not save of budget to save his life. Obviously, all financial prowess went to his brother there.
What would Father think of all of this now, Claudia wonders, as the budget comes, once more, short.
In the days Desmond has been their guest, he has eaten three times, and even then not without complaining. Maria insisted, and so he bent his neck, but he complained and bemoaned and made a whole ordeal about it. A dragon who was squeamish about killing a cow, ha. Should his rate of eating stay constant, they might be able to comfortably house him for another week, maybe two, but then the expense would start showing. They could afford it, they would still have savings… but any dent in them shows.
Claudia leans back with a sigh and turns to the window. Monteriggioni doesn't have much in the way of farmland, in truth. It's a risky point of investment, being at the border. There are farms on each side of them, on Firenze's side and on Siena's side, which they might rely upon, but it would be difficult. Doable, but risky. It's such a precarious balance, keeping peace with such powerful neighbours – should Monteriggioni now start pressing for advantage from their farmers, complaints could be made, which might the ire of those powerful neighbours.
They cannot keep the dragon like this, never mind two.
And yet… they must.
Standing up, Claudia moves to the window. It gives a view of the front of the villa, and just past the balusters of the front yard she can see into the town – where the streets are almost completely vacant, and people are staying indoors. It is the eighth day of their lockdown, and though most understand, few are happy. Another point of stress to be dealt with.
Two dragons in such a small town, ludicrous. Maria has not been the only one to suggest selling the egg, which is almost understandable, almost reasonable… The egg would fetch a high price, in normal circumstances, enough so that they could keep the adult dragon they already have fed. Except that of course, they cannot do such a thing, and was Mother actually sensible she would not suggest it either. She only sees the matter with the sensibility of an obedient daughter, not the adult woman who had learned better later in life.
Such suggestion is too ludicrous to be given credence. Desmond would not let them, in any case. Ezio would not stand for it. The risk is too great, not knowing what intellect or knowledge the egg might contain.
And it is not the Assassins' way, neither to sell nor own other sentient creatures – human, or otherwise. Though natural draconic instincts there in might make that somewhat… muddled.
Shaking her head, Claudia turns to head to the front hall, and from there she steps to the door leading into the back inner courtyard, peering out carefully.
Desmond isn't crammed into the inner courtyard, this time – he's stretched out over the back instead, like a cat in the sun, only enormous. Leonardo is with him, with an easel set up with the biggest canvas he had been able to make on short notice – under the dragon's eye, the artist is sketching something, while the dragon interjects with suggestions.
Ezio is there also, stretched out on a bench not far from them, one leg hanging on the ground and arm under his head as he lays there – apparently, napping.
"… guess it could work, but that seems like a lot of work," the dragon says and points a nail at the canvas. "I think a pump maybe would work better – do you have pistons yet? It's like – you have a hollow tube, a cylinder…"
"Yes, but if it was Archimedes's screw instead, it might be connected via a belt and a set of cog wheels to a windmill and so fill the reservoir at a constant, steady pace, without anyone there needed for the pumping," Leonardo says.
"Yeah, but that takes wind, " Desmond hums. "I mean, I guess? Powering stuff is hard without electricity."
"One step at a time," Leonardo says, and wipes the white canvas clean with a wet cloth – he's writing on it with a piece of charcoal, which apparently lets him redraw upon it. "So, an Archimedes' screw from the well up to a reservoir set by – say, the tower there…"
While Leonardo sketches, Desmond spots Claudia and turns his head towards her. "Oh, hey, Claudia, I had a question," he says.
"Dare I ask?" she sighs and steps closer, without fear now. It's a wonder how easily and quickly one gets used to a mammoth beast like him – though so frightening in the beginning, it's hard to fear him after having to watch him making doe eyes at Ezio so often. Never mind how gently he treats their Mother, despite the terrible things she sometimes unthinkingly says. "What do you want now, Desmond?"
"Well, uh. Here's an awkward thing – I've been doing my, you know, business out there, near the forest," Desmond says, nodding to the west of Monteriggioni. "And it's kind of… I don't know. Possibly not nice for anyone who comes across it, and it's awkward and I don't like it. Can I please make myself a compost toilet nearer Monteriggioni?"
Claudia stops there. "You're talking about – um," she says and clears her throat. "What do you mean, compost toilet?"
"You know, compost toilet. Basically a hole I can shit in, cover with, I don't know, mulch? Hay, woodchips, something, to cover the smell and help it break down to less nasty manure," Desmond says, shrugging his wings. "All this talk about plumbing with Leonardo made me think about it. I mean, I already have to fly out to take a dump anyway. Wouldn't be so weird if I did it nearby, and actually, like… in a more environmentally nice way."
Claudia clears her throat again. "I – hmm. I don't understand," she admits then. "Why not dig a hole and simply cover it if it displeases you?"
"Well, I guess that works, but then it's just a pile of shit underground, being nasty and probably not perfectly safe. I mean, I eat a lot of meat," Desmond says, sounding not very happy about that. "So it's not like cow shit, there's bound to be nasty stuff in it. Would be safer for everyone if it was like, microbiologically broken down so that I don't spread pathogens all over the place? Hell, it might even be good fertiliser, after it's been composted properly. Who knows."
"I… don't know what that means," Claudia admits, making a face. Why is this an issue she has to deal with?
"Oh, it's the most fascinating thing, microbiology," Leonardo says, his eyes shining like they aren't talking about literal shit. "Apparently, the world is covered in absolutely minuscule creatures, which cause things break down, rot, and return to earth – microbes and –"
"Don't, don't explain it to me, I haven't the need to know," Claudia says with a sigh. "What exactly is involved in the creation of this… compost toilet?"
"Um, I'd need to dig a big hole in the rock, somewhere, with, like, a hole near the bottom – like a chimney. So you can, you know... empty it out without having to dig in through the fresh stuff on top," Desmond shrugs. "And then I need something to throw in it every now and then, for like… aeration."
"Oh, tell me how it works," Leonardo says, taking the charcoal again. "I will sketch it out."
It's not overly complicated, what the dragon wants. Claudia watches with some dismay and then shakes her head – of all the rest of the things she has to deal with, at least this doesn't seem overly complicated.
"And like a lid, so that it doesn't just rain in there and wash the whole thing out," Desmond concludes. "And shelter for the composting material, so that it doesn't get wet."
"Just that, huh," Claudia asks with a sigh. Well, it does sound cleaner than having a heavyweight dragon shitting all over the place, even if he covers the dung piles up, she supposed. And when did her life come to the point where she has to concern herself with draconic defecation, anyway, she'd like to know…
"I can help him construct it," Leonardo offers, all but starry eyed. "Between us it shouldn't take long."
"Well, if you insist," she says. "Find a spot for the thing, come back to me and we'll see, I suppose."
Leonardo quickly begins to pack up his easel, eager to go immediately, and Ezio lifts his head, proving he wasn't as asleep as he appeared. "Leonardo, you will not be going up with him," he says.
"What, why not?" Leonardo asks, heartbroken.
"He hasn't a harness. You'll fall," Ezio says flatly and sits up, a hand on his belly, pressed on the still healing wound.
"Aww," Desmond says, also disappointed. "Well, I should get a harness then, I guess. And a banner, since that seems important for some reason."
Ezio gives him a forlorn look. "And send all the world a message that Monteriggioni keeps dragons now," he says. "I'm sure that wouldn't be at all problematic for us. Well," he amends. "Mother would be happy to see us act as though a dragon and a Captain, anyway."
"Would that be so bad?" Desmond asks, hopeful now, and Ezio just sighs.
Claudia looks between them and sighs. "Just go and make your damn toilet," she says. "And stop making things more difficult than they already are."
Desmond laughs and nudges at Leonardo fondly. "I guess you're walking, then. I'll meet you outside."
Leonardo sighs also. "Maybe just a carrying harness?" he muses, setting his easel aside and heading off, while the dragon takes a few steps aside and takes to the wing. He's mastered the trick of it now, and not even the trees shudder as he takes flight – not a wingtip touches the house. Small mercies.
"We cannot afford to keep him, Ezio," Claudia says. "I've ran the numbers again and again. Even if he eats less than an active fighting beast, it will empty our coffers sooner or later, and if we cannot afford to buy him food and must resort to stealing, we risk retaliation from Siena or Firenze. It's not tenable by our means."
Ezio hums and stands up. "Perhaps we should start stretching his meals with vegetables after all. And cook it too, make it a soup," he muses ruefully, and Claudia stops.
"I'm sorry?" she says, very patient.
