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Guardian Apprentice

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Disclaimer: Nothing in this story, save for the concept of the Treasure Guardians/Children of Eden and the mythology and information surrounding them belong to me. This has some ties to my future story “Chain of Advent”, as well as the “Hearts” ‘verse in general,  but it can still be read as a stand-alone.

 

 

 

Guardian Apprentice

 

 

 

“Alnesr, follow closely, and act when I give the order,” he ordered, turning to catch the bright, pale yellow eyes of his apprentice.

           

“Yes, Master Altaïr.”   

 

Nodding subtly to the young Apprentice Assassin, Altaïr moved, swift and silent, through the deserted halls of the temple. Almost too deserted, really; there were bound to be Templars guarding the treasure that Master Mualim had sent the four of them out to claim. If there even was treasure at all; all that the Master had said was that the Templars had found something in this place.

           

Sounds up ahead alerted him to the presence of another; likely a Templar guard. Signaling for Alnesr to wait, he moved forward.

 

“Wait! There must be another way, this one need not die,” Malik called; Altaïr ignored him.

 

Even if the old man was not a Templar, he could not be allowed to alert the Templars to their presence. This mission demanded secrecy, and he would not see it compromised for Malik’s weakness. Plunging his hidden blade into the man’s neck, Altaïr killed him with the same swiftness and silence as the eagles that he had often been compared to.

 

“An excellent kill,” Kadar said, clear awe in his voice. “Fortune favors your blade.”

 

“Not fortune; skill,” he corrected.

 

“Yes; indeed, Master Altaïr is most skillful,” Alnesr said, moving to stand closer, and keeping alert the way he’d been taught.

 

He smiled, feeling a sense of pride; almost like his own father must have felt, he thought. “Watch awhile longer and you might learn something more, Kadar.”

 

“Indeed,” Malik said, with clear distain. “He’ll teach you how to disregard everything the Master has taught us.” Malik stepped slightly into Kadar’s line of sight, glaring at him as if he had overstepped some invisible boundary. “Teach what you will to your own Apprentice, Altaïr; anyone can see that he’s already too much like you. But do not try to corrupt mine.”

 

“Oh?” he asked, as Alnesr moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, showing the solidarity that any good Apprentice should. “And, how would you have handled this?”

 

“I would not have drawn attention to us,” Malik said plainly. “I would not have taken the life of an innocent. What I would have done, is follow the Creed.”

 

Perhaps Malik did not remember the Creed. “Nothing is true; everything is permitted. Understand these words; it matters not how we complete our task, only that it is done.”

 

“But this is not our way!” Malik protested.

 

“My way is better,” he said, decisively ending the conversation.

 

“I will scout ahead. Try not to dishonor us further,” Malik said, with significantly more distain than he had previously shown.

 

Sneering at his back, Altaïr wiped the expression from his face as Kadar turned to regard him with curiosity. He might not have been fond of Malik’s constant questioning, but Kadar was far more tolerable. He was almost like Alnesr, though somewhat less shy; likely another artifact of his own Apprentice’s odd appearance.

 

One who had nearly been killed for such a thing as that was not likely to want to draw attention to himself, after all.

 

“What is our mission?” Kadar asked, moving to stand closer to him. “My brother would say nothing to me, only that I should be honored to have been invited.”

 

“Yes, Master; I, too, would like to know what our mission entails,” Alnesr said, moving slightly to catch his eye, then ducking his head shyly once he had done so.

 

“The Master believes the Templars have found something beneath the Temple Mount,” he informed them both.

 

Alnesr merely looked thoughtful when he had spoken of Master Mualim’s suspicions, but Kadar spoke up with no hesitation: “Treasure!”

 

“I do not know. All that matters is that the Master considers it important. Else he would not have asked me to retrieve it,” he informed them both.

 

Alnesr nodded to indicate his comprehension of the matter, and the three of them moved to meet up with Malik. He hoped that his fellow Assassin had at least managed to find something useful; he’d no desire for Alnesr, Kadar, and himself to shoulder the entire burden during this mission.

 

He soon spotted Malik up ahead, moving slowly and alertly through the deserted halls of the Temple Mount. He was pleased to note that there were no guards or other people inside; he was not particularly eager to hear more of Malik’s lectures on the importance of the Creed. He knew the Creed, likely better even than Malik, because he outranked the older Assassin.

 

This, he often thought, was the root of Malik’s distain for and disparagement of him.

 

Continuing to follow Malik through the Temple Mount, he could clearly hear Alnesr and Kadar keeping pace just behind them. He was pleased to know that his Apprentice was taking proper initiative. Moving through the Temple Mount, he continued searching for guards and others that Malik might have missed. Or simply left alive because he did not consider them a threat.

 

Climbing the two ladders that he found in his path, Altaïr then found himself facing a Templar guard standing at the entrance to another part of the Temple Mount. Likely as not, Malik had left this one alive out of some misguided desire not to stain his hands, or other such nonsense. Dealing with the Templar the same way that he had dealt with so many of the man’s brethren – and the same way he would deal with any others he encountered in the future – he made his way into the next room.

 

The next room opened up into a much larger space than any of the previous rooms, and Altaïr found himself looking down upon the main group of Templars at last.

 

“There, that must be the Ark,” Malik said.

 

“The Ark? Of the Covenant?” Kadar echoed, as if he actually believed in such nonsense; clearly, Malik should have endeavored to teach him better.

 

“Don’t be absurd. There’s no such thing; it’s just a story,” he said.

 

“Then, what is it?” Kadar asked, looking from him to Malik.

 

“Quiet!” Malik said quickly. “Someone’s coming.”

 

Watching and waiting, as any good Assassin was trained to do, he both saw and heard the man giving orders to this group of Templars. The greatest enemy of the Assassin Brotherhood: the Templar Grand Master, Robert de Sable.

 

“Robert de Sable!” he spat. “His life is mine! Alnesr-!”

 

“No,” Malik said, gripping his arm; holding him back. “We were asked to retrieve the treasure, and deal with Robert only if necessary.”

 

“He stands between us and it, I’d say it’s necessary,” he said, pulling his arm free from Malik’s grasp.

 

“Discretion, Altaïr!” Malik snarled.

 

“You mean cowardice,” he snapped back, having had more than his fill of Malik’s insistent disrespect; even Alnesr was a better Assassin, he at least knew how to show the proper respect to his superiors. “That man is our greatest enemy, and here we have the chance to be rid of him!”

 

“You have already broken two tenets of our Creed,” Malik growled. “Now, you would break the third: do not compromise the Brotherhood.”

 

“I am your superior, in both title and ability,” he reminded the older man. “You should know better than to question me.” Dismissing Malik from his mind, he turned to his loyal Apprentice. “Alnesr, follow closely, and observe well. You may have the chance to claim your first Templar head today, if you act swiftly.”

 

“Yes, Master Altaïr,” his Apprentice acknowledged.

 

Chapter Text

Moving as swiftly as he ever did, he heard Alnesr just behind him and smiled slightly. He would claim the life of Robert de Sable this day, and Alnesr would claim the first of many lives that he would take as he rose through the ranks of the Assassins under Altaïr’s tutelage. They would both return to Masyaf triumphant this day.

 

Their descent to the ground floor of the Temple went as smoothly as he could have hoped, and for a moment Altaïr thought back on his Apprentice’s younger days. Alnesr had not been a quick study, like Altaïr himself had been, but the boy had more than made up for such deficiencies with the determination to please his Master that every good Apprentice had. This situation would be no different: Alnesr would will his way through.

 

Bringing his mind back to the present, he stood at last on the floor of the Temple and moved to confront the Templars gathered in the largest room, Alnesr a silent presence at his side.

 

“Hold, Templars!” he snarled, calling their attention to him; let them feel fear as he and Alnesr came among them and killed them all. “You are not the only ones with business here!”

 

“Ah, well this explains my missing man,” Robert de Sable sneered, in his strangely accented voice; French, Altaïr recalled from his lessons. “And what is it you want?”

 

“Blood,” he answered simply, not giving them a chance to register what he had said before he leaped the length of the room, hidden blade out and ready to be plunged into Robert de Sable’s black, twisted heart.

 

Malik shouted and tried to hold him back, grabbing at his arm in a way that was likely intended to throw off his momentum; that had to be the reason that his hidden blade had not sunk into Robert de Sable’s flesh. And, likely the only reason that Robert de Sable had been able to grab his wrists and restrain him so quickly. Malik… he would have to be reprimanded for this; no matter one’s own preference, one of the Brotherhood was not to interfere with a target claimed by another.

 

It seemed Malik would need reminding of that when they all returned to Masyaf.

 

“You know not the things in which you meddle, Assassin,” Robert de Sable snarled, his voice low and steady. “I spare you only that you may return to your master and deliver a message: the Holy Land is lost to him and his. He should flee now, while he has the chance. Stay, and all of you will die.”

 

Robert threw him from the room then, sending him crashing through a wall of old, crumbling stone that then collapsed, walling him off from Alnesr, Kadar, and even Malik. Narrowing his eyes at the barrier now sealing him into the empty room he had landed in, Altaïr knew that it would be entirely futile for him to attempt to break through the remains of the wall and the stone that it had been holding up.

 

Turning on his heel, he made his way out of the room; climbing ladders when he could and climbing the walls themselves when he could not. After what felt like more time than the four of them had even taken getting in, Altaïr found himself nearing the exit. He also found that the Templars had, all unknowing, provided the means for him to leave with more swiftness than that which he had when he had arrived.

 

Untying the reins from the post that the Templar had used to restrain his horse, Altaïr kicked the beast into motion and, reining it in, he rode for Masyaf.

 

For a moment, he was overtaken by thoughts of Alnesr; the boy was still merely an Apprentice, he had no weapons and did not possess the skill in unarmed combat that a full Assassin would have had. Still, the boy was his Apprentice all the same, and would naturally possess a greater modicum of skill than any other Apprentice.

 

Alnesr would be well; he knew it.

 

He rode the beast harder than he would have any horse that had come from Masyaf, resting only when his own body demanded that he do so; he had nothing but the most practical of concern for the beast, and would not be dismayed if it fell down dead so long as it carried him to his destination. Quenching his thirst with the water-skin that had been strapped to the beast’s saddle, Altaïr continued to ride.

 

The landscape was becoming ever more familiar to him on this, the fifth day of his journey, and so he knew that he would soon return to the place where he had lived for his entire life; he would soon be forced to report his failure to Master Mualim.

 

The mountain fortress of Masyaf loomed before him now, the city that their fortress and the Assassins within it guarded spread before him now, and he slowed the horse to a walk. Leaving the beast to the care of the stable hands within the city, Altaïr continued to make his way up the hill, through the city, and past all of the people that the Brotherhood sheltered. He’d never been one for the company of those who were not Alnesr when it wasn’t necessary, and this time was no exception.

 

Making his way out of the city and up the winding path that would take him to the fortress itself, Altaïr felt a strong urge to go and cleanse himself in one of the fountains of his home. He’d not had the means to do so while he was traveling those five days, and now he was uncomfortably aware of all the dirt and grime that he had accumulated during his journey. He had already stopped beside a well to refresh himself, quenching his thirst and washing the dust from his face, but the feel and smell of his clothes was swiftly becoming offensive to him.

 

Still, he had a duty to report his failure to Master Mualim; his own comfort did not matter in the face of that.

 

As he passed through the marketplace, the warm, inviting colors highlighted by the shafts of sunlight slanting down from the sky, Altaïr heard the sound of another Assassin hailing him. Turning, he saw that it was Rauf; any other day, any other moment than this, he would have been pleased to see the younger Assassin. Rauf, like Alnesr, looked up to him; though Rauf’s admiration was more pronounced than even Altaïr’s own Apprentice’s was.

 

Alnesr thought of him as a wise teacher, perhaps even a father when he forgot himself; Rauf had always seemed to revere him as a god.

 

If there had been a worse Assassin to have greeted him now, Altaïr could not think of who they might be.

 

“Altaïr, you’ve returned!” the younger Assassin called enthusiastically, smiling at him like a child. He paused for a moment, looking over his shoulders as if he expected someone else to come striding up behind him; Altaïr did not have to guess who that might be. “Is your Apprentice seeing to the horses, or has he gone on ahead to make his own report?”

 

“Alnesr is well enough,” he said, that being the only thing he was certain of regarding his young Apprentice.

 

“It pleases me to hear that,” Rauf said, smiling slightly wide; Altaïr hated himself for a moment, he had failed, and now facing the admiration that Rauf felt for him, he was made all the more acutely aware of that failure. “It is good to see that you are unharmed. I trust that your mission was a success?”

 

“Is the Master still in his tower?” he asked, changing the subject quickly so that he would not be forced to dwell on such things; he would be forced to confront his failure soon enough, he knew.

 

“Yes, yes,” Rauf said, nodding and not seeming dismayed by the change in subject; he did try to peer more closely at Altaïr’s face, as if trying to determine the reason for it. “Buried in his books, as usual. No doubt he expects the two of you; or one, if Alnesr has indeed gone ahead.”

 

“My thanks, brother,” he said, nodding slightly.

 

“Safety and peace, Altaïr,” Rauf said, still wearing his wide smile.

 

“On you, as well,” he said, turning to continue his way up to the castle citadel.

 

He had never before found the edifice so utterly imposing before; it had been his home for as long as he lived, the place where he had both grown up and helped to raise Alnesr from babyhood into the dedicated, diligent boy that his Apprentice had become. Still, the fact remained that he was returning to this place to report a failure. He’d not expected to have to do so; he’d rode out those ten days previous with thoughts of returning in triumph, holding the Templars’ treasure in his hands and with Alnesr’s quiet voice regaling him with tales of his own triumph over the Templar forces in his path.

 

Now, however, he was returning to Masyaf empty-handed, and without Alnesr beside him, to report both of his failures to Master Mualim; the lack of his Apprentice by his side would be considered as great a failure as not retrieving the treasure that he had been sent out for. An Apprentice’s place was at his Master’s side, after all. And Apprentices such as Alnesr were not meant to fight alone.

 

He should have remembered that; the Master would no doubt berate him for that, as well as the failure he had returned to report in the first place.

 

The guards greeted him as they usually did, but Altaïr thought for a moment that he sensed additional hostility in their stances. It was likely an artifact of his own uneasiness, he realized after a moment. Moving closer, coming near to the grand archway that lead to the barbican, he saw a figure that he recognized. A figure that he was not particularly pleased to see: Abbas.

 

His fellow Assassin leaned almost insolently against the wall, standing beneath a torch that chased away what shadows there were underneath the arch. He was bareheaded, the blade of a full Assassin hanging from his left hip, and as his eyes fell on Altaïr his expression twisted into an ugly one. Altaïr could feel the sneer on his own face; there had once been a time that the two of them had been as brothers, even helping to raise Alnesr together, but that was long past.

 

Abbas was a bitter, pitiful shell of a man; nothing left in him but spite and vitriol, and so Altaïr spared him barely a thought.

 

“Ah, he returns at last.” Abbas looked over his shoulders, still wearing the mocking smile that had when he had first deigned to recognize Altaïr’s presence.

 

“Abbas,” he greeted coldly, not willing to allow the bitter man the satisfaction of seeing him react.

 

“Where are the others? Did you ride ahead, hoping to be the first one back? I know you are loath to share the glory,” Abbas looked over his shoulders again, an oily grin slowly spreading across his face. “I see your little boy is no longer with you. I wouldn’t have thought that someone like you could ever tire of being fawned over, but I suppose it loses its appeal from someone you have seen suckling at the breast of nursemaids since he was in swaddling clothes.”

 

“Are you done?” he sneered, feeling annoyed even in spite of the fact that Abbas’ taunts were as pitiful as those of a spoiled child.

 

“I bring word from the Master. He waits for you in the library,” Abbas said, still in that insolent tone. “Best hurry. No doubt you’re eager to put your tongue to his boot.”

 

“Another word and I’ll put my blade to your throat,” he snapped, having had more than his fill of Abbas and his insolence.

 

“There will be plenty of time for that later, brother,” Abbas’ tone made the last word an insult, and as Altaïr shouldered past him he used a bit more force than was strictly necessary.

 

Making his way into and through the courtyard and the training square – where he and Alnesr had spent a great deal of time between the missions that he had been assigned for the Order – Altaïr continued on his way to the entrance to Master Mualim’s tower. The guards here showed him a bit more respect than the ones below, but Altaïr knew that that was not to last. Once word of his failures had spread to them, as it inevitably would, their respect for him would vanish like water on the desert sands.

 

Not stopping to heed any of the greetings from the Assassins around him, knowing that they would not be so pleased to see him for much longer, Altaïr moved calmly through the citadel on his way to Master Mualim’s tower and the library contained within it. He was not going to delay any longer; as with all wounds, this one was best handled quickly.

 

He found the Master in his library, standing behind his desk and staring out a shaded window on the far wall behind him. It was a hard thing, what he had to do now, but Altaïr was determined to do it all the same.

 

“Altaïr,” the Master greeted him.

 

“Master,” he acknowledged.

 

“Come forward, tell me of your mission,” the Master ordered, and for a moment Altaïr felt his throat close. Still, he had known there would be a price to pay for his failure; best it be paid quickly. “I trust you have recovered the Templars’ treasure.”

 

“There was trouble, Master,” he began. “Robert de Sable was not alone.”

 

“When does our work ever gone as expected?” the Master asked, sounding rueful. “It is our ability to adapt that makes us who we are.”

 

“This time, it was not enough,” he said, feeling again the shame of his failure.

 

“What do you mean?” Master Mualim asked, his tone sharper than it had been.

 

“I have failed you,” he said, and the shame of it still burned him inside.

 

“And the treasure?”

 

“Lost to us.”

 

Master Mualim’s eyes narrowed, and he looked over Altaïr’s shoulders, even as Rauf and Abbas had done in their turn. “Where is Alnesr? Why does he not return with you?”

 

“I do not know,” he admitted at last; Alnesr was his Apprentice, yes, but his own foolishness had likely cost Malik and Kadar their lives. He could only hope that it had not cost Alnesr his own.

 

“Then what of Robert?” the Master demanded.

 

“Escaped.”

 

“I send you, my best man, to complete a mission more important than any that has come before, and you return to me with nothing but apologies and excuses? And worse, you betray your own Apprentice?!” the Master’s voice was as the crack of a whip across his back, and Altaïr forced himself not to wince; this was no less than he deserved.

 

“I-”

 

Do not speak! Not another word.” The anger on the Master’s face had diminished, but his tone was as sharp as ever. “This is not what I expected. We’ll have to mount another force. Both for the treasure, and for your former Apprentice.”

 

“Former, Master?” he asked, feeling a chill.

 

“Do you honestly think that Alnesr would still be willing to serve under the man that betrayed and abandoned him? Are you really so foolish? So arrogant?” The Master’s eyes narrowed, though his silence seemed thoughtful rather than angry this time. “Where are Malik and Kadar? Have you betrayed them, as well?”

 

“I did all that I could,” he said, trying to explain; not to defend himself, no defense was possible after this kind of failure, but merely to inform the Master of the circumstances that he had faced.

 

“It was not enough,” came the voice of a ghost.

Chapter Text

~five days earlier~

 

“Men, to arms! Kill the Assassins!”

 

Finding himself in the midst of Robert de Sable’s soldiers, with only his younger brother and an unarmed Apprentice at his back, Malik spared a moment to curse Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad and all his arrogance to the deepest depths of Jahannam. Only a moment, of course; the Templars with Robert would not have been sent to this place under the command of a Grand Master if they were not at least as skilled as any full Assassin. Malik would need all of his skill and focus if he was to be able to protect both his own younger brother and Altaïr’s abandoned Apprentice from dying at the hands of these Templars.

 

Raising his sword, Malik met the first charge and held it back. “Kadar! Both of you! Stay behind me!”

 

Neither of them were yet ready for this kind of combat; not against Templars under the command of a Grand Master. The boy was an Apprentice; more suited to gathering information under the command of his Master. Provided his Master was not the fool that Altaïr had proven himself to be, of course.

                                                                                                   

And Kadar… his younger brother was not yet so proficient that Malik was prepared to risk him against elite Templar soldiers such as these.

 

Slashing, hacking, and stabbing, Malik waded deeper into the press of Templars on all sides. He saw Robert leaving from the back of the room, but he could do nothing about it with the man’s forces surrounding him on nearly all sides. One of the Templars managed to slip through his guard, but he found the blade blocked by that of another.

 

Looking over, he found that it was Altaïr’s young Apprentice who had stepped forward in his defense. He held a stolen Templar blade, and the way he wielded it spoke of at least some experience. It at least told him that he was not such a fool as to rush into a battle he was not prepared for, even if his Master was.

 

Malik would have asked the Apprentice how Kadar was doing, if there had been any time for words; if the tides of battle were not so uncertain, but there was no time for such things. He needed all his breath to swing his sword, as well as the short blade that he had pulled from the sheathe on his back. He could not ask how Kadar was doing, could not call out to his younger brother; all he could do was strike and block, dodge and defend, and hope that he could cut down the Templars in his path before either Kadar or Altaïr’s Apprentice could lose their lives to one of the Templars surrounding them.

 

He could hear cries from all around him, and he listened for two particular voices amid the tumult; he thought, once, that he heard a cry go up from Altaïr’s Apprentice, but there was nothing he could do under the circumstances but to keep fighting. The tide of Templars forced him back for a few moments, and he could see nothing but red crosses on a background of white.

 

Cutting the final Templar down at last, Malik heard the heavy breathing of another over even his own. Turning, raising his sword in case it was another Templar that he had to deal with, Malik instead saw the gray robes of an Apprentice. The short stature told him that it was Altaïr’s Apprentice that he had found, and the bloody Templar blade still in his hand showed that the corpses fallen at his feet had not been put there by chance.

 

“Have you seen my brother?” he asked, catching his breath as he made his way over to the Apprentice’s side.

 

“Forgive me, I lost sight of him,” Altaïr’s Apprentice said, bowing his head and incidentally showing more humility in that single gesture than his idiot Master had shown in the entire time that Malik had known him.

 

“You wouldn’t be the first,” he said, biting back a groan as the pain of his wounds hit him in earnest, now that the battle had ended. “Come, we’ll search for him together.” He would need the boy’s sword-arm, in any case. His own felt like it had been all but shorn off.

 

“Of course,” Altaïr’s Apprentice said, raising his stolen blade into a guard position.

 

Malik had seen the blood dripping across his face, but since it had merely been coming from a cut above his right eyebrow, and since he already knew that head-wounds tended to bleed entirely out of proportion to their severity, Malik knew that any tending he would do could wait until the two of them had met up with Kadar. Or, at least until they had laid him to rest.

 

He was not about to allow hope to break his heart, even in spite of the fact that Altaïr’s Apprentice had somehow managed to acquire a sword from one of his enemies; he wasn’t about to think that Kadar could have been so fortunate.

 

As he came upon a large pile of Templar bodies, Malik swallowed the bile that crept up in his throat; Kadar lay there, impaled by many Templar blades. Malik did not bother to count them; it was enough to know that his brother had not been so fortunate as Altaïr’s Apprentice.

 

“I… I am sorry,” the quiet voice of Altaïr’s Apprentice spoke up. “I should have stayed closer to him; protected him, when you could not.”

 

Malik smiled slightly, but less bitterly than he would have done if it had been Altaïr himself. “No need; even I lost sight of him in this madness. Let’s just lay him to rest and return to Masyaf. I have what we came for, at least.”

 

“Yes. Of course,” Altaïr’s Apprentice said, still sounding as if he blamed himself for Kadar’s death; he would have to speak to the boy, while the two of them were on their way back to Masyaf.

 

It would not do for the boy to tear himself apart, thinking that he was supposed to have protected Kadar over even his own life.

 

Making his way over to the box that the Templars had been protecting – after directing Altaïr’s Apprentice to bury Kadar where he had fallen – the one that they had all died for in this very room, he paused. There was little chance that he would be able to carry so large an object for as long as he needed to with only one good arm; he would still have done so, yes, if there were no other recourse, but there was not.

 

“Come here, would you?” he called, trying to remember the name of Altaïr’s Apprentice.

 

He’d never really paid much attention to the boy before, save to remark on his odd eyes at one point before the Master had informed them all that such a subject was not important. He’d always just seemed to be Altaïr’s quiet little shadow, and even moreso once he’d become the younger man’s Apprentice. Still, seeing him now, watching as the boy dropped the stolen Templar blade and picked up the treasure box, Malik thought that at least Altaïr’s Apprentice was not as insufferable as the man himself.

 

“Come, we’ll have to find another way out of this place,” he said, taking the lead, and looking back over his shoulder as the yellow-eyed boy fell into step behind him without a word.

 

The blood dripping down his face had dried, and was clearly starting to itch just as badly as Malik’s own uncleaned wounds were, if the discomfort on his face was any indication. Putting those thoughts aside – he would make the time for them to tend to each other’s wounds after they had left this killing-ground far behind them – Malik turned his eyes back to the path that he was leading them on. He would not be able to climb with his arm so damaged as it was, and the yellow-eyed boy behind him would be in the same situation, though obviously not for the same reasons.

 

Carefully making his way through the halls of the Temple Mount, his sword raised in case there were surviving Templars present, Malik sought a way out of the killing-field not far behind them. Soon enough, he found it. It was, likely as not, the rout that the Templars themselves had used to enter this place; none of them, after all, practiced the same arts of movement as the Assassins themselves had perfected.

 

“Come, I’ve found the way,” he said, turning to look at the yellow-eyed boy behind him.

 

“Of course,” the boy said, nodding as he clutched the box tighter and hurried his feet.

 

He lead the two of them through the winding halls of the Temple Mount, some of which they had been able to bypass coming in by taking the higher path that was now lost to them, and others that they had not, until he began to smell fresh air wafting in through the entrance of the Temple Mount.

 

“I seem to have forgotten your name,” he said, turning to look back at the soft-spoken, yellow-eyed boy that tailed him so well. “Could you tell me it again?”

 

“Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr,” the boy – Alnesr, Malik reminded himself – said, continuing to follow him closely.

 

“Altaïr is your father?” he scoffed, slightly amused by the thought of such an arrogant man having such a tolerable son. “You seem to have inherited all the good sense in the family; you must take after your mother.”

 

“Truthfully, I don’t know.” He looked back, watching as Alnesr shifted his grip slightly. “The Master said that Altaïr saved my life, and that because he did so, he was then responsible for it. I never knew my true parents; Altaïr never speaks of them.” The silence between them was heavy with thoughts, and Alnesr had soon broken it again. “The one time I did ask, he told me that they were unworthy of consideration.”

 

Malik narrowed his eyes; that sounded like something Altaïr would say, but what did the Master have to do with it? Putting those thoughts aside, promising himself that he would ask the Master about the matter of Alnesr, Altaïr, and their relation to one another once he and the boy himself had delivered this Templar treasure to him.

 

They soon reached the outside again.

 

“Hand me the box,” he said, smiling wryly. “There’s little chance of my riding a horse with only one good arm.”

 

“Of course,” Alnesr said, biting his lip as he handed the box over. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

 

“Yes, I know,” he replied, smiling at the boy even as he tucked the box under his good arm. “And, as I’ve said before, you have no reason to apologize to me. You were not the one who got us attacked and nearly cost us the mission. Now go, tie the horses together, and we’ll be off.”

 

“Of course,” Alnesr said, his nod more like a subtle bow as he turned to go about his work.

 

When Malik had finished getting the box properly settled under his good arm, he saw that Alnesr had also finished his own appointed task: two of the horses that the four of them had journeyed to this place on had been harnessed together.

“Good work, Alnesr,” he said, offering the boy praise in the hope of offsetting at least some of the uncertainty he was clearly prey to.

 

He honestly wasn’t sure how someone who had been raised by the arrogant Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad could be so timid in the first place, but Malik had to admit that he much preferred it to any alternative. As he was helped onto his horse by Alnesr, smiling down at the yellow-eyed boy as he handed up the chest, Malik allowed himself to relax slightly. He would still need to keep his wits about him, of course, since riding a horse was not so simple as sitting in a chair, but with Alnesr guiding the lead horse, Malik knew that he could afford at least some relaxation.

 

The day passed swiftly, and soon enough the two of them – or four, if one counted the horses – were settling down in a small island of greenery, in the shade of a single pair of palms.

 

“Can you give me some help with these wounds?” he asked, as Alnesr helped him down from the horse. “We should have time to tend to them before we sleep, at least.”

 

“Of course,” Alnesr said, reaching up to touch the dried blood streaking his face; it was only then that Malik noticed that it had sealed his right eye shut. “I think that would be best.”

 

“Come, then,” he said, deciding not to say anything; if Alnesr was not going to complain about his impairment, Malik wasn’t going to give him a reason to.

 

Alnesr was soon tearing a spare blanket that one of them had packed into strips that would serve for making bandages, and Malik smiled slightly at his diligence. He might have been raised by Altaïr, as well as being apprenticed to the insufferable man, but Alnesr clearly hadn’t absorbed any of the man’s worst traits.

 

While Alnesr tended to the wounds on his arm, Malik used a wet piece of cloth to clean the dried, caked on blood from the boy’s face, finally allowing him to open his right eye. Alnesr didn’t make any gesture of acknowledgement, but the expression on his face was one of such fierce concentration that Malik didn’t even have to guess why. Biting his lip after he had tied a last pair of strips of blanket into a makeshift sling for Malik’s own wounded arm, Alnesr sat back on his knees.

 

“I’m afraid that’s all I can manage,” the boy said, looking from the sling and bandages that he’d fashioned back up to Malik’s face, still with the same expression of uncertainty he’d worn ever since the two of them had been stranded together. “I haven’t the skill of any of the healers back at Masyaf.”

 

“I doubt any amount of skill is going to be able to help, now,” he said, with a reassuring smile that he hoped Alnesr would respond to. “Those Templar dogs do their work too well.”

 

There was no response from Alnesr, but he occasionally saw the boy glancing back at him as the two of them settled down to sleep. His last conscious thought was amused relief at the fact that Altaïr’s son – blood relation or not – was nowhere near as insufferable as the man himself.

 

The next four days passed in much the same manner: he would check Alnesr’s wound, after the boy had cleaned the wounds on his left arm and changed the dressings there, and then the two of them would settle down to sleep. He’d not known what to think, that first night when the boy had curled up next to him as they slept. As it turned out, the boy had just been seeking something soft to lay his head on.

 

It was amusing to think that he had done the same thing with Altaïr; he would not have expected the arrogant man to tolerate such a thing, but given the way the young Apprentice reacted, it seemed he did.

 

When the two of them finally returned to Masyaf, Malik was pleased to note that his wounds no longer pained him nearly so much as they had on that first day; uncertain as he had been about the quality of his work, Alnesr had done it well.

 

The mountain that their Order’s fortress sat atop was coming into view, and Malik had never been more pleased to see it. Of course, the fact that he was returning with not only the treasure that Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad himself had failed but also the arrogant man’s abandoned Apprentice was certainly a reason to be pleased: he had done what Altaïr could not. And, while it had cost him the life of his brother, it had not cost him so much as it could have.

 

It had also given him the opportunity to get to know Alnesr as more than just Altaïr’s young Apprentice, but that was not the foremost thing on his mind at this moment.

 

He had given the box to Alnesr to carry, once the boy had helped him to dismount and the two of them had left the horses in the care of the stable hands. The bindings on his wounded arm would need to be changed soon, that much he could feel, but now that they had returned to the fortress, he would be able to ask the healers to take care of such things rather than pressing Alnesr into service the way he had needed to do while the two of them had been between cities. Turning to look back at the boy following so quietly beside him, Malik found that Alnesr was worrying his lower lip with his teeth.

 

“What troubles you, brother?” he asked.

 

“I just- I wonder what will become of me. Of Altaïr. We’ve returned with the treasure, yes,” the boy said, looking up at him with earnest, worried yellow eyes. “But, I still wonder if it will be enough.”

 

“You care very much for that man,” Malik said, still unsure of quite how he felt about the matter; he would have said it was impossible for someone as arrogant as Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad to inspire honest loyalty in anyone, but the proof to the contrary was walking beside him even now. “Why do that to yourself? That man has hardly proven himself worthy of that kind of devotion.”

 

“Worthy or not, Master Altaïr is the only family I truly have left. He has done so much for me, that I feel this is the least I can do to repay his kindness.” Alnesr looked up at him again, and Malik knew the boy could see the expression he was wearing. “You may not understand it, but that is the way I feel.”

 

“Of course,” he said, as the two of them continued walking.

 

On that last point, Alnesr was wrong: Malik did understand now just what feeling was behind the loyalty that Alnesr felt toward Altaïr, of all people. It was the same kind that he had known that Kadar felt for him: that of family. Of people who trusted one another. Of course, it was odd to think of the arrogant Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad as someone who could inspire such trust in anyone, but then Alnesr had said that he had been raised by the man.

 

And, even one so arrogant as Altaïr must have had some good qualities to have attained the rank of Master Assassin.

 

Their journey up to the fortress was marked by the stares of the guards and those of their fellow Assassins that they passed, and Malik wondered for a moment if Altaïr had told all of them that he, Kadar, and even Alnesr had been killed by the Templars who had been waiting for them in the Temple Mount. The ones that Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad had been so arrogant as to challenge with only his unarmed Apprentice at his back.

 

Truly, the boy should have been angrier with the arrogant man for nearly getting him killed, or at least relieved that he was still alive to even return to the fortress in the first place, and yet it was obvious for anyone to see that Alnesr was still fretting over Altaïr. It was so much like Kadar had once done for him, a habit that he had had only limited success training his younger brother out of, that Malik began to feel a sort of kinship with the boy.

 

He may have looked odder than anyone – man or woman – that Malik had seen, with his pale yellow eyes and the bright, silvery-white hair that Malik could just catch a glimpse of under his hood, but Alnesr had indeed turned out to be far more tolerable than he would have expected, given who he had been raised by.

 

Making his way through the fortress, with Alnesr a silent but clearly fretting presence at his side, Malik began to hear the sounds of the Master and Altaïr himself discussing something. As the words became clearer to him, no longer muffled so much by both the walls and the distance separating them, Malik smirked slightly as he heard Altaïr attempting to justify his actions. Malik knew that he would not have been nearly so amused if he had been forced to make his journey alone, with the pain of his injured arm burning him almost as badly as the loss of Kadar, but having another to tend to his wounds, someone whose company was tolerable enough that he could relax in their presence and unburden himself somewhat, did help.

 

He was glad for small favors, at least.

 

“It was not enough,” he said, just as Altaïr had spoken up, trying to defend the actions that he had taken – the way that he had run away – back in the tunnels beneath Solomon’s Temple.

Chapter Text

Both the Master and Altaïr himself turned to stare, as he lead Alnesr further into the Master’s chamber; it gave him at least some pleasure to see that Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad – arrogant man that he was – was clearly feeling the same uncertainty that Alnesr had been prey to. And, while seeing that boy fretting the way he had been – and still seemed to be, when Malik took the time to study him – was somewhat worrisome to him, he thought that it was only right that the arrogant Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad would suffer so for his own arrogance.

 

“We still live, at least,” he said, resisting the urge to sneer at Altaïr, if only for Alnesr’s sake.

 

He could express his full displeasure to the arrogant man when they were both alone.

 

“And your brother?” the Master asked, looking over his bandaged wounds and bloodstained robes with compassion.

 

“Gone,” he said, feeling again the swell of mixed bitterness and pity; bitterness for the fact that his younger brother had been killed during a mission that would have been easy but for Altaïr, and pity for the fact that Alnesr so obviously still blamed himself for Kadar’s death. “Because of you,” he snarled at Altaïr, deliberately ignoring the way Alnesr briefly cringed at the tone of his voice.

 

“Robert threw me from the room. There was no way back; nothing I could do,” Altaïr said, making a pathetic attempt to justify his actions; Malik did not think that even someone so arrogant as Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad could believe such words.

 

“Only because you did not heed my warning,” he snapped, feeling a twinge in his useless left arm as he almost instinctively clenched his fists. “All of this could have been avoided, my brother would still be alive, and your Apprentice would not have been injured so.” Turning slightly, he softened his expression for Alnesr’s benefit; the boy was looking up at him with that same uncertain expression that Malik had come to dislike so much. “Your arrogance nearly cost us victory this day,” he snarled, turning his attention back to Altaïr himself once again.

 

As much as he had come to enjoy the company of Altaïr’s soft-spoken Apprentice, the man himself was not in his good-graces; there was very little chance that he would be again, unless the man was somehow able to change his ways.

 

Nearly?” the Master echoed, looking at him with new interest.

 

He smiled slightly; this triumph belonged to both him and Alnesr, but the simple fact was that even if he had been forced to make the long journey alone, the fact that he had something to hold over Altaïr’s head would have made him feel a great deal better about the situation. “We have what your favorite failed to find.”

 

Nodding to Alnesr as the young Apprentice looked to him, Malik smirked as the young Apprentice delivered it to the Master, setting it atop his desk and stepping back with a respectful bow. The boy’s gaze lingered for a few moments on the chest that he had just delivered, before he seemed to force his attention away from it. For a moment, Malik wondered what could have prompted such a reaction, but he was given little time to think of that, before a messenger burst into the room.

 

The sounds of running feet, the screams of those who could be either their fellow Assassins or citizens who lived in the town, and the unmistakable ring of clashing swords let him know what was going on even before the messenger could say a single word.

 

“It seems that we have returned with more than just the treasure,” he said, looking to the wall where the sounds of battle were coming through most strongly.

 

“Master, we are under attack!” the messenger that had burst in shouted, all propriety forgotten under the circumstances. “Robert de Sable lays siege to Masyaf village!”

 

~AC1~

 

He had not been foolish enough to truly believe that his theft – the Assassins’ theft – of the Apple would go uncontested by the Templars; however, he would have honestly preferred slightly more time to prepare for this battle. Still, such things could not be helped sometimes. “So he seeks a battle, does he? Very well, I’ll not deny him. Go,” he told the messenger. “Inform the others. The fortress must be prepared.”

 

Returning his attention to the Assassin that he had taken under his wing – the one who had disappointed him so greatly this day – he frowned. “As for you, Altaïr… our discussion will have to wait. You must make for the village; destroy these invaders. Drive them from our home.”

 

“It will be done,” the young Assassin said, and he seemed somehow relieved to have been sent on such an assignment.

 

“Alnesr, return to your quarters; the battlefield is no place for an Apprentice.” Though, it was entirely possible, depending on Malik’s account of the boy’s actions, that he would not remain an Apprentice for even the rest of this day.

 

“Yes, Master Mualim,” the boy said, bowing with respect.

 

He noticed, however, that the child’s eyes lingered on the box that held the Apple, before he seemed to force his attention from it; bowing a second time before he left. Interesting, Al Mualim mused; perhaps such obvious interest could be guided in the proper direction, given time. Now, however, there were more immediate concerns facing all of them.

 

“Malik, go to the healers, and have them see to your arm. Alnesr’s diligence is clear, and it pleases me to see such dedication, but I would not have you overlooked.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” Malik said, bowing in the same manner as Altaïr and Alnesr before him, and retreating from the room even as they had.

 

Leaving his study behind, curious about the boy Alnesr’s reaction to the Apple – he had known that the boy was not normal from the way his hair and eyes were colored, but he had never been given a reason to suspect that there was anything more to his appearance than the obvious – he nonetheless knew that his first task would be to prepare the Assassins to defend the city and the fortress that they claimed as their protectorate. His simple curiosity could wait until he had ensured that the Templars would not be able to retrieve the Apple. Not after all that he had done to claim it.

 

Speaking to the more talented and dedicated of the Assassins, Al Mualim arranged for the trap that he had helped to lay to be prepared to spring on Robert and his forces. Once he had finished with that, he turned his path and made for Alnesr’s quarters. Finding his way to the room where the odd-looking young Apprentice had been quartered when he had gained his rank and left Altaïr’s room, Al Mualim made his way inside.

 

He found the boy just settling down at his desk, after having divested himself of his outer robe; his odd, bright silver hair completely exposed.

 

“Alnesr,” he called, drawing the young Apprentice’s attention away from the contemplation that he had seemed to be absorbed in.

 

“Master Mualim?” the young Apprentice asked, looking startled. “What brings you here?”

 

“You seemed troubled by the presence of the Templar Treasure,” he said, deciding not to mention it by name; the boy did seem leery, and it would be best to allow him to come to the correct point of view with a minimum of prodding. “Would you be willing to speak with me about that?”

 

“It- it is not that I was troubled, Master Mualim,” Alnesr said, his strange, pale yellow eyes turning inward for a moment before his gaze settled again on Mualim himself. “The treasure… it seemed to- to draw me in, somehow. I do not know how I could explain it, but to say that- there is… something about the treasure that,” Alnesr sighed, seeming to have run out of words. “Draws me to it, somehow.”

 

“I understand; you’ve no need to say more,” he said, pondering the full implications of what Altaïr’s young Apprentice had said.

 

True, men were indeed drawn to the Apple, but that draw could only truly be exerted when a man – or, in rare cases, a woman – was in sight of the treasure itself. He had never heard of someone being drawn to the Apple when it was out of their sight, tucked away safely in a box; however, he had also never met someone like Alnesr. He had never put stock in the tales that Alnesr’s strange eye and hair colors had marked him as a demon, and yet they did mark him, all the same. Perhaps there was more to the boy than even he had suspected.

 

However, those speculations would have to wait; for now, there were far more pressing matters to attend to.

 

“We will speak on this matter later, child,” he said, making his voice gentle so that Alnesr would trust him; Abbas’ betrayal had hurt the boy deeply, that much was clear for anyone to see. “For now, stay in your room. I will call on you later.”

 

“Yes, Master Mualim.”

 

Returning the nod – though Alnesr’s was more akin to a subtle bow – that the boy gave him, Al Mualim left the child to his contemplation. Time would tell if reaction that Alnesr had had to the Apple could be properly channeled, but for now, he had an old compatriot to meet. Robert de Sable would not triumph this day.

 

~AC1~

 

Standing amidst his fellow Assassins, staring out at the corpses of the Templars whose blood now stained his robes and his blade, Altaïr couldn’t help but wonder if what the Master had said was indeed true. Would Alnesr indeed see his flight from Solomon’s Temple as abandonment? As a betrayal? Would all the years that they had spent together – as Master and Apprentice; as the closest thing to family that was allowed within the Brotherhood – be tainted by that one, impulsive action of his?

 

“Altaïr,” Rauf’s call pulled him from his thoughts, and he was grateful for that. “Come.”

 

“Where are we going?” he asked, feeling weary of all this: the killing, the necessity of it, and the uncertainty he was now prey to regarding Alnesr.

 

“We have a surprise waiting for our guests,” the younger Assassin said, smiling slightly. “Just do as I do; it should become clear soon enough.”

 

Rauf was pointing high above them, up into the ramparts of the fortress. Sheathing his sword and putting aside his doubts, as any good Assassin learned to do, Altaïr followed Rauf up the series of ladders that lead to the summit of Masyaf fortress. The leaders of the Assassins, Al Mualim among them, were all gathered there. He crossed the floor toward the Master, but Master Mualim said not a word to him, mouth set in stern disapproval.

 

Rauf said for him to take his place on the rightmost of three wooden platforms jutting out into the air, and Altaïr did so without a word. Now, finding himself staring out into the valley over which Masyaf fortress presided, Altaïr felt that he was able to breathe once again. The wind rushing around him, the familiar cries of birds carried on it, and the sight of them wheeling and swooping through the air, let Altaïr forget – for just a few, fleeting, precious moments – just where he was and what had happened to him.

 

The sight of the Templars, those both alive and dead, brought his attention quickly and firmly back to the present; there was still much work to be done.

 

Heretic,” Robert de Sable snarled from his place at the head of his reduced forces, his steed shifting slightly underneath him in spite of the beast’s obvious discipline. “Return what you have stolen from me!”

 

“You’ve no claim to it, Robert,” Al Mualim’s strong voice echoed through the valley, and for a moment Altaïr found his thoughts turning to that very thing; the box had seemed to glow, but odder was the way Alnesr had reacted to it. It had almost seemed as if the boy needed to be close to the treasure, or at least felt he had, and had only managed to force himself to leave though sheer force of will and the discipline that was ingrained into every Assassin. It was a troubling thought. “Take yourself from here, before I’m forced to thin your ranks further.”

 

“You play a dangerous game!” the Templar snapped.

 

“I assure you, this is no game.”

 

“So be it,” Robert de Sable snapped, his patience clearly at an end; there was something else in his tone, as well… Altaïr didn’t like it at all. “Bring forth the hostage!”

 

From the ranks of Templar soldiers, an Assassin was dragged forward. Gagged and bound, the young man nonetheless fought to free himself; it was an admirable thing, the determination displayed by all of their Brotherhood, but Altaïr had the feeling that determination alone would not be enough to win this day. Sure enough, once the Assassins had been given time to see the captured Assassin – a Novice, by the look of him – Robert signaled to one of his fellow Templars forward.

 

The unnamed Templar drove his blade into the Novice’s chest, spilling the young man’s blood all over the dry dirt of the valley.

 

“Your village lies in ruins, and your stores are hardly endless!” Robert shouted up to Master Mualim, as the Assassins around him caught their breath. “How long before your fortress crumbles from within? How disciplined will your men remain when the wells run dry, and their food is gone?”

 

“My men do not fear death, Robert. They welcome it; and the rewards it brings.” There was a note of definite  gloating in Robert’s harsh voice, but Master Mualim was as calm as ever.

 

“Good! Then they shall have it all around!” Robert shouted; if Altaïr could have seen the expression on his face, he was certain he would have seen rage.

 

“Show this fool Knight what it means to have no fear!” the Master said. “Go to god!”

 

Still, he knew that – Templar though he was – Robert de Sable was not lying. Nor was he arrogantly assuming that he could do more than he was capable of. The Templars were indeed capable of laying siege to Masyaf; cutting the Assassins off from the supplies they needed to sustain themselves, keeping them from obtaining food and water once their stocked supplies had run out. It would not be long, if such were allowed to happen, before the Brotherhood as a whole had been weakened enough for Robert and his Templars to attack with little fear of reprisal.

 

Altaïr could only hope that the Master’s plan, whatever it turned out to be, would help them to avoid such a fate.

 

“Follow me, and do so without hesitation,” Rauf said, bringing Altaïr’s attention back to the mission at hand.

 

Without a word, Altaïr moved to the end of the platform he was standing upon and looked down from it. There was a pile of hay, enough to break a fall, beneath the platforms each of the three of them stood upon. He was beginning to see just what it was that Master Mualim had planned, and he hoped that such would be enough to deal with Robert de Sable and his Templars.

 

The sound of his robes flapping, a sound like soft rain or the lapping of the sea, helped Altaïr to leave his thoughts behind; something that he had long since learned to do once he had made his first Leap of Faith. Soon, he came to a place of stillness within himself; the place that allowed him to fight without fear, that allowed him to leap without hesitation from even the tallest of towers. Everything else, even the threatening words that the Master was exchanging with Robert de Sable, fell away then.

 

For a few moments, Altaïr felt as free as the eagle he had often been compared to.

 

“Now,” Rauf said, catching what little attention Altaïr had spared for the outside world.

 

The three of them leapt then, wind rushing past them, and time ceased to exist for the few moments that he was falling through the air; all of his worries and thoughts for the future – his concern for Alnesr and what might become of them both after this day – washed away in the rush of wind.

 

He landed perfectly, the haystack breaking his fall as it was meant to do, and Rauf had done so as well, but the Assassin whose name he did not know – the one who had been placed on the leftmost platform – was not either so fortunate or so skillful; his leg snapped with a sound like a dry twig that had been muffled by cloth. Rauf was at the other Assassin’s side in seconds, hushing him so that the Templars would not be able to hear him and thus spoil there plans.

 

“I’ll stay behind and attend to him,” Rauf said, once he had managed to quiet the other Assassin. “You’ll have to go ahead without us; the ropes there will bring you to the trap. Release it; rain death upon our enemies.”

 

Nodding, Altaïr left without a word and with only a single look back. He wondered for a moment just how his fellow Assassins had been able to set such a trap without him knowing about it, and if there were other facets of the Brotherhood that remained unknown to him. Putting those thoughts out of his mind, Altaïr devoted his attention wholly to the task he had set for himself: that of navigating the log-bridges, walls, and ledges that stood between him and the trap that Rauf had spoken of.

 

Standing at last atop the tall watchtower that overlooked the valley, Altaïr looked down through the spaces between the boards and saw the trap: heavy, greased logs stockpiled and resting on a tilted platform; many of them, perhaps even enough to kill or drive off all of the Templars before they could begin their siege. Moving with the silence that he had trained into himself over his long years of service in the Brotherhood, he looked down upon the ranks of Templar knights standing with their backs to him.

 

They had no idea what was going to happen, and for the first time in several days – as he raised his sword to cut the ropes holding the logs in place – Altaïr smiled.

 

The logs swept in, scattering the ranks of Templar knights, and killing more than a few, he was happy to note. Robert de Sable, mounted on his horse, was not among their number. It was a troublesome thing, that, but he was not going to focus on it. There was nothing to be done without archers, and summoning them was not his duty.

 

No matter how much he wished to see a feathered shaft driven between Robert de Sable’s eyes.

 

Below him, the other Assassins were beginning to gather, all of them seeming pleased with the outcome of this battle; those who had died during it would be mourned, yes, but the fact that the Brotherhood was alive and free to do such mourning was worthy of note all the same. Still, he could not help but to think that this would not be the end of things; not after everything that had happened. Not after everything he had done, and everything he had not done.

Chapter Text

Once he had finished his business with Altaïr – brash as the man was and had been, he was still a worthy member of the Assassin Brotherhood; he would only need to be reminded of what that entailed – Al Mualim made his way down the corridors of Masyaf fortress towards Alnesr’s room. He’d spoken to Malik about the role Altaïr’s former Apprentice had played in their escape from Robert de Sable’s Templars and the recovery of the Apple. Then, once he had been satisfied with the accounting given the boy, he had made a stop at the both the tailor, and the weapon smith to pick up an item that he had given over to their keeping long ago.

 

And also to acquire an item that Altaïr’s former Apprentice would be making use of a great many times in the near future.

 

Rapping on the door of the young, former Apprentice’s – not that young Alnesr knew that, as yet – room, Al Mualim stood back as the door was opened. Alnesr stood in the doorway, the expression on his face one that Al Mualim could not quite place.

 

“Hello again, Master Mualim,” the boy said, the unreadable expression on his face clearing, replaced with curiosity. “You said that you wished to speak to me,” stepping aside slightly, Alnesr gestured to his desk and the chair that sat in front of it. “Would you like to come inside?”

 

“It is kind of you to offer, child, but I have matters to discus with you that require your presence in my study,” he said; for a moment, Alnesr looked uncertain, but he soon put aside his doubts as every Assassin learned to do. “Now go; change into your robes and come with me.”

 

“Of course, Master Mualim,” Alnesr said, bowing and turning to do as he’d been told. “I will return shortly.”

 

Waiting for a few moments, he smiled gently as Alnesr came back out in full Assassin regalia; the regalia of an Apprentice, yes, but he was not to know that this would be the last day that he would wear such clothes. He placed his right hand on the young former Apprentice’s shoulder, guiding the boy gently back to his study so that the two of them could speak in earnest.

 

Making his way through the corridors and back to his study, Al Mualim found the curiosity that Alnesr’s words about the Apple had awakened gnawing at him once more; still, he contented himself with the fact that the boy would now be reporting directly to him. He would be able to speak more candidly to the child, more than that, he now had a more than passing interest in the boy; to have seen his reaction to the Apple, even though the treasure itself had been stored inside the box that Malik had brought to him, that had not been something that he could have ever expected.

 

Once the two of them had reached his study, Al Mualim directed Alnesr to stand before his desk, and then settled himself in his chair behind it. Alnesr waited quietly, and Al Mualim was pleased to see the child’s discipline even in the face of his obvious uncertainty.

 

“I can see that you are wondering why I have called you here, child,” he said, making his voice gentle so that Alnesr could take comfort from it. “You, the abandoned Apprentice of Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad. A man, who in spite of all his years of dedicated service, made a grave mistake that revealed us to the Templars and cost several Assassins their lives this day.” Alnesr’s lips parted briefly, but then he seemed to think better of whatever it was that he would have said. “I have heard accounts of you from Malik; you have proved that the lessons that Altaïr taught were not wasted, though he seems to have forgotten them, now.” Alnesr’s gaze was focused on his face, and while it was plain to see that the child was curious, it was just as plain that he trusted in Al Mualim himself to allay such curiosity; he was pleased to see such discipline in one so young.

 

Clearly, Altaïr had only passed the better parts of his nature onto the boy that he had raised as his son.

 

“Indeed, I will be counting on you, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr, to remind your former Master of the lessons that he has clearly forgotten.”

 

“Forgive me for questioning your wisdom, Master Mualim, but how am I to do that?” Alnesr asked, speaking at last.

 

Al Mualim smiled gently, holding the knife he had been heating just out of the child’s line of sight. “Give me your right hand, child.”

 

Alnesr’s hand, tanned by the sun and hardened from the work that the child had done during the seven long years that Altaïr had trained him – first as one of the many children within the fortress, then as a Novice, and finally as the man’s own apprentice – was offered to him without hesitation. Gently spreading the child’s – though, after this day he would no longer call the boy such to his face – fingers, Al Mualim grasped Alnesr’s ring finger and drove his heated knife into the base of it.

 

To his credit, Alnesr did not cry out as his finger was severed, though he did hiss in pain. In that way, the child reminded him all the more of Altaïr. Fitting, of course, since not only had Alnesr been raised by the man, the boy had been trained by him since he was old enough to properly understand the role of the Assassins.

 

“Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr, I hereby promote you to the rank of full Assassin, in recognition of your valor in battle, and the understanding of the Creed that you have demonstrated,” he said, standing once more. “Now, Alnesr, follow me, and I shall complete your initiation.”

 

“Of… Of course,” the child said, his voice quavering but the expression on his face making it clear that he was merely excited and pleased. “Thank you, Master Mualim.”

 

Leading the boy back through the corridors of the fortress, Al Mualim smiled softly. He could not deny that he, too, felt some pride in Alnesr; he had been the one to teach Altaïr of the Creed and what it truly meant to be an Assassin, and to see the proof that a pupil he had taught had been capable of teaching in his own turn was gratifying. True, he might have been holding himself aloof from these Assassins and their Brotherhood – and, he could at least admit to himself that he would have honestly preferred to instruct his students in the proper way of living – but seeing his own student become a teacher in his turn was indeed a pleasant thing all the same.

 

The two of them had soon reached the highest tower of the fortress, and Al Mualim lead Alnesr out into room at the top of the watchtower. The same place, in fact, that Altaïr, Rauf, and Hakim had leaped from in their efforts to deal with Robert’s Templars when they had attacked. Alnesr stood in the doorway for only a few moments, before making his way over to the rightmost platform. If he had been the sort of man who believed in such things, he might have found it fitting that Altaïr’s former Apprentice had chosen the very platform that the man himself had used to perform his first Leap of Faith.

 

Still, the rightmost platform was the closest to the entrance to the fortress, and that was most likely the whole of the reason that Alnesr had chosen as he had.

 

Moving closer as Alnesr stood at the center of the platform, turning as if to take in all of the valley at once, or as close to it as he could manage with only one set of eyes, Al Mualim saw that the young Assassin was not afraid – as some others might have been during a time such as this – he was clearly enthralled by the sight of the valley spread out beneath and before them. Making his way over to the young Assassin’s side, Al Mualim placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders, guiding his gaze in the proper direction.

 

“Tell me what you see, Alnesr,” he said, subtly turning the boy so that he would have a better view.

 

“I see the valley that that the fortress stands watch over, and in the distance the village,” the young Assassin said.

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling slightly. While he might wish that he could have guided this boy onto the true path to peace, it was still pleasing to the teacher in him to see that Alnesr was so eager to learn. “The village that we Assassins have stood guard over for as long as this fortress has existed. The very place that the Templars would destroy, were they to be given the chance. It is the duty of every Assassin to take a hand in their defense, and they in turn contribute to our own survival by supplying us with food and clothing.”

 

“Altaïr has told me that the villagers and the Assassins are two parts of the same whole; that we all stand together against the Templars,” Alnesr said, the reflective expression on his face suggested that he was looking into his memories rather than down at the village before them.

 

“He still has some wisdom, then,” Al Mualim said. “Still, you must be the one to remind him of the wisdom he has clearly forgotten at this juncture.”

 

“How will I do that, Master?” Alnesr asked, odd, pale yellow eyes turning to regard him once more.

 

“First, you must truly become a full Assassin,” he said, moving off the platform so that Alnesr stood alone once more. “Show me what it is to have no fear, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

“Yes, Master Mualim,” the young Assassin said, bowing slightly to him before turning to perform his first Leap of Faith.

 

Making his way to the edge of the tower, Al Mualim watched as Alnesr emerged from the haystack and made his way back to the side of the tower. He had had little enough opportunity to observe the boy’s training, his business with the Templars and the fact that Altaïr himself had taken on the task of raising and training the boy by that time, so seeing Alnesr make his way back up the side of the tower with such ease and strength was rather pleasing to see.

 

“Good work, Alnesr,” he said, as the young Assassin made his way back up to the top of the tower. “You have proved your dedication to our Brotherhood, and thus proven that you are fully worthy to take your place among our ranks.”

 

“Thank you, Master Mualim,” Alnesr said, bowing slightly to him.

 

“Now, follow me,” he said, turning to leave with a last look at the young Assassin. “There is still much for us to do, you and I.”

 

“Of course, Master Mualim.”

 

Reflecting back on the young man whose initiation he had just finished, Al Mualim felt again a sense of regret that he would be forced to treat the young man just as he would all of the other Assassins. Still, even for all of Alnesr’s fine qualities, the child had still been raised by the Assassins and would hence need be treated as an Assassin himself. There was no time, and no point, in wishing things otherwise.

 

Alnesr and Altaïr were what they were, and Al Mualim was what he was; and if either of them were to discover his nature, then they would act as their own nature dictated.

 

~AC1~

 

Altaïr could not be certain if he were awake, dreaming, or if he had indeed died when the Master had stabbed him. He could not know, for those first few moments, but as his vision cleared and Altaïr felt his senses slowly returning to him, Altaïr began to honestly doubt that he had died. He did not know how that was possible, considering that he had indeed felt the Master’s knife in his belly, but it seemed to be what was happening to him in the end.

 

As his senses slowly returned, Altaïr realized that he was standing on his feet. He did not know how this was possible, not after everything that he could remember happening, but that seemed to be the position that he was in. Altaïr wondered just where he was, if he had died and this was indeed the Paradise that they had been promised.

 

Still, if it was somehow Paradise, it looked a great deal more like Master Mualim’s study than he had been lead to believe.

 

The Master even stood before him, looking down with an inscrutable expression.

 

“I am… Alive?” he wondered aloud, hands moving instinctively to his belly. He expected to find the wound that had nearly ended his life, bandaged or not, and likely still bleeding at this point. He felt nothing, not even the wrappings that he had often seen on more grievously wounded Assassins. “But, I saw you stab me. Felt death’s embrace.”

 

“You saw what I wanted you to see,” Al Mualim said, the inscrutable expression remaining in place. “And then you slept the sleep of the dead, of the womb, so that you might awake, and be reborn.”

 

“To what end?” he asked, still attempting to regain his composure.

 

“Do you remember, Altaïr, what it is the Assassins fight for?” the Master asked, the inscrutable expression on his face remaining.

 

“Peace, in all things,” he stated, still feeling rather off-balance but making the attempt to master himself.

 

“Yes, in all things,” the Master said firmly, almost angrily. “It is not enough to end the violence that one man commits upon another, it refers to peace within, as well. You cannot have one without the other.”

 

“So it is said,” he allowed, though there were times that he doubted.

 

“So it is,” the Master snapped, the color in his cheeks rising the way that Altaïr had only seen a few times before. “But you, my son, have not found inner peace. It manifests in ugly ways. You are arrogant; overconfident.”

 

“Were you not the one to say that nothing is true, and everything is permitted?” he asked; truly that had been one of the tenets that the Master had emphasized to him, and that he in his turn had passed on to Alnesr.

 

“You do not understand the true meaning of the phrase, my child,” Master Mualim said, sounding disappointed once more. “It does not grant you the freedom to do as you wish, it is a knowledge meant to guide your senses. It expects a wisdom you clearly lack.”

 

“Then what is to become of me?” he asked, trying not to show the uncertainty he now felt.

 

“I should kill you for the pain that you’ve brought upon us,” the Master said, his single eye focusing on Altaïr with an intensity that he’d not often seen. “Malik thinks it only fair: your life in exchange for his brother’s.” The way that the Master paused after making that statement seemed deliberate, and Altaïr steeled himself for whatever would come next. “But, that would be a waste of my time and your talents. You see, you have been stripped of your possessions; your rank, as well. You are demoted, a child, once more; as you were on the day you first came to us. I am offering you a chance at redemption. You will earn your way back into the Brotherhood.”

 

“I assume you’ve something planned,” he said knowing that it had to be true.

 

“First, you must prove to me that you remember how to be an Assassin,” the Master said, coming out from behind his desk to pace the length of it.

 

“So, you would have me take a life?” he asked, suspecting that such would not be the extent of his punishment.

 

“No; not yet, at least,” the Master said firmly. “For now, you are to become a student once again.”

 

“If that is the case, then what is to become of Alnesr?” he asked; he and the boy had served together – had lived together – for so long that he almost did not know how to react to this. True, the two of them would likely have gone their separate ways once Alnesr had gained the rank of a full Assassin, but that time had not yet come.

 

“This is the first that you have seen fit to ask of him,” the Master said, the inscrutable expression that he had worn earlier returning to his face. “Do you remember, then, the lessons that you taught the boy?”

 

“I taught him of the Creed, of the work that we Assassins do; just as you taught me, Master,” he said, wondering what the point of this conversation was.

 

“Yes, and from the account that Malik gave of him, he has learned those lessons well,” Master Mualim said, folding his arms and studying him closely. “Alnesr seems to have learned the lessons that you taught him better than the ones that I taught you, my child.”

 

He did not know what the Master meant by speaking of lessons this way, but it was clear that he had some greater plan in mind. “So it would seem,” he allowed.

 

“In the past, Altaïr, Alnesr would have gathered the information that you required to hunt down your targets, and others would have done so before Alnesr had taken his place as your Apprentice,” the Master said, gazing down on him with a stern expression. “But no more. From this day forward, you will track them yourself.”

 

“If that is what you wish,” he said; it was not such a harsh punishment as he had been expecting, considering the disappointment in him that the Master had displayed so openly.

 

“You will also be accompanied by your new Master; watch him, learn the lessons that he has to teach, and I am certain that you will prove yourself worthy of rejoining the Brotherhood once more.”

 

New Master?” he demanded; the thought that he would become an Apprentice once more was not one that had ever occurred to him. He could only hope that it was not Malik that he would be serving under; anyone else would have been better than that insufferable man.

 

“Yes; I believe that the two of you will get along rather well,” the Master said, turning to look over at the far right side of his study, into the shelves of books and scrolls that Altaïr had long since stopped paying any particular attention to. “You may come out now. Come, there is no need for hesitation.”

 

Another Assassin made his way out from the shelter of the shelves; this new Assassin was too short to be Malik, and the fact that this newcomer still possessed both of his arms let Altaïr know that this was not the man that he had wronged in the past. Still, that did leave the question of this new, smaller Assassin’s identity unanswered as yet.

 

When the shorter Assassin turned to look at him, the first thing Altaïr noticed were his eyes. Pale yellow, like saffron-dyed cloth that had been left to fade in the sun. It was the first thing that had called his attention to the boy back when he had merely been a babe in his father’s arms; that day, when he had first killed in defense of someone who could not yet defend themselves.

 

“Alnesr,” he said, he’d not expected this; Alnesr was wearing the garb of a full Assassin, and when he looked to boy’s right arm, Altaïr could see the bracer that held his former Apprentice’s new hidden blade.

 

The boy’s lips parted briefly, as if he wanted to say something but did not know just what to say in such a situation as this. “Altaïr,” he said instead.

 

The uncertainty that Alnesr was so clearly feeling was perversely comforting to him in this situation; there was little chance that the Master had told him of the plans that he had made, if the boy was reacting like this.

