Serenity looked down at the man in the elephantine armor, watching as he waited for his brother's return in the growing light to take over his shift. Moving to stand over the man's head, she dropped from the roof.
At that moment, the Elephant happened to glance down, seeing the shadow coming toward him. He moved forward as fast as his bulky armor would allow, raising his spiked shield above his head for cover. Bringing it down before him as he turned, he glowered at the woman through the slits in his helmet.
The woman spun to face him, her hidden blade free of its sheath. The two circled one another slowly.
"So, it's the traitor to both sides," grumbled the man behind the Iron Elephant armor. "Come to kill me, have you? Finally decided where your allegiance lies?"
"Oh, Seiyr, you know me too well," Serenity purred. The Elephant stiffened suddenly. "And yet, you don't know me at all." The man toppled to the ground then, armor rattling as his body began to tremble within its metal casing. After a moment, he went still, or so she judged from the lack of sound within the metal. Two throwing knives were pressed into each of the eyeholes, the helm lifted up just enough to slit his throat as well.
The woman lifted her eyes to the culprit. The tall male stood in black feathers with a white ruff of feathesrs around his neck. His head was completely bald, his face covered with the intimidating mask of a vulture. The man stepped over the armored corpse and moved to Serenity, bending his head so their lips brushed beneath his beak-covered nose.
"Lyubov' moya, mne nado idti," he murmured against her lips, stroking her shorn hair. She held onto his feathered back lightly, sighing and nodding. He stepped back and bowed to the woman. "Peredavay privet sahvah ee vahrahbey."
She nodded and whispered, "Do svidaniya." The Vulture gave her a long look before disappearing into the fading darkness of night. The woman climbed atop the roof behind her as the Lion came upon the scene. He gazed up at her for a long moment before releasing a roar as she, too, disappeared into the waning night.
The Steel Rhino skidded to a stop as he came to the scene.
"Brother, I heard your call," he started, then stopped, seeing what lay on the ground.
"Karna, our brother has been slain by the Assassins," said the Lion, looking toward the Rhino. "Their blades are still in his eyes." The Rhino let out a howl of rage and slammed his halberd against the wall beside him, the street below his feet, destroying cobbles and masonry until he was fit enough to speak.
"They are finished! Finished, Haidar! Summon your men! It's time we ceased playing games!"
"You are right, Karna, but before you go off to slay the murderers yourself, we must both see what was done to him in its full extent." The two men looked at one another. The Lion added, "You never know with these brutish bastards."
"You're right, Brother, and I will see it with my eyes open," the man snarled, removing his helm. He revealed a freshly shaven head, the faint gray pinpricks all that remained of a head of dark hair, far too cumbersome to keep locked in the sweltering heat of the Rhino head. His beaked nose was crooked to one side at the bridge, cheek bones broad and stormy eyes a dark brown that was often said to be black all in a dark brown face.
Kneeling, he pulled the knives free with a sickening squelching noise and removed the elephant head from over his brother's face. His gorge rose; he turned and loosed it shamelessly on the stones before coughing and releasing a noise somewhere between a sob and a groan, dragging the dead body into his arms.
A wide mouth had been sliced into his brother's throat, beneath his face. Out of the three brothers, Seiyr had always been the most good-looking in Karna's mind. His face, dark as his own, was leaner for his age and studies, a few speckles of white hair studding his upper lip along with the normal black. Where once ever-amused gray eyes had been now were sockets filled with blood and fluid and a disgusting mush that resembled squashed grapes. Shuddering, he shut the man's eyes and cradled the equally hairless head against his chest.
Jerking his head skyward, he screamed, "Io uccidero tutti! Io uccidero tutti! Senti, bastardi? Morte agli assassini!"
X x X
The door to the servants' entrance opened and shut. The servant woman's head was lowered, her shoulders hunched; she looked as if she'd taken more than a good beating from her mistress for some wrong doing.
She moved into the building proper, limping along to add to the effect. As she moved by the stairs, Desmond looked at her. Having failed to rouse Ezio, who insisted on sleeping the day away, he had decided to return to his friends when the sight of the battered woman caught his eye. He squinted, a faint red light seeming to hang around her.
Frowning, he moved to the kitchen where the Coal Tit, Owl, and Sparrow sat.
"There's a rat in the brothel," he muttered in Arabic as he took a seat as well and looked at the others. "One of the sewer-crawling types." He watched as Lex made his way arduously to his feet, both Jameel and Amir moving to stand and help him. He motioned for them to remain seated.