Ezio casts her a look. "He complains about the raw food," he says.
"I heard that, yes, the production he put up the first time was quite noticeable – what do you mean, vegetables?" Claudia demands. "Do you mean to say he could eat vegetables?"
"I don't know. Never heard of a dragon that eats anything but raw meat," Ezio says thoughtfully. "But Desmond used to be a man, and he misses eating cooked food – that's the problem he has with eating cows, you know. He also says he misses eating things like bread, fruits and vegetables. I suppose a draconic diet cannot match with human's sensibilities."
Claudia stares at him. "Ezio," she says, slowly. "Are you seriously telling me that he would eat vegetables should we offer them to him?"
Ezio gives her a wary look. "Dragons eat meat," he says, stupidly, because he is stupid.
"Dragons will be eating nothing here if we cannot afford to feed them – do you have any idea how much cheaper a diet of vegetables is?" Claudia demands. "How much farther we can stretch our funds, if we can cover even half of what he eats with something else – if we – argh!"
"Er," Ezio says, looking after her as she marches away to redo her calculations. "Well… alright, then."
A cauldron big enough for a dragon is an issue, until it isn't – Leonardo is the one to make it, building an enormous construction of clay and then firing it all somehow without the need of an even more enormous kiln, Claudia doesn't know how and doesn't care. Two days later, they have a cauldron big enough to bathe in.
After that, there is an issue of how to actually cook with the thing, since it hardly fits in the villa's kitchen and then would never be able to be moved outside, so they build a cooking station outside. Leonardo, again, is part of the construction. With Desmond, he takes apart the ruins of an old tower near Monteriggioni, and uses the stones to build an enormous oven, set in the backyard of the villa. The whole thing requires a set of steps for the cook to actually access the thing, and it looks hideous, but at this point Claudia is beyond caring.
With the cauldron, Desmond can do with four chickens for a meal, bolstered with any vegetables and herbs and whatever else they could throw in with them. Thank god, he does not mind the mostly soup-based diet – nor is he that particular about what was thrown in. Carrots, parsnips, beets, anything and everything Claudia could procure at the cheapest price was fine with him, he doesn't even seem to mind if it was nothing but a few chickens and beans and lentils, and if they happened to be a little spoiled, well, a dragon's stomach could apparently deal with more than a human's.
"And the vegetables, they do for you?" Claudia demands to know, with a book in hand, keeping track of everything for proper budgeting. "Your don't mind them and they don't make you sick?"
"Not so far," Desmond admits. "It's actually much nicer, eating this way – though that might be a mental thing. Anyway, I think dragons might be more omnivorous than people think."
"Excellent," Claudia says, making a note of it. She would buy cheaper food crops in bulk from now on, to fill up his meals, and if they can keep the meat down to chickens or perhaps ducks, they can afford it. They might actually afford keeping a heavyweight dragon like this. At least, for now.
Desmond reaches into the cauldron with the tips of his talons and picks up a piece of chicken leg. It looks utterly minuscule in his hold. "You know," he says conversationally while considering the chicken leg. "I think I can digest bones too. I mean, I ate whole cows before, hooves and horns and all, and I don't remember them coming out. So, like, if you have scraps from your own meals, those could go into the pot too. And maybe like butchery offal too, you know, stuff people don't eat," he says and hums, throwing the chicken leg into his mouth. "I'm a bit of a food garbage compactor, it turns out. Huh."
Claudia's eyes gleam. Good lord, he might be cheaper to keep than she realised. Not free, certainly, but… they can do this, they can afford this.
Leonardo, who had been sketching the whole affair from the side, hums. "In light of that" he says slowly. "I'm starting to realise why draconic husbandry is such a closely guarded secret. If people realised you could keep dragons with this kind of diet…"
Desmond makes a face. "Keep dragons," he mutters. "That's nice."
"Apologies, but that is how it is seen by most people," Leonardo says apologetically, offering him a smile and then turning to Claudia. "I have been keeping track of Desmond's habits and comparing them to what little I know of dragons, and what I have heard from Madonna Maria. I think… we are discovering a whole different, and far more efficient, method of draconic husbandry here. With these methods, and who knows what else we can come up with… any nation could triple their draconic capacity."
More than, if her calculations hold true. So far she's managed to diminish the cost of keeping Desmond fed down to one fifth of what it seemed, originally – and he's a heavyweight, and also enjoying daily meals now, compared to the much sparser schedule of forced feeding every other day or so. Over a prolonged period of time Desmond might prove costlier than a row of brand new cannons – but a dragon is a much more versatile form of military power… much more valuable, pound for pound. And they have cut the cost of his feeding down to a fifth.
"All the more reason for Ezio to find the spies among us," Claudia says faintly and looks at Desmond. "Has he had any luck with that?"
"You're asking me?" the dragon hums. Claudia gives him a flat look and he relents. "He's found two," he says. "But there's still someone he's tracking down. But you know, it's probably not going to be enough to keep something from getting out."
Likely not. "Still, so as long as it will not immediately make its way to the Templars, I will be satisfied," Claudia says with a sigh. "What else have you two figured out that I have to worry about next?"
"Well, I have discovered the means by which dragons fly," Leonardo says, starry eyed once more. "Desmond has a set of organs wholly unique to dragons, I believe, that runs down the length of his form – I believe, they are filled with some air, or gas, that makes his body far lighter than it should by rights be –"
He stops as Desmond moves sharply, lifting his head. Claudia and Leonardo follow his gaze as he hastily rises to his feet and turns around so fast his tail swipes at the bushes.
On the inner courtyard of the villa, in its nest of blankets, the enormous dragon egg has begun to rock.
It is about to hatch.
The whole business of being in the past, meeting Ezio face to face, and Claudia, and Leonardo – Maria too – it hasn't turned out the way Desmond had expected. Not… not that he had all that many expectations, or could really have them, at this point. Being a dragon kind of threw a wrench into all the works, and the funny thing is, he still doesn't know if it's cool or not. Mostly it's just… different.
It also involves a lot of management of the little things. Not as many towers and damsels in distress as one would think, and a lot more sewerage management and figuring out food. Which, while it makes sense in hindsight, how do you feed big creatures is a big thing, and what do you do with the droppings afterwards, that's… that's a thing. Hell, in the future people could bankrupt themselves over just keeping a couple of big dogs fed, and big dogs going about their business could ruin a garden, after a while. And a dragon makes a lot more mess.
At least, unlike with dogs, he has some control over where and how he deals with that. Ahem.
Anyway – there are problems, but they aren't… dramatic or exciting. They're mostly just normal everyday things, except times a dragon. And Ezio is there, and that's nice, but he's also injured, which isn't so nice – he kind of spends most of the day lying down and being vaguely in pain while the gut wound slowly heals. So, no epic draconic flights with an Assassin on his back, just yet. And Ezio is kind of… not on board with the idea of keeping him, yet, anyway.
That's a bummer, because Desmond has this urge to constantly tuck Ezio under his wing and keep him close. It's kinda distracting, really.
So, all in all, for the egg to finally hatch, that's so far the most exciting thing. And worrisome thing.
"Don't be Juno, don't be Juno," Desmond murmurs to the egg, as it rocks back and forth, side to side, as the creature inside it looks for a way out. He can't really see how it could be anyone other than Juno. Juno was the only one there with him when he'd used the Eye, and if someone would want to become a dragon, it's probably Juno, but still… luck be a lady tonight and may the egg not be Juno.
"How exciting," Leonardo murmurs. "Do you think it will be like you, Desmond – I mean, species wise?"
"I don't know, I'll just be happy if it's not Juno," Desmond mutters and glances up as Claudia returns to the courtyard with distracted looking Maria. The elder woman's eyes clear up the moment she spots the egg, rocking.
"Oh, wonderful," she says and claps her hands together. "It is hatching – quick, fetch the Captain."
"Er," Claudia says. "We haven't a Captain."
"Nonsense, of course there is one, there must be one," Maria says and comes to check the egg. "Oh, they are ready to go, aren't they – we must prepare food for the little one. They hatch hungry, you know. Have something butchered for it, and once the Captain has harnessed and named it, they will have something ready to eat."
Claudia looks worried for a moment. "I'll – see what the cooks have ready in the kitchen," she decides and heads off. "And send someone to find Ezio," she adds in a mutter.
Desmond narrows his eyes at that and then turns to the egg. "Whoever you are, you can't have Ezio," he says firmly to it. "He's mine."
