Versailles, 4th January, 1795
In certain ways, Versailles hadn’t changed much from when Arno had last seen it a year and a half ago. It was a shell of the place it had been in the years before the revolution; houses stood boarded up and abandoned, the streets filled with more muck than he’d ever seen, and the grandiose that had been everywhere one looked was gone. It made Arno morose in a way as he trudged through the streets, keeping his head down for fear someone would recognise him. It was only a matter of time before someone would, he’d convinced himself. The worry had first settled itself when he’d gone to a public house he’d frequented in his youth in search of a room, and the owner at the bar had said, “I swear I’ve seen you before.”
Arno had shrugged. “I used to have family here. I’m here for a funeral.”
“I’m … sorry to hear. You after something to drink?”
Arno shook his head. It’d been foolish to return to a familiar place, and with that in mind he rented a room on the opposite side of the village to where he had roamed in his youth, taking a spare bed provided by a widow and her son. He sat on it, redressing the wounds Killian had given him. Four days ago, Gabrielle, the nurse the Assassins employed, had looked at him disapprovingly as she tended the wounds. Francesco had barely had the strength to wash the soot from his skin before he lay down on the bed behind Arno’s, curled up and coughing violently. There had been two Assassins outside the door, sent by the Council to interrogate him about the fire. Gabrielle driven them off as best she could, but Arno knew they were still there, waiting for the first opportunity.
Arno heard rumours too that Master Connor had brought back a prisoner. He wanted to rush out and find Connor to ascertain whether or not it was true, but both Gabrielle and Francesco had stopped him.
“You won’t be allowed,” Francesco had wheezed, tucking his hands to his chest. “Connor wouldn’t have brought a no one back here. Only the Council will be allowed.”
“And what if it’s Cormac?” Arno asked heatedly.
“Which one?” Francesco had replied in a dry tone. “Might not even be them.”
Arno needed to know, but he never did find out. Three days later he had no more excuses to delay his departure to Versailles. Connor hadn’t said a word when Arno had confronted him outside his rooms the day before. He’d been closed up, and had grown irritable just at the question. Arno was left exasperated and, for the first time, not liking him very much.
“I think I found something regarding the cat’s death too,” Arno said to get Connor’s attention. It worked; Connor become more attentive at once.
“What was it?”
“I’ve found a connection which is pointing me back to Versailles,” Arno said. “Maybe one of the dead man’s friends. My … source said that he was contracted to produce the blausäure by people he claimed were speaking nonsense, but I think it might have been … what’s the name.”
“You’re leaving for Versailles?”
“I am.” Arno fidgeted a moment. “The prisoner …”
“Is not your concern,” Connor said in a tone that didn’t invite anymore questions. He made to close the door, but Arno, on an impulse which he immediately regretted, stuck his foot in the way. Connor looked just as bewildered as Arno felt, but it was too late to stop now.
“Remove. Your foot,” Connor ground out. Arno removed his foot, and Connor’s door clicked shut a half second later.
“Can you at least tell me if it’s one of the Cormacs?” Arno had asked loudly through Connor’s door, but he was ignored. “Please! … I’m sorry.” He’d waited for a few more minutes before he left, fighting off the temptation to spy with the Vision. His head still ached whenever he’d tried to use it since he’d attacked Cormac with it. It was getting better as the days went by, but it was by no means back to normal. In a final effort to find out who the prisoner was, he’d asked Verne and Francesco to write to him as soon as they knew. Francesco had given Arno a flat look, though Verne had agreed.
It snowed the next day in Versailles, and Arno huffed as he made his way through the flurry, half-thinking as he beat familiar streets. He heard the ringing of a hammer before he saw the shop’s sign swaying in the wind, and he stopped on the opposite side of the street, a hand on the inside pocket of his coat where he kept the broken hidden blade wrapped in cloth. Heat warmed the immediate area, and moving within the dark interior of the smithy were two men. Arno crossed the street, stopping just before the shopfront. One of the men looked up when he saw Arno’s boots, halfway through greeting him before realising who he was. He pressed his lips firmly together.
“Victor,” Arno said curtly, and nodded at the other man in turn. “Hugo.”
“Dorian.” Victor placed his hammer on the anvil, leaning on the doorframe to the shop and crossing his arms. “You’re alive.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“Thought you’d died after you killed la Touche, what with twenty guards on your arse. That was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, and I seen you do plenty.” He thrust his chin at him. “What d’you want?”
Arno placed the hidden blade on one of the shop’s benches. “Can you fix this?”
Victor unwrapped it, frowning when he saw the pieces of the blade. “The hell is it?”
“It’s what I put into la Touche’s throat, and I’m … attached to it.”
“I ain’t seen anything like this before.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Maybe. If I had time to see how it all works.” He scowled at Arno. “I make horseshoes for a living, some knives, but nothing like this. Go back to your fancy Parisian smiths and get them to do it.”
“I’m sorry I asked.” Arno tried his best to crush his disappointment as he took the pieces of the blade back, placing them stiffly into his bag. “You were the king’s blacksmiths —”
“So you thought we could do anything?” Hugo cut in. “No. Victor and I used to shoe his stable’s horses and make nails for the doors. He’d other people doing the more important things. That’s why la Touche had us arrested, because we were ‘His Majesty’s servants’. Last time we were hired was to shoe the horses before they tried to run with the prince.” He pushed down on the bellows for some moments. “All we did was what we were paid for, and we needed to eat.”
Victor took up his hammer again, weighed it for a moment in hand, then set it back down. “If it weren’t for you, Dorian,” he said, “we’d be dead, and so would other people. We owe you.” Arno raised his eyebrows. “One thing,” Victor emphasised, and held up a thick finger in illustration. “From us two, not one each.”
“Well I thank you for your generosity,” Arno said mockingly, and turned to go. Victor grunted as he set back to work, and Hugo glared at his brother.
“You’ve changed,” Hugo called. Arno looked back over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “You always so …” He gestured helplessly. “… Like this, nowadays?”
“A lot’s happened,” Arno said, toneless. “You could say.”
Victor snorted. “If there’s anything else?”
“No.” Arno turned to go, then looked back. “Has either of you heard of an Eve?”
“Eve,” Arno repeated.
“No. She some girl you’re chasing?”
Arno swallowed, ignoring the question. “And blausäure?”
The both of them shook their heads. With that Arno had no reason to stay. He nodded glumly and turned to go, then after a couple of steps stopped again. “Actually,” he said, “I want to call in my favour now.”
“Oh?” Victor shifted his weight and crossed his arms.
“If you hear anything about either of those two things,” Arno said, “tell me.”
“What makes you so sure we’ll be hearing anything?” Hugo asked.
“That’s my favour,” he said, then left.
Assassin Sanctuary, 10th January, 1795
Aidan was thinking of his mother when the hood was taken from his head. He scrunched his eyes shut, near hissing with the pain of the light, and shook his head to clear it. He’d not been given a chance to figure out where the Assassins had taken him within their headquarters, as he’d been hooded, turned and carried until he was so dizzy he was sure he’d bring up what little food he had in his belly. He’d tried counting the steps of the people who’d brought him here if he couldn’t trust his own, but they’d varied them, changing their stride, speed, and direction that it was next to worthless.
He shook his head to clear it, wishing his hands were free so he could push the hair from his eyes. The manacles clanked as he turned on the spot, looking around the room. It was large, made of stone and lit only by torches. There wasn’t a window in sight. They were still underground, and judging by the rough distance the Assassins had brought him the complex was large. How large he wasn’t sure, and he desperately wanted to find out.
“Thank you, Adeláire.”
Aidan looked up towards the source of the voice, and he scowled when he recognised Kenway. He stood with three others on a balcony at the head of the room, a white man and woman and a black man, all of them in at least their fifties. He was aware of the young woman who’d brought him here; she stood just on the edge of his vision. Aidan switched his gaze back to the balcony, and he cleared his throat and lifted his chin.
“I’m Aidan Cormac,” he proclaimed, “and you’re bein’ a bunch of goddamned hypocrites encroachin’ on my freedom. So let me go.”
“We all know we can’t do that, Master Cormac,” the black man said.
“So, you’ve brought me here to kill me.” Aidan tried his best to ignore his fear and instead imitate what Kil would do in the same situation. He’d be blasé about the whole thing, he thought. Kil would have the situation under control. Aidan said, “Just do it already.”
“We’ve as little interest in killing you as in letting you leave,” the white man said. “The freedom we peddle is freedom of existence, where we can live in a world and call our neighbours friends whilst respecting our differences. You do not respect ours, and so you will remain in chains. We want to discuss your father.”
“Sorry to disappoint, but my pap’s not an interesting person to talk about,” Aidan said. “Not interesting to talk to, either. Unless the subject’s about sailin’.”