"The rat is quick," he said, "but the Eagle sees all in daylight and the Owl is master of the night."
"And the Sparrow?"
"Songbirds are vicious little bastards." He limped toward the halls, the three men looking after him before following and melting into the shadows. Lex looked down another hall as he walked, catching sight of the woman Desmond had mentioned. He turned, treading silently after her.
The woman continued down the hall, quickening her pace a bit. Her eyes darted over her shoulder, then down the hall. She took a quick left; the Sparrow followed. She'd have to do something about him. She turned as a loud creak sounded behind her. Nothing. Was it one of the other servants?
The woman unsheathed the dagger from her boot and edged down the hall, turning to the left, looking down the hall there. No one. She turned to go back the way she'd come.
Lex swung down from his perch on the rafter above the woman, knocking her back down the hall as he landed on the floor in a crouch.
"Man, I've been waiting to do that!" He advanced on the woman, who, now with her hood knocked down, he saw clearly was Serenity. His hands were shrieking in protest from his actions thus far, as was the rest of his body, but he was out to prove a point and wouldn't stop now.
The woman leapt to her feet almost as soon as she was brought down, throwing the dagger. The boy moved his head to the side; the blade clattered against the floor beyond.
"I said I'd fix this," he said, seeming to speak to himself, "so I'm fixing it." He lunged. Serenity blocked his punch, but just barely. Even injured, he was fast. When did he get so fast? She moved to the side. He kicked at her injured ribs again.
"Bastardo!" she spat, taking the blow in order to throw a punch at his head. The Sparrow caught her wrist, then punched her in the throat. She gasped, coughed, headbutted him. He brought his foot back quickly to steady himself, then brought it forward again in a snap kick to her knee. She fell back.
Amir lifted a brow as he watched the scene from his spot in the shadows above them. This was turning out to be very different from what he'd imagined. Jameel, down in his spot in the shadows of a doorway, was also surprised. He lingered in the darkness, watching the fight unfold. The lesson had been taught to him long ago in Masyaf, but he had let it lay dormant until now: When Lex wanted to fight, he could most definitely fight. So far, the Red Owl hadn't been needed, but if he was, he wasn't far away.
Serenity backed up against the wall opposite Jameel's hiding place, blocking as many blows as she gave. This wasn't turning out how she planned. In fact, this was humiliating. When the hell did this little Ganymede get so good? The woman dropped and rolled as another punch came her way, hooking the boy's leg and jerking.
Lex dropped to the side as his foot was tugged out from under him, landing with his full weight upon the Vixen. She screamed as her battered ribs were injured even further. The Sparrow grabbed her shoulder quickly, straddling her as he pinned her down and started in on her face with his fists. He kneed her in the gut before standing, watching her.
Serenity made as if to curl up around her sore abdomen, then twisted, ready to bolt for the knife she'd discarded in her first throw. The Sparrow brought his foot down hard on the small of her back. Once, twice or good measure. Breathing hard, he crouched beside her head.
"You don't ******** with me." Then, just to add insult to injury, he smacked her upside her head and added in his best Tony Soprano voice, "Capisce?"
He stood and looked at the Master Assassin in the shadows, the pain he'd put his body through finally reaching his senses. The Red Owl emerged from the darkness and grabbed her up, keeping his hand clenched over her mouth as he moved her to the kitchen and sat her in a chair, tying her fast to it. He for one did not want her to escape again. Perhaps Amir can stab her in the face for us. That'll fix all this disorder she's caused.
"Jameel," she pleaded, "Jameel, please, listen to me." Amir, moving up to the chair, backhanded her into silence. That felt good. That felt very, very good. The silence only lasted a moment, however, as Serenity started again with, "Please, Jameel, say something to me. Anything."
Jameel gave her a cruel stare and said one word: "Traitor."
"I am not a traitor! I love you! I love you! I love you! I love you!"
The woman fell silent as Lex began to move. Was he coming to hit her too? In a sense. The blow he gave her did far more damage than any physical wound could. The Sparrow pulled the Master Assassin down to his level and kissed him full on the mouth. Another action was a stab to her heart of hearts: the Red Owl visibly returning the kiss, his arms drawing the Journeyman to his chest as he took a knee to enjoy the kiss in comfort.
The room was silent. A graveyard had more noise from the growing grass. Desmond glanced at his watch. A full minute and the two were still kissing, gripped onto each other. Just when he began to wonder how long the Assassins would be there sucking face, they parted, slowly, reluctantly, breathing heavily against each other's lips.
