Chapter 1 – A Thorn is Born
It was the twelfth of June. Rose would remember that day for the remainder of her life. She had been strolling through the streets of London all day, enjoying the sounds around her; merchants yelling for the attention of everyone passing by, children screaming as they played tag in the narrow streets, the gossiping of women in front of their houses, the dull thud of hammers striking wood.
When Rose returned home, her parents were sitting at the table, waiting for her to join them for dinner. She felt slightly guilty about being late, though her parents never seemed to blame her for it.
"How was your day, love?" her mother asked.
"It was all right. I didn't really do much, to be honest."
"Your father and I need to talk to you for a moment."
Now Rose started to worry. Sentences like that always introduced bad news. No exceptions.
"Yes," her father started. "Rose, my dear, do you remember that book we gave you a few months back? We were wondering whether you had already finished it."
Rose thought back for a moment. Yes, they had given her a book. An old book, by the looks of it. And it seemed very important to them that she read it. And so she had done so without asking questions. In fact, she had finished the book within the week, but had forgotten to mention it to her parents. It had been a strange book about a sect in some Middle-Eastern country – she couldn't exactly remember which – who had been fighting another secret organization. The protagonist, a man by the name of Altaïr, had been sent out to kill men who were a threat to the world – or something like that.
"Yes, father. I have read it."
"And what did you think of it?"
Her parents seemed to get more tense as every minute passed.
"It was a good book, though perhaps a bit far-fetched."
Her parents glanced at each other.
"What would you say if we told you the events in that book had actually happened, about four-hundred years ago?"
"I would say that surprised me, father."
"And what would you say if we told you that both organizations still exist?"
"I would say that you had gone mad, father."
"Well... The events in the book have actually happened, and both organizations still exist."
"That surprises me. And you have gone mad."
"Yes, yes... I know... It's a little hard to grasp. I had the same reaction when I was your age. But will you hear me out?"
"Of course, father," Rose replied. She loved a good story before going to bed.
"Long ago – no one knows exactly how long – an organization surfaced. Their objective was to achieve world peace. However, their methods were... questionable at best. They would go about achieving their goal by robbing everyone of their free will. Not long after that, another organization came into being. They too wished for world peace, but they also promoted free will. These organizations would soon become known as the Templars and the Assassins respectively."
Rose raised an eyebrow at the concept, but listened nonetheless.
"The Assassins remained in the shadows, fighting the Templars any way they could. But the Templars were powerful. They finally managed to make some progress under the leadership of a man called Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. Somewhere around his time, the Templars were driven into hiding, becoming a secret organization. The two organizations continued to fight over the centuries, and continue to do so now."
"But, father, what does that have to do with us?"
"Your mother and I, we are Assassins."
"Pardon me?" Rose questioned. She did not take her parents for those who would willingly harm another, let alone kill.
"Assassins, my love," her mother replied.
"Yes," her father continued, "it is hard to believe. And you do not have to trust us on our word alone. Take these documents. Have a look at them whenever you have the time. They will make things clear, put things into perspective. But never take these papers outside the house. Nothing good will come of that."
Rose went to bed early that night, taking the dossier with her. As she lay in bed, she looked over the documents. There were explanations of organizations – parliament, the Royal family, dukes and barons. There were descriptions of murders, thefts, and disappearances. She had been skeptical at first, but now, little by little, her belief started to grow. And as her mind absorbed the details like a bone-dry sponge meeting water, she discovered she had spent the entire night looking at the information that was given to her.
Eventually however, at six o'clock in the morning, Rose went downstairs. There, she was surprised to find her parents at the table, much like the day before.
"Who else what?"
"You know. The Assassins. Anyone else I know?"
"Let's see. Your Uncle Jonathan is an Assassin, as is Aunt Lily. Your grandfather used to be an Assassin, but he grew too old and went into hiding. Other than that, I think only Mister Evans down the street. All of the others you have never met."
"We gave you that book with a good reason, my love," her mother answered, "we want you to join as well. You are an agile girl. With the proper training, you could become a great Assassin."
Rose doubted for a while. She did not want to become an Assassin. But from the files she had read, there were people included whom she had known, whom she had loved. Parents of classmates that had been killed, older brothers that had suddenly disappeared. The death of her grandmother, who had been burned alive in her house, unable to escape. The Templars had caused it all. And someone had to make sure it stopped.
And so, Rose Thornfield spent the next year of her life on the countryside with her Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Lily. She was taught to run and climb so that no one could ever catch up to her. They educated her about poisons and antidotes. They trained her in combat. They watched as she mastered archery. It was a tough year, not stopping even for her 16th birthday, but Rose felt like she had finally found a purpose.
Chapter 2 – Dethorned
The time had come to return home. Her Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Lily kissed her goodbye, assuring her that they would see each other again soon enough. She stepped in her stagecoach, which was quite a happening for her; Rose's family was not a rich one. Her father was but a working man, and her mother took care of the household chores. She never had the chance to be in a stagecoach, and Rose did not know how her relatives had been able to acquire one, but her inquiries remained unanswered.
Her homecoming was a joyful one. It became apparent that her parents had missed her a great deal, and she knew she had missed them. No questions were asked about the training she had received. No remarks were made about how much she had changed. She just embraced her parents as they embraced her: warm and loving, with not a word spoken between them. Gradually, her mother asked about the food they had given her, though her father remained silent for most of the day. It took Rose until late that night to gather the courage to bring up the subject.