"Oh, no one will try and take your Captain from you, don't you worry," Maria says, patting the rocking egg. "Shouldn't be long now."
While Leonardo leans in, sketchbook in hand and charcoal moving swiftly over it to capture the cracks forming on the egg's surface, Claudia returns with a number of servants, carrying with them pots and pans of what must've been intended as their dinner that evening. The little one, whoever it is, would eat like Italian nobility. If they aren't Juno.
The egg cracks just as Ezio runs into the courtyard, and then it bursts into several pieces, as the dragon inside it just throws all limbs out, legs and wings both, pushing the egg away in every direction. It then stumbles in the lack of the egg to lean on, tumbling into the blankets in a mess of fluid and bits of egg and flailing limbs.
Desmond tilts his head. The little dragon looks a bit like him – paler though, a lot paler, but got the same Apple of Eden streak pattern, which only looks natural when you don't think about it too hard. No spines, no horns, sort of burnished gold hue… they don't look half bad.
"Oh, wow," Leonardo murmurs, hastily opening another page and trying to draw the little dragon before it moves too much.
The little dragon shakes their head – which is, in that fashion of baby creatures everywhere, way too big for their little body. Then they look up at Desmond, who looks down at them, trying to figure out if it's female or not. He can't tell.
The little dragon releases a little huff. "I can't believe you thought I'd be Juno," he then says. "Desmond, you idiot."
"… Clay?" Desmond asks dubiously.
The little dragon huffs again and shakes his wings, flicking his back leg awkwardly to try and get a bit of egg shell off it. "Obviously," he says and coughs. "A little issue with – data compression. Hence, you know, the egg thing. Didn't help that you threw us wildly off track there," he says and looks at himself, lifting individual skinny little legs and then stretching and making an even worse mess of the blankets. "Cramped in there," he mutters and then sits down, looking around curiously.
"Huh," Desmond says and noses at him. "Clay. You clever son of a bitch. You uploaded yourself into me."
"Well. A little bit?" Clay mutters, almost knocked over by the push of Desmond's snout. "Careful with the goods there, I just got born."
Desmond grins toothily at him and noses at him again. He's so tiny, it's hilarious. "Aww, you're a baby. This is adorable. Stretch out your wings, I wanna see how small they are. Oh my god, look at your little claws."
"Oh my god, are you going to try and baby me?" Clay asks with horrified fascination, while Desmond tries to get a proper feel of his legs. "Stop that – Desmond – "
"Er," comes from the side, from the people watching them. Leonardo coughs. "I take it that this is not Juno, then?" he asks, the sketchbook listing in his hands.
"Oh, is that food?" Clay asks, perking up and pushing away from Desmond, who grins as the guy's tiny little talons scrape over his hide. "I haven't eaten anything since I died, ohh, gimme gimme…"
Claudia and the servants quickly set the pans down on the floor, and Clay scrambles over them, little tail lashing as he hurries. He tries not to just fall into the food, obviously, trying to eat with something like restraint – it lasts about a second before he tastes the food, and then he's all gone.
Desmond can't stop grinning. It's Clay. The egg was Clay. "This is so awesome," he says, heartfelt, the tip of his tail wiggling on its own.
Ezio carefully inches around the little dragon and comes to Desmond's side. "I assume he is like you, then?" he asks, resting a hand on Desmond's neck.
"Oh no – he's much worse," Desmond says happily. "But yeah, he's from the future like me."
"… ah. Great," Ezio says and coughs. "Do I have to manage him too?"
"No," Desmond says quickly, and just barely keeps himself from putting his arms around Ezio. He does kind of angle his head so that he's between Ezio and Clay, though. Just a little. "No, he can find someone else, you're mine."
"I wouldn't even want him," Clay says, sounding almost offended, his face covered in sauces. "Think of all the places he's been in – you can keep him, Seventeen, I don't want him. I'll take Leonardo instead."
"I'm sorry, what?" Leonardo asks, startled.
"Oh, that's a terrible idea," Desmond says, his eyes widening as he imagines it. Clay and Leonardo. That's a horrible, horrible pairing. It's, like, world-endingly horrible. "Oh, god."
"Yep, we're going to change the future, just watch us, it's going to be great," Clay says, and dives back into the food.
Leonardo's sketchbook slips from his fingers and hits the floor.
While Leonardo and Ezio head out, probably to get drunk, Desmond shows Clay the oven and the cauldron, and then the toilet he and Leonardo built for them.
"Composting. Really?" Clay asks, giving him a dubious draconic look. "You come back in time as a dragon, and your issue is composting your shit. Literally composting your shit."
"I'm environmentally minded like that," Desmond says with a sniff. "Also the mess I was making by the forest was kind of getting to me. Felt wrong, is all. Anyway, it makes less of a mess, less of a smell, and one day people can use it for those fields over there, win-win."
"All sort of awful pathogens aside," Clay mutters.
"Proper composting takes care of most of those," Desmond muses, peering at the fields. "Anyway it's an issue, here. Food, agriculture, all that. It's not like these people have mass production and industrialised farming going on."
"The concerns you have are seriously skewed. What about the Apple, the Isu, all that?"
"Nothing we can do about it if we starve to death before then, and also bankrupt the Auditore," Desmond shrugs. "Anyway, Ezio is healing from being stabbed by the Orsi back in the Forlí business – "
Clay makes an impatient noise. "What Forlí business?"
Desmond blinks and looks down at him. "Er. Ezio took the Apple to Forlí, to hide it there for some reason, probably because Caterina had bigger armies and whatnot. It was attacked by these douches, the Orsi Brothers, and during the whole ordeal Ezio got stabbed. Anyway, the Apple is with Savonalora, and Ezio is still healing – once he's ready to go, he's going to go and find the Apple. Probably."
"Hmm," Clay answers. "Right." Shaking his head, he scrambles up Desmond's side, balancing on his spine and then climbing to his neck. "Hey-ho, Silver, away," he says while clamping on with all claws. "Let's go back, your compost toilet sucks, and I'm hungry again."
"My compost toilet is awesome and revolutionary, and you will appreciate it for what it is," Desmond huffs, but spreads out his wings, arching back to the town and landing in the backyard. "You have no idea how important proper sanitation is for history," Desmond says, while Clay takes a tumble off his back. "And how many people die of cholera before it is figured out properly?"
"Yes, yes, very terrible," Clay says, while righting himself and pretending like he didn't just do an unintended somersault. He sniffs. "A little more concerned about the end of the world, happening in five hundred years' time. A bit more pressing."
"I mean. No, actually, it isn't?" Desmond asks, giving him a look. "Five hundred years is a long time – starvation and cholera are a bit more immediate. And the bankruptcy of friends and family, that's bad too. We should take care of the basics."
Clay makes a face at that and then hums. "I'm hungry," he announces again and looks around. "I want food."
Desmond sighs. Maybe things are still decompressing in Clay. Shaking his head, he turns to peer into the villa's windows until he catches sight of a servant, who almost jumps out of their skin at the sight of him, peering at them through the window. "Sorry to bother you, but Clay is hungry."
"I – will tell Ser Ezio," the maid pipes out, and then flees.
"That's handy," Clay comments, ruffling his wings. "Having people at your beck and call, well done there."
"Yeah, well, they're Ezio's people," Desmond says and lays down on his belly on the cool tiles of the courtyard, giving him a look. "You need to be careful with them. They're small and fragile and still kind of scared. And the Auditore, they're risking a lot, having us here and dealing with us. So… be nice."
"Mmh," Clay answers, sitting on his haunches like a particularly big and scaly dog. Then he peers up at Desmond. "Ezio isn't nice to you, though. He's mostly avoiding you."
"No he isn't," Desmond says, sniffing.
"Yeah, he is. He's almost never there," Clay says, tilting his head. "He just sort of leaves Leonardo to deal with you and fucks off. That's not nice."
Desmond blows out a breath in his direction, but he can't deny it. "He's dealing with a lot," he mutters. "And he's still recovering – and how do you even know that, anyway? You've been here for, like… an hour."
"I could hear things in the egg. And around a lot, Ezio wasn't," Clay says. "For all that you say he's yours – "
"Okay, okay, shut up," Desmond mutters and lays his head down, watching how the cooks hurry out of the villa, carrying with them cooking supplies to throw into the cauldron – included partially cooked chickens and baskets full of vegetables. They go to the cauldron and then start throwing some frenzied look in Desmond's direction and he remembers – he hadn't refilled it yet.
"If you would – please," the cook says worriedly. "It would speed things along quite a deal."