“We would appreciate you not to lie to us,” the same man said over Aidan. “At the very least he’s a decorated war veteran and one of history’s most long-lived Hunters.” Aidan pricked with pride at that; it was just another way of saying his pap was one of, if not the most, successful Hunters to have lived.
“I know what you want, and I’m not goin’ to say anything.” Aidan shook his head. “He’s my father, and I love him.”
“We don’t need you to say anything,” the black man said.
“Oh, I see now. You’re to trade me for information. ‘Cormac, tell us everythin’ or we’ll send you your son’s fingers one at a time until you lay your neck on the block for us’. Aye, my pap responses so well to threats that the last time it happened a whole clan of yours was killed.” Aidan jerked his chin towards Kenway. “But I suppose he can tell you more of that than I can.”
“Enough,” the woman called. “We’ve received … communications —” Threats, Aidan thought, “— from both your father and brother demanding you back.”
“Better listen to them, or they’ll kill you.”
“You seem to forget, Master Cormac,” the white man said, “that we are just as capable as your family is in the art of murder. That your techniques are Assassin-learned.”
“If you’re so capable, then I don’t know how my pap’s become one of history’s longest-lived Hunters,” Aidan said. “Your own words, old man.” When there was no response from the man, Aidan continued, “It’s been ten days, and you’ve not done anythin’ except bore me. Don’t take a smart fella to see we’ve been locked in a stalemate for weeks now. I wanna know why not take the advantage?” He narrowed his eyes, following the thread of thought. “You don’t need me to talk, you said. You want somethin’ from my pap. More than leavin’ you alone.” He flicked his eyes to Kenway and thrust his chin at him. “Why’s he in France? He weren’t lookin’ for us; we’d know, and you wouldn’t have had time to know about the Pieces of Eden. I’m not an idiot.”
“Clearly,” the woman said dryly. “We wish to speak to Mademoiselle Caresse Daphné Levesque. She is the current Grand Master of the Parisian Rite, is she not?”
Aidan considered giving a few answers, but nothing he could think of would leave him in the same or better position he currently was in. Paris didn’t have a Grand Master, and Levesque was following her own agenda more than running the Rite from what he’d gleaned; the only real authority she had was a name and now the partnership with his father. He could always say nothing and they take the guilty silence as its own answer to whatever question they were seeking, but his pap had always said it was better to say something than to say nothing. Aidan said to test the waters, “She’s a Templar Knight; she won’t say anythin’ else in front of me.”
“A Templar Knight with authority.”
“Of course; she’s a Levesque.” Aidan hated these mind games with a vehement passion; he was terrified of losing.
“The Levesques are a family with long ties to the Order and high society,” the black man said. “We know she’s been buying the loyalty of people in government. Your ranks are small.”
“I think you’d know more about that than me,” Aidan said. “You’re the locals; me and my family are just passin’ through.”
“You’ve done more than ‘pass through’. You’ve killed our people,” the black man continued.
Aidan looked at him with hatred, his blood boiling. “Wouldn’t you?” he asked. “Find Templars, you’d stamp ‘em out before you left.”
“They are still our people, and they are still dead,” the man said viciously. “For that you must answer.”
“Oh, so I’m a scapegoat for my father, now?”
“Monsieur,” Kenway said, and his voice was so quiet Aidan barely caught it. “I wanted to question him. We didn’t agree to an interrogation.”
“And questioning him we are.”
“We’re getting nowhere,” Kenway said. “Leave him to me.”
The white man opened his mouth to start arguing, but the woman gave him a look. A silent discourse passed between them, and some understanding. The man cleared his throat and said to the room, “Very well.” Aidan didn’t like the sounds of it.
Kenway walked down the stairs, and Aidan tensed when he stopped a few feet from him. He had the wild thought of rushing Kenway and hitting him with the heavy chains that bound his wrists, but dismissed it a bare moment later.
“I need to know what your father’s doing,” Kenway said.
Aidan spat on Kenway’s shoes. There was neither physical or verbal rebuke. After a moment’s hesitation, Kenway lowered his hood, and Aidan finally looked him in the face. Kenway was the first American Indian he’d seen up close. Despite claiming American nationality, Aidan had spent maybe two of his sixteen years on American soil. Most of his life he had been flitting between Europe and British Asia.
“That’s my answer,” Aidan said, shivering. “I told you, I’m not sayin’ a word.”
Kenway said, “I met with your father some weeks ago, and he told me he had his ways to find out how the Pieces of Eden in current Assassin possession got to him.”
“I don’t know anything about it,” Aidan said flatly, and it was the truth. His pap had one day declared they were going to France, and for all Aidan could see the change of plans had come overnight. They had been in Denmark, and he’d been with Kil and Siobhán the entire night whilst his pap had gone prowling. Then they’d packed up and left, his pap’s face pale.
“Aidan,” Kenway said, “I’m not going to hurt you. I want to return you to your father.”
Aidan was so surprised he didn’t quite manage to suppress a burst of laughter. Evidently the Assassins were caught off-guard too — Aidan saw them shift from the corner of his eye. The white man leant over to say something to the woman, who then frowned and gave a slight shake of her head. He tucked that information away; maybe there was a rift between Kenway and the French.
“Why,” Aidan asked Kenway, “on Earth would you do that? My father said you were ruthless and single-minded.”
“Perhaps I’ve learnt from where I went wrong when I was younger.” Kenway said, “Your father told me that the reason you chase the Pieces of Eden is to keep them from Assassin hands. This is likewise why we keep them so they may not be used by Templars. I want to meet with him again so we may further discuss this, and for it I need your help.”
“You’re gonna bargain me,” Aidan said with a dawning realisation. “You’ll return me to my family if we stop goin’ after the Pieces.” Aidan struggled and said loudly, “You can’t have them! Not after everything my pap went through because of them! How many more mistakes must be made before you learn —!”
“I know more than you do.” Kenway’s voice was devoid of emotion. “I’ve seen Pieces of Eden before now, and learnt what they’re capable of. I know better than you ever could, even from a first-hand account.”
“Then what do you want? Huh?”
It threw him. Why …? Suddenly the sparing of his life made sense. Aidan said, “My da don’t want peace with you, Levesque don’t want peace. We want peace because of you, and that means gettin’ rid of you. You can talk to my pap all you want about it, but he’s not gonna budge, and neither are any of the Order I know. May as well get rid of me now.”
“If you are so insistent on circling this conversation back to your death,” the woman said, “then you’ve said all you need to this meeting.”
Aidan whipped around to Kenway, who although frowning, made no move to stop Aidan being hooded once more. He was picked up again, and he kicked out, shouting and cursing, and was taken back to the cells. He heard the key turn in the lock and the hinges scream when the door opened. He was man-handled inside, thrashing as he heard more locks, and the chain between his wists lifted high and through an iron ring well above his head. The bag was taken from his head, and the woman who had brought him to the Brotherhood’s leaders and Kenway was gone, replaced by two men he’d never seen before dressed in red and grey. One of them spat by Aidan’s feet, and Aidan spat back at him, just as furious.
“Do that again and not even the Mentor will save you from having your teeth punched out,” the Assassin in grey said. “Hunter.”
“Aye — I’m a Hunter,” Aidan called after him as the door close. “You’d better remember that!”
Faubourg Saint-Germain, 10th January, 1795
Killian still couldn’t see straight with the Vision. The world was wonky, and after pushing without success, he shook the Vision off and returned to the now. The world opened to him again, and he huffed. He’d hardly rested for the past few days trying to find Aidan. His pap was just as frantic; Siobhán was in tears about it. She’d tried to bully first their father, then Killian, then even Levesque into letting her help in the search. It had been an effort made in vain. Killian ached for her; he knew she was filled with worry and that she was bored, because he had been in the same position as her when he’d been her age, but the crux was there wasn’t much she could do in comparison to Killian and their father. She was a child untrained with only a few months of lessons. He’d spent as much time as he could when he wasn’t searching for their brother with her.
There was smoke on the air. Killian slithered on his belly to the edge of the roof, and saw three people sitting around a campfire below, warming themselves and a saucepan of soup. His stomach rumbled as the smell wafted up, and from the chime of the bells several minutes before it had just gone six. His pap had instructed him to be back at the safehouse by five o’clock, but Killian had stayed out on the worry of, What if I find Aidan in the next row of houses? What if I’ve just missed him?
The sun had long gone down, and Killian forced himself to turn back; his fingers and toes were starting to become numb with the cold despite the extra gloves and socks. He stood and leapt over the rooftops, stretching out with his Vision as best he could. As such, he could only complete the journey at a slow jog. By the time he made it back it was almost seven. He landed on the roof with a clatter of tiles, breathing heavily and suppressing a shiver. He combed his hair from his face with his fingers, straightened his collar, and knocked on the trapdoor on the roof. It flew open not seconds later, and Siobhán glared up at him.