 

“The two of you have worked together in the past, accomplishing more than either of you could have easily done alone,” the Master said, looking over the both of them as Alnesr moved closer to him.

 

“Then, tell me what you wish us to do,” he said, moving to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Alnesr the way that they had done so often in the past.

 

The inscrutable expression returned to the Master’s face as he took in the two of them, but he did not give voice to whatever troubled him. “I hold here a list; nine names adorn it. Nine men who need to die. They are plague-bringers, war makers; their power and influence corrupts the land, and ensures that the Crusades continue. You will find them all, and kill them. In doing so, you will sow the seeds of peace. Both for the region, and for yourself. Alnesr, your task will be to see that your Apprentice relearns the lessons that he has so clearly forgotten; just as he taught you your lessons in the past, it is now your task to teach him.”

 

“Yes, Master Mualim,” Alnesr said, though he still sounded rather uncertain.

 

“Nine lives, in exchange for my own,” he said, contemplating what he and Alnesr would soon be doing.

 

“A most generous offer, I should think,” he said, turning his gaze to take in Alnesr once more. “Have you any questions, Alnesr?”

 

“Where do we begin, Master?” his former Apprentice asked.

 

“Your journey will begin in Damascus,” the Master said, sounding pleased with the resolve he now heard in Alnesr’s voice; Altaïr was as well, but now was not a time to discus such things. “There you will find a black market merchant named Tamir; let him be the first to fall.” Master Mualim made his way over to the cage of carrier pigeons that he kept for delivering messages to the Assassin Bureaus maintained in other cities, removing a bird from the cage, he cupped the creature gently in his hands. “Be sure to visit the city’s Assassin Bureau when you arrive. I’ll dispatch a bird to inform the Rafiq of your arrival. Speak with him; you’ll find that he has much to offer.”

 

“If you think it best,” he said, wondering at just what message the Master was trying to impart to them with these cryptic words of his.

 

“I do,” the Master said firmly. “Besides, you can not begin your mission without his consent, Altaïr.”

 

“What nonsense is this?!” he demanded, affronted on Alnesr’s behalf as well as his own. “An Assassin is not required to report their activities to anyone.”

 

“Alnesr will not be required to account for his activities,” Master Mualim said, his tone sharp enough to catch Altaïr’s attention even in spite of the indignation that he felt. “But for yours. This is the price you pay for the mistakes you have made, Altaïr: you answer not only to me, and not only to your Master, but to all of the Brotherhood as well, now.”

 

“So be it,” he conceded, knowing that he would not be able to change the Master’s mind now that he had made it up but still displeased by the situation all the same.

 

“Go, then,” the Master said, his usual calm settling about him like a mantle. “Prove that you are not yet lost to us.” There was a moment of silence, as the Master took something from underneath his desk. “Alnesr, come; take this.” Watching in slight puzzlement as the Master handed his bracer to Alnesr, Altaïr wondered what the meaning of that action was. “Give this to your Apprentice when you feel that he is ready to carry it once again.”

 

“Yes, Master Mualim,” Alnesr said, only the tone of his voice showing the uncertainty he felt; his face was as professionally blank as an Assassin twice his age.

 

Altaïr felt a swell of pride; he had indeed taught his former Apprentice well.

Chapter Text

As the two of them made their way down the stairs and away from the Master’s study, Altaïr turned to look at Alnesr. His former Apprentice was staring down at the bracer in his hands, finally allowing his face to show the uncertainty he had clearly felt while he had been speaking with the Master in his study.

 

“Ma- Altaïr,” his former Apprentice said, one of his front teeth showing over his lower lip for a moment. “Would you like this back?”

 

“Yes, thank you,” he said, taking the bracer back and fixing it onto his left arm. “Come, we’ll go to the stables and get underway.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, nodding as the two of them fell into step with one another.

 

As he continued on his way, passing by his and Alnesr’s fellow Assassins and finally out of Masyaf fortress itself, Altaïr breathed more easily. It felt as if he had indeed been reborn, as Master Mualim had intended; an odd thing, yes, but it was the way he felt nonetheless. Looking over at Alnesr, Altaïr found that his former Apprentice seemed to be mastering the uncertainty he had been plagued by earlier.

 

The sudden reversal of their respective roles had caught the both of them off-guard; Altaïr had to admit that it was true even for him. The Master must have had some greater purpose for doing as he had. It was their task to adapt to it, as all Assassins adapted to their changing situations.

 

The fortress of Masyaf was far behind them by now, and they were beginning to encounter the villagers that worked in the valley as a gesture of thanks for the protection that the Assassins provided for them. Making his way down to the stables, Altaïr looked over his right shoulder at Alnesr once more. His former Apprentice seemed to have regained the composure that the events of this eventful day had caused him to lose.

 

It was good to see; they would both need their wits about them for this mission; these nine men would not fall easily.

 

“Mount up,” he said, simply to fill the silence that had settled between the two of them.

 

“Of course, M- Altaïr,” Alnesr said; Altaïr knew what his former Apprentice had almost said, and he could not quite keep from shaking his head.

 

This situation was strange for the both of them, clearly. He didn’t know of any other pairs of Master and Apprentice who had been shuffled around as he and Alnesr had been. He did not know just why Master Mualim had decreed this, why he would have reassigned him and Alnesr as Apprentice and Master when the two of them had worked as Master and Apprentice for so many years, but the Master had to have had his reasons.

 

Altaïr did not know just what those reasons were, in the end, but he knew that the Master had them, all the same.

 

Mounted upon one of the many horses kept in the stables for use by both the Assassins and the villagers, Altaïr turned and watched as Alnesr mounted his own chosen horse. Nodding to his former Apprentice, he continued to watch until Alnesr had fully settled himself atop the horse, and then the two of them set off. The journey was not going to be a short one, and for that reason he had guided Alnesr to choose one of the horses who had been provisioned for long journeys such as the one that he and his former Apprentice were undertaking now.

 

Allowing himself to settle into his usual attitude of restful awareness that he had learned to maintain while on long journeys such as this one, Altaïr looked to his right. Alnesr’s horse was close enough beside him that he could have reached out and touched his former Apprentice’s left shoulder, but he would not do such a thing in this case. He would not distract Alnesr from whatever thoughts that the boy – rather, young man, now that he had gained the rank of full Assassin – was absorbed by.

 

Altaïr’s own thoughts were in Damascus, with Tamir; the fact that he was being sent there as the Apprentice of the one who had previously been his own Apprentice was an odd one, to be sure. Still, there was also the matter of Tamir himself; Alnesr would not be the one assigned to collect the information on the targets that they had been assigned. It had been some time since Altaïr had been required to observe his own targets in the field, to track them down through various means and collect information in various ways, rather than conferring with Alnesr once the young man returned to him flushed with success.

 

Strangely enough, Altaïr almost found himself anticipating that; Alnesr had seemed to carry with him a sense of satisfaction as he completed the information-gathering missions that Altaïr had sent him on back during the time when the young man had been Altaïr’s own Apprentice.

 

Still, if thought of another way, the fact that he was now required to go forth and seek information under the command of a boy six years his junior could easily be seen as a grave blow to his pride. Pride was what had brought him so much grief in the first place, however, and so Altaïr dismissed those thoughts almost out of hand. He would not allow himself to fail in this endeavor.

 

Their journey to Damascus was as uneventful as he could ask for, aside from the pilgrims on the roads that he had always seemed to encounter.

 

Alnesr fell in line behind him as the path before them narrowed, and Altaïr glanced back over his right shoulder at his former Apprentice. Turning his attention back to the path, Altaïr deftly guided his horse through the crowds of pilgrims, traders, and travelers making their way into Damascus. The two of them had soon come into sight of the large, imposing gates just outside the city.

 

He and Alnesr had visited this place the previous year, his then-Apprentice gathering the information that he needed to take the lives of the two men who had been his targets.

 

Before he and Alnesr could begin their work on this latest assignment – gathering the information that he would need to end Tamir’s wretched life – they would need to enter the city itself. They would need to do so without being challenged by the guards, of course, since the success of their mission depended on their stealth and being able to blend into the crowd.

 

Looking to Alnesr, he tilted his head subtly to indicate that the young Assassin should follow him, and lead his horse to a post so that he could tether the beast. Waiting while Alnesr did likewise, Altaïr took the opportunity to study the Saracen guards that stood just outside the gates. They would be trouble if they managed to spot either himself or Alnesr, and were better avoided under all circumstances.

 

However, just as he had considered and then just as quickly dismissed the walls – too high, and too smooth to be scaled in any case – as a method of entering Damascus, Altaïr saw the group of scholars making their way toward the gates.

 

He knew that Salah Al’din respected scholars and hence allowed them to walk the streets freely, untroubled by the guards and protected from any trouble that the citizens might give them, and so he knew what the best method of entering Damascus was to be.

 

“Alnesr, come,” he said, patting the young Assassin’s right shoulder to draw his attention, then nodding to the scholars as they moved slowly down the path to Damascus.

 

“Of course, M- Altaïr.”

 

The two of them matched the pace of the scholars, assuming their most pious poses and matching their own movements to the gait of the scholars on their way into Damascus. They became as one with the group of scholars, just as they had been taught to become as one with the crowds that they moved through, and in such a way they were able to make their way past the guards and into the city itself without being noticed more than any one person took note of a simple scholar.

 

Once the two of them had made it into the city, Altaïr did not allow himself to raise his head. They were still within sight of not only the guards, but also Damascus’ large population itself. Fortunately, there were not many citizens about in this area of the city, so he was able to break away from the group of scholars and lead Alnesr through the streets.

 

Matching his movements to the few citizens in this area of the city, Altaïr searched for a way up the side of the buildings he was passing. He’d been to this city before, yes, but the memories of its layout had faded during the two years when he had been away; clearly, he would need to reacquaint himself with Damascus before he and Alnesr could properly begin their mission.

 

He had soon found a minaret that would allow him comparatively easy access to the roof, and turned slightly to signal to Alnesr that the young man should follow him. Making his way up the side of the building, Altaïr couldn’t quite keep himself from maintaining a subtle watch on his young, former Apprentice; Alnesr climbed with the same confidence and skill that he himself had demonstrated. Truly, he had taught the young Assassin well.

 

Still, it remained to be seen how well Alnesr and he could adapt to their new roles; how well they could jointly carry out the task that the Master had assigned them.

Chapter Text

Steadily climbing to the top of the minaret, Altaïr crouched there for a few, long moments; he had almost forgotten how enthralling the view of the city was from this high. Taking a moment to study the layout of Damascus more completely, Altaïr turned back to look at Alnesr. His former Apprentice was smiling slightly.

 

“You see it too, don’t you?”

 

“Yes,” Alnesr said, his pale yellow eyes half-closing as he too looked out over the city. “It always seems that one doesn’t properly see the city, until they see it from this vantagepoint. Sometimes… I- I suppose we should go to the Bureau now.”

 

“Yes, I suppose we should,” he said; he would speak to Alnesr more plainly once the two of them had reached the Bureau and had been given the chance to settle in somewhat.

 

Turning his attention back to the view laid out before him, Altaïr searched for a soft landing-spot; finding a cart of hay, he waited for a few more moments until he could be certain that there would be no one to hear what was to happen, then turned back to Alnesr.

 

“Wait a few moments more, and then follow me,” he said.

 

“Of course,” his former Apprentice said, nodding calmly.

 

After a nod back to the young man, Altaïr turned his attention back to the cart that he had found. Leaping from the minaret, Altaïr felt the momentary freedom of the air rushing past him, before he fell into the cart of hay. Waiting a moment for the remaining people, those few who had not yet made it inside to attend to their prayers, to disperse, Altaïr climbed out of the cart and felt the hay falling away from his body. Moments later, he saw Alnesr dive into the cart himself.

 

For a moment, he thought to offer his former Apprentice a hand, but no; Alnesr was no longer a child. It would not be right if Altaïr continued to treat him as one. When Alnesr reached his right hand up hesitantly, Altaïr paused for a moment. Then, feeling the young man brushing his hood, Altaïr smiled slightly as a small piece of hay was dislodged and fluttered down past his eyes. Reaching out, he gently brushed the still-clinging hay from his former Apprentice’s shoulders.

 

“Come, we’ll be expected,” he said, turning and nodding in the direction of the Bureau’s tower, though it was not visible now that they were both standing on the ground once more.

 

“Of course,” Alnesr said, nodding as the two of them made their way to a nearby building and scaled the wall.

 

Leading Alnesr over the rooftops and toward the tower that marked the Bureau’s location, Altaïr dropped into the vestibule amid the sound of a flowing fountain. As Alnesr landed beside him, the plants muffling the sounds of their movements, Altaïr smiled slightly. Perhaps the boy was no longer his Apprentice, but Altaïr could clearly see the results of his teachings.

 

Truly, anyone could tell that Alnesr had indeed been his Apprentice.

 

Continuing into the main room of the Bureau after a moment, he saw the Rafiq lounging behind the counter; the man came swiftly to attention when the two of them entered, of course.

 

“Altaïr, it is good to see you again,” the man said, nodding respectfully to him. “And in one piece, too.” The Rafiq’s smile was not entirely sincere; he did not like the look in the man’s eyes, either. “And Alnesr, I heard that you have finally managed to attain the rank of Assassin; good work. I am certain that your Apprentice will learn a great deal from you.”

 

“Thank you,” Alnesr said, nodding respectfully to the man.

 

“I am sorry to hear of your troubles, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said, his expression still seeming rather insolent; Alnesr clearly either did not notice or was attempting to be polite.

 

“Think nothing of it,” he said, already wishing to be about his business rather than dealing with this man.

 

“A few of your brothers were here earlier, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said, that insolent smile still on his face. “Oh, if you had heard the things they were saying, I’m certain you would have slain them all where they stood.”

 

“It’s quite all right,” he said, having long since grown weary of the Rafiq’s insolence and false friendship.

 

“Yes,” the Rafiq said, grinning now. “You’ve never been one for the Creed, have you?”

 

“Brother; enough,” Alnesr said, his tone sharper than Altaïr had ever heard before.

 

“My apologies, Alnesr; I forgot myself,” the Rafiq said, seeming humbled at last. “What business brings the two of you to Damascus?”

 

“A black market merchant named Tamir; Master Mualim has taken issue with the work he does, and has sent us to end it,” Alnesr said. “What do you know of him?”

 

“Your Apprentice will need to track him,” the Rafiq said, his gaze darting once more over to him; Altaïr gave the man a singularly unimpressed expression. He would not allow this man to best him in any manner. “Send him to search the city. Determine what Tamir is planning and where he works; preparation makes the victor.”

 

“So I’ve been told,” Alnesr said solemnly. “What can you tell us of Tamir, for a start?”

 

“He makes his living as a merchant, so the souk district would be where you would be best advised to begin your search,” the Rafiq said.

 

“Are Altaïr and I to return once our mission is complete?”

 

“Yes, the Master has requested that you both return once the information has been collected; I will give you the Master’s marker then,” the Rafiq said, seeming confused. “But, why would you leave? You’ve no need to participate in investigations at your rank, Alnesr.”

 

“I know; thank you, brother.”

 

The two of them left the main room of the Bureau and its insolent Rafiq behind, Altaïr looked once more down at the young man – the young Assassin – who had accompanied him on this mission,

 

“Thank you; you’d no need to put yourself forward on my behalf.” Watching as Alnesr’s expression became one of disapproval, Altaïr smiled slightly; it seemed even Alnesr’s politeness and diplomacy had limits.

 

“He should not have been saying such things to you,” Alnesr said, the disapproving expression on his face swiftly becoming something more of a scowl. “Any of our Brotherhood could have made that mistake; we are all, in the end, merely human. Even the greatest of us has flaws.”

 

Even a day before this, Altaïr thought that he would have dismissed Alnesr’s words, or at the very least merely considered them to be the words of a child who had spent too much time with his books. Now, however, Altaïr thought that he truly understood what the Master had meant when he said such things.

 

“So we are,” he said; and, oddly enough, he felt lighter after saying that.

 

As the two of them made their way out of the Bureau and away from its condescending, stultifying Rafiq, Altaïr turned his attention back to their surroundings: there were women chattering by the stalls selling freshly-polished oil lamps, and nearby two men stood, arguing over some matter that Altaïr was too far away to discern.

 

“We should return to the rooftops; it will be a great deal more simple to find the Souk from there,” he said, looking to the building opposite the Bureau they now stood in front of.

 

“Yes, I think that would be best,” Alnesr said, nodding.

 

“After you, then, Master,” he said, smiling gently.

 

Alnesr looked down slightly, his cheeks coloring. “Please don’t tease me, Altaïr.”

 

“Very well, Alnesr.”

 

Once the two of them had made it to the top of the building, Altaïr searched for and almost immediately found the large Souk Al-Silaah in Damascus’ Poor District. From there, according to what the Rafiq had told them, they could begin searching for information on Tamir. Of course, the Rafiq knew more than he had spoken of, but he knew that he was likely as not under orders from the Master not to speak of such things to an Apprentice. Alnesr could have perhaps asked for such information privately, but he had most likely not considered doing such, owing to his own still-recent promotion.

 

Altaïr would not hold such a thing against him.

 

Chapter Text

Leading Alnesr to leap across the space that separated the two of them from the next building over, once he was certain that there were no others who might be watching their progress, Altaïr looked back once to watch Alnesr’s progress, before turning his attention back to the streets below. It would not be such a long time before the two of them would need to descend to street level once more.

 

“Make way!” shouted a man leading a group of guards; guards who were in turn surrounding the driver of an ass, pulling a cart that sagged under the weight of many stacked casks. “Make way! We come with supplies bound for the Vizier’s Palace. His Excellency Abu’l Nuqoud is to throw another of his parties.”

 

Not one of the citizens who had been shoved aside looked entirely pleased, but not one of them dared to question men in the employ of Damascus’ Merchant King. Altaïr had heard of the man in passing; never more than mentions of the extravagant parties that he hosted, however-

 

“Altaïr? Do we not have business in the Souk?”

 

“Indeed we do,” he said, clapping the younger Assassin strongly on his right shoulder. “Let’s be about it, then.”

 

Falling into step with Alnesr as the two of them continued on their way toward the Souk, Altaïr considered just what they were going to do. It was well enough for the two of them to travel together when they had just received their mission – though he was not honestly certain if the Master would have approved of it – but, now that they needed to gather the information to carry it out… the duties of an Assassin’s apprentice were simple and well-defined: they sought the information that their masters needed, while those selfsame masters worked to hone their skills.

 

Now, however, with Alnesr promoted to the rank of full Assassin, and himself acting as the younger man’s Apprentice… well, things had changed a great deal between them. And yet, at this moment it feels as if nothing has changed at all, Altaïr reflected, smiling softly at his own thoughts.

 

“What are you thinking of, Altaïr?” Alnesr’s soft voice came from his left this time, the two of them having changed places during the course of their journey across the rooftops.

 

Making a show of looking his former Apprentice over, Altaïr allowed his smile to widen slightly. “You are a rather small, and unobtrusive presence; very few people take notice of you, unless you go out of your way to draw their attention,” he said, gently pulling Alnesr’s white cowl down father over his silver hair.

 

“I suppose you have that much right, Altaïr,” the younger Assassin said, appearing confused as to just where this conversation of theirs was going.

 

“This is a good thing, so far as one of our Brotherhood is concerned,” he said, his hand on Alnesr’s chin so that his fellow Assassin would not lower his head. “I think it would be best if you dealt with the missions that require stealth, and I will complete those that require that the target come to fear for their lives.”

 

“Yes, I think that would be in both of our interests,” Alnesr said, the smile on his face becoming rather wry. “I would be the first to confess that I am not particularly intimidating.”

 

“Your appearance serves you well enough,” he said, releasing the younger Assassin’s chin so that he could clap him on the right shoulder once more. “Now, let’s be about our work; we shall meet up in the Bureau to share the information that we have both managed to gather.”

 

“Very well; safety and peace, Altaïr.”

 

“On you, as well,” he said, nodding respectfully as Alnesr parted company with him.

 

Taking only a moment to silently wish his former Apprentice good fortune in his endeavors, Altaïr turned his own attention to the task ahead of him. He had been hearing an orator speaking in praise of Tamir’s deeds, hearing him more and more clearly as he and Alnesr had closed in on the city’s poor district, and he thought now that the man could very well be in Tamir’s employ, or at the very least he could know someone who was. Either way, this one would serve as a good enough stepping-stone to further answers along this path that he now walked.

 

As another crowd began to gather around the orator, the man looking them over with hard but interested eyes, Altaïr noticed that the man seemed to be waiting for something. However, as the crowd continued to grow larger, Altaïr realized that the man had only been waiting for enough people to gather around him.

 

“None know Tamir better than I,” he announced boldly, voice carrying over the crowd with the experience of a man who had done such things often; perhaps this endeavor would prove even more fruitful than he had at first thought, Altaïr reflected. “Come close; here the tale I have to tell. Of a merchant prince without peer.”

 

For just a moment, the orator paused, observing the mood of the crowd; gauging their interest. “It was just before Hattin; the Saracens were low on food, and in desperate need of resupply. But there was no relief in sight. In those days, Tamir drove a caravan between Damascus and Jerusalem. But recent business had been poor; it seemed there were none in Jerusalem who wanted what he had: fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. And so Tamir left, riding north and wondering what would become of his wares, for soon they would surely spoil. That should have been the end of this tale, and the poor man’s life; but fate, it seems, intended otherwise.”

 

As he listened to Tamir’s man weaving his tale, Altaïr conceded that the orator did indeed know how to hold a crowd such as this in thrall. All the better that he is dealt with swiftly, then. The Master says that Tamir is one of those who seeks to continue the Crusades, Altaïr reflected, none of his current thoughts showing on his face.

 

“As Tamir drove his caravan north, he came across the Saracen leader and his starving men; most fortunate for them both, each having something the other wanted. Tamir gave the man his food. And when the battle was finished, the Saracen leader saw to it that the merchant was repaid a thousand times. Some say, were it not for Tamir, Salah Al’din’s men would have surely turned on him. It could very well be we won the battle because of that man.”

 

Tamir’s orator finished his speech, pausing for only a moment to observe the reactions of the crowd as it dispersed, a thin smile on his face as he stepped away from the stand and moved toward the market. Perhaps to make for another stand and from there to make the same speech in praise of Tamir and his “great works”. Altaïr followed, keeping to the shadows when he could, and always maintaining a safe distance.

 

He still remembered the Master’s words to him: put obstacles between yourself and your quarry. Never be found by a backward glance.

 

He could feel the faintest of smiles on his lips as he tailed Tamir’s orator; at the skills he put to use once more to do so, and the opportunity he was provided to shut out the many distractions within Damascus itself as he did so.

 

Up ahead, Altaïr watched in mild disapproval as Tamir’s orator bumped into a woman, causing the vase that she had been carrying to smash into the ground. The woman, clearly angry, began to berate Tamir’s orator, her right hand out to demand payment. Tamir’s orator curled his lip, cruel and sneering as any of the targets that Altaïr had been sent out to deal with. Altaïr tensed for a moment, but when the woman cringed, pulling away and cowering from the displeasure of Tamir’s orator, he allowed himself to relax.

 

He also made a silent promise to deal with Tamir’s orator as soon as possible; to have his terror done with, finally and forever.

 

Pausing for a moment, when Tamir’s orator kicked the shattered pieces of the vase, Altaïr moved again only once Tamir’s orator had taken several steps. The two of them now stood in a narrow, all but deserted lane, dark mud walls seeming to press in on them. Perhaps a shortcut to the next stand that Tamir’s orator would use; whatever this place was, in the end, it would serve his purposes just as well as those of Tamir’s orator.

 

Perhaps better, considering what he planned to do.

 

Glancing back to make certain that he was alone – to be certain that his actions here would not compromise the Brotherhood once more – Altaïr took a few, swift steps forward, grabbed Tamir’s orator by his right shoulder, and jammed the tips of his fingers beneath the man’s ribcage. Instantly, Tamir’s orator was doubled up and gasping for breath, his mouth working like a landed fish. Another glance confirmed to Altaïr that he was truly alone; stepping forward as quickly as he ever had, Altaïr delivered a final kick to the throat of Tamir’s orator.

 

The man fell back in the dirt, his thwab tangled around his legs. Smiling slightly as he watched the man clutched at his throat, Altaïr came to stand over Tamir’s orator… This was easy, he mused, and then frowned. Perhaps this had been too-

 

Tamir’s orator struck like a cobra, kicking up and catching Altaïr square in the chest. Surprised, and grateful for a moment that he had not sent Alnesr on this particular mission – or any like it, for that matter – Altaïr staggered back as Tamir’s orator rose back to his feet. The man had a gleam in his eye, knowing now that he had gained at least something of an advantage in their battle.

 

The man’s fists were up now; clearly he assumed that since he’d managed to gain a single victory, he would be able to win. Altaïr would show this man the error of such thoughts. Dodging one of the man’s swift punches, Altaïr found out too late that such had merely been a feint as Tamir’s orator caught him across the jaw with his other fist.

 

He almost fell, tasting blood and cursing Tamir’s orator; and also himself, for underestimating his opponent. That was something only a foolish Novice would have done; or a fool, but he was trying at least to be less of one than he had been. Shaking the pain from his jaw – pushing it aside so that he could focus – Altaïr came forward and slammed his fist into the man’s temple before he could begin making his escape.

 

For a time, the pair of them traded blows; Tamir’s orator was smaller and faster than Altaïr, and he managed to catch the Assassin with a blow high on the bridge of his nose; Altaïr stumbled back, blinking tears of pain from his eyes. Tamir’s orator seemed confidant of his victory now, a feeling that Altaïr knew he could use to his own advantage. He vowed silently that all of his pain would not be wasted.

 

As Tamir’s orator advanced on him, throwing wild punches in clear anticipation of an easy victory, Altaïr stepped quickly to the right, crouched, and kicked the man’s legs out from under him in what would have almost seemed like a single, smooth motion to anyone who had not been trained as an Assassin. Even having knocked the breath from his adversary, Altaïr had too much experience with the man to count on merely a single blow to keep him at bay.

 

Spinning back toward the supine form of Tamir’s orator as he lay gasping for air on the ground, Altaïr drove his right knee directly into the man’s groin. He was both relieved and gratified to hear the man’s pained sound – almost like a dog’s bark – and to see the way he folded on the ground like an empty sack. Rising back to his full height, shoulders still heaving from his heavy breaths, Altaïr watched calmly as Tamir’s orator continued to struggle voicelessly on the ground.

 

When the man had finally managed to recover enough to take full breaths, Altaïr squatted down to his level and pressed his face in close.

 

“You seem to know quite a bit about Tamir,” he said, using his superior positioning to intimidate Tamir’s orator as he lay in the dust of the alley. “Tell me what he’s planning.”

 

“I know only the stories I tell,” the man groaned; either more pitiful than he looked, or else trying to make himself sound so. “Nothing more.”

 

Altaïr showed only a singularly bland expression on his face; the same that he had always worn when he was about to kill one of his targets, something that would let that target know that they were only one more in a long line of lives that had been ended by his blade. “A pity. There’s no reason to let you live if you’ve nothing to offer in return.”

 

“Wait. Wait!” Tamir’s orator held up a trembling hand. “There is one thing.”

 

“Continue,” he allowed, secretly pleased but outwardly as impassive as ever.

 

“He is preoccupied as of late. He oversees the production of many, many weapons-”

 

“What of it?” he demanded, in no mood to have his time wasted. “They are meant for Salah Al’din’s army. This does not help me, which means it does not help you,” he reached forward, watching as Tamir’s orator cringed and cowered beneath him.

 

The man broke rather quickly after that. “No! Stop! Listen. Not Salah Al’din. They’re for someone else. The crests these arms bear, they’re different. Unfamiliar. It seems that Tamir supports another… but I know not who.”

 

He nodded, considering; it seemed this task might become more complicated than the Master had implied, at first. “Is that all?”

 

“Yes. Yes!” Tamir’s orator said, his tone almost pleading. “I’ve told you everything I know!”

 

“Then it’s time for you to rest.” Driving his hidden blade deep into the man’s sternum, Altaïr gently lowered the man’s body to the ground.

 

There was bloody foam on the man’s lips, and as Altaïr gently closed the man’s eyes and moved his body so that it lay behind a line of old, stinking barrels that had been filled with refuse, he nodded slightly to the corpse – likely as not, he had merely worked for coin, rather than having any personal loyalty to the man – and made his way out of the alley. He would need more information before he went to meet with Alnesr back in the Bureau, that much was plain.

 

He did not know just what would be done when the time came for Tamir himself to be dealt with – Alnesr was indeed a full Assassin, but his hands remained unstained with blood – but Altaïr knew that the time to deal with that matter when they had both finished gathering the full information they needed to ensure that Tamir died cleanly.

 

Moving further into the city, Altaïr caught sight of some of the usual rabble of guards abusing a citizen. More of those who abuse their power, he mused, his mouth turning down in disapproval. The people here remembered the Assassins as those who served the cause of justice; those who would take it upon themselves to see that no innocents were abused while they were present and could prevent such things. It fell upon him, therefore, to uphold such a reputation.

 

~AC1~

 

Leaving the bench, still contemplating the information that he had gleaned during the time he had been pretending to rest from the heat, Alnesr began to hear the sounds of men speaking to one another. It seemed as if one of them was angry with the other; clearly, that man worked for Tamir. Moving in behind the more timid man – the one who had been intimidated by Tamir’s man – Alnesr paced him in the same way that he had done with so many of his other unwitting informants. Moving in close, just when the man’s attention was distracted by a large knot of people, Alnesr darted his left hand in and out of the man’s pouch as quickly and smoothly as he had seen Altaïr do during their lessons together.

 

Tucking the letter into his robes, taking a moment to ensure that it was as secure as he could manage while walking, Alnesr melted back into the crowds.

 

He wondered for a moment if Altaïr would be proud of his accomplishments, before setting such vain preoccupations aside; even if he could afford to think of such things, they had been and remained unimportant. Even when Altaïr had been his master, Alnesr could not afford to entertain such vanities as to allow himself to be preoccupied with Altaïr’s approval where such minor things were concerned.

 

The sounds of another discussion – more than simply the two people he had heard arguing before – drew Alnesr’s attention, and he moved to observe them. As before, these men were discussing a letter that they were to deliver; this time to Abu’l Nuqoud. Waiting until the man carrying the letter had become distracted, Alnesr moved in and quickly removed the letter from his pouch, melting back into the crowds before the man could take any notice of him.

 

Tucking the second letter that he had stolen into his robes with the other, Alnesr noticed a group of merchants huddled together and talking in low tones.

 

“He’s called another meeting.” Alnesr thought the man was likely speaking about Tamir, and so he moved to stand nearer to them while turning so that he seemed to be watching the flow of the people through the marketplace.

 

“What is it this time? Another warning? Another execution?”

 

“No,” said the first man. “He has work for us to do.”

 

“He’s abandoned the ways of the merchant guild. Does as he pleases now,” the third man grumbled.

 

When they began to speak of another deal – one of the men said that it was the largest ever – Alnesr first thought that he would find out just what it was that Tamir was ultimately planning, and perhaps just why it was that the Master had chosen him of all people to die this day, but the men had soon fallen silent, looking around as if they expected someone unfriendly to be watching them.

 

“It is not safe to speak of such things so openly; Tamir has ears even we know nothing about.”

 

The other merchants agreed quickly, and the three of them dispersed into the crowds without saying another word. Alnesr could at least say that he had learned something from their conversation, even if it was not as much as it could have been. A snatch of overheard conversation drew Alnesr’s attention to a pair of old men – one wearing a turban and one bareheaded – speaking with one another.

 

“I’m telling you, it’s rats,” the one with no turban, gray-bearded and balding, said with annoyance.

 

“No, it’s children!” the man in the turban said, sounding oddly cheerful. “I hear them laughing.”

 

“Rats or children, either way it’s bad for business,” the turbanless, balding man said. “All that noise! Someone needs to get up on those beams and clear them out!”

 

“I wonder how they’re getting up there,” the other man said. “Must be through the central courtyard.”

 

“Then we should ask the guard to take a look!” the graybeard said.

 

The man in the turban made a disparaging noise. “They’re all much too busy polishing the backside of their master.”

Chapter Text

Moving on, before the people milling around them could take notice of how long he had stopped without buying anything from the various stalls around him, Alnesr began to hear the sounds of a struggle. Pausing for a moment, knowing that it was now his duty to uphold the values that the Assassins were known for just as it was Altaïr’s. However, the fact remained that not many outside the ranks of the Assassins themselves were particularly inclined to look past his appearance – particularly his yellow eyes – when he spoke to them.

 

Still, his own feelings on the matter were not important; there was an innocent being abused by those who felt secure in their power, and it was his duty as an Assassin to help them.

 

Moving forward once more, following the sounds of the woman struggling against a group of the corrupt guards that had been showing up more and more often of late, Alnesr loosened one of his throwing knives – the same ones that the Master had provided for him when he had first attained his present rank – and sent it flying into the bared throat of one of the men. He saw now that they had been accosting a woman, and as he loosed more of his throwing-knives into their throats, Alnesr saw that she was beginning to look in his direction.

 

She knew that he was there, now – knew that he had acted in her defense, and likely as not recognized that his garb marked him as a member of the Brotherhood – and when the last of the men harassing her had fallen dead to the ground, the woman turned to look at him.

 

Alnesr ducked his head slightly, enough so that the woman whose life he had saved would not be able to see his eyes – their color having bought him more than enough trouble outside of Masyaf in the past – and made to turn away and leave before the shouts of ‘beast’ or ‘demon child’ could follow him. The woman called out once, but Alnesr knew that – aside from his personal desire not to be disparaged another time – he had his duty to the Brotherhood to consider as well.

 

He had learned a great deal about Tamir and his habits; it was time that he made his report.

 

Or, can I truly call it a report, when I am not strictly reporting my discoveries? Alnesr wondered for a moment, even as he made his way back up to the rooftops. It was still an odd thing for him to consider, the fact that he now outranked a man who had been his mentor for as long as he could remember. Odd, and somehow wrong; he would not and did not wish to begin questioning the dictates of Master Mualim, but he could not help but wonder if another Master and Apprentice pair had had their ranks inverted in the same way that he and Altaïr had had.

 

Sighing, Alnesr put those thoughts out of his mind; they were merely a distraction at this point. Still, I do not think the Master would think me too insolent if I asked him about this. What it all means; what he intended by this. His mind made up, Alnesr set his concerns aside for the moment, focusing once more on his ultimate destination. Altaïr awaited him at the Bureau.

 

~AC1~

 

Even with the detours that he had made, Altaïr found that he had managed to return to the Bureau just before Alnesr. Stepping to the left as the young Assassin climbed fully down into the building, Altaïr smiled proudly. True, he could not take all of the credit for the prowess that Alnesr had demonstrated this day, but the young man truly was his Apprentice.

 

Or he had been, before today.

 

“Welcome back, Alnesr,” he said. “I trust that your search was fruitful.”

 

“As much as yours, I expect,” Alnesr said, bowing slightly to him.

 

“Well then, shall we speak of what we found?” he asked.

 

“Yes, I think the Rafiq will be pleased to hear of what we discovered.”

 

“Come, then,” he said, gesturing toward the archway that would lead the two of them into the Bureau’s main room. The two of them spoke in low tones; he providing the knowledge that Alnesr lacked, and Alnesr discussing what he had learned as well.

 

“Altaïr! Alnesr! Welcome, welcome!” the Rafiq smirked slightly as the two of them made their way back into the main room.

 

Altaïr wondered, for a handful of moments, whether the man could tell that he had taken a life this day – one more in a long line of them, yes – and Alnesr had not. It was an odd thing to think about at such a time, whether or not the stench of death clung to him at moments such as these, and yet Altaïr found himself wondering all the same. Clearly it was not a thing that upset Alnesr; still, Alnesr had been training for the day that he would take his first life nearly since the day he could walk.

 

It was just as clear that he could not measure the reactions of those uninvolved in the business of death by Alnesr.

 

“Come now, tell me all of what you’ve found out about Tamir,” the Rafiq said, his gaze focused almost entirely on Alnesr. “I’m sure you know a great deal by now, young Assassin.”

 

“Tamir rules over the Souk Al-Silaah,” Alnesr said, his expression becoming pensive for a moment; clearly, he had seen the fearful glances of the merchants, and those who had had the misfortune to find themselves out of the merchant’s good graces. “He makes his fortune selling arms and armor, and is clearly supported in this endeavor by many: blacksmiths, traders, and financiers.”

 

“He’s the largest death dealer in the land,” Altaïr spat, thinking of the many innocents that had doubtless found themselves on the wrong end of the many, many weapons that Tamir sold.

 

“Yes,” Alnesr said, his tone thoughtful.

 

“Well then, have you devised a way to rid us of this blight, Alnesr?”

 

“A meeting is being arranged at Souk Al-Silaah, to discuss an important sale,” Alnesr said. “The merchants say that it is the largest deal that Tamir has ever made; he’ll be distracted with his work then.”

 

“And that is when you shall strike? Excellent!” the Rafiq said, speaking too fast for anyone to get a word in edgewise. “Well then, I will give you Al Mualim’s marker, and you will give us Tamir’s life.”

 

So saying, the Rafiq quickly reached under his desk and produced a feather from one of the Master’s birds; the marker that would be stained with Tamir’s blood once the merchant’s life had been ended. It would also mark the end of what little innocence that Alnesr had managed to preserve considering the nature of his work. Alnesr took the marker without hesitation, but when the two of them had reached the outer room of the Bureau, he saw that Alnesr’s expression had become rather pensive.

 

“Come, we should rest for the night,” he said, gesturing to the  pile of cushions and blankets that would provide them at least some comfort while they took their repose.

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, smiling briefly before his attention drifted back to the feather he was almost absently spinning between his fingers.

 

“Alnesr, you’ve never observed me during one of my kills,” he said, drawing the young Assassin’s attention back to him. Alnesr’s hands stilled, his pale yellow eyes fixing on Altaïr’s face.

 

“No; I did not think to do such a thing,” the young Assassin said, looking back down at the feather he held in his hands.

 

“Perhaps, then, you should wait until the next mission, and take care to observe me closely when I make this kill,” he suggested, knowing that – while Alnesr had surpassed him in rank for the moment – his former Apprentice’s hands were as yet unstained with blood.

 

Aside from sentimental concerns, which Altaïr could at least admit to himself that he possessed, he did not know how Alnesr would handle his first kill if he had not been prepared for it beforehand.

 

“You would do that for me, Altaïr?” Alnesr asked, turning earnest, pale yellow eyes back to him from the feather that he had been examining.

 

 

“I think it best that you are more prepared, before you stain your hands for the first time,” he said, smiling so that Alnesr could understand that such was not his only reason. “It is not an easy task, necessary though it may be.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” Alnesr said.

 

Altaïr smiled back in response to the young Assassin. “Get some sleep; we have much to do tomorrow.”

 

“Of course.”

 

The two of them settled down into the nest of cushions, Alnesr’s head coming to rest against the left side of his chest. Looking down at the young Assassin sleeping by his side, Altaïr reflected on the child that Alnesr had been, and the man he was swiftly becoming. He thought that this might have been how his own father felt, if the two of them had known each other as more than fellow Assassins.

 

He also thought it might have been how Master Mualim felt about them all; every Assassin in the Brotherhood.

 

Letting himself drift off into sleep, lulled by Alnesr’s soft breathing, Altaïr reflected for a moment that this next day would truly be the last day that his former Apprentice could be considered in any way a child.

Chapter Text

When the sun rose, bringing awareness of the world back once more, and hence awareness of the work that they would soon be doing, Alnesr opened his eyes and rose quickly to his feet. Altaïr was, naturally, already awake and preparing the few weapons that he still possessed. The two of them shared a silent breakfast of dates, figs, and dried strips of meat, washed down with water from the skins that had been stored for just that purpose.

 

The two of them left the Bureau after they had given their food time to settle, taking to the rooftops on their way to the Souk; for him, to see his first life taken in the Assassin manner, and for Altaïr to do the deed itself. The feather that he had received from the Rafiq remained tucked into his robes; he had attempted to give it to Altaïr, but his former Master had advised him to keep it, a smile on his face as if he had some other plan in mind.

 

Likely as not, he did.

 

Once they had reached the Souk once more, Alnesr found that there was a great crowd gathering about a sunken, ceremonial courtyard in the center of it. The reason for such a gathering swiftly became clear: a tall, regal-looking man stood there, two stout bodyguards at his back. The man himself wore silks in rich, dark colors, as well as a checked turban, and leg wrappings.

 

His teeth were bared beneath a thin, dark mustache; this could only be Tamir.

 

Altaïr nodded to him, and Alnesr faded into the outside of the crowd, always careful to keep both Tamir and Altaïr himself within his sight. There were traders gathering, some of them with worried expressions and others wearing those of relief, so it became yet more obvious that Tamir for all his power and influence, was not well liked.

 

“If you would just have a look-”

 

“I’ve no interest in your calculations, the numbers change nothing,” Tamir snapped, cutting off the man cringing before him. “Your men have failed to fill the order, which means that I have failed my client.”

 

The merchant swallowed fearfully, even as Alnesr wondered just who Tamir’s client was. Clearly, this client he spoke of was important in some way. The merchant searched the crowd, and for a moment Alnesr wished that he could help the man; clearly, he merely worked for Tamir out of the need for coin that all but those who had been born to riches were subject to. Still, it was not his place to act in defense of this man, at this time and this place.

 

To act here and now would be to compromise the Brotherhood, and it would likely do no good in any case.

 

“We need more time,” the merchant pleaded; clearly attempting to appeal to a sense of mercy that Tamir entirely lacked.

 

“This is the excuse of a lazy or incompetent man,” Tamir said, his tone rife with insinuations. “Which are you?”

 

“Neither,” the merchant said, wringing his hands in obvious terror.

 

“What I see here says otherwise,” Tamir said, raising his right foot onto a low wall and leaned forward on his knee. He was clearly attempting to appear at ease, something that neither Alnesr nor the merchant before him were foolish enough to trust. “Now, tell me: how do you intend to solve this problem of ours? Those weapons are needed now.”

 

“I see no solution,” the merchant stammered, still fearful of what was to come. “The men work day and night, but your… client requires so much. And the destination… it is a difficult route.”

 

“Were it only that you could produce weapons with the same skill as you produce excuses,” Tamir said, laughing; clearly either mocking the old man before him, or attempting to play to the crowd. Possibly both at once.

 

There came a few, scattered laughs; clearly caused chiefly by their fear of Tamir rather than the quality of his humor. The more Alnesr observed the hateful black market merchant, the more he became convinced that the world as a whole would be better off without him. Clearly, Master Mualim’s choice of targets was as wise as he had come to expect.

 

“I have done all I can,” the old merchant insisted; his voice quavered still, and perspiration clearly showed on the headband of his turban.

 

“It is not enough,” Tamir said, still making his vain attempt to appear good-humored.

 

“Then perhaps you ask too much,” the old merchant said.

 

The expression of false good-humor evaporated from Tamir’s face like morning mist. “Too much?” he echoed, something harder and more unpleasant in his voice than what Alnesr had heard before. “I gave you everything. Without me, you would still be charming serpents for coin. All I asked in return was that you fill the orders I bring you. And now you say I ask too much?”

 

Tamir drew a small dagger, the blade glinting in the sunlight. Those in the crowd shifted in discomfort, while Alnesr drew himself up straighter. Soon, it would be time for this to end. And, futile though it was to wish that it could end sooner, Alnesr found himself doing that very thing for a moment before he remembered himself. It was not for him, to decide who lived and who died.

 

The old merchant had dropped to his knees by now, looking up at Tamir with pleading hands and tearful eyes. Tamir glared down at the old merchant, his expression one of open contempt, then he spat. The old merchant stumbled, blinking phlegm from his eyes.

 

“You dare disrespect me?!” Tamir roared, righting himself from his own stumble.

 

“Peace, Tamir,” the old merchant pleaded. “I meant no insult.”

 

“Then you should have kept your mouth shut,” Tamir snarled.

 

The bloodlust all but glittering in Tamir’s eyes let Alnesr know that the man would not be satisfied with merely leaving things as they stood. Tamir swiped at the old merchant with the dagger he had drawn, opening a rip in the old man’s tunic that swiftly became stained with blood. The old merchant fell back on his heels, uttering a high, keening scream that drove Alnesr’s heart to pounding and made him wish all the more that he could intervene in the injustice he was bearing witness to.

 

“No, stop!” the old merchant screamed.

 

“Stop!” Tamir mocked. “I’m just getting started!”

 

Stepping forward, Tamir drove his dagger deep into the old merchant’s belly, driving him to the ground as the old man screamed and pleaded for mercy.

 

“You came into my souk!” Tamir shouted, driving his dagger into the old merchant as if in further emphasis of his words. “Stood before my men!” Another stab; the old merchant was rolling on the ground now, beyond all help. “And dared to insult me?! You! Must! Learn! Your! Place!”

 

Each word was now punctuated with a stab; the old merchant was long dead by that time, and Alnesr bowed his head slightly. He might not have known the man as anything more than a victim of Tamir’s savagery, but it was more than clear by now that the world at large would not miss another man such as Tamir.

 

“No, leave him,” Tamir said breathlessly, waving off the bodyguard who had been about to move the old merchant’s corpse. “Let this be a lesson to the rest of you: think twice before you tell me something cannot be done. Now get back to work.”

 

Tamir and his guards left the old man’s corpse to rot in the street – there was already a dog sniffing at it – and in moments it was as if the old merchant had not existed in the first place. As if he had been forgotten by all but the two Assassins who had borne witness to his last moments. Catching Altaïr’s eye, Alnesr found that his former Master was just as angered by this turn of events as he was.

 

The two of them stole swiftly and silently through the crowds after Tamir, heads bowed so that the people around them would not be able to carelessly glimpse their intent. Tamir’s bodyguards were no longer quite so close that they would be able to easily interfere with the work that he and Altaïr had been sent to do this day, but Tamir was now speaking to one of the traders that worked for him.

 

“I can’t sell this,” he sneered, scorn in every line of his face. “Melt it down and try again. And if it comes out just as poorly, it’ll be you who gets melted down next.” Eyes wide, the trader nodded frantically. “I don’t understand what it is you do all day. Your stall is filled with goods; it should be your purse that is filled with coin. Why can’t you sell these things? It isn’t difficult.” An ugly, suspicious expression came to Tamir’s face. “Perhaps you are not trying hard enough. Do you require motivation?”

 

The trader was nodding before he quite realized just what it was that he was agreeing to, and then shook his head quickly and more emphatically than he had nodded in the first place.

 

~AC1~

 

Altaïr could see that Tamir’s bodyguards had become distracted, and more than that they had become complacent faced with the sheer terror that Tamir’s methods of control had spread through the crowd. This… now, this could be the very opportunity that he was searching for. Catching Alnesr’s eye briefly, Altaïr signaled the younger Assassin to move with him, and then made his way closer to Tamir.

 

The merchant’s two bodyguards had chosen to take advantage of the terror that their master spread in his wake – demanding goods as gifts to their wives from yet another stall owner – while Tamir himself moved on to a new victim. Watching Alnesr out of the corner of his left eye, Altaïr slipped smoothly between the merchant and his inattentive bodyguards; he watched, pleased, as his former Apprentice did the same.

 

“You begged me for this position,” Tamir snarled, his back now firmly to the two Assassins. “Swore none could do as well as you, here. I should-”

 

Stepping forward smoothly, Altaïr released his hidden blade, swept his right arm forward to hold the merchant in place, and drove his blade deep. Tamir made a strangled noise deep in his throat, but he did not scream. For a brief moment he writhed, fighting the inevitable before going limp at last. Alnesr crouched next to him, but Altaïr’s attention was mainly focused on the stall-owner that had been one of the only people to bear witness to Tamir’s last moments.

 

The man seemed honestly unsure of what to do; clearly, he had been terrified of what Tamir might do to him – with good reason – and yet for a few long moments he seemed to be honestly considering raising the alarm. However, in the end, the man’s fear of Tamir won out over whatever loyalty he had – perhaps, at one point – felt toward the man.

 

The trader turned his back and left without a word or a look back.

 

“Be at peace,” he said gently, though he doubted this one would appreciate his consideration any more than the others.

 

“You’ll pay for this, Assassin,” Tamir rasped, a line of blood beginning to run from both his mouth and nose. “You and all of your kind.”

 

“It seems you’re the one who pays now, my friend. You’ll not profit from suffering any longer.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alnesr drawing the feather that he had been given by the Rafiq; Altaïr would have smiled, were the situation not so grave. The young Assassin had indeed learned his lessons well.

 

Tamir laughed harshly, his breaths coming more shallowly now. “You think me some petty death dealer, suckling at the breast of war? A strange target, don’t you think? Why me, when so many others do the same?”

 

“You believe yourself different, then?” he asked; all men had reasons for what they did, he had said just the same to Alnesr, during the young Assassin’s lessons.

 

“Oh, but I am, for I serve a far nobler cause than mere profit. Just like my brothers…”

 

“Brothers?” Alnesr echoed, before Altaïr himself could voice that same question.

 

“Ah, did you think I worked alone, little Assassin? I am but a piece; a man with a part to play. You’ll come to know the others soon enough, I think.” For a few moments, Tamir’s eyes seemed to fix on Alnesr. “You have strange eyes, child. Perhaps you, of all your kind, can see deeper…”

 

Tamir passed then, the light fading from behind his eyes. Alnesr’s expression was pensive as he stained the Master’s marker with the merchant’s blood, and it remained so for a few moments more, before the two of them faded back into the crowds of the city and vanished. Tamir’s resting place was far behind them when the cry went up.

 

Returning to the rooftops with Alnesr close behind him, he heard the sounds of alarm bells being rung throughout the city. Things are becoming rather more complicated now, it seems, he mused. Looking to Alnesr, he smiled slightly as he saw the alertness with which the young Assassin was moving; truly, his former Apprentice had learned his lessons well.

 

They had soon reached the Bureau once more, slipping in through the rooftop entrance and landing neatly beside the fountain. Taking a moment to breathe, Altaïr looked to Alnesr as the younger Assassin straightened up once more. His earlier, pensive expression had returned, and Altaïr knew that he was turning Tamir’s last words over in his mind without the younger Assassin needing to speak it aloud.

 

“Sometimes, people must die for the world to change,” he said, reaching out to clasp Alnesr’s right shoulder.

 

“Yes,” Alnesr said, nodding. “Still, I think that Tamir was the first outside of the Brotherhood not to look at my eyes as some cursed sign. And, what he said-”

 

“What he said were the words of a man who knew he was dying, and one who wanted to cause discord and uncertainty among his killers, nothing more,” he said.

Chapter Text

Yes, it was clear that the man had had his reasons for the actions that he had taken – all men did, and Altaïr would have been honestly surprised if Tamir had not – but merely having reasons did not, in the end, mean that those reasons were the right ones. As the two of them made their way back into the Bureau’s main room, Altaïr wondered for a moment if Alnesr would tell the truth of what had transpired between them and Tamir.

 

Then, thinking back on how the Rafiq had acted when the two of them had left, Altaïr wondered if the younger Assassin would have the chance to speak at all.

 

“Word has reached me of your victory, Alnesr,” the Rafiq said, his gaze seeming to pass over Altaïr entirely. “You have my gratitude, and my respect. I am certain that your Apprentice has learned a great deal from you.”

 

“Thank you, brother,” Alnesr said.

 

“I am sure that the other Assassins will be just as pleased to hear of your progress, as well,” the Rafiq said; Altaïr could not quite tell if he was mocking Alnesr or not, but he felt rather indignant on the younger Assassin’s behalf, all the same. “You should return, and bring news of your victory to Al Mualim. After you have taken some rest, of course. Taking one’s first life is a tiring thing, I hear.”

 

“Thank you for your hospitality, Rafiq,” Alnesr said, nodding to the man. “It is becoming rather late; I think I will sleep for the night.”

 

“Come, then,” he said, gesturing for the younger Assassin to follow him. “Let’s get settled.”

 

The two of them left the Bureau’s man room, making their way back to the pile of cushions and blankets that had served as their bedding the night before. Alnesr seemed rather pensive again, and Altaïr knew without words just what it was that was troubling the younger Assassin.

 

“I doubt the Rafiq would have been willing to let you speak, even if you had tried,” he said, smiling gently as he rested his hand on Alnesr’s right shoulder. “You’ve no need to concern yourself with my pride. Only remember: the next task will be yours.”

 

“I know, Altaïr. And, thank you,” Alnesr smiled, and Altaïr clapped the younger Assassin strongly on his right shoulder.

 

After that, the two of them settled down into the pile of cushions, each leaning against the other for the small extra comfort that such an action provided.

 

The next morning found him up just before Alnesr, as had always seemed to be the way such things were done; he rather thought that such was the way things would always be between the two of them, but Altaïr was forced to admit to himself that even such a small thing as that could change in the future. When Alnesr rose, and the two of them had finished breaking fast, Altaïr let the younger Assassin proceed him out of the Bureau, and the two of them met up on the rooftops again.

 

Leaving Damascus was somewhat more fraught than entering it had been, owing to the alertness of the guards in the wake of Tamir’s death, but the skills that they had been taught during their respective lifetimes as Assassins proved true once more. Blending with another group of wandering scholars, Altaïr suppressed a satisfied smile as he and Alnesr finally made their way out of Damascus.

 

Their horses were tethered in the same place, both beasts looking well enough for the day that they had spent being tended by those outside of Masyaf. Mounting up beside Alnesr once more, Altaïr finally allowed his smile to show. Alnesr would know what he meant by it.

 

Their return journey was nearly the same as the one that had brought them to Damascus in the first place, and yet it felt different. Still, Altaïr thought that it was simply because he knew what was coming, both when he and Alnesr returned to make their report to Master Mualim, and also once they had been sent out after the second of the nine men that their Master wished them to rid the world of.

 

They stopped in the shade of the same oasis that they had stayed in during their journey to Damascus, feeding and watering both the horses and themselves before bedding down for the night. Rising with the sun, they continued on their way. As the ground passed by beneath them, Altaïr found himself watching Alnesr as closely as he could while attending to the needs of their journey.

 

He also found himself reflecting back on the journey that the two of them had made, from the day that he had first heard Alnesr’s desperate cries in the poor district of Jerusalem. Seeing a child, not even old enough to walk, being dangled by his ankles over a fire pit by a man who had long and loudly denounced his murdered mother as a whore of Shaitan and the child as his spawn, had driven Altaïr to depths of fury that he did not know if he would ever feel again.

 

Alnesr – though the babe had not had any name that Altaïr had known at the time – had been an innocent, and seeing the teachings of Al Mualim and the Assassins mocked so openly, though it had been clear even then that those people in the square had not been of the Brotherhood, had drove Altaïr to take his first life.

 

Smashing every nearby pot that he could lay his hands to into the man’s face had driven him back, far enough from the fire pit that he had been able to grab Alnesr and wrench the babe from the grip of the madman who had meant to kill him. He’d wrapped the babe in his own robes, hushing him briefly before his attention had been forcibly returned to the madman. Master Mualim’s teachings had given him the skill to knock the man to the ground, and a large rock had provided him the means to end the man’s life.

 

When he’d stood over the man, looking down at the bloody ruin that had once been his face, Altaïr’s only thoughts had been for the babe whose life he had redeemed with his actions.

 

That had been how the Master and Abbas had found him: a madman dead by his hand, and a strange babe with pale yellow eyes in his arms.

 

He had been required to give an accounting of his actions, of course; still, when the Master had learned of what he had borne witness to, he had agreed that any true member of the Brotherhood would have acted the same under the circumstances. He had also decreed that, as the one to act in defense of the babe, he was then responsible for the life he had saved. Altaïr had, in fact, been the one to give Alnesr the name that every one of the Brotherhood knew him by.

 

Of course, for the first few years of Alnesr’s life, Altaïr had been almost as much of a nursemaid as the women that the Master had brought in to feed Alnesr. Then, when the boy had grown enough to be able to eat more solid foods, the Master had dismissed the women that had once helped to tend to him, saying that it now fell to Altaïr himself to see that Alnesr was taken care of. When Altaïr had asked after the Master’s purpose, he had said that while taking a life was simple enough considering the work that the Assassins were called upon to do, redeeming one was not simple at all.

 

From that day, Alnesr had become just as much his student as he had been the Master’s.

 

At one point, Abbas had been as close as a brother to him, and so naturally he had fallen into the role of an uncle to Alnesr. The three of them had taken lessons together, and eventually Alnesr’s skill had grown to the point where he had been able to take lessons with them and Labib. Altaïr had been proud, to know that his teachings had been so well received by the boy that he had raised.

 

And now, Alnesr had taken his place among the ranks of the Brotherhood; the boy had become a man.

 

The two of them made their way up to the village under the shadow of Masyaf, and Altaïr saw Alnesr straightening in his saddle as he looked up at the headquarters of the Brotherhood. A hint of uncertainty lingered in the younger Assassin’s expression, but Altaïr knew that such was only natural under the circumstances. There were times that even he did not know just what the Master desired of him.

 

Leaving their horses in the care of the stable hands within the village, Altaïr fell into step beside Alnesr as the two of them made their way back up the mountain to the fortress itself.

 

“I heard that you had both returned,” Rauf said, his eyes practically alight as he greeted the two of them. “Is it true? Has Alnesr truly gained the rank of a full Assassin?”

 

“It is,” Alnesr said, lifting his right hand to display his hidden blade and bracer that he had been given, and also the missing ring finger that all full Assassins possessed.

 

Rauf smiled all the wider. “How proud you must be of him, Altaïr. Will you tell me of your mission after you report to the Master?”

 

“If we are given the time,” he said, when it became clear that Alnesr’s thoughts had returned to what he would say to the Master when they made their report.

 

“Yes, of course,” Rauf said, looking over the both of them once more, smiling in shared pride. “I’ll leave you to your duties. Safety and peace, brothers.”

 

“On you as well, Rauf,” Alnesr said, his attention clearly having returned to the present.

 

“Good fortune in your future missions, Alnesr,” Rauf called, turning and making his way back to the training grounds where he spent much of his time.

 

“Thank you, brother,” Alnesr called back, as he and Altaïr fell into step once more, on their way up to the Master’s study.

 

Making their way through the fortress, he and Alnesr had soon found their way back to the Master’s study. Master Mualim was waiting for them behind his desk, watching their approach with quietly assessing eyes. Retrieving the feather from his robes, Alnesr handed it to the Master when he held out his hand.

Chapter Text

“You’ve done very well, Alnesr, considering your youth,” the Master said, inclining his head respectfully.

 

“I thank you for your praise, Master, but it was not I who carried out the task.”

 

“Oh? Then, explain your reasoning for leaving such a thing to your Apprentice, if you will,” the Master prompted; Altaïr looked to Alnesr as the younger Assassin straightened his shoulders.

 

“While it is a simple matter to kill another in the heat of battle, in defense of one’s own life or that of another, deliberately taking a life – in the way of the Brotherhood – is something that I had not yet witnessed, to say nothing of my own inexperience in such matters. I felt it best that I observed the act in person, first,” Alnesr said, his expression the professional mask of an Assassin once more.

 

“I admire your discretion, as well as your candor in telling me this,” the Master said, a small, pleased smile on his face. “Still, I sense that there is something troubling you; speak. You may no longer be an Apprentice, but that does not mean that you are required to find all of your answers on your own.”

 

“Tamir spoke as though there were others who believed as he did; as if he were a part of some greater cause, a brotherhood like our own,” Alnesr said, allowing some of his confusion to show now that the Master had addressed it.

 

“It is entirely possible that he is not the only man who believes that his actions serve a noble cause. You will find, my child, that many men in Tamir’s position believe deeply in the ultimate nobility of their actions, no matter how base they may prove. Still, your task is to remove these men from the world so that their twisted ideals are not permitted to cause suffering to those that they practice them on. This world is not shaped by the ideals of such men, nor should it be,” the Master said, a severe expression on his face. Then he smiled once more. “However, the both of you have performed admirably, and so I will restore a rank to you, Altaïr; you will no longer act as Alnesr’s Apprentice, but merely be under his watch. Take back your short sword, and take some rest; your journey here could not have been an easy one.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” he said, bowing slightly and then turning to leave.

 

“Alnesr, I would speak with you a moment more,” he heard the Master say, even as he turned and left the study.

 

~AC1~

 

For a moment, while he had been explaining the facts of the matter to Master Mualim, he had thought that there had been an odd expression on the Master’s face. Still, he’d not seen it again, and was starting to doubt that it had even been there in the first place.

 

“I am pleased to know that your first mission for the Brotherhood was carried out so well,” the Master said. “While you were away, I commissioned the blacksmiths to make you your own short sword, in preparation for your return. You may go and retrieve it now, or after you have rested for the night.”

 

“Thank you for your consideration, and for your faith in me, Master,” he said, bowing his head respectfully once more.

 

“I once said such to Altaïr, child: truly, to watch you having grown from a boy to a man in such a short time fills me with as much sadness as pride,” Master Mualim said, reaching out to set his hand on Alnesr’s right shoulder; he smiled, feeling pleased that the Master held him in such regard. “I am certain that you will do our Brotherhood credit.”

 

“I thank you for your kind words, Master,” he said.

 

“They are not merely words, my child,” the Master said, smiling kindly as he gently lifted Alnesr’s chin. “Still, you should take your rest; you seem wearied by your journey. Come to me in the morning; I would speak with you. Perhaps while we break our fast.”

 

“Oh, of course,” he said, surprised; to his knowledge, no other Assassin had been invited to break their fast with the Master. “Thank you for inviting me.”

 

“Of course, my child. Go and rest now, you’ve had a long journey,” the Master said kindly, clapping his right shoulder in a gentle gesture of dismissal.

 

“As you say, Master,” he said, bowing and turning to leave for his room.

 

Pausing for a moment at the top of the stairs leading up to his room, Alnesr yawned and then swiftly continued on his way. As the Master said, he would retrieve his short sword in the morning; after he had broken his fast with him. Making his way up the stairs to his room once more, Alnesr divested himself of his outer robes, folded them neatly, and set them down on the shelf by his bed.

 

Removing his bracer, he paused for a moment to examine his right hand; the missing ring finger would mark him as one of the Brotherhood to anyone who looked. It also served to remind Alnesr of the commitment that he had made, both to the man who had raised him, and to Master Mualim himself when he had been raised to his current rank. Settling down into his bed with a last look to the bracer on his table, Alnesr closed his eyes and let himself relax into sleep at last.

 

When he awoke the next morning, Alnesr rose and washed as swiftly as he could, before dressing in a new set of robes that had been left for him on a higher shelf by the laundresses that served the fortress. Making his way down the stairs once more, he was met by Master Mualim himself.

 

“Good morning, child,” the Master said, smiling down at him. “I am pleased to see that you came so promptly. Come, follow me; I take my meals alone, but I will make an exception this day.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” he said, falling into step just behind the Master as the two of them made their way down the corridors.

 

The place where the Master took his solitary meals was rather close to his study, which Alnesr supposed made sense, and Alnesr found that their morning meal had already been set out for them. The Master sat down first, and then gestured for Alnesr himself to sit down.

 

“Thank you, Master, for inviting me here,” he said, bowing his head respectfully as he settled down in the chair that had been offered to him.

 

“Of course, my child,” the Master said, smiling kindly at him. “Enjoy this meal, and then we will speak.”

 

“Of course, Master.”

 

~AC1~

 

Watching Alnesr as he ate, selecting a great deal of olives, some of his softer cheese, and two slices of flatbread, Al Mualim considered him for a few moments; he wondered what this conversation would reveal. Concentrating on his meal, he finished it swiftly and settled back into his seat as the boy finished the last of his own.

 

“What was it that you wanted to speak to me about, Master?”

 

“Perhaps it is best that I show you,” he said, gesturing for the boy to remain seated, even as he moved to retrieve the small, wooden box that he had stored the Apple inside in preparation for the meal that he and Alnesr had taken together. “I had thought to ask you this before, but things became rather fraught; this, I thought, was the best time that we might speak of such things.”

 

For a moment, it looked as if Alnesr was about to speak, but when Al Mualim set the box down on the table the boy fell silent. The child’s gaze was locked on the box, his pale yellow eyes so deeply intent that Al Mualim knew that Alnesr was one of those who would have a place in the new world that he was working to create. After a moment, Alnesr seemed to remember himself, drawing back in his seat and sitting up straight; his eyes, however, continued to flicker towards the Apple that he had not yet truly glimpsed.