"Alright, alright," Desmond says and stands up. "I'll fill it up."
They'd rigged a special bucket for him in the well beside the villa – which is basically a barrel on the thickest rope Leonardo could find from Monteriggioni. With the thing Desmond can fill the cauldron up in a single go, instead of the nearly thirty normal buckets it would take for people to do the same.
Clay watches him, head tilted to the side, while Desmond pours the water into the cauldron. "Hm," he says. "Can we breathe fire?" he asks then, turning to Desmond. "I'm asking because it will take forever for that stuff to heat up, and I bet it would be faster if we could breathe fire."
The servants look frankly alarmed by that suggestion.
Desmond sighs and lays beside him. "I don't think so," he admits. "At least I don't feel like that's a thing I can do."
"Same. Pity," Clay says and tilts his head the other way. "That oven is actually pretty clever," he comments. "I tried to figure out how it worked, in the shell, but now that I see it, I can tell Leonardo really thought about it, how to heat something that big efficiently. It's almost like a wok stove. Nice."
Desmond casts him a look. "Why are you sounding smug, you had nothing to do with it."
"But Leonardo did," Clay says.
Desmond eyes him dubiously. "You know, if the Auditore can barely afford us, how do you think Leonardo could afford to keep you?" he comments, a little unkindly maybe, but then, Clay didn't need to point out that stuff about Ezio. "He's not your Captain just because you say he is."
"Yes, he is," Clay says determinedly.
"No, I'm pretty sure he isn't."
"Like he's actually going to turn me down once he realises what I know and can teach him," Clay says with a sniff. "All the stuff he wants to learn about, I know. I can teach him so many things. He won't turn me down."
"Doesn't mean he can afford to feed you."
"Well… then I will…" Clay scoffs. "Hmm."
"Earn your own money?" Desmond finishes amusedly.
"Shut up, you should be on my side here," Clay mutters and casts him a look. "This is all your fault anyway."
"Hey, you're a stowaway. It's your own fault for coming along, you got no leg to stand on, blaming me for this," Desmond says and huffs a breath at him. "Stop acting like a dick, Sixteen. It just makes you look like a hissy cat."
Clay, in display of perfect maturity, hisses at him, all ruffled. Then, he lets out a noise – or rather, his stomach does, and he whines, "I'm hungry," in tone of irritation. "Forgot how that feels. Not pleasant."
"Young dragons have to eat quite a deal to grow up," a female voice says, and Desmond looks up to see Maria joining them in the backyard. "How are you doing, my dears?"
"Where's Leonardo?" Clay asks, petulant. "I want to see him."
"I'm sure you will, soon," Maria says, patting his head. "Once he has settled his nerves a bit. Oh, has no one cleaned you? You still have egg slime on you."
"I know, it's itchy," Clay mutters, rubbing his head on her hand.
"Cat," Desmond mutters and then goes to fetch more water, so that Maria can wipe Clay down.
Ezio and Leonardo come out a little later, while they wait for the food to boil and Clay gets whinier and whinier about being hungry. Desmond casts them a look and – yep, they were definitely drinking, at least a bit. Ezio walks with that easy, overconfident swagger he gets when he's drunk, and Leonardo is looking a little flushed.
Maybe it's like finding you're a father, suddenly, to have a baby dragon decide that, "This person, they're the one, I'm going to keep them." Desmond would sympathise, except… except he's just mostly jealous. He kind of misses alcohol and could really do with a drink, too.
"Leonardo," Clay pipes up, moving towards him like an eager puppy, splashing water from his wings as he goes. "Hey, hi – I like your oven, it's very efficient."
"Oh, thank you – Clay," Leonardo says, coughing, and pats him on the head. "Oh, hey," he says then, with wonder, and pets Clay all over the head while the little dragon croons, shamelessly.
Ezio just sighs, walks over to Desmond, and face plants against his side – which is – is – wonderful and terrifying and wonderful and, "Hey," Desmond says, soft, nudging at his shoulder. "Are you alright?"
"Hhmrh," Ezio answers, not lifting his head, even as he sort of slides down and Desmond has to put a hand under him to stop him from falling over. Ezio grumbles something more, and it sounds a bit like, "I have accepted my fate; do your worst, destiny." Which is both alarming and awesome, and also – he's right there. And small. And Ezio. And right there.
Desmond manages not to croon happily himself, but it's a close thing.
Maria looks at them, tuts quietly and says, "Oh, you silly boys," which probably summarises the whole thing.
yea you got me
Ezio wakes up sometime in the middle of the night, warm and comfortable despite the fact that what he is laying on is very much not a bed, and he can feel the breath of air on his face, too fresh and clean to be any draft indoors. No, he's quite outdoors, and yet, it is oddly pleasant. There is a thrum of soft noise under his ear, where it is pressed on what feels like tough leather, and – ah.
He is lying on his side on Desmond's forearm, the dragon's chest at his back, a wing lifted half to cover him, and keep him from the wind.
What woke him, he isn't sure at first, not until he hears the quiet murmur of voices. "… and they produce their own gravity? Fascinating – how much mass does an object need to have to do such a thing?" Leonardo asks, voice hushed and amazed.
"That's the funny thing – doesn't matter how big or small, everything has gravity," another voice answers, the strangely adult voice of an infant dragon. "Grain of sand has gravity, it's just so small that you can't really even measure it, never mind feel it. The Moon, it's about 1.2 percent of the Earth's mass, and its gravity is about… 16.6 percent of Earth gravity."
"Incredible – in your time people know such things so precisely? I wonder what it would feel like, to exist in such lighter gravity," Leonardo murmurs.
"It's a bit like – like being underwater. You can't swim in it, but you can definitely bounce."
Ezio opens his eyes, as behind his back Desmond's chest expands with a deep, slow inhale. The dragon's head is laid on the tiles of the backyard, angled towards him – over the bronze hued bend of his neck, Ezio can see Leonardo and the infant dragon, sitting on the grass, peering up at the sky, at the moon and stars above Monteriggioni. They're barely visible in the darkness, Ezio can only see them because of Eagle Vision.
"Anyway," Clay says. "There's more going on with planetary objects than just gravity – there are internal forces in action. Like with Earth, there's a whole liquid outer core spinning around an inner core that's basically a lump of solid iron – and Sun, the Sun's got even more going on. It's kind of… exploding, all the time, and it would pretty much destroy everything in the solar system with its explosion, but it's so big, so massive, that its gravity forces it to stay put, kind of."
"And… the gravity of the sun is weakening?" Leonardo asks warily. "That's why the solar flare occurs?"
"… no. No, that's. It's more complicated," the little dragon says with a sigh. "There are other forces going on. Plasma channels and acceleration of charged particles and magnetic fields… mostly bad luck of a lot of energetic things happening, all at once, creating the coronal mass ejection of nightmares." Leonardo turns to look at him and the dragon explains, "The Sun spits fire at the solar system. Basically."
"Ah," Leonardo says. "And this will burn the Earth."
"That and other things. Magnetic poles will flip, compasses will start pointing south, there will be massive earthquakes all over while the tectonic plates shift, volcanoes will pop up all over the place," the dragon says and lays his head on Leonardo's lap. "Killed most of all life on Earth the last time around."
Ezio watches, not moving, as Leonardo puts his hand on the dragon's neck, quietly stroking. "I suppose we need to do something to stop it," he says then.
"Desmond was supposed to stop it," Clay mutters. "Back in our world. Dunno if he did. Probably, because he's a soft heart. Don't know what the hell will happen here."
Behind Ezio's back, the chest of a dragon expands again, quicker, and then Desmond sighs, opening one large eye and then the other, both glinting near amber in the moonlight. He looks up at Ezio, pupils expanding, and then rolls his eyes at Clay.
Ezio, not knowing what to say, strokes the scales of the dragon's forearm, soothingly, he hopes. The dragon's eyes narrow, in what Ezio can now recognize as fondness, and then Desmond curls closer to him, his head nearer to Ezio. Curious and tentative, Ezio reaches to rest his hand over the dragon's brow as Desmond closes his eyes and sights, sleepier this time.
As Leonardo and his young dragon move onto the talk of the celestial mechanics of the Sun, Ezio makes himself comfortable on Desmond's arm and joins him in sleep.
The next morning, Ezio approaches the local tailor about getting a harness made for Desmond.
"It needn't be military suitable, likely he will never have a full crew of riders, only myself and perhaps a couple of others, in dire circumstances," Ezio says, sighing. "But I would like it to be secure nonetheless."