Desmond looked at Amir. The Coal Tit looked back at him, then at the woman. The barkeep looked to her as well.
Serenity was gaping. She looked like she was going to cry, really. Eventually, she did start crying. Her voice returned to her with all of what sounded to the bartender to be soap opera fashion.
"Why?" At first her voice was a whiny little whimper. "Why?" It turned to a raging scream. "Why him? Why that little b*****d dog?" She threw herself back and forth, side to side against her bonds. "Why, Jameel? What can he give you? He isn't worthy of you!"
Jameel deigned to give the woman an answer: "I've known him a lot longer than you."
With that, the two standing there looking at the woman gave each other another look before hoisting her up between them, chair and all, and carrying her to one of the wardrobes upstairs. There they trussed her up like a Christmas goose and tossed her into the wardrobe, shutting the doors behind them.
As Amir and Desmond carried Serenity up to the second floor, the Sparrow took a seat and set his chin on the sore, stinging, bleeding heels of his hands, looking up at the Red Owl.
"Hey, Jameel?" He took a moment to draw a deep breath and brace himself for the possible storm to come. "If I told you to leave, if we were caught again like we were and you had the chance to escape, would you?" Jameel looked at him, frowning. He took his lover's chin gently between his fingers, meaning to lift it, only to startle as Lex jerked himself back. The man's frown deepened, brows pinching together as he set his hands over the Sparrow's shoulders and crouched in front of him.
"I would never leave you, Lex, not willingly. I tried to come back to you, but the others held me back." Lex's eyes lowered. Jameel squeezed his shoulders. "I did. They had to knock me out to keep me from running headlong into gun and cannonfire to get you out of that outpost." He swallowed. "Believe me, Lex, I would always come for you, whatever it took." Jameel took his face between his hands and looked him in the eyes.
"You've had a brush with death and survived. You're stronger for it now, my love, much stronger. You survived. You're alive, with me, in my arms. You survived. Now you can plan ahead, since you know what they're capable of, and keep surviving." Lex looked at him for a while before finally dipping his head once in a nod.
Amir looked over at Desmond as they dragged Ezio up and down the stairs. The man's face was blank, the owner lost in thought.
"I've got it!" The bartender jumped down the rest of the stairs, leaving his ancestor and the Coal Tit to catch up. "Dawn and dusk."
"What about them?"
"Well, the Lion runs around at night and the other two during the day. What about dusk and dawn?"
"Most of the Crows are out at dusk and dawn, clearing the next patrols to make their rounds. Those that attempt to follow them to know where they go are either killed or chased away. Now they have guns that do the job quicker..."
"What the hell can we do then when the Templars own the streets?"
From his seat, Lex shrugged and mumbled, "Fly?"
"Leonardo." Amir grinned. The others looked at him. "We can fly."
"Fly?" Jameel looked at Amir, confused. "How can we fly?"
"Using one of Leonardo's inventions."
"You'll see." The group set out to Leonardo's shop.
X x X
The pain in her body was nothing compared to the pain of her heart being torn into tiny pieces seeing Jameel and Lex kissing so intimately. The tears had long since dried up; she almost lost the urge to struggle, wanting to accept her fate. No, no, no, she thought, staring into the gloom within the wardrobe. Jameel loves me. That boy has simply blinded him, turned him to a sinner's ways. Jameel, why are you tempted so easily by that little Satan? He is even named for the bird that alerted the killer of Christ to his retaining some bit of life! Her mind homed in on the problem: Lex.
A stream of obscenities and curses spewed from her mouth as she began to struggle in earnest, kicking at the door of the wardrobe and startling a passing servant. The woman stared at the wardrobe before going over and opening it. Bending down, she untied the woman she found there, only to be knocked flat, the one she rescued rushing out into the passage and down the stairs, hurrying out the door.
He will pay. He will pay for bewitching you, beloved Jameel. I will make you see reason and the true path again.
"Passerotto e volato il suo ultimo volo!"
Retrieving her weapons from where the Assassins had stowed them, found easily enough in the bordello's limited rooms, she strapped on her equipment and headed out into the night.
X x X
The Assassins moved into Leonardo's shop. The man looked up, smiling at Ezio and Amir as the two explained the situation. Lex looked up at the glider that hung above the floor, moving up the stairs to it and testing his weight against the frame.