“Kil! You’re back, you’re alright. I thought … I …”
“I’m fine,” Killian assured her soothingly. “Where’s Pap?”
He knew the answer before Siobhán said anything. “In the drawing room.”
Killian’s expression flattened, and he clambered down the ladder, drawing Siobhán into his side and planting a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m sorry for worrin’ yer.”
“I was beginnin’ to think they’d gotchu too,” Siobhán muttered darkly into his coat.
Killian smiled. “Ah, they can’t get me.”
Siobhán let him go and stepped back, clasping her hands behind her back and rocking on her toes. “Pap’s not happy with you.”
Killian said nothing as he put his pack and rifle down. When is he, now? Everything had changed between them since his mam’s death. It had driven Killian in his work, his want to hunt, but it had left a different impact on his pap. It had made him tired. There was still eagerness in his work to be certain, but nothing like what Killian had once known, or what he’d heard in the stories about his father from the War. One of his favourite things to do with Gist before he’d died was listen to his stories about Shay Cormac in his younger days. How he had led the capture of French forts in the North Atlantic, how he’d cleaned out the Assassin plague in New York, and, Killian’s favourite, a story from when his pap and Gist had first met. They’d gone on an expedition down the Saint Lawrence, scouting for a band of Assassin-associated smugglers. By then they’d each known what organisation the other had belonged to, but hadn’t confronted the issue to each other.
Your father tried so hard to hide his talents, Gist had laughed every time, but unfortunately for him, he couldn’t hide it from my eagle’s eye.
And the likewise to you, his pap had replied. You flashed your Templar ring at me two days after we met, Gist! I thought I was going to be swimmin’ with the fishes soon enough.
An accident, an accident ….
His father had instructed Gist and his band of sailors to route the Assassin expedition around the back whilst he hit the camp, the idea being that whilst the crew were busy trekking through the underbrush Shay could have dealt with the expedition without anyone watching. In the end, he had pulled it off with mixed success. Gist liked to boast that if Shay had done as he’d first wished and left them all with the ship, he wouldn’t have been standing where he was. Killian had grinned at his father behind Gist’s back as Shay rolled his eyes, miming Gist’s talking.
Killian missed that father. Now he was more concerned with sitting and waiting than action, and it was driving Killian to madness. Like with this search for Aidan. For the first few days both he and his father had searched Paris top to bottom. Killian had returned to the café sites, scouring every burnt beam for clues, anything at all, but had found nothing. His pap hadn’t left the house after the first four days, and had spent his time shut up in the study or drawing room, leaving Killian to walk the streets alone.
Killian left Siobhán in her room, and clenched and unclenched his fists as he stalked through the handsome wood-panelled halls, his teeth grinding. The new house they’d set up in was in the Faubourg Saint-Germain district, full of Paris’ more wealthy patrons. Although rundown and not nearly as splendid as the Vendôme residence, it was still a fabulous building. and so it had been of little note to outsiders in hiring a proper kitchen staff for them. Having Tallien on-side had meant further protection was now offered to the house outside of Shay and Killian, and that they in turn could be more relaxed what with other eyes on lookout. The new guards Levesque had hired were peppered around the house and surrounding streets, and their leaders reported directly to Shay. So far they had nothing to say, and all was quiet, which Killian didn’t trust. He knew these types of guards, good either for street brawls and keeping check on people half-drowned by beer and looking for excuses to pick fights, or for keeping in line those with an above average education in arms. But the Assassins were more than just cocky noblemen or drunks, so excellent at dealing death that Killian had been scouting outside without telling his pap just to make sure the guards wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a surprise attack. He couldn’t imagine confessing to feeling unsafe and watched. Some nights he felt like the only sane one of the lot of them as they slept easily and without a care. That was a good way to end up dead.
He didn’t knock when he came to the study door. He flung it open with enough force to send it banging back against the wall, and found his father in the same position he’d left him at dawn that morning, hunched over his workspace and reading correspondences.
“I’m sorry I’m back so late, Pap,” he said loudly. “I was turnin’ over each cobblestone up in Vendôme for any hint of a lead.” His father looked up at Killian, and Killian lifted his lip, sitting in one of the room’s many velvet armchairs and crossing his legs. He drummed his fingers on the arms. “So do you want a report now, or when you’ve got your nose unstuck from that pile of utter rubbish?”
“You think that I’m not tryin’ to find your brother?” his father asked.
“From the impression your arse has left in that cushion that’s exactly what I think’s happenin’, aye.”
“I’m tyrin’ to find leverage,” his pap said through gritted teeth.
Killian barked a laugh. “Over what? A secret sewer tunnel you’re hopin’ some Templar from long ago has hidden away?”
“If I find a secret sewer tunnel then I’d be the luckiest man alive,” his father said irritably. “No, I’m not lookin’ at the sewers, Killian. I’m lookin’ at the Brotherhood. Leverage over its known members so we can get Aidan back without them hurtin’ him.”
“And how’s that been workin’ out over the last ten days, hmm?”
“I’m glad you asked, as it’s been grand. If you’re done needlin’ me and can find some patience, I might tell you sooner rather than later what I’ve discovered and have planned.”
“Blackmail?” Killian, with his Vision still impaired, jumped a foot. No one had been able to sneak up on him since he could remember, but there Levesque stood on the drawing room’s threshold. She closed the door behind her. Her eyes roved over Killian, and she inclined her head. “I’m glad you’re back safely.”
“Thank you.” Killian glanced at his father, bouncing his toe, and his voice was more measured when he asked, “What’ve you found, Da?”
His father said, “I need to find Connor.”
Killian snorted. “What does Kenway have to do with anythin’?”
“Findin’ him will lead us to findin’ Aidan, and offer you room to take the Pieces.”
“Who cares about the bloody Pieces now?” Killian asked, appalled. “They have. Aidan. Who fuckin’ knows what they’re going to do to him. We’ve killed too many of their Brotherhood; we carved a cross into one of their corpses and hung it from a lamppost, for Christ’s sakes.”
“The Pieces were always the plan, don’t you forget that, and I know Connor,” his pap said. “I know why he’s here. He wants peace, Killian.”
Killian stared at him, dumbstruck. Peace? Killian would rather cut his tongue out than strike a deal of peace with the Assassins, especially Kenway. “He’s an idiot.”
“They’re goin’ to use Aidan for leverage to leave them be,” his father said quickly, “and so I’ll meet Connor for that. Whilst I’m dealin’ with that, you continue lookin’ for the Pieces, you understand me?”
“By myself?” Killian asked, his eyes wide. “I can’t do that by myself. You’re the only one left who I’d trust to be able to do such a thing. And what if I mess up? They’ll realise they’ve been taken for fools and kill him.”
“They won’t,” Shay said again, and waved at the desk with its papers, “if we play it right. I need to talk to Connor, and I need to do it as soon as possible.”
“What’s the dirt you’ve got on Kenway?”
“I’ll be keepin’ that to myself for now, if you don’t mind,” Shay said, and Killian glowered at the wall.
“You’ve sent messages before,” Levesque asked, “so why not now?”
“A message won’t do. An act is what we need.” What though, was the question.
“Well they’ll be looking to establish some form on contact surely,” Levesque mused. “Otherwise what would be the point of taking a hostage without demand for ransom or gain?”
“And this is where my plan comes in.” His father cleared his throat, and picked up one of the sheaf of papers on the desk. Killian stood too as his father crossed to one of the smaller tables, and lay the paper down. It was a scribbled mess of ideas, crossed out and circled words still shinning with wet ink, and his pap laid out long strips of paper two inches thick and a foot long on top of that. Killian recognised these smaller pieces of paper as spy correspondences, and after a quick glance over them recognised a name cropping up several times.
“You wanted Sieyès on side just as much as Tallien,” his father said. “There’s a playhouse on rue Feydeau, and he’s goin’ there in a few nights time.” All of this he said looking at Levesque, and Killian understood at once; Levesque did too.
“Bait,” Killian said. “But I don’t understand why you can’t just call for the Assassins to meet with you.”
“We did, and nothin’, because they’re not ready to meet. Now we’ve to force a meetin’, it’s imperative Connor come to us. I want him to feel trapped and powerless, and we do that if he comes on his own terms.”
“And Connor Kenway will come?” Levesque asked in a hush.
There was a dark glint in his pap’s eye as he said, “He’ll come.”
“Then if this is what needs to happen to get your son and the Pieces back, then I’ll offer myself gladly.”