"Of course, ser Ezio," the tailor says, a little nervous. "But does that mean – I would need to measure the beast, of course, and – perhaps you could do the measurement, and I can work from them?"
Ezio gives him an unimpressed look. "There is nothing to fear," he says. "Desmond is the softest of dragons, he would not harm you."
"Of course not," the tailor says quickly. "It is only – he is – well, he is very big. What if he, accidentally –"
"He will not," Ezio says. "Now come, the sooner we have the harness ready, the better."
Desmond still stays behind the villa, out of respect of the townspeople's fear, but most everyone must have seen him more than once now, going and coming from the fortress to his toilet, if nothing else. Why they still fear him, Ezio can understand, and the fact that the town is still closed up does not help matters. They could not even let traders in, for now, and Claudia bought the fortress supplies through a closed gate, it was not helping matters.
Hopefully, soon things would change. Ezio is nearly certain he has weeded out all the spies – and with hope, La Volpe, Mario and others would arrive soon and aid him with the rest.
"Until then, we must still be careful," Ezio says, considering the dragon – his dragon – from the future. "The word might have already gone out that there is a dragon in Monteriggioni, but hopefully nothing more.
"Considering that the entire town knows, I'm not sure you can actually keep the secret," Desmond muses. "Pity it's too late to make everyone think we're just insane or something."
Ezio looks at him with some surprise. "You wouldn't mind such subterfuge?"
"It wouldn't be the first time people thought I was going mad," Desmond says and peers at Clay, who is halfway into the cauldron, his tail end sticking out. "Do you need help there, before you drown in soup?" the elder dragon calls.
"I'm fine, thanks," Clay answers, his tail lashing out and his voice echoing.
Leonardo is watching from the side, half amused and half concerned. "Perhaps I could ladle some out for you, instead?" he asks, worriedly. "We could have a smaller container for you, a pan or a pot. that way you do not have to stick your head in there."
Clay doesn't answer, packing away and then letting off a deep belch. "It's fine," he says, and hops down, making a little glide over to Leonardo. "I can manage. Clean my face?" he asks hopefully, showing off his face – which is now liberally covered in chicken soup
Ezio folds his arm as Leonardo, with an oddly besotted look about him, goes about wiping his young dragon clean. He's rather glad he didn't need to go through such ordeal with Desmond. Clay eats several times a day, not a full cauldron, yet, but in ever increasing amounts – and it's never a clean affair. Leonardo now has a rag and a bucket ready at all times, to clean the beast up.
Desmond is more fastidious by far, and there is never a mess to clean with him.
The elder dragon seem to agree, letting out an amused noise and shaking his head at the pair. "Poor Leonardo," he comments. "Clay is going to be a handful."
"I'm sure he will be up to it," Ezio says, amused, and turns back to him. "I hope we can keep this secret for as long as we can, your origins and the things you know, but you might be right in that it's bound to one day come out. We should consider the consequences, if it does."
"Hmm," Desmond hums, settling down to look at him. "Rodrigo Borgia is still alive, right?"
"And will likely do all in his power to gain access to your knowledge, should he hear of it and realise the potential it possesses," Ezio agrees. "And according to you, he is aiming to become the Pope. Should he succeed here as he did in your world, that would give him access to a great army. Enough of one to attack Monteriggioni, should they be able to make a deal with Siena…"
"Yeah... These years were peaceful for you, though, in my world," Desmond muses. "Rodrigo didn't become the Pope until 92, and he was pretty busy with that for a while, I guess. I think there were several years between the attack on Forlí, and when the stuff in Florence started happening."
"Stuff?" Ezio asks, looking at him closely. "What stuff?"
"Ah, Savonarola. The monk who took your Apple?" Desmond says and leans in to nudge at him fondly. "In my world he used the Apple to start this period of not good time in Florence, started in 1491 I think. He overthrew the government, used the Apple on people to turn them to his side, and ended the whole thing in a grand book and art burning spree called the Bonfire of the Vanities. In my world, he was killed at the stake, and you took the Apple back in… 1497?"
"It took me that long to find him?" Ezio asks, stroking his hand over Desmond's hide.
"Well… you were recovering from a pretty bad gut wound for a really long time?" Desmond offers apologetically. "Also, I think Savonarola went to ground for like four years, so there wasn't much to find. And in the meanwhile the Templars didn't have the Apple, and they didn't know where it was either, so… I guess it was kind of an enforced period of peace for everyone."
"Hm," Ezio hums. That does sound rather tempting. If history would repeat itself, there would be trouble once the Apple was found again.
"I wonder if you could just go to the Vatican, see the message and shove the Apple into the vault immediately after," Clay wonders, while Leonardo scratches him under the chin, much to his obvious delight.
"Hm?" Ezio asks, frowning.
Desmond makes an uncomfortable noise. "I might have not been able to cover everything just yet," he says, and the end of his tail flicks out, like that of an agitated cat. "But in my defence, you kept running away, and I couldn't."
To hear that the prophecy given by Altaïr would eventually lead him to a message from a goddess is not nearly as surprising as it would have been, without the two dragons from the future, one of whom hatched with the full intelligence of the man, and other, who claimed Ezio for his own. It is still a little startling.
"I fear we have gotten involved with powers we do not understand, yet," Leonardo says comfortingly, later, once they are alone and Ezio can safely lament the sudden, enormous change in his life. "But I dare say it will have its benefit. Now we are forewarned, if nothing else. That is something, surely."
Ezio gives him a look and sighs. From what he had seen and heard, Leonardo and Clay are well matched, and of course Leonardo would be excited over any creature that could share with him the secrets of the creation. Desmond is calmer, for which Ezio thinks he can be grateful now, but he is an odd amalgamation of near passivity with bursts of truthfulness that seems to change everything. Yes, Ezio would prefer to know, and be forewarned. But to know the things destined…
"This would be far easier to handle, were I not also sick, and wounded, and dealing with Mother, on top of everything else. And the town," Ezio says, sighing, and reaches for the wine. "Were I feeling better, I imagine would be quite for it, riding a dragon… though how I am to continue as an Assassin with one..."
"Perhaps you needn't, anymore," Leonardo suggests, quieter now. "You have killed the Pazzi and put an end to the Templar plot in Venezia also. You've brought justice to three great nations, my friend – four, if one counts San Gimignano."
Ezio hums. Since he left Firenze, eight years ago now, the city had gone through tumultuous time. Threatened by the Papacy, leadership excommunicated, the city under interdict... True enough, thanks to Ezio's actions the Templars had not gained control of Firenze, but he cannot say he brought it true peace. But then, at this point he is starting to wonder if anyone can truly bring peace to any nation, ever. There will always be those who crave war, and he cannot kill them all.
Taking a drink, Ezio turns his eyes to the window where he can see Desmond and Clay in the backyard. The little dragon has climbed to sit on top of Desmond's head, and the pair of them are peering over Monteriggioni's walls interestedly. Soon, Desmond would have a harness for Ezio to ride upon. Clay, eventually, might have the same. All they know and want and will do with that knowledge aside… Ezio is now a companion of a dragon. Like Antonius of the times of Caesar.
"My friend," he says, turning to Leonardo. "How ever are you going to keep a dragon? You live in Milan, should you try to take Clay there, the city will either try and claim him, or kill him."
Leonardo hesitates, looking at the dragons as well. "I… had hoped…" he glances at Ezio and smiles. "Of course, I cannot take Clay there. I fear I must beg for your hospitality – and offer any and all of my services that will pay for it – and for Clay's keep."
Ezio gives him a sympathetic look and then reaches over to lay his hand over his. "You are welcome, of course you are welcome, and we will take care of you both," he says with a sigh. "And I am sorry. Had I known –"
"You better had called me anyway, I wouldn't miss this for the world," Leonardo says firmly, glances at their hands and then quickly looks outside. "I know I don't yet know what I have gotten myself into, with Clay, but when he looks at me so, when he trusts me so much… there is no other place I could go, no other thing I would do, than this."
Ezio doesn't quite feel like that, with Desmond. Perhaps it is because Desmond is older, and Ezio knows he could very well survive on his own – with, perhaps, some trouble from whatever nation he happened to land on. But there is certainly something, in having a creature like that look at you, and being secure in the absolute knowledge that they love you.
There are still things to be settled here, and to be figured out. The Apple, for one, must be retrieved, this Ezio already knew and would get on with, as soon as he could ride again. After that, the Templars – should they come after the Apple, should they find out… they would need to be dealt with. Along with every other threat that might come across. And there would be threats.