"So... I'm an Assassin now?" she casually asked, though her inner voice was gripped with trepidation.
"Yes, love," her mother replied. "There used to be an induction ritual, but it has long since been abandoned."
"Not abandoned officially," her father interrupted. "I'm just not a great fan of mutilating someone's hand and giving our secret identities away. And our colleagues happen to agree with me. It is simply safer this way."
Her mother merely nodded serenely and Rose decided not to delve further into the topic of mutilating induction rituals, settling instead to probe into other aspects of her newfound status, such as what the future would bring.
"And what now?"
Her father looked up. "Mister Evans will come by tomorrow to discuss a few things. He is the leader of the Assassins in this part of London. In fact, you will meet all of the Assassins from western London tomorrow. Just make sure you get up in time."
"When do we leave?" Rose inquired.
Her father took out his watch. "In about four hours."
Rose's mind was still foggy as they walked down the street. She was not used to such an abrupt awakening at three o'clock in the morning. She did, however, understand the need for secrecy. The images that had been shown to her still dwelled in her head, surfacing only when her mind ceased its cry for rest – not that she would listen anyway, the task ahead too important.
The family unit walked through the mist, down to Mister Evans' house, following which Rose's father gave a quiet, yet specific knock. They were ushered in quickly and led to a large room in the basement by their quarry, with the building's housemaid ever cautious to any onlookers peering at the barely illuminated doorway from the streets.
The room had been furnished scarcely; a chandelier on the ceiling, a long table situated in the middle and twenty or so chairs around it. Most of the seats had already been taken, but Rose took a spot between her parents – a section that seemed to have been reserved for the three of them.
"Welcome Assassins," Mister Evans started, "I am relieved to see that all of you have survived long enough to attend this meeting. But first things first; I would like to introduce all of you to our newest member. This is Rose Thornfield. Obviously the daughter of Thomas and Adelaide Thornfield, niece of Jonathan and Lily Thornfield – whom, as you know, live outside of London nowadays. She has completed her training a few weeks ago, and is now a full member of our Order."
There was some murmuring around the table, from what Rose could gather, apprehensive.
"Come now, that's quite enough. She may be young, but Jonathan's training has never failed us. Let us have a little bit of faith in him. And in Rose too, for that matter. Now, Powell, what can you tell us about your findings?"
A young man, not much older than Rose, stood from his chair. "Well, we now know that Abe Bennett is in possession of the stolen money. However, we're still unaware as to where he and his associates are keeping it. Until we discover this, we cannot act."
"I see," Mister Evans answered. "Keep working on it. We could do with that money. Or at the very least, make sure that they do not put it to use. What do we know about our primary targets?"
A dense silence descended on the room. Rose wanted to know, but dared not ask, secretly fearing that a boisterous approach from a newcomer would seem improper.
Evans shook his head. "Nothing yet, it seems. Anything else anyone wants to mention?"
"Yes, sir." replied another man, the new voice emanating from a slightly chubby gentleman.
"Judge Allen James has been corrupted by Templar coin. In his office should be a list of Templars that are set to appear before court. James is to make sure that none of them are convicted for the crimes they committed."
"Is he himself a member of the Templar Order?" Rose's father asked.
"We do not know."
Evans nodded. "I see. We will need to get our hands on that list. That will give us more Templar names to target, more opportunities to weaken their position. We will not kill the judge as long as he cannot be dissuaded to turn away from his unscrupulous ways. Besides, it would only cause the listed Templars scattering. Any volunteers?"
Before anyone had a chance to respond, Rose stood up, her previous worries cast aside as the plan's formulation sparked her interest.
"I can do it."
Time passed and the meeting had ended, with most of the Assassins having retired to their homes. Rose had gotten permission to steal the list, and she looked forward to it. This was what she had been training for.
"Does she know about our objectives?"
Mr. Evans' voice startled Rose out of her deep thoughts.
"No, not yet," her father answered.
"Right." Mr. Evans beckoned to Rose. "Come, child. Follow me. As you know, the Templars are organized much like we are. And in their ranks, as in every organization, some men hold more importance than others. These men are our primary targets, and they are amongst the men and women leading the Templars. There are undoubtedly more, but those we do not know of... yet."
Together, they walked to the far wall, where several paintings hung in the darkness.
"William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth. He controls the money of the Royal House, making him a formidable foe. Next to him is John Whitgift, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury. I assume I need not tell you how much of a threat he is. Then we have Francis Walsingham, the principal secretary to the Queen, as well as a masterful spy. And then there are William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Both poets and playwrights, using their influence on the crowds to sway them to any cause the Templars see fit."
Rose marveled. All of these men were so immensely powerful and important, though she did not see the latter pair as comparatively prominent for a brief moment, until she allowed her mind another analysis with Mr. Evans' explanation. It never crossed her mind the long lengths the Templars reached, and it was astounding.
