Altaïr awoke to voices in a language he did not understand. A sharp spike of confusion registered briefly—hadn’t he just been running across rooftops in Jerusalem?—before it was discarded in favor of more pressing matters. There was a female voice to his right, sounding lighthearted and easygoing; a direct contrast to the sarcastic, nearly-snarling male voice from across the room—room? Hadn’t he just been outside?—and the irritated female one from between them.
His armor felt strange, and as he slit his eyes open just enough to observe but not be observed he became aware that his hood was missing. These people could see his face! Instinctively he flexed his wrist and was reassured by the comforting weight of his hidden blade, even if his other weapons seemed to have been taken. Why did they leave him with his blade if they had taken his swords and daggers?
He shifted his eyes to the right as they gleamed molten gold, his Other sight shivering into place like ripples of water. The friendly female glowed a reassuring blue, as did the angry male across the floor. The other female, however, glowed a sharp, angry red.
Enemy, was all that Altaïr registered before he was tensing his muscles in preparation to leap. He didn’t know who his two allies were, or why they hadn’t attacked the enemy yet, but Altaïr would not allow his comrades—possible brother and sister—to be deceived by this obvious traitor. Why else would they be conversing with the enemy—a Templar?—unless they didn’t know of the true threat?
Altaïr steadied his breathing and slowly peeled his eyes open, wrist tensing and ready to unsheathe his blade the moment the traitor drew close enough to—
—Desmond awoke with a gasp, sitting upright on the animus and feeling like a bucket of ice water had just been poured down his back. He looked around wildly, feeling oddly disconnected from reality in a manner reminiscent of the Bleeding Effect, only a thousand times worse.
His Eagle Vision flickered on and off like a broken switch, casting the others into various shades of color too quickly for him to catch. He grimaced and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes to try and ease some of the pressure gathering there, and when he looked up and blinked a few times he could have sworn Lucy flashed red for a moment before slowly turning blue again.
Strange, Desmond wondered dazedly. For a second it almost looked like…
He shook his head and swung his legs over the side of the animus. Obviously the Bleeding Effect was putting his Eagle Vision on the fritz. Lucy was an Assassin just like the rest of them—hell she’d rescued him from Abstergo!—and there was no way she would show up red under other circumstances, he was sure.
But he couldn’t stop himself from keeping his distance from her, or from feeling unusually wary about everything she said and did for the rest of the night.
Altaïr blinked, momentarily confused before ingrained reflex took over and he swung back around the corner he’d apparently just rounded—but, no, that’s not right at all, he was in Masyaf walking through the Gardens—and pressed his back to the strange wall found there. Gold eyes flicked around the narrow corridor, not recognizing the materials used in its construction. The lines were too smooth; there was no brickwork or thatch, no stone or wood. There were no inconsistencies in the surfaces to act as handholds or scaffolding to gain access to higher ground.
Altaïr didn’t like this. He didn’t like this at all.
Remembering the last time he’d awoken in a strange, unfamiliar place, he quickly glanced down at himself and cursed under his breath. Again, he had been stripped of his armor and most of his weapons save his hidden blade and put in these odd, loose garments that were entirely unsuitable for protecting his flesh from Templar steel.
Altaïr paused, looking back down at his blade. There was something different about it. About the blade itself. About his hand. Something wasn’t right. He flexed the fingers—all five of them—on his weapon hand, confusion mounting—
—Desmond blinked back a flash of dizziness, finding himself leaning up against a wall near the animus room. He must have blacked out for a second; he was awfully tired thanks to all the time spent in the animus running around Renaissance Italy.
Shoving himself off the wall he continued towards the others, glancing down at his hidden blade and unsheathing it a few times, disquieted.
Why did it feel like something was wrong with his hand?
Altaïr found himself staring into the face of the sarcastic male from before, the one who glowed blue after an eye-blink of Other sight to check, between one step and the next. More prepared this time, he quickly and surreptitiously flexed the fingers on his left hand—he had not imagined having all of his fingers then—and carefully schooled his expression into a blank mask. He did not know what the male was saying, where he was, why his hand had an extra finger, or why he kept reappearing in this alien place deprived of his armor and weapons.
The possible brother stopped talking immediately, staring intensely at Altaïr’s face. Altaïr checked his Other vision again, just to be sure, and the possible brother’s gaze flicked up to his eyes and lightened with something—recognition?—before his body language changed from confrontational to wary.