 

It was as if, even when the Treasure was out of his sight, it still had a hold on his mind.

 

“This is what I wanted to speak with you about, child,” he said, making his voice gentle so that he would not startle the boy overmuch. “This, the treasure that the Templars were attempting to claim, is called a Piece of Eden.” He lifted it free from the box at last, noting the way Alnesr’s eyes immediately locked onto it; the way everything else in the room seemed to pass out of his awareness.

 

Alnesr slid out of his seat, the normally smooth motions of an Assassin of his rank lost in the face of his clear eagerness – his need – to be closer to the Apple. Moving to stand before the boy, Al Mualim held out the Apple and watched as the boy reached out to touch it. Once Alnesr’s hand had made contact with the surface of the Apple, Al Mualim saw solid lines of light – appearing almost solid enough to touch, though he knew that they were simply one of the Apple’s illusions and nothing more – reach out to the boy and seemingly curl around him.

 

The strangest sight of all, however, was what happened to the boy’s pale yellow eyes: as the light from the Apple reached out to him, his eyes were obscured by a white glow. The glow spread quickly, from his pupils to the edges of both of his eyes. It was only then, once Alnesr’s eyes were completely overshadowed by the shifting light of the Apple, that Al Mualim began to realize that this was not the full extent of Alnesr’s connection to the Apple.

It felt as though he were reaching into the child’s very mind, riding down the strings of light that the Apple appeared to project; but, more than that, it felt as if Alnesr’s mind was somehow… not entirely in his own body anymore. It was an odd thing to think, but it did not seem to be any less true for all of that. Reaching deeper with the aid of the Apple, Al Mualim found that he could indeed begin to feel the lingering connection that the boy’s mind had with his body.

 

It was not nearly so strong as he suspected it had once been; he was also beginning to realize that even this was not the full extent of Alnesr’s connection to the Apple.

 

Al Mualim was beginning to realize that, should he so wish, he could rip Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr’s mind free from its moorings and hold it within the Apple for as long as he so chose. Still, he was also becoming aware that to do so would be to leave the child’s body as little more than an empty, broken doll. Such was not something he could afford at this time; not with Altaïr still awake and aware, and not so long as his former associates remained among the living.

 

Still, this new discovery that he had made was a rather important one; he now knew just what it was that made Alnesr so different from every other man that had encountered the Apple in the past.

 

Laying his right hand atop Alnesr’s right, Al Mualim let his own mind reach down the links that bound Alnesr’s mind to the Apple; from there, he loosened them, drawing all of the links save one back into the Apple itself. That one, he left so that he would be able to more easily bring Alnesr into the light, once the final member of the Nine Templars had been dealt with. The child’s eyes had cleared some, as he had pulled the links from his mind, and now they simply appeared to reflect the lines of light that had once been projected from the Apple itself.

 

A moment’s concentration on the remaining link allowed him to suppress it deep enough that Alnesr’s eyes cleared, and the boy blinked in surprise.

 

Chapter Text

“Master?”

 

“It is nothing against you, child,” he said, withdrawing the Apple and moving to set it back within the box. “All men who set their eyes on this Treasure find themselves drawn to it.” Still, it was clear that Alnesr had been drawn far deeper than any other man that Al Mualim had yet met.

 

“It is not that,” the boy said, looking around the room in confusion. “I was seated at the table, when you showed me the Treasure.”

 

Alnesr said nothing more, but the confusion on his face spoke volumes. So, he truly remembers nothing of what transpired between us. It seemed an odd thing, but the more he thought on it, the more he realized that it was not so odd at all. The Apple had held the child’s mind fast, binding it ever deeper within itself when Alnesr had been within its light; it was only to be expected that the child would not remember such a thing.

 

“Pay it no mind, my child,” Al Mualim said, making his voice soft and kind. “The Treasure exerts a pull over all men. You are no different.” It was one more falsehood in a long line of them, yes, but what he said next was no falsehood at all. “You’d best go fetch your short sword; you and Altaïr have a great deal of work yet to do.”

 

“Yes,” Alnesr said absently, his gaze taking in the room a last time – settling for a few, long moments on the box holding the Apple – before turning his full attention to Al Mualim. “Yes, Master.”

 

Bowing respectfully once more, Alnesr turned and left the room swiftly.

 

~AC1~

 

Even though the Master had taken time to reassure him, Alnesr was still troubled by the fact that he could not remember standing up from his seat when Master Mualim had shown him the Templar treasure; or the Piece of Eden, as he had been told that it was called. He had been taught to pay attention to his surroundings at all times; to know that he had lapsed in that so completely was troubling. Even though he had been more perfectly safe within the Master’s quarters than in almost any other place in the fortress that he might have found himself, the thought that he might have been forgetting the lessons that Altaïr had taught him was a troubling one.

 

Still, there were few enough things that he could do about that, aside from making a personal vow that he would pay more attention from this day on.

 

Making his way back down the stairs, Alnesr hurried his steps as he made his way deeper into the fortress’ lower levels. It was as Master Mualim had said: he and Altaïr did indeed have a great deal of work left to do. Leaving the fortress behind, Alnesr made his way down to the forges; speaking briefly to some of the smiths there, he quickly found himself holding the short sword that the Master had ordered to be forged for his use.

 

Thanking the smiths, Alnesr turned and made his way back to the fortress. From there, he would be able to meet up with Altaïr and the two of them could get underway. It was not so long as he thought it would be, before Alnesr found himself catching up to the man who had been his Master not so long ago; the man who he would always think of as his mentor.

 

“I see you’ve taken up your short blade, as well,” Altaïr said, smiling softly as the two of them fell into step with one another.

 

“Yes,” he said, nodding slightly as he looked down upon the weapon that had been made for him at the Master’s order.

 

“Well, seeing that I am no longer your Apprentice, perhaps you would like my help in honing your skills with that blade; I’ll not discount the value of Labib’s lessons, but a great deal of time has passed since then.”

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling slightly at the thought of being able to train under the watchful eyes of his mentor once more; acting as Altaïr’s Master, even for so short a time, had been an odd enough experience that Alnesr wished never to repeat it. In time, he would take his own Apprentice, but to be forced into the role for one who had been his Master was entirely too unnerving. “I think I would like that.”

 

“I think Rauf would be particularly pleased if we were to assist him in training his students,” Altaïr said, smiling softly.

 

Alnesr chuckled. “Yes, I think he would.”

 

The two of them turned their steps toward the training ground, where Rauf and his students awaited them, and Alnesr began to loosen the muscles of his shoulders the way that Altaïr had taught him to do while the two of them had been working as Master and Apprentice. Once the two of them had made it there, Rauf greeted them cordially, and the two of them spent a great deal of time sparring with the wooden training swords that Rauf had provided for them. Rauf’s students seemed purely enthralled to watch as he and Altaïr sparred each other; he did not know if that was because they had never seen Assassins of his and Altaïr’s rank sparring before, or if they were simply excited for the extra attention.

 

Alnesr could not ever remember being that way as a child, but his childhood had been rather different than any of the other children in Masyaf.

 

Once Altaïr had been satisfied that his memory of Labib’s teachings had not faded so much with time, the two of them left the sparring ring. Rauf asked them if they had the time to speak to him about their mission and how it had gone, as well as the matter of his own promotion to full Assassin. Altaïr said that he would see what the Master desired of them, and Alnesr agreed.

 

Their time was not truly their own when the Master had need of them; such held true for all Assassins.

 

They made their way back into the main building of the fortress, he slightly behind Altaïr in a gesture of deference that he did not know if he would ever feel comfortable abandoning, and back up to Master Mualim’s study. The Master himself was, naturally, standing behind his desk when they arrived.

 

“It is good to see that the two of you came so promptly,” Master Mualim said, gently stern gaze taking in both him and Altaïr. “The next of your targets is a man named Garnier de Naplouse. You will find him in Acre.”

 

“Of course, Master,” Altaïr said, while he simply bowed silently; he was still slightly troubled by the way his own mind had seemed to betray him in the presence of the Treasure.

 

“Alnesr, I expect that you will continue your efforts to see that Altaïr continues improving in his adherence to our ways,” the Master said.

 

“Of course, Master,” he acknowledged; it was a strange thing to think, that he would still be called on to account for Altaïr’s actions even though the two of them had now attained the same rank.

 

Still, it was what the Master had requested of him, and so Alnesr would endeavor to do as Master Mualim wished.

 

Leaving the Master’s study for the last time this day, he followed Altaïr down to the stables where they chose a new pair of horses and set off on their journey to Acre.

 

He could never quite remember just how many days the journey to Acre took; the days of travel seemed to blur into one another – the unchanging routine of waking, riding, and then sleeping once more serving to lull him into a half-apathetic sort of daze – but soon enough they had arrived at the city. A large crowd milled outside the city, more of them seeming to be leaving than entering. It fit with what Altaïr had told him of his last mission to Acre, just before he had been officially instated as the older Assassin’s Apprentice: the Master had assigned him to stop the Templars from poisoning the city’s water supply.

 

Naturally, Altaïr had done so, but the Crusaders had still managed to take the city; and even now, Acre and its people bore the scars of war.

Chapter Text

They made their way into the city as silently as ever, this time going over the heads of the guards at the gate, rather than passing under their eyes amidst a group of scholars. Truly, Alnesr did not know if there even were scholars about in Acre; it was not a place that he was particularly familiar with. Altaïr nodded to him, and the two of them made their way across the rooftops and deeper into the city; Altaïr seemed to know just where it was, and so Alnesr elected to trust him.

 

He soon saw the familiar shape of an Assassin Bureau, and smiled softly; it seemed, as ever, that his trust had been rewarded. Finding himself thinking of the one time it had not, Alnesr cast aside those thoughts almost reflexively. Now was not the time for such idle musings.

 

When the two of them had at last reached the roof of the Bureau, he was the one who climbed in before Altaïr. Stepping down into the room, Alnesr moved back enough to allow Altaïr more space to lower himself down as well. Altaïr’s gentle smile, as he clapped Alnesr on his right shoulder, made him feel warm and contented inside, and prompted a smile of his own in return.

 

As the two of them made their way into the Bureau’s main room, he saw that this Bureau’s Rafiq had a genuinely kind look in his eyes. It was a welcome change from the false friendliness that the Rafiq in Damascus had offered.

 

“Ah, Altaïr, Alnesr; a little bird told me that you would be paying a visit,” the Rafiq said, seeming amused at his wordplay. When he opened his hands, setting the pigeon that he had been cooing at free, the bird alighted on the countertop between them, puffing out its chest and marching to and fro. “So, who is the unfortunate that Al Mualim has chosen to be your first mark, Alnesr?”

 

“The Master has ordered the execution of Garnier de Naplouse,” he said, wondering for a moment just who the man was and what he had done.

 

“The Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier?”

 

“If that is his position in the city; the Master gave me only a name to seek him out,” he said.

 

“Do you intend to take care of the investigations within the city?” the Rafiq asked.

 

“I will take care of that,” Altaïr said, before he could say anything. Altaïr then turned toward him, a restrained sort of pride on his face. “Stay here and hone your skills, Alnesr. I will deliver the information you lack.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” he said, feeling humbled at the generosity he had been offered; it was not long ago that he would have been charged with seeking out that selfsame information on Altaïr’s behalf.

 

Truly, these circumstances were the strangest that he had ever dealt with.

 

With a last nod to him and the Rafiq, Altaïr left the Bureau through the same roof-access that the two of them had used on their way in. Alnesr, left alone with the Rafiq, wondered for a moment just what it was that Altaïr did with his time while he was alone at the Bureau.

 

“Oh, I meant to tell you this before,” the Rafiq said, bringing out a small box and setting it down on the counter between them. “The Master had these sent to me, once it was determined that you and Altaïr would be traveling here.”

 

The Rafiq opened the box, revealing the set of five sharp, gleaming throwing knives that had been placed inside it.

 

“I would thank the Master for his generosity, were he here,” he said, bowing slightly in thanks to the Rafiq as he removed the knives from the case that they had been delivered in and sheathed them in the previously empty holsters that had been added to his belt.

 

“I will be sure to send him your regards,” the Rafiq said, smiling kindly. “For now, I think that you should hone your skills with those knives. Would you like me to show you where you may, or do you know the way?”

 

He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “While it is true that I have accompanied Altaïr to many Bureaus just like this one, I confess that I have no knowledge of such a place.”

 

“Come, then; I will show you the way. Come, come.”

 

Falling into step with the Rafiq as he came out from behind the counter, Alnesr found himself being lead to a room opposite the one that he and Altaïr had entered from. A room that seemed to run the full length of the Bureau itself.

 

“We might not have the full facilities of Masyaf, but you will at least have the opportunity to gain some skill with those new weapons of yours.”

 

“Thank you, Rafiq,” he said, as the man nodded to him and left the room.

 

There were four targets on the far wall, as well as four lines painted on the floor; clearly, one was meant to start at the line closest to the targets, and then move closer over the course of their training. Moving to stand just behind the closest of the four lines, Alnesr stood at the center of the four targets and drew his knives. Time he began his own work.

Chapter Text

As he had gathered the information that Alnesr would need when he dealt with the man that Master Mualim had chosen as the first to die by Alnesr’s hands – the man who would be the one of the sole witnesses to the boy’s loss of his last bit of innocence – Altaïr found himself seething more and more with a slow-burning rage. It seemed that the man, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier and hence one that should have been helping the people of this wounded city, was doing nothing of the sort. He had heard reports of people being turned away from the Hospitalier fortress, and of others who disappeared into it.

 

He had also heard reports of a scandal that had driven the man from Tyre, and fears that such a thing would be repeated in Acre. He had also read a scroll, taken from an associate of Naplouse, clearly stating that the man had no intentions at all of curing his alleged patients. Supplied with unfortunates captured from Jerusalem, he had been conducting tests aimed at inducing certain states in his patients; all in the name of some unknown master. Tamir – his target from Damascus – had been working to procure weapons for the operation that Garnier seemed to also be a part of.

 

One particular phrase in the letter had drawn his attention above even that, however: we should endeavor to reclaim what has been stolen from us. He was still puzzled as to what it could possibly mean, but as he still had other information to gather, Altaïr had continued his investigation. To hear the people speak, Garnier allowed “madmen” to wander the hospital almost at whim; though Altaïr did not know if those men were truly mad, or if they were a product of the experiments that Garnier was said to conduct.

 

He had also learned that, when the archers covering the walkways above the hospital were dismissed from their posts, Garnier himself would take time to make the rounds of his hospital without a bodyguard. Only monks were allowed passage at those times, but such was the reason that the Assassins had chosen the garb that they wore; Alnesr would be given the perfect opportunity to strike.

 

With all of the information that he had gathered on behalf of the younger Assassin, Altaïr knew that it was best that he returned to the Bureau to present it.

 

Alnesr and Jabal would be waiting for him, and he could at least admit to himself that he was becoming weary of this day’s activities and wished to rest from them. Crossing the rooftops on his way back to the Bureau, Altaïr was careful to avoid the notice of the archers placed upon them. He’d no desire for a cry to go up, after all that he had done to conceal his presence from those who called Acre their home.

 

Coming within sight of the rooftop entrance, Altaïr allowed himself a small, contented smile as he climbed back down into the building.

 

“Altaïr, it’s good to see you again,” Alnesr said, rising from the table where he had clearly been taking his meal.

 

“How has your training been progressing?” he asked, settling down at the table so that he could partake of some of the food that Alnesr had laid out for the both of them.

 

“As well as can be expected without a sparring partner,” Alnesr said, seeming to contemplate the fig in his hands for a few moments before beginning to eat once more. Swallowing a last time, Alnesr turned a shyly pleased smile back to him. “The Master sent me my first set of throwing knives earlier.”

 

Altaïr smiled, feeling another swell of pride in the younger Assassin. “It is good to see how well you have progressed in your training.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr. It means a great deal to me, hearing you say that.”

 

They fell silent after that, finishing their meal and taking a few moments to let their food settle, before he proceeded Alnesr back into the main room of the Bureau and stood before Jabal.

 

“Welcome back, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said, nodding and smiling. “Have you gathered the information you sought?”

 

“Indeed; I have determined both when and how the task would best be carried out,” he said.

 

“Share your knowledge with us, then.”

 

“Garnier lives and works within his Order’s hospital,” he said, feeling again the swell of anger at the man for the abuse of power that he had heard tell of from all quarters of the city. “Rumors speak of atrocities committed within its walls.”

 

“What is the plan that you have formed, then?” Jabal asked, folding his arms and shifting slightly behind the counter.

 

“Garnier keeps mainly to his quarters inside the hospital, though he leaves occasionally to inspect the patients. When he makes his rounds, he does so without a bodyguard. That would be the ideal time to strike.”

 

“You’ve clearly given thought to this, Altaïr,” Jabal said, smiling. “Well, what do you say to this, Alnesr? You’ve been rather silent on the matter.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr, for your diligence and consideration,” Alnesr said, smiling up at him.

 

“Well then, I will give you leave to go, Alnesr,” Jabal said, smiling as he handed over yet another feather. “Though, I would advise that you take some rest first; it has been a rather long day.”

 

“Yes, I think I will do that,” Alnesr said, turning and making for the pile of blankets and cushions on the far side of the entrance room.

 

Altaïr followed just behind him, and soon enough the two of them had settled down to sleep once more.

 

The next day, as the two of them ate a light breakfast, Altaïr noticed a sort of tenseness that lingered around Alnesr; he knew why that was, as it had been just the same way with him when he had been called upon to take his first life.

 

“Be at peace, Alnesr,” he said, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on the younger Assassin’s right shoulder. “I am certain that your actions today will bring credit to both the Brotherhood, and to yourself.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, smiling softly as he finished the last of his meal. “It means a great deal to me, hearing you say that.”

 

He squeezed the younger Assassin’s shoulder a last time, before the two of them rose from their seats and made their way up and out of the Bureau so that they could be about their final business in this city. So that Garnier de Naplouse could be dealt with at last.

 

Crossing the rooftops as their journey continued, Altaïr took a moment to observe Alnesr in motion; the younger Assassin’s technique was clearly improving, though not many who watched him would see the added refinement to his movements that Altaïr was able to notice. Not many observed the younger Assassin so closely as he did; not many had taught him nearly since birth. Turning his thoughts back to their current mission after his moment of admitted self-indulgence, Altaïr signaled for Alnesr to follow him.

 

Turning their path toward the Hospitalier fortress, Altaïr began searching for the building he had found to be a good place to insert themselves into a group of scholars before they ventured inside the fortress. Finding it, he signaled to Alnesr and the two of them ducked out of sight of the archer patrolling the walkways above the fortress. Turning to take in the position of the sun, Altaïr knew that they had come at just the time.

 

Smiling to himself as the man moved to a ladder and let himself down, Altaïr signaled Alnesr forward and the two of them moved low and fast across the walkway, until they came to a point where they could see without being seen in turn. Peering down into the courtyard, Altaïr found to his surprise that it was rather a plain affair: sheer-walled in forbidding, dull gray stone, with only a well at its center.

 

Certainly a far cry from the ornately decorated buildings that were usually found in Acre.

 

There were also several guards, wearing the black, quilted surcoats of the Knights Hospitalier, as well as a group of monks. Moving randomly among the serene-looking monks and the severe-looking Knights, were small groups of shirtless, barefoot men. Poor wretches, who wandered dazedly about, their expressions blank and their eyes glazed.

 

Frowning slightly, Altaïr studied the courtyard further; there seemed to be no way to drop inside without being seen. Beckoning Alnesr forward, Altaïr moved to the entrance wall of the hospital so that he and Alnesr would be able to see into the street. On sun-washed stone, the ill and injured gathered, begging the guards to be allowed inside. Others, whose minds seemed to be gone, wandered among the throng shouting gibberish and obscenities.

 

Altaïr gritted his teeth; the city would be much improved after Garnier was dead, clearly.

 

He was pleased, however, to see the group of scholars moving through the crowd as if it was not even there; they seemed somehow removed from the tumult around them. It also looked as though they were making for the hospital, as well.

 

“Come.”

 

“Yes, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, nodding sharply.

 

The two of them made their way back to the ground, moving in the inattentive moments of the crowd and joining the group of scholars. Matching their pace and adapting their movements, he and Alnesr were able to vanish into the crowd. Risking a surreptitious glance at their surroundings at odd moments, Altaïr found that they were indeed making their way into the hospital; the guards that would have stopped an Assassin at the door stepped neatly aside for the scholars.

 

Altaïr wrinkled his nose at the scents inside the hospital; where the city outside had held the scents of baking, perfumes, and spices, this place reeked of human misery. From somewhere else, muffled by a pair of closed doors, there came a series of pained cries and a low, lingering moan; that would be the main hospital, Altaïr mused.

 

The doors were suddenly flung open, and a patient came running out, a look of mad terror on his face. “No! Help, help me! Help me, please! You must help me!”

 

A guard came charging out after him; the man had a lazy eye, as though the muscles in his eyelid had been damaged some time in the past. He was swiftly followed by another guard, this one healthy; together, the two of them beat on the man until he had collapsed to his knees on the stone. Altaïr, watching this from within the group of scholars, felt his jaw clench.

 

Being forced to merely stand and watch as this injustice was perpetuated was infuriating.

 

“Mercy,” the man howled, even as blows continued to rain down upon him. “I beg of you, no more…”

 

The man’s pleas trailed off, as the doors to the hospital swung open once more, and a man who could only be Garnier de Naplouse walked in. He was shorter than the image that Altaïr had formed of him from the Master’s description; beardless, with close-cropped white hair, sunken eyes, and an unsmiling, downturned mouth that gave him the look of a corpse. He wore the white crosses of the Hospitalier on his arms, and a crucifix around his neck, but he did not seem to be a particularly pious sort.

 

For he also wore an apron that had been soaked with the blood of many men.

 

Naplouse turned his eyes onto the struggling man, held as he was by Lazy Eye and the other guard; Lazy eye raising a fist with clear anticipation.

 

“Enough, my child,” Naplouse rebuked, a disapproving expression on his face. “I asked you to retrieve the patient, not kill him.” Naplouse smiled, though even then there was something in his eyes that Altaïr did not like. “There, there. Everything will be all right. Give me your hand.”

 

“No… no…” the crazy man moaned, sounding for a moment more like a dying animal than a man. “Don’t touch me… not again…”

 

Naplouse seemed to appear hurt by the man’s reaction, or he would have if Altaïr had not been able to see his eyes; those remained as hard and remote as ever. “Cast out this fear, else I cannot help you.”

 

“Help me? Like you helped the others? You took their souls! I saw. I saw. But not mine. No; you’ll not get mine. Never! Never… never. Not mine…” the man continued, repeating those two words with a regularity and lack of inflection that Altaïr found unnerving even in spite of all his training.

 

The last of the false friendship vanished from Naplouse’s face as though it had never been. “Take hold of yourself,” the man said sharply, after delivering what looked like a harsh slap to the man he was tormenting. “Do you think this gives me pleasure? Do you think I want to hurt you? But you leave me no choice…”

 

With a surge of strength that had carried many men through times of desperation, the man pulled free from the guards and tried to lose himself in the gathered crowd. Altaïr doubted that anything would come of the attempt, and so he tried not to feel anything for the man. “Every kind word, matched by the back of his hand!” the man screeched, and Altaïr ducked his head as the man passed close to him. “Nothing but lies and deception! He’ll not be content until all bow before him!”

 

Lazy Eye caught up to the man, dragging him back toward Naplouse; the expression on the Grand Master’s face once again matched the hardness that had always been in his eyes. “You should not have done that.” Naplouse turned his attention to Lazy Eye once more. “Return him to his quarters. I’ll be along once I’ve tended to the others.”

 

“You can’t keep me here!” the sickly man declared, sounding almost proud for a moment. “I’ll escape again!”

 

“No, you won’t,” Naplouse said calmly, turning back to Lazy Eye. “Break his legs; both of them.”

 

Lazy Eye grinned, even as Altaïr felt a hand on his wrist. Looking over to see who it was, he found Alnesr standing at his right side once more. The two of them had separated slightly when they had joined the group of scholars; having had to take care not to appear as outsiders there, of all places; but here and now it was safe for them to be seen together, as long as they did not act to reveal themselves.

 

Alnesr bared his teeth, pale yellow eyes narrowing at the sound of bones shattering, one at a time; a sound like cloth-wrapped sticks being snapped. Moving to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the younger Assassin, Altaïr watched as those pale yellow eyes came to focus on him again. Nodding, in lieu of voicing the thoughts that he could not under the circumstances, he saw Alnesr’s expression clear once more.

Chapter Text

It had helped, to be reminded of their true objective in this time and place: they were not merely watching while an innocent was tormented. Their aim – his aim, in this instance – was to rid the world of his tormentor, so that this man and all those like him would never need suffer this way again.

 

However, as the cloying, false sympathy returned to the Grand Master’s face, Alnesr found that his fury was no less than it had  been. He could simply control it more firmly.

 

“I am so sorry, child.” At those words, Alnesr snarled silently. “Have you people nothing better to do?”

 

This, the Grand Master directed at the monks and wandering patients that had paused to watch the gruesome spectacle. For a moment, even as the group dispersed and he moved to follow Altaïr and the group of scholars that had concealed their entrance, Alnesr was not quite certain who he hated more: Garnier de Naplouse himself, or those who had simply stood by and allowed him to do as he pleased with the ones whose lives he so carelessly destroyed.

 

Turning his thoughts again from those matters – it would not do to lose his composure in this of all places – Alnesr followed the scholars into another door. Forcing himself not to gag, as the stench behind this door was even more horrible than that which he had been confronted by when he and Altaïr had first entered this blighted place. Passing by many beds, some of them with wooden cages, and all of them filled with the moaning wretches that he had seen in the main room of this place.

 

Alnesr, making a concerted effort to close his ears to what he was hearing, coldly furious about what he had seen and was continuing to see, saw an opening to finally have done with Naplouse once and for all.

 

Extending his hidden-blade, Alnesr rammed it into Naplouse’s body, finally ending the terror that the man had inflicted on so many citizens of Acre; innocents or not, no one deserved to be subjected to this kind of torture.

 

“Your work is done,” he said, trying in spite of all that he had seen to hold himself to the standards that the Assassins maintained; he would not disgrace himself by showing undue emotion. No matter how much he wished to sneer at this man. “Rest now.

 

“All of my good works, and I’m to die at the hand of a child?” Naplouse seemed more bemused than displeased, and Alnesr found himself clenching his teeth briefly, before he forced himself to relax once more.

 

“I would hardly say that your works are good,” he said coldly.

 

“Oh, child,” Naplouse said, obviously attempting to sound kind. Given all that Alnesr had seen while he had been making his way through this place, he was not willing to accept such false sentiment. “These men and women were mad, before I rescued them from the prisons of their own minds.”

 

“So you claim,” he said, feeling the cold fury that had been building within him ever since he had seen the atrocities that this man had committed on those who were supposed to be in his care growing ever colder.

 

“It is not merely a claim, my child-”

 

“Do not call me that,” he snapped; it was unseemly, and yet Alnesr found that he could not fully manage to master himself after hearing Naplouse speak.

 

Hearing the way he tried to justify the depravities that Alnesr had borne witness to, while he had been tracking the man back to where he laired, Alnesr found himself forced to breathe deeply in the manner that Altaïr had taught him for those few times when he found himself overwhelmed by fury.

 

“Oh, my boy. What would your father say, if he could see what you have become?”

 

“My father stands behind me even now, and he would never have performed such base acts as you,” Alnesr all but spat, his eyes narrowed in disgust for the man dying at his feet.

 

Altaïr’s hand on his right shoulder drew his attention back to the task that he had been appointed, and what remained before he could truly call it complete. Crouching by the side of Naplouse, Alnesr stained the feather that he had been given with the man’s blood, foul as it so clearly was, and then allowed Altaïr to gently steer him back out into the courtyard. Together, they blended back into the crowd of scholars as they made their way back out of the nightmarish place that disguised itself as a hospital.

 

Soon enough, however, a cry went up from within the building; Altaïr gently squeezed his right shoulder, and Alnesr nodded subtly to indicate that he understood.

 

The two of them were soon out of sight of Acre’s citizens, and he and Altaïr swiftly scaled the side of the building they had once stood in the shadows of. Standing atop the roof, Alnesr found that, no matter how he tried, could not yet manage to excise the fury – cold as any Assassin’s – that he still felt in the face of all that he had seen within Naplouse’s chamber of horrors.

 

“We will speak more of this at the Bureau,” Altaïr said, his expression stern but for the gentleness that Alnesr saw in his eyes.

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” he said, nodding as he fell into step with the elder Assassin as they made their way across the rooftops once more.

 

He could hear the ringing of Acre’s alarm as it was raised, but the two of them moved – swift and silent – over the rooftops on their way back to Acre’s Assassin Bureau, Alnesr found that he was not so concerned with the city guards finding them. He did not think that it was recklessness – not in a situation such as this – merely confidence that, whatever new situation he and Altaïr might have found themselves facing, they would be able to see it long before they were forced to confront it head-on.

 

Or else, they would be able to evade it long before it became a concern to either of them.

 

Once the two of them had passed into more familiar territory, Alnesr paused for only half a moment to banish the last scraps of cold fury that had nearly consumed him when he had beheld the suffering caused by the first of his targets. Naplouse was dead; those who had been held in the madman’s thrall would now be able to return to their lives without fear of having them stolen away once more.

 

He could comfort himself with that thought, now that he had the time to think on other things aside from the task that he had been sent out to accomplish.

 

Breathing more easily now that they had come within sight of the Bureau’s rooftop entrance once more, Alnesr followed Altaïr as the older Assassin made his way back down into the outer room of the building. Climbing back down the wall just as Altaïr had stepped down from the fountain, Alnesr let himself breathe fully and deeply once more. As he did so, he felt the subtle tension that he had been carrying with him throughout their return journey slowly ebb away.

 

He made no attempts to hold onto it; this was safe ground that he stood on now, he could afford to relax here, of all places.

 

Altaïr’s arm around his shoulder’s brought a smile of fondness and a feeling of relief to him, and as he looked up into his mentor’s face, Alnesr found his own expression mirrored on the older man’s.

Chapter Text

It was a strange thing, Altaïr mused, seeing Alnesr smile at the true death of his innocence. Still, Altaïr reflected, for the Assassins innocence was something more akin to a chrysalis: merely a phase that they passed through. A phase that was always meant to end. Perhaps this was what the Master had been speaking of, when he had said that seeing Altaïr’s own growth from boy to man in such a short time had filled him with pride and sadness both.

 

He’d been the one to see Alnesr taking his first, halting steps out of babyhood, helped to guide the boy’s feet as he made his way through childhood, and now to see him stand as a man and a fellow Assassin… Altaïr did indeed feel both sadness and pride at this moment.

 

As the two of them made their way into the main room of the Bureau, Altaïr found himself turning over what he had seen within the hospital where Garnier de Naplouse performed his butcher’s work. Some of the poor wretches in that hospital had actually seemed grateful for the horrors that Garnier had inflicted on them; it was not a thing that he would have believed possible, were it not for what he had seen this day with his own eyes.

 

Were it not for what he had heard some of those wretches saying.

 

He rather doubted that Alnesr had seen the same things as he had, or else he had ignored them in his focus on dealing with Garnier. Alnesr had not been exposed to such suffering as had been present within Garnier’s poor excuse for a hospital; Altaïr had seen the cold, stoic rage upon the younger Assassin’s face as the two of them moved through the crowds of wretches, guards, and attendants.

 

He was honestly unsurprised by Alnesr’s reaction, considering the way that the younger Assassin had been raised and trained.

 

As the two of them made their way over to the counter that the Rafiq stood behind, Altaïr hung back so as to allow Alnesr to make his own report first.

 

“Garnier de Naplouse is dead,” the younger Assassin reported, smoothly handing over the feather that had been marked with the man’s blood.

 

“Well done, then,” the Rafiq said, taking the feather. “I’m certain the Master will be pleased with your work, young Assassin.”

 

“There was something odd, however,” he said, drawing the attention of the Rafiq and Alnesr both.

 

“What was it that you saw, Altaïr?” Alnesr asked, before the Rafiq could say anything about the matter.

 

“I only wonder what Garnier wanted from these people, that he would keep them and experiment on them as he did,” he said, folding his arms in contemplation.

 

“It is not yours to ask, Altaïr, but to act,” the Rafiq said sternly. “As Alnesr has. It does not matter what the man wanted, only that he is dead.”

 

“Garnier seemed to believe that he was helping those people,” he mused aloud; he suspected that the Rafiq would not be particularly amenable to speaking about this matter.

 

“That was not what I saw, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, narrowing his eyes as he tilted his head slightly in thought. “We did not stand in place of healing, but one of pain and suffering.”

 

“Your brother has the right of it, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said, nodding to Alnesr. “Now, I would suggest that the two of you take some rest. You’ll have a long journey to Masyaf ahead of you. The Master will want news of your success, Alnesr.”

 

“Yes, I expect he will,” Alnesr said, nodding.

 

As the two of them made their way into the sleeping area, Altaïr gently resting his right hand atop Alnesr’s left shoulder, he felt himself steadily becoming more relaxed. He did not fight the sensation, as there was no pressing reason for him to maintain the peak of his awareness as he had outside these walls. Still, there might be other matters that needed settling.

 

“Does something still trouble you, Alnesr?”

 

“No; Naplouse needed to be removed from the world, and now those people who he was holding will be able to return to their homes. To the lives that he attempted to steal from them.”

 

“What you said to Garnier – that you thought of me as a father – do you still mean it?”

 

“You have been my family for as long as I could properly form memories,” Alnesr said, smiling softly; fondly. “Did you think that I would forget that so quickly?”

 

He chuckled softly, acknowledging the younger Assassin’s words. “It is not truly our way, but, all the same, I have come to think of you as a son, as well.” He glanced away, slightly over Alnesr’s right shoulder. “I do not truly know if the Master would approve of such a thing, however.”

 

“Perhaps we should not tell him, then,” Alnesr said, sounding slightly uncertain.

 

Looking down, feeling Alnesr’s right hand settled atop his own, Altaïr smiled softly. “Perhaps not.”

 

The two of them settled down among the cushions after that, Alnesr’s right hand still touching his own. Closing his eyes, just after Alnesr had closed his own, Altaïr breathed out and finally allowed the last of the tension that had been keeping him awake to ebb away.

 

The next morning, Altaïr opened his eyes and waited for Alnesr to do the same. It took only a few moments for Alnesr to awaken, his pale yellow eyes clearing quickly.

 

“Good morning, Altaïr,” the younger Assassin said, getting to his feet even as Altaïr himself did the same.

 

“To you, as well,” he said, smiling gently as the two of them made their way over to the low table that sat close enough to the cushions to serve them, but far enough that they would not strike the table with their limbs if either of them was to shift in their sleep.

 

Breaking their fast with raisins and dried figs, Altaïr reflected on their changed circumstances. They had not changed in any way that could be seen, but there was a confidence – a surety – to Alnesr’s stance; the way he sat, the way he held his head, and the look in his eyes, all told of it. It was a rather pleasing sight; to know that Alnesr now held the same rank as him, and that the two of them could now truly stand as equals.

 

When the two of them had finished their small meal, Altaïr allowed Alnesr to proceed him out of the Bureau, and the two of them began to make their way across the rooftops. Soon enough, they had returned to the gates of Acre once more; and, blending with a group of citizens on their way out of the city, the pair of them had soon left Acre behind.

Chapter Text

Mounting his horse, and pausing a moment as Alnesr did the same, Altaïr began the first stage of their journey back to Masyaf. They rode for most of the first day, stopping only to sleep but eating while they rode, and then swiftly returning to their journey. Days passed in a comfortable routine, which was quite a contrast to their time in Acre dealing with Garnier.

 

Soon enough, they came within sight of the great fortress-city, and Altaïr felt the last of the tension that he had been carrying with him ebb away. He and Alnesr now tread upon safe ground; no matter what challenges the world beyond these walls held for them, Masyaf stood as a haven and a place of rest.

 

Returning the horses to their stable, Altaïr once more allowed Alnesr to proceed him. This was his triumph, more than anyone else’s. The young man had indeed become an Assassin.

 

As he tailed the younger Assassin, Altaïr found that he could see that the new confidence that he had seen that morning in Acre had not merely been something transient. He could see it in the set of Alnesr’s shoulders, the surety of his stride as the younger Assassin proceeded him up the steps of the Master’s tower. As the two of them entered the Master’s library, making their way through the room to stand before the Master himself, Altaïr found it more difficult than before to hold back the curiosity that had been gnawing at his mind.

 

“I am pleased to see that the two of you returned to me safely,” the Master said, a welcoming smile on his face, “Alnesr, have you completed your mission?”

 

“Garnier de Naplouse is dead by my hand, as you ordered, Master.”

 

“Well done, then,” Master Mualim said, nodding. “We could not have hoped for a more agreeable outcome.”

 

“There is something I would have clarified, if you do not mind, Master,” he said, drawing the attention of both the Master and Alnesr himself.

 

“Speak of it then, Altaïr.”

 

“Garnier claimed that his work was noble, and looking back, some of those in his keeping, many of them in fact, seemed to be grateful to him. But enough to make me wonder; how was it that he managed to turn enemy into friend?”

 

“Leaders will always find ways to make others obey them, Altaïr,” the Master said, with a soft, knowing chuckle. “That is what makes them leaders. When words fail, they turn to coin. When even that won’t do, they resort to baser things: bribes, threats, and other types of trickery. There are plants, herbs from distant lands, that can cause a man to take leave of his senses. So great are the pleasures they bring, that men may even become enslaved by them.”

Chapter Text

“Are you saying that Naplouse was drugging those men?” Alnesr demanded, the cold fury that Altaïr had seen on his face while they had been hunting for Garnier making a swift return. “That he was poisoning them?”

 

“Yes, if things were indeed as Altaïr described them,” the Master said.

 

“Best he died when he did, then,” Alnesr spat.

 

“Indeed so, my child,” the Master said, resting his right hand atop the younger Assassin’s right shoulder. “Still, there are men who have accused me of doing the same. They say that there is a garden, overflowing with women and pleasure; that I drug you as Garnier did his men, and tempt you with its rewards.”

 

“They do not know the truth of us,” Altaïr said, not entirely certain if he was disappointed by the credulousness of those who lived outside the Brotherhood’s walls and knew nothing of their Creed, or else simply pitied them their ignorance.

 

“Which is how it must be,” the Master said; Altaïr was not at all sure if he could believe such, however.

 

“But if they knew the truth, that all we seek is peace-”

 

“Then they would not fear us, and we would have no hold over them,” the Master said.

 

“Perhaps some of them could come to know more of our truth,” Alnesr said, speaking for the first time in several moments.

 

“Yes,” the Master said, with a soft, knowing smile. “Those who choose to dedicate themselves to our cause are the only ones who can be permitted to learn the full truth of our work. But it is late, and the two of you must be weary from your journey. Go and take some rest; I will call for you in the morning to inform you of the next mission that you will be undertaking.”

 

“As you say, Master,” Alnesr stated, with a nod more akin to a subtle bow.

 

“Thank you for your understanding, Master,” Altaïr said, bowing to Master Mualim in turn.

 

The two of them turned to leave, and Altaïr clapped Alnesr on his left shoulder, earning a smile from the younger Assassin as the two of them made their way out into the corridors once more. Stifling a yawn, as he and Alnesr separated to make their way to their respective rooms, Altaïr turned to take one last look over his shoulder at the young Assassin who had once, not so long ago, been his own apprentice.

 

Altaïr could admit, if only to himself, that he continued to take pride in Alnesr’s skills; he had laid the foundation that the young Assassin was building on, after all.

 

~AC1~

 

Once the fortress had settled down for the night, and all of the Assassins within it – save for those night guards who were set to watch the walls – were asleep, Rashid ad-Din Sinan made his way through the halls of the Assassins’ fortress. He had put aside Rashid for so long, that walking as himself was almost strange to him. Still, there were matters he wanted to address; matters far more pressing to Rashid than Al Mualim.

 

Standing at the threshold of his library, Rashid concentrated on the remaining thread of the Apple’s power that he had buried within the Assassin Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr’s mind. Pulling gently at the thread, drawing the young Assassin closer, Rashid reflected for a moment on the new things that he had learned about Alnesr.

 

It was, in a way, a sad thing that he had not found out what the young Assassin truly was before the child had truly had a chance to dedicate himself to the cause of the Assassins and their Brotherhood. Still, Rashid accepted that even if he had possessed the knowledge, such would have been useless to him without the Apple to enable him to act on it.

 

When the young Assassin came to him at last, half-closed eyes reflecting the tracery of white light within the Apple itself, Rashid smiled as he reached out to cup the child’s chin for a few moments before gently guiding him deeper into his library. A curious thought came to him then, and Rashid released his grasp – gentle as it had been – on the child’s right shoulder.

 

Diverting slightly more of his attention to guiding Alnesr through the Apple, Rashid found that it was as simple a matter to guide the child using his thoughts as it had been his hand.

 

It was a good thing to remember, but as the young Assassin still had tasks to perform – tasks that not only required the use of his mind and senses, but also called for the child to be rested – Rashid commanded him back to his room. Half-closing his eyes as he traced the thread that stretched between the Apple and the young Assassin that he guided, Rashid found that he was able to guide the child’s steps just as easily through the Apple as he would have with his hands.

 

Settling the boy back down in his bed, Rashid once more retracted all of the threads but one; pressing that thread ever deeper into the young Assassin’s mind until he could only just reach it through the Apple.

 

Looking back to the Apple, sitting so placid and innocuous in his right hand – the only sign of the link that he still possessed to Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr’s mind a subtle, pulsing glow that was almost too faint for sight – Rashid contemplated it.

 

“So, yet another of your mysteries is revealed,” he stated softly.

Chapter Text

When he awakened, sitting up in his bed, Alnesr had the oddest feeling of disconnection for a few moments. As if he was, somehow, not entirely himself in those moments. The feeling swiftly passed as he regained his full faculties and awareness, and so Alnesr disregarded it. Waking from dreams, even if one could not remember them, always seemed to be rather an odd thing.

 

Changing out of his sleeping-clothes, he swiftly dressed in another set of Assassin robes and armed himself for the day; the Master had implied that they would be given a new target, and he would not disgrace himself and the training that he had received from Altaïr by coming in unprepared for such a thing.

 

Meeting up with Altaïr himself as the two of them continued on their way through the corridors to the Master’s tower, Alnesr returned the smile that the elder Assassin gave him.

 

“You’ve had a restful night?”

 

“Yes,” he said, debating for a moment whether to tell Altaïr about the oddness that he had experienced when he had awakened in the morning. He did not want Altaïr himself to worry about something that was probably nothing, but he had always trusted the man; even before he had become the elder Assassin’s apprentice, when the traitor Haras had held him at sword-point and threatened his life in an attempt to force Altaïr to surrender. “I think that I had an odd dream; I awakened with a strange feeling of displacement.”

 

“Oh?” the elder Assassin turned back to him, even as the two of them continued on their way up through the corridors to the Master’s tower. “Your dreams have been troubling you?”

 

“I suppose; if I could remember them, I would be able to speak more clearly,” he said, as they came up and into the Master’s tower.

 

“That you could,” Altaïr said, and Alnesr saw him nod.

 

The two of them came into the Master’s study as last, finding him standing behind his desk. When the Master’s gaze fell upon them, he smiled.

 

“I trust that you both have had a restful night?” Master Mualim said; Alnesr nodded, and saw Altaïr doing the same. He would not trouble the Master with his own uncertainties; it was enough that Altaïr knew. “Good. Your next mission will bring you to Jerusalem; there is a man there named Talal, he will be your next target.” The Master smiled. “I think you will find that the Rafiq there has a great deal to offer you both.”

 

“As you say, Master,” he said, offering a short bow to Master Mualim even as he contemplated just what the Master could have meant by what he had said.

 

He and Altaïr fell into step with each other, making their way down from the Master’s tower and – eventually – out of the citadel itself.

 

“Do you know what the Master could have meant, when he chose to call our attention to this Rafiq? Of all others?”

 

“The Master’s ways can be rather enigmatic,” Altaïr said, sounding about as contemplative as Alnesr felt. “And, I must admit, I do not fully understand why he chose to say such a thing now of all times.”

 

Sighing, Alnesr chuckled softly. “You have always seemed to know more than me; I’d hoped it would hold true now as it has in the past.”

 

Altaïr laughed. “I’ve come to accept that not even I fully understand the Master when he chooses to be enigmatic.”

 

There was really nothing more to say after that, and so the two of them continued on their way down to the stables in relative silence. Choosing a pair of freshly tacked-and-saddled horses, he and Altaïr rode side by side down the mountain and away from the citadel. They passed untroubled through the gates of the fortress, and into the village beyond. Soon enough, they had gone beyond even that.

 

Their journey took them through other cities – cities whose names Alnesr had never quite been able to recall after he had passed through them – and at times they stopped, either to rest, to eat, or on rare occasions to aid a struggling citizen of one of the small cities or large towns that they passed through. Soon enough, however, they arrived before the gates of the great city of Jerusalem.

 

Dismounting from his horse, even as he saw Altaïr doing the same, Alnesr surveyed the large crowd of people entering the city. He did not know how many of them were pilgrims, but there were other matters – far more pressing – than his own curiosity at this moment.

 

“Come,” Altaïr said softly. “We should find our way inside.”

 

“Yes, of course.” Nodding, he fell into step with Altaïr as the two of them made their way forward.

 

The guards at the gate were of the same sort as the ones in Acre, or Damascus before them, but in this case there was no convenient crowd of scholars to disguise their entrance into the city. And so, with Altaïr proceeding him, though the two of them now held the same rank, Alnesr made his way up the side of a weathered-looking wooden structure that his mind was too preoccupied to recall the name of, and swiftly followed Altaïr across several beams, and finally into the city proper.

 

Right over the heads of those who had been assigned to guard it.

Chapter Text

Once the two of them stood back on solid ground once again, Alnesr took note of a man speaking the praises of another man; Talal was the one he spoke of, in fact.

 

“We should move,” Altaïr said, a gentle hand atop his left shoulder. “Observe the lay of the city, Alnesr. Things will become clearer after that.”

 

“Of course,” he said, nodding.

 

Moving out of sight of the large crowd milling about the square, Alnesr began calmly to scale the side of a large building. Once he had made it to the top, he looked out over the vast expanse of the city, laid out before and below him like the most detailed of paintings. He’d not been to this city before, and even though he had been dispatched with a mission, this place was fascinating all the same.

 

Performing a leap of faith once he had managed to locate a suitable hay pile, Alnesr brushed the remaining hay free from his robes and hurried to meet with Altaïr.

 

“I see that you are enjoying your newfound freedom,” Altaïr said, a subtle smile on his face.

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling reflectively. “It was not so long ago that I was all but confined to the grounds of Masyaf. Being free of them now… I… I must admit that I do enjoy the feeling.”

 

“I had almost forgotten,” Altaïr muttered, as the two of them continued on their way through Jerusalem’s front square. “Your appearance would not have served to mask your presence within the crowds; if anything, it would have done the exact opposite.”

 

“Yes; that is what the Master said to me, as well,” Alnesr nodded, allowing Altaïr himself to set their pace through the city, carefully keeping his head tilted just so; eyes out of the line of sight of anyone who might glance their way. “That was why I was restricted to missions solely carried out within the fortress or the village surrounding it. Master Mualim suggested that, if they were to some to know me more for my good deeds than for my appearance, they would come to accept me for who I am all the sooner.”

 

“The Master had the right of it, I expect,” Altaïr said, smiling slightly.

 

“He did, at that.” Alnesr smiled himself, then became reflective once more. “Still, there are days that I wish I could do the same in the other cities we operate in; but that would take a lifetime.”

 

“Perhaps; but in the end, that is all we ever have,” Altaïr said, still smiling. Then, as they came back to the square where the man whose voice he had heard when they first came into the city, the elder Assassin became serious once more. “The Master ordered us to deal with Talal; this seems an opportune time to begin learning of him.”

 

Looking from the orator to Altaïr, Alnesr tilted his head slightly; there was merit to what the elder Assassin had said, however… “Should we not speak to the Rafiq before we begin our investigation?”

 

“I would agree with you, Alnesr, were it not for the man who stands before us even now,” Altaïr countered, motioning to the orator with a tilt of his head.

 

“I suppose you have the right of it; we’ve no way of knowing how long this man will be standing here; how long we would be able to find him as quickly as we did now,” Alnesr said, accepting the logic of Altaïr’s statement even as the two of them fell into step with one another again. “Do you wish for my aid in this, Altaïr, or shall I simply watch for guards?”

 

“If you would not be averse to it,” Altaïr’s gaze fixed on his face for a long moment, and Alnesr thought that he could guess what the elder Assassin was thinking.

 

“No; you have the right of it, again.” Stifling a sigh, he conceded.

 

Allowing Altaïr to take the lead as the two of them moved forward to confront the man who had been offering Talal such high praise, Alnesr clasped his hands in front of his chest and lowered his head slightly, making himself appear as pious as possible; cultivating the illusion of being a young scholar in the company of his master. They closed in on the man with slow, easy strides; not giving him any reason to think that they were anything more than what they appeared to be.

 

That was the way of the Brotherhood: to blend with the citizens to such a degree that they could all but vanish into any crowd almost on a whim.

 

Raising his eyes slightly, Alnesr saw that he and Altaïr were almost upon the man. That was both a good thing and rather unsettling at the same time; good because they would soon have this task behind them and thus would be able to make their presence known to the Rafiq, and rather unsettling because – for all the time that he had been given to become accustomed to the way that those outside of the Brotherhood reacted to his appearance – he was not particularly pleased to have such a thing brought up.

 

Following Talal’s man until he had passed safely out of sight of the milling citizens in Jerusalem’s main plaza, Alnesr saw Altaïr nod subtly to him.

 

Raising his head, Alnesr straightened his stance and attempted to make himself as imposing as his relatively short stature would allow.

 

Cornering the man at last, Alnesr moved aside; Altaïr would not appreciate being distracted at such critical moments, and as the elder Assassin had not asked for his aid in combat, Alnesr would not insult him by forcing him to accept such.

 

Keeping pace with Altaïr as he continued his efforts to subdue Talal’s man, Alnesr watched carefully. When it seemed as though the man was attempting to disengage from battle, most likely so that he could gather more of Talal’s men, Alnesr turned his eyes on the man. His face was as professionally blank as any other Assassin’s would have been under the same circumstances, but Talal’s man reacted just as any of those outside of the Brotherhood had done.

 

The man recoiled, and Altaïr bore down on him with renewed vigor.

 

Once the battle had concluded, with Talal’s man subdued enough that he was willing to talk – with the condition that Alnesr himself stayed away – Alnesr stood back enough not to trouble Talal’s man as Altaïr interrogated and then disposed of him. Stepping carefully over the corpse, Alnesr closed ranks with Altaïr once more.

 

“Did he know anything of import?” he asked, as the two of them made their way back into the main plaza of Jerusalem’s rich district.

 

“The man spoke of preparing the men for a journey; that those men taken by Talal would be sent to Acre, after being gathered in Talal’s warehouse.”

 

His eyes narrowed, as Alnesr felt once more the cold fury that had taken him when he had borne witness to the pitiful conditions of those under Naplouse’s ill-named care. “Well enough that Naplouse is dealt with; no more of those taken will suffer under him. Was there more?”

 

“He knew nothing more; not even the location of the warehouse he spoke of.” Altaïr’s expression became more pensive. “I suppose we will have to find that out on our own.”

 

He smiled softly. “Yes, that sounds right.”

 

“Let’s be about it, then,” Altaïr said, his tone as calm as it had ever been, but the expression on his face was one of subtle amusement.

 

“Shall we report to the Rafiq now?” he asked, turning a slight smile on the elder Assassin.

 

“Perhaps,” Altaïr said, clearly seeing the humor of what they were doing.

 

As the two of them made it back out into the main plaza at last, blending with the crowd as they had trained to do during the course of their training as members of the Brotherhood, Alnesr allowed his eyes to roam the thronging crowds. There were merchants attempting to make sales, scholars making their rounds, and even in the rich district of the city, some beggars still wandered the streets. It was one more city that they needed to liberate from the grasp of those who would abuse its citizens.

 

He and Altaïr separated for a short time, both of them seeking their own vantage points from which to relearn the layout of the city once more, in Altaïr’s case, or to see it for the first time in his own. Looking out over the city, spread beneath him, Alnesr allowed himself only a moment to take in the full scope of it. Then, he turned his attention back to the lay of the city.

 

Leaping from the peak of the tower that he had climbed, Alnesr landed easily within the pile of hay he had picked out. Rising, once he had determined that there was no one close enough to observe what he was doing, Alnesr moved back into the crowds, blending with them in the guise of a simple scholar once more. Keeping to his falsely-pious stance, Alnesr subtly scanned the milling citizens for a familiar presence.

 

Soon enough, he’d managed to find the elder Assassin once more.

 

Altaïr nodded subtly to him by way of greeting, and the two of them continued on their way into the city. Though he was not going to ask about such, he wondered if they would be waylaid by another one of Talal’s men. True, they would have a great deal more to report to the Rafiq of this city than they would otherwise have, but Master Mualim had ordered them to report to the Rafiq when they entered the city.

 

As the two of them proceeded further into the city, moving slowly and deliberately as all scholars did, Alnesr continued his efforts at covertly observing the citizens around them. The people here seemed to be rather happy – save for the beggars, but that was only to be expected – but as this was the rich district, that appeared only natural. Every city’s rich seemed to be pleased with their lot; it was the poor that sought to change the way the world worked. And, often the poor who were a source of recruits and informers for the Brotherhood.

 

It was as the Master and Altaïr had told him: they and the citizens were two parts of a whole, all working together for the cause of peace.

 

Altaïr gently nudged him, and Alnesr looked more closely at the two guards standing in front of the mosque. Clearly, Altaïr had a thought about what they might be able to learn in such a place, but just as clearly this was not a place to discus such a thing. When Altaïr began to subtly steer him away from the mosque’s entrance, Alnesr realized that, while the two of them were quite capable of passing as a scholar and his apprentice in the eyes of the milling crowds – whose gazes would simply pass over them – the guards at the door would be apt to study them more closely.

 

And a disguise that relied on the inattentiveness of those around them would not serve them at all when they were confronted by guards; Altaïr had the right of it again: they would not be able to do this on their own.

 

Passing once more through the milling crowds, Alnesr fell back into step with Altaïr as the two of them searched out a group of scholars that they could blend into for cover. He wasn’t quite certain how to feel about what they were doing, since on the one hand they were gathering useful information so that their report to this city’s Rafiq would be more complete, but on the other Master Mualim had ordered them to seek out the Rafiq when they entered the city. Not when they had enough information to consider it worth their while to make such a report.

 

Still, this was hardly a time for discussing such matters; he would make it a point to speak to Altaïr after this task, if it seemed that he was looking to make another excursion rather than making his way to the Bureau.

 

Following in Altaïr’s wake as the elder Assassin made his way through the milling crowds, Alnesr made a point of searching out a group of scholars that the two of them could join, even as he saw Altaïr doing the same. True, the elder Assassin had been the one to suggest such a thing, but as the two of them were working together, he would carry his own weight in this task. He could do no less, in this as in anything.

 

After Altaïr had provided aid to a scholar who had been confronted by the city’s guard, those who were tasked with guarding the citizens, they were able to take shelter from unfriendly eyes amid their ranks. The guards, at least, were meant to aid in the protection of those who could not defend themselves. However, what Alnesr had seen of them did not give him much cause for confidence.

 

Pulling his hood down slightly farther, enough so that he could further obscure his eyes without occluding his vision, Alnesr continued on. While it was true that he and Altaïr had both acted in the defense of the scholar who had then persuaded his fellows to conceal them from whoever might turn their gaze onto them, the fact remained that the color of his eyes was not looked upon with favor. Truly, he did not know if it ever would be.

 

Lowering his head slightly, both to appear more pious in the eyes of those who would inevitably be observing them, and to further obscure his eyes from scrutiny, Alnesr consciously matched his movements to those of the scholars around them. They had soon come back into sight of the mosque that Altaïr had wished for them to investigate.

 

As they and the scholars made their way inside at last, Alnesr scanned the inside of the mosque for somewhere where he and Altaïr would be able to safely observe the comings and goings of those within this place; a location where they could observe without being observed in turn.

 

Soon enough, they had found a suitable bench from which to observe the interior of the mosque and had both settled down upon it to observe the comings and goings of those inside.

 

“He’s a coward!” a heavyset man of just below average height shouted, breaking the relative silence within the mosque. “If it wasn’t for the money, I’d be long gone!”

 

“You are either stupid or blind,” the taller man, the one that he was speaking to, said calmly; though his tone carried an undercurrent of warning in addition to his words. “Perhaps it is both.”

 

“How can you say that?!”

 

“You didn’t see what happened.”

 

“I saw well enough!” the heavyset man exclaimed. “Our caravan was attacked, and the first thing he did was flee!”

 

“No, he did not run,” the taller man said firmly.

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Did you forget what became of the men who attacked us?”

 

“Felled by our archers, thanks be to God,” the heavyset man snapped.

 

“Not our archers, him,” the taller man said firmly. “Alone.”

 

“You’re saying he saved us?” the heavyset man demanded, clearly startled by what he had been hearing.

 

“Yes, he headed for higher ground, and used his bow to kill them.”

 

“I,” the heavyset man stammered, his gaze shifting uncertainly. “I had no idea.”

 

“The man’s a master archer,” the tall man said firmly. “You would do well to remember that.”

 

~AC1~

 

Catching Alnesr’s gaze, he nodded to the younger Assassin as the two of them rose from their seats and blended into the crowd of scholars. True, the Master had ordered them to report to the Rafiq in Jerusalem before they began their investigations, and it was also true that the Rafiq would most likely dispatch them to go on more such errands when they finally did report to him, but the simple fact was that he had seen an opportunity to gather information from Talal’s associates in this city.

 

Associates who they could have very easily lost in the crowds had they not taken the time to track these men; he would explain as much to the Rafiq when they met him, and he would take whatever rebuke he was offered for his conduct.

 

“Do you feel that he have enough information to at least make a preliminary report to the Rafiq?” Alnesr asked, after the two of them had cautiously made their way out of the mosque where they had overlooked the meeting between two of Talal’s associates.

 

He bit back a smile at the gently teasing tone of the younger Assassin’s voice; it seemed that his former Apprentice’s confidence was growing the longer the two of them spent outside of Masyaf. “Yes; I think we should have enough now. Best we make our way to the Bureau.”

Chapter Text

Alnesr nodded once, and the two of them made their way back into the crowds milling outside the mosque. The two of them both melted into the crowd, hearing the cries of shopkeepers telling of their wares, citizens haggling for a better price, and above them all the haranguing of the crowds by one of the many men who spoke out against the Crusaders. Altaïr, for his part, paid the man little mind as he searched for a vantagepoint from which to observe the lay of the city once more.

 

Once he had found such, leaving the corpse of a too-curious archer inside a shadowed alcove where he would not be discovered quickly, Altaïr leaped down into a nearby haystack once he had seen the last of the nearby citizens moving away from it.

 

Melting back into the crowds, he searched for Alnesr. However, the younger Assassin was the one to find him, this time; his former Apprentice’s pale yellow eyes were the feature that he came to notice first.

 

“It is good to see you again, Alnesr,” he said softly, once the momentary attention of the crowd had drifted away from them once more. “Would you tell me of what you saw?”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” the younger Assassin said, subtly pulling his hood lower as the two of them continued on their way.

 

Speaking of the city, Altaïr smiled slightly as he heard Alnesr’s clear pleasure in being outside of Masyaf. It was not entirely seemly for an Assassin, but considering the younger Assassin’s appearance and the fact that he had been all but confined to the grounds of Masyaf and the village that the fortress overlooked by that selfsame thing, Altaïr felt that he could understand his former Apprentice’s feelings in this matter. Seeing the world with the eyes of one that had been forced to hide from that very thing for so long, particularly due to something that was entirely beyond one’s control… yes, Altaïr felt that he could fully understand such a feeling.

 

Having been reminded of the Bureau’s location, and taking a moment to allow Alnesr to regain his composure after that minor lapse – he would have rebuked another Assassin in the same situation, but Alnesr’s circumstances were as unique as the younger Assassin’s appearance and so at least some allowances had to be made – Altaïr signaled to him and the two of them made their way into a more sparsely populated area of the city.

 

After making certain that the eyes of the crowds were no longer upon them, Altaïr proceeded Alnesr up the side of the building and onto the rooftops. The two of them moved over the rooftops quickly and with surety, and soon enough they had come to the rooftop-entrance of the Assassin Bureau in Jerusalem. Leading Alnesr into the main area of the building where the two of them would take their repose while they stayed in the city, Altaïr stopped in his tracks when he laid eyes upon the Rafiq that he and Alnesr were to make their reports to.

 

He’d not expected to be made to confront the mistakes that he had made so early, but there was no way to avoid it at this point.

 

For the first time, Alnesr was the first one to speak, while Altaïr himself could say nothing. “Malik?”

 

“It’s good to see you again, at least,” Malik said, his smile clearly only for Alnesr’s sake.

 

“Your arm could not be saved?” Alnesr asked, his tone shaken by what he was seeing.

 

Malik reached out with his right arm, settling his remaining hand atop Alnesr’s left shoulder. “You’ve no reason to blame yourself for my condition.” The momentary coldness in Malik’s gaze was clearly meant for only him to see, but Alnesr’s swiftly-concealed wince clearly showed that he had seen it as well. “After all, you would not think to blame me for this?” he continued, gently tracing the no longer fresh but still plainly visible scar just above Alnesr’s right eyebrow. “Would you?”

 

“No, I suppose I would not,” Alnesr said, reaching up to touch his scar even as Malik had done.

 

“Now, what have you and your idiot Apprentice come to do?” Malik asked, the smile on his face gentle only up to the point when he turned it upon Altaïr himself.

 

“Altaïr is no longer apprenticed to me, Malik,” Alnesr said softly, the confidence that he had developed during the course of their hunt for the men that Master Mualim had set them out to kill nowhere in evidence.

 

Malik chuckled darkly. “So, he couldn’t even manage as an Apprentice, could he?”

 

“Malik, please,” Alnesr said, reaching out as if to touch Malik’s right shoulder, then hesitating and pulling his hand back. “The Master has ordered that we hunt down a man named Talal. Will you allow us leave to stay here while we search for the information we need?”

 

You are perfectly welcome to have the run of this Bureau, Alnesr,” Malik said, aiming a smile of honeyed poison in his direction. “All I ask is that you make certain that your idiot Apprentice does not make a nuisance of himself.”

 

“Yes, Malik,” Alnesr said, his tone subdued; Altaïr was almost certain that he could guess the younger Assassin’s reasons for acting in such a way. “I thank you for your aid.”

 

“You are quite welcome to it, young Assassin. Go, take your rest now; you’ve clearly had a long journey.”

 

“Thank you for your consideration, brother,” Alnesr said, offering a shallow, respectful bow to Malik as the two of them turned to leave the main room of the Bureau.

 

Wrapping his right arm around Alnesr’s shoulders as the two of them made their way into the back room of the Bureau once more, Altaïr felt the younger Assassin leaning more heavily upon him. Not enough so that either of their movements were compromised, but enough that it became clear that he needed the support that only Altaïr himself could provide.

 

“I’d thought that the aid I had given him would have at least been enough to keep him from being wounded so gravely,” Alnesr said, his eyes downcast as the two of them continued over to the table where they would take their meal after having done so much work this day.

 

“I doubt that there was anything you could have done, faced with so many of Robert De Sable’s elite Templars,” he said, wanting to be reassuring but not knowing if he would be taken that way.

 

“I know,” Alnesr said, sighing as the two of them settled down at the table in front of them. “But, I have to admit that – until now – I still held out hope that Malik would not be permanently wounded by what had happened that day.”

 

“I know,” he sighed, looking back towards the front room of the Bureau. “I should not have been so arrogant at Solomon’s Temple; I fear you’ve both suffered for it.”

 

“I would not speak against you, Altaïr,” his former Apprentice said, his demeanor more meek than Altaïr had ever seen before.

 

“Only because I raised you,” he said, reaching out to softly raise Alnesr’s chin with his right hand.