The following night, Rose stood on the corner of a street in the outskirts of London. From her position, she could scout the office building, but she just hoped no one would notice her staying in the same spot all night. The day after, she did the same thing. By nightfall, Rose had devised a strategy: she had to take the list without anyone knowing it had gone missing. She had heard the judge whispering that the list was in the green map. She knew the guards stood near the front door; two of them, who patrolled the street and nearby alleys every five minutes. Her best bet was to get in from above, via the roof of the adjacent office building. And thus, Rose started her preparations.
She took her bow, five arrows and her dagger. That would have to be enough. She managed to get into the neighboring office building during the afternoon and spent a few hours in an uncomfortable broom closet. Then, when everyone had left, Rose emerged and made her way to the roof without any trouble. The gap she needed to clear was going to be easy; she had been forced to make trickier jumps in the first week of her training. From there, finding the office she needed was as simple as tying shoelaces.
Pausing in the judge's room, her gaze wandered to the green map, which stood on a shelf behind the desk. Grabbing the document, Rose opened it, found the list, and swapped it with an empty piece of paper. From there, she left via taking her steps in reverse, and also managed to return home without being noticed.
The list was returned to Mr. Evans, who seemed to have been expecting her. He did not show any sign of surprise on her success, and nor had her parents. Rose felt that being an Assassin was not so hard. But then again – it had only just begun.
Chapter 3 – An Alluring Bloom
Several weeks passed, during which everything seemed quiet. Rose often wandered the streets, hoping to discover signs of the Templars somewhere. Then, out of the blue, another meeting was called. It was the middle of the day when the Assassins gathered in the dark and dusty basement again and as always, Mr. Evans led the meeting.
"Welcome, all of you. I am very sorry for calling you here on such short notice, but we seem to have a lot of work to do. Also, please welcome Jonathan and Lily Thornfield, who have decided to stay in London for a while, helping us with all the work that needs to be done. You will all be glad to hear that Rose was successful in retrieving the list of the judge, giving us more Templar targets."
Several Assassins smiled at Rose, and there was some murmurs of appreciation.
"Now, Bertram, you and Kelly are in charge of assassinating the men on this list. There are seven in total, so you must make haste."
An old man rose from his chair, took the list from Evans, nodded politely, and sat back down next to a young woman.
"Moving on, one of our supporters in the street, an informant named Lindsay, has been taken prisoner. We have received word that she is being held in the basement of a Templar safehouse. I have a map detailing the location here. William, you are to free her and kill as many Templars as you can. Secondly, we have finally discovered the location of the money Abe Bennet stole, so Johnson and West are to kill him and retrieve it."
There was some unrest as everyone accepted their tasks, until Evans beckoned everyone to be silent.
"Finally, this assignment came straight from Pemberley Manor. Somewhere in this city is a Templar spy, a woman named Jessica D'avoir. We are to find her, capture her alive, and deliver her to Pemberley. Jonathan, you will be in charge of this. You can form a team with the people who do not yet have assignments. I think I don't need to remind you that we do not want to fail this..."
"I'll take care of it, sir," Jonathan replied solemnly. "As for my team, I'll keep it in the family. My wife Lily, my brother Thomas and sister-in-law Adelaide, and their daughter Rose."
Evans nodded. "Very well, that is all. Meeting adjourned."
As expected, the Thornfields went home, immediately convening and making plans for their assignment.
"Okay," Jonathan started. "We don't want to fail Pemberley Manor. We seem to be in luck, D'avoir is not a common name in London so we should be able to find her relatively easy. Then again, London is a big city..."
"What is Pemberley Manor anyway?" Rose asked.
"It is a large manor outside London, on the countryside. A lot of land surrounding it too. But more importantly, it is the home of the Magnus family. They are the ones leading the Assassins in most of the Kingdom, and they keep in contact with the Assassin branches in other countries," Lily answered.
Jonathan continued. "Okay, Thomas, I need you to contact any spies you may have in the city, ask them about Jessica D'avoir and see where it gets us. Adelaide, you are to infiltrate Templar events, parties, soirees, dinners, anything. See what you can learn. Lily and I will check out known Templar organizations within the city. Rose, I need you to continue your strolls through the city, keep your eyes and ears open and bring any information that seems relevant to us."
And thus, Rose spent her days on the streets, blessing the good weather, hoping to find out anything about Jessica D'avoir. She checked birth registries as well, but it didn't bring her any closer to her goal; apparently Jessica had not been born in London. Rose then spent a lot of her time in the public park, where it was always bustling with children, young lovers and businessmen on lunch. She talked with construction workers, restaurant-owners, barmen, and towncriers - but no-one seemed to have heard of Jessica D'avoir.
After a few days, having scoured every part of the city, she still didn't have any success, and the same could be said for her relatives. It seemed as if Jessica didn't even exist. Deviating from their usual activities, Rose decided to go to the neigborhoods that were somewhat poorer, where criminals often gathered and men went when they couldn't spent the night with their wives. And there she heard it.
"Man, I sure had a lot of fun tonight! That girl, the French one, what's her name again... Caddy!"
"No, fool. Candy. It was Candy. And sure, she was nice to look at. Though not worth the price she wanted if you ask me!"
A French girl, in a city of Londoners. Rose figured this to be somewhat peculiar, so she pursued the chance. It wasn't difficult to find where the men came from. There was a bar down the street, its windows adorned by images of scarcely-clad women. There she hoped to find Candy.
