Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade Page 58

‘You’ve quite a taste for chaos, Altaïr,’ called Maria from her cell.

He liked the way his name sounded in her mouth. ‘The Bull is one man responsible for the subjugation of thousands. Few will mourn his loss.’

She shifted. ‘And you propose to fly into Kantara, sting him and exit unnoticed? He surrounds himself with devoted worshippers.’ Her voice echoed in the stone prison.

‘Kantara … that’s to the east?’ said Altaïr, picking up on her inadvertent slip.

‘Yes, it’s the best defended … You’ll see for yourself.’


Altaïr did indeed see for himself. Kantara Castle was guarded by Crusader soldiers and Moloch’s fanatics. Scaling the walls, then making his way across the ramparts, he stopped occasionally to hear them talking, gleaning the odd bit of information about the man they called the Bull. He learned that he was a religious zealot who attracted like-minded followers, fanatics who either worked as his personal bodyguard, his servants, or who trod the streets of Kyrenia, spreading the word. He was attached to the Templars. His devotion to their leader, Bouchart, was almost as devout as his religious faith, and Kantara Castle was his personal citadel, given to him, presumably, by the Templars. He was known to spend most of his time worshipping at the castle chapel.

Which was where Altaïr hoped to find him.

Moving through the fortress he saw fanatics as well as guards. The fanatics looked … well, exactly as he would have expected fanatics to look: jumpy, wide-eyed and zealous. They were held in open contempt by the Christian guards who patrolled in twos and clearly thought it beneath them to be stationed at the castle. As Altaïr pressed himself into a recess two wandered past, one complaining to the other. ‘Why do the Templars tolerate this madman? The Bull and his fanatics are more dangerous than the citizens of Cyprus.’

‘The Templars have their reasons,’ replied the other. ‘It’s much easier for them to rule by proxy, you see.’

‘I suppose so. But how long can it last? The Bull and the Templars do not exactly see eye to eye on matters of faith.’

‘Ah, the less you say about that the better,’ rejoined the first.

Altaïr let them go past, then moved on, the corridor darkening. Maria had said the castle was well defended, and it certainly was if you had raised an army and planned to storm its walls. For a lone Assassin, though, penetrating the fortress by stealth was an easier task. Especially when you were the Master. When you were Altaïr.

Now he found himself in a vast banqueting hall. At the opposite end stood two guards and he took out two throwing knives. He flicked them: one, two. In moments the men lay twitching on the stone and Altaïr stepped over them, knowing that he was near now, that Moloch couldn’t be far away.

He wasn’t. Altaïr came to what looked like a dead end and turned, checking behind him – why had this been guarded? Then he saw a trapdoor. Bending to it, he listened, then smiled. He had found the Bull.

Very gently he lifted the trapdoor and lowered himself into the roof beams below. He was in the rafters of the castle’s place of worship, a large empty room lit by the fire of a large brazier near the altar.

Kneeling before the fire, tending it, was Moloch.

Maria’s description of him had been accurate. He was a bear of a man: bare-headed, drooping moustache, bare-chested, apart from a medallion, and with the tree-trunk arms she’d described. Sweat glistened on him as he stoked the fire, chanting an incantation that sounded as much like a growl as it did pious devotion. Absorbed in his work he didn’t move from the fire, didn’t look away from it, bathing his face in the heat of the flames, oblivious to anything else in the room, even – especially – his killer.

Good. Moloch looked strong, easily more powerful than Altaïr, who had no desire to engage him in combat. Not only did he have the muscular advantage but it was said that he wielded a weapon like a meteor hammer, with a deadly weight attached to a chain. It was said that he used it with unfailing accuracy, and was ruthless with it.

So, no. Altaïr had no desire to engage him in combat. This was to be a stealth kill. Quick, clean and silent.

Noiselessly, Altaïr made his way along the beams, then dropped silently into the centre of the room behind Moloch. He was slightly further away than he would have liked and he held his breath, tensing. If Moloch had heard him …

But no. The brute was still engrossed with the brazier. Altaïr took a few steps forward. Silently he engaged the blade and raised it. Orange light danced on the steel. The Bull now just a heartbeat away from death. Altaïr dipped slightly, his leg muscles bunching, then launched himself, blade about to strike.

He was in mid-air when Moloch spun, far more quickly than his size should have allowed. At the same time he grinned and Altaïr realized that he had known he was there all along; that he had merely let Altaïr come close. Then the Assassin was in the embrace of those huge arms, raising him off the ground, feeling a hand go to his throat and squeeze.

For a moment or so he was held that way, Moloch lifting him one-handed into the air as though he were a trophy to be displayed on the castle steps, and he choked as he struggled. His feet kicked at thin air and his hands scrabbled at Moloch’s gauntlet, desperately trying to loosen the monster’s grip. His vision began to cloud, blackness closing in. He felt himself losing consciousness. Then Moloch was tossing him backwards and he was sprawling on the chapel floor, his head rebounding painfully off a flagstone, wondering why he had been allowed to live.

Because the Bull wanted more sport. He had produced his meteor hammer and, with a single looping swing above his head, launched it at Altaïr, who only just managed to roll clear as it came smashing down, opening a crater in the flagstone and showering him with stone shards.

Altaïr scrambled to his feet, dazed, shaking his head to clear it. He drew his sword. Blade in one hand, sword in the other. He was darting to the side as the Bull retrieved his hammer and launched it again.

It crashed into a pillar beside Altaïr and once again he was hit by a hail of stone fragments. With Moloch’s hammer unspooled, Altaïr had a chance and darted in, jabbing with sword and blade. But, faster than seemed possible, Moloch had retrieved the chain and held it two-handed, blocking Altaïr’s sword, then swinging the hammer again and sending the Assassin diving for safety once more.

Altaïr thought of Al Mualim – the Al Mualim who had trained him, not the traitor he had become. He thought of Labib and of his other swordskills tutors. He took a deep breath and backed off, stepping to the side, circling Moloch.

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