 

Still, that was not entirely true; Alnesr had been as happy as any child, during the easier days that he had spent in training at Masyaf. He had learned through trial and error, and attended his lessons with diligence and good-humor both. However, on the day following their release from Masyaf’s dungeons, Altaïr had found Abbas with his hands wrapped tightly around Alnesr’s throat, clearly attempting to strangle the life out of him.

 

Something he would have succeeded in, if Altaïr himself had not acted so quickly in Alnesr’s defense. Abbas’ punishment had been to be whipped on his unclad back ten times, before the whole of Masyaf’s population of students and Novices, and after the Master had finished doling out his punishment, he had brought Abbas over to where he had stood with Alnesr at the back of the room. The Master’s command that Abbas was to apologize to Alnesr had been soundly ignored.

 

Even to this day, Altaïr could remember the way the younger Assassin had seemed to shrink inward on himself when Abbas spat at his feet.

 

Continuing to watch Alnesr as the younger Assassin took his meal, Altaïr recalled the Master’s response to Abbas’ continued disrespect: an open-handed blow that had knocked Abbas’ head to the side. The Master had taken it upon himself to apologize for Abbas’ deplorable conduct, but the damage had clearly been done. There were times, though admittedly not many of them, that he wondered what path their lives would have taken if Abbas’ father had not chosen to take his own life in Altaïr’s quarters that one, dark night.

 

However, such musings were best left for when he had the time to contemplate them.

 

Once he and Alnesr both had finished their respective meals, Altaïr followed the younger Assassin over to the pile of cushions. It was the same in every one of the Bureaus he had visited: the pile of cushions was always in the same place, and he was almost certain that the various piles were all the same size. Settling himself down to sleep, and feeling Alnesr curling up next to him, Altaïr closed his eyes and allowed himself to fully relax at last.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after he and Alnesr had broken their fast, Altaïr rose and lead Alnesr out of the rooftop entrance of the Bureau. The two of them stood for only a moment, observing the layout of the city beneath them, before he took the lead and Alnesr fell into step behind him. Crossing a narrow walkway between two buildings that stood across the street from each other, Altaïr turned to nod over his right shoulder at his fellow Assassin, and the two of them parted ways.

 

Making his way up the side of a rather large tower, he calmly scaled the side of it and perched atop the low wall just below the top, pausing for a few, long moments to observe the layout of the city below him. Knowing even as he did so that Alnesr was doing the same. Leaping lightly from the lip of the tower, he landed easily in a cart filled with hay.

 

Rising from his landing, once he had determined that there was no one close enough to see what he was about, Altaïr left the cart behind him and made his way through the thronging crowds to meet with Alnesr once more.

 

Passing a pair of guards harassing an innocent citizen, Altaïr decided to deal with them; Alnesr would keep, but his duties to the Brotherhood were not to be neglected. Dealing with the guards, leaving them both dying on the ground, he paused a moment to acknowledge the citizen as she thanked him for what he had done. Even as he did so, Altaïr couldn’t help but think of his former Apprentice; Alnesr would not have been able to do something like this.

 

His appearance would not be well-regarded by any of those who lived outside of Masyaf.

 

As he left the quarter of the city where he had encountered the citizen whose defense he had acted in, he saw Alnesr coming from yet another quarter. It was clear that the younger Assassin had been in battle, the blood near the hems of his sleeves and on the bottom of his robes told plainly of the conflict that he had just participated in.

 

Nodding to Alnesr as the younger Assassin fell into step with him, Altaïr took the lead in their search as the two of them continued deeper into the rich quarter of the city. Turning as he heard various voices speaking from within the crowd, Altaïr listened for those who would speak of what Talal was about in this city. The more information they could find about the man, the easier their task would become when they at last moved to deal with him.

 

The two of them continued on their way through the city, melting through the crowd as though the two of them were not even present; or, that was how it would seem to anyone who sought to observe them. Hearing the sounds of urgent discourse, Altaïr bade Alnesr to follow his lead. Stopping just outside of the alleyway where he could hear the voices of the two men holding their discussion, Altaïr turned to brace Alnesr.

 

The younger Assassin shifted slightly, as in the manner of one who had discovered an uncomfortable pebble in his shoe, and as Altaïr watched his former Apprentice’s performance, he was almost tempted to smile; there were few enough who would think to look for spying eyes or listening ears among a pair of scholars whose younger had merely stopped to relieve a bit of discomfort on his foot.

 

“If the guard won’t take action, it falls to us to do something,” one of the men that he had observed, a bald one with a neatly-trimmed beard, said to another.

 

“What you propose is madness!” the other man said, as Alnesr removed his boot at last, upending it and shaking the item so as to dislodge anything that might fall out.

 

“But necessary!” the first man insisted. “How many more will we allow to go missing, before the people take a stand?”

 

“It does not affect us!” the second man snapped; both of them turning to look around, and quickly glance over himself and Alnesr as the younger Assassin firmly slapped the bottom of his boot, a look of concentration on his face that would have easily fooled those who did not know him.

 

“Not yet, but if we continue to do nothing, it will.”

 

“And what do you propose?”

 

“I’ve watched the man,” the first of the planners said, the confidence of desperation in his tone. “Learned everything there is to know about his operation! It’s all here, on a map I’ve made.” As Alnesr carefully replaced his boot, Altaïr looked to the man in the pale brown robe; sure enough, he was reaching into his bag even as they spoke. “He inspects his stock, every day at the same time. This is when I’ll strike!”

 

“So, you have a piece of paper,” the other man, this one in a patterned, dark blue-green robe, said with derision. “It won’t save you when you’re discovered! Won’t shield you from their swords and arrows!”

 

“If all goes well, it won’t come to that,” the first man said; Altaïr winced at the uncomfortable reminder of his own previous arrogance. Truly, he may very well have been doing this man a favor, to take that dangerous burden from him; it was not for an unblooded citizen, to seek the work of an Assassin. “Anyway, it’s a risk I’ll have to take. Wish me luck, my friend.”

 

“Indeed,” the other man said, sounding if not convinced by his friend’s resolve, then at the least resigned to it. “You’ll need it.”

 

Their conversation ended, there was no more need for he and Alnesr to carry through with the deception that had shielded them from the eyes of those two men. Allowing Alnesr to regain his own balance, which the younger Assassin did with a skill and certainty that would have made any teacher proud, Altaïr signaled to him and the two of them melted into the crowd – sparse as it was in this area – in pursuit of the brown-robed man. Separating only enough so that they could both pass by on either side of him, Altaïr continued onward.

 

As they passed, just close enough to the man in gold-striped-brown robes so that he could not easily anticipate where the hand that relieved him had come from his left or right, Altaïr swiftly and with the skills granted to him by a lifetime of training, proceeded to do just that.

 

Merging with the denser crowds in the main thoroughfare, Altaïr assumed a more pious air and let the eyes of the citizens pass easily over him; after all, they had nothing to fear from a simple scholar. When he saw Alnesr falling into step with him, Altaïr smiled slightly. Truly, seeing how far his former Apprentice had come from the days of his childhood was indeed gratifying. He rather thought that the Master felt the same.

 

Still, now was not the time to indulge in idle reminiscence; there was still work to be done.

 

The two of them made their way into yet another quarter of the city; Altaïr led Alnesr to a convenient bench just as a pair of men – both of them seeming rather preoccupied by some matter or other – came into view. Settling down with the mien of one taking a much-anticipated rest, Altaïr turned his attention toward these two new men.

Chapter Text

“Please, you must help me,” pleaded one of the men; bearded and wearing dulled yellow robes. “I’ll pay you anything you ask. Anything!”

 

“It’s not so simple, my friend,” countered the man he was speaking to; this one wore a dark blue surcoat over bright white pants.

 

“But it is! I know all his tricks. He’s a coward, not a fighter.” Altaïr thought that this was rather less than likely, given the tales that others had carried of Talal and his skill, but he was not truly inclined to speak out on matters that he was not being consulted upon; nonetheless, he and Alnesr would clearly be doing this new man a favor by relieving him of the information he doubtless carried. “He’ll run at the first sign of trouble. Take this map; it will show you where he likes to hide.”

 

“You don’t understand,” the other man said, his tone becoming flat and almost menacing.

 

“Oh, I understand,” the first man said, beginning to sound rather overly confidant. “You are afraid. You call yourself a warrior, but a single slave-trader fills you with fear.” There was now a plain undertone of derision in the first man’s voice; Altaïr was uncomfortably reminded of the man he’d once been.

 

The second man laughed, a rather harsh sound, Altaïr observed. “Fear? Nothing of the sort,” he snapped.

 

“Then what?”

 

“It would be bad business on my part, seeing as I already work for him.”

 

You?”

 

“So,” the other man said, now sounding rather cruelly amused. “Now you understand? Go! Leave now, and I’ll forget we had this conversation.”

 

The first man fell to his knees, his confidence clearly shaken by finding an enemy in a man he had sought out for help had turned out to be merely one more of his enemies wearing a guise of false friendship. As the man made his way back through the indifferently milling crowds, Altaïr watched as Alnesr slipped neatly in close to the man in the faded, yellow robes, and swiftly relived him of the map that he was carrying.

 

“Do you think that the Informants would have anything of note? Or should we go back and make our report to Malik?” Alnesr muttered softly, head bent slightly toward his own, as the two of them resumed their pious, scholarly attitudes, and continued on their way.

 

“Perhaps,” he allowed, thinking back for a moment on the sometimes pleasant – and even profitable, at times – tasks that he had been asked to accomplish by the Assassin Informants that had been scattered about the various cities that the Assassins themselves hunted in. “It depends; would you say that you want to perform what tasks that they would ask of you?”

 

“Well, I do not know what tasks they would ask of me,” Alnesr said, his words halting for a moment as an expression of contemplation crossed his face. “So, I do not know the answer to such a question.”

 

As the two of them moved through the milling crowds, becoming one with them and yet still remaining separate at the same time, Altaïr observed the pensive expression that settled on the younger Assassin’s face. He himself was not particularly eager to go chasing after Informants, when they had already managed to gather so much information about Talal in other ways, but for this mission, he would give Alnesr the latitude to choose.

 

So long as the younger Assassin also understood that he would also be the one to carry out whatever tasks the Informant – or Informants, if Alnesr had not had his fill of them after merely one – asked of him.

 

When they passed the location where an Informant was posted, Altaïr saw Alnesr subtly cock his head in thought, but he made no mention of it and they passed on without a word. Altaïr would not have actively discouraged the younger Assassin from pursuing the knowledge that an Informant might have had, if that were truly what Alnesr had desired, but it appeared that such had merely been a passing thought after all.

 

The two of them made for the rooftops once more, once the eyes of the crowds were no longer upon them, and together they were easily able to deal with those guards and archers both that they encountered on their way.

 

Soon enough, they had returned to the Bureau’s rooftop entrance. Climbing back down inside, once Alnesr was far enough that he would not be at risk of stepping on the younger Assassin’s hands as he descended, Altaïr stepped down off of the ornamental fountain and onto the floor beneath. Allowing Alnesr to proceed him into the main office, since it was clear that Malik would be far more amenable to speaking with him than to Altaïr himself, Altaïr made his own way inside.

 

“Safety and peace, Malik,” the younger Assassin said, clearly working to master the uncertainty he still felt.

 

“On you as well, brother,” Malik said cordially, though his gaze chilled when it fell upon him when he walked in. Altaïr said nothing; this was no less than he deserved, after the pain his actions had caused. “Come, tell me of what you learned this day.”

 

“Our target traffics in human lives; kidnapping Jerusalem’s citizens and selling them into slavery. He operates out of a warehouse inside the barbican north of here. Even now, he is making preparations to transport his prisoners in a caravan to Acre. There, they would have been given over to Garnier de Naplouse,” an expression of disgust crossed Alnesr’s face, but was quickly repressed.

 

“The Master informed me that Naplouse was your first,” Malik said, smiling gently. “It was well done, from the account he gave.”

 

Alnesr seemed surprised at such recognition, but he recovered his composure swiftly. “If we move quickly, we should be able to strike while Talal is still making his inspections. Between the two of us, we should have a good chance of handling what forces he could bring to bear against us.”

 

“Very well, then,” Malik said, nodding in a pleased manner. “Your assessment of your skills sounds reasonable,” here, Malik turned an icily-mocking smile on him. “I will give you and your idiot Apprentice leave to deal with this canker, Alnesr.” Malik placed a clean, white feather atop the counter, and Alnesr took it with only a moment of hesitation. “Safety and peace be upon you, brother. And good hunting.”

 

“Thank you, Malik,” Alnesr said, bowing subtly. “Safety and peace be upon you, as well.”

 

The two of them left in silence after that, one-by-one making their way back out of the rooftop entrance. They stood there for only a moment, before swiftly beginning to make their way north.

 

~AC1~

 

He was not yet certain if he was fully prepared to take another life, so soon after Naplouse. Alnesr knew that such hesitation was unseemly, and he was not going to mention it to Altaïr, even though he knew that his former mentor would understand. Altaïr would not be disappointed in him for such a thing, but that did not actually change the fact that Alnesr was rather disappointed in himself.

 

Putting those thoughts aside, he turned his attention back to the task at hand. Descending from the rooftops and making their way into the milling crowds once more, he and Altaïr continued on their path northward, to the warehouse inside the barbican that Talal operated out of. There, either he or Altaïr would move to deal with the slaver so that he could not cause any more misery to the population of Jerusalem than he previously had.

 

He would be required to make his final decision then, whether he would take on the task of ending Talal’s life so soon after he had ended that of Naplouse, or if he would allow Altaïr to take the lead as he had done so many times in the past. Their journey to the barbican northward would provide Alnesr with the time that he needed to decide on such a matter, and Alnesr would not waste it.

 

As he and Altaïr drew nearer to their ultimate destination, the crowds that had served to conceal them began to diminish in size, and so he and Altaïr returned to the rooftops. Alnesr always felt a thrill – one that he quickly suppressed, as he and Altaïr were and had been on a mission from Al Mualim – whenever he made the ascent beside the man who had been his mentor, and still remained the only true father that he had ever known; unseemly as such a thing would have been to admit before any of the Brotherhood. Not only for the fact that he and Altaïr moved almost as one in there better moments, not only for the wider vantage such a high-point provided him with, but for the simple fact that the village that Masyaf fortress stood sentinel over did not have any buildings within it that matched the height of those in the other cities that he had traveled to at the side of his once mentor and the behest of Master Mualim.

 

Still, Alnesr knew that he would have need to continue laying such feelings aside; not only were they unseemly for an Assassin, they might very well serve to distract him from his mission.

 

As he and Altaïr continued on their way across the rooftops bordering the streets of Jerusalem’s north district, making their way to the warehouse within the barbican that Talal operated out of so that they could be done with him at last, Alnesr breathed deeply in an effort to bring himself back to the state that he had achieved when he had ended the life of Garnier de Naplouse, and hence freed the citizens of Acre from his cruel dominion. It had served him well before, and as his task would – potentially – involve the ending of yet another wasted life, it would clearly serve him just as well here and now.

Chapter Text

They came at last upon Talal’s warehouse within the barbican, and as they entered, he noticed that even Altaïr himself seemed to be rather unsettled by the place where they now stood. True, this was not the most comfortable of places – very far from it, in fact – but Altaïr seemed rather more unsettled than he could account for even from that.

 

“Alnesr, have you noticed anything untoward about this place?”

 

“Is there something I should be noticing, Altaïr?” he asked, scanning what he could see of the interior of the warehouse in the enveloping gloom.

 

“You have not taken note of the absence of guards here? Even of acolytes?”

 

Altaïr voice carried no inflection, but the glance the elder Assassin gave him was subtly reproving, and Alnesr winced slightly. He was so concerned with what was inside this warehouse, he had neglected to take note of what was not. Before he could speak, the door behind them slammed shut and he heard the distinct sound of a bolt being thrown. Shaking his head as Altaïr cursed softly behind him, Alnesr drew his own blade even as the elder Assassin did the same.

 

The crept forward as one, and Alnesr felt his eyes slowly beginning to readjust to the newly-darkened gloom inside the warehouse. He had also begun to smell something that reminded him a great deal of livestock, but the scent was somehow more human than animal. Clenching his jaw, steadying himself for whatever it was that he might soon see, Alnesr followed Altaïr deeper into the warehouse.

 

The first things he saw were mundane, and rather simple things at that: crates and barrels, all of them presumably filled with provisions for the journey that Talal thought he was going to make. However, what caught his attention next was neither of those: it was a cage, one in which a wan, pitiful figure of a man. One who was even then turning to regard the two of them with plaintive, sunken eyes that watered freely as they approached.

 

The man in the cage began pleading for their help, but he was not the only one. There were others, some in shackles and some held beneath grates in the floor. And all of them, it seemed, had seen their salvation and were now calling out for it.

 

“Alnesr, do you still remember your training to break locks?”

 

“I do,” he said, knowing just what it was that Altaïr would ask of him next.

 

“Free these people, then. I will see to Talal, and ensure that you are kept safe while you work.”

 

“As you say, Altaïr,” he nodded, moving to the cage where the poor wretch inside it even now watched him with awe and gratitude. “Good hunting, brother.”

 

However, as he went to work on the lock before him, Alnesr could hear the voice of another. A voice from on high; a voice telling them that they should not have come to this place.

 

~AC1~

 

As Alnesr worked to free the prisoners that Talal had taken, Altaïr himself moved forward. It had been a novice’s mistake, that which had lead him to trap both himself and Alnesr inside Talal’s warehouse and behind a door that was now barred behind them, but he would personally see that neither of them paid for his own mistake with their lives. Not Alnesr, nor any of the prisoners that his former Apprentice sought to free; none of them would be allowed to die for his foolishness.

 

“But, you are not the kind to listen to such warnings,” said a man that he suspected all the more now was Talal. “Lest you compromise your Brotherhood.” Talal paused once more, and his tone seemed rather regretful when he continued. “A pity about the child; we could have saved him, if we had been given the chance. Though perhaps we still can; time will tell.”

 

Altaïr knew that Talal meant to goad him with such words; to make him lose himself in fury, and hence endanger more than merely his own life, and so he set them aside. He knew Alnesr’s skill well enough to know that the younger Assassin would be able to protect himself and those he now guarded from whatever it was that Talal might contrive in an attempt to harm him.

 

“Still, did you truly think that you and yours would escape my notice here, of all places?” Talal continued; Altaïr could not truly tell if he was disappointed or not by the lack of success that his goading was met with. “The two of you were known to me the moment you entered this city; such is my reach. And it is hard to mistake a boy with yellow eyes, little Assassin.”

 

This he had clearly directed at Alnesr, but whether his former Apprentice had truly taken note of such words he did not know; Alnesr continued with his work of freeing Talal’s prisoners and sending them as close as he could to safety as though Talal himself had not spoken at all.

 

“So, there are slaves here,” Altaïr said, trying his hand at a bit of goading himself. “But where are the slavers?”

 

“Behold my work, in all its glory,” Talal said, seeming to put aside Altaïr’s own words just as easily as Alnesr had put aside his.

 

More torches flared to life, and he could now see Alnesr’s good work all the more clearly; the younger Assassin darted between cages, grates, and shackled prisoners, and it took him the work of but a few moments to have them free once more. Some of them, those newly freed for the most part, would attempt to take their shelter behind him, but Alnesr would quickly wave them off and direct them to safer ground.

 

“What now, slaver?”

 

“Do not call me that,” Talal snapped. “I will allow that your boy has upset the system I had emplaced, and it will take some time to see it set to rights once more. I will even allow the fact that the child believes himself to be acting in good faith to these people; that is a good thing, for it means that my brothers and I will have a far easier time in saving him than I had at first thought.”

 

“You do these people no kindness, keeping them here as you have done,” he said, choosing once again to ignore the insinuations made towards Alnesr.

 

“Imprisoning them?” Talal scoffed. “I keep them safe. Preparing them for the journey that lies ahead.”

 

“The journey?” he scoffed in return. “You mean to say, the life of servitude you so generously gift them with after you have stolen their own lives?”

 

“You know nothing,” Talal snapped. “It becomes clear to me that only one Assassin shall find his life spared, this day.”

 

“It becomes clear to me, that the man I face is a coward,” he returned, raising his sword in more of a taunting gesture to the room at large, than to any one opponent that he might soon be facing. “Who can only hide in the shadows and strike with words.”

 

“You desire me to come into the light? So that you might see the man that brought you and the little one here to me?”

 

“Alnesr and I were not brought here by any machinations of yours, slaver. We came of our own will.”

 

“Truly?” Talal laughed in derision. “And, tell me: who unbarred the door that you walked through? Who cleared the path? Did either of you even once raise your blades against a single one of my men? No. All of this was done for you, not by you.” Something in the ceiling opened, spilling a circle of daylight onto the stone floor. “Now, Assassin: step into the light, and I will do you a final kindness.”

 

Altaïr knew that if Talal had truly desired his death at this time, the slaver had more than enough archers to ensure that even he would fall under such an onslaught. Even so, as he stepped forward and to the edges of the circle, the sight of Talal’s own men – masked and armed as they were – was slightly unsettling to him. Particularly now, since more than his own life was riding on the outcome of this battle.

 

The eyes of Talal’s masked men were like any of those who dealt in death; even Altaïr’s own found a reflection of himself in them.

 

There were six of them, and it seemed as though Alnesr’s assessment held true: with two of them, they would have had a good chance of defeating these ones.

 

“And now I stand before you,” Talal said cordially, spreading his hands as though he was a gracious host who had merely invited Altaïr into his home. “What is it that you would ask of me?”

 

“Only that you come down, so that we may settle this with honor,” he said, calmly raising his sword; he was not going to be taken in by simple tricks, not after he had already been so deceived before.

 

“Why must these matters always end in violence?” Talal wondered aloud, his tone now one of gentle-seeming disappointment. “It seems that I truly cannot help you, Assassin; since you refuse to help yourself. So be it; I cannot allow my work to be undone, and I cannot allow your intransigence to threaten my brothers. Men: kill the elder Assassin, but spare the boy and bind him.”

 

“Alnesr, stand ready!” he called, as Talal’s men divided into two groups, and one of them moved to attack him with raised swords.

 

He distantly heard, over the rush of battle in his ears, Alnesr calling back to him, but then Talal’s men were upon him and there was no more time for reflection on things like that. Wading into the midst of his attackers, his sword raised to deal more swiftly with them, Altaïr briefly recalled the lessons that Master Mualim had taught him. As he closed with his chosen opponent, wearing a smile that was little more than a baring of teeth and intent, Altaïr could only hope that Alnesr was doing the same.

 

There was no time for him to call out to the younger Assassin again, and Altaïr hoped that there was no cause for him to do such, either; he could only trust in Alnesr’s skill, as the younger Assassin so clearly trusted in Altaïr’s own.

 

~AC1~

 

Two more of the men attempting to attack him fell to Alnesr’s blade, and were swiftly set upon by those who had once been their prisoners. Those selfsame former prisoners held no mercy for those who had kept them in bondage, and even as he continued to deal with the men still attempting to bar his path, Alnesr could hear the sounds of the still-lucid guards being kicked and beaten by the crowd that surged at his back.

 

“Talal seeks to escape from this place!” one of the stronger men, who had naturally been at the forefront of the crowd, called out. “Assassin!”

 

His remaining opponent was swiftly pulled into the surging crowd, and Alnesr quickly lost sight of him “I thank you for your aid,” he called back “Go now; return to your homes and your lives. My brother and I will attend to the rest.”

 

Turning away as the crowd disbursed behind him, Alnesr turned quickly to follow the path that Altaïr had, likely as not, taken in his pursuit of Talal as the slaver had attempted to make his escape. Once he had gained the rooftop, Alnesr quickly spotted Altaïr, just before the elder Assassin leaped from the rooftop in pursuit of someone. It seemed that he had indeed found just where Talal was trying to escape from.

 

Dashing along the path that Altaïr had previously taken, he leaped down into the crowds just in time to see Talal brought low by Altaïr’s hidden blade. As the crowds parted, clearly not a one of them wished to risk becoming a party to the violence being carried out here; just as clearly, none of them fully understood an Assassin’s dedication to preserving innocent lives.

 

He could hear Altaïr speaking more clearly, now: “You’ve nowhere to run now. Share your secrets with me.”

 

“My part is played, Assassin,” Talal wheezed, the life clearly beginning to leave him in earnest. “The brotherhood is not so weak that my death will stop our work.”

 

“What brotherhood do you speak of, slaver?” he asked, looking down at the man who then looked back at him.

 

“Al Mualim is not the only one with designs upon the Holy Land, child. But that’s all you and yours will hear from me.”

 

“Then we are finished,” Altaïr said firmly, already moving as though to rise. “Beg forgiveness from your God.”

 

“There is no God, Assassin,” Talal laughed weakly, death coming all the swifter now. “And, even if there ever was, he’s long since abandoned us. Long since abandoned the men and women I took into my care.”

 

“Your care?” Alnesr barely forced himself not to snarl, even as Altaïr rose back to his feet beside him.

 

“Beggars; whores; addicts; lepers. Do any of those strike you as proper slaves, little Assassin? No, I took them not to sell, but to save.”

 

“Yes, I have seen the salvation you would offer them,” he snapped, not entirely able to keep the snarl from his voice when he did. “I have met the man that you would send those in your care to; I have seen his cruelty with my own eyes, and ended it with my own hands.”

Chapter Text

He noticed that Altaïr had already stained the feather with Talal’s blood, and so the two of them moved off. The alarm had already been sounded, and as he and Altaïr gained the rooftops once again, Alnesr was already scanning for places where he and Altaïr would be able to conceal themselves long enough so that their hunters gave up the chase. So that they would not bring danger to Malik where he stayed, and in so doing compromise the Brotherhood.

 

Sheltering inside a rooftop garden until he could no longer hear the sounds of their pursuers, he looked to Altaïr, following the elder Assassin’s lead as the two of them left their temporary shelter. They made their way quickly, over the rooftops and back once more to the entrance of the Bureau that Malik oversaw. Following Altaïr back down into the interior courtyard, Alnesr allowed himself to breathe more easily once he had stepped down from the ornamental fountain.

 

As he and Altaïr made their way back into the Bureau’s main room, Alnesr watched the warm, welcoming smile on Malik’s face transform into something sharper and distinctly less pleasant as his gaze moved from him to Altaïr.

 

“So, how did you and your idiot Apprentice manage this latest task, brother?”

 

“The task is done, Malik,” Altaïr said, sounding rather more subdued than Alnesr had honestly been expecting when he handed over Master Mualim’s marker.

 

Malik said nothing in response to Altaïr’s words, and for a moment Alnesr wondered why that was; he wondered until he saw Malik’s gaze on him, and then he wondered that such a thing could be for his own sake. “I suppose the two of you had better stay here, until all of this furor dies down. You’ve done well, but Jerusalem will not be a safe place for you while those who were loyal to Talal remain in power.”

 

“Thank you for sheltering us, Malik,” he said, wanting for a moment to thank the elder Assassin for his discretion, but not knowing how to phrase such a thing so that it would not be taken in a way that he did not intend it.

 

“Go, rest,” Malik said, the warm smile on his face clearly meant for his eyes alone. “This unrest your actions have caused will take some time to pass; best you both leave quickly when it does.”

 

Nodding to Malik, trying not to allow the guilt he still felt clawing at his throat to overwhelm him, Alnesr made his way back out to the entrance of the Bureau. He could feel Altaïr’s right hand on his shoulder, and for a few moments Alnesr allowed himself to take comfort in that. After the two of them had settled down at the table, eating a last meal in Jerusalem before they departed for Masyaf once more, he found Altaïr studying him closely.

 

Truly, he was not the only one who grieved for the wound that Malik had suffered.

 

They finished their meal in silence, then moved over to the sleeping area to take what rest they could before they departed once more.

 

~AC1~

 

When he awakened once more, long enough before Alnesr did so that he could watch the younger Assassin’s yellow eyes open slowly, clearing as he awakened further. It had happened every time the two of them had slept side by side, ever since Alnesr was a child, and yet each time Altaïr would take note of it. In a very real way, Alnesr was his child; the closest thing he had had to a family, since his mother and father had both died.

 

The two of them had a light meal, and he waited in the other room while Alnesr bid farewell to Malik; he knew that the Rafiq had no desire to either see him or speak with him, and while he wondered if the other would ever have such a desire again, Altaïr knew that it was not for him to ask. He had wronged Malik gravely, and while he might try to make amends for such, it was Malik’s decision whether he received forgiveness for his foolish actions or not.

 

Still, after everything his foolishness had cost the new Rafiq, Altaïr doubted that he would be granted such; there were times he doubted that Alnesr would have done so, if the relationship between himself and the younger Assassin had been more distant.

Chapter Text

When the two of them departed through the rooftop entrance once more, and Altaïr felt the embrace of the wind again, it served to settle his mind in the way it had so often done in the past.

 

Altaïr savored that peace of mind, knowing that it would not last. Talal was indeed not the only one who had spoken of being joined as part of a brotherhood, and his mind would not be settled until he had gained more understanding of just what it was that he faced, and Altaïr knew that only Al Mualim – who had sent himself and Alnesr out in the first place – could provide him with the understanding he now sought. Though there would, doubtless, be a price to be paid for such understanding.

 

Knowledge always came at a price.

 

Blending with a group of scholars who were even then making their own way out of the city, he and Alnesr passed right under the gaze of the watchful guards outside the gates. Breaking away from the group of scholars once they had passed far enough from the walls that they would not be seen doing so, Altaïr breathed more easily as he lead Alnesr back to the stable where they had left their horses.

 

Once the two of them were mounted and had set off once more, Altaïr allowed himself to look back and observe Alnesr’s state. The younger Assassin seemed to be doing well enough, though seeing what had become of Malik still clearly troubled him. Still, there would be little that he himself could do to assuage such guilt, when he clearly bore it for himself. A far greater share than Alnesr, to be sure, since his former Apprentice had not been the one to strike out on his own in an attack on Robert De Sable when the man had had at his back a cadre of elite Templar soldiers.

 

No; he could not be the one to speak to Alnesr about such things, not with his own guilt gnawing at his mind.

 

When it came time for the two of them to rest for the first time, near a well that had been carefully shaded from the heat and light of the sun that would steal the water away, Altaïr offered to see to the horses, and Alnesr in turn offered to see to their sleeping area. The two of them having mutually decided what tasks they would take, Altaïr set about his own while listening to the sounds of Alnesr making his own preparations.

 

The two of them slept neatly beside one another, and Altaïr woke as he always did.

 

They made as swift a journey as could be expected, down the roads and up the paths that lay between Jerusalem and Masyaf, stopping to sleep when they needed to and eating on horseback as they traveled. On the last long day of their journey, before they would make the last push forward to Masyaf village, and from there to the fortress that guarded it, he and Alnesr settled down to rest beside a fountain that had been walled-in and roofed; much in the same way the well they had taken their first rest by had been.

 

And, Altaïr suspected, for much the same reasons as well.

 

~AC1~

 

When he was awakened from a dream that had been all too common for him – that of Abbas’ father Ahmad coming to him; a gleaming dagger clutched in his hand, a dagger that he would draw slowly across his throat, grinning all the while – Altaïr looked to Alnesr, still seeming to be in the grip of peaceful slumber. He wondered, for a long few moments, if Abbas lingered in Alnesr’s dreams. If the hands of Altaïr’s once-brother, clenched around Alnesr’s throat, drove his former Apprentice from sleep even to this day. However, if that was true, you could not have proved it by Altaïr.

 

Moving closer to Alnesr, so that he could feel the younger Assassin’s warmth, Altaïr closed his eyes and hoped to at least be able to rest until first light.

 

When he was awakened again, this time by the lack of a need for sleep rather than the nightmare of before, Altaïr waited long enough to watch Alnesr’s pale yellow eyes open and then clear from the sleepiness that had formerly clouded them, before he rose and then helped the younger Assassin back to his feet. The two of them mounted their horses after a quick meal taken from their respective saddlebags, and Altaïr was only slightly swifter than Alnesr in departing from the fountain where they had taken their last night of rest.

 

Riding down the last of the roads, Altaïr began at last to see the village that Masyaf fortress stood sentinel over rising in the distance. He allowed himself to breathe more freely. Yes, he would be confronting the Master about the information that he had withheld, and it was likely enough that the Master would not be particularly pleased with the confrontation, but this was his home. He had been raised in this place, he had raised Alnesr in this place, and above any other that he might stay, Masyaf was his home.

 

All other considerations aside, Altaïr was glad to be returning.

 

Dismounting from his horse and giving the beast over to the stable hands to be cared for, he paused as Alnesr did likewise. Allowing the younger Assassin to fall into step with him, Altaïr made his way up the path to the citadel of the Brotherhood once more. Alnesr seemed to be rather contemplative, himself, and so Altaïr did not try to speak with him.

 

He would not have wanted to be interrupted while deep in thought, either; and so he would return the same courtesy.

 

The guards at the gate, those who had once seemed rather disdainful of him during the previous days, now seemed to be regarding him with something approaching the level of respect that they had previously demonstrated toward him. Altaïr was rather pleased to note such a thing, though he resolved not to allow the opinions of those uninvolved in his work to sway his own opinions about himself. That way lay the road that he had traveled down before, and he would not travel down it again.

 

Making his way back into the fortress, Altaïr turned to see that Alnesr seemed to have finished considering whatever it was that had made him so thoughtful. Nodding to the younger Assassin, Altaïr lead the two of them deeper into the fortress, up through the levels and onto the one where Master Mualim kept his library. The Master was standing at his desk, clearly waiting for them, and he smiled softly when the two of them made their way up to him.

Chapter Text

“You’ve done well,” the Master said, nodding to both him and Alnesr. “Both of you. Three of the nine now lay dead, and for that you have my thanks. I am also pleased to see that your skill grows apace, Alnesr.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” Alnesr said, bowing to Al Mualim.

 

“Still, neither of you should think to rest on your laurels,” Master Mualim said, becoming sober and serious once more. “Your work has just begun.”

 

“We are yours to command, Master,” he said, even as Alnesr echoed the sentiment.

 

Al Mualim smiled again, and even gestured for them both to sit. “King Richard, emboldened by his victory at Acre, prepares to move south, toward Jerusalem. Salah Al’din is surely aware of this, and so he gathers his men before the broken citadel of Arsuf.”

 

Altaïr paused a moment, his thoughts cast back to the day that Salah Al’din and his Saracens had come to Masyaf under the banner of war… “Would you have me kill them both, then?” he asked; he would not deny that the thought of the Saracen leader being made to feel the bite of his blade was a pleasant one. “End their war, before it can begin in earnest?”

 

“No,” Al Mualim said firmly, almost snappishly. “To do so would scatter their forces; subjecting the land to the bloodlust of ten thousand aimless warriors.” Altaïr was forced to admit that he’d not considered such a thing; he felt transparent under the piercing gaze of the Master. “It will be many days before they meet, and while they march, they do not fight. You and Alnesr must concern yourselves with a more immediate threat: the men who pretend to govern in their absence.”

 

“Give us their names, Master; and we shall give you blood,” Altaïr said; his considerations of revenge would clearly have to be put aside for a time.

 

“And so I will,” Master Mualim said, after a short pause as his gaze took in himself and Alnesr both. “Abu’l Nuqoud, the wealthiest man in Damascus. Majd Addin, regent of Jerusalem. William de Montferrat, liege-lord of Acre.”

 

Altaïr had heard of those men before, but when he looked to Alnesr, he saw that the younger Assassin’s pale yellow eyes were bright with curiosity. “What are their crimes?” he asked, for the both of them.

 

The Master spread his hands as he explained. “Greed. Arrogance. The slaughter of innocents. Walk amongst the people of their cities, and I’ve no doubt that you will both learn well of their sins. Neither of you should doubt that these men are obstacles to the peace we seek.”

 

“Then they, too, will die, Master,” Alnesr said, before Altaïr himself could say anything.

 

~AC1~

 

“Well spoken, my child,” he said, though he hated the notion of what the boy was learning; still, he would take the time to cleanse Alnesr’s hands after he used the Apple to cleanse the child’s mind. “Take a day to rest here, and return to me as each man falls. Then, we might better come to understand their intentions.”

 

“As you say, Master,” Altaïr said, as he and Alnesr both rose and bade him farewell for the day.

 

He was tempted, for only a moment, to call Alnesr back to his side so that he could speak with the boy more personally. Still, he would have the time that he desired, to speak with the boy and draw his mind deeper into the Apple – to guide the child’s mind onto the correct path – while he and Altaïr took their rest. Leaving his study, Al Mualim made his way back to his personal quarters.

 

He had previously made arrangements to take his meals there, separating himself from these Assassins so that it would be all the more uncomplicated – not simple; the taking of lives should never be a simple thing – to do what he must, in the end. Still, the thought that he would be able to preserve the life of one of those whose lives would have otherwise been forfeit was indeed a comforting one to him. Whatever name he went by, he was not a one to relish killing.

 

Once he had finished his evening meal, Al Mualim rose from his table and made his way back to his study within the fortress. The day’s light had begun to fail at last, and as dusk faded from the world as well, Al Mualim turned his gaze to the night sentries as they took their places around the fortress, he continued to wait. His chance would be coming soon, to further explore the hold that the Apple maintained over Alnesr’s mind.

 

Truly, the boy would need a different name; something to further separate him from the life that he had lived as an Assassin, just as Al Mualim had set aside his own name when he had entered into the life of a mentor to these Assassins.

 

Once true night had fallen at last, Rashid waited for several moments longer – wanting to be truly certain that all of the Assassins within their fortress were well and truly asleep – before he made his way back to where he had placed the Apple atop his desk. Placing his own hand atop the softly-glowing Piece of Eden, Rashid focused his will on the thread that he had left between the Piece itself and the mind of Alnesr.

 

Soon enough, he saw the boy himself making his way into the study that Rashid had claimed for himself under the name of Al Mualim.

 

Making his way over to the boy, Rashid gently touched the right side of his face; Alnesr was so calm, so placid like this. It was clearly a much better state for the child than his previous one. Still, Rashid had not yet been given the time he needed to fully establish his hold over these Assassins; he would need to take up Al Mualim again for that task.

 

And, for the time being, he would need to allow the child to stain his hands with the blood of those who acted in defense of his former comrades. Those that he had once called brother would need to die, so that he could steer the world onto the correct path. And now, so that he could cleanse the blood from Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr’s hands.

 

Gathering himself, Rashid sent Alnesr back to bed, placed his right hand atop the Apple, and carefully set the child’s mind back to rights.

Chapter Text

When he awakened the next morning, Alnesr felt that same sense of detachment from his body that he had been prey to the previous time that he and Altaïr had taken their rest at Masyaf. He’d not particularly missed the sensation, but there was little time to think on such things; he and Altaïr would be returning to their appointed task just as soon as they had finished breaking their fast.

 

Disrobing, Alnesr clad himself in yet another of the uniforms that had been hung out for him, then threw his sleeping clothes into the basket for the servants to collect.

 

Meeting up with Altaïr on the stairs leading down from his own room, Alnesr smiled at his former master as the two of them continued on their way down to the eating area. He did not wish to give the elder Assassin anything more to concern himself about, especially considering the fact that they were soon to leave for Acre once more, this time on the trail of William de Montferrat.

 

Once the two of them had finished their first meal of the day – as well as the only one they would be taking at the fortress itself – he and Altaïr made their way down to the ground level and back out into the neatly-laid stone of  the courtyard. He followed just behind the elder Assassin as Altaïr made his way back to the stables, and finished climbing into the saddle just as Altaïr turned to look back at him.

 

Nodding, Alnesr gently kicked his own horse into motion and followed Altaïr down the trail and away from Masyaf.

 

They traveled for six days, by his count, and just as the sun had begun to truly rise into the sky on the seventh morning, he and Altaïr finally came within sight of Acre once more. Gently urging his horse into a more sedate pace, even as Altaïr did the same in front of him, Alnesr guided the creature down the winding trail and into the field just outside the gates of the city.

 

Following Altaïr to one of the small stables outside of the city, Alnesr dismounted from his horse and left the beast behind. Falling in closely behind Altaïr as the two of them moved closer to the gates of the city, Alnesr only had a few moments to wonder just how they were going to make their way into the city, before he saw that Altaïr was preparing to blend in among a group of scholars as they made their way slowly forward. Closing ranks with the elder Assassin, Alnesr once again assumed a pious attitude, matched his walking pace to that of the sedately moving scholars, and moved into Acre itself directly under the eyes of those who had been set to guard it.

 

He supposed that another might have found it rather amusing, walking into a guarded city under the eyes of those who were meant to guard such a place; still, an Assassin could not be swayed by such things.

 

Separating from the quartet of scholars once the two of them were comfortably away from the sight of any guards, he and Altaïr swiftly made their way into a quieter part of the city, and then up onto the rooftops. It was a great deal easier to travel in such a manner; away from the citizens who might have otherwise have gotten involved in their affairs, and out of the way of a great many of the city’s guard forces. Yes, archers could still be a source of trouble, but they were rare and easily dealt with.

 

As he and Altaïr made their way swiftly back to Acre’s Bureau, Alnesr found himself wondering for a moment what would become of this odd partnership that he and Altaïr shared. Most Assassins worked alone, save for those times that they had taken on an Apprentice, or joined together in pursuit of some larger goal. It was clear that the Master no longer considered Altaïr his apprentice, and it did not seem as though this hunt that they were currently on required the presence of two Assassins.

 

As the two of them descended into the Bureau, Alnesr stepping down from the ornamental fountain just as Altaïr himself stepped back from it, Alnesr allowed himself to breathe more easily.

Chapter Text

He could see that Alnesr seemed more comfortable, more settled within his own skin; Altaïr was pleased to note that. He did not know just how long Master Mualim would insist that the two of them continue working together as they had been, however he was determined to enjoy it while he could. Truly, it was a pleasing thing to see, that his teachings – those that he had learned at the knee of Master Mualim himself, in his turn – had been absorbed so well.

 

“Word has spread of your deeds, both of you,” Jabal greeted them, the expression on his face more surprised than Altaïr was particularly pleased with. “It seems that you are indeed sincere in your desire to redeem yourself, Altaïr.”

 

“I do what I can,” he said calmly.

 

“And sometimes you do it well,” Jabal allowed. “I presume it is work that reunites the three of us again?”

 

“Indeed,” Alnesr said. “William de Montferrat is the target that the Master has selected for us, this day.”

 

“Then the Chain District should be your destination,” Jabal said, pausing for a moment with a rather pensive expression on his face. “Still, you should both be on your guard; that section of the city is home to King Richard’s personal quarters, and is under heavy guard.”

 

“What can you tell us of the man himself?” he asked, folding his arms.

 

“William has been named regent while the king conducts his war. The people see it as a strange choice, given the history between King Richard and William’s son, Conrad. But I think Richard rather clever for it.”

 

“Why do you say that?” Alnesr asked, tilting his head in the rather birdlike manner he did when he was curious.

 

“Richard and Conrad do not see eye to eye on most matters,” Jabal said with a smile. “Though they are civil enough in public, there are whispers that each intends evil upon the other. And then there was that business with the city’s captured Saracens.” Jabal shook his head, after a wordless pause during which he seemed to search for something to say to that. “In its wake, Conrad has returned to Tyre, and Richard has compelled William to remain here as his guest.”

 

“His hostage, you mean,” he said, having guessed Richard’s true purpose for such an action; it was indeed a wise one, he could see.

 

“Whatever you call it, William’s presence here should dissuade Conrad from acting out.”

 

“Where would you suggest that we begin our search, Jabal?” Alnesr asked, a thoughtfully curious expression on his face.

 

“At Richard’s citadel, southwest of here,” Jabal said, after a pause for thought. “Or rather, the market in front of it. You’ll find the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in that direction, as well. It’s a popular place, and should be filled with talkative citizens. Finally, try the border to the west, where the Chain and Hospitalier Districts meet. That should start you on your way.”

 

“Very well,” Altaïr said, nodding at the information that he had just been given. “We won’t trouble you for anything else.”

 

“It’s no trouble,” Jabal said, smiling kindly at the two of them for a moment before returning to cooing softly at his birds.

 

Turning, he caught Alnesr’s eye and the two of them made their way out into the entrance-room of Acre’s Bureau. Climbing up onto the ornamental fountain, Altaïr quickly scaled the wall, pausing once he stood atop the roof and waiting for Alnesr to reach him. When the younger Assassin stood next to him, Altaïr nodded and the two of them left to make their way southwest, toward the place where Richard’s citadel could be found.

 

And also the marketplace that Jabal had suggested would be such a fine source of information for them.

 

Descending back into the streets, in the shadowed corner of an ally out of sight of the milling crowds, Altaïr saw Alnesr shadowing him and smiled slightly. True, he did not know just how long their partnership would last beyond this mission, but it was a pleasant thing to observe the growth of Alnesr’s skill. A pleasant thing, to see his teachings put to such good use.

Chapter Text

Making their way out of the city’s middle district, with its market stalls and neatly-dressed citizens, they came into the rich district. Naturally, the place was in better repair than the middle district – to say nothing of the sorry state of the poor district; in any city, not merely Acre – and the citizens more finely dressed. However, a discussion between a knight and a figure in a brown cloak quickly drew Altaïr’s attention.

 

“Perhaps it was unwise to embrace William, he is old and thinks too much of himself,” the man in the brown cloak – a friar, Altaïr realized quickly – whose own voice creaked with age, said.

 

“His army is the largest,” the knight said, his voice younger and more confidant, said. “We’ll have need of them. For now, I’ll go and visit with the other Brothers. Make sure they have everything they’ll need.”

 

“Aye, they must not fall,” the friar agreed swiftly.

 

“Fear not,” the knight said calmly. “The Master has a plan. Even now, he prepares a way to turn our losses to hid advantage, should it come to that.”

 

Master? He pondered. Brothers? Could even these people be linked in some way? It was an unsettling thought, that; that there may yet have been more things that he was not aware of.

 

“What does he intend?” the friar asked.

 

“The less you know, the better,” the knight said firmly. “Just do as you’ve been instructed: deliver this letter to our Master.”

 

The knight smoothly passed the letter that they had spoken of to the friar, and Altaïr flexed his fingers slightly, a small smile curving his lips. He and Alnesr had both settled themselves down on a bench, as though they were merely resting from their walk through the districts of Acre. Rising, nodding subtly to Alnesr to let the younger Assassin know that he would be handling this on his own.

 

Walking up behind the friar, his mien on of a person merely wanting to take in more of the city’s rich district, Altaïr quickly lifted the letter from the folds of the friar’s cloak. Moving away from the place where he had made the lift, Altaïr saw that Alnesr was moving to close with him. Leading the younger Assassin into a nearby alleyway, he quickly unrolled the scroll and arranged himself so that he and Alnesr would both be able to read it:

 

Master: work continues in the Chain District of Acre, though we are concerned about William’s ability to see this through to the end. He takes his duties a bit too seriously, and the people may reject him when the time comes. Without the aid of the Treasure, we can ill-afford an uprising, lest it recall the King from the field. And then your plan will be for nothing.

We cannot reclaim what has been stolen unless the two sides are united. Perhaps you might prepare another to take his place – simply as a precaution. We worry that our man in the harbor will become increasingly unstable; already he speaks of distancing himself. And this means that we cannot rely on him should William fall. Let us know what you intend, that we might execute it.

We remain ever faithful to the cause.

 

Altaïr swiftly folded the letter once he had finished reading it, considering for a long moment the merits of showing it to the Master once he and Alnesr returned to Masyaf once more. Still, it was becoming ever more plain that there were things that Master Mualim had not spoken of with either him or Alnesr. After a few moments longer spent in contemplation, Altaïr decided that he would speak of his conclusions to the Master in more detail once he and Alnesr had returned to Masyaf.

 

However, for the moment there were other things that needed attending to; William de Montferrat was to fall – by either his blade or Alnesr’s – and to make that possible they would both need all of the information that they could gather on the man.

 

Moving back out into the more populated streets, so that they could lose themselves within the milling crowds once more, Altaïr was careful to keep his gaze sharp for anything else that might serve them in their investigation of Montferrat. He saw Alnesr’s head turn in that direction, just as he himself began to hear the sounds of a struggle. After only a moment of hesitation, Alnesr was moving through the crowds with the

stealth and swiftness that Altaïr had worked to train into him.

 

Trusting that Alnesr would be well, though he would speak to the younger Assassin if he seemed unsettled when he returned, Altaïr turned his own attention back to the search. Moving carefully through the crowds, always making certain not to attract undue attention, Altaïr caught the telltale sounds of yet another citizen in distress. Moving quickly but subtly out of the sight of the crowd, Altaïr sought out the citizen and quickly dealt with those who had been accosting him. As it happened, it was another of the scholars who had so often provided at least a reasonable amount of aid to the Brotherhood in the past; and clearly would continue to do so in the future.

 

“Thank you, young man,” the old graybeard whose defense he had just come to said. “You’ve done me a great kindness, and I will see to it that such is returned.”

 

“Of course,” he said, nodding respectfully as the old man turned and left.

 

Moving back in among the crowd, Altaïr matched their pace as he saw Alnesr turning to subtly scan the faces of the people milling around him. When the two of them had fallen into step once more, Altaïr began to hear the beginnings of another conversation; this one being held between another young man and an elder, but neither of them seemed to be knights this time.

 

“What news?” asked the younger.

 

“Grim; I finished my scout, a direct assault won’t work.”

 

“What’s the trouble?”

 

“Archers!” the old man said. “He’s got them all over the fortress. And no easy way to reach them; they’d pick us off before we’d made it ten feet inside.”

 

Altaïr narrowed his eyes, having ducked into the mouth of a disused ally when he had first heard the two men beginning to speak; it seemed as though they would be facing men such as Talal’s once more. It would be troublesome, yes, but with the help Alnesr could provide Altaïr thought it would at least prove more manageable for the two of them than it would for these two men. Both of whom seemed to be laborers of some kind or other.

 

“You’ve kept a record, yes?” the younger asked.

 

“Aye; I’ve marked their positions on a map.” Altaïr allowed a brief smile to flicker across his face.

 

“Bring it to the others,” the younger suggested. “No doubt they’ll have a use for it.”

 

“Very well,” the elder said, with a short, sharp nod. “I’ll go at once.”

 

“Stay strong, brother,” the younger man said.

 

“Yes, and you,” the elder said, returning the brief embrace that the younger gave him.

 

Motioning for Alnesr to stay where he was, Altaïr carefully followed the old man, shadowing his steps until he was able to close with the man and take the map that he had so carefully prepared. Such tasks were not suited for those who seemed, at best, to be nothing more than laborers who had some skill in moving unnoticed and observing their surroundings. Altaïr could only hope, however briefly, that these two and however many supported them in their endeavors would not do anything foolish in light of the reprieve they had been unknowingly granted.

 

Rejoining Alnesr, the two of them made their way back into the crowds, so that they could lose themselves and any followers they may have inadvertently gained during their excursion. Once he was satisfied that they were out of sight of anyone who might have thought to follow them, after they had briefly blended with a group of scholars on their way to some unknown destination, Altaïr turned his attention back to their appointed task.

 

True, they could have gone back to Jabal with the information they had gathered at present, but Altaïr was not about to leave a task half-completed if he did not have to; he did not know if another might have considered such a thing excessively prideful, but Altaïr was determined to hold to his chosen course of action nonetheless.

 

Listening for any other conversations happening in the area, those that would lead to more information on the standing of William de Montferrat in the city he had been said to rule. However, it seemed as though Montferrat was not well-regarded at all; all of those whose conversations he had stopped to overhear had all seemed to be plotting against Montferrat in some manner or other. Truly, he and Alnesr would be doing a great service to the people of Acre by removing Montferrat from his seat of power.

 

More words, seditious words, caught Altaïr’s ear then:

 

“William de Montferrat cares nothing for the people of Acre,” the man speaking in the square said, he signaled to Alnesr and the two of them carefully moved out of his sight to observe him. “While we sit and starve, the men inside his keep want for nothing! They grow fat upon the fruits of our labor! He brought us here to rebuild, he said. But now, far from home and the grace of our king, his true plan becomes apparent! He steals our sons, sending them into battle against a savage enemy! Their deaths are all but guaranteed! Our daughters are taken to service his soldiers, robbed of their virtue! And he compensates us with lies and empty promises! Of a better tomorrow; of a land blessed by God. What of now? What of today? How much longer must we go without? Is this truly the work of God, or of a selfish man who seeks to conquer all? Rise up, people of Acre! Join us in our protest!”

 

Altaïr continued to observe the man, even as others who lived in the city disparaged the work that he was clearly trying to do; it seemed as though no one was willing to risk rousing William’s wrath. His holds upon the citizens were clearly too tight, too many, and too varied.

 

“How many have you called to our cause?” asked the man he was meeting.

 

“I fear they are too afraid,” the man said, shaking his head. “None would heed the call.”

 

“We must keep trying,” the second man said; Altaïr could respect his tenacity, misplaced though it would ultimately prove to be. “Find another market; another square. We must not be silenced!”

 

When the two of them departed once more, Altaïr turned to Alnesr and found that the younger Assassin was watching the space where the man had gone with a wistful expression on his face.

 

“Alnesr,” he called softly, drawing the younger Assassin’s attention.

 

“It seems as though we will, indeed, be doing these people a service by removing Montferrat from their city,” the younger Assassin said thoughtfully, turning to face Altaïr after only a few moments.

 

Nodding with a slight smile, Altaïr turned to make his way back toward the Bureau; they had done enough for this day. The information that they had both gathered would serve them well in their appointed task. When they had made their way back up to the rooftops, Altaïr began to notice that Alnesr was watching him more closely, as though the younger Assassin had something to say. Turning slightly, after he’d dealt with the archer atop this particular rooftop, Altaïr nodded to show that he was listening.

 

“One of the informants that I met said that he attempted to strike a bargain with the guards within Montferrat’s citadel,” the younger Assassin informed him. “His intent was to have them leave the gates open even after the alarms were sounded. It seems that he failed.”

 

He hummed in thought. “I suppose that even some of our enemies may be bound by loyalty, even as we are. I do appreciate the gesture, but I have confidence in both our abilities.” He smiled slightly. “On that particular subject, I expect that you will be competing with me for the task of taking William’s life.”

 

“Indeed?” Alnesr tilted his head slightly, offering a small smile of his own. “Well then, I suppose I cannot refuse such a challenge.”

 

He chuckled softly at Alnesr’s enthusiasm; truly, even considering his advanced rank, anyone who knew the two of them would recognize Alnesr as his student.

 

The two of them had soon subsided into silence once more, and as Altaïr continued to lead Alnesr across the rooftops, he found himself honestly anticipating the work that he and Alnesr were soon to take part in. William clearly had no concept of how to properly administrate his city; the people of this city were suffering under him, and those who would otherwise speak against him were clearly terrified of such.

 

It was not a situation that could be allowed to continue, and so he and Alnesr would see to it that it did not.

Chapter Text

Continuing across the rooftops, only pausing long enough to dispatch the archers that had the misfortune to stand between them and their destination, he and Alnesr had soon found their way back to the Bureau, and Jabal with it. Descending into the sleeping and eating area of the Bureau, he proceeded Alnesr into the main room to meet with Jabal. As ever, Acre’s Rafiq was in a jovial mood.

 

“We’ve done as asked,” Altaïr said, the tired satisfaction of a task well done coming over him once more.

 

“Indeed,” Alnesr said respectfully, taking up the narrative. “We have armed ourselves with knowledge, and now know what must be done to kill Montferrat.”

 

“Speak, then,” Jabal said, smiling gently for Alnesr. “And I will judge your efforts.”

 

“William’s host is large, and many men call him master,” Altaïr said, as Alnesr fell respectfully silent once again. He would have to work on the younger Assassin’s confidence, clearly. “But he is not without enemies. He and King Richard do not see eye to eye.”

 

“It is true,” Jabal agreed, nodding. “The two have never been close.”

 

“This will work to our advantage,” he said. “Richard’s visit has upset him. Once the king has left, William will retreat into his fortress to brood. He’ll be distracted then, and that is when Alnesr and I will strike.”

 

“You are certain of success?”

 

“As certain as I can be,” he allowed. “And if circumstances change, we will adapt to them.”

 

“That is good to hear,” Jabal said, nodding in satisfaction. “You have my permission to go. End the life of Montferrat, that we may call this city free.”

 

“We will return once the deed is done,” he said, taking the feather as it was handed to him with a respectful nod to Jabal.

 

Turning to make his way back out of the main room of the Bureau, Altaïr turned to watch as Alnesr quickly fell into step with him once more. He would speak to the younger Assassin once the two of them had made it back out onto the roof of the building; he’d no desire to bring up matters that should stay between the two of them before Jabal. Truly, they would merely serve to distract the Rafiq from his own concerns.

 

Climbing back up onto the ornamental fountain, and from there onto the roof, Altaïr turned his attention to Alnesr just as it seemed the younger Assassin was readying himself to set off.

 

“Wait a moment, Alnesr,” he said, turning to the younger Assassin before he could have even taken his first step.

 

“What do you wish to speak with me about, Altaïr?” the younger Assassin’s yellow eyes were intent upon him.

 

“Why did you fall silent when we were making our report to Jabal?” he asked, facing the younger Assassin intently.

 

“It seemed somewhat needless, to me, for the two of us to speak when we had both gathered the same information,” Alnesr said, the expression on his face a mix of calmness and curiosity.

 

He paused a moment; truly, he’d not been expecting something of that nature when he’d called for Alnesr’s attention. “Indeed?”

 

“Yes,” the younger Assassin nodded briefly.

 

“I suppose that makes sense,” he allowed, somewhat surprised that he had misjudged the younger Assassin after knowing him for so long, but also rather pleased that Alnesr seemed to have gained the confidence that he had been attempting to instill.

Chapter Text

Allowing the younger Assassin to proceed him across the rooftops as the two of them made their way back into the district where William de Montferrat kept his citadel, Altaïr followed at just enough of a distance that neither of them would be in any danger of tripping the other up. He was pleased, once again, to note the smooth and economical motions of his former Apprentice displayed as he ran; truly, his teachings had taken well.

 

Banishing those thoughts from his mind after only a moment spent examining them, Altaïr turned his full attention to the journey that he and Alnesr were making. They moved with speed and grace over the rooftops, only pausing momentarily when they were forced to deal with an archer who might bar their path. Soon enough, they came within sight of the citadel that William de Montferrat maintained; now, all that remained was for them to find a path inside.

 

However, even as he searched for just such a way, one that would not see them discovered by Montferrat and his troops, Altaïr caught a glimpse of King Richard himself making his way up to the citadel. Signaling Alnesr to wait, since it would not be possible for them to enter unseen when there was such a large crowd gathered outside the citadel, he watched as Alnesr crouched down beside him, and then turned his attention to the exchange between William and the man he purported to serve.

 

Relations between the two were rather frigid, as they had previously been informed, and Altaïr found that he could not quite help the thought that Richard – of all people – would not particularly mourn the death of Montferrat, whatever he might say on the matter.

 

Once the king had left the citadel far behind, Altaïr watched as Montferrat spoke with one of his guards and briefly wondered what the man had said. Then, dismissing that thought from his mind since it was not of any particular importance under circumstances such as these, Altaïr signaled Alnesr to follow him, and the two of them carefully made their way into the citadel that William de Montferrat maintained. He’d not forgotten the challenge that had been made between himself and Alnesr, but in their present circumstances it was of far more importance that they were able to infiltrate the citadel.

 

They could compete for the man’s life once they were certain that their own were not at so much risk as they otherwise would be.

 

There were indeed archers within the citadel, and he turned to nod at Alnesr even as he found the younger Assassin turning to him in that same fashion. They nodded to each other, and swiftly parted to deal with the archers. For a few moments, as he dealt with those in the half of the citadel that he had taken on for himself, Altaïr was briefly tempted to check on Alnesr’s progress. But no; he’d trained the younger Assassin since Alnesr’s childhood, now he would have to trust that his lessons had been absorbed.

 

He would learn to do such; even if he had to force himself as he was doing now.

 

Moving quickly and silently, in the times when one of the archers would turn away from the interior of the courtyard to look outward for a time, Altaïr killed his targets with his own set of throwing knives during those times when he was certain that they would not fall into the courtyard and cause a commotion. Finding his thoughts beginning to turn back to Alnesr, he forced himself to concentrate on what Montferrat was saying.

 

There was little chance of it being particularly important, but it would serve to distract his thoughts, and that was what he most needed at this moment. Clearly, Montferrat was rather displeased with the carelessness that he and Alnesr had taken advantage of to enter the citadel proper.

 

“Men, gather round; heed well what I have to say.” The men that he had called to him all came as he had asked. “I come from speaking with the king, and the news is grim. We stand accused of failing in our duties. He does not recognize the value of our contributions to the cause.”

 

“For shame,” one of Montferrat’s men said, shaking his head.

 

“He knows nothing,” spat another.

 

“Peace. Peace. Hold your tongues,” Montferrat admonished. “Aye, he speaks falsely, but his words are not without some merit. When touring these grounds, it is easy to find fault. To see imperfection; I fear we have grown slack and lazy.”

 

Altaïr allowed himself a small smile; he and Alnesr could well attest to the indolence of the men Montferrat claimed to have trained.

 

“Why do you say this?”

 

All of the men in the courtyard bristled at those words, and Altaïr looked up to see that Alnesr had done just as he was doing: using the distraction so kindly provided to move stealthily along the walls of the courtyard. Looking back down, Altaïr found that he was in position to see what a good number of Montferrat’s men seemed too preoccupied to take note of: from a door at the opposite end of the courtyard, more guards had appeared.

 

However, these ones were dragging two men between them; men who wore Crusader livery, but were prisoners at this moment.

 

“I see the way you train,” Montferrat shouted, his scorn now turned fully upon those Crusaders that he had had taken prisoner. “You lack conviction and focus; you gossip and gamble. Tasks appointed to you are left unfulfilled or poorly performed. This ends today! I will not suffer further degradation from your actions! Whether or not you see it – and you should – this is your fault! You’ve brought shame upon us all. Skill and dedication are what won us Acre. And they will be required to keep it, as well! I have been too lenient, it seems; but no more. You will all train harder and more often. If this means missing meals, missing sleep; so be it. And, should you continue to fail at your tasks, you will learn the true meaning of discipline,” Montferrat once more swept the masses with his gaze once more, before focusing on the two prisoners he had had brought before him. “Bring them forward.”

 

Moving carefully, Altaïr soon found himself near enough to see Montferrat’s balding head more clearly, as well as the spittle that flew from his lips as he continued to berate his men. There was now the chance that he and Alnesr both could be spotted if any of the men below them were to look up for one reason or another, but discovery was always a risk that any Assassin took during their missions. However, here and now Montferrat’s men seemed to be far more concerned with what the man himself might have had in mind for them.

 

“If I must make examples out of some of you to ensure obedience, then so be it,” Montferrat announced, then turned his attention to the pair of captives that he had ordered taken. “The two of you stand accused of whoring and drinking while on duty. What say you to these charges?”

 

Over the muttering of the crowd, Altaïr found that he could just make out the mumbled pleas of Montferrat’s captives. He briefly wondered what they would have said if they were being tried honestly, rather than simply singled out so that a tyrant might once more prove his power over those he held in thrall. With only a scowl and a wave of his hand, Montferrat ordered their executions. Their throats swiftly cut, the two Crusaders spent their last moments of life staring at their own blood as it pooled around their heads on the flagstones.

 

“Disregard for duty is infectious,” Montferrat said, sounding almost regretful as he continued watching the men in their death throes. “It must be rooted out and destroyed. In this way, we might further prevent its spread. Am I understood?” the men muttered assent, and Montferrat nodded. “Good, good. Return to your duties, then; filled with a renewed sense of purpose. Stay strong, stay focused, and we will triumph. Falter, however, and you will join these men. Be sure of it. Dismissed.”

 

Montferrat waved them off, and as the men dispersed, Altaïr breathed more deeply than he had been allowing himself to do for some time. Now, it would be far simpler for either himself or Alnesr to descend from above and thus to finally rid Acre of the evil that Montferrat spread from his seat here. Montferrat’s attention was presently absorbed with the paperwork that he had spread out on the table before him, something that Altaïr also found himself grateful for.

 

If only in a distant sort of way, as most of his attention was currently focused in moving silently across the rooftop where he and Alnesr had concealed themselves.