The bar was dark, despite the candle vases that had been placed on all the tables. However, there was a spotlight illuminating the stage, where a half-nude woman sat on a wooden stool, crooning a melancholic song into a microphone, its lengthy cord allowing it to dangle down from the rigging above. Her voice flowed with a strong French accent, and Rose wondered whether she could be D'avoir. It wasn't long however till Candy finished her song, snapping Rose from her scrutiny.
"That's all, gentlemen! If you want to have some fun with Candy backstage, talk to the bald man next to the purple curtain!" a voice rang through the bar, while the men's eyes were still fixated upon Candy, unable to tear their attention from her, only succeeding as she slipped behind the violet drape with a wicked smile; some blinked as they came back to their senses, realization washing over them, while some remained doe-eyed for a slightly longer period.
Not wishing to remain in the establishment much longer to prevent herself being spotted, Rose quickly went home, where she found all her relatives gathered.
"I think I may have found her!"
Jonathan stood up quickly. "What? Where?"
"Well, I'm not sure. I found a woman with a French accent in a gentleman's bar. They called her Candy." Rose replied.
"I don't mean to doubt you, sweetheart, but what makes your hunch so strong? We wouldn't want to snatch up an innocent woman from the street." Lily mentioned, giving Rose pause for thought.
"Well, I know it seems far-fetched, and I know her accent makes things sound too convenient, but when I was there... she seemed to... well... the way she held all the men's attention, it wasn't like some ordinary... courtesan." Rose elaborated, trying to word her experience in such a way as to allow her relatives to visualize the scene, the last part her attempt to refrain from resorting to cruder adjectives. "It was like... she had them under hypnosis – no, not that – it was as if the men were her puppets and she held the strings. And... the way she drank in their adoring stares... her confidence seemed like what you would expect from a master strategist when something stumbles into their trap."
"Intriguing. From what you've said, it's best that I go and take a look. Thomas, you better join me, just in case."
The men left immediately, leaving the women behind to wait, unobservant of the curious look they received at their quick departure, if however brief. It took Rose's father and uncle a little over two hours to return, side by side, with a woman in a long, tan-brown overcoat between them, held with her arms tightly behind her back.
"Hello again. Meet Candy. Or should we simplify things and call her Jessica from now on. Or Miss D'avoir, if the lady prefers? In all seriousness though, we should bring her to the higher-ups as soon as possible." Thomas relayed, confidence exuberating from his person, no doubt containing some element of pride for his daughter.
It was at this point that 'Candy' spoke, her voice dripping with cockiness. "For such a smart pair you two are, how can you be so sure who you say I am is true?"
"Because my dear, ordinary people don't have letters from an unnamed 'Grand Master' in their dressing room." Johnathon retorted, throwing a letter to the table, to which Rose spotted a Templar cross on the parchment.
"I should probably deny it, but why bother? I am this 'Jessica D'avoir' of which you speak. Will you tell me what will happen now?" she sighed, rolling her eyes at the Assassins' smug triumph.
"I wouldn't expect so. Our kind aren't so loose with our secrets." Adelaide chipped in, so that her husband and brother-in-law didn't get too excited on the prospect on subduing Jessica.
Time passed, and with one short journey later, the group soon left Evans' house, Jessica still among them. Evans had suggested that the family bring Jessica to Pemberley Manor themselves, believing it to be faster and safer to do so. They took Evans' stagecoach, which was considerably larger than the one they owned, and rode to Pemberley that same night.
The gates to Pemberley opened as they drew near it, without anyone having to identify themselves. The road went on and on, through a dense forest, over a river, past a lake, and eventually stopped near a magnificent building. The doors of the coach were opened for them, and they were led inside, where they were greeted by a man in a black uniform. "The Lord and Lady will be with you shortly."
The Thornfields were all intimidated by all the wealth around them, and hardly managed to mutter an answer as their eyes scanned all around. Shortly afterwards, the group were welcomed by a tall and handsome man with a beautiful lady by his side.
"Good evening. I am John Magnus, and this is my wife, Helen. You arrived here in the stagecoach of William Evans, so you must be part of our Order. Tell me, what can I do for you?"
Jonathan stepped forward, still holding Jessica. "We have come to deliver a Templar spy you had requested. Her name is Jessica D'avoir."
Both John and Helen Magnus raised their eyebrows slightly. "Already? We didn't expect you for another two weeks."
"We aim to please, sir," Thomas spoke, this time with a more neutral attitude.
"Very well, I'll take her now." John replied, before turning his head and issuing an order. "Riley, get over here!"
From the other side of the corridor, a voice answered. "Coming, father!" And within seconds, another young male entered the room. He was clearly the son of John and Helen, bearing a striking resemblance to both of them.
"This is our son, Riley Magnus. Also part of our Order," Helen spoke.
"Riley, I'll need your help in bringing this spy to the dungeons. We will interrogate her tomorrow to see what she can tell us."
"Yes, father," Riley spoke quickly, taking Jessica from Jonathan and Thomas' grip and escorting her down the hallway with his father.
This time, it was Helen's chance to lead the conversation. "Now, you must be exhausted," she spoke softly. "Come, we have tea ready."