Altaïr observed the change cautiously, muscles tensing. The man may be a potential brother, but even brothers can become threats if pressed. He took a moment to observe the possible brother before him, finding him wearing similar useless garb as he himself was, as well as in possession of a strange contraption resting in front of his eyes like small windows.
“…Altaïr?” the brother—no longer potential, but rather brother—asked warily. The pronunciation was strange, the accent even stranger, but it was recognizably his name.
Altaïr furrowed his brows, taking a slow step back even as he flexed his wrist again. The brother knew his name, but he didn’t know the brother.
“I am he,” Altaïr replied. “Your name, brother?”
The brother’s face paled starkly, and Altaïr’s muscles coiled in reaction, ready for anything—
—Desmond shook his head, pressing a hand to his temple as a migraine threatened to set fire to his nerves. Shaun was staring at him, pale and worried, and Desmond felt a fission of dread spiral down his spine. Why was he looking at him like that? Desmond hadn’t noticed anything strange happen.
“Shaun?” he asked, attempting to sound casual.
It didn’t work.
“…you were Bleeding, Desmond.”
Desmond stared blankly for a moment before sighing. Well, he’d been spending so much time in Ezio’s head he supposed it was only a matter of time before he started showing up in the real world, too. Maybe he’d cussed Shaun out in Italian? Or flirted with him? Desmond managed a small smile at the thought as he took Shaun’s moment of shock to escape.
He didn’t feel up to confronting the man about it right now. Shaun would yell at him later when he got around to it.
Altaïr stopped mid-stride as he once again found himself in the impossible, unnatural corridor he’d almost confronted the strange foreign brother in. More wary than curious now—it had happened four times, after all, and he could no longer discount the occurrences as coincidence or happenstance—he cautiously prowled across the eerie floor. It appeared to be made out of the same unnatural material as the walls and ceiling, as if the entire area were simply the inside of a metal helmet.
He took a brief second to once again flex his fingers, bemused at the sensation of having all of them once again. He did not regret the loss of it, of course—it was a sacrifice to show his dedication to the Order and the Creed—but to suddenly have it returned (however temporarily) was an odd experience indeed.
Altaïr wasted little time in discovering how this new, strange blade works—from beneath the wrist, rather than through the fingers; he’d known it had to be possible, but had never been able to make a working prototype—and acclimates himself to the body he apparently was temporarily borrowing. He knows it is not his own—not merely because of the rejuvenated finger—because it is both shorter and weaker than his own. His effortless silence and grace now require a modicum of effort to achieve, and while the scar on his lip appears to be the same there are other scars that are missing entirely, and a few he does not recognize.
He passes what appears to be an indoor window—how strange—and catches a glimpse of his reflection. It is enough to make him pause. It is remarkable how much this other body resembles his real self; his features are too soft, his jaw too narrow, and his eyes the wrong color—hazel instead of eagle-yellow—but it is most definitely Altaïr’s face looking back at him.
He reaches out and presses his renewed hand against the translucent surface and wonders if he can find the foreign brother before—
—Desmond groans when he blinks awake to find himself staring into a window with his hand on the glass. He knows he should really tell someone about how bad the Bleeding Effect is getting, but he doesn’t want the others to worry. There isn’t anything they can do to stop it except cut him off from the animus, which is out of the question considering their mission. Plus, he isn’t entirely sure it actually is the Bleeding Effect. He isn’t hallucinating or anything; he’s simply losing spaces of time, where he apparently walks down empty corridors and studies his reflection in a windo…
Desmond freezes. He was studying himself in a window. If he was Bleeding, that meant that whichever ancestor had hijacked his body knew that something wasn’t right. His ancestors weren’t idiots; they would definitely notice that they were in the wrong body and the wrong clothes if given half a second to think about it close enough.
Was it Ezio? The Italian Master Assassin was vain enough to probably spend time staring at himself in a window. Desmond doubted it had been Altaïr. He had never synched with the Syrian Grandmaster well, not in comparison to Ezio, and the old assassin wouldn’t have wasted time with his reflection if he suddenly found himself in a strange place.
Plus, Altaïr would have attacked someone by now. He was twitchy like that.
With a sigh, Desmond headed towards his ‘room,’ hoping to catch up on some sleep. Hopefully he’d stay there this time.