 

His gaze fixed downward, Altaïr saw Montferrat turn in displeasure, still shuffling through his various papers in an effort to find whatever it was that he sought. A groan of annoyance was carried up to where he and Alnesr continued their own separate ways across the rooftop, as Montferrat spilled a stack of papers from the table in his haste. There was a brief moment when it seemed as though the man would summon assistance from those who served him, and Altaïr tensed for a few, long moments.

 

But then Montferrat seemed to reconsider such a thing, and Altaïr allowed himself to relax once more; even if only slightly.

 

As Altaïr leaped from the rooftop, Alnesr beside him, he saw Montferrat look up suddenly. It was possible that he had heard the soft snap-click of either his or Alnesr’s hidden blades being engaged, or seen shadows moving above him before they descended. But whatever the reason for his discovery, it was still far too late to save Montferrat from his ultimate fate.

 

He came down on the Crusader’s right side, Alnesr on his left, and as one they two imbedded their hidden blades in Montferrat’s flesh: he in the man’s neck, and Alnesr in nearly the same area from his own side.

 

A flash of good-humor from those pale yellow eyes was all he saw, before Alnesr turned his attention outward; guarding them both from being taken unawares by Montferrat’s remaining Crusader soldiers. Altaïr knew that the two of them would only have a limited time to remain here, with so many Crusaders in the same place, but he was grateful for Alnesr’s dedication all the same.

 

It seemed as though neither of them had quite won their small competition, however.

 

“Rest now,” he said, soft and quiet so that only the man dying in his arms would be able to hear him. “Your schemes are at an end.”

 

“What do you know of my work?” Montferrat demanded hoarsely, blood streaming from his mouth.

 

“I know that you planned to murder Richard; and to claim Acre for your son, Conrad,” he replied calmly, withdrawing his hand.

 

Montferrat seemed amused by this, for some reason. “For Conrad? My son is an arse; unfit to lead his host, let alone a kingdom. And Richard? He’s no better; blinded as he is by his faith in the insubstantial. Acre does not belong to either of them.”

 

“Then who?” he asked, wondering what answer Montferrat, of all men, would give to him.

 

“The city belongs to its people.”

 

Again, a confusing sentiment from one of the men whose lives he had been sent to take, but by this time Altaïr had almost come to expect such; these tasks that the Master assigned to him were clearly not so simple as he had made them sound. “How can you claim to speak for the citizens? You stole their food; disciplined them without mercy. And even forced them into service under you.”

 

“Everything I did, I did to prepare them for the New World,” Montferrat said, in the tone of a man who had no regrets. “Stole their food? No; I took possession so that when the lean times came, it might be rationed properly. Look around: my district is without crime, save those committed by you and your ilk. And as for conscription? They were not being trained to fight. They were being taught the merits of order and discipline. These things are hardly evil.”

 

“No matter how noble you believe your intentions to be, your acts were cruel and could not be allowed to continue,” Altaïr said; he knew that every man would have a justification in his own mind when they were confronted about their actions, but the one that Montferrat was giving him sounded distinctly familiar.

 

He’d heard words just like this before.

 

“We’ll see how sweet they are, the fruits of your labors,” Montferrat hissed, the light finally beginning to fade from his eyes in earnest. “You and yours do not free the cities as you believe, but damn them. And in the end, you’ll have only yourselves to blame. You who speak of good intentions…”

 

If Montferrat had intended to say anything else, however, no one living would hear it. “In death, we are all made equals,” he intoned, staining the feather he carried with Montferrat’s blood. “Alnesr, come.”

 

The younger Assassin followed him swiftly, a white shadow in the near-deserted citadel, as Altaïr lead the two of them quickly away. They gained the rooftops once more, a safer prospect now that the archers had been dealt with, and only paused for a moment to catch their respective breath once they had covered enough ground not to be spotted by any guards who might have even then been sounding an alarm.

 

As if in response to such thoughts, the bells of the city began tolling loudly, and so Altaïr swiftly lead Alnesr into a well-screened rooftop garden. It would serve to conceal them from the guards and Crusaders who would be coming out of the citadel in force, now, to avenge the death of Montferrat. Though some of those hunting might have held little love for the man, Altaïr was not willing to trust his own life or Alnesr’s to such sentiments.

Chapter Text

Watching as a group of Crusader soldiers passed out of sight of their hiding place, Altaïr lightly touched Alnesr’s right shoulder, and then lead the younger Assassin back out onto the rooftops. The bells were still tolling, so he knew that the two of them would need to be particularly cautious in order to avoid being spotted by any of Montferrat’s men; Crusader and guard alike.

 

They were only forced to take shelter once more, this time in a pile of hay upon the ground, before returning to the rooftops to continue on their way back to the Bureau.

 

Once the two of them stood atop the Bureau’s own rooftop, Altaïr followed Alnesr back down into the building and allowed himself to breathe more freely once he stood at ease within the second room. Proceeding Alnesr into the main room, Altaïr saw Jabal look up in welcome.

 

“What news?” the Rafiq asked.

 

“William de Montferrat is dead,” he reported. “And with him, his plans for betrayal.”

 

“You’ve done well, keeping Acre from his hands,” Jabal said, approval clear in his tone.

 

Yet, Altaïr still found himself rather curious. “But why now? When the Crusaders require unity most? Montferrat could have simply waited; struck at a more opportune time.”

 

“He did not strike me as a particularly patient man,” Alnesr said. “It seems that he merely overreached himself.”

 

“Yes, that could be true,” Altaïr allowed, his attention turned briefly toward Alnesr.

 

“Ah, but what moment would he choose?” Jabal asked. “Richard would have discovered his schemes soon enough; such plans are not easily concealed. No, this was the perfect time for him to strike.”

 

“Strange,” he said, shifting slightly on his feet as he began to grow restless. “I was sure he meant to take Acre for Conrad, yet he claimed that such was not his plan.”

 

“You cannot trust the words of a snake, which even in death produces venom,” Jabal said dismissively.

 

“I should discus this with Al Mualim,” he said, knowing it was true.

 

“Yes,” Jabal said, now bent over a ledger. “The two of you should make for Masyaf. I am sure he is eager for news.”

 

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “We will do so once the city’s guards are no longer so eager to detain those attempting to leave. Come, Alnesr.”

 

“Of course.”

 

The two of them made their way back into the room that they had entered through, making their way over to the pile of cushions so that they could curl up within them and await the opportune moment to make their way out of Acre once more.

 

~AC1~

 

When the morning came again, and he had regained the full use of his mental faculties, Alnesr rose back to his feet and followed Altaïr to the nearby table where the two of them broke their fast. After they had taken a moment to allow their meal to settle, Alnesr followed Altaïr back up onto the Bureau’s rooftop, and the two of them swiftly made their way back out of the city.

 

It had been some time since he and Altaïr had entered the city, and so he was not entirely certain of what path they had taken to enter Acre in the first place. He could not, therefore, say with any degree of surety that he and Altaïr were retracing the path that they had taken into the city, but it was a path that took them out all the same. Once they had made their way back to the stables, Alnesr mounted his horse and quickly joined up with Altaïr on the road out of Acre.

 

They passed their first day in silence, as was their custom from the early days that they had been traveling together; the work of Assassins was not a thing lightly discussed outside of their fortresses, and never among outsiders.

 

Nights and days passed, with the two of them only pausing when they needed rest and having what meals they desired on horseback, and soon Alnesr was able to glimpse the distant spires of Masyaf where the fortress sat proudly upon its mountain. Breathing more easily for the fact that the two of them were home once more, Alnesr gently guided his own horse back to the stables and neatly dismounted.

 

Taking only a moment to wait for the stable hands to begin attending to his horse, Alnesr then turned and swiftly followed Altaïr from the stables.

 

They two made their way quickly up the path through the village that Masyaf stood guard over, and Alnesr found that he could not help but to wonder what their next mission would entail. Yes, it was true that every man that they had killed had seemed to present their own actions – the actions that had drawn the blades of the Brotherhood to them in the first place – as being in the service to some greater good, it was plain to anyone who had seen the results of such actions that they were merely deluding themselves.

 

No, it was not the views that such men had of their actions that gave him pause for thought, but how similar the words he had overheard from all of them were in the end. Each of them had spoken of a new world, one that those they were abusing were being fitted to take their place within. It could not have been a mere coincidence that their words matched so well, and so Alnesr determined that he would consult with the Master about these matters.

 

Provided that Altaïr himself did not bring such matters up first; of course, then he would merely contribute to the conversation.

 

Soon enough, they had passed through the village – with all of the people there as pleased to see them as they ever were – and were headed up the path that would take them back into the fortress. The sun was just beginning to climb to its zenith in the sky as he and Altaïr made their way up the smoothly-winding path that lead to the fortress itself, and Alnesr pulled his hood down slightly to shade his eyes from the light that was beginning to shine more powerfully down on them.

 

Entering the cool darkness of Masyaf once more, Alnesr allowed himself to release the last of the tension that he had been harboring ever since he and Altaïr had made their journey out of Masyaf on the trail of William de Montferrat; he did not think that Altaïr would rebuke him for such a thing, but he had never truly felt comfortable outside the walls of the fortress or the environs of the surrounding village.

 

Following Altaïr up the stairs and through the halls that would take them up to Master Mualim’s study, Alnesr found his thoughts circling back to the words of the men whose lives he and Altaïr had ended. Each and every one of them had spoken of nearly the same thing; their particular words may have differed, but the spirit behind them had always been the same. All of them had spoken as though they were the vanguards of a new world, speaking of it in those very terms, and Alnesr could not deny the curiosity he felt.

 

Truly, men who had no connection to one another would not speak such similar words.

Chapter Text

“Come,” the Master said, as he and Altaïr reentered his study. “Speak with me a moment.”

 

“As you wish, Master,” he said, and heard Altaïr echoing the sentiment beside him.

 

“Word has reached me of your successes,” the Master said, a small smile on his face. “You both have my gratitude, and that of the realm. Freeing those cities from their corrupt leaders will no doubt promote the cause of peace.”

 

“I am glad to hear that,” he said, briefly taking a moment to compose himself; Alnesr knew it would be some time yet before he was completely comfortable speaking so plainly to the Master. “However, if you would permit me to ask something of you?”

 

“Speak, my child, and I will give you what answers you need.”

 

“Each of the men whose lives either Altaïr or I have taken spoke strange words in their last moments,” he said. “The words themselves have been similar enough that I’ve come to wonder if there is a connection between them. Do you know if there might be?”

 

The Master smiled gently, seeming rather pleased. “It is good that you notice such things, child; as an Assassin, it is your duty to take note of what occurs around you, and to thereby be better prepared for the tasks you will undertake in the future.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” he said, pleased by the compliment that he’d been offered.

 

“I cannot help but notice that you failed to failed to answer his question, Master,” Altaïr interjected, drawing his attention as well as the Master’s own.

 

“True,” the Master allowed, and Alnesr could not help but note that he seemed at least mildly displeased. “However, as Assassins, it is your duty to trust in your Master, and to still such thoughts before they can take root. For there can be no true peace without order, and order stems from authority.”

 

“You speak in circles, Master,” Altaïr said, an exasperated tone in his voice that Alnesr had never before heard directed at Master Mualim. “You commend us for being aware, and then command us not to be. Which is it?”

 

“Such a question will be answered when you’ve no longer the need to ask it,” the Master said, his tone firm.

 

Altaïr sighed harshly. “I presume you’ve summoned us here for more than simply a lecture.”

 

“Yes,” the Master said, and Alnesr could not quite place the emotion in his tone. He would have said that Master Mualim was pleased, but there was something else, too. “Altaïr, a rank and weapon are restored to you now. Two more leaders remain; go and see to it that their rule is ended, as well.” The Master paused a moment, the expression on his face becoming thoughtful once more, though he also seemed to have decided something. “You also no longer need operate under the watch of a superior.”

 

For a moment, though he knew that such a thing was inevitable since Assassins worked alone for the most part unless they were Master and Apprentice, Alnesr felt almost stricken. Banishing those thoughts as soon as he consciously noticed them, Alnesr turned his attention back to Master Mualim. He did not know just what the Master would have planned for him now, now that he and Altaïr would not be sent out on missions together anymore, but as the Master had said, that was for him to decide.

 

“Altaïr, I would have you return to Damascus; the next man to fall shall be the Merchant King, Abu’l Nuqoud.”

 

“Yes, Master,” Altaïr said, bowing respectfully to the Master, though Alnesr thought for a moment that there was a tightness around his mentor’s eyes that had not been present before. But Altaïr left swiftly and without a look back, and so Alnesr put such musings out of his mind.

Chapter Text

“Come, child; I would speak with you,” the Master said, and Alnesr turned to see him making his way back toward his desk.

 

“Of course, Master,” he said, turning to make his own way toward Master Mualim’s desk. “What might-”

 

And suddenly, there was only the light…

 

~AC1~

 

Reestablishing all of the bonds that the Apple had laid upon the mind of Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr, Rashid paused for a moment to look upon his work. Yes, he still needed to choose a new name for the child – something that would hold no connection to his Assassin past – but for the moment he could afford to regain his bearings. Using the Apple was not something that one should do lightly, but then he was not one to take the life of a child – even Assassin-raised as Alnesr had been – lightly in any case.

 

Reaching out, Rashid gently pushed the child’s white hood back, revealing the soft, short silver hair that the boy had been forced to keep hidden from the world for fear of what the attention of that world might mean for him.

 

“You’ll have no more need to hide yourself in the new world that I will create, my child,” he said, cupping the little one’s chin even in spite of the fact that he walked within the light of the Apple now, and hence was beyond all such Earthly cares. “However, for now come along; there are some matters that I would have attended to before you rest.”

 

Leading the boy out of his study, Rashid guided him gently toward one of the fountains within his private garden. Once the two of them stood before it, Rashid took the child’s hands in his own and dipped them into the water. Immersing them within the stream, Rashid cupped some of the water within his own and ran it over the child’s hands so that he could aid in cleansing them further.

 

Yes, he knew that the child had clearly attended to his own needs while he had been assigned as Altaïr’s partner, but the blood on his hands would not be cleared away so easily.

 

While the child’s hands rested under the stream of water, Rashid took care to remove the Hidden Blade that he had granted to the boy before he had known of the child’s true nature. He could do nothing about the severed finger, and while he grieved for the boy’s maiming, the action he had taken was in the past and so could not be undone. He would simply have to see that the child adapted to his new circumstances.

 

Still, there remained the matter of Altaïr; the Assassin cared for the boy in his own way, and so it would be all the more important that he be kept busy so he would not have time to wonder about where the child was. And also so that he would be able to deal with the remaining members of Rashid’s former circle. His fellow Templars would not fall easily; he would have to trust in Altaïr’s skill, as well as his own in keeping the Assassin from becoming overly suspicious of his motives.

 

Guiding the former Assassin with his right hand gently placed between the boy’s shoulder blades, Rashid took care to ensure that the two of them were not seen by any of the other Assassins within the fortress. He would need to deal with them later, yes; if only so that they would not attempt to interfere with his plans for creating a new world. But Rashid knew he had the time he needed to be subtle in his actions.

 

He had the time he needed to do things properly.

 

Once he and the child had returned to his study – he would need to think upon a new name for him, before he could begin to properly detach the boy from his former life – Rashid considered for a long moment just where he would settle the boy for the time being. Taking the child’s hands within his own, feeling again that pang of sorrow when he touched the stump of the child’s right ring finger, Rashid lead the boy back to his quarters and settled him gently upon his bed.

 

Smoothing the child’s silver hair back, Rashid gently closed his eyes, shielding their strange glow from sight, and also giving the appearance that he was merely asleep.

 

Leaving the child to what rest he would take when his mind was safely within the light of the Apple, Rashid turned and made his own way back to his study. There were still matters that needed attending to, and for that he would need to take up Al Mualim once more. He was pleased to know, however, that such would not be the case forever.

Chapter Text

When the light had engulfed him, just after the Master had spoken those strange words to him, Alnesr had found himself in a strange place. Or perhaps it was not a place at all, and he was merely trapped inside his own mind.

 

“It would, indeed, seem that all things come together in the end.”

 

Whipping around as quickly as he could, attempting to find the source of the strange voice that he had only just heard, Alnesr could only see the light that stretched for an endless distance all around him.

 

“Of course, this is not the end; this is merely the beginning.”

 

Alnesr thought that he was walking, but the environment around him did not change even in the slightest, so there was no way for him to tell where he was attempting to go. There was only the light; the endless light that stretched away from him, obscuring everything that he might have otherwise have tried to search for.

 

“I will enjoy meeting with you, once our paths cross again, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

He would have demanded to know just how this strange man, for no woman could have a voice so deep, knew his name, but for the fact that he was still wandering within the light. There were no points of reference; no way for him to determine if he was moving or not, and no way to know where he might have been headed. And, once the strange man had fallen silent, there was no way for him to track the man who had been saying such strange things to him.

 

The light seemed to pulse around him; and as strange a thought as that was, it was even stranger to see. For just a few moments, Alnesr could see a myriad of lines of light surrounding him; as though he was within a net that had been constructed purely out of such. It was not a thing that he would have ever thought possible, and yet it was indeed what he was seeing here and now.

 

Granted, as this place did not seem to be a place at all, rather merely something within his own mind that he was trapped within by the same light that seemed to prevent him from making any movements at all, no matter how much he might have desired to do such.

 

There were no more words from the man who had spoken to him, strange and cryptic though they may have been, so there was little chance of him finding the man so that he could have the curiosity that he was now prey to assuaged. For a moment, Alnesr wondered what Altaïr would have done if he had been in such a situation himself. He could not know if his mentor – his former Master – would have been able to find the man who seemed to hide within the light, but he liked to think so.

 

He knew that it was unseemly, to think so highly of a man who was as fallible as any other, and yet Alnesr found himself comforted by such thoughts. He would wait, then; this light could not be all that was left of the world; he would will through it, as any Assassin would. He would not dishonor himself nor the Brotherhood by succumbing to fear.

Chapter Text

When he arrived back in Damascus once more, Altaïr found himself almost instinctively looking for Alnesr at his side when he dismounted. Sternly, he reminded himself once more that the Master had ended their association as both Master and Apprentice, and also the odd partnership that they had formed when Altaïr had regained such rank as he possessed now. It was the Master’s prerogative to do such, and as Altaïr continued to remind himself whenever such thoughts came to him, their association could not have lasted forever in any case.

 

Even as Master and Apprentice, they would have been separated eventually when Alnesr had taken his own place among the ranks of the Brotherhood.

 

There were far more pressing matters that he needed to attend to, however, so after a moment to examine them Altaïr put such thoughts as those aside.

 

Making his way closer to the proud city before him, Altaïr paused for only a moment to consider just how he would gain entrance to the city as he needed to do at the moment. Seeing a group of scholars slowly making their way towards the entrance, Altaïr smoothly blended with them and allowed the men to cover his own approach. He could hear the cries of merchants attempting to sell their wares, and others speaking all around him as he and his concealing group of scholars made their way steadily into Damascus.

 

Once he was safely out of sight of the guards at the entrance, Altaïr broke off from the men whose bodies had acted to shelter him while he moved, and entered Damascus in earnest.

 

He had previously made contact with the leader of Damascus’ Bureau, and he was not at all fond of the man. In light of that, Altaïr decided that he would get this particular meeting done as quickly as he could manage. It was with some amusement that he thought of Alnesr’s presence, of how the younger Assassin would chastise the man when his subtle disparagement would become too noticeable, and would hence allow Altaïr himself to appear unfazed by such insolence as the Rafiq of Damascus would offer him.

 

It was, then, with some small regret mixed with good-humor that Altaïr pushed thoughts of Alnesr from his mind; the younger Assassin was not here, his former Apprentice was not beside him, and hence could not deflect the attention of the insolent Bureau leader.

 

Making his way deeper into the city, Altaïr flitted through crowds with all the skill that he had spent years developing, and had soon made his way up to the rooftops and then to the Bureau itself. He was not entirely pleased to have to contend with the insolent Rafiq once more, but as he descended into the receiving room of Damascus’ Bureau once more, Altaïr put such thoughts aside once again.

 

Now was not a time to think of his own comforts.

 

“Altaïr, welcome! Welcome!” the Rafiq called out, false friendship ringing in his tone more strongly than any Altaïr had heard from any of those he had encountered before. Even Abbas’ bitterness and hatred was at least honest. “Whose life do you come to collect today?”

 

“His name is Abu’l Nuqoud,” he said, maintaining his calm as well as he could manage in the face of the insincere friendship that Damascus’ Rafiq offered to him. “What can you tell me about him?”

 

“Oh, the Merchant King of Damascus,” the Rafiq exclaimed; Altaïr did not know whether his enthusiasm was entirely feigned, but he was unwilling to trust it in any case. “Richest man in the city; quite exciting. And quite dangerous, too. I envy you, Altaïr… well, not the bit where you were beaten and stripped of your rank… or the part where you were put to work under the supervision of a boy eleven years your junior… But I envy everything else. Oh… save for the terrible things the other Assassins say about you. But yes, aside from the failure, and the hatred and the humiliation, I envy you a great deal.”

 

“I do not care what the others think, nor what they say,” he stated, musing for a moment as to how the Rafiq would react if Altaïr were to strike him across the face for his disrespectful words and tone. But no; Altaïr quickly mastered himself, not wanting to give the man the satisfaction of bringing about such a reaction from him. “I am here to do a job. So I ask again: what can you tell me about the Merchant King?”

 

“Only that he must be a very bad man, if Al Mualim has sent you to see him,” the Rafiq said, still in that insolent tone of his. “He keeps to his own kind, wrapped in the finery of this city’s noble district. A busy man; always up to something. I’m sure if you spend some time amongst his type, you’ll learn all you need to know about him.”

 

“And where would you have me begin my search?” he asked.

 

“If I were you, I’d start with Omayyad Mosque, and Souk Sarouja; both of which are west of here,” the Rafiq said. “Farther to the northwest is Salah Al’din’s citadel. It is a popular meeting spot, and has proved a reliable source of loose tongues in the past. Yes; these three places should certainly serve your needs.”

 

“My thanks for your guidance, Rafiq,” he said, with the same courtesy that he’d not been honestly offered in this place since his work had begun. “I’ll return when I have gathered the necessary information.”

 

Altaïr wondered for a moment if there was truly a reason for that, or if this Rafiq was simply not one who was or had ever been well-disposed toward him. However, such thoughts were merely idle musings, and so he put them aside once more. He’d far more important matters to attend to, and hence he turned and made his way back out to the entrance room of Damascus’ Bureau.

 

Climbing up onto the ornamental fountain once more, Altaïr swiftly made his way back to the rooftops.

 

Standing for a few moments in the open air and winds, Altaïr turned his path westward, toward those places that Damascus’ Rafiq had indicated would be of interest to him. He would also need to reorient himself, as the last time that he’d been to Damascus had been a rather long time ago, and he’d done much since then. There would also, doubtless, be other matters that he would be called on to attend to within that selfsame district.

 

It was for that reason that, for only a few moments, Altaïr found himself missing Alnesr’s presence for a purely practical reason.

 

Making his way up the side of a tall tower that stood over Damascus with the mien of a sentry over the city at large, Altaïr looked as far as he could manage for as long as he could safely manage. Leaping into a nearby pile of hay once he had managed to take in the lay of the city once more, Altaïr made his way back into the crowds of Damascus as they milled to and fro.

 

As he continued on his way deeper into the Rich District, Altaïr continued moving farther west. It would not be such a simple matter, this time, to procure the information that he sought without finding himself constantly thinking back over the times that Alnesr would aid him with certain tasks that needed attending to.

 

Forcing those thoughts back and out of his mind with only slightly more effort than he had been required to use in the past, Altaïr continued forward; his true task in this, as in all things, was to continue forward.

Chapter Text

As he moved through the city, making his way west, so that he could investigate the indicated places, Altaïr began to hear the soft sounds of far-off people speaking. As he passed by the Madrasah Al-Kallasah, he saw that those who had been speaking were in fact scholars; they were not speaking of either him or Nuqoud, and yet the content of their speech troubled him enough that Altaïr halted nearby to listen.

 

“Citizens, bring forth your writings,” the foremost of the scholars in the group he was observing said, speaking loudly and clearly for the benefit of all those who might be listening. “Place them in the pile before me. To keep any is a sin; know and embrace the truth of my words. Free yourselves from the lies and corruption of the past.”

 

While he still had his orders to discover the crimes committed by Nuqoud against the citizenry, he could not but admit to a definite curiosity; it was another group that seemed to see with eyes turned toward the future. Or perhaps this group was not quite so other, after all.

 

Another of the scholars spoke, then: “If you truly value piece, if you truly wish to see an end to war, give up your books, your scrolls, and your manuscripts. For they all feed the flames of ignorance and hatred.”

 

It was not a thing that he could spare the time to investigate, not at the moment in any case, and yet Altaïr could not help but to think that he would soon be called upon to deal with the master of those particular scholars soon enough.

 

Putting such thoughts out of his mind so that he could focus once more, Altaïr turned back to the path that he had been making west. Soon enough, Altaïr found himself truly within the rich district of Damascus once more. He also found himself coming among a group of citizens in a busy thoroughfare; citizens who were discussing something of rather pressing interest to him. Pleased, Altaïr settled himself down on a nearby bench to hear what they had to say.

 

“The last of it has been delivered,” one of them reported; he was a large, imposing man dressed in a sleeveless dark-brown tunic and leggings of the same color, possessed of a bald pate and sparse beard.

 

“Good,” the man he was clearly reporting to said; he was shorter than the first man, and wore dulled, bluish-gray robes, as well as having a full head of hair and a much fuller beard. “Make sure he also knows that it wasn’t easy arranging a shipment like this,” the man made a wide, impatient seeming sweep of his arms.

 

“It’s only wine,” the first man countered. “Some can be fickle in their faith.”

 

“Your holy book says something on the subject, I believe: leave them that they may eat and enjoy themselves, and that hope may beguile them. For they will soon know, and never did we destroy a town that had in turn made known.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Never mind,” the second man said, his tone quick and impatient. “Be about your business.”

 

“As you wish,” the first man said, and the two swiftly parted to melt back into the crowd.

 

Rising from his seat after the two men were no longer within his sight, Altaïr briefly considered what he had heard. It seemed as though the Merchant King was preparing some kind of festivities; naturally, the wine would just be the start of it. Best he found out more, then. Continuing on his way through Damascus’ teaming rich district, Altaïr found another likely pair – their garb once more marking them as those who would work for a man who was rich enough to be called Merchant King – and settled himself down on a nearby bench to overhear what he could.

 

“There’s a problem,” reported a man dressed in jaunty, bright yellow robes, with a pate as bald as the first man he’d overheard. “I need your advice.”

 

“What is it?” the one he was speaking to; a woman dressed in dark clothes, Altaïr noted.

 

“This morning, I went to hang the lanterns for the party.”

 

“And this troubles you, why?” the woman asked.

 

“I forgot to remove the scaffold,” the man said, sounding profoundly embarrassed for such an oversight; Altaïr allowed himself the smallest of smiles.

 

“Forgot it where?”

 

“Just outside the Merchant King’s quarters; above the balcony.” Better and better, Altaïr mused, pleased to have something go so right. “Wha-what if it falls? He could be hurt!”

 

“Too late to do anything about it now,” the woman said philosophically. “Just hope it isn’t noticed. You can deal with it tomorrow.”

 

Taking a moment to give thanks for the inattentiveness of hirelings, Altaïr stood from the bench and calmly melted back into the crowd himself, eyes and ears still trained for whatever other information might reveal itself to him through the loose tongues of those who had been entrusted with it. As he walked by a river, channeled neatly through an ornamental drainage canal, Altaïr gave an involuntary shudder of distaste.

 

He knew how to swim, yes – as all Assassins knew how to cope with dangerous situations that they might encounter on their travels – but he disliked being immersed in water over his head all the same.

 

Putting thoughts such as those out of his mind, Altaïr continued on his way through Damascus, eyes, ears, and mind alert for any new information that he might have been able to find. The streets were, as always, filled with citizens intent on their various activities; all of them rushing to and fro with the kind of restless self-importance that all civilians seemed to have. Altaïr moved through them, soft and unnoticed as a shadow; just the way that he had been taught to do during the many years that he had spent under the tutelage of Master Mualim.

 

And just as he had taught Alnesr in his turn.

 

It was becoming simpler, the longer he was away, not to focus so much of his attention on the younger Assassin’s absence. Part of that, he knew, was simply the fact that he had another mission to concern himself with once more. Finding out what he needed, so that he would be able to cope with whatever unpleasantness that he would be faced with when he at last moved to claim the life of the Merchant King, occupied most of the attention that he would have otherwise spent on musing about his fellow Assassin’s health and wellbeing.

 

Such things were rather unseemly now, now that Alnesr had taken his own place among the ranks of the Brotherhood.

 

Breathing out slowly, even as he continued on his way through Damascus’ rich district, Altaïr put such thoughts as those out of his mind once more. He would need to focus on the task before him; he still needed the information that Nuqoud’s people provided him with. Keeping his eyes and ears open for any other information that he could gather from Nuqoud’s inattentive workers, or else those who knew of him and yet did not think to guard their tongues, Altaïr continued deeper into the rich district.

 

His eyes swept over the people moving to and fro before him, taking them in and then dismissing most as they were intent upon their own business. Then, Altaïr found his gaze drawn to another form; this one wearing the concealing robes of an Informant. He’d not had dealings with many of them; even before he’d taken on Alnesr as his Apprentice he’d found their tasks onerous, and after that of course he’d left the entire task of gathering information to his former Apprentice.

 

Now, of course, neither option remained open to him.

 

He found the man standing in a doorway, the slanting sun casting sharp-edged shadows across his form. The Informant was the one who initiated their conversation: “Altaïr, my friend, my brother! It’s been such a long time! Have you had any news of Adha since she left?”

 

Turning a narrowed gaze upon the Informant, Altaïr watched as the man’s own gaze lowered in response.

 

“No? How sad. I’m sure you’ll find her someday.” Altaïr swiftly wiped the emotion from his face; though he still wondered at times what Adha would have made of Alnesr, now was hardly the time to think of such things. “I’ve heard that a feather is lying on top of Abu’l Nuqoud’s head,” the Informant continued, his former joviality seemingly restored. “Maybe I could help you; however, I have a mission of my own: there are four targets I must eliminate before noon. Let’s cooperate, just like old times! Two for you, two for me? They are Abu’l Nuqoud’s personal guards; you will spot them in minutes!” Perhaps less than that, Altaïr reflected; he had ways of finding men in a crowd.

 

He allowed a small smile to come to his lips; true, he was still rather less than partial toward Informants and the missions they offered, this one’s task was far less onerous than most. With only a nod and a small smile shared between each other, Altaïr parted from the Informant and made his way back into the streets. It was clear to him, from the words of the Informant before the two of them had parted ways, that these men would all be simple to single out in some manner or other.

 

Still, when information such as this was at stake, Altaïr honestly preferred not to take the chance that it would be lost so easily.

 

His stalking of the men took Altaïr to the rooftops, where there were substantially fewer eyes upon him and he could act with something that at least approached impunity. Narrowing his eyes as he concentrated on the men he aimed to find, Altaïr watched as the world was once more washed of color; the men he was seeking stood out in bright shades of red among the colorless forms of the crowds they could no longer hide within. Drawing his throwing knives, Altaïr took only a few moments to target them, before letting his weapons fly and watching the men that he had targeted fall, the red glow of their forms winking out in nearly an instant.

 

Turning, Altaïr made his way back to the ground, so that he could meet up with the Informant and they could at last speak to one another properly.

 

Making his journey back to the building where he had first met up with the Informant, Altaïr noted that the man himself was also making his own way back to the building where the two of them had met. Pleased to know that he would not be forced to wait for any longer than he absolutely had to. Sweeping the street with his gaze and finding that there was no one around close enough to observe their actions, Altaïr casually made his way back to the building, pausing within the door to wait for the Informant to find him once more.

 

“Wasn’t that great?!” Though the Informant’s face was naturally concealed by his dull-colored garb, Altaïr could tell that the man was smiling. “Just like in Alep. You remember? Here’s something I found on one of the Merchant King’s men; I think it’s a map of where he has stationed his guards. I’m sure it will come in handy during your mission.” The Informant paused, the tilt of his head suggesting that he was smiling once more. “Anytime you’re in Damascus, come see me; you know that my door is always open, to you and Alnesr both. Safety and peace, my friend.”

 

“Upon you, as well,” he said, turning at last as he departed from the area where he had met up with the man and made his way back towards the milling crowds within Damascus’ rich district.

 

Walking among the citizens once more, Altaïr narrowed his eyes slightly and saw the world washed free of color once more. He did not prefer to rely on such a skill too often, but he knew also that as with all skills it would not do to lose such a skill for the lack of using it. He allowed the other sight to fade, bringing back all of the colors that had been washed out by the strange second sight that only he and Alnesr could be definitely said to possess; so far as he knew at least

 

He sometimes wondered if any others possessed such a second-sight as he and Alnesr did.

Chapter Text

The sounds of the city wrapped around him once more, and Altaïr again began to listen for mentions of Nuqoud in conversations that he might happen to be privy to as he continued on his way.

 

“It is an honor to serve,” said a darker skinned man in a bright yellow robe said. “What do you require?”

 

“The letter I have given you must be presented to Salah Al’din in his camp,” the man he was speaking to, mostly out of sight behind a decorative pillar, said calmly. “Seek out the one they call Hisham; he will be able to help. But tell no one else of this,” the other man said, and Altaïr furrowed his brow as he saw the other man, dressed in paler clothes than the one he was meeting with, lean out from behind the pillar to speak this last part more directly to the man he was meeting with; his tone low and conspiratorial.

 

“None will know of my mission,” the man in yellow assured the one that he was meeting with.

 

“Then our business here is concluded,” the man behind the pillar said calmly.

 

The man in yellow parted from the man who had once been behind the pillar, and Altaïr smoothly flowed into step just a few paces behind the man in yellow. Falling into step with the man in yellow, Altaïr swiftly took what he needed from him, and then blended once more into the milling crowds before the man in yellow could even think to raise an alarm. Quickly glancing over the letter when he had a free moment, Altaïr found that it detailed the plans that Nuqoud had for a celebration within his own home.

 

Altaïr smiled thinly; there were times when circumstances seemed to be arranged so perfectly for the work he needed to do, that he wondered if there were indeed a higher power who watched over such things. It was not a concept he considered often, given the things that he had seen during the course of his work for the Brotherhood, but at times such as these it was an easy thing to muse upon.

 

Turning his attention back outward once more, carefully tucking the stolen letter away so that he would not be at the risk of losing it, Altaïr continued on his search for information. He knew that, while he was perfectly capable of operating at the level of information he possessed at this moment, Altaïr would not allow himself to become so lax as to simply accept a level of information that could only be defined as adequate.

 

Perhaps it could be considered a flaw, but Altaïr would not settle for mere adequacy when he could properly complete a mission to his own standards.

 

Moving back into the crowds once more, Altaïr matched the pace of the citizens and kept his ears open for any conversation that might carry the name of his target within it; such were the ways that an Assassin could use to gather useful information when he – or else she, but female Assassins had a way about them that told those who knew to look what they were capable of – needed it. Continuing on his way through Damascus, Altaïr paused for a moment as he saw a group of guards making their way past. Observing the attitudes of the citizens in this area, Altaïr adopted the same pose of indifference and dismissal as they passed on their way.

 

It seemed only natural that those at this level of society would have no care for such matters; at least, not until such things became a concern.

 

Moving on once the last of the guards had gone beyond his sight, Altaïr continued forward until, yet again, he found himself catching sight of the familiar gray-garbed form of an Informant. This one was standing at the back of a rather plain courtyard, just in front of a small, unkempt stand of determinedly-growing weeds.

 

“Safety and peace,” the man, whose voice was not familiar to Altaïr, greeted with an indifferent sort of cordiality. “You want information about the city, I suppose? Right now, I don’t have so much time, I must find a shipment of cloth that the merchant I bought it from seems to have mislaid. But, in this heat, I am afraid I have not been able to search as long as I might have otherwise. Would you be kind enough to help me?” he gave the Informant a look of indifference – though inwardly he wondered, with some sense of exasperated amusement, if Alnesr had ever been asked to perform such inane tasks – and the man swiftly continued. “Return with the cloth, and I shall help you as best I may.”

 

Resisting the urge to laugh for being given such a task, though he knew that not all of Masyaf’s own craftsmen were capable of supplying such fine wares as could be purchased outside of the city, Altaïr made his way out of the courtyard and over to a merchant stall that was clearly selling bolts of cloth and other such things that one might use to make and repair clothes. Speaking to the merchant once the man had finished serving another customer, Altaïr found that the man had merely been waiting on a delivery from one of his own suppliers that had made a simple mistake.

 

Returning to the Informant with the bolt of cloth that the man had previously purchased, Altaïr watched the man’s entire demeanor change. “Thank you. The Rafiq will be pleased to have this at last. Perhaps this morsel of information will help you: I was invited by Abu’l to one of his lavish parties. I noticed the fountain in the middle of the Merchant King’s palace could be easily climbed. Use this information wisely.” The Informant bowed slightly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must deliver this to the Rafiq. Safety and peace, brother.”

 

“Upon you, as well,” he said, as the Informant turned to leave with his burden.

 

Making his way back into the main thoroughfare of Damascus’ rich district, Altaïr continued on the path that he had chosen for himself, eyes and ears open once more for any mentions of the Merchant King or other matters pertaining to what the man might have been planning. The words of the citizens around him might have easily blended into incomprehensibility for someone with lesser training, but as Altaïr was a Master Assassin, he was not one to fall prey to such lapses.

 

Calmly scanning the slowly-moving crowd, each of them going to some destination known only to themselves, Altaïr continued to listen for any mentions of his current target.

 

He would not seek to rest upon his laurels when there was still information that he could seek out; though there might not be so much more to find as he thought. He would be appreciative of such a thing; to have this task done so that the people of Damascus might no longer suffer under the cruel whims of a capricious tyrant. Pressing deeper into the city’s rich district, Altaïr began to hear the voice of a man speaking the praises of Nuqoud to anyone who would listen. And even those who would simply pass him by on the way to another destination.

 

Turning his attention toward the man making such effulgent praises, Altaïr found that the man had the air of a hireling rather than one who would speak out on another’s behalf from a movement of their own heart.

 

After the man had finished with his oratory and had begun to move on, likely as not to another open square where he would make the exact speech that he had done in this very courtyard; as any hireling would do when they were being properly paid, Altaïr followed him. The blind alley that the two of them ended up walking into would serve the purpose that Altaïr needed it to, he decided; and so he moved. Slamming his right fist into the back of Nuqoud’s hireling, Altaïr knocked the man to one knee.

 

He was then forced to dodge, as the man whipped himself about like a serpent, lashing out in his own defense. Altaïr was pleased to note, in a distant sort of way as he bent his skills to his own defense, that Nuqoud’s hireling had not thought to bring any weapons to this confrontation. He did not relish the thought of being knifed when he was attempting to subdue this man.

 

At last, Altaïr found that he had managed to subdue Nuqoud’s hireling to the point where the man was – if not pleased about the prospect – at least willing to speak to him.

 

“I’ll talk. I’ll talk! I’ve no interest in dying for him. His coin’s not worth my life,” the hireling said.

 

“A wise decision,” he replied.

 

“What is it you want?”

 

“I’ve business with the Merchant King.”

 

The hireling laughed, the sound akin to a dog’s bark. “Good luck with that! He rarely leaves his chambers.”

 

“Why?” he demanded. “Is he afraid?”

 

“Not fear: hate,” the hireling said, speaking as if this were something he knew to be true. “He hates himself almost as much as he hates the people he pretends to serve.” The orator – the hireling – had been slammed down rather hard against the ground rear where the two of them had fought. “Locks himself away in his personal quarters out of shame.”

 

“He can’t stay hidden forever,” he observed, knowing such for a fact, given everything that he had seen.

 

“No,” the hireling agreed. “Those celebrations of his, he comes out to speak; to look down upon the people. A sense of belonging, I suppose. However brief.”

 

“What’s wrong with him, that he would hide like this?” he asked, curious both about Nuqoud’s motives as well as what his hireling would choose to say about him.

 

Nuqoud’s hireling chuckled, his dark amusement with the situation rather more than obvious. “You’ll see.” He became more serious after he had spoken, however. “Now let me go.”

 

It was Altaïr’s turn to chuckle; his own dark amusement no less than that of the hireling he was confronting. “Let you go? So you can tell him of my plan?”

 

“I won’t say a thing!” the hireling rushed to reassure him.

 

“No; you won’t,” he said coldly, swiftly ending the life of Nuqoud’s hireling so that he could move on from this place.

Chapter Text

Moving away from the blind alley where he had made this latest kill of his, Altaïr paused a moment when he had at last put a comfortable amount of distance between himself and the corpse of Nuqoud’s hireling. He had, indeed, gathered a respectable amount of information; even enough that such a man as the Rafiq who worked in the Bureau here was not likely to be able to gainsay him.

 

With such a thing in mind, his decision of whether or not to attempt to continue his investigations among the people of Damascus became far more simple than they had once been.

 

Turning his path back toward the Bureau within Damascus, Altaïr swiftly regained the rooftops on his journey. It was not such a long time before he came within sight of the rooftop entrance to the Bureau itself, and not much longer after that that he stood upon the same roof as that entrance. Climbing back down into the secondary room of the building, Altaïr stepped down off of the ornamental fountain and found himself almost pausing for a moment to wait for Alnesr to join him back on the ground.

 

Shaking his head at his own folly, Altaïr made his way into the main room of Damascus’ Bureau and found himself facing the insolent leader of the Damascus Bureau once more; he was not pleased to have to deal with the man alone, yes, but this was a necessary step to being done with this newest task of his. He would bear up under it as he ever did.

 

“Peace be upon you, Altaïr. How may I serve you?”

 

“I’ve done as asked, and learned all I need to know about my prey,” he said calmly, pleased at least to know that he would only need endure the Rafiq’s insolent expressions rather than his words.

 

“Then you must share your knowledge with me,” the man said.

 

“Abu’l Nuqoud is corrupt to the core, and despised by his own citizens as a result,” he said, speaking calmly so that he would give this man no reason to speak to him in the way he once had; and likely would otherwise. “It appears he’s been stealing money from the people of Damascus and spending it on himself. Even as we speak, he flaunts his greed, preparing for a lavish party. His guards and servants should have their hands full dealing with the guests; they won’t even know I’m there.”

 

“Most impressive, my friend,” the Rafiq said. “The others said you’d make a mess of things, but not I. No, I was sure you’d come through. And come through you have. The Bureau is yours to do with as you wish for as long as you need.”

 

More insolence; Altaïr fought to keep any trace of emotion from his face as he took the feather that the man had fetched for him.

 

Turning without another word, Altaïr left the front room of the Bureau and made his way back out into the sleeping area that he had once used during the time when he and Alnesr had both stayed here. Settling himself down under the cover of the swiftly-settling dusk, Altaïr slept for a time.

 

When he awoke, feeling refreshed as he ever did after a time of repose, Altaïr made his way up to the ornamental fountain and then back out of the Bureau once more. Standing for a moment upon the rooftops as he looked out over them, Altaïr took a breath and then began making for the place where he would at last be able to come to grips with Nuqoud. To end the suffering that he had inflicted on the people of Damascus with his depredations.

 

Passing over the rooftops that stood between him and the stronghold of the Merchant King, Altaïr dealt with those few archers who were unfortunate enough to cross his path in a way that he could not pass them by in some way that kept him out of their sight.

 

As he moved ever closer to his present destination, and the ending of this particular excursion, Altaïr began to see more and more signs of the prosperity that Nuqoud hoarded for himself. The increasing numbers of wealthy hangers-on were simply the most visible sign of what the Merchant King had prepared for those he considered his peers; prepared so as to rub the noses of those he considered beneath him in his vast wealth. The scents in the air around him were becoming thicker, those of spices and fine perfumes, exotic meats and drinks.

 

Nuqoud had also ordered a great deal of wine delivered, in clear contravention of his professed faith; Altaïr rather doubted that the man adhered to many other tenets of the faith he professed to have, either.

 

Crossing the remaining rooftops between his location and the place where he would complete his mission, Altaïr descended back to the ground and calmly blended into the crowds making their way into Nuqoud’s  courtyard. He felt slightly out of place, moving among the richly-dressed, opulent guests of Nuqoud in his simple – almost shabby-looking – white robes and red sash. That no one else seemed to take note of his presence was a comfort and a testament to his skills at once.

 

Moving with the ebb and flow of the crowds, Altaïr took note of the servants hurrying to and fro on their errands – carrying plates of delicacies that the milling crowd would sample at their leisure – the dancing girls gyrating slowly to the music being played, and the terrain that he would have to contend with when he finally made his move. As he made his way farther into the well-appointed courtyard, Altaïr soon found himself able to look up at a grand balcony.

 

Standing within the balcony itself was a stern-faced guard with his arms folded, staring impassively out at the revelry taking place beneath his eyes. He rather thought that this was the place where Nuqoud would settle himself, so as to better observe the festivities that he had arranged. A few moments spent observing the balcony from his place within the crowd soon proved him right: as the music swelled to a new, faster tempo, the Merchant King himself appeared on the balcony with a second guard along with him.

 

Altaïr had heard lurid descriptions of the man’s appearance: of his corpulence – as large as three normal men, it had been said – of the gaudy robes and shiny trinkets that he wore, of his bejeweled turban; most of these he had dismissed as the exaggerations of an incensed populous. But, when he saw Nuqoud for the first time, Altaïr found that – if anything – such descriptions that he had heard had been understated. His girth, jewelry, and robes were more flagrantly ostentatious than even some of the wilder tales had spoken of.

 

He watched as the man continued to eat whatever delicacy that he had been sampling when he came out onto the balcony, the grease of what had likely as not been some kind of meat dish smeared around his mouth. As Nuqoud finished his food, the front of his robe fell open and revealed his bare chest, the flesh glittering with perspiration. Clapping his hands, Nuqoud waited a few moments after the music had stopped for the remaining conversation to die down.

 

“Welcome, welcome,” the Merchant King said graciously. “Thank you all for joining me this evening. Please, eat, drink; enjoy all the pleasures that I have to offer.” The Merchant King swept his hand wide over the gathered crowd, and Altaïr took note of the way the ornamental fountain at the center of the courtyard sprang to life; he at first thought that the water within the fountain itself had been colored by some means, but when the attendees of the party all began to flock to that same fountain bearing goblets and an eagerness that Altaïr himself found rather unseemly, he realized that he knew just where the wine shipment that Nuqoud had ordered had been placed. The Merchant King himself seemed to be waiting on his guests to drink their fill, waiting until each and every one of those who had made such a rush to the fountain had supped from it; Altaïr wondered for a moment if it was more than simple courtesy. “I trust everything is to your satisfaction?”

 

The cheering and toasting of all the guests present at the party was all the answer that the Merchant King seemed to need.

 

“Good, good,” Nuqoud beamed, he grinned, revealing bits of food between his teeth. “It pleases me to see you all so happy. For these are dark days, my friends. And we must all enjoy this bounty while we can.” Nearer to where Altaïr was standing, a few of the men who had been toasting Nuqoud returned eagerly to the free-flowing fountain for more wine. Nuqoud continued even as they did so. “War threatens to consume us all. Salah Al’din bravely fights for what he believes in, and you are always there to support him without question. It is your generosity that allows his campaign to continue.”

 

It was with the slight chill of apprehension that Altaïr noted that the galleries above the courtyard were beginning to fill with guards; and, when he looked more closely upon them, Altaïr saw that they were archers.

 

“So, I propose a toast, then,” Nuqoud said, his voice filled with a friendliness that Altaïr was beginning to suspect was entirely false. “To you, my dear friends: who have brought us this far. May you be given everything you deserve for it.”

 

Altaïr did not know precisely what to make of that phrasing, but he could not help but think it ominous.

 

“To your health!” came the cries of the crowd, as the revelers drank deeply from their goblets.

 

“Such kindness,” Nuqoud said, though his tone was now bitter and sarcastic. “I didn’t think it in you. You, who have been so quick to judge me; and so cruelly.” The mutterings of the crowd began to become more distinctly unsettled, more confused. “Oh, do not feign ignorance. Do you take me for a fool? That I have not heard the words you whisper behind my back? Well, I have; and I fear I can never forget. But this is not why I have called you here tonight. No; I wish to speak more of this war, and your part in it. You give up your coin, quick as can be, knowing all too well that it buys the death of thousands. You don’t even know why we fight. The sanctity of the Holy Land, you’ll say; or else the evil inclinations of our enemies. But these are only lies you tell yourselves. No; all this suffering is born of fear and hate. It bothers you that they are different; just as it bothers you that I am different.”

 

Looking back to the archers now stationed in the galleries, Altaïr turned his gaze to take in the galleries opposite them, and found that they too had been filled with archers; each of them had his gaze trained on the milling crowd that Altaïr was still using to shelter himself, though not one of them had begun to draw their bow. However, he could clearly see that when the time came for them to act, they had the whole of the courtyard covered. Moving closer to the wall he had been standing near, Altaïr noticed that one of the nearby men who had just made a toast to Nuqoud was beginning to splutter and cough, leading to no small amount of amusement for the man standing next to him.

 

“Compassion. Mercy. Tolerance,” Nuqoud continued his tirade, drawing slightly closer to the edge of the balcony. “These words mean nothing to any of you. They mean nothing to those infidel invaders who ravage our lands in search of gold and glory. And so I say enough. I’ve pledged myself to another cause, one that will bring about a New World; in which all people might live together in peace.” Altaïr tensed, watching as the archers all around the galleries did the same; those words were disturbingly familiar. “A pity none of you will live to see it.”

Chapter Text

Altaïr watched as Nuqoud left, giving the order to his archers to kill anyone attempting to escape; those who had not supped the poisoned wine, and were therefore capable of doing so. Forcing himself to ignore the carnage behind him, Altaïr scaled the wall before him up to the balcony, dispatching the guard who would have otherwise attempted to hinder him with a quick slice of his short-blade across the man’s throat. This, naturally, drew the attention of Nuqoud himself.

 

The Merchant King had been thoroughly enjoying the carnage he had created, and now Altaïr was pleased to note that Nuqoud felt at least some measure of the fear that he had inflicted on those who had been in attendance at this farce of a party; then a measure of their pain, as Altaïr sank his Hidden Blade into the man’s wide neck above the clavicle.

 

“Why have you done this?” Nuqoud asked, already dying as he sank to lay on the smooth stone of his balcony.

 

“You stole money from those you claim to lead,” he said, providing some comfort for the man, though he’d done little to deserve such. “Sent it away for some unknown purpose. I want to know where it’s gone, and why.”

 

“Look at me,” Nuqoud scoffed. “My very nature is an affront to the people I ruled, and these royal robes did little more than muffle their shouts of hate.”

 

“So, this is about vengeance, then,” he stated, wondering what the man would say in response.

 

“No. Not vengeance, but my conscience. How could I finance a war in service to the same God that calls me an abomination?”

 

“If you do not serve Salah Al’din’s cause, then whose?” he asked, wondering if Nuqoud would be the one who finally gave him the answers he sought.

 

However, the Merchant King merely gave a tired, enigmatic smile. “In time, you’ll come to know them. I think, perhaps, you already do.”

 

“Then, why hide?” he asked, puzzled. “And why these dark deeds?”

 

“Is it so different from your own work? You take the lives of men and women, strong in your conviction that their deaths will improve the lot of those left behind. A minor evil for a greater good? We are the same.”

 

“Our methods may resemble each other, but to one who knows our motivations?” Altaïr stated, almost amused to find himself using the tone he had once used for speaking to Alnesr during the younger Assassin’s lessons. “We could hardly be more different.”

 

“Ah, so you say now,” Nuqoud continued, his voice growing quieter as the life left him. “But later, I wonder…” he grinned a last time. “Still, it does not matter: you cannot stop us. We will have our New World.”

 

Abu’l Nuqoud, the Merchant King of Damascus, died with an enigmatic smile on his face and his life’s blood pooling at the right side of his mouth.

 

“May you find the peace in death that eluded you in life,” Altaïr said, gently staining his feather with the Merchant King’s blood.

 

Rising from his crouch before the remaining guards could see his work and think to sound the alarm, Altaïr made his way quickly back to the rooftops so that he could more easily evade those guards that would inevitably be coming once the alarms had started sounding in earnest and those who were assigned to this area found themselves recalled to the posts that he had passed though. At least, those who he had not encountered on his way to this place.

 

Concealing himself within a walled garden as more and yet more archers began scaling ladders placed in this area for them, Altaïr crouched and peered through the delicately carved wood. Watching as the guards and searchers passed out of his sight across the rooftops, Altaïr breathed more easily once they were gone. Rising from his crouch, he scanned the rooftops around him to make certain that they were clear.

 

Turning his path back toward the Bureau once he had determined that his way was indeed clear, Altaïr crossed those rooftops that remained between himself and his new-chosen destination with only a few more encounters with the guards that were now searching for him with more than their usual share of diligence. He dealt with them in the same fashion that he handled the others.

 

He smiled slightly as he began to come into sight of the Bureau’s rooftop entrance, stepping up onto the Bureau’s rooftop and then carefully climbing back down into the back room below. Stepping down from the ornamental fountain, Altaïr breathed more easily now that he was back on safe ground. For all that the insolence of this Rafiq might have irritated him, fighting city guards was far more troublesome than that man could truly hope to be.

 

Removing the stained feather from the pouch on his belt, Altaïr made his way into the main room of the Bureau once more.

 

“Word has reached me of your success, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said.

 

“Abu’l Nuqoud’s reign of terror is at an end,” he reported, pleased to have such a task done with.

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” the Rafiq said, smiling slightly.

 

“He killed them,” Altaïr reported, eyes narrowing at the memory of those revelers – perhaps not all of them innocents, but none of them deserving the deaths that Nuqoud had given them – chocking and foaming as they died. “The men and women at his party; it was poison. A coward’s tool; he blamed them for the war. Said he wished to end it.”

 

“Strange,” the Rafiq said, looking as though the deaths of those people were not quite real to him; perhaps they were not. Whatever the case, he would speak about the missions he was carrying out alone with Alnesr, when the pair of them could find the time to meet once more. “But, then again, the Merchant King was known to be a bit… different. Perhaps this was simply a symptom of his madness.”

 

“Perhaps,” he allowed, not particularly willing to forgive the man such a transgression as what he’d seen this day.

 

“You sound unconvinced,” the Rafiq noted; Altaïr mused that his misgivings about what he had seen, and his desire to discus what he had heard with the Master and Alnesr both, would indeed have combined to make him sound so uncertain. “Speak with Al Mualim, then. He may offer a better explanation.”

 

“Yes, I’ll see what he has to say,” he said, handing over the feather he’s stained with the Merchant King’s blood.

 

Departing from the Bureau’s front room without another word, Altaïr returned to the back room and settled himself amongst the cushions, sheets, and pillows that made up the sleeping area. Closing his eyes, Altaïr breathed deeply and allowed himself to relax as much as any other Assassin would have at last.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after a sleep that was less restful and more troubled than he would have ever preferred, Altaïr rose and began to make his way out of Damascus once again. He did not know if he would be returning, since such things were at the discretion of Master Mualim and not himself, but if he did he hoped that he would not be returning to such uncertain circumstances as the ones he had been forced to work under here and now. Regaining the rooftops, Altaïr paused a moment to look for archers before continuing on his way.

 

His journey from the city was somewhat more eventful than the one that he had made to get inside, more than likely owing to the fact that the death of Abu’l Nuqoud still remained in the minds of the populous. They did not know – could not know – that the purpose of the Brotherhood was to safeguard them from those who would seek to exploit them for their own selfish ends. He thought it rather sad, at times, that these people would never truly come to know their saviors unless they found themselves entering the Brotherhood itself.

 

Then, he would remember the lessons that Master Mualim had taught him when he was under the man’s tutelage, and he would give no more thought to such things as that.

 

Once he had managed to return within sight of the entrance to Damascus, Altaïr paused for a moment to watch the guards at the gate. They were not the sort to allow anyone so suspicious as he was out under their eyes as long as they stood guard at the gates. He’d been searching long enough to know that there were no scholars close enough to allow him to take shelter within their ranks before he would run the risk of attracting unfriendly attention simply by his sheer immobility.

 

So, gathering himself, Altaïr moved swiftly out of Damascus over the heads of the men guarding the gate. Not a one of them looked up, and so Altaïr allowed himself to breathe more easily as he descended from the wall and stood at ease upon the grassy grounds outside Damascus once again. He stopped a group of men from assaulting a scholar, and then moved to locate the horse he had brought with him from Masyaf.

 

Mounting up once more, Altaïr rode from Damascus and turned his attention to what might be waiting for him at the fortress of the Assassins.

 

He knew that, for all he wished to speak with Alnesr about what the younger Assassin had been doing while he had carried out the missions that the Master had requested of him, he would need to speak to Master Mualim himself before he could truly have any time to himself; both to inform the Master of the results of his mission, and to assuage his uncertainty.

 

Settling himself down next to a tree that leaned out over a small well, Altaïr gave some water to his horse and then had a drink himself. Tying the horse up for the night, Altaïr settled down to rest. Waking refreshed the next morning, he resettled himself upon his horse and continued on. The next five days passed in much the same fashion, though rather more solitarily considering that he was no longer traveling with Alnesr.

 

He wondered again how the younger Assassin was faring.

 

Once he began to come into sight of the valley that Masyaf fortress stood guard over, Altaïr smiled softly as he began to guide his horse back to the stables. He looked forward to speaking with Alnesr about their respective activities during the time that they had been working apart, but before that he would need to make his report to the Master. Leaving his horse at the stables to be taken care of by the attendants, Altaïr swiftly dismounted and began making his way back to the fortress.

 

Rauf waved to him as he passed, and Altaïr returned the greeting as he continued on his way. Entering the fortress once more, he made his way up the stairs and into the Master’s study. As he had been suspecting, Master Mualim was waiting for him.

 

“Come, Altaïr, I would have news of your progress.”

 

“I’ve done as you asked,” he reported. “Abu’l Nuqoud no longer has power over the citizens of Damascus.”

 

“Good. Good,” the Master turned then, his gaze taking in Altaïr’s own face; he wondered what the Master was seeing there. “I sense your thoughts are elsewhere. Speak your mind.”

 

“Each man I’ve been sent to kill speaks cryptic words at the end. Each time, I come to you and speak of what I have heard, and each time you give me only riddles in response. But no more,” he said, resolving to have the uncertainty he had been pushing to the back of his mind for so long as he had been hunting the men on his Master’s list ended.

 

Master Mualim’s white eyebrows raised at once; he was likely surprised to find himself confronted in such a way. Well, he would need to become accustomed, if he wanted Altaïr’s further cooperation. “Who are you to say ‘no more’?”

 

“I’m the one that has done your killing for all this time,” he said, firming his expression as he did the same with his resolve. “If you want it to continue, you’ll speak straight with me for once.”

 

“Tread carefully, Altaïr,” the Master said, a hardness in his voice and expression that had not been present before; Altaïr noted it and set it out of his mind. “I do not like your tone.”

 

“And I do not like your deception,” he stated, forcing himself to sound more calm than he presently felt; he thought of how Alnesr would look to him for guidance, and then acted as though he was still called upon to provide it.

 

“I have offered you the chance to restore your lost honor-”

 

“Not lost,” he interrupted, incensed; not a thing he would have done if Alnesr had truly been here to see his example and take instruction from it, but Altaïr found that he could not manage to hold his silence through such an insult. “Taken; by you. And then you sent me to fetch it again like some damned dog.”

 

The Master’s sword slipped almost silently from its sheath; Altaïr narrowed his eyes slightly. “It seems I’ll need to find another. A shame. You showed such promise.”

 

“So, you would send Alnesr, then? He’s done his share of work, and seems far more willing to work without question than I find myself.” There was something that passed over the Master’s face when he spoke of Alnesr, some expression that Altaïr could only glimpse for the shortest of moments and so could not properly place. “You said that the answer to the questions I had would come when I no longer needed to ask it. So I will not ask; I demand that you tell me what binds these men.”

 

For a few, long moments, Altaïr found himself wondering if the Master would indeed go and fetch Alnesr, if only so as to teach the younger Assassin one of his inscrutable object-lessons. However, once those moments when he was required to await whatever judgment the Master saw fit to give him for what the man considered his continuing insolence, Master Mualim sheathed his blade and seemed to be considering his options. It seemed he was not so eager to begin anew with Alnesr.

 

“What you say is true,” the Master said, relenting at last. “These men are connected, by a blood oath not unlike our own.”

 

“Who are they, then?” he asked, in no great mood for further wordplay now that he had managed to glean at least some answers.

 

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,” the Master intoned.

 

Altaïr knew those words well. “Templars,” he spat.

 

“Now you know the true reach of Robert de Sable,” the Master said.

 

Indeed I do. “All of these men… Leaders of cities, commanders of armies…” he trailed off, momentarily overcome by the immensity of the task that had seemingly appeared before him.

 

“All pledge allegiance to his cause,” the Master said; Altaïr gathered his scattered thoughts so that he would be able to speak them properly once more.

 

“Their works are not meant to be viewed on their own, are they?” he thought aloud, for both of their benefits. “But as a whole. What do they desire?”

 

“Conquest,” Master Mualim said; it was a simple answer, but one that he’d come to think more and more plausible the more he saw of the men he now knew to call Templars. “They seek the Holy Land; not for God but for themselves.”

 

“What of Richard?” he asked. “Salah Al’din?”

 

“Any who oppose the Templars will be destroyed,” the Master said, his usual calm once more in place. “Be assured that they have the means to accomplish it.”

 

“Then they must be stopped,” he said, feeling a new resolve even as he spoke those words; as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

 

“That is why we do our work, Altaïr: to ensure a future free of such men,” the Master said.

 

“Then, why did you hide the truth from me? Why this evasion?”

 

“That you might pierce the veil yourself,” the Master said, sounding only slightly reproving. “Like any task, knowledge precedes action. Information learned is quite a bit more valuable than information given. Besides,” Master Mualim turned a more reproving expression upon him. “Your behavior had not inspired much confidence,”

 

“I see,” he said, lowering his head; he was almost pleased that Alnesr was not present to see him in such a state as this.

 

The younger Assassin knew well that his once-Master was not entirely without fault; no need for him to repeat such a lesson.

 

“Altaïr, your mission has not changed,” Master Mualim said, his expression becoming merely stern rather than reproving. “Merely the context in which you perceive it.”

 

“And, armed with this knowledge, I might better understand those Templars who remain,” Altaïr said, nodding as he turned over his new knowledge in his mind.

 

The Master nodded, clearly pleased. “Is there anything else you wish to know?”

 

Pausing for a moment, considering just what else that he could ask of the Master while he had the man’s ear, Altaïr had soon made up his mind. “What about the treasure Malik and Alnesr retrieved from Solomon’s Temple? Robert seemed desperate to have it back.”

 

“In time, Altaïr, all will become clear,” Master Mualim said, calm and cryptic as he had ever been. “Just as the role of the Templars has revealed itself to you, so too will the nature of their treasure. For now, take comfort in the fact that it is not in their hands, but ours.”

Chapter Text

Altaïr considered pressing the Master for the meaning of his words, but he knew that he had been fortunate in that the Master had chosen to indulge him. It would be entirely too simple for Master Mualim to decide that he had given out too much information on the subject, and there were other things that he wanted to know, besides.

 

“How does Alnesr fair? Have you sent him on another mission, or may I speak with him?”

 

“I’ve sent him off to gather more information about what Robert and his Templars might be planning, so that – though the two of you now tread separate paths – Alnesr might do what he can to aid in your efforts.”

 

“Thank you for your consideration, Master,” he said, bowing his head in respect to both Master Mualim’s patience, and his consideration in giving aid in what ways he could. “Where would you have me go next?”

 

“Return to Jerusalem once you have taken some rest; Majd Addin awaits you there,” the Master said. “You are restored another rank; take another set of knives, use them to restore honor to the Brotherhood.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” he said, turning to make ready to leave. “I will do as you ask.”

 

~AC1~

 

When the Assassin had left him at last, Rashid sighed softly. The boy was becoming rather too inquisitive for both of their good; it would not be long before the Assassin began to think to demand to know where Alnesr was, even in spite of the knowledge that Rashid had offered him. He would not be able to truly provide any more information to the Assassin than the boy himself had already gathered; he’d cut ties with Robert long ago, and hence knew very little about the activities of the Templars in the present.