The Thornfield family followed her to a spacious lounge, decorated in a mint green and golden camomile decor, where they all sat down on comfortable couches and sipped the hot brew, Rose herself electing to seat herself at a small window box. Once the apprehension of the upper-class surroundings left the group – particularly toward that of the fabulously sculpted grand mirror, with its intricately carved leaf designs in the corners and an imposing lion's head in the top-center of the piece, held above a large marble fireplace – the adults busied themselves with discussing all sorts of Assassin affairs, to which Rose could hardly keep up, her mind drifting in and out. After a good twenty minutes, John and Riley joined them, where Riley sat next to Rose as John took control of the conversation, fielding all kinds of questions about the Assassins in London.
While Rose hesitated internally at the closeness shared between her and Riley, her guard was soon displaced when Riley made his attempt to break the ice. "Don't let him fool you," Riley whispered to Rose, stealing her attention. "He acts all grand and mighty, but my mother is the boss of the family. You should see how he clamors when he's really irritated mother." At the thought of John answering to Helen for a change, Rose let out a brief giggle, following which there was a short pause in the collective conversation. Alerted, Rose gave a small cough, and the chat soon resumed.
Deviously, Riley persisted, exploiting the chink in Rose's armor. "You know, one day father made the mistake of saying he did more around the manor than mother, and she then made him scrub the floors by hand in a pink apron." It was at this point that Rose, rather uncontrollably, let out a loud, barking laugh in response to the emasculating mental image, before immediately realizing what she had done and clamped her hands over her mouth, while Riley laid back in the chair with a devilish grin. This did not go down well with the adults, as Rose's father soon said "I think it is time for us to return home," a look of displeasure apparant on his face. Despite this, Helen soon interrupted, eager to make amends. "Oh, no, no, no! It is far too late to return to London. You can all sleep here, await the interrogation of the spy tomorrow, and then return home with the information." While visibly disgruntled, Rose's family eventually relented, at least in some part persuaded by the concept of a night's experience at the Magnus household.
And, while the adults were shown towards their rooms, the question of retiring for the night was passed by the younger pair, to which Rose politely declined. Curiously enough, as Helen was the last to leave the room, she shot an accusatory glance back at her son, who gestured back an innocent shrug, before Lady Magnus left the room with a dismissive smile. Moments passed in silence, and then, as is by cue, both Rose and Riley entered into a bout of giggles at the recent circumstances; in her mind, Rose had the strong suspicion that Lady Magnus had heard every word Riley had whispered to Rose and merely played along, at least in some way inferring to her where Riley had obtained his trickster personality.
Soon however, the night seemed to pass quickly as the pair shared good-natured stories of their younger years, and Rose found her body reacting to its want to sleep. Riley noticed this too, and offered to lead her to her own room, which she accepted. At the door, Riley commented "It was a pleasure getting to know you, Rose. I hope tomorrow allows us the benefit to spend more time with each other." before he kissed her hand, electing then to return to his own quarters. As Riley left, Rose blushed, before she slipped her way inside the door beside her, noticing the room was furnished with real antiques and was about as large as all of the bedrooms of their house in London together. However, for as opulent as her chamber was, Rose dropped her head on the pillow and quickly dozed off, her eyelids heavy from an eventful day.
Chapter 4 – Bouquet of Lies
Rose woke up early that morning, but nevertheless found her breakfast ready in the tea-room. She was soon joined by her father and uncle, who had, by the looks of it, been up for quite some time already.
"Morning, Rose. Slept well?"
"Yes, father. You?"
"Certainly. John wants us to be present during the interrogation, which will be conducted at noon. Also, Riley has been pestering your mother. He seems quite determined to get to know you. You should find him outside."
Rose went outside and found Riley with the help of a servant.
"I hear you've been asking for me?"
"Oh! Rose. I didn't hear you, sneaking up like that!"
"I was not sneaking. It's just... walking like this is starting to become a habit."
"I know what you mean, don't worry."
"Now, what did you need me for?"
"I'm going to show you how to use a rifle!" Riley exclaimed enthusiastically. "Father would reprimand me, but he has gone to town for some errands. And, as you are aware, what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Or us, for that matter."
Together the two walked to the far end of a field, where several men stood waiting.
"These men will help us. Motionless targets are boring, so we will have them throwing these disks. Here, I'll show you how it's done!"
One of the men took three disks, throwing them into the air graciously. Riley raised his rifle, took aim, and managed to hit all three in sequence. He took a second rifle from the stand and handed it to Rose, carefully instructing her on how to handle it.
"Flying targets might be a little hard for you still, so we'll start with rolling ones, okay?"
"Hmm. Sure. But are you certain this is a good idea?"
"Don't worry. You'll do fine!"
Riley nodded to one of the men, who then rolled one of the disks over the field. Rose tried to take aim, but everytime she thought she had it, she realized she was too slow. The man kept rolling disks at a steady pace, and Rose managed to aim properly. She took the shot, which ended up a few meters away from the disk.
"Not bad for a first time! But try aiming in front of your target, instead of chasing after it. You need to predict the course it will take, and then wait for it."
They kept practicing for several more hours, and Rose's shots soon became better.
"See! I told you you'd do fine!"
"Yes. I suppose you did... Thank you, Riley."
"Come. It is almost time for the interrogation, and I still want to show you something... Follow me."