And then the matters of celestial threats, and goddesses leaving messages. Ezio would deal with those, in time, and with Desmond's assistance, such as it was.
But for now, the thought is settling in, and Ezio wonders if he could be content with it, after all. Now that the stress of affording their feeding has passed… it is not such a bad thought as that.
Leonardo looks at him and then turns his hand under Ezio's, to grip his in turn, and together they drink quietly – or they do, until Desmond's snout nudges at the window, and Clay with clever talons gets the thing open.
"Hate to interrupt your downtime, but we think Mario is back," the little dragon says. "Or at least a party of people just rode in, and the guards are opening the gates for them. And Desmond thinks you'd like to know."
Desmond makes a noise under Clay and then lifts his head to look at Ezio. "I think La Volple, Machiavelli and Paola are with him," he adds.
"Ah, thank you," Ezio says, releasing Leonardo's hand. "I'll go see them in, then. And perhaps stay down, until I have time to warn them? Both Claudia and I wrote to Uncle Mario about you, but I do not know if the others are aware, and I'd rather not startle them."
"Will do," Desmond says and pulls back, with Clay's voice piping up. "They were holding hands," and Desmond going, "Shush, you, let them be, they're under a lot of stress right now…"
Ezio shakes his head and glances at Leonardo, who is looking studiously at the wine bottle. "Would you like to join me?" he asks.
"Yes," Leonardo says and sets the bottle down. "Of course I would."
"… it was the most ludicrous thing," Mario mutters. "Some Templar spy put a word in someone's ear and money in their hand, and just like that, we were stuck in quarantine in the harbour while the Venetian officials investigated whether or not our ship had the plague or not, and whether there was any in the city. Twelve days of investigation and quarantine, on an outbound ship!"
Ezio smothers an amused noise. "That does sound unfortunate, but obviously you were released from it eventually," he says.
"Not without trouble, I assure you," Mario says with a harrumph. "Bah. I think it may be a while until I visit Venice again. Feels as though every time I do, I spend half of the visit in quarantine. Waste of time."
"It is how they have kept the city plague- and disease-free, these many years," Machiavelli comments. "It is quite genius, when you think about it, all the trouble aside."
"Leonardo, we didn't expect you here," Paola says, taking him by the hands and kissing his cheeks. "It is wonderful to see you again, darling. It has been too long."
"You as well, Madonna," Leonardo says, squeezing her hands gently.
"Now what is this about the town's lockdown," Mario asks, turning to Ezio as they begin heading towards the villa. "Is it because of the dragon?"
"Yes, and no – and now, I'm sorry to say, it's two dragons," Ezio says. "The egg hatched, two nights ago."
"What are you intending to do with them?" Machiavelli asks, keen. "Dragons are an incredible military asset, to be sure, but there is no conceivable way a fortress of Monteriggioni's size can afford the feeding."
"Actually, turns out we can," Ezio says with a laugh. "Which is a long story in and of itself, but not really the main issue. These two aren't only dragons. They are dragons touched by the Apple of Eden and similar forces – and they came here, because I, unfortunately, am the Prophet."
Though not the precise truth, it is the simplest way to put it in a way they would quickly understand, and Ezio certainly has their interest now. From there it is easy to move onto telling them that the dragons know things, that they are capable of things – that they are not of this world. Leonardo casts him a look as he explains it, and perhaps Ezio does lay it on a bit thick, but then…
They all did gather in Venice to meet the Prophet, so… such fantastical tale seems par for the course, really.
It certainly gives Desmond and Clay a great prelude, and when the company sees the dragons, their appearance is given greater importance by the tale. They really do look like they were cut from the same cloth as the Apple, with their hide like ancient metal, marked with similar lines that marked the shell of the Apple. There is no denying the similarity, or the vast, human intelligence that shines in the eyes of both.
"Oh my," Paola murmurs.
Ezio folds his arms, looking at them, trying to see them through the eyes of the Brotherhood, rather than as a man shackled with a duty he did not yet understand. "They know of future technologies, and powers, and events that will come to pass," he says. "That is why I closed the town – to weed out spies. Everyone in town already knows what the dragons do, unfortunately, there was no keeping it a secret."
Mario hums, and Machiavelli looks fascinated and troubled. La Volpe looks at Ezio. "Have you had any luck with that?"
"I found two – one who worked for Firenze, and another who I think came from Siena, though he would not tell," Ezio says. "Both are dead now. I still fear there might be more, though I haven't been able to find them yet. The city has more people these days, after all."
"Hm. I think I can help you there," La Volpe says, thoughtfully. "But I'm afraid anyone can be made into a spy, Ezio, even if they aren't one yet – all it takes is the right person and the right sum."
"For now I'll be happy if the information will not make it straight to Templar hands," Ezio says and looks at Mario. "According to Desmond, Rodrigo Borgia aims for the seat of the Pope and might get there within a handful of years. That would give him an army easily capable of overtaking Monteriggioni."
"Troubling proposition, to be sure," Mario mutters, stroking a hand over his chin, "What else have the dragons told you – do they know where the Apple of Eden is, or has it been lost to us, forever?"
"They know, and as soon as I can ride again I will go and fetch it," Ezio promises – if Desmond wouldn't insist on flying him over there, of course… "For now, I do not believe we have to worry about it."
"That is good news, certainly," Machiavelli says and looks at Ezio. "I assume you mean to keep these dragons in Monteriggioni, then?"
"I'm afraid I have to," Ezio says ruefully. "Not that I would send them away, anyway, with what they know. But the responsibility is a little personal now, I'm afraid. Desmond made me his Captain, for my sins, and I don't think he will take it back now."
"And," Leonardo adds. "I have become the companion of Clay – that is to say, the younger dragon."
The other Assassins turn to look at him with shock.
"So," Ezio says, and shakes his head ruefully. "Things have changed, somewhat."
Clay is getting used to being a dragon. Not that there is much getting used to there – not because being a dragon isn't complicated, no, it's way complicated. It's more because his reference points are a little askew. It's easier to get used to a new body when you don't really have much in the way of memories of an old one to compare to and be confused by, as it turns out.
The growing, though. The constant hunger, which swings from mild discomfort to suddenly feeling like he's going to starve to death unless he can fill himself up to the gullet right now. The going between bouts of manic energy – familiar though it feels – and then complete lethargy. He naps a lot, which would probably be more restful without the dreams. Or lack thereof. Mostly it's just memories.
There's so much to do, and he doesn't have the time to just sit around and wait for his stupid new body to settle enough that he can actually concentrate onto things.
"You know we're not actually in a hurry anywhere just yet?" Desmond points out. "Five hundred years, Clay, that's enough time to take a break and get settled in."
"Is it though, Seventeen, really, is it?" Clay snaps. "We don't know when we're going to die, how soon, how late – you could die at any moment, and then what, then what have you accomplished?"
Desmond sighs and nudges at him with his snout. "I've accomplished enough to give forewarning, that's something," he says. "We're not going to die anytime soon."
"You don't know that. You know a future, and not even the future that's waiting for us. This world is an alternate reality, you have no idea. Any moment now someone might sneak up and stick a knife into you. Or into me!"
"Hm," Desmond answers dubiously. "Not on Ezio's watch."
"Bah. You trust him too much," Clay mutters, curling in on himself. With more Assassins coming along, and a lot of them with varying opinions about how future should be handled… hell, one of those guys is fucking Machiavelli. And Ezio himself has an avoid, destroy, bury approach to the future, when it came to technological advancements. Speaking of which, "Where is Leonardo? I'm getting hungry again."
"There's soup in the cauldron, they filled it up after the last time you ate, and it's been simmering for a couple of hours now," Desmond says. "And he's coming over now, look."
Clay hesitates between the cauldron and the people approaching them, and decides to stay put, for now. After, though, he'd eat everything in the cauldron. And probably fall asleep immediately after.
"Desmond, Clay," Ezio says, approaching them. "Here are some people who would like to meet you."
"Tch," Clay answers.
"We know them already," Desmond says, calmer, while Clay ignores everyone and makes his way over to Leonardo. It makes everything better, to have the Polymath close by. Makes it feel like he can do this and everything will be alright, despite Desmond being Desmond and Ezio being there.
"Hey there," Leonardo says, putting a hand on his head, stroking gently. "Are you hungry again?"
"I'm always hungry," Clay mutters, burying his snout into Leonardo's side and sighing. Being a dragon is something else, it could be interesting, probably – but being a dragon with what feels like separation anxiety, and maybe just anxiety in general, that's not too much fun. Probably some codependence thing going on too. And who knows what else, he doesn't want to imagine it too closely.
