A/N: There wasn't supposed to be another chapter, but I have been in a strange mood since June last year and I kept thinking about this story. So, exactly seven years after I first posted this, here is chapter two.
The posters always appeared at night. They used to be in the format of a large title followed by paragraph after paragraph of closely-packed words, detailing events that the Party had either altered or completely erased from history. When the people ignored them, the poster-makers had made the words bigger and the spaces between paragraphs larger.
It was an improvement, Lance conceded, but the posters still looked incredibly dull. And he thought Templars were supposed to be good with propaganda.
Expectedly, Lance's Assassins decided to declare war right back. They made the titles of the posters even larger and also added pictures. The Templars responded by adding colours. Blue. Green. Red. Yellow. The posters stood out against the greyish walls of the neighbourhood and one had to be blind not to at least notice them.
And the people did notice. They looked hesitant at first, but more and more they stopped by to read the posters, and sometimes even to discuss them. Encouraged by the success, both sides started to put up more and more posters. On the walls. On lampposts. Even in the public lavatories.
The Thought Police noticed, naturally, and had been actively hunting them. Lance had lost five Assassins in the past three weeks. They had gone out with some posters at night and never returned. Lance was not sure if the Thought Police was aware of the Brotherhood yet. Or of the Templar Order, for that matter. In a way, he was glad that they were two, and that they were technically enemies despite having a common goal. It meant they were not privy to each other's secrets, from the number of members to the locations of their Sanctuaries, and so even if one side was completely eradicated —
He pushed those thoughts away. He had to believe the Brotherhood was stronger than that.
Still, it was hard not to worry, especially now that they had announced their presence. A part of him wondered if it was worth risking so much for these posters. Most of the people, he knew, treated the brief extracts of human history as mere stories, and the descriptions of once-popular inventions as myths.
But then, there were always exceptions.
Lance looked towards the young man currently climbing up the building wall. One careful step, a moment of hesitation, then another step. A minute later, Carlos managed to reach the top and pull himself onto the roof.
Lance smiled. "Good work. You are improving quickly."
Carlos beamed at the praise.
Lance gestured around them. "Do you know where we are?"
"The slum closest to the —" Carlos stopped as he took in their surroundings. "Wow."
There were hundreds of lights. The flickering street lamps. The dim lights from the houses' windows. They spread out into the distance, illuminating the dark.
"This is the highest point in the area," said Lance.
"This is amazing," said Carlos.
Lance remembered a far more impressive view, back when he was young and still learning to climb, back when there were still hints of how the world used to be, even if he had to look hard to find them. Now, it was too dangerous to come here before dark. There was hardly anything to see in the day, in any case. Everything had been reduced to the same greyish flatness.
Carlos kept looking at the lights. "Will this disappear too one day?" he asked, his voice quiet.
Something in Lance clenched at the question. He could hear Carlos' unspoken thoughts perfectly. Everything that was good and beautiful all seemed to have disappeared from this world. It was only to be expected that what little had remained would soon follow.
But there was no reassurance that Lance could give. He had no doubt the Party could extinguish the lights whenever they wanted. They would make up some stories about reserving more resources for the war, and the people would believe them.
He said nothing, but he knew Carlos could likely tell what he was thinking anyway. The young man had an uncannily sharp perception of the world and the people around him.
"How did the world become the way it is now?" said Carlos. "The others in the Sanctuary said it was because of the wars. No one noticed that the whole world was changing until it was too late. I don't understand. How could no one notice?"
"Most people were too busy trying to survive to notice," said Lance. "Those who did and tried to speak out were ignored, and there was little they could do on their own to alter the direction the world was heading to."
Something crossed Carlos' face. Anger. Maybe even a hint of bitterness.
"We shouldn't blame them for putting their own survival first," said Lance.
Carlos remained quiet. The pain in his eyes was almost too much for Lance to bear. He could still remember the day he recruited Carlos, who had taken to actively seeking out the posters on the streets so he could read more.
"What do you think about these posters, young man?"
"... I think they tell the truth."
"Do you want to learn more?"
Lance remembered the look of wonder in Carlos' eyes as he went through the books in the Sanctuary and attended the lessons by the more senior members in the Brotherhood. He was like a child learning of the existence of a whole new world. But like many others, his initial naivete was soon replaced by grim realisation.
"Do you regret coming with me the day I sought you out on the street, Carlos?"
The young man shook his head. "Never."
Carlos glanced up at Lance, then back at the lights. He stayed quiet for some time before answering.
"It would have been easier, not knowing anything," he admitted. "But then… but then I would die without having anything I believe in." He shook his head. "I don't want to live like that."
They stood in silence for some time, then Carlos spoke up again.
"I've been reading some of the old story books in our library," he said. "One of them says that good always wins over evil. Do you believe that, Mentor?"
Lance's teacher would have taken this opportunity to explain the Creed — how they should not believe there were some divine laws in the universe that dictated their actions, how they were responsible for shaping their own future and to live with the consequences. But Lance knew what Carlos needed right now was not a lecture, but reassurance, however little he could offer without lying.
"I believe nothing ever lasts," he said. "Every time the good wins, a new evil arises. But at the same time, even if the evil seems invincible at the time, it always gets defeated in the end. And the cycle goes on." He paused. "This won't last forever, Carlos. It may take a long time. I may not even live to see it, but there will be others, like you, who will continue the fight."
Carlos looked down at his hands. "And if I can't see it, then there will be those who come after me."
"Yes." Lance smiled. "One day, we will win. I know it."