They went back to the mansion, where Riley took her to the second floor. He walked all the way to the back of a corridor, where he unlocked a door with a key from his belt. They entered the room, and Rose was shocked to find people staring at her from all directions. It took her a few seconds to realize they were paintings.
"Who... are all these people?"
"Well, on your left, you see Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. He was the Mentor of the Levantine Assassins, long ago."
"I read about him! It was my parents way to introduce me to the Order."
"Yes, many people make you read the Adventures of Altaïr nowadays. Anyway, the man hanging next to him is Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Mentor of the Italian Assassins. I think he died about sixty years ago. It was then that the control of the European Assassins shifted here, to my family. All the others are Mentors from different regions, and all of them have rather impressive records."
"Okay, so that was the left, what's on the right?"
"Well, that's my grandfather, and that's his father, and that's his father. They were all Mentors of the British Assassins, even if you can't speak of a real Britain during the lives of some of them. Oh, almost forgot – this is my father, with my mother, who are currently sharing the title of Mentor."
"And the two empty paintings?"
"Well, one will be filled by yours truly and his beautiful face when he becomes the Mentor," Riley laughed.
"And the other?"
"By my equally beautiful wife," he then added with a wink.
Rose and Riley both blushed crimson red, and were happy to hear Helen's voice ring through the house.
"Riley! We want to start the interrogation, if you are about ready up there."
"We're coming, mother!"
The dungeons were what one would typically expect of them. The dark corridors were lit by torches on the walls, the ceiling was low and the air was cold and musty. On the right side of the corridor were cells, composed of three small ones and a larger one.
In the large cell sat three men, and the smaller cells were empty; all but the one that held Jessica D'avoir. On the opposite wall hung a rack with strange instruments, some pointy and sharp, others large and blunt. Rose shivered as she imagined the practical use for such things. Riley immediately felt her distress.
"Don't worry. Father doesn't use them often. I don't think we will need them today," he spoke with a reassuring smile.
John opened up Jessica's cell, and they all marched in. "Jessica D'avoir. Do you deny that you have dealings with the Templars and have consorted with them to hinder their enemies?"
Her answer threw them all off their game. Quite understandably, everyone present had expected her to deny, to plead her innocence, to play the fool and appear ignorant of the Templar Order. But she had just confessed. Seeing their dumbfounded looks, Jessica continued.
"There is not much use in denying it. Do you think I do not know where we are? Or who you are? The Templar code demands I keep my mouth shut and tell you nothing, but I have seen those instruments on the wall. I know what you can do to me. I won't get anywhere if I keep silent, so I might as well talk and tell you what I know."
"You are a lot smarter than most people we receive here, Miss D'avoir. Now, what do you have to tell us? What valuable information do you have?"
Jessica sighed as she tilted her head to the side, avoiding the group's gaze in an almost dramatic nonchalance, before turning her head back and speaking. "There will be an induction ceremony for new recruits of the Order, two weeks from now. Cecil and Walsingham will be present to make some kind of deal. All I know is that it involves a lot of money."
"Very well. We will check whether your information is correct and complete. If not, I will be back to get the truth out of you. Until then, enjoy your stay."
And with those words the party left the dungeons again. John immediately went to his office to send out letters to the Order's spies, hoping to confirm the information they had obtained from the "interrogation." Meanwhile, Helen pleaded with the Thornfields to extend their stay, which would make it easier to get the orders to London once they had more certainty. Rather amiably, the Thornfields agreed to stay another day and take the Magnus' letter to London with them on their return.
During this time, Rose decided to stroll about the grounds belonging to Pemberley, and Riley volunteered to show her its features. Together, they walked through the forest, climbed trees, jumped over streams and rivers and climbed small cliffs. While doing so, they talked about their lives, which were completely different and yet remarkably alike.
Riley had enjoyed a sheltered life, having been home-schooled and not having many friends. He had always gotten everything he wanted, as his family had more money than they could spend. This had all changed when his parents had inducted him into the Assassin Order, something Riley had not wanted for himself. Over time, however, he had began to understand the importance of their work and grown to appreciate it.
Rose, on the other hand, had been to a public school, but had always been a bit of an outsider, which she blamed on her affinity to climbing and her refusal to acknowledge the natural hierarchy amongst the children. Enjoying each other's company, the pair had remained outside for what seemed like forever, until they both realized that they were about to be late for dinner.
Six faces stared at them as they stormed into the dining room, while everyone was already seated.
"You're late," John remarked. "We are not used to such behaviour from you, Riley."
"I am very sorry father, I was showing Rose the grounds and we were near to the river when we realized it was almost dinner time. We had to run all the way back here. Rose could have been here in time, but she waited for me. She insisted to be late together."
Helen smiled slightly. "That's very honourable of you, Rose. Now, quickly, sit down so we can start our dinner."
Riley looked confused. "Wait? You're not angry with me?"
"Of course not, dear. As long as you had a good time. And judging by that silly grin that's been plastered on your face for the past twenty-four hours, I'd say you certainly did."
As Riley's cheeks turned a couple of shades warmer and he made a slight laugh at being caught out, he and Rose quickly made their way to their seats, conveniently placed next to each other, and started dinner. John then went on to explain how his contacts had confirmed Jessica's story and what his plans were for dealing with the situation. Despite this, Rose and Riley, on the other side of the table, couldn't hear a word, as they were too absorbed in their own conversations, suddenly not so interested in the ordeals of the Assassin Order anymore.
