Instead he took a torch, grimacing at the dwindling, meagre light it provided, then bent to move into a narrow passageway that went further into the temple, gesturing at me to follow. There the ceiling was so low that we were almost bent double as we made our way along, both conscious of what might be lurking within this thousands-of-years-old structure, what surprises might lie in store. Where before in the chamber our words had echoed, now they were deadened by the walls—damp rock that seemed to crowd in on us.
“You walked me blind and backwards into this mess, Kidd! Who the bloody hell was that jester back there?”
He called back over his shoulder, “Ah Tabai, an Assassin, and my mentor.”
“So you’re all part of some daffy religion?”
“We are Assassins and we follow a creed. But it does not command us to act or submit, only to be wise.”
He came out of the low tunnel into another passageway, but one that did at least let us stand upright.
“A creed,” I said as he walked. “Oh do tell. I’d love to hear it.”
“‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ This is the world’s only certainty.”
“‘Everything is permitted’? I like that—I like the sound of that. Thinking what I like and acting how I please . . .”
“You parrot the words, Edward, but you do not understand them.”
I gave a short laugh. “Don’t get all haughty with me, Kidd. I followed you as a friend and you tricked me.”
“I saved your skin bringing you here, man. These men wanted you dead for consorting with Templars. I talked them out of it.”
“Well, cheers for that.”
“So it’s you lot them Templars have been chasing, then?”
James Kidd chuckled. “Until you came along and mucked things up, it was us chasing them. We had them running scared. But they have the upper hand now.”
Ah . . .
As we kept walking along passageways I could hear the sound of stone on wood.
“Is someone in here with us?”
“It’s possible. We’re trespassing.”
“Someone’s watching us?”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Words dropped like a stone, echoing around the walls of the temple. Had Kidd been in here before? He didn’t say but seemed to know how to operate doors that we came to, then stairways and bridges, climbing up and up, until we reached the final door.
“Whatever’s waiting at the end of this path had better be worth my time,” I said, irritated.
“That’ll depend on you,” he replied mysteriously.
Next thing we knew, the stones beneath our feet gave way and we plunged to water below.
The way behind was blocked by rubble so we swam underwater until at last, just when I began to wonder if I could hold my breath a second longer, we broke the water’s surface and found ourselves in a pool at one end of another large chamber.
We moved on, out of this chamber and through into the next, where we came upon a bust displaying a face. A face I recognized.
“Jaysus,” I exclaimed, “that’s him. The Sage. But this thing must be hundreds of years old.”
“Older still,” said Kidd. He looked from me to the bust. “You’re certain it’s him?”
“Aye, it’s the eyes that mark him.”
“Did the Templars say why they wanted this Sage?”
With distaste I remembered. “They drew some of his blood into a little glass cube.”
The cube you gave them, I recalled, but felt no guilt. Why should I?
“Like this one?” Kidd was saying. In his hands was another vial.
“Yes. They meant to ask him about The Observatory too but he escaped.”
The vial had disappeared back into the depths of Kidd’s pouch. He seemed to consider before turning away from the bust of The Sage.
“We’ve finished here.”
We returned, finding a new set of steps through the Temple’s innards until we were heading towards what looked like a door. As it slid away I saw sunlight for the first time in what felt like hours, and in the next moment was gulping down fresh air, and instead of cursing the heat of the sun as usual, was thankful for it after the clammy cold of the temple’s interior.
Ahead Kidd had stopped and was listening. He threw a look back and motioned me to hush my noise and stay out of sight. What was going on, I couldn’t tell, but I did as I was told, then followed him. Slowly and quietly we inched forward to where we found Ah Tabai crouched out of sight behind a rock—out of sight because in the distance we could hear the unmistakable Cockney bray of English soldiers at work.
Behind the boulder we waited in silence. Ah Tabai turned his penetrating stare upon me. “The statue in the temple,” he whispered. “Was that the man you saw in Havana?”
“Spitting likeness, aye,” I whispered back.
Ah Tabai turned back to watch the soldiers over the edge of the boulder.
“It seems another Sage has been found,” he said to himself. “The race for The Observatory begins anew.”
Was it wrong of me to feel a thrill? I was part of this by then.
“Is that why we’re whispering?” I said.
“This is your doing, Captain Kenway,” said Ah Tabai quietly. “The maps you sold the Templars have led them straight to us and now the agents of two empires know exactly where we operate.”
Kidd was about to step forward to engage the soldiers. No doubt he felt more comfortable hacking down English soldiers than natives, but Ah Tabai was already stopping him. With one hand restraining Kidd, his eyes went to me.
“They have taken Edward’s crew as well,” he said. I started. Not the crew. Not Adewalé and my men. But Ah Tabai, with a final reproachful look my way, slipped away. Behind him he’d left what was unmistakably a blowpipe, which Kidd picked up.
“Take this,” he said, handing it to me. “You’ll attract no attention and take fewer lives.” And as he gave me a few tips on how to use it, I wondered, Was this part of some new challenge? Or was it something different? Was I being trained? Evaluated?
Let them try, I thought darkly. I’m nobody’s man but my own. Answerable only to myself and to my conscience. Rules and baubles? Not for me, thanks.
They could stuff their creed where the sun don’t shine as far as I was concerned. Besides, why would they even want me? This sense, perhaps? My skill in battle?