Killian blinked; both his father and Levesque were looking at him. He gnawed at his lip. “You’re certain this will work? We can’t put her at risk. If she dies, everythin’ falls apart. The Templars’ll be lost here, and Aidan …”
“I know Connor,” his pap assured, “and I know the people that came before him. He’s been lookin’ for peace for years, ever since Master Kenway put the idea in his head. He can make his resolve as hard as he likes and kill Templars, but that kernel of a question will never leave him be: what if? He’ll follow it until he’s dead.”
“He killed everyone in America, Pap,” Killian protested. “Haytham, Lee …”
Thick silence fell. “What choice do we have?” his father asked eventually. “They have all the cards now. I need to turn the hand around, and this is all I can think of, Killian. I need your help. Mademoiselle, I’ll arrange for tickets to the playhouse, if you’re still partial.”
“I am partial.” Levesque nodded at Shay, gave a smile more akin to a grimace at Killian, then left the drawing room.
The door closed with a click, and his father sighed. He paced to the window and looked out past the curtains. “Kil,” he said after a moment, “I need you to go and talk to the beggars. The weave of information in this city is vast, and the Assassins have their ear to the ground. Tell them that Mademoiselle Levesque will attend the Salle Feydeau in three days.”
“I don’t like this plan of yours,” Killian said bluntly. “There’s too many unknowns.”
“If you can find some information about your brother I’d be more than happy to listen, but we’ve nothin’ else. Every day that passes without news means he’s in more danger. It’s no question the Assassins are tryin’ to get answers outta him, and so far it seems he’s been silent. What do you think they’ll do when they get frustrated? We’re runnin’ out of time.” His father said, “Go to the beggars, and tell them Mademoiselle Levesque is goin’ to a play in Salle Feydeau, in three days time. Tell them also that Sieyès is goin’; the Assassins share beds with the beggars, and they’ll have heard what you tell the streets by nightfall tomorrow, and if they’re smart they’ll put two-and-two together about Levesque and Sieyès and come runnin’. Connor will be the first there because he knows we’ll also be there, and he’s the one with the most investment in our presence. If he doesn’t come, then we whip any Assassin cur that does.”
His father turned and sat in one of the chaise chairs, and so Killian was dismissed. He stood a moment longer, chewing on his thoughts and words. “Pap,” Killian said to his father’s back, “your plan had better work. If it doesn’t and Aidan’s hurt, if he dies … I’m done with you.” He left the room, heading back to the roof and retrieving his gear from where it was still lying by the trapdoor’s ladder.
He brushed past the guards on the street. He ignored their grumbles and wandered down the street near a church, where there was a ladder leading below the ground. He jumped down, landing with a splash in the ankle-deep sewer water, and spread his Vision. He winced, and started forward, hiding his nose in the crook of his elbow to deal with the stench. His footsteps echoed along the brick tunnels, and he walked for several minutes with little more than the scratch of rat claws for company when he heard voices ahead, and saw the glow of a fire. Killian lowered himself into a crouch and moved forward. The tunnel opened up into a small junction chamber where five men sat, talking in low voices amongst themselves. One of the men nudged his companion when he spotted Killian, and talk died at once. Two of them reached for knives, and Killian raised his hands. “Peace, peace.”
One of the men jerked his chin at Killian. “And who the hell are yer? You don’t belong down here dressed like that.”
“I don’t,” Killian agreed. He fished in his pocket and found a handful of livres. When he brought them out, the mens’ eyes snapped to them. “These can be yours,” Killian continued, “in exchange for a favour.”
“Go on,” a second man said, wary.
“Nothin’ too much. Word’s a-foot a Mademoiselle Levesque is goin’ to the Salle Feydeau three nights from now to talk of great things. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès will also be there. Tell your friends.” He tossed the coins to them, and as the men scrabbled in the water, Killian said, “Once I know it’s done, come back here the night after and I’ll have more for you. And don’t you think of tellin’ anyone else about our arrangement, or that I’m here. You’ve heard only rumours.”
“Fine, fine,” the first man grumbled. “We’ll do your bloody work.”
Killian was irked by the man’s dismissiveness, and clenched his fists. But he left without a fuss, and searched for the next group to tell.
Assassin Sanctuary, 11th January, 1795
The Sanctuary rung with song, for the Assassins were celebrating the day of Altaïr’s birth. Connor could hear their voices echoing along the long stone corridors, but neither he, nor the Council had the time to join them, nor the want. There were other, more important things to discuss now that the numbers had been crunched regarding the loss of the cafés burnt by the Cormacs.
“In total, our cafés including Café Théâtre pulled in a sum of about one hundred and seventy thousand livres annually,” the treasurer, a man called Giraudeau said, circling the number in the ledger before him. “Now with Café Théâtre being the only one in operating condition, the projected annual total amounts to around a quarter of that number. Masters … with this amount we can keep the café afloat and feed maybe half of our number.”
Trenet was lost in thought, resting her chin on her clasped hands, and her gaze distant. Next to her, her ward Adeláire held a stack of documents on her lap and was shifting through them for Trenet. Trenet said to the table, “Have we received word from any of our sponsors?”
Adeláire shook her head. “None, Master. At least, not yet.”
“Not yet isn’t good enough. Surely there should have been a reply from Troyes now.”
“I’m afraid not, Master.”
“We can’t go back to the conditions we had six years ago,” Beylier said. “We were barely keeping our heads above the water, and that was when our position was weaker than it is now. Now that we’re stronger, the need for funds has only increased.”
“As we are all well aware,” Quemar said.
“We won’t need to worry about funds for the next two months, Masters,” Giraudeau said, “but Café Théâtre can’t supply all the money we need. The budget will be redone, but we’ll still have to turn to other methods to procure resources.”
“How quickly will the answers from your sponsors come?” Connor asked Trenet. “And how likely are they to help rebuild?”
“We’re hopeful that this will be resolved quickly, but we can’t be sure.”
“Shall I send a pigeon to Troyes?”
“Thank you, Adeláire.”
“How long will the coffers last us now?” Beylier asked Giraudeau.
“Five, six months easily,” Giraudeau replied. “There’s plenty of time to spare, Masters. No need to fret so quickly.” He chuckled, but no one else laughed. Giraudeau met Trenet’s steely eye, coughed, and stood. He fussed with his papers a moment. “Erm, very well. Thank you for your time, Masters.” He gathered his books and sheafs under his arm, bowed, and left them.
Beylier blew a breath from his lips, and drummed his fingers on the desk. “That was less … productive than I had hoped.
Trenet massaged a circle at her temple. “Citroyen Giraudeau is invaluable to us. He’ll be ready with the new budget by tomorrow night; we can continue our discussion then.”
“And from finances to other problems,” Quemar said, and turned to Connor. “Has there been any further information extracted from the Hunter?”
Connor sighed and rubbed at an eye with his thumb. “He’s been silent. I’m hopeful I can get him speaking soon, but … It could be a while yet.”
“Have Lemoine and Marechal tracked their new place of residence down yet?” Quemar asked.
“Not yet,” Connor said. “They’ve pinpointed it to either the Farbourg Saint-Germain or Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin districts, but will need more time.”
Trenet straightened her back. Evidently they had arrived at a junction she had wanting to get to, because her next words sounded rehearsed. “I’ve made a decision,” she said to the room. Neither Beylier or Quemar said a word, and so Connor deduced that this had been an agreement between all of them. Trenet drummed her nails on the varnished wood of the desk, and she said, “I had hoped that with Germain’s death we could reestablish our previous relationship with the Templars and once again work towards peace with them. However, they have made it clear over the past weeks they have no wish to continue the legacy of the de la Serre Rite. They have killed our people, maimed their corpses, and have done so without regrets. As much as it pains me to say, so long as Caresse Levesque and her associates live, Master Connor, we will fight back and kill them. We don’t have the room for peace with these current people. Every day, every hour that passes, Levesque secures more legitimacy and more power, and the Rite grows in its hunger. We already know she’s recruited one of Paris’ most prominent politicians, and those names you found are only proof that her ambitions do not stop with Jean-Lambert Tallien.”
Connor wanted to argue, but he couldn’t find a leg to stand on. Trenet was right, and he saw Flavien’s body in his mind’s eye. “So Haytham’s letters are not so precious to you as you’ve told me?”
“They are precious to us,” Beylier said, “but they are useless when the person we need to negotiate with is a Levesque; their ties to the Order can be traced back to de Molay’s time. Caresse Levesque must be removed from her position of power, and we will kill both her and the Cormacs who offer her a strong and dangerous voice of support. When they are gone, we will have a better chance to reach peace with the Templars. We must remove the canker.”
“No,” Connor said.