The sun rose early the following day, and as it did, the Thornfields drove away in the carriage. Rose had only had a brief chance to say goodbye to Riley, and John and Helen had already been gone. The Thornfields had been informed that a group of Assassins, Mr. Evans, would ambush the location of the Templar deal that Jessica D'avoir had revealed. None of the Thornfields would be present there, as the Magnus family believed they had already done enough.
Several days long, nothing of any interest whatsoever happened. Now that she had no longer her Assassin duties to attend to, Rose could not stop her mind from wandering off to Pemberley Manor, and more importantly, to Riley. He had been invading her dreams as of late, and Rose was uncertain how to deal with these feelings. But it was not long before those thoughts were driven from her mind by more important issues, raised when she heard her father crying in the kitchen. Her mother sat staring out at the kitchen wall, her eyes unseeing.
"They're dead. All of them died," her mother replied monotonously.
"Who are? What happened?"
"The information from Jessica D'avoir. She played us. All of us. The Templars must have known we were investigating them. Jessica gave us what we wanted, and the Templars were there... waiting for us. Old Mr. Evans and six others died."
"How do we know all this, mother?"
"One of the Assassins managed to escape the building. He was able to tell us all he knew before he passed away."
And after that brief conversation, they sat together in silence. After a few hours, they heard sounds at the front door. Rose quickly got up and took a kitchen knife from the counter. She quickly hid behind the corner, ready to sneak up on any possible assailant. The door slowly opened and a single pair of footsteps moved through the hall, heading straight towards the only lit room: the kitchen. As the figure moved inside, Rose grabbed him from behind and put her knife against his throat.
"No! Rose! It's me!"
"Riley!" she gasped in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"My father sent me to take you back to Pemberley. He thinks it is not safe here. Come, the stagecoach is out front. Gather your equipment, we will leave immediately."
And thus the Thornfields began their second journey to Pemberley Manor, not knowing what the future kept in store for them. They did, however, know that the Assassins would face a difficult time now. The Templars had, once again, gained the upper hand.
Chapter 5 – From the Lion's Paw
As the Thornfields followed Riley into the coach, they were solemnly greeted by John and Helen Magnus. The stagecoach immediately started forward, and the adults quickly began to discuss the current state of the Assassin-Templar war. Rose tried to listen, but she could not keep her wits about her, and began to stare out of the window. It was dark outside, but her eyes had no trouble piercing the nightly veil. She was, after all, an Assassin.
After about ten minutes, Rose noticed something strange for the first time. She could not be sure, but it looked as if a figure was watching the coach from the shadows between the buildings. She dismissed it as a mere illusion, but after a few minutes, she saw the shadow again. She considered telling her parents.
"Mom, I think the–"
"Not now, honey. Can't you see we're talking?" her mother replied.
Rose turned her attention outward again, noticing that it had started to rain. She watched for a few more minutes, believing to see the shadow again several times. Then, when the streets were illuminated by a flash of lightning, she recognized the figure; it was Jessica D'avoir. She opened the door of the coach without a word and bolted out, dashing towards the alley where she had seen the traitorous Templar. Jessica, however, had noticed the young Assassin sprinting towards her and turned around, nimbly climbing over a wall. Rose gave chase, making her way over the wall as effortlessly as Jessica had done. She then climbed the side of a building and descended from the other side by jumping on the roof of a small shack. She followed the figure over a metal fence, but her leg got stuck on one of the pins, and she felt the metal slashing through her skin. Despite the stinging sensation, she continued after her target, like a bloodhound pursuing its prey. Once she had got close enough, Rose leapt and landed on Jessica's back, pushing her against the ground. In the short struggle that followed, Jessica managed to turn around, but she quickly held still when she felt the point of Rose's Hidden Blade against her throat.
Rose was ready to plunge her blade through the woman's throat, when a hand suddenly grabbed her wrist.
"Not yet, Rose. Perhaps we can learn something from her," Riley's voice spoke from behind her. He appeared to be a little exhausted, his breathing out of order and his hair dripping from the rain. "You're bleeding," he added, pointing to Rose's leg.
"I know. It's nothing. And we have already tried learning from this bitch. Would you really be so stupid to make the same mistake again?"
"I don't think she will lie to us, Rose."
"And why is that?"
"Because she knows that you will not be as kind as my father has been," Riley replied.
"Fine. Tell me woman, what do you have to offer for your life?"
"Nothing of value, child. There is of course Francis' party next month, but that would be suicide. You would just end up like your friends. I heard they died a very slow and painful dea–"
Jessica never got the chance to finish her sentence. Rose quickly plunged her Hidden Blade through her throat, ending her life almost immediately. She and Riley then got up and started walking.
"Rose, we have to get this information to our parents."
"No. You heard the way my mother treated me, like I was just a child, incapable of anything important. I will do this on my own."
"No you won't, Rose. I'll be there with you," Riley answered, grabbing ahold of Rose's hand.
"I'll write them a letter. But first, we need somewhere safe to go."
"I know of a place. It's not as luxurious as Pemberley, but my friends and I used to play there when we were little."