Lex moved back onto the rail properly, looking at the glider. No, not at the glider, beyond it.
"You okay, man?" He looked at Desmond. "You look like you saw a ghost or something."
"Nah. Just a chill." Lex dropped from the rail and moved on up the stairs as Amir and Jameel came to inspect the glider, Ezio still speaking with Leonardo. The Sparrow looked out of the window, gnawing his lip. Maybe I did see a ghost. Or at least someone that couldn't possibly be there. He leaned against the wall of the room, watching as rain began to come down.
"Dio mio," he heard Leonardo say from the floor below as thunder rumbled. The Sparrow blinked, looking at the window again. The glass had been broken. His eyes followed the trail of pieces, leading to a crossbow bolt in the door. Another peal of thunder. He swallowed, looking at the fletch that was brushing his cheek. He took to his heels, swinging out the back window and up onto the roof.
Amir looked up at the pounding of feet, seeing a brown streak go by in the corner of his eye.
"Ahk?" He moved after Lex, moving onto the roof. "Ahk!" he called, trying to make his voice louder than the rain, watching small clouds of debris pop up from a chimney that Lex was hiding behind, shots ricocheting off the surace.
Lex lifted his head, turning toward Amir. He stood, only to scream and clutch at his face, falling to the rooftop, a line cut through his eyebrow. "Ahk, hal anta bikhair?"
"La! Yela'an! Al-la-ma!" Lex uncovered his face, squinting at him through the blood and the rain. "Amir, lauf! Lauf! Sie ist es!" Amir pressed his belly to the tiles, moving toward him. The Coal Tit flinched back, shielding his eyes as a bullet pinged of the roof near his head, scattering bits of tile. "Lauf, du scheissdummer Junge! Tu es! Jetzt! Das ist ein Befehl!" He flinched as another bullet streaked past his head, screaming fit to rival the thunder, "YALLAH!" Amir dropped down into the artist's home again, hurrying to the others.
Lex scrambled across the roofs, bullets and bolts flying around him. Reaching a flat roof, he turned and shouted into the rainy world, "I know it's you! Come out!"
Laughter sounded close by him. Lex turned in a circle, swallowing, fear mounting. He couldn't listen for his opponent--the rain's white noise barely made the laughter audible. He couldn't see her either. Smells were washed away. He let out a frightened yell as the woman rushed him, a grin on her face that would have made Stephen King's demonic clown hide under the covers.
She was armed from waist to shoulders, slashing at him with her sword.
"Passerotto e volato il suo ultimo volo!" she shouted in his face, grasping the knife in her belt and swung. He dodged back, only to have her foot land hard on the side of his head. Lex staggered back, grasping the edge of a rooftop garden and catching himself. He wiped the blood from his face, though the rain already had begun to wash it away, and snarled, feinting to the woman's right before coming at her left with a hard roundhouse. His blade snaked up as he unsheathed it, a contingency plan should the kick fail.
Serenity grabbed his leg, slamming him into the tiles and pinning his blade arm with her foot, grinding it down until he screamed. Leaning down, she unclasped his bracer from his wrist, having shifted her foot to his mangled hand, his wails increasing in agony as she tossed the weapon away, off the roofs.
The woman sneered down at him before kicking his ribs a few times. "You messed with the wrong woman, catamite." She hauled him up and threw him against one of the nearby chimneys. Pain shot through the young man's head and back as he slammed against the stone. Dragging himself to his feet, using the chimney for support, he launched himself at Serenity, taking them to the edge of the roof. Grabbing one of her knives, he moved to slit her throat.
Serenity bucked upwards, rolling, sending them both over the edge. The two landed in the haystack below. Lex gagged as his back hit the bottom of the wagon. He soon found his back the least of his problems as knuckles began to strike his face repeatedly. Serenity only paused when her fist was red with blood, leaning down and hissing into her victim's ear, "You will wish the Lion had made you die."
Lex drew a ragged breath and spat a wad of blood into her face, lashing out with a kick to her ribs. Grasping the edge of the cart, he dragged himself out and onto the street, wiping at the stalks that clung to his reddened, wet face.
He rolled aside as her blade came down for his neck, only to be grabbed up, her fist beating at his face and chest as she pinned him down and began to beat him in earnest, adding in blows to his stomach for good measure. She raised her blade over the figure wheezing beneath her, then looked toward the canal before them. She gasped as she was suddenly pinned beneath him, his fists beating her about the face this time. Knocking him back with a punch to the mouth, she kick him hard in the chest, sending him back hard against the wall behind him.
