Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade Page 59

The Bull followed him, knowing he had the Assassin worried. When he smiled he revealed a mouthful of jagged, blackened teeth, most worn down to diseased stumps. From the back of his throat he made a growling sound as Altaïr came closer, needing to coax Moloch into throwing the hammer. The Assassin had an idea. It was a good idea but it had a flaw. It would be fatal if he got it wrong. He needed the Bull to release the hammer – but every time that happened it came dangerously close to caving in Altaïr’s skull.

It came. Looping through the air. Smashing into the stone. Altaïr only just leaped clear but he landed on his feet and, instead of taking cover, dashed towards the hammer. He stepped on the weight and ran up the taut chain towards Moloch.

Moloch stopped grinning. He had a second to comprehend the sight of the agile Assassin running up the tightrope of his chain before Altaïr’s sword sliced through the front of his throat and exited at the neck. He made a sound that was halfway between a shout and a choke, the sword protruding through his neck as Altaïr let go of the hilt and twisted to straddle the Bull’s shoulders, driving his blade deep into the man’s spine. Still the Bull fought and Altaïr found himself hanging on for grim life. He grabbed the chain and dragged it up to loop around his victim’s neck with his free hand, grunting with the effort of pulling it hard. Moloch twisted and pushed backwards and Altaïr saw that he was being manoeuvred towards the fire.

He felt the heat at his back and redoubled his efforts. The beast would not die. He smelt something burning – the hem of his robe! Yelling with pain and effort, he pulled hard on the chain with one hand, digging the blade deeper with the other until at last something gave, some last life force snapped within Moloch and Altaïr was riding his bucking shoulders as the brute folded to the floor where he lay, breathing heavily, syrupy blood spreading across the stone, slowly dying.

At last his breathing stopped.

Altaïr heaved a huge sigh of relief. Moloch would not be able to turn the people against the Resistance. His reign of tyranny was over. However, he couldn’t help but wonder what might replace it.

He was to get his answer very shortly.


Maria was gone. Taken by Crusaders. While Altaïr had been battling at Kantara Castle, soldiers had attacked the safe-house and, despite a battle, had made off with some prisoners, Maria among them.

Markos, one of the few who had escaped capture, was there to greet the Assassin, worry etched into his face, fretting as he babbled, ‘Altaïr, we were attacked. We tried to fight them off but – but it was no use.’ He dropped his eyes, shame-faced.

Or was he feigning it?

Altaïr looked at the door to the drying room. It was open. Beyond, the door to the barred cell hung open too and he pictured her there, watching him with her almond eyes, her back against the wall and boots scuffing in the rushes strewn on the stone.

He shook his head to rid himself of the image. There was more at stake than his feelings for the English woman: he had no business thinking of her before the concerns of the Order. But … he had.

‘I wanted to stop them,’ Markos was saying, ‘but I had to hide. There were too many.’

Altaïr looked at him sharply. Now that he knew of Barnabas’s duplicity he was reluctant to trust anybody. ‘This was not your fault,’ he said. ‘The Templars are crafty.’

‘I’ve heard they harness the power of a Dark Oracle in Buffavento. That must be how they found us.’

Was that so? Altaïr thought about it. Certainly the Templars seemed to know their every move. But maybe that was less to do with an oracle and more to do with the fact that the Resistance was infested with Templar spies.

‘That is a curious theory,’ he said, wary that Markos might be trying deliberately to mislead him. ‘But I suspect it was Barnabas who tipped them off.’

Markos started. ‘Barnabas? How can that be? The Resistance leader Barnabas was executed the day before you arrived.’

Of course. Altaïr cursed himself. There had been a Barnabas who was loyal to the Resistance but the Templars had replaced him with their own man – a false Barnabas. Altaïr thought of Jonas, executed by him on the orders of the spy, and he hoped one day to be able to make recompense for that. Jonas hadn’t deserved to die.

Altaïr left for the harbour district, found where the Resistance prisoners were being held and slipped past the guards to discover them huddled in a cramped, filthy cell.

‘Thank you, sir, may God bless you,’ said one, as Altaïr opened the door and allowed him out. He wore the same look of gratitude as the others. Altaïr hated to think what the Templars had planned for them.

He searched the gaol in vain for Maria …

‘Was there a woman with you when you were taken?’

‘A woman? Yes, until the Bull’s son Shalim took her away in chains. She didn’t go quietly.’

No, thought Altaïr. Going quietly wasn’t Maria’s style. But who was this son, Shalim? Would he take over the Bull’s reign of tyranny?

So it was that Altaïr found himself scaling the walls of the fortress at Buffavento, making his way into the castle, then downwards into its dark, damp and dripping depths where the stone glistened blackly, where the lights from flickering torches barely penetrated the forbidding darkness, where every footstep echoed and there was the constant drip of water. Was this where the Templars kept their famous oracle? He hoped so. All he knew so far was that they were keeping one step ahead of him. Whatever they had in mind, he knew he wouldn’t like it: he didn’t like the idea of the archive he kept hearing about, or that they kept coming so close to crushing the Resistance. Anything he could do to halt their progress needed to be done. And if that meant a spot of witch-hunting, then so be it.

Now, edging along the corridors in the bowels of the castle, he found himself coming closer to what he assumed was the dungeon. Behind him lay the bodies of two guards he had encountered on his way, both with their throats slit, the corpses hidden from view. Just as with Moloch’s castle, he had been able to work his way to its heart using a mixture of stealth and killing. Now he heard voices, one of which he recognized immediately. It was Bouchart’s.

He was talking to a man on the other side of a steel gate pockmarked with rust.

‘So the girl escaped again, did she?’ snapped the Templar.

The other man wore sumptuous fur-lined robes. ‘One minute she was chained up, the next she was gone …’

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