“…wrong with Desmond,” a semi-familiar male voice was saying in a vaguely-familiar language. It was almost like the English the Templars used, but different enough that Altaïr did not immediately jump to incorrect conclusions.
His eyes burned gold as he studied the three strangers out of the corner of his eye, and saw the female glowing crimson. Well, he corrected himself, not entirely incorrect conclusions. He was once again laid out in the strange chair he had awoken in that first time, but this time the traitor and the brother and sister were huddled together across the room rather than spread out.
“…Bleeding Effect… not Ezio… Altaïr,” came the fragmented murmurs. The words themselves were incomprehensible to him, except for his name, again said in that strange, foreign accent with its strange pronunciation.
Whatever this Bleeding Effect was, all three of them—traitor and allies alike—were severely concerned about it. To have it used in conjunction with his name, even loosely, did not bode well. Had the traitor not been present Altaïr would have confronted his brother and sister about all that had happened, but he knew better than to reveal to the traitor that he was both awake and aware.
Likewise, had only the traitor been present, she would have already been dead. But for now his allies trusted the traitor, and to kill her without a common language between them with which to explain himself would merely engender distrust. Trapped in this strange, foreign place he could not afford to alienate himself from his only allies.
Altaïr half-expected to blink and find himself back in Masyaf, as had happened the previous times he’d awoken in this odd building, but the longer he remained motionless on the chair and listened to the worried whispers of the others in their incomprehensible language, the more convinced he became that he’d be stuck here for a while longer.
Keeping still but with muscles tensed in case swift action was needed, Altaïr considered his presence here. The foreign male had known almost instantly who he was when he’d blinked into awareness while he and the usual inhabitant of this body had been speaking, so at least one of them knew of what was happening and was aware that Altaïr existed. He wondered how he’d come to the correct conclusion so quickly.
Perhaps it had been his instinctive clearing of expression? But, surely, if these were truly his brother and sister assassins they had been trained to show no emotion to a potential threat? Why would such an obvious reaction to a new situation reveal Altaïr for the imposter he had been? If he had woken into the body of a novice it would make a bit more sense, for the amount of control between a novice and a Master like himself was vastly different, enough to be noticeable to any halfway-decent assassins of caliber.
A flicker of blue out of the corner of his eye drew his attention to the friendly female as she bounced to the side of his chair, where a strange pedestal made of the wall and floor material rested.
“All right, Desmond! Break time’s over; time to go back into Baby.”
Altaïr didn’t understand a single word the sister had said, but he did recognize the word Desmond, which seemed to be a name. Was that the name of the body Altaïr had woken up in? How strange.
The sister was doing something on the pedestal, and before Altaïr had a chance to risk opening his eyes and asking her what was going on the world dissolved into a landscape of white and—
—something was wrong with the animus, because Desmond could feelseehear the white in-between cracking and fragmenting and—
—surely this was a work of sorcery, because the ground had become the sky and the walls had dissolved into an endless expanse of white unlike anything he’d ever seen before—
—and Desmond could feel his hold on reality slipping, as if he’d just been dumped headfirst into a Bleeding Effect, but it wasn’t going away—
—and the conjured land heaved like the ocean as foreign thoughts and foreign emotions crashed over him and Altaïr struck back instinctively, fighting even in his own mind with all the ruthless skill of his waking hours—
—as pain erupted across his consciousness as the Bleeding Effect fought back in the way it wasn’t supposed to be able to and Desmond wasn’t ready for this at all and was utterly unprepared for—
—the way Altaïr lurched forward with a hidden blade that hadn’t been there until he’d instinctively sought to use it, with a body that belonged to him and possessed all of the power and grace he knew it should—
—while white-hot agony speared through a chest Desmond shouldn’t have yet at this point in the loading process, and he glanced down to see a hidden blade attached to a hand with only four fingers embedded in his torso and looked up to see—
—confused, pained hazel eyes staring back at him out of a face he’d only ever seen in the window, and suddenly he knew that this was Desmond—
—and Altaïr had reacted entirely on reflex to the animus attempting to shove them both into Ezio’s memories and had struck to kill—
—just like he always did, and Altaïr’s eyes flashed gold as Desmond glowed blue and Altaïr pulled his blade free with a sense of resignation because—
—Altaïr glowed blue under stress-activated Eagle Vision, and Desmond could see the regret on his face as the Syrian Assassin realized what had happened and—
—Desmond collapsed and Altaïr caught him, caught this strange brother whose body he’d awoken in and had just killed—
—and he didn’t know what would happen to him if he died like this in the animus, before a memory loaded and without Rebecca noticing, and he was afraid of dying and failing and—
—Altaïr didn’t know where he was or what was going on, but he’d just assassinated a brother in a moment of reflex and only his iron control of his mind kept him from panicking—
—as his vision dimmed and the animus flickered around them, strobe-like, Desmond reached up and grasped his ancestor on the shoulder, knowing he was dying and wanting Altaïr to know that—
—forgiveness shown in pained hazel eyes, and Altaïr felt his chest tighten in response because he was a killer and an assassin and never had a target forgiven him before—
—words flared around them, DESYNCHRONIZATION IMMINENT, and Desmond had a moment to hope that maybe the wound wouldn’t follow him to the real world as he locked eyes with sharp eagle-gold and—
—Altaïr grasped the hand on his shoulder and squeezed, because this was a brother and not a target and as the world around them broke like glass he hoped Desmond would live to see another day even as—
—the animus desynchronized and tore him out and into consciousness.