Leonardo hums sympathetically, running his palm over Clay's back – totally feeling for the muscles and bones of his wing joints, he's trying to figure out dragon anatomy, the dork.
"Ezio tells us you know the future," Mario says.
"A version of it," Desmond agrees. "It's probably getting more and more inaccurate the longer we're here, though."
"Inaccurate how?" Machiavelli asks.
"Well, last time around there weren't dragons in Monteriggioni, so… that's inaccurate, I guess," Desmond says.
"Not that we know what's accurate here anyway," Clay mutters into Leonardo's clothing. "It being alternate reality and all. With dragons, of all things."
"With you, now," Leonardo says fondly, and brings Clay's head up with a gentle hand. "Go eat before you fall asleep – no one wants you to wake up with an empty belly."
"I don't want to wake up with an empty belly either, it hurts," Clay says and sighs and turns to the oven and the cauldron.
He would, for the sake of being generally annoyed at everything, like to say that he's getting sick of the cheap chicken soup they make for them. But damn, he's really not. It's delicious, and always warm, and they thicken it with wheat and stuff, and after the first time he almost choked on a whole chicken, the cooks began to cut the birds up into smaller chunks, which makes the food thicker, and it's just… kind of nice.
Which is funny, because he hated chicken soup as a man.
Somewhere behind him, Leonardo and Ezio and Desmond explain the cauldron and the whole process of feeding a couple of dragons – Leonardo and Ezio are planning on adding another cauldron, so that one could always be kept full for Clay, and other would be for Desmond, who didn't eat so often, but emptied the whole lot in one go. It's one of those important non-important basic things that Clay really doesn't want to bother with and is kind of glad that he doesn't even have to.
"And like this, according to Claudia's calculations, Monteriggioni can actually afford keeping two heavyweight dragons," Ezio concludes.
"Incredible. This must be how the Chinese do it," Machiavelli muses.
"It would be so much cheaper if potatoes were a thing already," Desmond says. "Maybe one day."
"What – potatoes?" Ezio asks, confused.
"A vegetable from Peru – er, I guess Peru isn't a thing yet. It's from the New World – has it been found yet – oi, Clay, when did Columbus do his thing?" Desmond calls his ways
Clay lifts his head and burps. "1492," he says and looks their way while balancing on the edge of the cauldron with all feet clamped on. "Though Vikings beat him to it by centuries, and I'm pretty sure there were other civilisations from even before that got accidentally or intentionally blown across the ocean, so he does not get dibs."
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway," Desmond says, turning back to the humans while Clay sticks his head into the cauldron. "There's a couple continents across the Atlantic, and they have their own food crops. Potato is one of the best ones, it's like… stable food for a lot and a lot of people in the future. But I guess since the continents haven't been found, no luck getting any of that yet."
"The continents are apparent on the pages of the Codex," Ezio adds. "There is a secret drawing underneath the text, a map of the world – it includes several unknown landmasses."
"Yeah, Altaïr saw the whole world map with the Apple," Desmond agrees. "It showed him all the other pieces of Eden, and the Temples, all around the world."
"Incredible. And you know where these things are as well?" Mario asks.
"Not all of them. A few of them, though, yeah," Desmond agrees, and Clay decides to ignore them in favour of trying to empty the cauldron. He doesn't quite manage, but he does succeed in drinking almost half of it, before his belly begins to complain and he gets almost too heavy to climb out of it again.
"Feeling better, then?" Leonardo asks, waiting for him with a rag and a bucket.
"Mmh," Clay agrees, hopping down and waddling over to him to be cleaned. "I can't wait to grow up, hopefully I'll stop being so hungry all the time," he murmurs, lifting his head up as Leonardo starts wiping him down. Clay hums, happy, and nuzzles his head into the rag.
"You're growing fast, to my eye. You've easily doubled your weight and size already," Leonardo muses, fondly. "Soon, I think you could fly."
"Yeah," Clay says, and yawns. "I'll take you up once I can. After you've finished the parachute."
"Oh, you know about that? And it will work?" Leonardo asks, excited.
"I have some improvements you might be interested in," Clay says, settling on his belly and nuzzling past the rag and closer to Leonardo, the sleepiness mounting as the warm food settles. "Remind me to tell you about – about fluid dynamics…"
"I most certainly will," Leonardo promises, quickly sitting down with his legs crossed, as Clay loses the very brief fight against the oncoming nap.
The people are gone by the time Clay wakes up, and Leonardo has been replaced by a cushion. Desmond is stretched out beside him, talking quietly with Maria, who is working on some embroidery as they talk.
"… and before that, people and dragons had no interaction at all?" Desmond asks. "They just tried to kill each other?"
"How accurate the stories are is anyone's guess, really," Maria says calmly, working her needle through the fabric. "They are mostly myths and legends, about warriors slaying dragons. "It wasn't until Antonius that people realised that dragons could speak human tongues, if only they heard them in the shell, and that they could be domesticated with the use of a Captain."
"Right," Desmond says. "So, taking advantage of the imprinting instinct. Dragons are basically ducks, then."
Maria hums, noncommittal. "Of course, these days we know that in the Orient, they have been practicing dragon husbandry for thousands of years, far longer than the Romans. Of course, the Romans did it better, but there's something to be said about having such a long head start, I suppose."
Clay lifts his head on the cushion, watching them. Desmond shakes his head a little, but looks at her fondly anyway. Maria is like that awkward, not-quite-all-there grandparent, who has vaguely racist ideals because of her upbringing that she was too old and too set in her ways to unlearn, but you had to love her anyway. Probably doesn't help that she's kind of using the whole dragon business as a crutch to pull her mind together.
"Where's Leonardo?" Clay asks, catching Desmond's eye.
"Inside with the others, examining the Codex and whatnot. La Volpe is looking for the spy, Machiavelli having his mind blown by our revolutionary new draconic husbandry methods, and Paola has gone to visit the Madame of the local brothel," Desmond says. "And you fell asleep in the middle of a conversation."
"Well, it was a boring conversation," Clay says and stretches out his limbs, arching his back and yawning. "What did you tell them?"
"Everything, pretty much. Answered questions. Blew their minds," Desmond says. "It's all very exciting. Do you need to use the toilet?"
"I'm not actually a baby, Desmond, I can control my bowel movements," Clay grumbles, making his way over to him. "And I can go down there myself, if I need to. I can glide."
"Can you get back up, though?" Desmond asks, giving him a look while Clay clambers onto his back – which is much warmer to lay on than the cooling tiles of the courtyard. It's turning to evening now, and the sun is no longer warming them. Desmond's hide is still sun warm too. Mm.
"If you fall asleep and then fall down, it's not my fault," Desmond says, craning his head back to look at him, while Clay stretches out on his belly over his spine, letting his wings flop down.
"What are you planning next, then?" Clay asks, ignoring him. "Dragonic recycling maybe? Maybe draconic farming, so thrilling."
"You know, make fun all you want, but it's important for us to not be a trouble to them," Desmond says. "You're probably going to grow up as big as me, you know, and the cheaper you can eat, the better for Leonardo."
"Yes, yes, alright," Clay says. "I'll design you a plough, and you can farm potatoes to your heart's content."
"Like you know anything about ploughs," Desmond snorts.
"Do you?" Clay asks with a louder snort.
"I grew up in a Farm, Clay," Desmond points out. "The Farm, even. It wasn't much of a one, but we did have actual farming tools about, and we used them, every now and then. For, like, you know. Farming."
"Yeah, but you hated it."
"Yeah, because back then it was a pointless torture and waste of time for no use and no reason. Here, there's actually a point to it," Desmond says and looks away. "And I like to be useful."
Clay scoffs – but he really does, doesn't it. "You softy," he says.
"Be nice," Maria says, smiling and not looking up. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be useful, Clay."
"I'm going to be so useful, just watch me," Clay mutters. "Leonardo and I are going to invent the telescope a century ahead of time, and then wind power, and electricity, and –"
"And then you get condemned as a demon and Leonardo will be burned at the stake for witchcraft by the church," Desmond concludes.
"He will not," Clay snarls.
"What happened to Copernicus? Galileo?" Desmond asks. "Hell, we're not even at witch hunts yet, and you want to invent electricity. One would think you of all people would know these things take time and care."
