Chapter 3: Bonds
The Sunday afternoon they spent at the local Starbucks was an interesting one for the Auditore siblings, to say the least.
Despite the many differences between them, Piero and Lorenzo were still twins, and remained of one mind when it came to certain things. For one thing, they were both important figures in the Order their family had supported since time immemorial. Both of them, too, were very much active in the affairs of the family corporation that had been entrusted to them by their parents.
This was likewise mirrored by their surrogate daughters, who shared relatively close bonds. Minerva and Ceres in particular were known to bicker on various, petty things – in stark contrast to Athena and Demeter, the twin of Ceres, who got along quite well. Regardless, all four considered themselves siblings, for all intents and purposes.
Even then, though...
"You did WHAT to Rea's son?!"
Lorenzo Auditore visibly choked and spluttered on his iced coffee at what Piero told him.
"I gave him an Animus for his birthday," Piero repeated matter-of-factly. "He's been going through Ezio's memories thrice a week since. Give Yukiteru some credit, brother, he's taken to it extremely well for his age."
"Piero, have you gone mad?" Lorenzo demanded of his brother in hushed yet unmistakably alarmed tones, whilst staring at him as though he'd just confessed to having a sexual preference for underage girls. "He's just a kid, for chrissakes!"
Even Piero had to admit that his brother's concerns were not entirely unfounded. One of the side effects associated with prolonged usage of the Animus was a condition known as the bleeding effect, during which the user would inherit his ancestor's memories, skills and knowledge. This effectively allowed for the acquisition of a lifetime's worth of skills and knowledge in as little as months.
The benefits of the bleeding effect were best demonstrated by one of their own, the late Desmond Miles, whose inherited skills had allowed him obtain the first victory for their side following the Purge. And while he'd ultimately sacrifice himself to prevent the end of the world, his legacy lived on. Ever since then, the Animus - and, by extension, the bleeding effect - had since become an invaluable asset to their Order. In fact, it formed the core of the training program Assassin trainees would undergo.
"Even our trainees don't get to access the Animus until they're much older, and even then, it's not much less dangerous to them!"
On the other hand, the bleeding effect came hand in hand with its own hazards. Due to having their minds immersed with those of their ancestors for extended periods of time, some subjects would become unable to distinguish the experiences and memories of their ancestors with their own. In the worst case, this would eventually culminate in complete and utter insanity - which, unfortunately enough, had also been the eventual fate of another member of their Order.
"Honestly, you idiot, do you realize what you've done?" Lorenzo went on, unmindful of the way people were starting to stare at him. "Do you want Rea's son - our nephew - to go the way of-"
"Brother!" Piero interrupted sharply, cutting Lorenzo off in the middle of his tirade. "Lorenzo, please, you're making a scene. Do control yourself before you start spouting off accusations, why don't you?" He acknowledged and admired his brother's concern for their nephew, but he felt it necessary to set him straight.
"It's because Yukiteru's a kid that he needs it," he pointed out. "He's an Auditore by blood, which makes him a target by default. He's just lucky it's not also his name, but even then, someone's bound to get wind of his lineage sooner or later."
"I wouldn't put it past them to try having a go at him just to get at us. It wouldn't be the first time they'd done it, anyway," he added, referring to the Templars, their mortal enemies, with whom their Order waged a war as old as time itself. Both the Templars and the Assassins remained very much active in the modern age, but alas, the Templars had always had the advantage when it came to connections and resources. Indeed, they were known to have at least some influence over almost every major player in the world. In fact, some of these - most infamously the corporate giant Abstergo Industries - were wholly owned and controlled by the Templars.
"And besides, do you really think I hadn't considered all that? Why do you think I have the girls oversee his sessions? " He placed a hand on Minerva's shoulder as he said this. "They wouldn't have agreed to it if they didn't think it was safe for Yukiteru, and they're even more protective of him than either of us are – probably even more than his own parents."
"Give Yukiteru some credit, I know he's young, but he won't crack that easily."
"How can you be sure of that?" Lorenzo yet persisted, unconvinced, as Piero got to his feet.
"Ezio's life isn't pretty," Piero stated simply. "And it's been a year since he began using the Animus."
Lorenzo said nothing, not that he needed to. On its own, the dubious look on his face made it perfectly clear exactly what his thoughts were.
"What do you think you're doing, Yuki-kun?"
Yukiteru had woken up just a while ago, and was about to go for yet another round in the Animus after having his midnight snack - only to be greeted by Athena as he made to exit his room. His adoptive sister was beautiful as ever, but the expression that now adorned her face was one of clear displeasure. He gulped audibly, face pale as he forced himself to make eye contact with her.
"Well, Yuki-kun?" Athena repeated, hands on her hips as she glowered down at him. "You weren't planning on using the Animus behind my back, were you?"
