“What’s the hurry?”
“Everything’s the hurry. Do you think Rodrigo is just going to sit back and let us stroll out of here?”
“I left him for dead.”
“Not quite the same as leaving him good and dead, is it? Come on!”
They made their way out of the Vault then, as quickly as they could; and a cold wind seemed to follow them as they did so.
“Where did the others go?” Ezio, his mind still reeling from his recent experiences, asked Mario as they made their way back to the great nave of the Sistine Chapel. The gathered Assassins were no longer there.
“I told them to go. Paola has returned to Florence. Teodora and Antonio, to Venice. We need to keep ourselves covered in all Italy. The Templars are broken but not destroyed. They will regroup if our Assassins’ Brotherhood is not vigilant. Eternally vigilant. The rest of our company have gone ahead and will await us at our headquarters in Monteriggioni.”
“They were keeping watch.”
“So they were. But they knew when their duty was done. Ezio, there is no time to waste. We all know that.” Mario’s face was earnest.
“I should have made sure of Rodrigo Borgia.”
“Did he harm you in the fight?”
“My armor protected me.”
Mario clapped his nephew on the back. “I spoke hastily before. I think you were right to decide not to kill needlessly. I have always advised moderation. You thought him as good as dead, by his own hand. Who knows? Perhaps he was faking—or perhaps he genuinely failed to give himself a fatal dose of poison. Either way, we must deal with the situation as it is now and not waste energy pondering what we might have done. In any case, we sent you—one man against an entire army of Templars. You’ve done more than your part. And I am still your old uncle, and I’ve been worried about you. Come on, Ezio. We have to get out of here. We have work to do, and the last thing we need is to get cornered by Borgia guards.”
“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen, Uncle.”
“Just be sure to stay alive, then, that I may hear of them. Listen: I’ve stabled some horses just beyond Saint Peter’s, outside the precincts of the Vatican. Once we reach them, we’ll be able to make our way safely from here.”
“The Borgia will try to stop us, I expect.”
Mario flashed a broad grin. “Of course they will—and I expect the Borgia to mourn the loss of many lives tonight!”
In the chapel, Ezio and his uncle were surprised to find themselves faced with a number of priests, who had returned to complete the Mass interrupted by Ezio’s confrontation with the Pope, as he and Rodrigo had battled for control of the Pieces of Eden they had discovered.
The priests confronted them angrily, surrounding them and clamoring:
“Che cosa fate qui?—What are you doing here?” They yelled. “You have desecrated the sanctity of this holy place!” And: “Assassini! God will see that you pay for your crimes!”
As Mario and Ezio pushed their way through the angry throng, the bells of Saint Peter’s began to ring the alarm.
“You condemn what you do not understand,” said Ezio to a priest who was trying to bar their way. The softness of the man’s body repelled him. He shoved him aside as gently as possible.
“We must go, Ezio,” said Mario urgently. “Now!”
“His is the voice of the Devil!” another priest’s voice rang out.
And another: “Turn away from them!”
Ezio and Mario pushed their way through the mob and out into the great courtyard of the church. There, they were confronted by a sea of red robes. It seemed that the entire College of Cardinals was assembled, confused, but still under the dominion of Pope Alexander VI—the Spaniard, as he was known—and also as Rodrigo Borgia, captain of the Order of the Templars.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” the cardinals were chanting, “but against Principalities, against Powers, against the Rulers of the Darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, and the shield of Faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the Wicked.”
“What’s the matter with them?” Ezio asked.
“They are confused. They seek guidance,” Mario replied grimly. “Come on. We must get away before the Borgia guards take notice of our presence.” He looked back toward the Vatican. There was a glitter of armor in the sunlight.
“Too late. Here they come. Hurry!”
The sea of red, the billowing vestments of the cardinals, parted as four Borgia guards pushed through in pursuit of Ezio and Mario. Panic took over the crowd as the cardinals started shouting in fear and alarm. Ezio and his uncle found themselves encircled by a human arena—the cardinals, not knowing where to turn, had inadvertently formed a barrier; perhaps their courage had been unconsciously bolstered by the arrival of the heavily armored guards, breastplates gleaming in the sunlight. The four Borgia soldiers had unsheathed their swords and stepped into the circle to face Ezio and Mario, who in turn had drawn their own blades.
“Lay down your weapons and surrender, Assassins. You are surrounded and outnumbered!” shouted the lead soldier, stepping forward.
Before he could utter another word, Ezio had sprung from his stance, energy returning to his weary limbs. The lead guard had no time to react, not expecting his opponent to be so bold in the face of such overwhelming odds. Ezio’s sword arm circled in a blur, the blade whistling as it sliced through the air—the guard tried in vain to raise his sword to parry, but Ezio’s movement was simply too quick. The Assassin’s sword hit its mark with unfaltering accuracy, slicing into the guard’s exposed neck—a plume of blood following its impact. The three remaining guards stood motionless—astonished at the speed of the Assassin and idiotic in the face of such a skilled foe. This delay was their death. Ezio’s blade had barely finished its first lethal arc as he raised his left hand, the mechanism of his hidden-blade clicking as the lethal spike revealed itself from his sleeve. It pierced the second guard between the eyes before he could even twitch a muscle in defense.
Meanwhile Mario, unnoticed, had taken two steps sideways, closing the angle of attack on the two remaining guards—their attention still entirely drawn to the shocking display of violence unfolding before them. Two steps more, he closed in and heaved his sword under the breastplate of the nearest guard—the point rising up sickeningly into the man’s torso. The guard’s face contorted with confused agony. Horror shone in the eyes of the one man left and he turned as if to flee—but too late. Ezio’s blade struck his right flank as Mario’s sword sliced into his thigh. The man fell to his knees with a grunt. Mario kicked him over.