"Well… time and care will not save the planet, so there," Clay says. "If we make it quickly enough and spread it far enough, fast enough, no one can stamp it down. Just, send pamphlets everywhere, to every great mind, and –"
"The church will hunt you down and condemn you as heretical Satan worshippers," Desmond says, and glances backwards at him. "You know that the church is a big bad Europe-controlling superpower right now, right? They got like army and stuff. And their whole shtick kind of relies on the fact that people are small and weak and stupid and fear God, because lightning is scary and everything revolves around the Earth and all that, because that's how Allmighty made it, and how dare anyone tell them otherwise?"
Clay scoffs at him. "Now you're just being intentionally a depressing dick."
"Yep, but I also don't want you hunted down for being a demon. It's a religious time, this," Desmond says calmly. "And Leonardo is a squishy little human. You need to be careful."
"Bah," Clay mutters and lays his chin on the ridge of Desmond's spine. "This time sucks. You should've gone for Victorian era. All sorts of inventions going on back then, and no safety procedures to speak of. You could throw anything you could think at the wall and see if it would stick."
"Too much smog, not a fan."
"They actually invented electric fans, you know."
Desmond just laughs at that, the dick. Clay falls quiet, stretching out his forelegs and then looking at his claws with dismay. No thumbs, which sucks. Or there is a thumb, but it's turned backwards, like hallux of birds. He can grip things, but only like… sideways, not like a human can. There's no sideways movement in the hallux. His wrists – or are they ankles now? – also don't bend as much as human's do, there's no rotating motion. Just up and down.
Stupid evolution. All dragons apparently need to do is grab things in flight – they don't need to climb trees, so no gripping vertical things for them.
Maybe Leonardo could invent a brush or something, which Clay could grip and use, despite the reduced range of motion? Or else he can write by scratching things, like Sumerians of old. Actually, with talons, maybe he could just do cuneiform? Hmm. Maybe he could invent a draconic writing method, using Latin letters and dragon claws? If you could hollow out the underside of a claw, it would make it weaker, maybe, but it could also maybe hold ink.
Considering his claws, Clay works at figuring out how to manage. At least his elbows have some sideways rotation, and his shoulders, and he's actually capable of bending his arms, forelegs, whichever, in ways that let him scrape at the claws of one hand with another.
Desmond shudders under him and turns to look at him, "What are you doing? Sounds like you're scraping nails on chalkboard."
"I'm going to hollow out a claw and see if it can hold ink," Clay says. "And maybe I can then use it to write. I am going to invent a dragonic alphabet."
Desmond looks at him dubiously. "Well. Of course you are," he says. "Just don't use blood this time."
"First of all, don't bring up people's traumas like that, it's beyond rude, and second, I just said ink," Clay says and peers at him. "Weren't you listening?"
"Hey I have traumas too. The first thing I saw with Eagle Vision was your blood all over the place, it was creepy as hell," Desmond mutters.
"Yeah, well… it was a really bad time for me, and I couldn't get the message out any other way, so… sue me for using the only thing I had at my disposal," Clay says, scoffing and looking away.
"Hey, I didn't… I didn't mean it like that," Desmond says and sighs. "Sorry."
Maria looks up at them. "What are you talking about?" she asks, puzzled.
"Nothing," Clay and Desmond answer together.
"Maybe you should head inside, Maria," Desmond ads, leaning down to nudge at her shoulder with his snout as carefully as he can. "It's getting late, we wouldn't want you to get cold."
"Ah, yes. It is getting a little too dark to see, too," she says, distracted, and looks down at her embroidery. She's making the image of a dragon, it looks like. "Yes, I think I will head inside. You two be good, now," she says, and begins packing her frame away.
"We will," Desmond promises, and they watch her head inside, Desmond sighing.
"She's getting better," Clay comments. "A bit not there yet but she's rebuilding connections, I think."
"I mean – it's obvious she's using childhood memories to claw her way back to sanity and whatnot," Clay says and shrugs his wings. "And she's still dissociating heavily away from the actual trauma and loss and all that. But she's bridging her way over, using all this dragon business."
"Yeah, I suppose. Still, it's sad," Desmond sighs. "And I'm sorry for saying what I did, it was in bad taste and I didn't think."
Clay ignores that because… feelings. "She's getting better, and that's the thing. Connecting more, interacting with the world. It's a huge leap forward for someone like her, especially in time before psychiatry and all that," he mutters and yawns. "I would like to head for the toilet now, actually."
Desmond hums and stands up, stretching like a cat as he does. "Yeah, sure, let's go."
Ezio and Leonardo have come outside by the time they make the flight back to the fortress, sitting on the bench where Maria had been previously sitting. They have a bottle with them – of course – and a pair of glasses.
"Good news – La Volpe unearthed the last spy," Ezio says, as Desmond lands and Clay quickly hops down from his back to hurry over to Leonardo.
"That's great," Desmond says, also moving closer and putting his head near to Ezio. "I guess they're dead now?"
"Hmm," Ezio agrees, smiling. "We will open the fortress tomorrow, and see what we can do with renovations, to accommodate for you better. The water tower you and Leonardo planned might also go into production, if we can figure out the funds for it."
"And the glassblower?" Clay asks, pressing his head to Leonardo's lap and all but purring as the artist strokes his hands over his head. "Can we have a glass blower, for the telescopes?"
"I will write to a friend in Venice, see if I can get him interested in the project," Leonardo says. "We haven't much to offer him, sadly, aside from workshop space and all our help… But I think I can tempt him with new inventions and a new form of glass making."
"Good," Clay says and closes his eyes. At least someone here cares about the future. "I think I thought up a way I could write and maybe draw, so that should make designing things easier. I need you to hollow out a nail for me, so that it can hold ink."
"Oh? Interesting – I would be happy to do it, of course," Leonardo says, patting his head. "A dragon who can write. How marvellous."
Clay hums with pleasure and tucks himself closer to Leonardo's legs, perfectly at ease now.
"We will also be keeping an eye out on this Columbus, and once he makes for the New World," Ezio says, "the Brotherhood will try and send one of our own with him, and see what we can learn of the place – and its vegetables, while we're at it."
"Awesome," Desmond says.
"Columbus never even makes it to the mainland, though," Clay says without opening his eyes. "He just dicks around in the Caribbean."
"Still," Desmond says firmly. "Assassins in the New World. It's awesome."
Ezio lets out an amused noise. "Indeed," he says, and stands up, going to pet Desmond. "Now, what do you want next, Desmond?" he asks, stroking his hands over his snout. "Heated flooring maybe? Complete overhaul of Monteriggioni's sewerage system perhaps?"
"Yes," Desmond says, quickly shuffling closer to him. "And also, I've been thinking about farming…"
Aand I'm gonna leave it there because from here on out it either will be just more of the same or veer off into completely AU category and eh. This is good enough for me. It's not perfect but it's finished. Thank you very much for reading and commenting :)
(And from here on out Desmond kinda accidentally kinda intentionally completely revolutionaries dragon husbandry to the point of completely upturning the system. It starts with Sustainable Farming à la Dragons with very resigned Ezio being dragged around for the ride and develops into Highly Advanced Building à la Dragons when Ezio is finally properly bitten by the Let's Build Stuff bug and they start, kinda accidentally and kinda not... expanding Monteriggioni. Clay and Leonardo are great help and complete enablers when it comes to this.
In mean while Clay revolutionaries science and future and lays all the ground work to Speed Run Science. They have telescopes ready in few months, from where Astronomy, Mathematics and whatnot begin advancing by leaps and bounds. Monteriggioni also ends up having running water inside year and start working on wind powered electric lighting and whatnot within next five years because having to work half of the time by candle light is not ideal for Clay. Steam Power might also happen somewhere along the way, but Honestly, why bother with coal when wind is everywhere and doesn't demand mining and importing of expensive goods? They also start a school. Just like, for insurance.
The Church has Words to Say about All Of This Nonsense.
The Church shuts up Really Damn Fast when Desmond and Clay demolish Cesare's army with frighteningly modern weapons and military tactics, and then Desmond and Ezio proceed to fly to the Vatican to assassinate the Pope.
Somewhere behind the scenes, Claudia makes some Hella Treaties with Neighbouring states, selling them the Monteriggioni Method of Draconic Husbandry and maybe some other Clay and Desmond Based Advancements at Ridiculously High Prices and some really Good Agreements, and in so doing turns Monteriggioni into a city state. It grows real fast after Desmond hears about "breeding grounds" and decides he has some issues with the concept.
And so, one day, the Republic of Monteriggioni, the State of Assassins, ends up being the first western nation with a dragon as it's elected leader. And there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.)