 

He could not, therefore, offer the Assassin the information he sought, and for a moment Rashid wondered what had driven him to promise that which he had.

 

Returning to his room, Rashid made his way over to the bed where he had laid Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr to rest. Reaching out to gently caress the face of the young once-Assassin, he smiled. He could see the light of the Apple shining softly through the child’s eyelids, now that the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon at last.

 

He wondered, for a few moments, what the child could have been dreaming; what dreams that the Apple was showing to him, in that place beyond all cares and troubles of the waking world.

 

Gently brushing back the child’s silver hair, Rashid smiled more gently as he felt the softness of it. Truly, the gentler world that he would use the Apple to create could only be a boon to him and all of the children like him.

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“Who are you?” he demanded of the man, the one who continued to hide himself within the light Alnesr had found himself wandering through for an uncounted amount of time.

 

Ever since such had overtaken him, while he’d been speaking to Master Mualim in his study.

 

“You’ll come to know me soon enough, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

He could only wonder at how the man knew his name, and even more at the fact that his voice seemed to echo from everywhere and nowhere at once. It made the man near-impossible to locate by sound, and the fact that he could not catch so much of a glimpse of the man whose voice he heard so clearly compounded the impossibility with yet more.

 

He was not fully prepared to concede victory or resign himself to hopelessness at this point, however; there was a solution to all problems, in the end. One merely had to find it.

 

“By all means, Alnesr: come and find me.”

 

The man’s voice sounded fully amused now; soft, mocking chuckles sounding from the light all around him.

 

“Come out and show yourself, then; or are you just a voice on the wind, merely empty noise at the end of things?”

 

“I look forward to seeing you find that out for yourself, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

He’d not expected the man to show himself at the prompting of what were merely words that could be ignored if one was truly uninterested in the opinions that others might hold of them – as Altaïr had been, long ago – and yet hearing such plain indifference in the voice of the man who would not come out to confront him was not a comfort at all. It suggested that, whoever it was that continued to speak to him within this place that was not truly a place, they held no concern for the opinions of others. It suggested a man who did not question the limits of his own strength, for there was nothing and no one that could truly challenge him.

 

Or else, that he had simply not met a one who could.

Chapter Text

When the morning had come once more, Altaïr rose from his slumber and began to make for the stables after he had broken his fast. He was pleased to remember his conversation with the Master; pleased to know that Alnesr would still be supporting him even after the two of them had gone down separate paths. He was not entirely pleased that he’d not been able to wish the younger Assassin well on his way, but Alnesr’s departure had been at the Master’s discretion.

 

He was not going to go down the path of questioning the Master’s dictates, after the troubles that doing such had already caused him; he’d paid the price for his arrogance some time ago, and he would not soon forget the lesson that he had paid such a price for.

 

Taking a horse from the stables, Altaïr unhooked a pack of provisions from the far wall and slung it over his right shoulder. Guiding his horse out from the stables and down the path away from Masyaf, Altaïr turned his thoughts toward Jerusalem once more. Dealing with Malik would be more difficult now, without Alnesr to blunt the edges of the Dai’s words.

 

However, he would face the mistakes that he had made toward Malik, and the hatred that his fellow Assassin had a right to feel toward him. He would complete his tasks, kill Majd Addin and bring Jerusalem out from under his cruel thumb, so that the people there could once more live free as all people were meant to do. Then, he would see if Alnesr had returned from his own appointed tasks so that the two of them could speak once again.

 

Pausing to rest under the trees of a nearby oasis, Altaïr watered both himself and his horse before tying the beast up so that it wouldn’t wander off into the desert and become lost. Eating a piece of dried fruit, Altaïr settled himself down to rest for the night. Rising once he felt rested once more, Altaïr untied his horse and mounted it once more.

 

The next five days passed in much the same way, and Altaïr soon found himself standing outside the walls of Jerusalem once again. He would have to focus on getting inside, for the moment, before he could concern himself with what other things Malik might say to him now that he was meeting his fellow Assassin for the second time. Tying his horse to one of the hitching posts outside of a nearby stable, Altaïr paid the stable hand to board his horse and then turned his gaze to the walls of Jerusalem at last.

 

As always, there were many citizens of many stripes milling around outside the walls, and while he might have had some small chance of blending in with a crowd and making his way into the city in that manner, there would have still been an uncomfortably large chance of him being found out if he had done such. So, Altaïr was determined to find a way that did not expose him to such a danger, and hence did not carry such a risk of compromising the Brotherhood. He had pride in his own skill, yes, but he was not a fool.

 

Finding a group of scholars making their own way into the city, Altaïr blended carefully in among them and allowed them to cover his entrance into Jerusalem for this mission of his. Bidding them a subtle farewell once he had accomplished his purpose, Altaïr took only a moment to compose himself when he stood within the walls of the city once more. After a few moments’ pause, he moved off deeper into the city.

 

It was with some amusement that Altaïr recalled how he had found himself making investigations without truly intending to do so, when he and Alnesr had been to the city before on the trail of Talal the slaver. This day, however, there did not seem to be anything of import to draw his attention away from making his journey to the Bureau to present himself before Malik and hence gain the Dai’s approval for his latest foray into the city. Again, he wondered what Malik would have to say.

 

Continuing on his way, taking to the rooftops when he was certain that he would not be spotted doing such, Altaïr breathed deeply and tried to leave aside his concerns for what Malik’s reaction would be to confronting him without Alnesr. He could not deny anymore that he was ultimately the cause of the other man’s maiming, or that Malik had every right in the world to hate him for such a thing. No matter how he might wish to make amends, wishes on their own were little more than kindly words.

 

Finally coming into sight of the Bureau’s rooftop entrance, Altaïr carefully made his way down into the building. He still did not know just what to expect when he met with the man – the Dai who had once been his fellow Assassin, alongside Alnesr and the man’s own late younger brother – but he would face such scorn as Malik would offer to him as he faced all other challenges in his life. He could no more deny his responsibility for the man’s maiming than he could force the sun to set at his own discretion.

 

Making his way into the front room of the Bureau at last, Altaïr paused for a moment as Malik looked up at him.

Chapter Text

“Safety and peace, Malik,” he said, not wanting to start off on an argument, though he had a feeling that such was a futile hope.

 

“What news, Novice?”

 

“I am not a Novice, Malik,” he said, resisting the urge to sigh.

 

“A man’s skill is defined by his actions, not the markings on his robe,” Malik said, not sounding swayed at all by his tone. “And, as you do not seem to be apprenticed to anyone, you are again a Novice in my eyes.”

 

“We could trade barbs all day, if you would prefer it so,” he said, forcing himself to look into Malik’s eyes in spite of the clear disapproval he saw in their depths. “Or, we could return to doing Al Mualim’s work.”

 

“Then, be out with it,” Malik said, taking a box out from underneath the counter he stood behind. “Though I would much prefer to be dealing with Alnesr, I suppose I can tolerate you.” Malik faced him more firmly. “Do you at least know how he fares?”

 

“The Master says that he has gone to find more information about the enemies we currently face,” Altaïr said, wondering for a moment if he should reveal what the Master had said to him when he had demanded answers not so very long ago.

 

Still, such was not likely to matter to Malik, since he had other concerns.

 

“Well, I suppose the two of us might very well have the chance to meet again,” Malik mused. “Now, what was it you came here for?”

 

“Al Mualim has asked that Majd Addin be slain,” he said. “There are mutterings throughout the city, and the people seem to have little love for him.”

 

“So, you can be observant when it suits you,” Malik said; Altaïr forced himself not to sigh once more. “Very well, I shall give you leave to use the Bureau as you need it.”

 

“Thank you,” he said, bowing slightly to Malik as he left the front room.

 

Making his way back over to the ornamental fountain, Altaïr stepped up onto it and from there made his way up the wall and back onto the rooftops. Standing there a moment to regain the composure that he had found worn down during his meeting with Malik. He had been right in thinking that the Dai would not have forgiven him his transgressions so easily. Still, Altaïr would have been lying if he’d not admitted to hoping for such a thing.

 

Dismissing those thoughts from his mind after only a moment to observe them, Altaïr made his way away from the Bureau and into the poor district of Jerusalem.

 

Once he’d found himself looking down at the dilapidated buildings of the poorest section of the city he now stood within, Altaïr waited a moment for the streets below him to clear, before descending down onto the level where all of the varied citizens within Jerusalem went about their lives. Knowing that he would now need to keep his eyes and ears open from the time he blended into the crowds until he departed for the Bureau with his collected information, Altaïr smiled slightly at the prospect of yet another challenge.

 

The life of an Assassin was filled with them.

Chapter Text

Making his way further into the poor district, Altaïr composed himself as he began to hear the sounds of a conversation not too far from where he currently stood. Moving toward it at a pace calculated to match that of the citizens that walked these streets beside, behind, and before him, Altaïr wondered for a moment just what it was that he would ultimately be finding. As it turned out, two men were meeting with each other; one of them wearing a simple, white tunic and pants with a smoke-gray turban, and the other far more elaborately garbed in rich, wine red fabric.

 

“They sent word you wished to speak with me,” the man in white and gray said.

 

“Majd Addin intends another execution today,” the man in red silks responded. “We must ensure all goes well.”

 

“It is my duty to serve,” the first man said, bending slightly at the waist in response.

 

“Bring the document I’ve given you to your master,” the man in red silks ordered; Altaïr narrowed his eyes slightly. “That way, he’ll know where my men are at all times. And be quick about it! We can ill afford any delays.”

 

“There will be none, you have my word,” the first man said. “Is there anything else?”

 

After a cursory check to see if anyone was watching them, during which time Altaïr had to fight hard to restrain his amused smile, the man in red silks turned back to the man in white and gray. “We’ve reason to believe they’d infiltrated the city,” the man in red silks had leaning his head slightly closer in that way that conspirators from all creeds and all walks of life had done before him. “Majd Addin fears for his safety.”

 

As well he might, Altaïr mused, not feeling particularly charitable.

 

“Truth be told I don’t blame him,” the man in red silks said. “A man in his position makes many enemies.”

 

“I am sure that your men will be able to keep him safe,” the man in gray and white said, straightening up and beginning to leave the intersection of street and alley where Altaïr had found him.

 

“God willing,” the man in red silk said, moving to leave, himself.

 

Altaïr, schooling his face in the wake of the new information that he’d been able to gather, moved in behind the new object of his attention as swiftly and silently as he ever had. Once the man’s attention had turned fully to whatever matters that he had concerned himself, fully distracted from whoever he might encounter within the city, Altaïr swept past him, taking what he needed from the man just as he’d been taught to do by the Master himself.

 

And, just as he’d taught Alnesr to do, in his turn.

 

Moving away from the man he’d tailed, so that he would not think to pursue him once he discovered that he was no longer carrying the message he’d been given, Altaïr melted back into the milling crowds and continued on his way even as he tucked the message he’d claimed safely away inside his robes. Passing deeper into the crowds, Altaïr made his stance and stride as unobtrusive as he could manage, searching out the next person who would be able to provide him with the information he sought, though they would have no knowledge of him or what he truly sought.

 

As he continued making his way through the crowds, Altaïr opened his ears once more to what those who lived under Majd Addin’s rule truly thought of the man; it would make him all the simpler to come to grips with, when the time came.

 

As he continued deeper into Jerusalem’s poor district, Altaïr began to hear the sounds of yet another conversation that might also prove to have more of the information he was currently searching for.

 

“Did you see the order?” a man in smoke-gray robes and black sash asked of a man in a white tunic and turban, this one wearing a bright green sash. “He wants us to prepare a stage for another execution. Today. It’s the one at the western edge of Solomon’s Temple. I was on my way just now.”

 

“So much death,” the man in white said, in the tone of a man who had been defeated; Altaïr was cheered by the thought that, unknown though he might be to this man, he would still be lifting a burden from his shoulders.

 

“Were it only that our true leader might return, and bring a measure of justice to this city,” the other man said, with far more enthusiasm.

 

“Yes, and not this mockery Majd Addin parades before us,” the man in white continued; it seemed the spirit had not been wrung out of him entirely.

 

“How? How does something like this happen?”

 

If Master Mualim’s deductions were indeed as well-founded as they had always been, then not without intervention, Altaïr reflected.

 

“Everyone appointed in Salah Al’din’s stead has met with an untimely end, and so the position falls to him,” the man in white said; Altaïr winced slightly at the thought that his own actions had given such a madman cause to hold power. “He who was once nothing more than a mere scribe.”

 

“How convenient,” the man in gray said, his tone making the words a jibe. “It would not surprise me to learn that he was behind these… accidents.”

 

More and more, Altaïr found himself pleased to be able to offer the citizens of Jerusalem reprieve from what was, in the end, just another tyrant that fed on the suffering of their fellow man. Or, perhaps much worse, considering the man’s affiliations.

 

The man in white swiftly hushed his companion. “If the guards hear us, we’ll be taken for treason! Executed on very platform we have to repair. Come; let us return to work.”

 

Turning his face back to the crowd, so that he would not appear to be taking too much note of the men whose conversation he had taken the time to overhear, Altaïr closed easily with the man in white, taking the map that he had been given to do his work. Drifting back into the crowd once he had done his work, Altaïr began once more to search for those who might be carrying information that he needed.

 

After continuing on his way through the city for some time, observing the ebb and flow of the crowds he passed into and through and by on his way through the poor district, Altaïr began to hear the sounds of a man haranguing the crowd around him. Turning that way, Altaïr settled himself down on a bench close enough to hear the words of the man that spoke so pointedly, while at the same time being safely out of the man’s sight. After all, it was a strong possibility that this man could end up being his enemy.

Chapter Text

“There is nothing more insidious than one who turns his back on the law!” the man shouted. “For the law was given to us by God! There is no harm in naming them: those among you who defy the law. We are nothing without our faith. Without its rules and its direction; to defy it, is to defy the one who leads us! Such behavior can not be allowed!”

 

The man had stopped speaking, and so Altaïr rose from the bench and began discreetly tailing the man; this one clearly being either a firm believer in Majd Addin’s tyrannical ways, or merely paid off by the man. And either way, one more than likely to have knowledge that could be put to proper use.

 

As he caught his first glimpse of the man, moving through the crowds, Altaïr took note of the travel-stained, faded tan robe that he wore. Around his waist was a black sash, and atop his head a wine-red hat of a type Altaïr had seen before, though he did not recall just what such a thing was called. Directing his attention away from such idle musings, Altaïr continued on his way though the crowds.

 

Ever closer to the man who would give him the information he sought, reluctant though he might have been.

 

Once he had passed beyond the watching eyes of Jerusalem’s citizens for a moment, Altaïr fell upon the man with his accustomed ferocity. A hireling the man might easily have been, since he did not fight with the strength or lack of regard for himself that characterized a zealot. The more they struggled, Altaïr himself striving far harder than this man whose name he did not know, he came to the conclusion that his first thought about the man was indeed right. The man fought too much like a hireling to be anything else.

 

“Enough!” the man gasped. “I still breathe, so you must desire more than just my life. What is it?”

 

“You know Majd Addin well?” he demanded.

 

“Better than most,” the man said, not sounding as though he was boasting, but not as though he was confessing, either.

 

All the more indication that this man was a hireling, truly.

 

“He seems a bit too righteous,” he said. “Is the law really so important to him?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

He narrowed his eyes, not entirely pleased with the man’s temerity. “I think he hides something, and I think you’ll tell me what it is,” he said, focusing the annoyance he felt into a sharp blade to further prod the man before him.

 

“It’s a veil, all of it,” the hireling said, his almost laughable resistance folding swiftly in the face of Altaïr’s annoyance. “Men like me? We are meant to scare them. Fill the people with fear. The ones he kills: not criminals, but… dangerous, all the same.”

 

“Dangerous to who?” Altaïr demanded, in spite of the fact that he was beginning to suspect the fact that he knew the answer to that question without troubling himself to ask.

 

“His plans; their plans,” the hireling said, his fear clearly beginning to get the better of him at last. “Yes! He speaks of others! Those he works with; works for, perhaps. I am uncertain. They need the city, though: controlling it is important to them.”

 

“Why?”

 

“You’ll have to ask him yourself,” the hireling said, clearly beginning to think that there was a way for him to survive this confrontation. “Attend one of his executions,” the hireling said to him. “It’s when he’s most talkative; addressing the crowd, hands covered in blood.”

 

“Then we are done,” he said, driving his Hidden Blade into the hireling’s neck at last.

 

Leaving the man behind as he fell to the ground, Altaïr swiftly moved away from the scene. Scaling a nearby wall to bring himself further away as swiftly as possible, Altaïr crossed as many rooftops as he could manage without being spotted by one of the archers that seemed to be far more prevalent in Jerusalem now than the last time that he had found himself in the city. It was quite possible that Majd Addin had ordered them posted when he had assumed power within the city.

 

Yet another reason to deal with him, if such were indeed the case.

 

Returning to the ground so that he would be better able to find the people that he sought within the city, Altaïr blended carefully back into the crowds so that he would be able to more easily make his way through the city, unnoticed and seldom seen. As he turned his attention back to the hunt for his new targets, Altaïr took care to match his pace to the ebb and flow of the crowds. He would not like to be spotted simply because of his inattention to a simple detail such as that.

 

Turning his gaze to the right, Altaïr raised his eyebrows slightly as he caught sight of an Informant standing at ease within a courtyard. Mildly interested in what the man would say to him, he hoped that the tasks that the other asked of him would not be too onerous.

 

“You again, grand Master,” the young man said; Altaïr was unsure if the young one was simply one of those overawed by his presence or simply confused as to his true rank, and so he offered no correction. “Safety and peace; I am so glad to see you. In these troubled times they asked me to prove myself, but I feel so inadequate when I compare myself to you.” Altaïr held himself aloof from the young man; knowing how unlikely it was that they would ever truly meet again, and so not wishing to cast a pall over his aspirations. “I must kill two of Majd Addin’s men without a fight. Could you show me the way?” it was a difficult thing, reading the emotions on a face so well-shrouded as that of an Informant, and yet the young man’s eyes gave his hesitation away; perhaps it was for the best that Altaïr showed him how he might perform future duties that might be asked of him. “I will be forever grateful; and share a very interesting story with you.”

 

Nodding his acquiescence to the young man who had asked for his help in this endeavor, Altaïr received the locations where both men could be found, and then turned his attention to tracking them. Such was not an entirely difficult thing, with the skill that he had often wondered if others among the Brotherhood possessed. It was not a thing he talked about, however; not an easy thing to bring up in conversation at all, the fact that he could see things that others might not.

 

Such musings were merely idle curiosities, however, and so Altaïr set them aside while he dealt with the men who had caused this Informant such consternation.

 

Returning over the rooftops to the young man who had sought his aid, Altaïr found that his wide-eyed look of welcome rather reminded him of Alnesr’s when his former Apprentice had been young.

 

“You are the best the clan has ever seen.” Altaïr took only a moment to consider such praise, before putting it aside as the words of a young man who had likely ventured no further than the city he had been stationed in. “Here is my story, Master: I was cleaning the temple steps; I overheard two scholars praising how easy it was for them to pass the soldiers guarding the entrance of the execution plaza.” He’d have not thought that such would be the case; Majd Addin must have truly felt more secure in his power than any of the others that he had been given cause to put to the sword. “If you time your entry properly, they could provide a choice distraction for the guards. But, I am sure that with your wisdom, you knew that already.”

 

Nodding slightly to himself in thought, not particularly caring how the informant would take such a gesture, Altaïr left the courtyard and made his way back out into the city at large. He possessed a great deal more information now than he had when he started, and for a moment he wondered if Malik would be satisfied with such progress as he had made. He honestly doubted it; not just for the hurt that he had caused to the Dai, but for the thought that he had not sought out all possible leads in all possible places.

 

With that thought in mind, Altaïr turned his attention back to what else he might be able to find out about the circumstances surrounding Majd Addin, and hence how he could improve his chances of killing the man when the time to do so properly came.

 

Hearing the sound of far off conversation, Altaïr turned his attention that way. Seating himself at a bench within range of the two men conversing – a man in white robes, sash, and turban, his face covered by a cloth of the same color; and a man in pale green who seemed to be dressed just the same – and turned his ears in that direction while taking care to appear that he was merely resting after a long walk.

 

“I am sorry!” the man in white said to the man in pale green, his tone indeed one of deep sorrow. “They came for him without warning.”

 

“My son?! They have my son?” thinking on how he himself would have felt if it had been Alnesr in such a situation, Altaïr lowered his eyes slight; truly, this only served to firm his resolve. Majd Addin would die, and the sooner the better. “What is to be done with him?!”

 

“We did everything we could,” the man in white said, wringing his hands.

 

What is to be done with him?!” the other man demanded, shaking the first with the strength that desperation could lend a man.

 

“He is to be executed; today.”

 

“No,” the man in pale-green – the father bereft of his son – growled at last. “I won’t allow it.”

 

“What, what can we do?” the first man asked; clearly, a victim of the terror that Majd Addin had been spreading. “Majd Addin will hear no appeals! He says that there can be no barter with God’s will!”

 

“This is not God’s will!” In that, Altaïr mused, they two were in complete agreement. “But madness! I’ll go to him myself! Where is he?!”

 

Before the grieving father could have done something foolish, though Altaïr held no enmity for such a desire considering what he had lost, the man in white took hold of his right shoulder and pulled him back. “He will attend the execution; perform it, even. He enjoys the act; truly evil man.”

 

“We have no time to lose, then,” the bereft, grieving father said; Altaïr was almost pleased that the man’s voice did not shake when he spoke. “Let’s go!”

 

Taking a moment to compose himself, knowing that he could not offer aid in any but the most indirect of ways to the man who had lost so much, Altaïr moved back into the crowd and lost himself within it once more. He had a great deal of time to think about what else he might need – what other information there might be left to collect – before he returned to the Bureau to collect the Master’s marker and finish this mission at last.

 

On his way back through the poor district, Altaïr found his attention once more drawn to the discreet, robed form of an Informant standing just out of sight of the glances of the crowds, behind a section of wall that jutted out just enough to cover him.

 

“Still need my help?” the man said. “I’m not sure I can be of any help; I have not been in town for awhile. Well, not since Majd Addin put a bounty on my head! Three of his men are after me! Perhaps your blade could help,” the man – not sounding as young as the previous Informant he’d crossed paths with, but not sounding very much older all the same – said, sounding rather like he hoped it would. “Get rid of them, and I’ll search my memory for something worth your while.”

 

Nodding as the Informant bowed slightly to him, Altaïr turned and left the small almost alcove-like place where the two of them had met.

 

There was one more man due to fall to his knives than had been the case the last time he had been asked to perform such actions as were wanted of him here and now, but Altaïr had thought that such would indeed be the case when he had glimpsed the stance of this Informant out of all the others. This man indeed had had the mien of one being hunted.

 

Returning to the rooftops, stalking from above as had proved so useful to him in the past, Altaïr focused in that way that he did to bring his awareness of people’s inner-natures forward. The men he sought were colored brightly gold in that other-vision; haloed in red to further let him know that they were enemies. Striking each one of them down with the throwing-knives that he had often taken the time and care to liberate from the thieves who would have otherwise used them for ends meant to benefit only themselves, Altaïr allowed himself a slight smile, before he made his way back to the Informant so that he would be able to speak to the young man once more.

 

Making his way back into the small, sheltered alcove-like place that the young man had hidden himself within to avoid the notice of those who would have sought the bounty on his head, Altaïr carefully checked to see that he was not being observed by anyone who might have taken something of an interest in what he was doing, and then made his way back down the ladder that he had climbed to gain the rooftops in the first place. It was a good feeling, to know that he could move unseen both within and above the crowds.

 

“Now I’m starting to understand why they call you the one,” the Informant said, his enthusiasm showing even though most of his face was covered. “What could I tell you that would be of any help?” the young man seemed to be musing on his next words, as opposed to lacking confidence as the other Informant that he had encountered, so Altaïr merely watched without expectations. “Oh, yes: Majd Addin enjoys lecturing his prisoners before executing them. While doing so, he turns his back on the crowd. I’m sure it is the perfect moment to strike! Does that help? Now, I must go hide for a while.”

 

Nodding, more to himself than to the Informant who had already begun to make his way out of the small, alcove-like place where the two of them had been speaking with one another, Altaïr made his own way out once the Informant had left in another dissection. He did not wish to give anyone who might have been watching the impression that he and the Informant could be connected to one another.

 

He would not compromise the Brotherhood once again; not ever again.

 

Deciding that, even if Malik did not believe that he possessed the requisite information to justify the giving over of the marker Altaïr would need to properly perform the assassination he had awaiting him, he could ill-afford any more delays if he were to help those that the mad Templar aimed to execute, he turned his path back toward the Bureau once more. He would not allow Malik’s disparagement to drive him to delays that would only place the lives of those Majd Addin’s madness had condemned in further danger.

 

Making his way back over the rooftops, pausing only to deal with the archers and particularly troublesome guards that he encountered on his way, Altaïr made his way determinedly back to the Bureau where Malik waited for him. He would present his case to the Dai, and he would convince the man to allow him the marker he needed. He could not allow Majd Addin’s madness to condemn any more of Jerusalem’s innocents.

 

Coming within sight of the Bureau once more, Altaïr sighed softly in mingled relief and anticipation. Climbing back down into the secondary room of the Bureau, Altaïr steeled himself for what he might be forced to do. Whether it was to grovel and beg for a favor that the Dai might not be willing to grant him otherwise, or else to promise some form of penance to the man that he had wronged. Altaïr would do it; not only for the innocents that he would be unable to protect otherwise, but for the fact that he had wronged Malik, and he did owe the man.

 

As he came into the room where Malik was working, behind the counter that Altaïr’s own actions had left him to, Altaïr nodded to the Dai and made his way over.

 

“You have more news, Novice?”

 

“I do,” he said simply; Malik seemed almost surprised by his tone.

 

“Speak of it, then; let us see what you have learned.”

 

For a moment, Altaïr was almost bemused by how the Dai’s manner of speech reflected the Master’s own. “Majd Addin is to hold a public execution not far from here. It’s certain to be well-guarded, but given the information I have managed to collect, I feel it is not beyond my skill.”

 

“You would feel that,” Malik said, sounding as fully unimpressed as he looked.

 

Altaïr bit the tip of his tongue, briefly reminding himself of all the troubles that his own arrogance had brought upon the Brotherhood before. “Will you give me the marker?”

 

“There is something else you need know beforehand,” Malik said, sounding both pleased and slightly annoyed. “One of those meant to be executed is a Brother; one of us. Al Mualim wishes for him to be saved. Do not worry about the rescue: my men will take care of that. But you must ensure that Majd Addin does not take his life.”

 

After Malik had finished speaking those words, the Dai retrieved the Master’s marker and Altaïr took it. Nodding one last time, with respect to the man that his foolishness had harmed most of all, Altaïr turned and left the Bureau’s front room. Making his way into the room that he had entered from once again, Altaïr allowed himself only a small meal and a short rest before he scaled the wall and made his way back up to Jerusalem’s rooftops once more.

 

He did not have the luxury of time in this instance, so Altaïr did not allow himself to linger in any one place for longer than he had to. Dodging the sightlines of guards, and pausing only to deal with those archers who he could not avoid without deviating too far from the most efficient path, Altaïr made swift progress through Jerusalem, on his way to the execution grounds that had been indicated by the men whose conversations he had overheard and whose communications he had intercepted.

 

The western edge of Solomon’s Temple, near the Wailing Wall, was awash with people; shifting and muttering, most of them clearly constrained from acting by the fear of what reprisals Addin would contrive to bring down on their heads in the face of such open defiance. But, that was well enough for his purposes; Altaïr himself had often been the hidden blade of the people, striking down those who had thought themselves protected by the coin they extorted, or the fear they spread.

 

He was more than willing to become so again, after all that he had heard of Majd Addin and his atrocities.

 

Making his way into the crowd that had gathered, whether willing or unwilling, to witness the mockery of justice that Majd Addin would parade before them, Altaïr steadied himself and watched; his time to act would come soon enough.

 

“People of Jerusalem, hear me well!” Addin called out, his voice silencing the remaining mutters of the crowd who had not heeded his call for such when he had first made it, likely riled by the delivery of the prisoners – tied to stakes, and most of them beaten – before them. “I stand here today to deliver a warning: there are malcontents among you; they sow the seeds of discontent, hoping to lead you astray.” Over the crowd’s murmurs, Addin continued. “Tell me, is this what you desire? To be mired in deceit and sin? To live your lives in fear?”

 

Altaïr would have scoffed at that, were he not surrounded by Addin’s Saracen guards and those who he had cowed into his service. He was a fine one to speak of people in fear. His gaze, however, was fixed on the Assassin that had been captured by Addin’s men: the man was younger than him, but seemed to be older than Alnesr. He did not know if this man was unskilled in combat, or had simply been unlucky.

 

He was not likely to find out, for that matter; so Altaïr focused his attention on Addin, awaiting the moment when he would be able to strike.

Chapter Text

“Then you wish to take action?” Addin asked, to the roaring approval of the crowd; Altaïr was not pleased to see such a thing, but he well knew that a man with the proper will could guide a crowd to follow where he led them. “Your devotion pleases me,” he said, turning to indicate the prisoners with a sweep of his left arm. “This evil must be purged, only then can we hope to be redeemed.”

 

Narrowing his eyes as a pair of men, the same pair that he had seen discussing the fate of the man’s son – still in their white and pale-green garb – came up to the stage, loudly denouncing Majd Addin and the farce of bloodlust and madness he was parading as justice, Altaïr sighed softly. He would not be able to save these men, but at least he could ensure that their sacrifice would not be in vain.

 

Moving forward during the inattention of the guards that had been distracted by their murder of the two men who had spoken out against the madness and bloodlust that Addin had encouraged within the crowd before him, Altaïr lowered his head slightly in remembrance of the two men who had been so brave as to offer themselves in the defense of people who could not defend themselves. Making his way up onto the execution platform, Altaïr forced himself forward as Addin turned the sacrifices of those two men – infinitely better than Addin himself would ever be, even if he were allowed to live – to his own advantage with barely a thought.

 

He was forced to watch the deaths of another two innocents – a woman, and then a man, neither of them likely to have done what Addin had contrived to accuse them of – before he was able to make his way close enough to deal with Addin properly. It was a cold comfort, but he had at least managed to come in time to aid the Assassin that he had been informed would be present.

 

As though he had been alerted by some other power, some heightened sense of combat that Altaïr would not have expected of a man who was merely engaging in mindless butchery as he was, Addin turned to look directly at Altaïr. The man seemed to know, though not by any means accept, that death had come for him at last. Altaïr, however, did not particularly care what Addin was willing to accept.

 

Launching himself forward, flicking out his Hidden Blade so that he would be better able to deal with Addin when the time came, Altaïr sunk the blade into his neck as he landed amid the roars and screams of the crowd; at this point, Altaïr rather thought that none of them were particularly aware of what was truly happening, merely wanting blood to appease the bloodlust that Addin had stirred in them. Altaïr thought it fitting, when he allowed himself to think of it at all.

 

“Your work here is finished,” he said, tensing himself to deliver the finishing blow.

 

The guards, at least, seemed to have realized that something had gone wrong, and were attempting to fight their way through the panicking crowds. None of them, it seemed, had expected death to strike the man who had gathered them here. Altaïr knew that he did not have so much time to linger in this place, and yet he still wanted to know just what it was that Addin would say in his own defense.

 

“No, no,” the man moaned softly, already dying. “It had only just begun.”

 

“Tell me: what was your part in all of this?” he demanded. “Do you intend to defend yourself as the others have? To explain away your evil deeds?”

 

“The brotherhood wanted the city; I wanted power,” Addin said, beginning to smile slightly. “There was… an opportunity.”

 

“An opportunity to murder innocent people,” Altaïr returned, disgusted with the man now bleeding out at his feet.

 

“Not so innocent,” Addin said, blood beginning to pool at the left side of his mouth. “Dissident voices cut deep as steel. They disrupt order; in this, I do agree with the brotherhood.”

 

“You would kill people simply for believing differently than you?” Altaïr asked; it fit what he had learned of the Templars, at least.

 

“Of course not…” Addin said, almost seeming as though he would have been laughing. “I killed them because I could; because it was fun. Do you know what it feels like, to determine another man’s fate? And did you see the way the people cheered? The way they feared me? I was like a God! You’d have done the same, if you could. Such… power.”

 

“Once, perhaps,” Altaïr allowed himself to admit. “But then I learned what becomes of those who life themselves above others.”

 

“And, what is that?” Addin asked, curious to the last.

 

“Here, let me show you,” he said, finishing the tyrant, and then closing Addin’s eyes as a final gesture. “Every soul shall taste death.”

 

Moving swiftly away from Majd Addin’s cooling corpse, Altaïr dashed for the nearest of the buildings to him. Clambering up the wall, he broke the line of sight on himself, then dove into a rooftop garden to escape the scrutiny of the guards pursuing him. Safely out of sight, Altaïr waited for the furor in his area of the city to die down slightly, and then moved quickly away over the rooftops once more. He knew that the archers he had killed had more than likely been replaced, particularly considering the level of security that Majd Addin had been operating under.

 

He could not afford carelessness, less in this situation than in many others.

 

Timing his movements carefully, so that he would never have the eyes of a man he could not kill upon him, Altaïr made his way swiftly back to the Bureau; Malik awaited news of his success there, though the Dai was more than likely aware of such a thing already.

 

When he had finally returned to the Bureau, making his way back down into the building as quickly and quietly as he ever had, Altaïr found that he was rather more eager than he had ever been to return to Masyaf once more. There seemed to be other things that he had been unaware of; things he was beginning to consider, now that he knew that the men he was hunting did indeed share more than their means and motives. Now that he knew he was facing the Templars once more.

 

Making his way into the main room of the Bureau, finding Malik hard at work behind the counter once more, Altaïr made his way over to the Dai to make his report.

 

“Jerusalem shall need a new ruler,” he said simply, knowing that Malik would be aware of what he meant.

 

“So I have heard,” the Dai said, sounding rather unimpressed; Altaïr could not find it within himself to be surprised at such a thing.

 

“Yes; I suppose that all of the city knows of his demise by now,” he said.

 

“You performed as an Assassin should: no more, no less,” Malik said, his unimpressed expression remaining; Altaïr briefly wondered what it would take to change it, and then mentally rebuked himself for such a thought.

 

Deeds were the way to change a man’s mind; not merely words.

 

“Is there anything else that you would wish to speak to me about?”

 

“No,” Malik said bluntly. “Reflect on your performance on your way back to Masyaf. And, if you do chance to meet up with Alnesr again, tell him that I would enjoy speaking with him if his path returns here.”

 

“I will, Malik,” he said, dipping his head to the Dai and then turning to make his way back to the sleeping area so that he could wait for the furor that his actions had caused to die down.

 

A light sleep left him clear-headed and better able to face whatever the rest of the day would bring, as well as free of the harsh, strident ringing of the alarm bells that had begun clanging almost before the dying body of Majd Addin had fallen to the ground. Making his way back out of the Bureau, Altaïr found his way back onto the rooftops, and from there was able to make his way carefully back to the edge of the city once more. He smiled briefly to see another group of scholars, before moving down to immerse himself within their ranks.

Chapter Text

With his cover preserved for the moment, Altaïr passed under the gazes of the guards at the gate, and made his way back out into the groups of people milling around outside Jerusalem itself. Some of them did indeed seem agitated by what had happened, but a great many more of them seemed relieved to know that they would no longer be harmed by those who purported to be in power. Altaïr was glad to see it; to know that he had made a difference in the lives of so many was a good feeling.

 

It was something he had taught Alnesr to cherish, as well.

 

Mounting his horse once more, Altaïr made his way away from the walls of Jerusalem and back down the path that would return him to Masyaf. He stopped when he could not avoid it, eating both along the way and when he settled down to allow both the beast and himself to get what rest they needed. When, at least, he came into sight of the great citadel of Masyaf once more, Altaïr sighed slightly, a small smile playing about his lips; it was a pleasant thing, to be home once more after all of his labors.

 

Leaving his horse in the care of the stable hands once more, Altaïr made his way back up to the citadel, and from there back into the Master’s study, where Master Mualim was indeed waiting for him once more.

 

“Come in, Altaïr,” the Master directed, his usual expression of stern kindness settled upon his aged face. “I trust you are well rested? Ready for your remaining trials?”

 

“I am, but I would speak with you first, Master. I have questions.”

 

Master Mualim clearly disapproved of such a thing, and Altaïr was not one to forget the sight of the Master’s blade, but there were still things he needed to know. He would find them out; no matter the cost.

 

“Ask, then,” the Master said, displeased but clearly still willing to cooperate. “I’ll do my best to answer.”

 

“The Merchant King of Damascus murdered the nobles who ruled his city,” he said, after a deep breath to fortify and steady himself. “Majd Addin in Jerusalem used fear to force his people into submission. I suspect that William meant to murder Richard and Acre with his troops. These men were meant to aid their leaders, and instead they chose to betray. What I do not understand is why.”

 

“Is it not obvious?” the Master asked rhetorically. “The Templars desire control. Each man, as you’ve noted, wanted to claim the city in the Templar name. So that the Templars themselves might rule the Holy Land; and eventually beyond. But they cannot succeed in their mission.”

 

“Why is that?” he asked, curious to know the source of the Master’s confidence.

 

“Their plans depend upon the Templar Treasure: the Piece of Eden… but we hold it now, and they cannot hope to achieve their goals without it.”

 

Of course, Altaïr mused; such was the item that so many of his targets had referred to.


“What is this treasure?” he asked.

 

Master Mualim smiled, clearly pleased to hear the question. Moving to the rear of his chamber, the Master bent and opened a chest. Taking a box from inside that chest, the Master returned to his desk and placed the box down upon it. Altaïr realized what it had to be not a second before Master Mualim had done so, but even then he still found his gaze drawn – almost forced – back to the box. It was the same one that Alnesr had been carrying when he and Malik had returned from the Temple Mount, and as before it seemed to radiate a kind of power.

 

Not so much that he found he could not allow his gaze to leave it, the way that Alnesr had seemed to be affected, but enough so that Altaïr found himself fully aware of just how much of a hold that whatever was inside that box could have on the mind of any who beheld it. The Master’s expression was one of indulgence, as though he had seen many people react in such a way to this Templar Treasure of his.

 

The Master reached into the box, fetching up… a globe: it was the size of two fists held together, golden and with mosaic designs all over the surface. Altaïr did not know what to make of the device; wondering if his senses were deceived in some manner, for he almost felt as though the globe itself were alive, in some fashion. He found himself distracted, however; the globe was pulling at him… he could feel it, though he tried to resist.

 

“It is… temptation,” the Master intoned.

 

As soon as he became aware of his own reaction to the device, however, the draw that the device had on him was ended. He could still see the mosaic patterns etched into the surface of the device, but they no longer pulsed with light, and the device itself no longer carried the semblance of life that it once had. It was a well-made thing, he could allow, but nothing more than a mere trinket.

 

“It’s just a piece of silver,” he said.

 

“Look at it,” the Master insisted, holding the device up for examination.

 

“It shimmers for the briefest moment, but there’s nothing truly spectacular about it,” he said, though he had peered closer to satisfy the Master’s insistence. “What am I supposed to see?”

 

“This “piece of silver” cast out Adam and Eve. This is the Apple. It turned staves into snakes. Parted and closed the Red Sea. Eris used it to start the Trojan War. And with it, a poor carpenter turned water into wine.”

 

The Apple of Eden? He looked at the device doubtfully. “It seems rather plain for all the power you claim it has. How does it work?”

 

“He who holds it commands the hearts and minds of whoever looks upon it; whoever “tastes of it”, as they say,” the Master said.

 

“Then, Naplouse’s men…” he trailed off, thinking of the poor creatures that he and Alnesr had seen in the hospital that the Templar had presided over.

 

“An experiment,” the Master said. “Herbs used to simulate its effects, to be prepared for when they held it.”

 

He could see now: “Talal supplied them; Tamir equipped them. They were preparing for something. But what?”

 

“War,” the Master said plainly.

 

“And the others, the men who ruled the cites,” he turned his gaze inward, beginning to realize the full extent of the Templars’ machinations. “They meant to gather up their people, make them like Naplouse’s men.”

 

“The perfect citizens; the perfect soldiers,” the Master said. “A perfect world.”

 

“Robert de Sable must never have this back,” he said, narrowing his eyes at the device in Master Mualim’s right hand.

 

“So long as he and his brothers live, they will seek it out,” Master Mualim said, though he seemed pleased once more.

 

“Then they must die as well.”

 

“Which is what I have had you doing,” the Master said, smiling once more. “There are two more Templars who require your attention: one in Acre, known as Sibrand. The other in Damascus, called Jubair. Visit with the Bureau leaders; they will instruct you further.”

Chapter Text

“As you wish,” he said, bowing. “However, I would know how Alnesr fares, before I leave.”

 

“Your concern for the boy does you credit, Altaïr,” the Master said with a smile; though Altaïr did not know what to make of the look in his eyes. “He continues to be well, though his work keeps him busy. Now, you had best hurry: no doubt Robert de Sable is made nervous by our continued success. His remaining followers will do their best to expose you. They know you come for them: the man in the white hood. They will be looking for you.”

 

“They won’t find me: I’m but a blade in the crowd.”

 

Master Mualim smiled once again, and indicated a familiar sword upon his desk; Altaïr had taken note of it when he entered, but chosen not to mention it until or unless the Master chose to call his attention to it. “Here: my gift to you. In gratitude for the good work you’ve done.”

 

“Thank you, Master,” he said, bowing as he took his sword and left the room.

Chapter Text

“I must commend your mentor, Alnesr. He has a very strong Heart.”

 

That same voice again; echoing around and around him through the light, until Alnesr could not discern just where it might have come from at all. Still, he was not going to let such a thing stop him from gathering what information he could. “What do you mean?”

 

“You may come to know that soon enough, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

Again! It was as though the man was deliberately trying to infuriate him! Mastering himself with an effort of will, Alnesr resolved that he would no longer take the taunting of this arrogant man as anything but empty words.

 

“Commendable of you, Alnesr. I wonder, however: just how long can you last?”

 

Narrowing his eyes, knowing that there was very little chance of the strange man answering any of his questions, and yet curious to know what he was about all the same, Alnesr turned his thoughts inward. He might not have known precisely how it was that he had come to be trapped within this strange, featureless world of light, yet he suspected that such had a great deal to do with the treasure that Master Mualim had shown to him. The Master could not have known that it would harm him in such a strange way, however, and so Alnesr forgave him his curiosity.

 

It was the way of the Assassins, after all: to seek the truth of things.

Chapter Text

When he left for Acre once more, after a night of sleep that had not been entirely as restful as he would have wished, Altaïr tried to make himself put aside the uncertainty he felt. Alnesr did not need a nursemaid hovering over him at all times – the younger Assassin had proved himself more than capable during the time that the two of them had worked together – and the look in the Master’s eyes had likely been nothing more than his imaginings fueled by the Piece of Eden. The Master had said that those who tasted of it became enthralled by the device. It was likely some product of that: since the device had been unable to touch his mind, it instead sought to poison it.

 

As he continued on the road that would take him to Acre, Altaïr found himself becoming more and more certain that such was indeed what had happened. And so, resolving to master himself all the more after coming into contact with such a potentially dangerous device as the Apple of Eden that Master Mualim had showed to him, Altaïr turned his mind to what he was going to be doing in Acre. The Templar Sibrand would be the one to taste his blade this day.

 

As he came into sight of the battle-scarred city of Acre once more, Altaïr wondered just how many more times he would be required to come back to this wounded city before his work was done. And yet, it was not his lot, to decide where his skill was best used; the Master had a plan, to rid the Holy Land of the Templars who sought to control it, and Altaïr’s duty was to make sure that such was allowed to happen. It was his duty to carry out the missions that Master Mualim assigned to him; to ensure that the Templars fell so that the people they would otherwise threaten would be able to live free without their oppressive presence.

 

With that thought to fortify him, Altaïr continued on his way closer to the battle-scarred, pitted walls of the city of Acre – with the broken, charred remains of a wooden wall placed before them in an effort to further deter any who would think to try to enter the city – dismounting from his horse and leaving the beast once more in the care of a stable hand that he was able to find. Turning his gaze back again to the city itself, Altaïr faded carefully away from the watchful eyes of what small crowds there were, and set about scaling the pitted walls themselves. Entering the city above the heads of those who had been placed in front of it as defenders, Altaïr breathed more easily once he was within the walls once more.

 

After he hand managed to bring himself out of the line of sight of the guards, Altaïr descended neatly back to the ground after a careful search for those who might have been close enough to see him. Once he was merely one of many anonymous figures moving through the streets of Acre, on his way to some business that the citizens there neither knew nor seemed to care about, Altaïr began to make his way to the Bureau so that he might meet once more with the Rafiq and thereby receive more details about Sibrand.

 

So that he might better know the man who was to taste his blade, before the moment came when he was called to strike.

 

As he continued on his way deeper into Acre, allowing the crowds themselves to conceal him from those who might have thought to track his movements, he couldn’t help but take note of the sorry state of the city once more. He and the Brotherhood had done all that they were able to, to prevent both the Templars and the scourge of the war itself from ravaging this city, but there was only so much that even they had managed. It was a sad thing, but Altaïr could at least content himself with the knowledge that he was here to alleviate at least some of Acre’s suffering.

 

Returning to the rooftops after he had found a clear place to ascend from, Altaïr made his way swiftly over them and to the entrance of the Bureau once more. Climbing back down into the building, feeling the same sense of comfort that he had when he was within the walls of Masyaf, if to a lesser degree than that which the old fortress and its sprawling grounds had provided him with, Altaïr made his way into the room where Acre’s Rafiq performed his duties.

Chapter Text

“Greetings, Altaïr,” the Rafiq said. “What news?”

 

“Al Mualim has named another: calls himself Sibrand.”

 

“I am familiar with the man,” the Rafiq said calmly. “Newly appointed leader of the Knights Teutonic. He resides in the Venetian Quarter, and runs Acre’s port.”

 

“I’ll start my work at once,” he said, pleased once more not to be dealing with any of the complicated feelings he was prey to when working with Malik in Jerusalem.

 

“Here are the places where you should focus your search: on the docks east of here, among the ships and their crews; at the chapel to the northeast, with the cross overlooking the port; and to the north, in front of Saint John’s Gate.”

 

“This is most helpful,” he said, pleased to have the information he needed to continue his work. “My thanks for the guidance.”

 

“Altaïr?”

 

“Yes, Rafiq?”

 

“I owe you an apology,” the man said; he was surprised to hear such a thing, considering the words that they had previously exchanged.

 

“For what?”

 

“For doubting your dedication to our cause,” the Rafiq said.

 

“No,” he shook his head; he’d fully deserved what the man had said to him, time and reflection had allowed him to realize this. “It was I who erred: I believed myself above the Creed. You owe me nothing.”

 

“As you wish, my friend,” the Rafiq said, smiling cordially at him, no trace of his earlier unease in evidence at all. “Go in safety.”

 

“Safety and peace, my friend,” he said, turning to make his way back into the room that he had entered from.

 

Passing under the patch of sky that was revealed by the Bureau’s entrance, Altaïr climbed upon the ornamental fountain and began making his way back out. Regaining the rooftops once more, he set out to find the information that he would need to deal with Sibrand when the time came.

 

Making his way over the rooftops and away from the Bureau so that he could safely descend to the ground without the chance of compromising the security of the Bureau itself, Altaïr did so and then made his way out of the alley that he had entered and back into the city at large. Blending into the crowds once more, Altaïr took care to listen for those whose conversations might lead him to the information he would need to deal with Sibrand when the time came.

 

As he continued on his way deeper into the city, he listened for the sounds of idle conversation that would lead him to the first bit of information that he would be able to use to begin piecing together a plan that would enable him to kill Sibrand without exposing the Brotherhood to undue strife, and hence free Acre from the tyranny of the Templars’ attempts at ruling it. He could hear the muttering and idle chatter of the citizens all around him, as though he was standing in the midst of a tranquil sea that was yet occasionally stirred by breezes off the shore, and Altaïr smiled slightly at the sounds of the crowd all around him; life at its most human.

 

It was this that he and the Brotherhood acted to protect; this that the Templars and all of their high-handed, grandiose plans ultimately threatened.

Chapter Text

Turning his mind once again to his work, Altaïr opened his ears and took in the swirl of conversations happening all around him; he passed an Informant on his way through the city: the man standing at ease under the shadow of a doorway in a lesser-frequented part of the city. Though he was not particularly fond of the tasks those placed in the role would ask of him, now that he had seen the man, Altaïr thought it best to be done with such a thing. Sometimes these men possessed information worth his time.

 

“Did they let you into the city, or did you fight your way in?” the Informant asked; Altaïr narrowed his eyes in slight annoyance, and then the Informant sighed. “Perhaps I should be more respectful.” Something they could both agree upon. “As I, myself, now require your help: I spent too much time in the harbor brothel last night, and insulted a Teutonic Knight’s wife. Or, so I am told,” the man said, scratching his head. “Now there is a group of them after me. Could you give me a hand, or a blade? If you return before I leave the city, I will give you the benefit of my wisdom.”

 

Altaïr could have easily questioned the purported wisdom of a man who had been so careless with his words as to invite the fury of those currently in control of this city, but that would have only served to waste time he might not have had. So, with a sharp nod to the Informant to let the man know of his intentions, Altaïr moved off into the city. A moment of concentration had the world taking on the subtle glow of intent as those around him became haloed by a light that he still did not know if any but him could see.

 

Those of particular interest to him were haloed in soft gold: as in the case of the three men who were clearly hounding the Informant whose cause he had taken up in exchange for the information that the man would be able to provide for him. Ascending to the rooftops once again, fully prepared to rain death upon his chosen targets, Altaïr had soon regained the high-ground and was steadily stalking the Knights who had set themselves after the Informant he was currently protecting.

 

Carefully tracking them with his gaze until the gold-haloed figures had each left the protection of the crowds they were moving through, Altaïr killed the men one-by-one as they each left the citizens who had been unknowingly sheltering them behind. Once he was finished with the task – not nearly so onerous as those that other Informants had asked from him in the past – he made his way back down to the ground, finding the Informant still standing in the doorway that he had positioned himself in, though now the man seemed to carry the mien of one hunted.

 

If what the man had said to him had indeed been the truth, however – though Altaïr had not been given a reason to doubt the man’s word, and had also been given confirmation of the men’s own ill-intent from his senses – such had indeed been the case.

 

“You are a lucky man,” the Informant said, sounding as though he also extended that sentiment to himself as well; a natural thing, Altaïr mused, for one who had escaped death so narrowly. “You are alive, and I am still in Acre. Here is what I have to tell: the only thing more dangerous than a drunken sailor is one who is also angry. I know it does not seem like much, but with your wisdom, I am sure it will help.”

 

A proverb? Altaïr mused, as the Informant hurried away, mindful of those who may have been interested in his progress for all the wrong reasons. It did not seem as though such a thing would be of any help to him with such a mission as the one before him now, and yet information was still information. Best he left it aside for the time being, and attended to the task at hand.

 

Turning his thoughts back to the information that he would need to gather to deal with Sibrand at last, Altaïr began to hear the sound of a man speaking at volume over an unhappy crowd. The reason for such unhappiness was clear: someone – likely Sibrand himself – had decreed that all ships were to be turned over to the Teutonic Knights, or those who owned and operated them would face imprisonment. Clearly, this man would know something about his target, and regardless: this was a thing that could not be allowed to stand.

 

Moving to confront the man making his speech to the crowds, Altaïr slowed to a walk; pacing the man so that he would not be seen by the still-grumbling citizens, even as they disbursed to go about what business they could in light of the new decree. Like as not, they would be pleased once he managed to rid them of Sibrand; one less Templar influence upon the city. Discreetly following the man as he made his way away from the stone overlook where he had been speaking, Altaïr smiled thinly as the unknowing man eventually made his way out of the sight of the guards – though there were more of them in Acre than in any other city he had set foot in thus far: more Templar influence, that – and into a narrow, blind alley where Altaïr could strike out at him without the risk of bringing the wrath of guards or Knights down upon his head.

 

However, this man was at least somewhat skilled in the art of combat; a thing Altaïr wondered at even as he broke the man’s guard and beat down his resistance with sheer force. He had only a moment to wonder if the increased resistance he had faced from the man before him was a product of Sibrand’s increasing paranoia in the face of his fellow Templars’ deaths at Altaïr’s own hands, or if this man had simply known how to fight as well as being an adept speaker before a crowd.

 

“It’s not my fault!” the man shouted, once Altaïr had subdued the uncommon resistance that the man had put up. “I’m only following orders! If you want your ship back, speak with the court!”

 

“That’s not what I’m after,” he said simply.

 

“Then what?!”

 

“Sibrand’s claimed near a hundred ships,” he said, eyes narrowing; both in thought, and to further cow the man into submission so that he would continue speaking as he did. “For what purpose?”

 

“A blockade. They’re to sail for open water, and establish a perimeter,” the man said, his voice beginning to quaver just the slightest bit.

 

“For what?” he demanded. “Does Salah Al’din intend to strike from the sea?”

 

“No,” the man said quickly; more Templar trickery then, Altaïr mused. “It’s not he we defend against, but ships from home! To deny Richard more troops!”

 

“Why would one of Richard’s own want to see him weakened in this way?” he demanded, wanting to know if this man was truly a part of Sibrand’s circle, or if his uncommon skill had merely been that: uncommon skill.

 

“I don’t know. Ask Sibrand,” the man said, the expression on his face one of genuine confusion; it seemed, then, that this one was indeed not a Templar. “They’re his orders. I’m just meant to carry them out. Now, please, let me go? I’ve told you all I know.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he said; they were not empty words: he did indeed regret the uninvolved lives that he needed to take. “I cannot risk you telling him I’m here.”

 

Finishing the man quickly and cleanly with his Hidden Blade, Altaïr made his way out of the alley and back into the bustling crowds of Acre before the guards could come to investigate the corpse that he had left behind. He’d no wish to expose himself, not now of all times, and certainly not in the face of a Templar who had already become aware of the swift death that stalked him and the rest of his brothers-in-arms.

 

His ears catching the sound of a conversation, Altaïr slowed so that he might hear it better.

 

“Deed’s done: I’ve moved the last of the food stores onto his ship this morning,” said a man; one of a pair of them, both wearing nondescript, shapeless, darkly-colored clothing.

 

“How much is that?” the other man asked.

 

“Enough for several weeks,” the first man said.

 

“What’s he planning, I wonder?” mused the second man; Altaïr suspected he knew the answer to such a question, suspected even that he was the answer to such a question.

 

However, such was not a question that he was in a position to answer.

 

“Perhaps he intends to flee,” the first man said, scratching his head; either that or rubbing at his hair. Altaïr was not in a position to determine which. “Something’s got him very scared.” Altaïr smiled thinly. “Anyway, I must be off. He asked that I deliver a letter to a courier at Saint John’s Gate. I best not keep him waiting.”

 

Fixing his eyes on the first man who had been speaking for such a long time, Altaïr concentrated briefly and saw the man limed in soft gold, making him all the simpler to follow. Such a nondescript man would have been all too easily lost in the crowds otherwise. Moving swiftly and silently in a moment of the man’s inattention to his surroundings, Altaïr swept past him, lifting the letter and carefully secreting it away within a hidden pouch inside his own robes.

 

Breaking his own path away from where the man was still walking, Altaïr continued on his way through the city. He had a great deal more information than when he had first started – he knew some of what to expect, at least – but there would perhaps be more he could find out within the city. More information that would provide him with an even greater advantage; particularly against a man like Sibrand.

 

Returning to the rooftops once more, he crossed to another alley and then descended once more back into the streets of Acre. His mind made up now: he would search out as much information as he could find within the middle district, so that when the time came for him to deal with Sibrand, he would not be caught unprepared for what he might need to do. Opening his ears to the voices of the citizens around him once again, Altaïr found himself catching wind of another conversation.

 

This one between a Knight and a bald man in a black tunic:

 

“I’ll tell him myself,” the Knight said.

 

“No! I won’t have you damned soldiers poking about in my business,” the black-clad man said, an air of finality about him; Altaïr wondered if this one was brave, foolish, or just too angry to care about potential consequences.

 

“Listen here, old man-!”

 

“No! You listen to me!” the old man snapped; it seemed he truly was too angry to care about the consequences that his words could so easily bring down upon himself. “This is my property, not his! I don’t care if Christ Himself put the man in charge!”

 

“He isn’t asking: it’s an order,” the Knight snapped.

 

The old man laughed harshly. “That’s rich. The man couldn’t order his way out of a burlap sack!” the old man said derisively. “I’ve seen the mess he’s made of the docks,” the old man said, gesturing back in the direction of such with off-handed contempt. “I won’t let him ruin mine!”

 

“Just read the letter,” the Knight said irritably; Altaïr looked up in interest. “You’ll see his terms are quite generous.”

 

“I grow tired of this,” the old man said dismissively. “I’ll consider what he has to offer, but I doubt it’ll change my mind,” the old man said, waving his right hand in dismissal of the Knight before him. “Now go on; get out of here.”

 

Stalking closer to the old man – bald, and white-bearded as the man was – Altaïr slipped past him and into the bustle of Acre at large, lifting the note as he went. Once that too had been accomplished, all without alerting the old graybeard to his presence, Altaïr continued to make his way through the city, all the while taking care to watch and listen for things that might be of interest to him.

 

Finding his way back through the middle district once more, Altaïr turned and turned to take in the city and the people around him, paying particular attention to any word about the docks, the conditions in the city at large, or mentions of Sibrand himself or the Knights Teutonic as a whole.

 

As he continued on his way through the city’s middle district, Altaïr chanced to come across another of the Informants that had been scattered throughout the city. It seemed to be his day for them, Altaïr mused, as he drew closer to the man in his travel-stained and hooded robes; one could mistake them as a true member of the Brotherhood, if one did not know what to look for.

 

The man himself was standing at ease in an alcove, within the shade of a well-maintained walled garden, just out of sight of anyone who might have thought to stroll through.

 

“Ah, Altaïr!” the man exclaimed, sounding unaccountably pleased to see him; most likely because of some difficulty he’d been having. “Demons are after me! Demons with a black cross! They want me dead. Me! Can you imagine?” Likely this Informant had been either careless or unlucky; with Sibrand’s growing paranoia, it was hard to tell the difference. “If you see them, tell them to go away: but use your blade. It’s the only language demons understand.” Altaïr would have sighed; even an Informant should know better than to stoop to superstition. “Please, return when you are done, and I will have something for you.”

 

With a sharp nod, to indicate both his understanding and his acceptance of this task that had been asked of him, Altaïr turned and left the walled alcove where the two of them had been speaking. Making his way back into the city at large, Altaïr concentrated and saw the citizens haloed in the colors of intent. Turning his gaze to those who had been limned in soft gold, Altaïr ascended to the rooftops so that he could once more stalk them without being seen.

 

A knife each for the five men who had threatened the life that he had been asked to save, and Altaïr was able to swiftly return to the man’s side. He wondered, even as he did so, just what tales such a timid one as that would be able to tell him, but then he was like as not to find out soon. Once he had been given such information as the timid Informant was able to give him, Altaïr considered it and then stored it away for later. He’d become rather fed up with Informants in general – all of the running about had firmly reminded him again of just another reason why he had been so pleased to have Alnesr as his Apprentice – and so resolved to ignore any further encounters he might chance to have with them.

 

Turning his path deeper into the city once again, Altaïr settled himself down on a bench when he began to hear a rather pertinent conversation.

 

“It’s gettin’ worse,” the first of the pair of Knights that he had stopped to observe said.

 

“His paranoia knows no bounds,” the second one agreed.

 

“He’s doubled our shifts; no one sleeps,” the first said.

 

“It wasn’t so bad, ‘till he decided to make the port his home.”

 

“He’s planning something at sea,” the first said; Altaïr had thought as such. “That’s why he came here.”

 

“Planning what?” the second demanded, in a tone of incredulity. “What’s the meaning of this?”

 

“Look at the two of you: off in a corner, whispering! Plotting!” a larger Knight who had just arrived, this one with a square jaw, large frame, and pale blond hair.

 

“We weren’t doin’ nothing of the sort, we was only-”

 

“Only what?!” the large-framed Knight – from the fear visible in all three men’s body-language, Altaïr began to suspect that this new Knight was Sibrand himself – demanded. “What secrets are you keeping?!”

 

“You misunderstand,” the first Knight said, sounding cowed.

 

“Damned Assassins, they’re probably here right now!” the Knight who seemed more and more likely to be Sibrand himself raved. “Watching us! Do you find this amusing?! Do you?! Well laugh while you can! Double the patrols!”

 

“Which ones?” the first Knight asked.

 

“All of them!” the man Altaïr was almost certain was Sibrand raved.

 

“But, we don’t have the men,” the first Knight said, still clearly cowed in the face of Sibrand’s growing madness.

 

“Find them! Recall our Knights from the field if you must!”

 

Waiting a few moments after Sibrand had departed, just long enough for his Knights to do the same, Altaïr rose from the bench he’d been seated at and calmly blended back into the crowds. He had what information he needed, and could now return to the Bureau to speak with Jabal once more. And from there, take up Master Mualim’s marker, and see to it that Sibrand could no longer threaten the people of Acre ever again.

 

Regaining the rooftops once more, Altaïr swiftly made his way back to the Bureau’s entrance, and from there back down inside.

 

“Greetings, brother,” Jabal said, sounding pleased as ever to see him once more. “How fares your search?”

 

“I’ve learned all there is to know about my target,” he said, reflecting on what he had seen and heard when Sibrand had made himself known to him amid the discussion of those Knights.

 

“Share your knowledge with me, then,” Jabal instructed gently.

 

“Sibrand is said to be consumed by fear,” he stated; and, sure enough, he had seen ample evidence of that fear for himself. “Driven mad by the knowledge that his death approaches. He has sealed the docks district, and now hides within, waiting for his ship to arrive.”

 

“This will make things dangerous,” Jabal said, leaning over the counter he stood behind. “I wonder how it is that he learned of your mission?”

 

“The men I’ve killed: they are all connected. Master Mualim warned me that word of my deeds had spread among them,” he said; Jabal sighed heavily.

 

“Be on your guard, Altaïr,” Jabal said, reaching under his counter to fetch the marker, and then handing it over.

 

“Of course, Rafiq,” he said, pleased by his fellow’s concern even as he took the marker from him. “But I think this will be to my advantage: fear will weaken him.”

 

“Safety and peace then, brother,” Jabal said.

 

“Upon you as well, Rafiq,” he said, nodding to Jabal as he turned and made his way back out into the secondary room of the Bureau.

 

A short rest quickly fortified him for the task that he was soon to undertake, and Altaïr swiftly rose from the pile of sheets and cushions that served as bedding. Scaling the wall, he regained the rooftops once more and swiftly began making for the docks. It was more than likely, given the blind panic that Sibrand was now prey to, that he would have to move quickly to catch up with the man before he was able to cast off.

 

Once he had reached a point close enough to the docks to be within sight of them when he descended once more from the rooftops, Altaïr did so when he found an empty corridor. Making his way over to the gathered crowd, Altaïr blended in among them and waited for the moment when he would be able to strike. However, it seemed that Sibrand had something else to distract him.

Chapter Text

“Y-you are mistaken, Master Sibrand,” a man dressed in the white robes of the priesthood said, his nervous stutter audible even from where Altaïr stood among the back of the gathered crowd; clearly, Sibrand’s paranoia had claimed another. “I would never propose violence against a-any man. And most certainly not against you.”

 

Sure enough, this was indeed the Knight that he had seen during his time spent observing the interactions of two of his fellow Knights. It was more than clear, now that he was seeing the man closer, that the paranoia he had seen and been told of was nothing less than the complete truth. Sibrand was as heavily armed as he had ever seen a man; moreso than even Talal, Tamir, or Majd Addin; his belt was laden with swords, and he had a full quiver of arrows.

 

“So you say,” the Knight snarled. “And yet, no one here will vouch for you. What am I to make of this?”

 

“I live a simple life, my lord,” the priest said; Altaïr could see that he had begun to shiver, and he could hear the fear in the man’s voice. “As do all men of the cloth. It is not for us to call attention to ourselves.”