Beylier repeated in astonishment, “ ‘No’?”
“If you think the best course of action for your Brotherhood is to kill Caresse Levesque, by all means do as you wish. However, we agreed that I would deal with the Cormacs,” Connor said quietly, “and I intend to do so.”
“Very well, if you want to deal with them, Mentor,” Quemar said, “then do so! We have one in our hands, and you’ve said not five minutes ago he’s offering no more information!”
“You’re advocating for his death now?” Connor asked in disbelief and disgust. “Did you forget that I said I wasn’t done with him?”
“No, but I agree fully with Guillaume,” Quemar said. “I think it’s a foolish hope that you’ll get information from him; if he was going to talk he would have done so by now, and so he is useless.”
“Not when his father wants him back so badly.”
“Regardless, the longer the Hunter lives the more likely he will be free again one day. His survival means more of our people will die.”
“I fully disagree, Master Quemar,” Connor argued, “and there is this to remember: he is a child.”
“He is sixteen, more of a man than a boy. The Levantine Brotherhood sent their novices to kill at fifteen, and so sixteen is old enough to die. This is our Brotherhood, Master Connor, not yours. I won’t risk more of my people’s lives. We’ve agreed that Cormac has a week left to prove his usefulness to us before we’ll have his throat cut.”
Connor looked from Quemar to Beylier to Trenet, chewing on his fury. “And nothing I can say will sway you on this course of action?”
“Then I’ll take him someplace you won’t find,” Connor said. “He is my prisoner. You’re right: this is your Brotherhood, Masters, but as Mentor I have authority to do as I wish with him. I won’t kill him, and that is final.”
“I think you’re making a grave mistake, Mentor,” Trenet said. “If you won’t kill him, then I implore you do something quickly, or we won’t have a choice but to do it instead.”
Adeláire sat pale as a sheet on her stool, and Connor stood. “Very well,” he said, then followed Giraudeau’s example and left. He was doing his best to keep his temper in check as he went to the prison cells. The warden didn’t offer a word when he saw Connor. Connor was satisfied with that, and he strode down the length of the empty cells until he came to Aidan Cormac’s. How Quemar could think of him as an adult, Connor had no idea. Cormac looked younger than he was curled on the straw mattress under a thin blanket, and he twitched at the sound of Connor’s footsteps. He levered himself up, his eyes gummy with sleep.
“What d’you want?” he slurred.
“I’ve just come from a meeting with the Council,” Connor said bluntly, “and they want to kill you in a week’s time if you don’t help them.”
Cormac smirked. “I thought you said you Assassins weren’t child killers. That another lie, or they changed their minds?”
“They don’t see you as a child,” Connor said, crossing his arms.
“So’re you protectin’ me? I’d never think it.”
Connor didn’t say a word. He paced up and down, and Cormac came to the bars, threading his arms through the iron grid and resting there. Connor reached for him with the Vision; Cormac’s heart was beating as fast as a rabbit’s, and Connor sniffed, coming to a stop and facing him. “Help me help you,” he said. “Tell me about Levesque, her plans.”
“I don’t know anythin’,” Cormac said. “That’s the honest to God truth.”
“I don’t believe that,” Connor replied. “You might believe that, but even information you believe mundane would be enough to save you in the Council’s eyes.”
“I won’t betray my family, or her. I don’t want your help, Kenway.”
Connor was about to bite back at Cormac when he heard the slap of running footsteps. Connor turned to see Adeláire running towards him. In the cell, Cormac pressed his cheek to the bars, squinting at her.
Adeláire came to a stop, puffing for breath. “Mentor,” she panted. “Citoyen Paton has heard from his spies.”
Connor shot a look to Cormac, and Adeláire closed her mouth once she realised. Cormac’s eyes narrowed in recognition. Connor moved between them, and said to Adeláire, “Catch your breath, and then tell me.” He took her gently by the upper arm and led her back along the row of cells and past the warden. Once they were outside, Connor asked her, “What’s Paton heard?”
“Caresse Levesque is planning to go to the theatre the day after tomorrow,” Adeláire said.
“He’s sure about this?” Connor said quickly. “When? Where?”
“The Salle Feydeau.”
“And where did he find this information?”
“The beggars. They listen for him for coin. There were tickets purchased for her and two others.”
The Cormacs? “I don’t like it,” Connor murmured. “We’ve heard nothing for months, and now that we have Aidan, this? They’re setting something up.”
“That’s what the Council thinks,” Adeláire said. “They’ve been told another man, Sieyès —”
“The Council thinks what, sister?”
Adeláire squeaked as a man hooked his arm around his neck from behind. “Gerard! Let me go!”
“Ahh,” the new man said, seemingly oblivious to Connor who stood next to them woodenly, “this is more secret information you’ve overheard from Trenet, isn’t it?”
“Who is this man?” Connor cut across them.
“My brother,” Adeláire said, and snapped a glare at the man; now that she had said it, Connor could see they looked alike. Gerard didn’t have Adeláire’s hair, but they shared the same jawline and eyes. He was much taller than her too, dressed a dark brown coat spattered with dried mud, and his smile was easy going. “Forgive him, Mentor, he’s a twice-bitten fool.”
“O-oh.” Gerard’s eyes widened, noticing Connor for the first time. He let Adeláire go. “Er, Mentor, I …”
Connor raised a hand to stop him. “Thank you for telling me this, Mademoiselle Fontaine,” Connor said to Adeláire. “I’ll speak to the Council about this soon.” He left, and turned the nearest corner just in time to hear Adeláire hit her brother as hard as she could on the shoulder. “You … you humiliated me, you arse.”
“Calm down,” Gerard told her, irritated. “Sister —”
Connor refused to listen to another word of them screaming at the other, and decided to find Paton before returning to the Council.
Feydeau, 13th January, 1795
Warm light spilt from Salle Feydeau, and Paris had come to see its newest opera, Eliza ou Le voyage aux glaciers du Mont Saint-Bernard. The theatre was a long, round building, with a sloped tiled roof. It was squashed between the buildings on either side, so the only façade visible from the street was its sandstone brick. Archways decorated the front. Connor stood on the rooftop opposite, watching the audience filing inside and feeling with the Vision the guards on the theatre’s front balcony. The opera goers either missed or didn’t care for them, but to Connor their presence stood bright in his mind. He rested as he puzzled the most efficient way of taking care of the guards. Levesque was inside; he’d seen her arrive a half-hour before, but curiously she had been alone except for a lumbering bodyguard who was neither of the Cormac men. It gave Connor pause. No doubt they were skulking around somewhere, but where, he had no idea. Regardless, it was vital for Connor to get to Levesque as quickly as he could; he had to find out what the Templars were planning that they so desperately needed to burn the cafés, recruit Sieyès, as there was little doubt in Connor’s mind this was the goal for tonight, and finally, so he could come face-to-face with Shay again. When Connor found them, he would adapt.
He unwrapped his bow from its skins and strung it, tucking the buckskins safely behind an empty flower pot so he could retrieve them later. He settled into concentration as he nocked his first arrow, and took careful aim at the guard closest to his position. He would have to be quick. Connor released the arrow, and the guard who had been leaning on the low wall enclosing the roof, choked as the arrow struck clean through his neck. He toppled, and the man closest to him turned at the noise. He never got the chance to cry out. Connor had the rope dart ready by then, and as he leapt into open air, threw it at the guard. The end wrapped around his neck like a noose. The guard was jerked forward as Connor landed on the side of the building, resting and keeping a clear fix on the man with his Vision. The guard had fallen and become caught on the wall, wedged between it and Connor’s full weight like an anchor. Connor tucked his chin to his collar, counting the moments behind closed eyes as the guard struggled feebly to free himself; it took almost a minute before he stopped moving. Connor used the rope to walk up the wall and slipped over the edge of the building, pulling his bow across his back. He padded forward to check that the man was indeed dead before moving on.
There was a trapdoor that led down into the building proper, and Connor dropped through, landing in an attic whose boards were thick with dust and cobwebs. Rats scattered before him, and he trod lightly over the creaking wooden boards. Now that he was inside, he could hear the muffled chatter of the patrons below; the opera hadn’t yet started, but was about to. The orchestra played soft notes which underlay everything, and also helped disguise any accidental noise he made. Connor found a second trapdoor and ladder, and opened it carefully, seeking with the Vision for anyone below. There were two men who looked like servants smoking pipes and talking in low voices around a little table with an oil lantern on it, arguing over money and a small plate of food. Connor peered over the edge of the trapdoor, looking for a route. There was a proper door at the opposite end of the space, and the shadows in the rest of the room might offer some concealment, but not enough. There was nowhere for him to sneak past without the men seeing him. Connor reached for one of his darts and the poison vial, slicking the end with the smallest amount he could risk, and eyeing the closer of the two men. The poison wouldn’t kill him, but it would make him ill, and quickly. Connor was now hanging over the edge of the trapdoor on his stomach and looking at the scene upside-down, and he took aim at the closest man’s back. The man yelped and jumped to his feet, slapping at his shoulder where the dart had hit, and in doing so sent it flying into a corner.