Standing, she grabbed him by the hair and dragged shoved his head into the water. She yanked his head up again, watching him gasp for breath. The woman screamed as the Assassin lunged forward and sank his teeth into her ankle, pitching forward in an attempt to shake him off and landing in the canal, dragging him with her.
His teeth bit into her face this time, his fist punching her in the gut. He slammed the traitor up against the canal wall as they surfaced, reaching for her throat.
"You crazy b*****d!" Serenity grabbed the dagger from her belt and bashed his head with the hilt, slashing a diagonal line from the base of his neck to the middle of his torso, punching him hard in the jaw to follow up the strike. Lex grabbed onto the wall and dragged himself up, rolling onto the bank, breathing hard as he struggled to rise and run.
Serenity rose from the water, teeth gritted. "I'm not finished yet, runt." She reached down to lift him up. He grabbed her, kneeing her in the gut, twisting so she was beneath him. He spat into her eyes and sent punches left and right into her face until he felt a horrible pain in one of his knuckles. Serenity rolled to her feet and grabbed him up by the robes again, throwing him against the wall of the nearest building.
She sliced an identical mark into his chest as he tried to move away, leaving a bloody X there, pounding his ribs and face once more until the Sparrow was leaning heavily against the wall, coughing out blood. Still the blows rained down. Her arm flexed, fingers moving, hidden blade extending.
The Sparrow's eyes widened as the blade slipped between his ribs, her knuckles almost touching his chest. Blood pooled onto his robes as he stared at his attacker.
She sneered at him. "Go to hell." Ripping the blade from his chest, she grasped the front of his robes as he sagged against the wall, raising her arm to put the blade in his throat.
"LA!" Serenity's grip left his front, Lex slipping down the wall to what he would have found an uncomfortable sit but for the fast-growing numbness in his body. He looked at the one who'd screamed and couldn't bring his face into its normal expression of confusion.
For a moment, he saw Amir, standing and looking at them, wide-eyed, mouth open. His teeth were gritted in a snarl a second later. Then, for a moment, Amir disappeared. A man stood in his place, the same hair, black, white-streaked down the center, if a bit longer, doused flat by the rain. Lines touched the edges of his mouth and eyes, the still narrowed eyes, the still snarling mouth. The face that held the mouth was stubbled around the jaws, his chin sporting a small goatee and his upper lip carrying a thin mustache.
Then Amir returned, charging toward the woman, screaming. His movements were too fast to follow--more, he felt in the back of his mind, to his eyes' current unwillingness to do so--and Serenity was on the ground within moments, eyes staring wide, chest still, though no wounds were on her body.
The man was back, kneeling in front of him, whispering in a voice he might have found warm, maybe even described as sultry in a better moment, but for the current choking sob in it, "Ahk! Ahk! Ahk al-sagheer!"
"Ah...k...al-ahkbar...?" he wheezed.
"Shhh! Shhh, shh." A hand pressed to his chest hard, covering the wound. "Sei still, Bruderherz, Ich bin hier. Dein Prinz ist hier. Du bist sicher. Du bist sicher, das verspreche Ich. Ich verspreche, verstehst du?"
"Hssssst!" Amir looked up at the noise. "Hsst!" He looked toward the source of the noise, a young man in colorful clothing, almost gaudily so, shades of mauve, gold, and black. "Give him here." The Coal Tit clutched his brother to his chest. "I know Nico and Maria." Hearing this, he stood and gave the boy a stern, warning stare.
"Take him. Make sure he is safe, or I'll come for you for breaking my promise to him. Your head will be mounted on the nearest chuch should that happen, your balls stuffed in your mouth." The young man nodded and took the bloodied body into his arms, hurrying off into the streets beyond as Amir turned his focus to Serenity.
"I once said that a thousand needles should be stuffed into that gaping hole between your legs that leads all the way to the Inferno. Well, let's double that number, shall we? Oh, and I'm going to be putting them in one by one. You'll be delighted to know, I'm sure, that you'll feel every single one."
When the rain cleared, the night guard alerted the Lion, who came to see what they had found. A nude woman hung from one of the trellises sporting its green vines, bound there by her own entrails. Her body, moving upward from her crotch, could be seen to be stuffed with long, bone needles. Stuffed between her lips were a bunch of gray, black, and white feathers.
Carved squarely across her chest, breast to breast, was a single sentence: Non toccare mio fratello.