 

“Perhaps,” Sibrand said, closing his eyes briefly; then they snapped open, alit with fury. “Or perhaps they do not know you because you are not a man of God, but an Assassin!” Sibrand shoved the priest, off-balancing the old man and causing him to fall to the ground; the old man scrambled back to his feet.

 

“No; never,” he insisted.

 

“You wear the same robes,” the Knight growled; Altaïr reflected that the guise of the Assassins was a useful thing, even though some innocents such as this man were made to suffer for the fear of those who tried to escape their fate.

 

“If they cover themselves as we do, it is only to instill uncertainty and fear,” the priest said, clearly desperate to escape from Sibrand and his madness before it could consume him. “You must not give in!”

 

“Are you calling me a coward?!” Sibrand snarled. “Challenging my authority?! Perhaps hoping to turn my own knights against me?!”

 

“No- no! I-I don’t understand why you’re doing this to me,” the old man stuttered, terrified. “I’ve done nothing wrong!”

 

“I don’t recall accusing you of any wrongdoing,” Sibrand snapped. “Which makes your outburst rather odd. Is it the presence of guilt that compels your confession?!”

 

“But- but I confessed nothing!”

 

“Ah, defiant until the end!” Sibrand shouted in triumph. “How like your kind!”

 

“What do you mean?!” Altaïr watched as the old priest’s expression turned swiftly from confusion to fear, and then to desperation and hopelessness.

 

“Garnier and William were too confident, and they both paid for that with their lives,” Sibrand hissed. “I won’t make the same mistake: if you are truly a man of God, then surely the Creator will provide for you. Let Him stay my hand!”

 

“You’ve gone mad!” the old priest cried out in terror, turning an imploring gaze upon the spectators within the crowd. “Will none of you come forward to stop this?! He is clearly poisoned by his own fear! Compelled to see enemies where none exist!”

 

None of those within the crowd, however, were willing to make themselves the targets of Sibrand’s outraged paranoia. And Altaïr, though he pitied the old man for his misfortune, could not allow his mission to be compromised for the sake of one life. Acre would be better for Sibrand’s death, and no more would die like this old man. He could hold his peace for the sake of that.

 

“It seems that the people share my concern,” Sibrand said, his madness clearly vindicated within his own mind. “What I do, I do for Acre.”

 

Altaïr narrowed his eyes, watching as Sibrand drove his long sword into the old priest’s gut, twisted, and then pulled the blade free. Wiping it clean as the old priest writhed, dying, upon the ground at his feet. Sibrand’s underlings, more of his Knights, picked up the corpse and threw it into the water. Sibrand watched the priest’s body sink slowly away, a look of contempt on his face.

 

“Stay vigilant, men,” Sibrand ordered. “Report any suspicious activity to the guard. I doubt we’ve seen the last of these Assassins. Persistent bastards,” he growled. “Now get back to work.”

 

Moving closer, careful to make certain that he remained concealed by the crowds still milling about on the dock, Altaïr observed Sibrand as the man and two of his Knights climbed into a rowboat and cast off. Watching as they navigated through the crowded waters, through the maze of boats, and up to a skiff anchored far out in the water. Sibrand’s gaze was frantic now; as though he thought his death was going to come from the water itself.

 

And, Altaïr mused, that was precisely what he was going to do.

 

Moving to the nearest of the hulks that he had spotted, Altaïr jumped onto it and began to make his way across the water. The boats were as good as a road to someone with his skill, and soon enough he was making his way closer to the skiff where Sibrand had taken shelter. He could hear the Knight ordering his guards to hunt him down. Growling softly deep within his throat as he spotted a sentry looking his way, Altaïr sent a throwing blade at the man, and cursed the fact that he’d not been able to properly prepare his kill.

 

Just as he’d expected, the sentry’s corpse fell into the water with a flat splash, alerting Sibrand to the fact that the man had encountered him.

 

“I know you’re out there, Assassin!” the man screamed, unslinging his bow. “How long do you think you can hide?! I’ve a hundred men scouring the docks! They’ll find you, and when they do you’ll suffer for your sins!”

 

Staying close to the frame of a platform, out of sight of any of those who might be hunting him, Altaïr moved forward and every closer. Sibrand was calling upon him to show himself, ranting and raving in such a way as to make his fear all the more obvious to one who had tasted such before. Putting aside the words of the dead man he was stalking, Altaïr started up the side of the skiff and dropped back to the deck plating; Sibrand was already dead, killed as much by his own fear as Altaïr’s actions.

 

It was time the Knight was made to understand that.

 

“Please… don’t do this,” the Knight pleaded, even as Altaïr had deployed his Hidden Blade to deal with him at last.

 

“You are afraid,” he commented; it was not an uncommon thing, to see the man he hunted in such states, and in this case he had come to expect it.

 

Truly, anyone who looked would have seen the Knight’s fear.

 

“Of course I am afraid!” Sibrand retorted, his tone that of one who was speaking to an imbecile.

 

“But you’ll be safe now,” he said, wondering just what it was that Sibrand still feared; now at the end of things. “Held in the arms of your God.”

 

Sibrand’s laugh was more akin to the bark of a wounded dog. “Have my brothers taught you nothing? I know what waits for me. For all of us.”

 

“If not your God, then what?”

 

“Nothing,” Sibrand said, a broken, despairing smile on his face. “Nothing waits. And that is what I fear.”

 

“You don’t believe?”

 

“How could I, given what I know?” the Knight asked. “What I’ve seen? Our treasure was the proof.”

 

“Proof of what?” he asked.

 

“That this life is all we have.”

 

“Linger awhile longer, then,” he said. “And tell me of the part you were to play.”

 

“A blockade by sea,” the Knight said. “To keep the fool kings and queens from sending reinforcements. Once we had… once we…”

 

“Conquered the Holy Land?” he prompted, to see what Sibrand would say in response.

 

The Knight coughed wetly, slathering his lips and teeth with fresh blood. “Freed it, you fool. From the tyranny of faith.”

 

“Freedom?” he echoed; it was not a word he’d ever expected to hear from a Templar. “You worked to overthrow cities. Control men’s minds. Murdered any who spoke against you-”

 

“I followed my orders, believing in my cause,” Sibrand cut him off, his eyes already becoming glassy and unfocused in death. “Same as you…”

 

“Do not be afraid,” he said, reaching out to gently close the Knight’s eyes at last.

 

Rising quickly from his crouch, Altaïr swiftly made his way back across the water – jumping from boat, to post, to boat, to dock – until he stood once more upon solid ground. He was pleased to have returned: while the needs of his mission might have dictated that he cross the water, such had never been a thing that he preferred. And, while it was true that he could swim if he was called upon by circumstances to do so, it was not a thing that he enjoyed doing.

Chapter Text

Returning to the rooftops as the alarm bells of Acre began to toll, Altaïr took a moment to conceal himself from the searching eyes of a group of archers, then resumed his swift pace once more. Once he had returned to the Bureau for the second time that day, he made his way back down into the cool, shadowed darkness of the back room. Stepping down from the ornamental fountain once more, Altaïr continued into the Bureau’s front room.

 

“Altaïr, you’ve caused quite a stir,” Jabal said, smiling with gentle good-humor.

 

“I’ve done as requested: Sibrand’s life is ended,” he said, offering the bloodstained marker back again to Jabal.

 

“So it is,” the Rafiq said, taking back the marker as Altaïr handed it to him. “You should ride for Masyaf and inform Al Mualim of your success.”

 

“Yes,” he said, already contemplating just what he would say to the Master when they met again; and what he would ask, as well. “I should speak to him. Of this and other things.”

 

“Is everything all right, my friend?” Jabal asked, and Altaïr was pleased to note the genuine concern both in Jabal’s tone and his eyes. “You seem… distant.”

 

“It’s nothing, Rafiq,” he said, not wishing to trouble the other man with a thing that was, in the end, his problem to see solved. “Just a lot on my mind.”

 

“Talk to me,” Jabal said, his tone kindly. “Let me help.”

 

“I need to make sense of this myself, first,” he said. “But, thank you for the offer.”

 

“It is the men you kill, isn’t it?” Jabal asked; the man had always been perceptive. Altaïr was not certain that such a thing was a boon to him, now of all times. “You feel… something for them.”

 

“How did you know?” he asked; yes, it was true that he’d always known Jabal to be observant, but he’d liked to think that he was more opaque than most.

 

“Ah, my friend, you are not meant to enjoy these grim tasks,” Jabal said, pacing behind his counter as he spoke. “Regret, uncertainty, sympathy; this is to be expected.”

 

“I should not fear these feelings?” It was, perhaps, a rhetorical question, but he wanted to know how Jabal would answer.

 

“You should embrace them,” Jabal said with certainty. “They are what keep you human.”

 

“What if I’m wrong?” he asked, wanting more certainty than he had, though he knew even as he asked that Jabal was not likely to provide such for him. “What if these men are not meant to die? What if they mean well? Misguided, perhaps, but pure in motive?” It was a thing that he had come to ask himself more and more often, of late, and while it felt good to speak such words aloud, Altaïr did not hope for an answer from Jabal.

 

“I am but a Rafiq, Altaïr,” Jabal said, just as Altaïr had known he would. “And such things are beyond me. Perhaps Al Mualim can help you to make sense of it.”

 

“Yes,” he said; it was not surprising to him, to hear such a thing. He’d not been hoping for answers here, after all. “Perhaps. Thank you, Rafiq.”

 

“It is my pleasure to have served with one as skillful as you,” Jabal said, nodding in gentle dismissal.

 

Knowing that it was best that he get some rest before he started for Masyaf once more – both so that he would be more alert during his journey, and so that the guards would be given time to conduct their searches and find them to be fruitless – Altaïr made his way back into the secondary room of the Bureau, and there settled himself down to rest. Once he had awakened from his rest, Altaïr climbed back up to the rooftops, and began to make his way out of Acre once more.

Chapter Text

Leaving the city in much the same way he had entered – over the heads of those who had been set to guard it – Altaïr made his way back to the stable where he had left the horse he’d rode out of Masyaf. Mounting up once more, he made his way away from the battle-scarred walls of Acre once more. Breathing more easily once he had returned to the open road once more, Altaïr drank some of his water and mentally prepared himself for a long journey.

 

As the days passed, each one of them bringing him closer to Masyaf and the citadel of the Brotherhood that presided over the valley, Altaïr considered just what it was that he would ask of Master Mualim when the two of them occasioned to meet again. He would ask as to Alnesr’s welfare, of course; apprenticed to him or not, he still cared a great deal for the younger Assassin and wished him well. He would also ask just what the Templars that he hunted ultimately wished to accomplish.

 

What their ultimate aims were, and if they might be reasoned with.

 

Once he’d come within sight of Masyaf once more, Altaïr breathed more deeply and easily than he had during the time that he had been traveling. Here, at least, he would begin to gain more of the answers he sought. Leaving his horse with the stable hands, Altaïr dismounted and began making his way back into the citadel itself. Ascending through the varied levels of the fortress, he soon found himself entering Master Mualim’s study once more.

 

“Welcome home, child,” Master Mualim greeted him cordially, and Altaïr nodded his head with respect. “What news?”

 

“Another of the named is put to rest,” he reported.

 

“Then it would appear your work is nearly complete, and your status restored,” the Master said, sounding nearly as pleased as Altaïr felt at the prospect.

 

“A question, Master, if I may?”

 

“You need not worry so about the fate of your adopted son,” the Master said, a kindly smile on his face. “He fares very well, and still speaks quite highly of you.”

 

“My thanks for your consideration, Master, but that was not what I meant to ask,” he said; and he was pleased to know that Alnesr remained well, though he would have been far more pleased to speak with the younger Assassin in person.

 

“What is, then?”

 

“Why these men?” he asked. “Jubair and Sibrand?”

 

“Ah, don’t you see?” Master Mualim asked, in the tone of one who was imparting yet another lesson. “They paved the way for change. Ensure that threats both old and new are not given cause to intervene.”

 

“To weaken them is to weaken our enemy,” he stated. “I suppose that makes sense.”

 

“Were these men to continue their work, our own work would quickly be undone,” Master Mualim said, his tone as stern and serious as Altaïr had ever heard it.

 

“How is that?” he asked, certain that he had failed to see some connection that the Master would soon explain to him. “We’ve caused them much grief.”

 

“We strike at the arms, yes, but this is a hydra that you face,” the Master said, gesturing widely to emphasize the point that he was making. “And it is quick to replace that which is severed.”

 

“Then we should lop off its head and be done with this,” he said, his resolve becoming more firm with every word that he and the Master spoke with one another.

 

“Soon. Soon,” the Master said. “We are close; only one more man stands between us and our ultimate goal.”

 

“I will return to my work,” he said, nodding to the Master. “The sooner this last man dies, the sooner I might face our true enemy.”

 

“Before you go, I have a question for you,” the Master said.

 

“Of course,” he said, stopping before he could even begin to make his way out of the Master’s study and back to his own room; eager though he might have been to have this particular task over and done with, Altaïr knew that it would be best that he took some rest before he began the return journey to Damascus once again.

 

“What is the truth?”

 

“We place faith in ourselves; we see the world the way it really is,” he said; as he had learned from Master Mualim, and then taught to Alnesr in his own turn. “And hope that, one day, all mankind might see the same.”

 

“What is the world, then?”

 

“An illusion,” he said. “One that we can either submit to, as most do, or transcend.”

 

“And what is it, to transcend?” the Master asked, seeming pleased with his understanding thus far.

 

“To recognize that laws arise not from divinity, but from reason. I understand now that our Creed does not command us to be free, it commands us to be wise.”

 

He fully understood that now, and he wondered for a moment if such an understanding had been one of the lessons that he had successfully imparted to Alnesr, or if the younger Assassin had reasoned it out for himself. He would have to speak to his fellow Assassin, once Alnesr had finished with his own work and was hence given the opportunity to return to Masyaf once more.

 

“Do you see now why the Templars are a threat?”

 

He did, in fact, understand just what it was that the Master had seen in them; a thing that even Altaïr himself had not. “Whereas we would dispel the illusion, they would use it to rule.”

 

“Yes,” the Master said, nodding solemnly. “To reshape the world in an image more pleasing to them. That is why I sent you and your fellows to steal their treasure. That is why I keep it locked away. And that is why you kill them. So long as even one survives, so too does their desire to create a New World Order. You must now seek out Jubair. With his death, Robert de Sable will at last be vulnerable.”

 

“It will be done, Master,” he said, bowing slightly.

 

“Take some rest, and then return to your work,” the Master said kindly.

 

Bidding the Master to have a good rest himself, Altaïr turned and made his way out of the Master’s study and away from the tower where he kept himself. Yawning as he walked, Altaïr almost found himself making his way toward Alnesr’s new quarters, but the younger Assassin was not likely to be present at the moment, and such a thing would have served no purpose in the end. And so he turned his path back towards his own room, and soon enough found himself there.

 

The next morning, after he had taken the rest he needed and come out all the more refreshed for it, Altaïr made his way down to the stables so that he would be able to mount a horse and continue with his work. Taking a horse that had been provisioned for a long journey once more, Altaïr rode for Damascus for the final time.

 

The journey itself was as calm as he could expect, and he was pleased in a distant sort of way to be able to complete the last of his tasks before he would be able to come to grips with Robert de Sable at last. Making his way up to the stables that he’d used so many times before, Altaïr left his horse with one of the hands, and then made his way closer to the walls of Damascus once more. Naturally, he would need to make his way inside the city once more, and without being detected so that he would not compromise the Brotherhood as he had so carelessly done when he had faced de Sable for the first time, but Altaïr had confidence in his own training and experience.

 

He had already done such a thing twice before, after all.

 

Searching for a few moments, hearing the eager cries of those merchants who had stationed themselves outside the city walls so as to be able to cater to weary travelers, Altaïr quickly found a group of scholars making their unhurried way towards the gates of the city. Managing to pass under the very gaze of the guards who had been emplaced before the gates, Altaïr waited until he was beyond their sight before he left the group of scholars behind.

 

Standing within the walls of Damascus – he could not truly say that he was safe, for no Assassin was truly safe outside the walls of Masyaf – Altaïr began making his own way within the city. He knew that he would be best served by making his way to the Damascus Bureau so that he might speak with the Rafiq and so gain more information about his current target Jubair, but he also knew that such information might very easily come to him beforehand; best he kept his ears open as he walked, Altaïr decided.

Chapter Text

As he continued on his way through the city, taking to the rooftops once he was free of the crowds and could do such without being remarked upon, Altaïr began to make for Damascus’ Bureau. It seemed that he was not to find what information he sought before he made his way there, after all. Clearly, he would need some more precise directions for his wandering.

 

Coming upon the rooftop entrance once more, Altaïr climbed down into the building at last and made his way into the main room. To meet up once more with the Rafiq, and to gain the information that would allow him to remove this latest canker from Damascus.

 

“It’s the hero of Damascus!” the insolent Rafiq greeted him once more, arms spread wide; if there was one thing he would truly enjoy after having completed his task, it would be not having to deal with this insolent man for a great long time. “Come in! Stay awhile. Tell me all about your adventures!”

 

“I’m afraid I don’t have the time,” he said, not bothering to conceal the coldness of his tone.

 

“I see,” the insolent Rafiq said. “Too important for me now.”

 

“It’s not that,” he said simply.

 

“No. No, of course not,” the man said airily. “How may I serve you, then?”

 

“Al Mualim has asked that I take the life of the one they call Jubair,” he stated.

 

“Ah, Salah Al’din’s chief scholar,” the man commented. “Strange choice of target, in my opinion. But who are we to question the Master’s will? I’m sure he has his reasons.”

 

“Then you’re familiar with the man,” he prompted; he’d not thought that the Rafiq’s insolence would extend even to questioning the words of the Master, and yet Altaïr could not find it within himself to be surprised.

 

“He’s been quite busy these past few days,” the insolent Rafiq said. “Organizing the scholars and sending them into the streets to preach.”

 

“What do they speak of?” he asked; it could not have been anything good, given that the Master had sent him to end the man behind the words being spoken.

 

To say nothing of the fact that Jubair, akin to the rest of the nine, was a Templar.

 

“Light and fire; cleansing sins; apocalyptic nonsense if you ask me,” the man said, with a dismissive wave of his hands. “All this talk of paths, and a new world.”

 

“What about this new world?” he asked; it was exactly the words he would have expected from a Templar, yes, and so he was not surprised to hear that Jubair had spoken them.

 

“Couldn’t say,” the man said, with a dismissive wave of his hands. “I don’t pay much attention to the ramblings of madmen. Much too busy with real work.”

 

“Very well,” he said; he could not berate the man for having little interest in the words of a Templar who was nor long for this world in any case. “I’ll walk among the people; see what they have to say.” He’d been planning to do such in the first place, as he had done in so many others. “Where would you suggest I begin my search?”

 

“South of here you’ll find an academy and a guard tower,” the man said, waving in the general direction that he had spoken of. “They are both good places to search. There’s also a hospital to the east you might want to visit.”

 

“I’ll begin at once,” he said.

 

“So eager!” the insolent Rafiq said, and Altaïr narrowed his eyes slightly at the man’s mocking tone; he’d be more than pleased not to be forced to endure the man’s company once he was finished with the tasks that had been set before him. “You have truly changed! And for the better, I might add.”

 

Turning to leave without another word to the insolent Rafiq, Altaïr made his way back into the back room and out of the rooftop entrance once more. Pausing a moment to regain his composure and loosen his muscles, Altaïr made his way across the rooftops and then back down to the ground once more. Blending into the meandering crowds, allowing himself to pass under their gazes the same way that he had passed under the eyes of the guards at the gates of this city before he had even come into it, Altaïr listened for any mentions of Jubair or what exactly it was that he had been doing.

 

When he had at last made his way into a more wealthy-looking part of the city – not quite as opulent as the richer quarters where he had hunted for Abu’l Nuqoud, but far from appearing poor – Altaïr began to hear the sound of yet another conversation; though this one seemed far more pertinent to his interests than any he’d yet heard.

 

“Please, I must go,” a man in wine-dark robes and cap said to another he was facing; this one wearing a white counterpart to that one that he had on. “This letter must be delivered, and I cannot risk upsetting him.”

 

“Listen to yourself,” the man in white spat scornfully. “You are his puppet! Give up this task, and join us in our fight!”

 

“No,” the first man said; Altaïr wondered for a moment if he worked for the Templar, or if there was another consideration at hand. “I have a wife and child to think about.”

 

Altaïr bowed his head slightly; ever would the Templars seek to corrupt the bonds that held men together, corrupting them and turning them to their own use. It was yet another reason that he felt vindicated whenever he removed one from the world. That, and the fact that such things needed to be done.

 

“Which is precisely why I’ve come to you,” the man in white said; Altaïr sighed softly. Such matters were never simply resolved on any side. “Is this the kind of world you want your son brought up in?!”

 

“It will pass,” the first man said, sounding as though he wanted to believe it, but couldn’t quite manage to make himself do so. “If we just wait, he’ll stop,” there was a slight stutter to the first man’s words when he said such. “And everything will go back to normal.”

 

“Every day more is lost,” the man in white said, sounding like the desperation of his cause was beginning to take a personal toll on him. Altaïr wondered what it was that was being lost to Jubair’s Templar sensibilities. “And no way to reclaim what was taken. There will be no going back,” the man in white hissed. “You know this to be true!”

 

“Enough,” the first man said wearily; Altaïr could not find it in himself to blame him, simply for wishing to protect those most dear to him. “I am leaving.”

 

As the two parted ways as they said they would, Altaïr fell into step behind the first man, quickly reliving him of the missive that he had been given to him. Without breaking stride, Altaïr parted from the man even as he wished him well within the confines of his own mind. Soon enough, all of the citizens who had been forced to live their lives under Jubair’s stranglehold would be set free.

 

This he silently promised to everyone in Damascus; they would never know, but the fact that their work was done anonymously in the name of the people was at once their greatest protection, and a safety against hubris. He might not have guarded himself against it as well as might have been prudent, but it was still a safety.

 

Moving on through the city, careful and attentive as he had always been to the matters pertinent to his targets while he was hunting, Altaïr took note of an Informant standing out of the way of the foot-traffic within Damascus. Such was all he did, however; he well knew how onerous the tasks that those ones would ask of him were, and he’d no interest in attending to any more of them.

 

Moving on before anyone within the crowd could thing to wonder what it was that he was about, Altaïr opened his ears once more and began to take in the words of the citizens as they continued about their daily lives. Those who did not – who could not – know of his work, or the true danger that the Templars posed to them; sometimes he envied them their ignorance. And yet, his work was a worthy one, and Altaïr would not have traded the life he had for any other even if such a thing were possible.

 

Smiling briefly at the nature of his reflections, Altaïr turned his mind back to the business that he still had before him; there were still matters that needed attending to, and as it was now his duty to see that Jubair paid for his crimes against the citizens of Damascus in the most final way possible, Altaïr would carry that duty out to the utmost of his ability.

 

As he continued on his way deeper into the city, leaving the informant and the onerous task that he would have more than likely been asked to do by the man behind, Altaïr opened his ears to the conversations around him once more. Listening for any other mentions of Jubair, his scholars, or anything that might have also been useful to him considering the mission he was now undertaking. For a moment, as he continued on his way through the city, Altaïr reflected on what he had done to bring himself to this point.

 

It had certainly not been an easy road, the one which had led him to where he was now; stalking the nine Templars – seven of whom he had come to grips with at last – working under Robert de Sable, after he had made a foolish attack on the Templar Grand Master and dishonored himself and the Brotherhood as a whole. He was grateful to Master Mualim for giving him the chance to redeem his mistakes. And also for taking care of Alnesr while his former Apprentice grew into a man.

 

Turning his attention back to the task at hand once more, Altaïr continued to move deeper into Damascus, on the trail of those who might have the information he sought for the mission he had at hand.

 

The warm air was filled with the cries of merchants selling their wares, citizens running to and fro on various errands of their own, and those who continued to speak out about King Richard and his depredations. Altaïr ignored those, knowing that Richard was merely a symptom of one man’s seeking to control the thoughts and actions of others by force, rather than leading them to the truth through logic and reason. It was a foolish thing, but Altaïr found that he could indeed understand the wish for speed in such matters.

 

He could not condone it, and in particular the price that acting on such an impulse imposed upon those innocents that found themselves caught between those who gave into that impulse and the goal they sought.

 

Hearing a man speaking in terms of destroying texts and making a new world – terms that came easily from the mouths of Templars and those who allied closely with them – Altaïr paused in a well-appointed courtyard to listen to the man speaking such terms.

 

“This is our chance to begin anew!” said a man in travel-stained robes and sash – dusty enough that their true color could not be told from where Altaïr stood – presiding over the courtyard where Altaïr had found him. “Let Jubair lead you to a revelation! Let him lead you to the light!” that same talk of light; just as he’d heard from some of those who’d been taken by Naplouse. “Jubair sees things the way they truly are!” Altaïr scoffed, as the corrupt scholar continued. “Sees the poison you carry in your hearts and minds! He works to cast it out! Remove all texts from your homes and schools! Give them to us! The must be destroyed!”

 

Moving forward once the corrupted scholar had left the courtyard behind him, Altaïr followed the man out beyond the sight of the guards, and into an empty alleyway where he then pummeled the man into submission. It took a few, long moments before the man had taken enough of a beating so that he was motivated to speak, but Altaïr’s own strength and skill eventually won out in the end.

 

“Violence is not the answer, my child!” the corrupt scholar said.

 

You’re a fine one to talk, Altaïr didn’t bother saying. “In this, we agree. So speak, and I may stay my blade. What is it your master intends? Why destroy all this knowledge?”

 

“We lay the stones to build a road upon which, someday, all men will travel. It leads to a better tomorrow!”

 

“That is not what I see,” he said simply.

 

“Then you are blind,” the corrupt scholar said, the fanaticism becoming clear in his voice and on his face. “The words upon these parchments, they are poison! Jubair has the cure! He will free us from their lies!”

 

“It’s nonsense you speak,” he said, knowing that there would be no reasoning with the fanatic that this man had proven himself to be. “You’ve lost your mind.”

 

“Not lost, but found! I see the world the way it truly is! He has shown me so much! I am illuminated!”

 

“A fanatic is all you are,” he said; Altaïr himself was not quite certain whether he pitied the man more than he scorned him, or the reverse, a thing he was sure reflected in his tone. “And dangerous for it.”

 

“Do what you must,” the corrupted scholar said, clearly not regretting his fate in his madness; Altaïr decided then that he pitied him. “It changes nothing. We are not afraid.”

 

“Go in peace, then,” he said, taking the corrupted scholar’s life, and wishing him well in whatever awaited him at the end of things.

 

As he moved into the flow of people once more, matching his pace to that of the citizens all around him, Altaïr turned his mind back to seeking what information the people here might have for him. Ascending to the rooftops so that he might travel faster for a time, he descended back to street-level once more and resumed his search. Listening in on what the citizens were talking of as he moved through among them, and yet apart from them as he always was, Altaïr found another pair of men speaking of matters that pertained to Jubair and his stranglehold on Damascus.

 

“We found the place: it’s just as you described it,” one of the men – both of them dressed in off-white robes, and with head-coverings of the same color – said to his companion.

 

“I suspect he’ll want to deal with this himself,” the other man, stockier than the first, stated. “And quickly. Best we say nothing to the others.”

 

“A wise course of action,” the first stated. “Truth be told, I’ll be happy when all of this business is done.”

 

“Soon, my friend, soon,” the second said, clapping a reassuring hand on his companion’s shoulder. “This day should see the last of them put to the torch. Boy, come here!” A younger man, this one clad in a dark, earthy brown robe with a narrow sash, came over to the pair of scholars. Interesting, Altaïr mused, continuing to watch for his moment. “You still have the letter I gave you?”

 

“Yes,” the boy answered calmly; Altaïr smiled.

 

“Go and deliver it,” the second of the scholars who had been speaking said. “You’ll find the one its meant for inside the Madrasah.”

 

Moving in behind his chosen target with all the stealth that he had been justly famed for, Altaïr swept easily past the young man and smoothly vanished back into the crowds. Clearly, the Madrasah was important to Jubair in some way. Making up his mind that he would return to the Bureau and its insolent Rafiq after he had conducted a last investigation – no sense in giving the man yet another reason to berate him when he returned – Altaïr melted back into the crowds and began searching for another mention of the mad scholar whose trail he was tasked to discover.

 

As he continued on his way through the thronging crowds, searching for any indication that those he was surrounded by knew anything of the man he was seeking. Soon enough, however, Altaïr began to hear the sounds of men speaking of his present target.

 

“I wish to see him, to hear him speak,” said yet another fallen scholar to one of his brethren, the two of them standing in a walled courtyard with a small fountain at the center.

 

“It can be arranged,” said the other, leaning in slightly as the two of them spoke. “But we must be careful. There are still those who reject illumination. They would harm him.”

 

Altaïr forced himself not to scoff; they were fine ones to talk about harm, with what they were assisting Jubair to do.

 

“Then they are ignorant and afraid.”

 

“You seem sincere,” the first of the scholars said. “But, how do I know I can trust you?”

 

“It pains me that you feel even the slightest need to ask the question,” the second scholar said.

 

“Very well: we gather each day in the Madrasah; he comes to speak, and then leads us into the city, that we might cleanse it.”

 

“Could I join you, then?” the second scholar, a rather excitable sort, it seemed, asked.

 

The two of them continued on in that way for some time after that, Altaïr absorbing what he could manage until the two fallen scholars – he could find it in himself to forgive the younger of them, since he at least seemed to be earnest, if misguided in the extreme – ceased their conversation and left the courtyard behind them. Rising from his seat on a stone bench near to where the scholars had been speaking to one another. Making his way out of the courtyard, Altaïr took a moment to assure himself that none of the milling citizens of Damascus were in a position to observe him, then ascended back to the rooftops once more.

 

Swiftly making his way back to the Bureau, not entirely pleased to be once more forced to deal with the insolent Rafiq once more but at least pleased to know that he would not be forced to do such for so much longer, Altaïr alighted for a moment on the roof before climbing back down into the Bureau itself. The cooler air wrapped around him as he stepped inside, and Altaïr breathed deeply of it as he made his way into the shadowed main room of the Assassins’ stronghold in Damascus.

 

“What news, Altaïr?”

 

“I’ve learned much about my enemy,” he said, pleased with the prospect of having this mission in particular done with.

 

“Share what you know, then,” the Rafiq said, gesturing for him to speak.

 

“Jubair has become obsessed with purging the city of its knowledge,” he said, his disapproval for such an action plain in his tone.

 

“A most terrible crime. Now I see why Al Mualim wants you to remove him,” the Rafiq stated, clearly dismayed.

 

Altaïr was pleased not to be confronted with the man’s insolence, but he had no time to dwell on such feelings. “He’s using the city’s scholars to assist him,” Altaïr snapped, not sure for a moment if he was more disdainful of Jubair himself, or of those who would do his bidding without question. “They go out into the streets, harassing the people and collecting all their written works,” he continued, not quite able to keep a snarl out of his tone. “I fear he intends to destroy them all.”

 

“He must be stopped!”

 

“That’s why I’m here,” he replied, having mastered himself. “He’s to hold a meeting soon. At the Madrasah Al-Kallāsah. It’s where I’ll go; it’s where I’ll take his life.”

 

Taking the feather that the Rafiq placed on the counter for him, Altaïr waited a moment to see if the man would say anything more.

 

“I’ll leave you alone to prepare,” the Rafiq said, and Altaïr was pleased to note that there was none of his usual insolence; perhaps he had finally managed to change the man’s opinion. “Bring glory to the Brotherhood.”

 

Nodding, he continued on his way into the entrance room of the Bureau, there to take a short rest before he commenced with the execution of his latest target.

Chapter Text

Waking refreshed, as he usually did after such a rest as he had taken, Altaïr made his way back up and out onto the rooftop of the Bureau. Taking a moment to savor his freedom once more, he swiftly began to make his way across the rooftops once more. Clearing the ways that remained between him and his next destination, Altaïr found himself standing atop a rooftop that overlooked his present target.

 

The thick, cloying scent of burning paper sickened him, as did the sight of countless books being burned in the courtyard below him. Altaïr knew that his own father, Umar, would have been equally as disgusted by such a practice as he found himself now. Every Assassin would have been disgusted to see what Altaïr beheld here and now: books were full of knowledge, and knowledge was the key to freedom and power.

 

He knew that as well as any Assassin; he’d forgotten for a time, yes, but he knew such once more.

 

He stood, just out of sight of any of those who might chance to look up, on the ledge of a rooftop overlooking the Madrasah Al-Kallāsah where Jubair had chosen to stay while he enacted his mad plan. The smoke from the large fire at the center of the courtyard rose up towards him, but all of the attention was focused on the task being carried out; all of the scholars that Jubair had deceived or forced into following along with his mad scheme were concentrating on their work.

 

Jubair himself was overseeing the work: barking orders at the scholars scurrying around at his beck and call. All of them were hard at work, save for one. That one was staring into the heart of the fire, his expression echoing Altaïr’s own thoughts.

 

Jubair himself wore leather boots, a black headscarf, and a dangerous scowl. Moving slightly closer, Altaïr mused upon what he had learned about the man while he had been going about his investigations within the city the man had such a powerful hold over. The man was apparently the chief scholar of Damascus, but only in name: it was, after all, not a typical scholar who insisted on not spreading knowledge but rather on its destruction. For that, he had enlisted – or else forced – the aid of the scholars and academics that Salah Al’din encouraged to come into the city.

 

He wondered just what this plan of Jubair’s might have been; if it had been a plan made by his Templar compatriots. If it was merely one more facet of their plans for a “New World” that he had been hearing about of late.

 

“Every single text in this city must be destroyed!”

 

Standing in the courtyard below him, Jubair was exhorting the scholars around him with a fanatic’s zeal; they scurried about, arms laden with books, scrolls and other written works, bringing them from some location hidden from Altaïr’s sight into the bonfire in the center of the courtyard. Out of the corner of his left eye, however, Altaïr could see the scholar who had earlier been standing by the side of the bonfire fretting becoming even more agitated than he had been before.

 

“My friend, you must not do this,” the scholar said, his jovial tone belying his clear distress. “Much knowledge rests within these parchments; put there by our ancestors for good reason.”

 

“And what reason is this?” Jubair snarled, the expression on his face becoming one of naked contempt.

 

“They are beacons meant to guide us; to save us from the darkness that is ignorance,” the scholar implored.

 

The flames danced at his back, growing ever taller and larger as the scholars crowding the courtyard dumped more written works upon the bonfire that was still steadily burning. Some of them, however, had begun to cast nervous glances to where Jubair and the scholar protesting his actions – a man whose courage Altaïr could respect, even as he mourned the fact that Jubair was more than likely to kill him – were standing.

 

“No,” the Templar snapped, taking a step forward and forcing the protesting scholar to take a step back in fright. “These bits of paper are covered in lies. They poison your minds. And so long as they exist, you cannot hope to see the world as it truly is.”

 

“How can you accuse these scrolls of being weapons?” the scholar asked, clearly trying to be reasonable, but still unable to hide his frustration. “They’re tools of learning.”

 

“You turn to them for answers and salvation,” Jubair took another step forward, forcing the scholar to give more ground. “You rely more on them than on yourselves; that makes you weak and stupid. You trust in words; drops of ink. Do you ever stop to think of who put them there? Or why? No. You simply accept their words without question. And, what if their words speak falsely, as they so often do? This is dangerous.”

 

“You are wrong,” the protesting scholar said, sounding as though he was helplessly confused by what Jubair was saying. “These texts give the gift of knowledge. We need them.”

 

Jubair’s face darkened, seeming rather morbidly amused. “You love your precious writings? You’d do anything for them?”

 

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

 

Jubair smiled cruelly. “Then join them.”

 

Planting both hands on the protesting scholar’s chest, Jubair shoved him backwards into the hungry fires. For the few moments, when the scholar was in mid-topple, he flapped his arms as though he thought that he might have been able to fly free of the greedy fires. Then he was claimed by the full momentum of the shove, falling into the bonfire that quickly began to eat into his flesh. The man kicked and screamed, his tunic swiftly catching fire.

 

For a few moments, it looked as though the scholar was attempting to beat out the flames that had caught on the sleeves of his tunic, but after a few moments more his screams stopped, and the thick, rising smoke became tainted by the scent of burning human flesh. Covering his nose, Altaïr observed that the scholars in the courtyard were doing the same.

 

“Any man who speaks as that man just did is just as much of a threat, and will be dealt with accordingly,” Jubair addressed them. There was no reply from the surrounding scholars, simply fearful eyes and hands held over noses. “Good. Your orders are simple enough: return to the city. Collect any remaining writings and add them to the piles in the streets. When you’re done, we’ll send a cart to collect them that they may be destroyed.”

 

The scholars left, and finally Altaïr found that he had been given his chance. Jubair was casting nervous glances around the courtyard where he stood, always careful to keep his eyes from the fire itself; Altaïr was all too familiar with the damage that such an action would cause to someone’s sight. It was almost as bad as staring into the sun.

 

However, the only sounds the corrupt scholar – the Templar­ ­– was aware of were the sounds of the crackling fire, and that of his own breathing. Altaïr smiled softly; Jubair was aware that the Assassins were hunting him, and he’d thought himself more clever than his hunters, sending decoys into the streets. Decoys accompanied by his most trusted bodyguards, so that the deception could be complete.

 

The Templar thought himself safe inside the madrasah; locked behind the walls in this courtyard, burning any piece of writing that he could lay his hands to; this was his last day.

 

Deploying his Hidden Blade with a soft snap, Altaïr leaped down from his perch, blade extended as he pounced. Too late, Jubair became aware of the fact that he was not truly any safer behind these walls than he would have been in the city itself. Too late, he tried to dart out of the way, but by then Altaïr had already buried his blade in the man’s neck.

 

With a soft sigh, Jubair crumpled to the marble floor.

 

“Why… why have you done this?” the Templar asked, eyelids beginning to flutter even as blood seeped from his mouth.

 

“Men must be free to do as they believe,” he said, after looking to the charred corpse of the scholar that Jubair had murdered; with the flesh of the face burned away, the skull appeared to be wearing a macabre grin. “It is not our right to punish one for thinking as he does, much as we might disagree.”

 

“Then what?” Jubair wheezed, as Altaïr withdrew the blade from his neck.

 

“You, of all people, should know the answer to that: educate them. Teach them right from wrong. It must be knowledge that frees them, not force.”

 

Jubair chuckled, blood running down the side of his chin and onto his neck as he did so. “They do not learn, fixed in their ways as they are. You are naïve to think otherwise. It is an illness, Assassin, for which there is only one cure.”

 

“You’re wrong, and that is why you must be put to rest,” he said simply, knowing that there would be no reasoning with this man; he wondered if any of the Templars would be amenable to reason, or if he truly would be forced to eliminate them all.

 

“Am I not unlike those precious books you seek to save? A source of knowledge with which you disagree? Yet you are rather quick to steal my life.”

 

“A small sacrifice to save many,” he told the dying Templar in his arms. “It was necessary.”

 

“Is it not ancient scrolls that inspire the Crusades? That fill Salah Al’din and his men with a sense of righteous  fury? Their texts endanger others; bring death in their wake. I, too, was making a small sacrifice,” Jubair smiled softly, almost peacefully. “It matters little, now. Your deed is done; and so am I.”

 

Jubair died without another word, and Altaïr swiftly departed from the madrasah when he began to hear the sound of people swiftly approaching. Regaining the rooftops once more, he took the swiftest path that he could back to the Bureau, and the Rafiq that awaited him there. When he found himself standing atop the desired roof once more, Altaïr climbed back inside and breathed deeply again.

 

Here, at last, was the end of this latest mission of his.

 

“Altaïr, tell me you’ve met with success,” the Rafiq said, even over the sound of Damascus’ alarms ringing through the air.

 

“Yes.” He displayed the feather he’d stained with the Templar’s blood. “Jubair’s fires are extinguished. His life, as well.”

 

“Excellent news! I had no doubt you would succeed!” the Rafiq said with enthusiasm.

 

“You should have seen it,” he said, not particularly pleased that he had been forced to see what he had; still, such was the way of Templars. “The scholars followed him so readily. It wasn’t just books they fed to fire, either, but any man who opposed them.”

 

“Such ignorance breeds only evil,” the Rafiq said, sounding as though he pitied the deceived scholars in the same way that Altaïr himself had come to. “You’ve done a good thing this day.”

 

“As with my other targets, he believed he was doing the right thing,” Altaïr said, beginning to wonder just what it was that Master Mualim would say to him when he returned to Masyaf once more; he also wondered how Alnesr faired, but both thoughts were for the future, and so could wait. “Clearing a path to a better future.”

 

“Of course he would,” the Rafiq said, nodding. “Such is the landscape of a madman’s mind.”

 

“The things I’ve seen these past few weeks, it’s as if all the land has gone mad,” he confessed, narrowing his eyes as he recalled just what it was that he spoke of.

 

“And this is why we fight,” the Rafiq said with conviction. “To end the war; that sanity might return. The people are desperate for direction, it’s easy for men like Jubair to prey on this and turn them towards evil. You should go, Altaïr,” he suggested. “Return to Al Mualim; tell him what you saw. Let him know the good you’ve done this day.”

 

“Safety and peace, Rafiq,” he said, nodding to the man, even as he turned to leave for the sleeping area once more.

 

“Upon you, as well.”

 

Making his way back to the pile of bedding, Altaïr settled himself to take some rest while the furor of his actions had a chance to die down once more. When he awakened, it was to a far more peaceful city, and so Altaïr swiftly departed the Bureau once more. Making his way out of Damascus for the second time, over the heads of those who had been stationed before the gates, Altaïr made for the stables to retrieve his horse so that he could begin his return journey to Masyaf.

 

The beast had been provisioned once more, a thing that he was grateful for as he mounted it and set off once more.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Masyaf seemed shorter, but Altaïr knew that such was merely a product of his relief at having completed the task that Master Mualim had set before him at last. When he had finally managed to complete the journey to the Brotherhood’s stronghold, Altaïr gratefully dismounted and made for the fortress itself. Asking one of the guards where Master Mualim might be found, though Altaïr suspected that he knew, he swiftly found that his suspicion was indeed correct.

 

Master Mualim was again to be found in his study.

 

Making for the desk that the Master was once more standing behind, Altaïr returned the nod that he was given in acknowledgement.

 

“Come in, my student; we have much to discus. We are close, Altaïr,” the Master said, sounding pleased by the prospect. “Robert de Sable is now all that stands between us and victory: his mouth gives the orders, his hand pays the gold. With him dies the knowledge of the Templar treasure and any danger it might pose.”

 

“I still don’t understand how a simple treasure could cause so much chaos,” he admitted. The Piece of Eden he had been shown still seemed to him to be nothing more than a shiny bauble; certainly nothing that could cause such madness as he had borne witness to.

 

“The Piece of Eden is temptation given form,” Master Mualim said, nodding slowly as though he could read Altaïr’s own thoughts. “Simply look at what it has done to Robert: once he tasted of its power, the thing consumed him. He saw not a dangerous weapon to be destroyed, but a tool. One that would help him realize his life’s ambition.”

 

“He dreamed of power, then?”

 

“Yes and no,” the Master said gravely. “He dreamed, and still dreams, of peace. Even as we do.”

 

“But this is a man who sought to see the Holy Land consumed by war,” he stated, though he was beginning to become uncertain about such a conclusion.

 

“No, Altaïr,” the Master said, with a firm shake of his head. “How can you not see, when you were the one who opened my eyes to this?”

 

“What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.

 

“What do he and his followers want?” the Master asked, and then answered his swiftly enough that Altaïr was not given the chance to speak a word. “A world in which all men are united. I do not despise his goal, I share it. But I take issue with his means. Peace is something to be learned; to be understood; to be embraced. But,” there was a look in the Master’s eyes that Altaïr took for a prompt, and so he took up where Master Mualim had left off.

 

“He would force it.”

 

“And rob us of our free will in the process,” Master Mualim concluded, nodding as though he were pleased.

 

“It seems strange, to think of him in this way,” Altaïr said, narrowing his eyes in thought.

 

“Never harbor hate for your targets, Altaïr,” Master Mualim said. “Such thoughts are poison, and will cloud your judgment.”

 

“Could he not be convinced, then?” Altaïr asked, curious to know if the end of his task could be made to come sooner. “To end his mad quest?”

 

“I spoke to him, in my way,” Master Mualim said, shaking his head sadly. “Through you. What was each killing, if not a message? But he has chosen to ignore our entreaties.”

 

“Then there is only one thing left to do,” he said; he was pleased, in a way, that he was to be sent after de Sable once more.

 

He, certainly, would not make the mistake of underestimating the man; not ever again.

 

“Jerusalem is where you faced him first. It is where you will find him now,” the Master said, releasing his messenger bird. “Let this final offering lend you strength. Go, Altaïr. It is time to finish this.”

 

“As you say, Master.”

 

“Safety and peace be upon you, child.”

 

“And you, as well,” he said, smiling in response to the Master’s gentle tone.

 

Making his way back out of the fortress once again, Altaïr caught Abbas’ eyes upon him as he came down into the courtyard. For a few moments, Altaïr thought to say something to the man who had once been his brother in all but blood; still, he could not think of a single word under the cold gaze of Abbas’ eyes, and so he continued on. He’d not the time to think of anything to say, in any case; there was one last task before him now.

 

Best he completed it swiftly.

 

Making his way down to the stables once more, Altaïr mounted another horse that had been saddled and provisioned for a long journey. Setting off quickly, he found that his thoughts were wandering back to the last day that he and Abbas had been able to call each other brother. It had been the morning after he’d told Abbas what had become of his father, foolishly thinking that the man – merely a boy, then, as he himself had been – could face the truth of what had happened.

 

That that truth might provide for him more comfort than empty words.

 

Abbas had been sullen and silent the entire morning; through breakfast, where Altaïr himself had taken his meal, and then mashed the food that Alnesr was to eat before he fed him; through the lessons that Master Mualim had taught them on that day, and even when Altaïr had taken Alnesr back from his governess, carrying the child out to the training grounds where Labib would then be given temporary charge of him.

 

Abbas had spoken then, but his words had been far from kindly.

 

His attack had been fierce, and made all the worse for the fact that it had been made with live steel. Altaïr could remember Alnesr’s frightened cries as Abbas had attacked him in misguided fury, but he’d not thought much of it until the still-toddling child had come into the training ring calling for the pair of them; it was clear that he hadn’t known what to make of what was going on. Why something so harmless and normal to them as sparring would become so fraught with unexpected danger.

 

But, the interruption had been enough to break Abbas’ momentum, and Altaïr rather thought that such was the only reason that he had been able to escape the altercation without more serious injuries than what he had taken. Still even Alnesr, innocent as he had been at that time, had not managed to escape Abbas’ rage unscathed. Abbas had knocked Alnesr unconscious with a blow from the pommel of his sword; even to this day, Altaïr would wonder if their lives might have taken a different path if Alnesr had not intervened.

 

Altaïr could have coped with an injury to his body or his pride, but finding Abbas with his hands around Alnesr’s throat – once the pair of them had been released from the dungeons of Masyaf – had not been something that he had been prepared to forgive at that time. It was also not a thing that the Master had been prepared to tolerate; he had ordered Abbas punished with twenty lashes upon his naked back, and then decreed that he was to apologize to Alnesr for his transgression in person.

 

Abbas had spat at Alnesr’s feet in response, earning himself a backhand blow from Master Mualim, who had been there so as to observe the proceedings. Altaïr was not certain if, even now, he was prepared to forgive Abbas for not only attempting to kill an innocent, but for attempting to end a life that had not yet truly begun. Such a thing would always be between them, Altaïr knew.

 

Breathing deeply to center himself within the here and now, Altaïr climbed down from his horse and tied the beast to a hitching-post near a deep well. Allowing the beast to drink some water from his right hand, and then watered himself, after that. Taking out the bedroll and setting it close enough that he could quickly re-mount and be off on his way when the time came, without taking the risk of being injured by accident.

 

Once he had taken such rest as he needed to continue his journey, Altaïr re-mounted his horse and began making for the gates of Jerusalem once more. The milling crowds of pilgrims were no different than those he had seen on the road when he had made his earlier journeys to Jerusalem, and as he passed them by, Altaïr felt a definite sense of satisfaction. Here, at last, was an end to the task that had been set before him.

 

Here, now, would be his chance to finally rest from his labors.

 

Making his way further down the path, mindful of the pilgrims making their way into the city alongside him, Altaïr began to see the city itself rising in the distance. Pleased to be making the last in his long line of journeys into the cities within the Holy Land, Altaïr guided his horse the remaining distance to the walls of Jerusalem, then dismounted to lead the beast to the stables once more. Once he had given his horse into the keeping of the stable hands, Altaïr made his way back into the milling crowds.

 

It only remained for him to make his way back into the city, and he would be yet another step closer to his current goal.

 

The guards before the gates seemed as diligent in their tasks as any of those he’d seen before, which again meant that he would need to find a way in under their eyes. Or, perhaps over their heads, he mused, climbing a wooden structure whose purpose he did not care to fathom, and then swinging himself in with the aid of the long wooden poles that stretched between the wide structure of the walls themselves. Once he had passed beyond the sight of the guards at the gate, Altaïr descended to the ground once more.

 

The city was as full of purposeful citizens, each of them intent upon their own business, as all of the other times he had made such a journey, and Altaïr paused a moment to observe them. For this, in the end, was what he and his fought to preserve: the freedom of people such as this to live the lives that they chose to. Freedom that the Templars meant to steal away from them at every turn.

 

Sometimes, Altaïr wondered… but such thoughts as those were best left for another time.

 

Making his way toward Jerusalem’s Bureau once more, there to meet with Malik again, Altaïr waited for a few moments for the citizens tramping the streets to make their way out of his field of view, before ascending to the rooftops once more. For such was the only place that one could enter the Bureau from in any case. Around him Altaïr heard the cries of merchants selling their wares, beggars pleading for what money they could scrounge, and men denouncing King Richard for the war that had been brought to the Holy Land.

 

Just as he had heard men in Acre denouncing Salah Al’din and the war that he had brought to the Holy Land.

 

It was just one more facet to being an Assassin: one came to hear from both sides of many struggles. Reflecting on that as he continued to move over the rooftops on his way to Jerusalem’s Bureau brought a slight smile to his face, for what was such conflict but another facet of such self-determination as the Assassins fought for? But, such things as that always had a price.

 

And it was not their way to allow tyrants to go unpunished.

 

Making his last leap over to the Bureau’s rooftop, Altaïr descended into the building itself, then made his way into the room where Malik would be waiting for him.

 

“Safety and peace, Altaïr,” Malik greeted him, and the Dai seemed to mean it in this instance.

 

“Upon you, as well, brother,” he said, trying not to allow the surprise he felt at honestly being greeted in such a way by a man he had wronged so badly as Malik show on his face.

 

“Seems fate has a funny way with things,” the Dai commented.

 

“So it’s true, then?” he asked. “Robert de Sable is in Jerusalem?”

 

“I’ve seen him and the Knights, myself,” Malik said with conviction.

 

“Only misfortune follows that man,” he said, frowning slightly. “If he’s here, it’s because he intends ill. I won’t give him the chance to act.”

 

“Do not let vengeance cloud your thoughts, brother,” the Dai advised, and Altaïr winced inwardly with the knowledge of what his determination had sounded like to Malik. “We both know no good can come of that.”

 

“I have not forgotten,” he said, forcing his gaze not to drift to the remnants of Malik’s arm, though the scar above Alnesr’s right eye flashed through his mind. “You have nothing to fear. I do not seek revenge, but knowledge.”

 

“Truly, you are not the man I once knew,” Malik said, sounding pleased, though a bit surprised besides.

 

“My work has taught me many things, revealed secrets to me. But there are still pieces of this puzzle I do not possess,” he allowed himself to admit.

 

“What do you need?”

 

“All the men I’ve laid to rest have worked together; united by this man,” he said, giving in to the urge to pace; feeling restless as he’d not been on any of his other excursions. For here, now, was the end of his journey to redeem his mistakes. “Robert de Sable has designs upon the land, that much I know for certain. But, how and why, when and where, these things remain out of reach.”

 

“Crusaders and Saracens working together?” Malik echoed, the confusion plain on his face.

 

“They are none of these things, but something else entirely: Templars,” he said, even as the Master had said it to him.

 

“The Templars are a part of the Crusader army,” Malik said, though he seemed more curious than ever.

 

“Or so they would have King Richard believe,” he countered, though gently so that he would not sound as though he were snapping at Malik. “No. Their only allegiance is to Robert de Sable, and some mad idea that they will stop the war.”

 

“You spin a strange tale.”

 

“You have no idea, Malik,” he said, seeing the mad humor in the situation he had just described and resisting the urge to smile; now was hardly the time for it.

 

“Tell me, then,” the Dai prompted, the expression on his face saying almost more clearly than words that he would accept nothing less.

 

“All right then, if you truly wish to know.”

 

And so, Altaïr told the Dai all that he had seen and heard on his travels, and also the things that he had discussed with the Master when he had been called back to Masyaf to make his reports.

 

“But enough of this,” he said, not wishing to insult Malik’s hospitality, but also knowing that the sooner he began his investigations the better it would be. “Tell me where they’ve been seen; I should be after him before he slips away.”

 

“Three places I can say for certain,” Malik said, drawing himself up straighter. “West of here, and to the southwest at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. See what you can learn; I will do the same.”

 

“I’ll be quick as I can,” he vowed.

 

“Stay safe, my friend,” Malik said, the sincerity in his tone warming Altaïr’s heart; he’d never looked for forgiveness from Malik, never truly felt worthy of such, that to find it now was a truly pleasant surprise.

 

“I will do all I can,” he promised, turning to make his way out of the room.

 

Making his way back into the entrance area of the Bureau, Altaïr scaled the walls once again and then made his way across the rooftops so that he could find a safe place to descend into the crowds of Jerusalem once more. Locating such, he leapt lightly from the roof into a cart of straw, then made his way back in among the crowds after cleaning himself up enough to be presentable. Malik had said that he would be best served heading to the west and southwest, so that was the direction he was going.

Chapter Text

As he made his way through the crowds of citizens, some milling and others more purposeful in their movements, Altaïr listened again for those who would speak of what he needed to hear so that he could find Robert and finally come to grips with him for the final time.

 

When he began to hear the sounds of two men speaking to one another, Altaïr paused for a moment as though he was admiring a particular view of the city, and listened.

 

“Bring that to your master, then,” the first man said; Altaïr turned slightly, observing that the man speaking was dressed in dark fabrics, while the man he was speaking to wore the garb of a scholar. “It contains everything you asked for.”

 

“Your assistance in this most delicate of matters is greatly appreciated,” the scholar said; he’d the hoarse voice of an old man who spoke often, Altaïr noted.

 

“It is my job to keep the peace,” the first man said, and Altaïr suspected by his tone that he was one of the city guards.

 

“And keep it you will,” the old scholar said. “You’ll have no trouble from us.”

 

“It’s not you and yours that concern me, but the citizens,” the guard said plainly. “You picked a strange time to visit our city.”

 

“We’ve simply come to pay our respects,” the old scholar said; Altaïr was now almost certain the man had affiliations of one sort or another with Robert de Sable and his Templars.

 

“And stir up trouble for it,” the old guardsman said.

 

“It’s not my fault your people can’t tell enemy from friend,” the old scholar said, not sounding impressed in the slightest by the words of the guardsman.

 

“Look, you’ve got what you came for,” the guardsman said, sounding more harried now. “I think it’s best that you were on your way.”

 

The guardsman left without a backward glance, and so Altaïr turned around and began to shadow the scholar as he began making his own way into Jerusalem’s crowds. Passing by swiftly and silently, Altaïr retrieved the map that the man had been given by the old guardsman, and then vanished into the milling crowds once more. As he tucked the map discreetly away inside his robes, Altaïr began to hear the sound of another conversation.

 

Or rather, a man speaking to whatever citizen would stop for even a moment to listen to him.

 

“People of Jerusalem, we stand upon a threshold: to cross it, is to usher in an age of peace between all men. Embrace these Christian soldiers as you would a brother; welcome them with open arms. In this way, we might forgive the sins of the past, and bring about a better tomorrow.” They were pretty words, but like the Treasure that Master Mualim had shown him, such things were merely illusions; the words of a Templar could seldom be trusted. “We must be strong; we must be brave, and we must find the courage to face those we once called our enemies, and now instead call them friends. The crusaders come to Jerusalem, bringing with them an opportunity to end the fighting; to stop the war, that we may stand as one. We must not turn them away.”

 

Following the speaker as he left the stoop he had been presiding over the crowd from, Altaïr reflected for a moment on his brief wish that they and the Templars could have come to some sort of an accord. Still, such was not the world he lived in, and the Templars as they were now could ill be trusted with the power they sought. He needed to find out where Robert was to be, if he was to finally put an end to the Templar Grand Master and his plans for the Holy Land.

 

Pummeling the Templar hireling into submission, Altaïr gathered himself as the man held up his hands in a warding gesture at last.

 

“You speak of peace, but your words are hollow,” he stated, wondering how the man would react; if he were truly a mere hireling, or instead a fanatic as Altaïr had met so many times before.

 

“No! I speak the truth! Why would you say otherwise?”

 

“You’re a Templar,” he stated calmly.

 

“So I am,” the man said, his own demeanor becoming rather more calm, though he still sounded curious.

 

“Then, you are also a liar and a fraud, just like your master,” he said, watching the distain flicker over the man’s face. “Tell me, where is he? What does he intend?”

 

“It’s peace he seeks,” the man said, with the mien of one who was secure in his convictions; Altaïr knew he would not mourn the death of this one overlong. “I swear it. And the proof is in his actions: a Christian at a Muslim’s funeral. We want an end to all of this.”

 

“Only because it serves your needs,” he stated calmly, knowing he was right.

 

“But this is a noble thing we want,” the Templar said, as though he was attempting to convince Altaïr to believe it; he’d have more luck wringing water from stone. “The land will be united beneath our banner.”

 

“United through force,” he clarified, just in case this one truly believed the nonsense he was spouting. “You’d enslave us all.”

 

“It is for the best.”

 

“No, it is not,” he countered; here was yet another man that the world as a whole would not miss. “And so long as my brothers and I breathe, you will not succeed.”

 

Ending the Templar’s life with his Hidden Blade, Altaïr left him to rot in the alleyway, and ascended once more to the rooftops. He’d been told that he would be best served by searching to the west and southwest, and since he had already been moving to the west, Altaïr turned his path more toward the south than he’d been doing before, and dashed swiftly over the rooftops until he came to a clear patch of ground. With the citizens unable to see what he would soon be doing, Altaïr descended back to the ground.

 

Making his way through the milling crowds of citizens, Altaïr paused once more to listen for any words that would guide him toward the next point in his investigation. It was not an easy thing, listening for furtive words over and above what at times seemed to be the idle chatter of an entire city, and as he was taking special care to avoid the sight of the Informants that had been stationed around Jerusalem, Altaïr could not be entirely certain where his next investigation would take place.

 

When he heard the sounds of three men having a discussion in a shadowed alcove, however, Altaïr settled down on a nearby bench so that he would be able to hear just what it was that those men were saying.

 

“Did you see them?” asked the first, a man with a bald pate in a dull, brown robe.

 

“No, but I heard their whispers,” said a man with scraggly black hair and a rough beard, this one wearing robes like the first one, but in a darkened green. “Is it true? Crusader Knights in Jerusalem?”

 

“It is,” said the first. “Different from the others: finely dressed, and bearing expensive gifts.”

 

“We should relive them of this burden,” stated a third; these men were thieves, then.

 

“They gather near David’s citadel, close to the cemetery,” said the first man.

 

“To attend a funeral?” asked the second.

 

“So it seems,” said the first.

 

“Then, let us visit their camp while they pay their respects,” the third man suggested.

 

The trio of thieves disbursed back into the milling crowds, and Altaïr too left the bench where he had been sitting, wiser now as to what the Templars planned. It seemed Robert de Sable was more sentimental than he had taken the man to be, or else more of a fool, if he would honestly come to mourn a monster such as Majd Addin.

 

Still, a Templar was a Templar, and this was an advantageous thing as far as he was concerned; the reasoning of his enemies aside, having the chance to come to grips with de Sable at last was a pleasing thing to him.

 

Deciding that he had enough information now to return to Malik once more, Altaïr ascended to the rooftops once more and began making his way back toward the Bureau. The rooftops passed smoothly beneath him as he continued on his way, more swiftly now that he was out of sight of the citizens who might come to wonder at his passing, Altaïr soon found himself atop the Bureau once more. Climbing back down into the shadowed interior, Altaïr made his way back into the main room with a sense of ease and confidence.

 

“You’ve the scent of success about you, brother,” Malik said, a small smile lingering on his face.

 

Altaïr smiled slightly, himself. “I’ve learned much about our enemy,” he said.

 

“Share your knowledge, then,” the Dai prompted. “Let us see what can be done with it.”

 

“Robert and his Templars walk the city; they are here to pay their respects to Majd Addin,” he said, the contempt he still felt for that contemptible man coloring his words. “They’ll attend his funeral, which means so will I.”

 

“Why is this, the Templars would attend his funeral?” Malik asked.

 

“I have yet to divine their true intentions, though I’ll have a confession in time,” he said, trying not to sound arrogant in his confidence. “The citizens themselves are divided. Many call for their lives; still, others insist that they are here to parley. To make peace.”

 

Peace?” Malik echoed, in the same disbelieving tone he himself had turned on that Templar speaker.

 

“As I said: the others slain have said as much to me,” he stated, folding his arms and resisting the urge to pace.

 

“That would make them our allies,” the Dai said, not sounding like he believed a word of it, himself. “And yet, we kill them.”

 

“Make no mistake, we are nothing like these men,” he said firmly. “Though their goal sounds noble, the means by which they would achieve them are not.” He paused a moment; yes, the Master had taught him and Alnesr both the ways of the Brotherhood, but the longer he had been without satisfactory answers, the easier Altaïr had found it to doubt. “At least, that is what the Master told me.”

 

“So, what is your plan?” the Dai asked.

 

“I’ll attend the funeral and confront Robert,” he said, his conviction firm and his purpose set.

 

“The sooner, the better,” Malik said, the conviction in his eyes a clear match for Altaïr’s own.

 

Moving forward to take the feather that Malik had so obligingly set out for him, Altaïr turned and made his way back to the entrance-room of the Bureau. “Malik, ” he began, pausing in his last steps before the door. “ Before I go, there’s something I should say.”

 

“Be out with it,” the Dai said, though his tone was gentle.

 

“I’ve been a fool.” He made his way back over to the counter, bowing his head in repentance; the both of them needed to hear this, though Malik most of all.

 

“Normally I’d make no argument, but what is this? What are you talking about?”

 

Raising his head at the curious tone of Malik’s voice, wondering why the Dai didn’t sound angry with what he had done anymore, Altaïr continued. “All this time, I never told you I was sorry; too damn proud. You lost your arm because of me. Lost Kadar. You had every right to be angry.”

 

“I do not accept your apology.”

 

He lowered his eyes. “I understand.”

 

No, you don’t,” the Dai said, almost sounding like he would have chuckled had their conversation warranted it. “I do not accept your apology, because you are not the same man who went with me into Solomon’s Temple. And so, you have nothing to apologize for.”

 

“Malik…” for the first time in a very long while, Altaïr found himself at a loss for words.

 

“Perhaps if I had not been so envious of you, I would not have been so careless, myself,” Malik said, and Altaïr looked up to see a small, wry smile upon the Dai’s face. “I’m just as much to blame.”

 

He shook his head. “Don’t say such things.”

 

“We are one,” Malik said, determination infusing the Dai’s tone once more. “As we share the glory of our victories, so too should we share the pain of our defeat. In this way we grow closer; we grow stronger.”

 

There was only a single thing that he could say in the face of such words. “Thank you, brother.”

 

“Take some rest; that you might be ready for what lies ahead.”

 

Nodding, he made his way into the secondary room. There to take what sleep he could, and then make his way back out into Jerusalem so that he could attend the funeral of Majd Addin. So that he could come to grips with Robert de Sable at last.

 

Once he felt rested enough to begin his work in earnest, Altaïr rose from the nest of blankets and cushions and made his way back up to the Bureau’s rooftop once more. Standing for a long moment in the open air, Altaïr began once more to swiftly make his way over the rooftops between himself and his newest target. Or rather, the target he had been craving to have done with for a very long time.