“The hell happened?” the second man demanded.
“Something bit me!”
“Like what? It’s winter. All the spiders are dead, and I’m not so blind that I’d have missed a rat crawling over you.”
“It hurts, damnit all.”
“Stop being a girl about it and come on, back at the game. Or you just trying to distract me because you’re losing?”
“I … Jesu, I feel, I feel sick.” The poisoned man finished this by vomiting, and the second recoiled.
“Here! There’s a bucket somewhere.”
Connor slithered through the trapdoor and, twisting in the air like a cat, landed in a crouch. He moved around the two men as quickly as he dared and near-flung himself through the door, his heart racing. He took a couple of calming breaths, re-orienting himself. He was in, and now all he had to do was find where the Templars were.
The door had spit him out into a corridor that was plain, but beyond it he could see the glittering crystal and red velvet hangings of the public areas of the theatre. Connor hugged the wall as he went forward, and found himself on a balcony lined with private booths, some of which doors were open to show their interiors swathed with as much comfort as the theatre could afford, which in truth wasn’t much — bigger seats, small tables to place refreshments. Through these doors, Connor could see they were overlooking row upon row of wooden seats for those with cheaper tickets, facing the stage. The gas lights were dimmed down for the opera as the orchestra’s music swelled. There was a polite round of applause as the main curtain lifted and the lead soprano glided out onto the main stage; she began to sing after the applause had died. Connor walked past the booths, searching with the Vision for Levesque. It only took a moment; she was on the opposite balcony a storey down, her bodyguard sitting on her right, and on her left was a young man Connor guessed to be the politician Tallien. They were seated behind an older man, and were far more interested in him than the soprano. That had to be Sieyès.
Connor made his way around the balconies and down a staircase to the correct one, counting the booths under his breath until he found Levesque’s. He could Sense her on the other side, and pressed himself to the door. It was made of cheap pine; despite the bodyguard’s presence he could break through kill Levesque and Tallien before anyone knew what was happening. That, however, would have been the stupidest thing in a long line of stupid things Connor had ever done. Not only would the theatre see this, it would put him in the eyes of the Cormacs, who were still mysteriously, troublingly absent. They would have surely been protecting Levesque, but with both her and Tallien mere inches away from death, there was nothing. Connor strained with the Vision. The only explanation he could think of for the absence was that the Cormacs had a gun on him like they had at the Temple, and were only waiting for him to make a move. Connor was stock still, feeling like a deer pinned by a wolf’s gaze, and instead of acting he listened.
“Citoyen Sieyès,” the man Connor assumed was Tallien said.
There was an unhappy grunt. “Monsieur Tallien,” Sieyès said, surprised but cold. They were political rivals by Connor’s understanding. “What do you want?”
“Allow me to introduce you to Mademoiselle Caresse Levesque.”
“One woman and a baby not enough for you?” Sieyès asked. “I’d have thought you of all people to be different, Jean-Lambert.”
“I can assure you Caresse and I do not have a relationship such as that,” Tallien interjected icily. “We are strictly business acquaintances.” Sieyès snorted quietly.
“Citoyen,” Levesque said. Her voice was rich and warm, pleasant on the ears. “I wished to meet with you tonight, not Citoyen Tallien.”
“The Levesques. I’m sorry about what happened to your sister some years back. Awful, awful thing; truly barbaric, even for these times.”
“At least the stories say it was quick. Just … one knife and it was over. Whoever it was that sent the killer picked a merciful one.”
“I’m sorry…. I’m assuming you’re not here to talk to me about the opera, Mademoiselle.”
“No. I have a proposition, and I think if you listen to and take my offer, you can benefit the people of this country.”
“I spend every day listening to propositions to make this country better,” Sieyès said. “I would like one night of peace, please. And without Tallien here.”
“Citoyen,” Tallien protested.
Sieyès then said tersely, “I bid you a good night; both of you.”
“May I come to at a more suitable time, then?” Levesque asked. “I recognise that you deal with people like me on a daily basis, but I believe that I can help you more than they can.”
“As does every man who comes to me. If you can offer me one reason to listen to you over them, within the next minute, then I will make a further appointment with you.”
“It is the reason that my sister was murdered,” Levesque said. There was the creak of a seat as, presumably, Sieyès turned around to look at her. “Surely if it was worth to send a highly trained murderer to silence her tongue, what I have to say is worthwhile.”
Sieyès sighed; Connor pressed himself as far as he could against the door. “If you send a man to the Convention tomorrow, I’ll have mine set up a time to meet. If what you’re saying is true, know I do this for Marie’s memory. Now please go. Leave me alone.”
“Thank you, citoyen, for understanding.”
Connor hid up the bend of the nearest staircase as Levesque, Tallien, and the bodyguard left the booth. “So now what?” Tallien asked.
“We enjoy the opera,” Levesque said simply. “I need to relieve myself; I’ll be with you soon.”
“As you say.” Tallien left with the bodyguard, and Levesque stood in the corridor, wiping her nose with a gloved finger. Connor stepped out of the stairwell, and a board creaked under his shoe.
Levesque stiffened, and she turned. “You’re Connor Kenway,” she whispered, and she swallowed. She lifted her chin. “If I must die, then I feel pride in knowing that the Assassins saw it fit to send their best for me.”
Connor said quietly, “I’m here to talk.”
“Ha,” Levesque laughed bitterly. “An Assassin sneaking to me through the shadows for something other than murder? What a thought.” She didn’t believe him.
Connor kept himself small, doing his best to appear non-threatening. He still towered over her, but he didn’t move closer. “Where are the Cormacs?” he asked. “You would not be here without at least one.”
“I see now,” Levesque bit. “You’re not here for me, but for them.”
“I’m here for both of you,” Connor corrected. “To talk. I was the one who found you in the Vendôme district and took Jean Sébastien. He died in one of the café fires lit by Aidan Cormac. He is now in our custody. Whilst I was there I found a list of names, and I presume they are people you wish to bring into the Templar fold.”
Levesque was stony-faced. “I cannot let you have this city,” she said. “If you’re to kill my people then I must find more. Surely you understand, you who have done the same thing as me and rebuilt your order from nothing. Everywhere I look I see Assassins lurking in our streets and undoing everything my family has worked towards for generations. I can’t….” She took a small knife from the volume of a sleeve. They both knew Connor could overpower her without trying, but he reevaluated her.
“Mademoiselle,” he started, and inadvertently moved closer, raising his empty hands.
Levesque inhaled sharply and held the knife at him, her elbow locked. “I would ask you kindly to not step any closer, Assassin.”
“I only want to talk. I swear it.”
“I’m not interested in talking,” Levesque told him, and brandished the knife in emphasis. “You’re an Assassin, and your kind kills mine. We’ve killed and killed each other for all intents and purposes for thousands of years, so why should I believe you when you say you wish no harm on me? You who killed his own father?”
The tendons in Connor’s neck were tight. “The de la Serres held peace with the Assassins.”
“And they died for it,” Levesque said, “because they were fools.”
Connor felt Cormac behind him. He heard Cormac pull back the hammer of his pistol, and Connor bore his teeth a little in frustration. Cormac was perhaps six feet from him, and Connor didn’t trust himself to move in time in case Cormac decided to shoot, Vision or no Vision. The Vision gave him a bare few moments of warning, sometimes only a heartbeat or so, and from the distance between them and Cormac’s knowledge that Connor would know even before he did when he was going to pull the trigger, he was ready for the evasion. He’d readjust his aim without thought.
“Step away from her,” Cormac said quietly.
Connor grabbed Levesque. Cormac’s finger jumped from behind the trigger to resting on it as Connor wrenched the knife from Levesque’s hand and pulled her in front of him. He laid his blade against her pale throat. No one moved for a long while, and the loudest sound was of Levesque’s rapid breathing. Below them, distantly, the audience cooed at the opera.
“I said,” Cormac said through his teeth, “step. Away.”
Connor held Levesque tighter, and she whimpered as the edge of the blade pressed into her skin, close to breaking it.
“Fine way to go about makin’ peace with what you’re doing now,” Cormac spat, “or d’you not want that anymore?”
“I do,” Connor said, “but I won’t let you point that at me.” He grimaced. “I said, I’m here to talk.”
“Then talk. What do you want?”