Desmond shoved himself free of the animus, terrified that it would suck him back in, back to where he had a blade shoved through his heart and was seconds away from death, and rolled as far from as it as he could get, both hands clasped over his chest as he gasped for breath. It felt like his lungs were full of water, and he coughed but the sensation did not go away, so Desmond clawed at his tentative control over his own emotions and forced himself to calm down, breathing slightly easier as he did so.
“Desmond!” Lucy cried, hurrying over and crouching to help him.
Desmond saw only a blur of red through dilated eyes still stuck in panicked Eagle Vision, and jerked away from her as if she were contagious. “Stay back!” he barked in Arabic as a wave of aggression rose up from somewhere deep in his mind. It was cold and sharp like a hidden blade, and Desmond was afraid if Lucy got much closer to him that it would lash out without his consent.
Shaun—thankfully still blue—grasped Lucy by the arm and hauled her away, not entirely understanding the words but knowing who the language was associated with, and Desmond let himself collapse back to the ground, panting and exhausted.
“What the bloody hell just happened?” Shaun demanded, looking wild and angry even as he aggressively fixed his glasses from where they’d been skewed when he launched himself at Lucy to pull her to safety.
“I…” Desmond coughed to clear the water-feeling from his lungs with little success. “I was Bleeding… when you put me into the animus,” he wheezed, short of breath, still feeling the hidden blade jammed through his sternum and into his chest. “It wasn’t… a good idea.”
Lucy frowned, seeming aggravated for no reason Desmond could really discern. “You were unconscious, Desmond. You couldn’t have been Bleeding; we would have noticed. Your ancestors aren’t exactly quiet.”
“Altaïr is,” Desmond rasped back, angry that she didn’t believe him. He should know; he’d just learned firsthand how dangerous his ancestor was when startled. “We… were both in the animus… at the same time. He… attacked out of reflex and… stabbed me in the chest.”
Rebecca hurried to his side—glowing a calming blue—and pried his hands from his torso, prodding his chest and checking for bloodstains or injuries. “Well, it didn’t seem to follow you out of the animus, at least,” she said cheerfully. “So that’s some good news.”
Desmond let his head drop back to the ground, feeling tired all the way to his bones. The confrontation—if you could call it that—with Altaïr had been entirely mental and lasted merely seconds, yet he felt as if he’d gone toe-to-toe with the Syrian for several hours wielding only a spork.
Lucy shifted closer, and Desmond felt a sensation akin to icy fingers grip hold of the back of his neck as a presence he hadn’t entirely noticed prowled closer to the surface, radiating hostile intent.
“Stop,” he shouted at her as loud as he could, which wasn’t very loud at all but got his point across. Lucy halted, and the metallic rasp of someone slowly unsheathing a blade echoed through his ears, even though no one was there. Desmond wracked his mind as he desperately tried to understand what was happening, but every time he grasped at the presence lurking behind his eyes it drifted through his mental fingers like smoke. “I… don’t think the Bleeding has… quite stopped yet.”
All three of them stilled, as Desmond slowly calmed his erratic breathing on the ground. When no one moved further, the fingers on his neck faded and the feeling of danger in the air eased slightly. Desmond waited a further six minutes before relaxing, no longer able to feel or sense the presence he was pretty sure had piggybacked out of the animus with him.
