Ezio stood back as Yusuf threw the bomb some distance away from him. It exploded harmlessly, but sent a shower of small, apparently gold, coins into the air, which rained down over the mercenaries. Their attention was immediately distracted from Ezio and Yusuf as they hurried to pick up the coins, shouldering aside the civilians around who tried to join in.

“What was that?” asked Ezio in astonishment, as they continued on their way, now in no fear of molestation.

Yusuf smiled craftily. “That’s what we call a Gold Bomb. It’s filled with coins made of pyrite—they look exactly like gold coins but are very cheap to produce.”

Ezio watched the troopers scatter, oblivious to anything but the Fool’s Gold.

“You see?” said Yusuf. “They can’t resist. But let’s get a move on before they’ve picked them all up.”

“You are full of surprises today.”

“Crafting explosives is a new hobby of ours, one we’ve borrowed from the Chinese. We’ve taken to it with great passion.”

“I’m obviously getting rusty. But a friend of mine once made me some bombs, in Spain, long ago, so I know something of the subject. You’ll have to teach me the new techniques.”

“Gladly—but who is the Mentor here, Ezio? I’m beginning to wonder.”

“That’s enough of your cheek, Assassin!” Ezio grinned, clapping Yusuf on the shoulder.

A narrow street they’d been passing along gave way to another square, and there, again, in that Templar-infested district, was another large group of Byzantine mercenaries. They’d heard the commotion from the adjoining karesi and were looking restive. Yusuf drew a handful of small bombs from his pouch and handed them to Ezio. “Your turn,” he said. “Make me proud. The wind’s behind us, so we should be all right.”

The Byzantines were already making for the two Assassins and drawing their swords. Ezio pulled the pins of the three bombs in his hands and threw them toward the oncoming mercenaries. They exploded on impact with the ground with little, harmless-sounding pops, and for a moment it looked as if nothing else had happened. But then the Templar troops hesitated and looked at each other, gagging and dabbing at their uniforms, which were covered with a stinking, viscous liquid. Quickly, they beat a retreat.

“There they go,” said Yusuf. “It’ll be days before their women will take them back into their beds.”

“Another of your surprises?”

“Those were skunk-oil bombs. Very effective if you judge your moment and keep out of the prevailing wind!”

“Thanks for the warning.”

“What warning?”

“Exactly.”

“Hurry. We’re nearly there.”

They’d crossed the karesi into another street, broader this time but lined with what looked liked boarded-up shops. Yusuf paused at one of them and pushed cautiously at its door, which swung open. Beyond it was a small, plain courtyard, a few barrels and packing cases stacked up along the far wall. In the middle was an open trapdoor, with stone steps leading down from it. A tower rose from the rear left-hand corner of the courtyard.

“As I thought,” said Yusuf. He turned to Ezio and spoke urgently. “This is one of our underground Dens. It looks deserted, I know, but below, the Templars will have it well guarded. Among their rabble there’s a Templar captain. May I ask you to find him and kill him?”

“I’ll get your hideout back for you.”

“Good. When you’ve done so, climb that tower and set off the signal flare you’ll find there. It’s another one of our bombs, and it’s a copy of the flares the Templars use to signal a retreat.”

“And you?”

“It won’t take those Templars in the square long to realize what’s happened, so I’ll go back and find a way of stopping them from following us here and trying to reinforce their friends. I’ve got a couple of phosphorus bombs clipped to my tunic belt. They should do the trick.”

“So you do still use old-fashioned smoke screens?”

Yusuf nodded. “Yes, but these are pretty nasty, so—” He drew a scarf over his nose and mouth. “And before I go, there’s one more little trick up my sleeve, which should bring the rabbits out of their hole—I wouldn’t want you to go down to the Den and fight those thugs in semidarkness. Once they’ve surfaced, you should be able to pick them off without too much trouble.” From his pouch, he produced a final bomb, and hefted it for a moment. “I’ll set this off now, then be on my way. We’ve got to neutralize both groups of Templars simultaneously, or we’ll be lost. Just cover your ears—this is a cherry bomb, and it’s packed with sulfur, so it’ll make a noise like a thunderclap. It’ll bring them up all right, but I don’t want you to burst your eardrums.”

Ezio did as he was bidden, moving back to a strategic position on the shady side of the courtyard, with a good view of the trapdoor. He exchanged his left-hand hidden-blade for his adapted pistol harness, preferring to retain the hookblade for close combat. Yusuf, near the street, threw his cherry bomb to the far side of the courtyard, and disappeared.

There was a noise as loud as the Devil’s Fart, and Ezio, though he’d covered his ears beneath his hood firmly, still had the aftershock in his head. He shook it to clear it, and as he did so, ten Templars, led by a ruddy-nosed captain, burst from the trapdoor into the sunlight, looking around them in panic. Ezio moved in swiftly and had cut three down before they’d had time to react. Using his hookblade, he was able to kill another three in the next minute of combat. Three more ran off, as they heard the sound of two more explosions, followed shortly afterward by the faint smell of smoke in the breeze.

“Perfect timing, Yusuf,” murmured Ezio to himself.

The captain of the cohort stood and confronted Ezio. A brawny, walleyed man with well-used black shoulder armor over his dark red tunic, he held a heavy Damascus in his right hand and a wicked-looking curved dagger, with a barbed point, in his left.

“Rip and slit,” said the captain in a hoarse voice. “I hook you in with the dagger and slit your throat with the sword. You’re as good as dead, Assassin.”

“It’s really high time you Templars joined the sixteenth century,” replied Ezio, raising his left arm and springing his pistol into his hand. He fired, thinking that at that range he really couldn’t miss, even left-handed, and, sure enough, the ball sank into the bone straight between the captain’s eyes.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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