“The Paris Council have ordered all of your deaths. I oppose it; I’m the only thing between you and trained Assassins coming for you. You’re fearsome, but even they will be too much for you and your family to fight.”
“There are terms for your stay of hand?”
“For Caresse Levesque to stop whatever schemes she has to bring members of government into the Order, and for you to abandon your hunt for the Pieces. To come to the Paris Assassins under a truce to discuss peace terms not related to my wants, but to theirs so they may continue Comte de Mirabeau and Grand Master de la Serre’s legacy.”
Levesque laughed in a high voice; both Connor and Cormac looked at her. “Your Royalist Paris Council are mad…. They’re mad! Why would we want peace with you after what they’ve done to us? Even if they weren’t to lure us into a trap there is no benefit for the Rite, there is only a lack of much needed progress.” She craned her neck to look back at Connor. “Have they told you what those years of de la Serre’s peace brought? Nothing but hate, and vitriol. De la Serre was cut down by Templars, Mirabeau by his own Council. If they squawk of wanting peace it is nothing but a sham.”
“The Council aren’t Royalists, they’ve been working to secure the people’s rights far more peacefully than you have. Your sister influenced riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands.”
“And she was a fool without a consciousness; I’m glad she’s rotting in the dirt. She was miserable, and she couldn’t save them, and neither could her Grand Master. But I can. Me.”
Connor tightened the blade against Levesque’s throat, and said, “Not by yourself. You could do it with us.”
“I would rather walk myself to the guillotine than give the Assassins any sliver of a chance of stepping into my plans.”
“So you’re determined to kill every last Assassin in Paris,” Connor said, looking from her to Cormac and back again. “The cafés, the murder of the people who worked there, they were innocent! Why?”
“Because her vision is what the people of this country need,” Cormac said, “and you and your Assassins bein’ in the way would lead to nothin’ but death, and tried-peace between our factions to arguin’ in circles. The streets are in chaos, and leadership is needed. You won’t cede it, you’re scared of puttin’ anyone with Templar ties in power just as we are you Assassins, don’t try to deny it; you just said it yourself. I told you already, and you’ve been taught the lesson once already — our ideologies aren’t in the business of compromise.”
“I. Hope,” Connor bit. “I hope that what went so wrong between my father and I can be fixed. Haytham believed in peace. Our truce was proof of that.”
“A truce that lasted for little more than a year and ended up with him tryin’ to kill you?” Cormac shook his head. “He was usin’ you; I’ve been used enough that I can see that in a moment. We both know he didn’t believe in a long-lastin’ peace. He might have fancied it, but it didn’t stop him tryin’ to kill you in the end. I’ve seen both sides of this fight, I know better than anyone what you, the French Council, and what Jennifer dream of is impossible.”
“You want to war forever, then; you’re not offering me a reason why I shouldn’t slit her throat,” Connor growled, his temper sapping more every moment. “Or Aidan’s.”
Cormac stepped further up to him, and levelled the barrel of his pistol barely a hand’s width from Connor’s temple. “Harm him, and I’ll make you long for the day you decided to be born. Your youngest would be, what, six?”
Connor felt like he had been kicked in the chest by a horse. His blood turned to ice, and the hidden blade at Levesque’s throat trembled as unadulterated fear permeated every fibre of his being.
“Aye, I know about her, your son, your oldest daughter, your wife.” Cormac was breathing hard. “You can keep them hidden from the world as much as you like, Ratonhnhaké:ton, but there’s no hidin’ it from me. Where is my son?”
“Unharmed.” Connor could barely hear himself.
“Where is my son?”
“You give him back to me or I swear I will shoot you.”
Connor said, “Then you’ll never see him back. He remains unharmed by my orders, and there are more people than I can name who would kill him because of the lives you’ve taken. So shoot me.”
He said nothing else, just stared at Cormac as Cormac stared back at him. Connor’s heart hammered in his throat.
“You’ve told us your terms,” Cormac then said, “and here’re mine. Your children, for mine. Your wife, for Caresse Levesque. The Pieces of Eden, for the lives of every last Assassin in this city. And if you do not agree I will show you why Achilles feared me so. I’ll hunt every last one of you, every Assassin associate both here and in America, and nothin’ will stop me. Not even you.”
The tendons in Connor’s neck strained as he lifted the blade from Levesque’s skin. He warred with his decisions and refused to think as he said, “I do this on the condition that you leave the government free of Templar influence. Never contact Tallien, or Sieyès, or the others again.” He met Cormac’s eyes, and hoped that he saw the murder he glared. If you so much as look at Tekonwenaharake, or my children, I will kill your son, and then I’ll kill you.
“You can leave your answer on the top spire of Hôtel de Ville,” Cormac said. “Just make sure you do it soon.”
Connor shoved Levesque at Cormac, and disappeared up the staircase. He felt sick, and didn’t care when one of the theatre’s servants froze in shock when he saw him. Connor was blind to him, and retraced his steps in a jog and soon a run back to the now deserted attic. The smell of vomit lingered.
The cold air on his face was a blessing, and Connor hardly remembered to retrieve the buckskins for his bow, and his journey back to the nearest sewer gate was made in a daze. The next thing he was aware of he was looking at Café Théâtre’s courtyard, his mouth as dry as a desert. The gas lanterns in the windows flickered merrily. Connor made his way to the dome, and the Assassin sitting on the desk glanced at him, then said quietly, “Mentor? You look …”
“Watch. The window,” Connor interrupted. “If anyone not an Assassin comes through there deal with them.”
“O-of course. I …”
“Thank you.” The Assassin stared after Connor.
Connor dropped to the main floor and stumbled into his room. He fell into one of the table’s chairs and gripped at his hair, exclaiming through his teeth. “Cormac,” he snarled, “how did … what …?” How had he known so much? Not only about Connor’s real name, something he’d divulged to only a few, but about his family. Connor felt like he was floating and drowning at once. He found the feathers in his hair, each for one of his children, and took them out, holding them close. He squeezed his eyes shut to try and stop the tears welling there.
Despite everything, despite being in a position of power in numbers and support, he was dancing to Shay Cormac’s tune like a puppet on strings. He’d lost ground at every single turn, and he sat up against the chair back, shivering uncontrollably. The worst part was he knew how to fix the problem. He knew that if he stopped pursuing the passive route and met Cormac with blood, Connor would have the advantage again, here and now. Tekonwenaharake and the children were an ocean away, and the Aquila could crush a sloop-of-war like it was nothing, no matter how armoured she was. He was younger, better than Shay Cormac in combat, however he had Killian who he couldn’t afford to underestimate, and from Arno’s reports it sounded like Cormac’s son was half-mad with Templar dogma.
With the French at his back, and his own Brotherhood at home, Connor could crush the Cormacs if he wanted. He just wasn’t sure he was willing to pay the price. If he killed the Cormacs he would sacrifice his chance to ever make peace with the Templars, destroy Haytham and Jennifer’s legacies, but if he let the Cormacs go free, they would never stop hunting the Assassins or the Pieces of Eden they guarded, and his family would always be in danger.
Connor stood, crossed the room, and took the copies of Haytham’s letters from the drawer where he’d stored them. He stared at them, reading without taking the words in. Somewhere in the street below he heard a horse’s hooves against the cobblestones, and that was enough to stir him from his thoughts. He crossed to the hearth and dropped the letters into the fire.
Versailles, 14th January, 1795
“Keep your bloody voice down.”
It was Hugo, and he jumped a foot when Arno came from the shadows. He’d gone to the de la Serre house, for Arno hadn’t told anyone where he was currently staying.
“Jesus,” Hugo yelped. “Wha—?”
“What is it?” Arno asked him.
Hugo huffed and said, “Eve. I have something, and it was … it was just strange, alright? Couple of hours ago a man walked up to me, asking after you. Said that if you wanted Eve, to go to him.”
Arno’s befuddlement turned into suspicion at once, and his cheek twitched. He was so ravenous for answers it was difficult to slow down and ask Hugo, “What did he look like?”
“Forty, maybe. Black hair, taller than you, pale as milk. Greasy money, I thought.”
Arno paced up and down, licking his teeth as he thought. Hugo shifted his weight from foot to foot, uncomfortable. “Meeting him,” Arno said eventually. “He gave you an address, I presume?”
“Off rue Gombouste.”
Arno knew the place. “It’d be a trap.” Though Arno didn’t have much choice but to go if he wanted to find his answers. Wasn’t he thinking just recently that one of his only options to find Eve was if opportunity fell into his lap? Rue Gombouste was towards the edge of the village, behind Palais de Versailles. The houses along the street were mostly shops, many of which had been boarded up, and the residential buildings were all long abandoned and lay thick with dust. Arno swept the area within his mind’s eye, and teethed at the inside of his lip.