As the others exchanged glances over his head, Desmond couldn’t help but wonder how much this was going to change things.
Altaïr was almost relieved when he found himself back in the grey room, even if it was the traitor who he was apparently in a conversation with. This meant Desmond had survived the strange experience in the Beyond when the world had broken apart, which Altaïr freely admitted to have been curious about for the past few days.
The traitor was still talking to him, apparently not able to tell that Altaïr had taken over in the way the male brother had been able to, and Altaïr flickered his Other vision briefly to double-check that they were alone. He saw neither of his possible allies in the room or the nearest adjacent one, and tensed all his muscles in preparation.
This, the traitor noticed. Her voice cut off as her blue eyes quickly darted all over his face and form as if finally realizing that it wasn’t Desmond she was speaking to at all.
“Desmond?” she asked, voice wavering, and Altaïr mentally scoffed at her naivety. Obviously he wasn’t Desmond; the male brother had been able to tell that right away, and it had taken him actively preparing for hostile action before the traitor noticed? Foolishness. She repeated the name of this body louder, as if seeking to draw out this ‘Desmond,’ and Altaïr felt a prickle of weary curiosity from somewhere behind his frozen emotions and grim determination.
Altaïr isolated that emotion immediately, knowing it did not belong to him, and observed it from all angles even as he shifted his stance minutely in case the traitor made any sudden movements. At this thought, the curiosity transformed into alarm, and he felt a tug at the back of his mind as if someone were trying rather desperately to get his attention.
Irritably, Altaïr shoved the image of the traitor glowing red under his Other sight at the presence even as he lashed out snake-strike quick and took the traitor’s throat in his left hand, hidden blade pressed to her flesh but not yet extended. The presence stilled, shocked and appalled, and Altaïr felt mildly regretful that apparently ‘Desmond’ had been equally deceived by the traitor in his grip. Even now the betrayer was crying out for help and for a Shaun and a Rebecca, whom Altaïr decided must be the possible brother and sister who lived here, while the weak presence Altaïr had tentatively identified as Desmond struggled to rationalize why the woman might have shown up red under his sight for any reason at all.
The brother stumbled into the room, eyes wide with panic behind his strange miniature windows as he took in the tableau. The brother approached, hands spread and palms facing Altaïr as he slowly drew near them.
“No hurt her,” the brother stuttered in broken Arabic. “Friend. Lucy.”
Altaïr raised a disbelieving brow at the man. While pleased that at least one of them had some sort of knowledge of a language he knew, it was far from enough to have a lengthy conversation on the traitor’s guilt.
“She is a traitor,” Altaïr informed the man anyway, hoping that perhaps his limited vocabulary included the necessary definitions. He let his eyes flare gold to emphasize his point, knowing that the brother had recognized the Other vision when he’d used it during their brief conversation.
The man went still at that, eyes flicking quickly between Altaïr and the traitor whose throat he still held, despite the woman’s attempts to free herself. Altaïr watched as the man shifted his stance from wariness towards himself to disbelief and caution towards the traitor. Good, that meant the brother trusted him and knew what the Other vision could do.
“You certain?” the brother demanded, straightening and taking his eyes off of Altaïr entirely to stare down the frightened traitor.
“Yes,” Altaïr replied, tightening his grip and watching dispassionately as the traitor began choking for breath.
The brother’s entire demeanor shifted into something harder, colder, and Altaïr smiled in grim approval. “We deal with her,” the brother said, his broken vocabulary and odd accent not nearly as attention-grabbing as the icy voice he spoke it in. “Our traitor.”
Altaïr squeezed the woman’s throat harder until she went limp, where he let her drop to the ground. He wouldn’t deny the brother his vengeance against the traitor, and now that he’d rendered the threat unconscious he wasn’t as loathe to leave it be. Satisfied that things would be taken care of, Altaïr turned to the stone-faced brother standing a few feet away, staring down at the unconscious rat.
Altaïr reached out and clasped a five-fingered hand—he still marveled at it—to the brother’s shoulder briefly. When the brother turned startled eyes to him, Altaïr smirked and nodded at him in approval. Mentally laughing at the brother’s stunned expression, Altaïr patted him on the shoulder before he tugged on the still-shocked presence lurking behind his eyes, stepping back and ceding control.
This would prove to be very interesting indeed.