The place was indeed not luxurious – it was a small shack on the roof of a larger building – but the only way to reach it was by scaling up to it from the outside, which made it convenient. There was still evidence of a stairway once leading up there, but it had eroded and fallen to the wayside, where it now lay on the rotting carcass of a dead animal. Inside, Riley tended to Rose's wound, which was not as severe as he had expected at first. Meanwhile, Rose began to write the letter to their parents.
To my dear mother and father, and Mr. and Mrs. Magnus,
Riley and I have found and killed Jessica D'avoir. She did not provide any information that was relevant in any way. We have decided not to return to Pemberley Manor yet, as we feel we need some time to ourselves. There is no need to worry about us – the Templars will not find us and we will continue our (hopeless) struggle. We just ask you to have a little faith in us. We will return before a month has passed.
Much love, Rose.
As soon as the sun began to brighten the world once more, Riley set off to make sure the letter was delivered, as well as trying to find out whether there would indeed be a party in April, attended by the great Francis Walsingham. He returned a few hours later.
"Seems she wasn't lying after all. The sixth day of April, Walsingham is to attend a large ball. All the big names will be there. It won't be easy to get in."
"Then we better start planning," Rose answered with a devious smile.
New Chapter Slaty - Think of a nice title please :D
While Rose was eager to get started, the cogs turning in her mind, Riley nevertheless forced her to rest for two days to allow her leg to heal. The pain had soon faded, but he insisted nonetheless, trying to scare her into rest with horror stories about amputated legs and rotting flesh. On the third day of their stay in the rooftop shack, however, they started planning.
"Okay, the party, or rather the ball, will be held at 8 Northumberland Avenue," Riley started. "It won't be easy to get in, especially without an invitation."
"You mean it's impossible, don't you?"
He seemed to doubt for a moment. "Maybe this isn't such a great idea, Rose. Maybe we should just go back to Pemberley and tell our folks what we found out."
Rose snorted. "I guess you miss your luxurious lifestyle. Sure, go running back to mommy and daddy," she sneered. "I'll just do it on my own if you don't have the courage to pull through."
"That's not fair, Rose," Riley answered.
She had a venomous reply ready, but when she looked at him, she saw that her remarks had hurt him. She took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm sorry, you're right," she admitted. "But don't get used to it!"
Riled looked relieved and turned back to the plan. "I think I can get a map of the lay-out, perhaps then we can-"
"Don't need them. I already have a plan."
"Really now, why don't you enlighten me, Ms. Thornfield?"
"Where would the fun be in that, Mr. Magnus," Rose replied innocently. "Tell me, are you any good at serving drinks?"
"Women can't be servers."
"I don't have to be. If you can get a servers costume, I will go and arrange my own clothing."
Riley looked puzzled, but he seemed to understand that it was no use asking any further questions. They both got up, and Riley held the door open for Rose. They climbed down the side of the building, where they parted. Rose made her way to the outskirts of the city. She knew what she was looking for, and its approximate location, but was not quite sure what it would look like. After an hour of searching, she finally found the right building.
As she entered, several surprised faces looked in her direction. "Hello doll. Looking for work or fun?" the woman behind a desk asked her.
"Neither, I fear," Rose replied. "I would like to talk to the lady in charge here."
"There's no ladies here, doll. Just women. You're looking for Jane, she's in there," the woman said, pointing to a door down the hall.
Rose knocked politely before she entered the large, sun-lit room. The woman behind the desk was older than the women she had seen in the rest of the building. She had the air of a woman who is used to getting her way, yet she looked amiable and friendly. "Hello, dear. Here looking for work, are you?"
"Not really," Rose explained. "Well, maybe. No. Definately not. But- I am doing this all wrong."
"Here, here. Sit down, take a cookie and explain. No need to hurry."
Rose did as she was told, and tried to get her thoughts straight while nibbling on a cookie. "Well, the situation is thus," she started again. "I do not want to work here, but I might want to pretend to work for you. I heard there is a large ball coming up, higher class, and since this is the most respected establishment in London, I figured that they would come here for the..."
"Female entertainment," Jane finished the sentence. "And even if that were true, what would it be to you?"
"I need to get in, and have some private time with one of the guests," Rose explained hesitantly.
"And why would I help you?"
Rose smiled sweetly. "My mother told me about this place, how she hid here for a few weeks when she needed to get off the streets. She said you were good friends."
Jane looked at her, frowned slightly, and started smiling as well. "You're Adelaide's daughter, I see it now. Rose, was it not?"
"I think we can arrange something. You'll need a dress, and you will need to spend some time with the girls to learn the etiquette of the business." Jane looked at Rose for a while, seemingly in thought. "Why don't you come back tomorrow. We'll start the lessons, and see if we can find a good dress for you."
Rose took her leave from the brothel and went back to the shack, where she found Riley waiting for her. "Well, I have been hired as a waiter by the company that will attend to the ball, since they are incredibly short-staffed now that four of their boys suddenly refused to work."
"What? You didn't hurt them, did you?"
"No! Of course not! I bribed them, that's all!" Riley exclaimed.
Rose sighed from relief. "Good. I found my way in as well."
"Care to explain your plan now?"
"You go in as a waiter, I go in as a courtesan. That's about as far as I've gotten, really," she answered.