“Fine,” he said after a minute of thought. “Thank you, Hugo.” He crossed the street.
Hugo caught his arm, and Arno looked around, bewildered, as Hugo chewed on his words. “Shit,” he muttered. “You’re really doing this? You just said it was a trap.”
“I have to,” Arno said quietly.
Hugo released him. “Dammit, Dorian. I don’t know what you’ve gotten involved in since the night de la Serre died and I don’t want to know, but I know enough that whatever you’re walking into, you’ll be killed.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence.”
“I won’t have your death on my conscious. I’ve already got too many dead people in my life, and I don’t need more.”
“I thought you hated me.”
Hugo kicked at the dirt road. “Aye, I don’t like you much,” he said, “but you saved mine and Victor’s lives. We’ve known each other since we were children.”
“I won’t die,” Arno promised. “I can’t afford to. I need to succeed for the people in Paris.”
“You’d better not die,” Hugo threatened. Arno snorted before he turned to the wall and ran at it, climbing up the side like a spider. He crouched on the roof, orienting himself and checking his weapons. His pistol was loaded, his sword was oiled, he had bombs on his belt, and the knife he was using in lieu of the hidden blade was within easy reach. He took off along the rooftops, the hollow ring of his steps on the slate shingles and his ragged breathing the only sounds in the night. His coat flapped behind him as he ran, leaping street gaps and shimming over ropes. He paused for breath by one of the churches, reaching out with the Vision and checking he was alone; he was. He took a drink of water from a canteen inside his coat and continued on his way, stopping only when he overlooked rue Gombouste. The street was offset from a small square. Shops lined the square, and there was a brasserie on the corner; in the middle was an empty fountain. The only sign of movement was that of a cat on the street corner, and the breeze through the bare tree branches. Arno crouched on the rooftop he’d stopped on, searching for anything he could. He could only Sense the cat.
Hugo, if you’re having me on …
Arno dropped to the street, scouring the area, then went to rue Gombouste. Like the square, it was empty. “Now what?” he muttered to himself. He examined the row of houses, looking for anything that could be considered a clue. The only thing he could see was an open window halfway down the street, and for lack of anything else, went to it. He climbed up and found nothing with the Vision except for people in their beds, unrelated to Eve. Arno stepped into the window, and twisted away just before a pistol went off by his ear. Arno cried out. There was a man in the window, he’d been waiting for him, and Arno hadn’t Sensed him. He was so rattled by both this and the pistol that he did nothing to stop a huge man punching him off the sill.
Arno almost hit the ground head first, twisting only at the last moment to land on his right shoulder. The wound in it from Killian Cormac’s hidden blade reopened, and Arno felt the joint pop from its socket. The pain was immediate, and Arno staggered to his feet, unable to properly move his arm. He’d dislocated both of his shoulders before, so it was easy for him to grab his injured wrist with his opposite hand and pull it forward. He didn’t have the time to do it gently, and exclaimed through his teeth when his arm relocated. It was lucky that it was the worst that had happened. Arno saw through watering eyes the large man open the house’s door. He was easily seven-foot, and Arno stepped back. This brute made even Connor seem small. He cracked his knuckles as he advanced, leering with teeth like broken tombstones.
Arno raised his one good fist. “Where’s Eve?” he demanded.
The brute struck at him, and Arno avoided his fist. He leapt up and landed a blow on his cheek, and the brute lashed at him blindly, grunting with pain. Arno knew he was stronger than he looked; Bellec had thought his strength was tied with his ability to use the Vision, and when the brute turned back around his cheekbone was sunken. Arno huffed, raising his fist again. “Where’s. Eve?”
The brute answered with a roar and swung again, enraged like a bull. He was as strong as one, too. Arno saw the blow coming, and without thinking raised his injured arm to block. It did nothing to stop the man’s punch, and the blow sent Arno onto his back; stars burst before his eyes, and his arm was alight with fire. Arno gasped wetly and tried to get to his feet, but the man grabbed him by the back of his coat, lifting him up to hit again. Arno kicked backwards, and was immensely satisfied when his foot sunk into the man’s crotch. The brute went down with a squeal, and Arno rolled away. As soon as he’d regained his footing he charged at the man, jumping and cocking his fist back at the same time. The brute’s other cheekbone shattered, and Arno bowled him over. He ducked beneath the brute’s grappling hands, and when he sunk his fist into Arno’s coat, Arno held onto the man’s front for dear life. When the brute’s attempts to tug Arno off him failed, he rolled them over and crushed Arno beneath him. Arno was stunned, and just managed to draw a breath of air in time to see the brute rearing back to headbutt him. Their heads crashed together; Arno lost his strength. It took everything to crawl away and create some distance. Perhaps the brute was eager for some respite himself, for he let Arno go without a fuss, and they both climbed to their feet. As he should have done in the first place, Arno unsheathed his sabre. No matter how strong he was, and especially having to fight with immediate disadvantages, he was never going to win a fistfighting contest. Injured as he was, Arno could barely stand. His swordpoint drooped to the ground.
“Where’s … where’s Eve?” he muttered.
A new voice spoke. “Finish up with it, already. You’re not being paid to play with him.” It wasn’t the brute, but from somewhere over his shoulder.
The brute took a knife from his belt, and Arno could barely keep himself from holding down the contents of his stomach as the brute raised it. Arno cut at him, but it was so uncoordinated the brute grabbed him by the wrist and forced him to drop the sabre. Struggling to free himself, Arno couldn’t obey the warnings from his Vision to move out of the way as the butt of the knife came down on his head, and he was dropped into unconsciousness.
He was coming around as he was being dragged down the street to an awaiting carriage. Arno’s head was aching enough for ten, his gut churning, and his ears were ringing so badly he only just made out the man who’d spoken, smaller and more finely dressed than the brute, ordering him to hit him again. The next thing Arno was aware of was the trundling of the carriage’s wheels beneath him, and the tight rope binding his hands together. His head and shoulder both pained him immensely. There was a boot near his nose, scraped and torn with years of use. It belonged to the brute, and a second toe in his lower back told of another boot. Arno was lying on the floor of of the carriage, and the two men were sitting on the benches above him, talking in whispers.
“You can’t tell me you didn’t see it. He moved before I’d pulled the trigger.”
“You think he’s like … like them?” the brute asked in a rumble of a voice; perhaps unfairly, his lexicon surprised Arno. “The dead ones?”
“Maybe. He’s not fully human, I’d stake my life on that.”
Arno was careful to be as still as possible, focusing on keeping his breathing even and deep. Nevertheless, by the sounds of their voices the two were more intent with their argument than him.
“Whatever he is,” the smaller man said, “human, a dead one, he’s still one of those wall climbing pieces of filth they told us about. That he’s here means the Assassins —” the man spat the word, “— are getting suspicious something’s going on.”
“I heard one of them got Anton.”
“As well as Gabet.”
“Then I don’t understand why we don’t just kill him,” the brute argued. “He’d kill us. Look what he did to my face!”
“And we’re grateful for your sacrifice. For why we have to spare him, ask them yourself when we get back. I don’t know their reasons. I’d like nothing more than to open his neck, but we can’t. Not yet.”
“They’re not the ones out here having their bones broken.” Arno coughed as the brute stamped on his ribs. “I wanna hurt him a bit, rough him up some. Can’t prove it didn’t happen trying to take him in.”
“You idiot, you’ll wake him up!”
The carriage suddenly stopped, and the two men looked at each other, confused. The smaller man stepped on Arno and pulled back the slat to talk to the driver. “Why have you stopped? Move, boy! We’re in a hurry.”
“Sir,” came the muffled voice of the driver. “I, err, it’s the monsieur.”
“It’s the monsieur coming up the road.”
“Why on Earth …? Bah! Nevermind it!”
The brute opened the door, and two men climbed out. They left the door open, and Arno peered outside to see the vague shapes of the men. It was the dead of night, the only light coming from a lantern at the carriage’s front. The men were looking past the carriage and presumably further up the road. There was the sound of a single horse’s hoofs on frozen mud, which soon came to a stop. Someone dismounted, and Arno reached for the Vision. It was agony on his head, and he had to fight not to make a sound. He squeezed his eyes shut and flexed his spine, trying to relieve the pressure on the inside of his aching head. He writhed as quietly as he could, and forced himself to still when a third, new figure came to a stop in front of the men.
“Well, well, gentlemen; I didn’t expect to see you on the way back so quickly.”
Arno’s heart sped up; he recognised that voice. It was the man he’s seen in Rose’s memories, the one who’d recruited the marauder and told him to find the Apple for Eve. After weeks spent searching, he’d been dropped into his lap. The split head was feeling much more worth its trouble now.