Yukiteru gulped audibly. He knew full well the danger of angering either of his sisters, but he hadn't expected Athena to be set off so easily. He could probably still bluff his way out, but-
"And please, Yuki-kun, don't lie to me," she added as her expression softened. "You know I don't like it when you lie, right?"
Yukiteru said nothing. He'd already learned that the hard way, when Athena discovered a certain folder he kept in his laptop. In fact, he could still feel his cheeks tingling at times as though in remembrance of the slap she'd given him that day.
Finally, Athena sighed, breaking the silence.
"…Yukiteru-kun," she began; from the mere fact that she'd used his full given name, Yukiteru knew to pay attention to what his sister had to say. "I think it's time I explained something to you."
To Yukiteru's relief, his big sister didn't sound all that angry. He didn't feel much comforted, though; while there was no anger in Athena's tone, it was instead tinged with worry and concern.
"Truth is, you're still a little too young to be using the Animus," said Athena, in the process confirming what Yukiteru had suspected for quite some time now. For one thing, some of Ezio's memories were harmful to minors – to say the least. Aside from all those trysts with his many female acquaintances, he'd witnessed the execution of his father and brothers right in the town square of his beloved Florence. And of course, the vocation he'd subsequently embarked on wasn't really one most parents would have in mind for their children.
"Minerva and I told Piero as much, too. But he just told us that, since you've been doing so well in our lessons, we ought to believe in you a little bit more. After all, he said, we've been teaching you things that really should be beyond you, yet you've managed to excel anyway. And we weren't wrong, Yuki-kun."
This she said with a smile as she embraced him like she often did. Athena's ire had quite clearly evaporated by now, thought Yukiteru, especially if she reverted to her affectionate nickname for him. As she let go, though, her face took on a more serious expression.
"Too much of a good thing is bad, Yuki-kun. If you spend too much time in the Animus in one go, you might not be able to handle it. If you're not careful, you could lose your mind."
"You wouldn't be you anymore," Athena finished as she pulled Yukiteru into another, even tighter hug. "Do you want that to happen? Minerva and I sure as hell don't."
Yukiteru remained silent as he looked down at his shoes. Athena was particularly good at making him feel guilty and ashamed of himself whenever he did something wrong, but after what he'd found out, he probably didn't even need to be guilt-tripped. He, too, had grown fond of his adoptive sisters, and he didn't want them to be sad. It was the reason he managed to make the most out of their homeschooling in the first place.
"We love you, Yuki-kun," she whispered into his ear. "So please, take care of yourself."
"Because if anything happened to you, I'm not sure either of us can handle it."
May 19 / 19:30 [home]
Big sister Athena caught me trying to have another round in the Animus. She didn't get mad or anything, but she did explain why I shouldn't.
My big sisters really do love me. I feel like crying now. I don't want to make them sad.
The next day, at Sakurami Shrine, a pretty, long-haired girl in a kimono sat by herself in a room, writing an entry in the rather thick scroll she'd come to rely on as her diary.
May 20, 10:47, Sakurami Shrine
I've had so many visitors, and it's not even lunch time yet. I'm not complaining, though. I mean, I hardly get to leave this place, but at least I get to hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of people.
Her name was Tsubaki Kasugano, 14 years old. Born with poor eyesight, her parents established the Omekata cult, whose members worshipped her for her ability to see into the future. Of course, this wasn't entirely the truth. She couldn't really look into the future, but the knack she'd picked up for observation and intuition more than made up for it.
Regardless, Tsubaki was happy. Her parents – everyone, really – were always kind to her, and she'd come to enjoy hearing stories from visitors of the outside world she rarely if ever experienced. And 4 years ago, they welcomed another member into their little family: an amnesiac named Shouichi Ogami, who had been living with them ever since.
Just then, too, the door opened as a young, lean-built male with shaggy black hair entered. Tsubaki's expression brightened as she looked up from her diary; it was well-known among the Omekata cult's followers that she and this man had a very close relationship. There were even those among them who referred to him as her bodyguard – or, less reverently, her puppy dog.
"Milady, I'm going out on some errands. Want anything?"
Tsubaki shook her head. "No thanks, Shouichi, I'm fine. Be careful out there, won't you?"
He wasted no time leaving the room.
Tsubaki's reflection was that her relationship with Shouchi was a bizarre one indeed. They weren't exactly lovers, but anyone who saw them together could easily tell that they regarded each other as more than just friends or siblings. Either way, it was Shouichi who happened to be her most constant companion, even more than her parents. And for their part, they had come to trust him with their daughter's life – a trust he'd already earned, not long after they first found him.
It's a good life I lead.
Tsubaki Kasugano let out a sigh of contentment.
May it never change.
Blind or not, cult figurehead or not, she was happy with her life. And really, that was all that mattered to her.
And may it never change me.
There was no way she'd ever trade it with anything else in the world.