 

Taking note of the positions of the guards around the cemetery as he made his way inside, Altaïr reflected that this was the first time he had ever been present for the funeral of one of his targets. He wondered briefly if he would be able to maintain his composure when confronted with the bereavement and pain that he had caused to those uninvolved with the struggles between the Assassins and Robert de Sable’s Templars. However, if any of Addin’s family had been present, they were either keeping their grief silent, or else they did not particularly care for the man.

 

Altaïr wondered briefly if anyone did truly mourn the passing of Majd Addin; he thought it a sad thing, to pass from the world and leave no one to care that you had lived in the first place.

Chapter Text

Still, he had not come here to ponder such ultimately meaningless things, and so Altaïr turned his thoughts back to his work. He was here, now, at the end of this long mission at last. He would be able to deal with Robert de Sable at last, to avenge himself and his fallen brothers, and to finally put to rest his remaining doubts.

 

Looking over the gathered crowds, he found that there were a trio of Templar knights standing near to the imam by the graveside. All three of them wore full, face-concealing helms, but the man who stood at the forefront of the trio wore the distinctive cape of a Grand Master Templar. And yet… de Sable did not seem nearly as formidable a foe as the man who had bested him under Solomon’s Temple.

 

The thought troubled him, but Altaïr knew that he could not allow such things to distract him from his task; particularly not at such a late stage.

 

The lack of guards and men-at-arms, in short any of Robert’s comrades or underlings, was a thing that he could concern himself with. It was not what he expected of the Grand Master of the Templars: this carelessness. It was not a thing that he could ignore, either; he would have to be far more diligent than he had been walking among the others.

 

This laxity that de Sable was demonstrating could not be anything else but a trap.

 

The imam began speaking, addressing the few mourners gathered in this place. Altaïr paid the service little mind, save to briefly scoff when the man referred to Addin as beloved by the populace of the city. Truly, Majd Addin had been almost as beloved as leprosy. Breathing deeply, continuing to study the trio of Templar knights gathered by the graveside of one of their own, Altaïr could not help but to see an increasing number of discrepancies between the man he had faced under Solomon’s Temple, and the man – or was it a man? – who stood before him now.

 

The figure of the man in the garb of the Grand Master Templar was indeed far too slender to be de Sable, and even the cape looked too long, even if only slightly. Altaïr made a decision, then, in light of all he knew and was beginning to suspect. There was nothing right about this situation, so he would forgo the task for now; he would return to Malik, and the two of them would decide together what was to be done from this point.

 

His attention was caught, however, by the imam’s sudden change in tone: “As you know, this man was murdered by the Assassins. We have tried to track his killer, but it has proved difficult,” the man’s tone was rough and aggressive now; Altaïr tensed, knowing that things were going to become more difficult the longer he stayed. “These creatures cling to the shadows, and run from any who would face them fairly. But not today. For it seems that one stands among us. He mocks us with his presence, and must be made to pay!”

 

Almost immediately after the pronouncement from the imam, Altaïr saw the crowd beginning to form a circle with him at the center, in response to the imam pointing him out to them. They looked fierce, but as they had no weapons and likely little training, Altaïr spared them little attention. He was far more focused on the three Templars – two of de Sable’s men, and the one who purported to be de Sable himself – advancing on him.

 

“Seize him! Bring him forward, that God’s justice might be done!”

 

In a single, smooth motion, Altaïr unsheathed his sword and released his Hidden Blade. The crowd swirling around him panicked, not a one of them at all eager to test themselves against his blades. Not a one but the Templars, who began to move forward through the surging remains of the crowd in order to advance upon him. One of them, however, did not seem to realize that Altaïr was advancing upon their position, and hence Altaïr was able to cut him down with one swift, sure stroke.

 

A door in the wall nearest to where he was standing opened then, spilling more Templar knights into the graveyard; five of them, Altaïr counted, before he was forced to evade the hailstorm of arrows that the archers atop the walls were raining down upon him. One of the Knights before him fell, a fletched shaft protruding from the left side of his neck, and Altaïr smiled thinly. It seemed that this position favored him.

 

Still, he was not likely to be so fortunate a second time.

 

The second of the purported de Sable’s bodyguards came forward then; Altaïr sliced at the man’s neck with his sword, opening a gaping wound and sending the Templar to the ground amid a spray of blood. Turning his attention to the one who purported to be de Sable, growing more and more certain that this one could not possibly be such, Altaïr was only just quick enough to deflect the blow from the purported de Sable’s broadsword.

 

Even then, the sheer force of the blow sent him stumbling back.

 

Reinforcements soon arrived, and Altaïr quickly found himself pushed back under the sheer weight of armed knights – all of them in full, face-concealing helms – pressing in on him. Soon, he found himself standing atop Addin’s very grave, but he was not given even a moment to enjoy the fact of that. Another hail of arrows were loosed at his position, and Altaïr was both pleased and amused to note that yet another of the knights fell screaming to the ground with an arrow in his neck.

 

When the purported de Sable started shouting at the archers to stop firing into what was swiftly becoming a melee, Altaïr was struck by surprise at what he heard. For he did not hear the unmistakable French tone of Robert de Sable, or even a man’s voice at all. No, it was the voice of an English woman. He wondered for a moment just who she could have been; whether she was one of de Sable’s lieutenants, having disguised herself as a man in order to fight at the side of Robert’s Templars for a cause she may or may not have believed in, or else if she was a lover of his.

 

Either way, her skill with a blade could not be denied by any man who claimed working eyes; even Altaïr found himself rather awed by it. However, the last of her comrades could not make claim to the same skill, nor the nerve that clearly drove the mysterious woman who had chosen to stand in de Sable’s place, and so Altaïr was able to dispatch him easily. That only left him facing the woman.

 

Truly, she was the equal of any of the men he had faced in combat. But he had bested those men, and so it was even with her: driving his sword into her shoulder even as he swept her legs from under her with a swift kick. As she crashed heavily into the ground, Altaïr was already dragging the woman into cover with him, shielding them both from the rain of arrows that could begin at her command.

 

The woman still wore her helmet, but for the moment Altaïr was far more concerned with the blood seeping from her shoulder. She would not die of her wound, and would also be fully capable of recovering from such with proper treatment. If he were to allow her to do so, of course.

Chapter Text

“I would see your eyes before you die,” he said; it was a strange thing to think about, that he would reveal the face of a woman when he removed her helm, and so Altaïr steeled himself for such.

 

“I sense you expected someone else,” the woman said, with a small, amused smile.

 

She had eyes like the ones he had seem reflected when he would take the time to look into still pools of water: strong, determined, and unyielding. And yet, they also reflected a softness and light that was more familiar to him from his days with Alnesr. He liked what he saw in her eyes, and yet Altaïr could not help but wonder just what the true nature of this woman ultimately was.

 

“What is your role in this?” he could not but ask.

 

“We knew you’d come,” the woman said, sounding proud and determined as he would have in the same situation. “Robert needed to make sure he’d have time to get away.”

 

“So he flees?” that did not seem like the Grand Master Templar that he had encountered, even so briefly as the two of them had clashed; he was also unwilling to trust to mere luck.

 

“We cannot deny your success,” the woman said, the smile on her face fading. “You have laid waste to our plans. First the Treasure, then our men. Control of the Holy Land slipped away… But then, he saw an opportunity. To reclaim what has been stolen: to turn your victories to our advantage.”

 

“Al Mualim still holds your Treasure, and we’ve routed your army before,” he said plainly. “Whatever Robert plans, he’ll fail again.”

 

“Ah, but it’s not just Templars you’ll contend with now,” the woman said, her smile returning.

 

“Speak sense,” he said, wondering just what it was that he had missed.

 

“Robert rides for Arsuf to plead his case: that Saracen and Crusader unite against the Assassins.”

 

“That will never happen,” he said, knowing well the intransigence of both sides. “They have no reason to.”

 

Had no reason to, perhaps.” The woman’s smile grew broader, more amused. “But now you’ve given them one. Nine, in fact. The bodies you’ve left behind: victims on both sides. You’ve made the Assassins an enemy in common, and ensured the annihilation of your entire Order.” She grinned, an almost feral baring of teeth. “Well done.”

 

“Not nine.” He loosened his stance, feeling the tension beginning to slowly ebb out of him. “Eight.”

 

The woman’s grin faltered. “What do you mean?”

 

“You were not my target.” He removed the blade from her neck, gathering himself and standing once again. “I will not take your life.” Even as he turned to leave the cemetery, he kept his eyes upon the woman. “You’re free to go, but do not follow me.”

 

“I don’t need to,” she said, rising back to her own feet with her left hand clasped over her wounded shoulder. “You are already too late.”

 

“We shall see.”

 

He left the cemetery, and its corpses old and new, behind him.

Chapter Text

Ascending back to the rooftops once more, Altaïr swiftly made his way back to the Bureau once more; he needed, more than ever to consult with Malik about what had just happened. He did not know if he would speak of the eyes of the woman that he had encountered, though he would clearly need to speak of her presence. He thought, however, that Malik – no matter what his feelings now were about the fact of Altaïr’s failure in Solomon’s Temple – was likely to look askance of him for such a thing.

 

Even now, Altaïr would have looked askance at himself, were such a thing even possible.

 

As he came within sight of the Bureau’s entrance once more, Altaïr forced himself to breathe more easily. This was not like the other missions that he had undertaken; he was not returning to Malik with the task at hand done, but to inform the Dai of a new complication that had arisen during the course of his attempt. To inform him that Robert de Sable had outwitted him once more.

 

He was certain that Malik would not be pleased to hear such a thing; he was still unsure if the Dai would feel anything else about the information.

 

Making his way back into the Bureau once more, Altaïr breathed deeply and steadily as he stepped back into the main room at last.

 

“It was a trap,” he said, once he had made his way back into Malik’s domain within the Bureau.

 

“I had heard the funeral turned to chaos,” Malik said, turning a concerned expression upon him; Altaïr smiled softly in response. “What happened?”

 

“Robert de Sable was never here; he sent another in his stead,” he said, firmly resisting the urge to pace. “He was expecting me.”

 

“You must go to Al Mualim.”

 

Altaïr knew that such a thing was undeniable, and yet… “There’s no time. She told me where he’s gone; what he plans. If I return to Masyaf now, he might succeed. And then… I fear we’ll be destroyed.”

 

“We have killed most of his men, he cannot hope to mount a proper attack,” Malik said, his mind clearly settling upon more practical matters for a long moment. “Wait, did you say she?”

 

“Yes, it was a woman,” he acknowledged. “Strange, I know; but that’s for another time.” He would be thinking of her later, Altaïr knew; he still remembered the fierce gaze of her eyes. “For now we must focus on Robert. We may have thinned his ranks, but the man is clever. He goes to plead his case to Richard and Salah Al’din. To unite them against a common enemy: against us.”

 

“Surely you are mistaken,” Malik said, sounding as though he wanted to make himself believe such, but could not quite manage it. “This makes no sense; those men would never-”

 

“Oh, but they would.” Altaïr forced himself not to sigh. “And we have only ourselves to blame. The men I’ve killed – men on both sides, men important to both leaders – Robert’s plan may be ambitious, but it makes sense. And it could work.”

 

“Look, brother: things have changed,” Malik said, clearly attempting to reason with him. “You must return to Masyaf; we cannot act without our Master’s permission. It could compromise the Brotherhood. I thought… I thought that you had learned this.”

 

He sighed. “I know; yet I haven’t the time to delay. That woman spoke as though Robert stands within reach of Arsuf even now, and I cannot allow him the time he needs. To not act swiftly in this matter may very well do worse than to compromise the Brotherhood.” Altaïr wondered for a moment if he should share what else it was that troubled him, and then reflected that if he could not share his concerns with Malik, there were few people indeed that he could do such with. “Also, I begin to suspect that there is something more than simply the Templars and their Treasure involved with these matters. Once my business with Robert is concluded, I will indeed ride for Masyaf so that I may speak with the Master; that I may have answers. But, perhaps you could go?”

 

“I cannot leave the Bureau,” the Dai said, sounding as through he wished to.

 

“Then walk amongst the people,” he suggested. “Seek out those who served the ones I slew; learn what you can. You say that you are perceptive; perhaps you will see what I could not.”

 

“I do not know,” Malik said, turning away slightly, appearing thoughtful once more. “I must consider this.”

 

“Do as you must, my friend,” he said, reaching out to clap the Dai’s right shoulder. “But it’s time I rode for Arsuf. Every moment I delay, our enemy gets one step ahead of me.” He could not help but think that, unwitting or not, he had risked compromising the Brotherhood once more.

 

“Be careful, brother.”

 

“I will,” he nodded, smiling softly. “I promise.”

 

Leaving the comfort of the Bureau for the rooftops of Jerusalem once more, Altaïr forced himself to breathe calmly and deeply. He would be no good to anyone if he allowed himself to panic, even in spite of what he had learned of Robert’s changed plans. Gathering himself after a long moment, Altaïr swiftly made his way back over the rooftops and out to the walls once more.

Chapter Text

Peering down into the line of guards standing before and below him, Altaïr turned his attention back to the walls that he now crouched in front of. Making his way up to the top of the wall, Altaïr climbed up and over the peak of the wall, and then back down on the other side. Waiting and watching for a moment when he would be able to descend back to the ground without being seen by any of the citizens attempting to make their way into Jerusalem for whatever reasons had brought them to the city.

 

Finding an opening within the crowds, Altaïr descended once again to the ground outside the walls of Jerusalem.

 

Breathing more easily for the fact that he had done so, Altaïr went to reclaim his horse from the stables. Finding that the beast had freshly provisioned once again, he thanked the caretakers and paid them a bit extra for their trouble, and then made his way away from Jerusalem’s stables once more. Pleased as he was to be out on the road once more, free from the confines of the city and all of the troublesome guards that seemed only to be present to hem him in, Altaïr knew that this was not a time for him to relax.

 

Kicking his horse into a canter, Altaïr drove the beast in the direction of the old, abandoned fortress of Arsuf. He needed to find Robert, before the Templar could speak his poison into the ears of either Richard or Salah Al’din; and also to find out just what it was that the man knew about the Treasure that he and his had attempted to lay claim to. He’d never truly felt at ease around that silver sphere, he could recall with clarity now, and such a feeling only made him all the more eager to see whatever mysteries the Treasure the Templars had attempted to lay claim to solved.

 

Knowledge, after all, was the surest way of driving out fear.

 

He took note of the gossip from those he passed by on the road: that Saracen and Crusader armies had encountered each other at the old fortress, and were even then joined in battle. He was at least pleased to note that Robert had not managed to speak his poison to those who might have been all too willing to hear it, and Altaïr breathed more easily as he continued on his way to meet with Robert. So that he could find out what the Templar knew, and so that he could be done with the man at last.

 

As he drew ever closer to the battling armies, moving slowly against the flow of worried, anxious country folk fleeing the advancing ranks, Altaïr steadied himself and his horse as he continued to move forward. Looking back up from the frightened faces of the citizens attempting to escape the carnage that had been unleashed by both Crusader and Saracen upon them, Altaïr began to see plumes of smoke rising up along the horizon. As he continued moving in that direction, he also began to catch sight of the soldiers fighting on either side.

 

He was not yet close enough to determine which men were on which side, yet such was not his concern at this moment in time: he needed to find Robert.

 

Moving in closer, Altaïr found himself coming close enough to see the engines of war that the clashing armies maintained; at least one of them seemed to be on fire, explaining at least some of the plumes of smoke that he had seen while he moved in closer. The sky just before him was darkened with hails of arrows, the archers on either side raining death upon their foes with seeming impunity. As he continued closer to the ranks of warring soldiers, Altaïr began to hear the sounds of battle before him.

 

The stamping, trampling hooves of the mounted soldiers; the screams of the wounded and dying, and the subtly differing screams of those men caught up in the press and crush of combat; the sharp, rattling clatter of steel on steel, and the pitiful whinnies of wounded horses. As he came ever closer to the soldiers battling on either side, Altaïr began to see the leavings of battle. There were dead horses appearing on the ground before him now; all of them riderless, but it was not long before he began to see men fallen in the same attitudes as the horses: Saracen and Crusader alike, spread-eagled on the ground, or else propped against the trees where they had fallen.

 

Altaïr knew that he would have to be all the more watchful, now that he was drawing close enough to see living men battling on either side of this latest conflict. Reining in his horse, Altaïr began to see Saracen archers appearing out of the tree line some distance in front of him. Dropping back to the ground, he rolled out of the dirt road, swiftly taking shelter behind an upturned cart so that he could watch the melee with at least some semblance of safety.

 

There were, perhaps, one hundred of the archers in this particular group; they moved quickly, crouched and bent low to the ground, moving in the same way he himself had done when he had been tasked with infiltrating those cities that held his various targets. Making his own way into the trees, Altaïr followed the archers at a safe distance. He wasn’t able to determine just how long or how far he followed the archers, always being careful to stay out of sight of the Saracens he was tracking, but the distance he had covered seemed rather great.

 

He had clearly come closer to the main battle, as he was now able to feel the vibrations of men and horses trampling over the ground before him, each and every one of them caught up in the battle. Soon, the archers – and with them Altaïr himself – came upon a ridge that stood above the main battle. For a moment, Altaïr found his breath stolen by the sheer size of it, before he gathered himself once again and moved forward.

 

His duty was to the Brotherhood, Altaïr sternly reminded himself after the memories of the Siege of Acre threatened to overwhelm him; his task was to find Robert, to finally determine just what the Grand Master Templar knew, and then to be done with the man at last.

 

All around him were the bodies of the slain; Saracen and Crusader alike, as well as the broken remains or machinery and horses. It was clear that there had been a great battle for the advantageous position that this ridge would have provided to whoever managed to lay claim to it; the bodies of men, alongside their shattered weapons, littered the ground before where he now stood. Even as he watched, yet another group of Crusaders met with the Saracen archers that he had been tracking, bringing a great shout from both sides as they faced once another.

 

The Saracens possessed the element of surprise, and so had the advantage when the two groups met in combat, and their first attack left the bodies of Crusader knights dying on the ground before them. Some of the men even falling from the ridge into the chaos of the melee below the ridge. But, even as Altaïr crouched out of sight of the combatants, the Crusaders regrouped, rallied, and their counter-attack began in earnest.

 

Knowing that the safest way for him make his way to the position that Richard maintained, and from there find out just where it was that Robert de Sable had hidden himself, Altaïr moved forward and to the left. Leaving a wide berth between himself and the continuing battle atop the ridge, he skirted the main conflict and continued pressing onward and forward.

 

As he made his way on, to find King Richard so that he would be able to find Robert, Altaïr caught a glimpse of a Crusader foot soldier crouching in the underbrush. The man was whimpering as he watched the mad chaos taking place before his very eyes, and Altaïr passed by him without a word. He would not kill a man who clearly wished only to live.

 

Suddenly, a shout went up from the undergrowth, and Altaïr found himself facing a pair of Crusaders; both with broadswords raised to impede his progress. Reaching up for his weapons with crossed arms, Altaïr drew his short sword with his right hand and flicked a throwing knife with his left. One of them went down quickly with Altaïr’s own knife in his neck, and he swiftly impaled the other through the heart. The two of them turned out to be scouts; a fact he’d not taken note of when he’d first caught sight of them.

 

Still in a position to overlook the battle from where he stood, Altaïr found that he was no longer standing upon a ridge but on the brow of a hill. Looking back up, Altaïr found that he could just manage to catch his first glimpse of the standard borne by Richard the Lionheart, and beyond that even a slight glimpse of the king himself. The man’s steed, armored and caparisoned for battle, was distinctive enough on its own, but the flaming orange of Richard’s beard and his hair made it all the more clear just who he was now facing.

 

There remained only one barrier before him, now: the rearguard of Crusader knights guarding Richard from whoever might have attempted to attack him; or else anyone who had managed to make it so far for another reason.

 

Leaping into battle with the Knights who stood before him, Altaïr pressed forward, slashing with his long sword and short blade; at times he was able to make a long dash forward, and at other times he was forced to move more slowly and deliberately as he pressed what advantages he could find. Out of the corner of his right eye, Altaïr saw that King Richard had dismounted, and now stood in a clearing among the ranks of his immediate bodyguards.

 

The bodyguards had begun to form a circle around him; creating a smaller target and a wall of men to make such a target dangerous to challenge.

 

Dashing forward as he managed to clear yet another space for himself, Altaïr slowed and flicked the blood from his swords. Watching as the archers scrabbled to stand upon the boulders scattered around him, and the Knights before and around him took up arms, fierce pride in their eyes as they faced him down, Altaïr raised his chin and deliberately sheathed his swords.

 

“Hold a moment,” he said, making his voice calm as he locked eyes with Richard. “It’s words I bring, not steel.”

 

The king seemed to consider him for a long moment, while his archers and knights continued to hold their positions; the points of every sword aimed at his gut, and the sights of every archer fixed upon him. He was walking into the very maw of death; for a moment, Altaïr felt an odd urge to laugh at how common such a thing had become for him. Swallowing such a laugh, since this was not remotely the place for such an outburst, Altaïr gathered himself once again.

 

“Offering terms for a surrender, then?” Richard asked, seeming satisfied. “It’s about time.”

 

“No, you misunderstand,” he said, having managed to fully compose himself again after his odd urge to burst out laughing. “It is Al Mualim who sends me, not Salah Al’din.”

 

The king’s face darkened with clear displeasure. “Assassin? What is the meaning of this? And be quick with it.”

 

“You’ve a traitor in your midst,” he said, as the men gathered around him pressed forward slightly, the archers tensing even as they did so.

 

“And he has hired you to kill me?” Richard asked, his eyes narrowing. “Come to gloat about it before you strike? I won’t be taken so easily.”

 

“It’s not you I’ve come to kill, it’s him,” he said, deliberately moving his hands slightly away from his weapons.

 

“Speak, then, that I may judge the truth,” Richard said, then beckoned Altaïr forward. “Who is this traitor?”

 

“Robert de Sable.”

 

Richard’s eyebrows raised, a clear sign of the king’s surprise. “My lieutenant?”

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“He aims to betray,” he said evenly, still searching for the words that he would need to persuade this man of what he needed to know.

 

“That’s not the way he tells it,” Richard said; Altaïr did not quite know what to make of the man’s tone, but he would at least hold to hope until and unless it had been proven to be ultimately futile. “He seeks revenge against your people for the havoc you’ve wrought in Acre. And I am inclined to support him; some of my best men were murdered by some of yours.”

 

It became clear that Robert de Sable had the king’s ear; Altaïr breathed deeply, knowing that what he said next could easily end in his death at the hands of Richard’s Crusader knights and bowmen. “It was I who killed them, and for good reason,” he said, deciding to leave the matter of Alnesr aside, since the presence of the younger Assassin could only confuse matters when he needed them to be clear. “Hear me out,” he said, in the face of Richard’s glare. “William of Montferrat sought to use his soldiers to take Acre by force. Garnier de Naplouse used his skills to indoctrinate and control any who resisted. Sibrand intended to block the ports, preventing your kingdom from providing aid. They all betrayed you, and they took their orders from Robert.”

 

“You expect me to believe this outlandish tale?” Richard demanded, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes; Altaïr would have liked to think he would have been more open to the possibilities, but as he’d not been placed in a situation such as this, he truly had no way of saying.

 

“You know these men better than I,” he said, both because such a thing was indeed true, and so that Richard would at least begin considering matters more clearly. “Are you truly surprised to learn of their ill intentions?”

 

Richard paused, and clearly seemed to be considering what he had known – and perhaps not known – about the men who had purported to serve under him. Then he turned to a man standing on his right; a man in a full-face helm. “Is this true?”

 

The knight removed his helm, and Altaïr was at least somewhat pleased to note that he was now truly faced with Robert himself. Narrowing his eyes in distaste for the man who had been willing to send a woman – even one with the skill that he had seen the female Templar display – in his stead, Altaïr steeled his resolve. Here, now, was his chance to find out just what it was that de Sable knew.

 

About the Templar treasure, and possibly other matters of import to the Brotherhood.

 

Robert shifted slightly, his lip curling in clear distaste, even as Altaïr narrowed his eyes at the man. “My liege, it is an Assassin that stands before us,” de Sable said, the tone of his voice conveying clear exasperation. “These creatures are masters of manipulation. Of course it isn’t true.”

 

“I’ve no reason to deceive,” he couldn’t quite stop himself from snapping.

 

“Oh, but you do,” de Sable sneered. “You’re afraid of what will happen to your little fortress. Can it truly withstand the combined might of the Saracen and Crusader armies?”

 

“My concern is for the people of the Holy Land,” Altaïr said, in the face of Robert’s goading grin. “If I must sacrifice myself for there to be peace, then so be it.”

 

Richard’s bemused expression turned from him to de Sable and then back once more. “This is a strange place we find ourselves in. Each of you accusing the other.”

 

“There really is no time for this,” de Sable said quickly. “I must be off to meet with Saladin and enlist his aid. The longer we delay, the harder this will become.”

 

“Hold a moment, Robert,” Richard said, as the Templar made to leave; the king’s gaze went from de Sable to Altaïr himself and then back once more.

 

Why?” de Sable snapped, snorting in obvious frustration as he stopped in his tracks. “What do you intend? Surely you do not believe him?”

 

Altaïr could see in de Sable’s eyes that he, too, knew that the king he purported to serve was beginning to have his doubts about that service. Perhaps he was even coming to believe Altaïr’s own word over that of Robert. Altaïr breathed deeply, and hoped that such was indeed coming to pass.

 

“It is a difficult decision,” the king replied. “One I cannot make alone. I must leave this in the hands of one wiser than I.”

 

“Thank you-”

 

“No, Robert. Not you,” Richard’s tone indicated a rebuke.

 

“Then who?” the Templar seemed irritated, so Altaïr steeled himself for what might well come next.

 

“The Lord,” Richard said, smiling; clearly pleased with himself for coming to what he saw as the right conclusion. “Let this be decided by combat. Surely God will side with the one whose cause is righteous.”

 

Altaïr saw the expression of amused pleasure that lingered slightly on de Sable’s face; clearly the Templar was recalling the least time that the two of them had met in combat. Altaïr was doing so as well, but he liked to think that he was not so hampered by arrogance and willful blindness as he had once been. However, he also recalled the sheer physical strength of the Templar before him; the way de Sable had thrown him from the room as easily as hefting a sack of wheat.

 

“If that is what you wish,” de Sable said calmly.

 

“It is.”

 

“So be it,” Robert said, his calm tone belied by the taunting smirk he wore. “To arms, Assassin.”

 

The two of them could hardly have been more disparate in appearance: Robert’s pristine armor, as opposed to Altaïr’s robes, stained with travel and the blood of many men; the cuts and bruises that Altaïr had taken just making his way toward this meeting that he had been wanting for some time; even down to the absence of the weariness that Altaïr could feel pulling down on him even as he and de Sable faced one another across the swiftly-forming ring of Crusader knights. It was clear that de Sable could see all of this, for he still wore a taunting smirk on his face, even as he pulled on chain-mail gauntlets and a fellow knight came forward to assist him with his helmet.

 

“So, we face each other once more. Let us hope that you prove more of a challenge, this time.”

 

“I am not the man you faced inside the Temple,” Altaïr replied, raising his sword as de Sable did the same.

 

The far-off thunder of the battle at Arsuf seemed all the more distant now; the world itself receding to merely the two of them as they faced off and prepared for battle.

 

“You look the same to me,” de Sable said, in that same disparaging tone that he had previously used.

 

Altaïr ignored it; the Templar would learn better soon enough. Raising his sword even as de Sable did the same, Altaïr held himself ready for whatever first strike de Sable would choose to open with. The Grand Master Templar seemed surprised by this, he was pleased to note; he would endeavor to surprise the man all the more during their coming battle.

 

“Appearances can deceive,” he stated calmly.

 

“True, true,” de Sable said, his surprised expression melting into one of wry amusement.

 

The two of them met in combat once more, and Altaïr slowly began to realize that – for all the other advantages the Templar had over him – he was not nearly as fast as Altaïr had trained himself to be. He would need to make this contest one of attrition if he wanted a hope of besting the Knight who had challenged him; if he wanted to find out just what it was that de Sable knew, before he sent the Templar to join the rest of his brothers-in-arms.

 

“Soon, this will be over and Masyaf will fall,” de Sable taunted, having clearly regained his arrogant confidence during the course of the battle; Altaïr would see that he regretted it.

 

“My brothers are stronger than you think.”

 

“We’ll know the truth of that soon enough,” de Sable scoffed, still grinning.

 

Still, as Altaïr continued the dance of battle that he had become so familiar with over the course of his life within the Brotherhood, de Sable was forced to back down under the sheer weight of the attacks that bore down on him. Altaïr was pleased, also, to note the harried attitude that the Templar took on as he was pressed steadily backward.

 

“Oh, so the child has learned how to use a blade?”

 

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” he said, calmly for all that he was becoming steadily more pleased to have de Sable backed into a corner, the way he himself had once been. “Your men saw to that.”

 

“They were sacrificed in service to a higher cause,” de Sable snapped; Altaïr could hear his breath coming more harshly, then.

 

“As will you be.”

 

De Sable pressed forward again, but this time Altaïr was more than ready, slamming the pommel of his sword into the Templar’s gut, sending him stumbling back, barely able to stay on his feet. In fact, the only thing that kept the knight from falling to the ground was the presence of his fellow knights all around him, propping de Sable up before he could fall to the dust. De Sable bristled with an unseemly sort of fury, and Altaïr knew that this fight was his.

 

After all, he’d learned well and long ago that a warrior who lost his temper had long since lost the battle.

 

“The time for games is ended!” de Sable bellowed, as though shouting such words would make them ring all the more true.

 

“It ended long ago,” Altaïr responded calmly, feeling as a pure Assassin for the first time since he had confronted that strange woman at the site of Majd Addin’s funeral.

 

De Sable pressed forward for what Altaïr knew would be the last time; his breathing almost more ragged than his attacks, and Altaïr was easily able to fend the Templar off.

 

“I do not know where your strength comes from,” de Sable gasped, clearly at the end of his strength; Altaïr was glade to note such a fact. “Some trick? Or is it indeed drugs, as has been said before?”

 

“It is as your king said: righteousness will always triumph over greed,” he said, both since such a thing was fully true, and because he knew that it would infuriate de Sable to the last to hear such a thing.

 

My cause is righteous!” the Templar bellowed like a wounded bull, straining now to lift his sword.

 

It was in that struggle that Altaïr glimpsed his chance: pressing forward for the last time, he drove his sword deep into the center of the bright, red cross that de Sable wore on his surcoat, parting the Knight’s mail and piercing his chest. Eyes wide and shocked in the throes of the death that had finally come for him, de Sable reached futilely for the blade that Altaïr had impaled him with, just as he pulled his sword free.

 

Turning his eyes to the knights who had previously formed a ring around him and de Sable, like as not thinking that one of their own could not be bested by one of his, in case they meant to attack him for doing just that. However, not a one of them appeared willing to make such a move. Beyond the circle of knights, Altaïr saw King Richard looking on, as though the battle itself had been merely an interesting spectacle that he had been privileged to witness.

 

It was a curious thing, but Altaïr knew that there were other matters for him to attend to before he could properly address the matter of the king and his knights.

 

“It’s done, then; your schemes, like you, are put to rest,” he said calmly, for all that he was beginning to feel slightly uneasy once more.

 

When de Sable only chortled in response, Altaïr forced himself not to tense; such would only make his dismay obvious to the Templar now resting in his arms. “You know nothing of schemes; you’re but a puppet. He betrayed you, boy; just as he betrayed me.”

 

“Speak sense, Templar, or not at all,” he snapped, discomfited in the extreme, now that he could do nothing about it.

 

“Nine men he sent you to kill, yes?” de Sable asked, a serene smile settling on his face. “The nine who guarded the treasure’s secret?”

 

There had always been nine, so far as Altaïr and the other members of the Brotherhood knew: nine Templars guarding the secret of their Treasure, each passing the responsibility to their successor in their turn. It had been so for as long as the Templar Knights had existed; for the one-hundred years since they had formed, and taken the Temple Mount as their base of operations. Those who took them at their word believed that the order had been formed to protect those making their pilgrimage to the Holy Land; that they lived their lives as warrior monks for that most noble of purposes.

 

It was all a ruse, of course; the Templars had far more on their minds than simply the protection of helpless pilgrims, no matter their rhetoric to the contrary.

 

“What of it?” he asked, knowing that his suspicions were soon to either be allayed or confirmed with what de Sable said next.

 

“It wasn’t nine who found the Treasure, Assassin,” de Sable’s voice was growing softer, but for all that his smile remained serene as ever. “Not nine, but ten.”

 

His suspicion was not to be allayed, then. “A tenth? None may live who carry the secret. Give me his name.”

 

“Oh, but you know him well,” de Sable’s answering chuckle drew blood from between the Templar’s lips; Altaïr knew, then, that his time was almost at an end. “And I doubt very much you’d take his life as willingly as you’ve taken mine.”

 

“What?” It felt as though he had swallowed a still-burning ember; not simply for the sheer inevitability of the fate de Sable’s words were slowly revealing to him, but for the other truth that he may yet be forced to face.

 

“It is your Master: Al Mualim,” de Sable said at last; his tone carrying an amused sort of finality to it.

 

“He is not a Templar,” Altaïr said, wanting more than anything to deny the truth he had slowly been coming to suspect; but the world was what it was, and the truth could not be denied.

 

“Did you never wonder how it was he knew so much?” de Sable pressed, sounding more amused by the word. “Where to find us? How many we numbered? Even what we hoped to attain?”

 

“He is the Master of the Assassins,” he protested weakly, for if he’d been misled so badly about one matter, it was all too possible that he’d been ill-informed about more; more lives than his own might well have been at risk.

 

“Master of lies,” de Sable managed. “You, myself, and even the little one; just more pawns in his grand game. And now, with my death, only you remain. Do you really think he’ll let either of you live, knowing what you do?”

 

“We’ve no interest in the Treasure,” he said, strangling the sudden, desperate worry for Alnesr’s sake; the younger Assassin knew how to defend himself from enemies. And, just as important, he knew how to escape from those who might try to hold him.

 

“Ah, but he does. The only difference between your Master and I, is that he did not wish to share,” de Sable said, voice growing quieter. “Ironic, is it not? That I, your greatest enemy, kept you and your own safe from harm. But now you’ve taken my life, and in the process ended more than your own.”

 

Breathing deeply to steady himself against the sudden rush of emotions he was feeling in the wake of this latest turn of events, Altaïr looked down at the corpse of Robert de Sable. “We do not always find the things we seek,” he intoned, rising back to his feet; for a moment, he almost wished the Crusaders would attack him.

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Then, he forced such thoughts out of his mind, so that he could focus on what was to come.

 

“Well fought, Assassin,” Richard said, as the king came striding over from some place to his right, through the ring of knights that parted swiftly to allow him through. “It seems God favors your cause, this day.”

 

“God had nothing to do with it,” he said calmly, having regained his composure. “I was the better fighter.”

 

“Ah; you may not believe in Him, but it seems that He believes in you,” the king said. “Before you go, I have a question.”

 

“Ask it, then,” he said, longing to be away from this place; more than anything, to know what had truly happened to Alnesr.

 

“Why? Why travel all this way? Risk your life a thousand times? All to kill a single man.”

 

“He threatened my brothers and what we stand for,” Altaïr said simply, wishing to put this man’s curiosity to rest so that he could leave.

 

“Ah,” Richard said, nodding in the manner of one who had found a kindred spirit. “Vengeance, then?”

 

“No. Not vengeance,” he said, recalling what he had felt, and thought, when he’d finally managed to end Robert de Sable’s life. “Justice; that there might be peace.”

 

“This is what you fight for?” Richard echoed, brows arching in clear surprise. “Peace? Do you see the contradiction?”

 

Richard swept his right arm to encompass the battle taking place below them, the corpses scattered about the clearing, and lastly, the still-warm corpse of Robert de Sable, staring up at them with clouded eyes.

 

“Some men cannot be reasoned with,” he said, letting his gaze pass over the Templar’s still form.

 

“Like that madman, Saladin,” Richard sighed.

 

“I think he would like to see an end to this war, as much as you,” he said; Altaïr saw a just, fair-minded king, one who strove to do right by his people, even through circumstances such as these.

 

“So I’ve heard, but never seen,” Richard said, looking as though he would have liked to believe Altaïr’s words, but could not quite bring himself to do so.

 

“Even if he doesn’t say it, it’s what the people want. Saracen and Crusader alike.”

 

“The people do not know what they want,” Richard said, with a slight huff of annoyance. “It’s why they turn to men like us.”

 

“Then it falls to men like us to do what is right,” he said firmly.

 

“Nonsense,” Richard snorted. “We come into this world kicking and screaming; violent and unstable. It is what we are. We cannot help ourselves.”

 

“No,” he shook his head. “We are what we choose to be.”

 

“Your kind; always playing with words,” Richard replied, a rueful smile stretching his lips.

 

“I speak the truth. There’s no trick to be found here.”

 

“We’ll know soon enough,” Richard said, with a grunt that spoke of finality. “But I fear that you cannot have what you desire, this day. Even now, that heathen Saladin cuts through my men, and I must attend to them. But perhaps, seeing how vulnerable he is, he will reconsider his actions. In time, what you seek may be possible.”

 

“You were no more secure than him,” Altaïr reminded the king. “Do not forget that. The men you left behind, to rule in your stead, did not intend to serve you for longer than they had to.”

 

“Yes, I am well aware,” Richard said, seeming pained to admit such a thing; no one wished to think badly of those they had trusted.

 

He knew that better than most.

 

“Then I shall take my leave,” he said, nodding to Richard. “My Master and I have much to discus; it seems even he is not without fault.”

 

“He is only human,” Richard said, his eyes reflecting their shared pain. “As are we all. You as well.”

 

“Safety and peace be upon you,” he said, turning to take his leave at last; if Richard said anything in return, he did not hear it.

 

If he was to be of any assistance to the Brotherhood in general, or to Alnesr in particular, he would have to leave as swiftly as he could manage. Making his way back down the ridge, and then through the sparse forest with all of its unattended dead, Altaïr took care to avoid any of those – Crusader or Saracen – who would have attempted to hinder his progress.

 

Finding his horse once more, Altaïr re-mounted the beast and urged it back into motion. Setting off back down the path, Altaïr urged his horse to move ever faster, wanting nothing more than to return to Masyaf with all possible speed. Thusly, every time he was forced to break for either a meal or a night of sleep was like a weight pressing down on his heart; he was giving the- giving Al Mualim all the time he would need to solidify his control over the citadel. All the time he would need to use the Treasure for his own ends.

 

Upon the last day he needed to rest, with merely the last stretch of road between himself and Masyaf left to be covered, Altaïr forced himself to be calm and breathe deeply. He would be no good to anyone if he allowed himself to become tense, or to succumb to worry. He would need all his wits about him, if he was indeed to face what was to come.

 

The fortress was not as he had left it: the streets were eerily empty of people, and when he returned to the stable there were none there to greet him. None to attend to either his horse, or any of those that had been stabled alongside it. He would have taken such a task himself – he had the necessary skill – were he not far more concerned with the state of the Brotherhood, and just what Al Mualim might have been doing with the Templar Treasure.

Chapter Text

The light seemed to be all that existed in the world, binding him like iron chains wrapped in silk; holding him in place, else he would have attacked the man that had orchestrated all of this. He’d only seen flashes, a brief suggestion of a form hidden behind the all-encompassing light, but the picture he had formed was enough for him to go on, at least: a tall man, cloaked in heavy black garments. He was unsure if it was a bald pate or else long hair that he had seen, but he at least knew that the man had been tanned heavily.

 

Clearly, whoever this man was, he worked in the sun a great deal.

 

“We all have our parts to play, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

“Speak sense, old man, or not at all,” he snarled, having long since lost his patience with the man’s cryptic words.

 

“I would speak more plainly to one of my own,” the man in black said, with an amused chuckle that made Alnesr hate him all the more. “But you? You’re merely a stepping-stone.”

 

The light closed in around him once more, binding him in stranglers’ coils until he felt as though his mind would be crushed by them. Altaïr, I wish I was with you right now…

 

~AC1~

 

He’d spoken to Malik; finding that his fellow Assassin was just as troubled by Al Mualim’s betrayal as he had been, and shared in his worry for Alnesr’s sake. He was pleased to know that, but he and Malik had both agreed that it was a cold comfort under the circumstances. Making his way through the deserted halls and corridors of the fortress, Altaïr forced himself not to think on what might have been happening to Alnesr.

 

He could only hope to deal with Al Mualim; all of these machinations of his couldn’t outlast the man’s hold on the Treasure, he was sure. Or at least, he tried to be so. It was not an easy thing, now that he was making his way through halls and corridors that had once bustled with the activities of his fellow Assassins, and now were as empty and silent as a disused cemetery.

 

It was not a thing that he had ever thought to see in Masyaf; not a thing he had ever wanted to, either.

 

When he managed to make his way out to the gardens that Al Mualim maintained, Altaïr found that it was as empty as all the rooms that he had seen before. However, he had barely taken three steps into the garden before the sound of a bolt being thrown drew his attention. The gate had been locked behind him; it was almost as though he was facing Talal the slaver once more.

 

In the end, however, it seemed that the two of them had far more in common than he had once been willing to see.

 

~AC1~

 

Looking down on the Assassin from his balcony, Rashid was glad that he’d not followed his first impulse to bring Hemamah into this battle. The child – once the Assassin Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr, but now purified by the Apple’s light so that he could walk in the new world – continued to rest in Rashid’s quarters. He did not know, yet, just where he would take the boy once he had finished with the Assassin before him, but he was also aware that he would have time to decide such a thing later.

 

“What’s happening?” the Assassin demanded, now bound and struggling within the Apple’s power.

 

“So, the student returns,” he said, looking down upon the Assassin in his grasp; one more task to be attended to, and then he could decide what else he wished to do.

 

“I’ve never been one to run,” the Assassin said, defiance in every line of his struggling body.

 

Rashid was hardly impressed. “Never been one to listen, either.”

 

“I still live because of it,” the Assassin snapped. “But enough games. Where is Alnesr?”

 

“He is beyond your reach,” Rashid said calmly. “But, that is not the question that must be asked now. No, the true question is, what shall I do with you?”

 

“Let me go!” the Assassin demanded.

 

“Oh, Altaïr. I hear the hatred in your voice; feel its heat,” he said, looking down with some pity upon the Assassin who had been so dutiful to him such a short time ago. “Let you go? I fear that would be unwise.”

 

“Why are you doing this?”

 

Curious to the last, it seemed; perhaps he could, at least, let the Assassin go in peace. “I believed, once. Did you know that? Thought there was a God; a God who loved and looked after us. Who sent prophets to guide and comfort us. Who made miracles to remind us of his power.”

 

“What changed?” the Assassin asked, his tone curious, though no more gentle than it had been,

 

“I found proof,” he said, gathering his will and focusing it into the Apple again.

 

“Proof of what?”

Chapter Text

When he heard Al Mualim making his last pronouncement, Altaïr had not truly known what to expect. However, finding himself facing the nine Templars he had slain to come to this final reckoning was not what he had been expecting by a long road. Gathering himself for combat once more, shutting away his worries for Alnesr, Malik, and the others of the Brotherhood who served in Masyaf, as well as the lingering surprise and betrayal he still felt, Altaïr threw himself back into combat with a will.

 

Cutting the illusory Templars down just as easily as he’d managed when they were flesh and blood standing before him, Altaïr turned his attention back to Al Mualim.

 

“Face me,” he demanded, after he’d managed to catch his breath; his robes and underclothes were soaked and uncomfortable with sweat, but he knew that the battle was far from over. “Or, are you afraid?”

 

“I have stood before a thousand men, each of them superior to you, and all of them dead,” Al Mualim scoffed. “By my hand.”

 

Standing his ground as Al Mualim leaped from the balcony, Altaïr watched as the man rose back to his feet once more. He still held the Apple, the bright, glowing trinket held out in front of him as though Al Mualim intended to offer it to him. Though Altaïr knew that there was as little chance of that as of either of them learning to fly.

 

“I am not afraid of you, child.”

 

“Prove it, then,” he challenged.

 

He knew that Al Mualim would see his words as the ruse they truly were; that, even though he was ultimately a traitor, he had still been Master of the Assassins. No one gained such a rank without great skills in various forms of combat.

 

“What could I possibly have to fear?” almost before the words themselves had passed Al Mualim’s lips, eight duplicates seemingly emerged from within the old man’s body; each of them armed with a sword of their own. “Look at the power I command!”

 

Bracing himself for combat once more, Altaïr raised his own blade and met the first of the Apple’s second wave of duplicates. These were no stronger or more capable than the last wave that he had been made to face, and so he was done with them easily. Standing once more before Al Mualim, Altaïr breathed slowly and deeply to steady his trembling muscles once again.

 

Finding himself restrained by the power of the Apple again, Altaïr allowed himself to relax slightly; all the better that Al Mualim thought himself in control, so he could learn what he needed to kill the traitor – doubly traitorous, considering all that he’d learned during the course of his work – and have done with his mission at last.

 

“Have you any final words?”

 

“You lied to me,” he said, not bothering to keep a snarl out of his voice. “You called Robert’s goal foul, when all along it was your own, as well.”

 

“I’ve never been much good at sharing,” Al Mualim said, sounding almost rueful at the pronouncement.

 

“You won’t succeed,” he said with certainty. “Others will find the strength to stand against you.”

 

“And this is why, so long as men maintain free will, there can be no peace,” Al Mualim said, sighing as though in sorrow that he was forced to such an end.

 

“I killed the last man who spoke as such,” Altaïr reminded them both.

 

“Bold words, boy,” the old man laughed. “But just words.”

 

“Let me go, then,” he challenged. “I’ll put words into action.” Narrowing his eyes, considering some way that he could prod the old man into making a mistake, Altaïr decided to ask the question that had been troubling him ever since Al Mualim had been revealed for the man he truly was. “Tell me, Master: why did you not make me like the other Assassins? Why allow me to retain my mind?”

 

“Who you are and what you do are twinned too tight,” the old man said. “To rob you of one would have deprived me of the other, and those Templars had to die,” Al Mualim sighed softly. “But the truth is, I did try. In my study, when I showed you the Treasure; but you are not like the others. You saw through the illusion.”

 

“What did you do to Alnesr, then?” he demanded.

 

Surely someone he had raised as his own would not be susceptible to such falsities.

 

“The child… for all that he allowed you to touch his life, that boy was unique in all the world. He was never truly yours,” Al Mualim said. “He is beyond you, Altaïr. Beyond all cares or troubles.”

 

He did not know how to respond to such an assertion, and he knew that he still needed to have done with Al Mualim at last.

 

“What you have planned is no less of an illusion: to force men to follow you against their will.”

 

“Is it any less real than the phantoms the Saracens and Crusaders follow now? Those craven gods who retreat from this world, that men might slaughter one another in their names? They live amongst an illusion already. I’m simply giving them another; one that demands less blood.”

 

“At least they choose these phantoms,” he stated firmly.

 

“Do they? Aside from the occasional convert, or heretic?”

 

“It isn’t right,” Altaïr snapped in response.

 

“Ah, and now logic has left you,” Al Mualim said, sounding disappointed. “In its place, you embrace emotion. I am disappointed.”

 

“What is to be done, then?” he demanded.

 

“You will not follow me, and I cannot compel you,” Al Mualim said, the expression on his worn face appearing sorrowful enough that Altaïr wondered just how he was managing to do such a thing.

 

“And, you refuse to abandon this evil scheme,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

 

“It seems, then, that we are at an impasse,” Al Mualim said, the fire beginning to return to his eyes.

 

“No, we are at an end,” he snapped, gathering himself for combat once again.

Chapter Text

“I will miss you, Altaïr,” Al Mualim said, unsheathing his sword. “You were one of my very best students.”

 

It was as though the years of his life were melting away as Al Mualim gathered himself for the coming battle. As the two of them met in combat for the first time, without the illusions of the Apple interfering with them, Altaïr found the skills that he had honed during the course of his life and work being put to the greatest test that he had encountered during the course of his life as an Assassin.

 

Watching as Al Mualim seemed to vanish and reappear several paces from where he had once been standing, Altaïr took careful note of how the old man held himself; it seemed that, every time he used that strange power, it took some measure of his own energy.

 

Pressing the old man harder, knowing now that Al Mualim did not have all the time in the world the way he had clearly wished to pretend. He now knew that there was indeed a way to triumph over the man, to defeat him while staying true to the very ideals that the old man had so callously cast aside in his pursuit of power for his own ends. Knew that, now that he understood the power that the old man was using more completely, he would be able to kill him.

 

Just as he had killed all of those Templars that needed to die.

 

Pressing further forward, harrying Al Mualim every time he vanished and reappeared further away in an effort to give himself more room to breathe, Altaïr began at last to see that his plan had borne fruit. Steadying himself once more, Altaïr drove forward with his blade again. He would not be defeated by something so simple as an illusion, even one so compelling as that which the Apple could create.

 

He would not think of such as the Templars’ treasure anymore; not when he was so close to being able to take it for the Brotherhood, so that he and the others would be able to keep it out of the hands of those who would seek to misuse its power for their own ends. Or, perhaps to destroy it, so that no one else would be able to make use of its power.

 

Yes; if this Apple that the Templars seemed to be determined to reclaim was indeed capable of corrupting someone like Al Mualim, it could clearly not be allowed to fall into the hands of anyone else. Altaïr did not know if he would even have trusted himself with that power. When he leaped forward, driving his sword into Al Mualim’s body with a roar of pain and triumph, Altaïr wondered for a long moment just what the old, former Assassin had made of this happening.

 

“Impossible,” Al Mualim gasped wetly, as Altaïr knelt down beside him. “The student does not defeat the teacher.” Altaïr hung his head; this was not a victory he had ever wanted. “You have won, then; go and claim your prize.”

 

“You held fire in your hand, old man,” he said, looking at the Apple where it had rolled onto the marble pathway in Al Mualim’s garden. “It should have been destroyed.”

 

“Destroy the only thing capable of ending the Crusades and creating true peace?” Al Mualim laughed; Altaïr shook his head at the sheer depths of the corruption he was bearing witness to. This was, pure and simply, madness. “Never.”

 

“Then I will,” he said calmly, rising to his feet as he tried to feel such calm as he had projected with his voice; it was not an easy thing.

 

“We’ll see about that.”

Chapter Text

“It seems things have proceeded along well enough,” the man hidden in the light said, sounding more pleased than Alnesr could account for; there was truly no way for him to know just what had happened, what even then was happening, outside of the endless light that he found himself trapped within. “Time for your part, then.”

 

He felt the stranglers’ coils releasing him, and narrowed his eyes at the black-cloaked man who now stood before him.

 

“Well? I had thought that you wanted answers, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

 

“What madness do you speak now?” he demanded, holding himself ready for whatever else would come.

 

“If you can catch me, I will give you all the answers you desire,” the cloaked man held out a hand; gloved in black or white, Alnesr could not say with any certainty. “However, if I catch you, you will lose far more than merely a race.”

 

Without a word, wanting more than anything to have whatever answers this cloaked man was hiding from him, Alnesr dashed after him. It seemed, however, that the man had had training comparable to a member of the Brotherhood. Perhaps he was a Templar? Or even a traitor?

 

Alnesr did not know the answers to such questions as he had now, but the cloaked man had made it known that he would provide the answers that Alnesr craved, in exchange for merely out competing him in a contest of physical skill. However, it quickly became more than clear that the man in the black cloak was far swifter than his earlier demeanor would have suggested.

 

For no matter how doggedly Alnesr pursued him, no matter what measure of his own skill he employed – learned at the feet of one of the greatest among the Brotherhood – the man in the black cloak seemed to be at least several steps ahead for every one that Alnesr made.

 

“Far enough.” Alnesr felt as though he had been slammed into a stone wall, when the black cloaked man’s hand merely rested lightly on his head. “No one with eyes could deny your skill, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr; but in the end, it seems I did indeed catch you.” The man’s chuckle was like to make him clench his fists in response, if he could’ve moved his body in the slightest. “Now, for the prize I was promised…”

 

The light encroached upon his thoughts again, leaving him with naught more than empty nothingness…

 

~AC: TSC~

 

When he had finally managed to pry the Apple free from Abbas’ clenched hand, the pulses of light that had been lashing out almost aggressively from the odd silver sphere that his former friend had so foolishly reached out to claim it still not dying down now that he held it in his own hands, Altaïr tried to think of just what it was that he could do to stop such a thing from continuing. He was aware on some level of the third Assassin joining them inside the tower where he and Abbas stood, but as they had not made any hostile movements, Altaïr was content to leave them where they stood.

 

He would attend to them later, if they were still in need of reassurance after all that they might have seen.

 

Looking into the Apple as he held it out before him, Altaïr once again found himself wrapped in the item’s power. It was indeed a temptation, as Al Mualim had said not so long ago; it would corrupt the hearts and minds of any who sought to use it for the purpose that it had been seemingly made for. And yet, Altaïr wondered if it could not be put to a more benign use.

 

Perhaps it could not corrupt the mind of one who merely used it to gain knowledge… or perhaps that was what Al Mualim had thought, when he had gained possession of the Apple.

 

“Have you anything to teach us? Or would you lead us all to ruin?”

 

He knew that such a thing as the Apple would not be able to answer the questions that he had asked, and so Altaïr turned his attention to the one who had merely stood and watched as this drama had played out under his very eyes.

 

“And you, silent one, what would you…” when he turned to look into the face of the one who had watched them with such calmness as no one here should have truly been able to show, Altaïr realized just who it was. “Alnesr? It pleases me to see you well, but…”

 

And there, he caught sight of the younger Assassin’s eyes. They were the same blank white as the light shining out of the Apple, and they even pulsed in that same rhythm. He did not truly know what to make of such a happening, but he at least knew that he had to return Alnesr to his senses else there would be nothing he could find out from his fellow about this. Stepping closer to the younger Assassin, Altaïr lifted his chin.

Chapter Text

The sight of Alnesr’s eyes, filled with the eerie light of the Apple, and more than likely blind to everything that truly existed in the world, was not one that Altaïr relished in the slightest.

 

“You are not an empty vessel for the Apple’s power,” he said, resting his right hand on the younger Assassin’s head; he could all but see the young man bound within the light, struggling even then to be free. Altaïr did not truly know if what he found before his eyes was true in any sense but the most metaphorical, but all the same it was something to hold to. “You are a member of the Brotherhood; an Assassin, as I am. Now, wake up.” The figure bound in the light, the one that looked as Alnesr looked, the one that seemed to be struggling against some sort of bonds that held him still. “Wake up, Alnesr.”

 

For a few moments, Altaïr thought that he saw a man garbed in black robes walking around the struggling form of Alnesr within the light, and he wondered if Al Mualim’s mind could have somehow survived the destruction of his body. It was only for a moment, however; the figure vanished with a flourish of his black robes, and the light departed Alnesr’s eyes at the same moment.

 

He did not know just how the younger Assassin would cope with what had happened to him, and so he was not entirely surprised when Alnesr almost leaped into his embrace. After a moment, however, the younger Assassin looked discomfited and then pulled away. However, it was clearly not because he had recovered from his ordeal, but because he thought his actions unseemly.

 

“It is nothing against you, to feel the need for reassurance after an ordeal such as this,” he said gently; he took brief note of Abbas, leaving the tower without words or a look back, but then returned his attention to Alnesr. “In truth, I find myself concerned over this latest turn of events.”

 

“Thank you, Altaïr,” the younger Assassin said, leaning lightly against him as the two of them paused briefly to regain their composure after all the upheavals of this day of days.

 

After a few moments spent to compose themselves once more, Altaïr led Alnesr down from the tower, and back through the citadel itself. The younger Assassin seemed to have mastered himself well after all that he had been through, and Altaïr was pleased to take note of such. They had a great deal of work ahead of them, if they were indeed to restore the Brotherhood back to what it had been before Al Mualim had betrayed them all.

 

Though Altaïr felt that, as one who had been closest to the man, he had ultimately suffered the greatest betrayal; though he tried not to think in such a way.

 

Once he and Alnesr had made it out of Masyaf once more, Altaïr found the same crowd of fellow Assassins waiting for him in the courtyard. All of them looked as though they had not yet recovered from what had happened; he could hardly fault them for that, however, given the events that had actually taken place. To say nothing of the man who had ultimately been responsible for them.

 

He spoke to those Assassins who had gathered before him, reassuring them that Al Mualim was indeed dead, in spite of the vision that he had been given by the Apple. He’d no way of truly knowing just who that man in the black cloak had been, or even if he had existed at all. He did not wish for anyone else to worry about a presence that might not have even been real.

 

He spotted Abbas, standing at the far edges of the crowd; he wasn’t such a fool as to think that his former friend would be willing to let go of his resentment so quickly after everything that had happened.

 

However, he knew that he could not afford to take too much time reassuring his brother Assassins that things were going to be returning to normal. Not if he was to intercept the Templars before they could depart for whatever new place they would choose to go now that he had driven them out of the Holy Land and laid full claim to the Treasure that they had been guarding.

 

“You called for me, Master Altaïr?” Malik said, smiling in that amused way he had, even as he spoke Altaïr’s new title.

 

“Thank you for coming so quickly, my friend,” he said, smiling as he, Malik, and Alnesr continued on their way back into Masyaf. “You know, as I do, that the Templars will not remain idle after this. If we are to take advantage of the confusion that these deaths will have doubtless caused within their ranks, we will need to act quickly.”

 

“What did you have in mind, Altaïr?” Alnesr asked, his bearing and expression far more calm for the time that he had been given to compose himself.

 

“We should pursue this lead; find out where it is that they intend to go from here on,” he said, leaning against the doorway that led into what had once been Al Mualim’s study.

 

Altaïr was not yet comfortable with calling such a thing his own as yet, and he was also fully aware that, once he and those he would select to aid him in the task of reorganizing and re-cataloging the texts in what had been Al Mualim’s study truly began it in earnest, the full weight of the events of the past two days – or day and a half, as he could not quite recall just what time during the day he had returned to Masyaf for his final confrontation – would fall upon him once again. He’d not the time to deal with such things, not with the Templars still at large, and not with their activities currently unknown. Not when there was a chance to be finished with the Templars once and for all.

 

“Alnesr, do you think that you could accompany me on another mission?” he asked, firmly turning his gaze away from the empty study that Al Mualim had once worked within.

 

“I will accompany you on this mission, if you truly wish me to, Altaïr,” Alnesr said.

 

Altaïr nodded.; it was not simply for the sake of such a close association as they had, that he had chosen Alnesr to accompany him on this next mission of his. His brother Assassin clearly needed to understand that he, and no other, was fully in control of his life, after however long he had spent with his mind bound inside the Apple. Altaïr was not willing to believe that the man Al Mualim had become after so long spent with the Treasure in his possession would not have imprisoned Alnesr’s mind within it once he had become aware of such a power.

 

It was what anyone who had willingly chosen to ally themselves with the Templars, and further to betray even them for more power, would have done.

Chapter Text

He spoke with Malik and Alnesr both, telling them of what he had thought and the tentative plans he had formed, and listened in turn to what they thought and had realized during the course of these trying times. Alnesr, he was pleased to note, spoke freely of his opinions. Though naturally he’d little to meaningfully contribute, considering his circumstances.

 

“The both of you should leave now, if you’re to catch up to the Templars and find where they’ve taken shelter after these upheavals,” Malik said, as the three of them moved away from the door to Al Mualim’s former study.

 

Altaïr knew that, soon enough, his brother Assassins would come to think of the place as his, and he was still not certain how he felt about the idea.

 

“We’ll be returning to the cities we visited before,” he said; best to begin the search where there had been a known Templar presence, before moving onto those he’d not visited in some time. “It’s likely they will still have some signs of where the surviving Templars will go to next.”

 

Malik agreed with his reasoning, and Altaïr smiled slightly as his brother Assassin wished them good fortune in their hunt. Departing with the assurance that Malik and his trusted would attend to at least the beginnings of the repairs that needed to be made, to the morale of the Brotherhood if not at any of the buildings, he led Alnesr down to the stables and the both of them mounted freshly-provisioned horses.

 

Returning to each one of the cities that he had previously visited, this time with Alnesr by his side, Altaïr was able to find out that the remaining Templars were congregating at the main port in Acre. He did not yet know just where they were planning to go from there, but with the information network that he was now in charge of, it would be a more simple matter than usual to find out where they planned to head after their various leaders had been killed.

 

Working closely with Alnesr, and alongside Acre’s Rafiq Jabal, Altaïr was able to find out that the Templars were not going to depart immediately, but were instead gathering their brethren in Acre so that they would be able to depart in force from the port. It was then that Altaïr realized what the next best course of action would be.

 

“Alnesr, you stay here and keep an eye on the situation,” he said to his brother Assassin, once the two of them had returned to Acre’s Bureau for the day. “I will return to Masyaf and speak with Malik.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” the younger Assassin said, nodding sharply.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

Seeing Altaïr off, Alnesr turned back to Jabal once more. “Will you let me know if anything important happens? I should probably eat.”

 

“And then sleep, I think,” Jabal said, smiling in that gentle way he had.

 

“Yes,” Alnesr said, chuckling gently as he lowered his gaze. “I thank you for your concern, Jabal.”

 

Leaving the Bureau’s front room so that he could take his meal and then rest in comfort, Alnesr gathered some dried figs and dates from the stores, along with a jug of water to quench his thirst, and made for the small table just opposite the pile of blankets and cushions that served as a bed within the room where he now sat. Once he had finished with his meal, Alnesr set his weapons aside and settled down to take his rest for the night.

 

Once he had awakened the next morning, Alnesr rearmed himself and made his way out to where Jabal was waiting for him. It had always seemed to be that way: the Rafiq of whatever Bureau he and Altaïr had stayed at would appear at their desk before either he or Altaïr had come out to speak with them, and to a man they had always appeared fresh and rested. There were times that he wondered what the daily life of a Rafiq truly entailed, but then he would remember his own duties as an Assassin.

 

Here and now, Alnesr resolved again to remember his own duties and so not to concern himself with those of others.

Chapter Text

Speaking with Jabal, Alnesr found that the Informants had been assigned to monitor the activities of the Templars making their way into the city, which rather removed the necessity of him leaving the Bureau at all. Thanking Jabal for his consideration, though he found himself rather at loose ends in light of it, Alnesr made for the other room within the Bureau to hone his skill.

 

He did not know just how his body had been affected by the time that he had spent blind and all but helpless under the influence of the Apple’s power, but Alnesr was determined to restore his skill – if such a thing did indeed prove to be necessary – or else to improve it. He had also resolved to ask Altaïr if there had been something more that had happened when he had been released from the Apple’s power.

 

Something that would explain the way that his brother Assassin had looked over his shoulder for the first moments of Alnesr’s own returned awareness.

 

Training occupied a great deal of his time, and he also spoke with Jabal about what the Rafiq had learned of the Templar’s aims. It seemed that they were indeed making for the port, there to depart for one of their other strongholds. He and Jabal speculated on where they might have been going, but they both ultimately decided that such conjecture was futile with their present lack of knowledge.

 

However, he did receive news that Altaïr and a squad of their brother Assassins was making their way into Acre.

 

The citizens would not be permitted to know about their movements, of course, but Alnesr was at least pleased that he would have the chance to speak with Altaïr once more. Waiting in the Bureau’s secondary room for his former mentor and their brother Assassins to arrive, Alnesr smiled softly as he watched Altaïr and his chosen group descending once more into the Bureau.

 

“I see you waited for us, Alnesr.”

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling gently as his former mentor and father-in-all-but-blood made his way over to the table where he had set out food for them.

 

Altaïr thanked him for his consideration, and Alnesr accepted such thanks gracefully. Once he, Altaïr, and their brother Assassins had finished the meal he’d set out for them, Alnesr turned his attention to his former mentor as Altaïr began to discuss their next course of action. He contributed to the conversation when he was called upon to do so, and eventually it was decided that he and Altaïr would confront the Templars who had stationed themselves at Acre’s main port, while their brother Assassins would swiftly deal with any other Templars who sought to make their own way to the port.

 

Following swiftly on the heels of one of his brother Assassins, Alnesr made his way back up to the rooftops of Acre for the first time in what felt like entirely too long. He knew that such thoughts were false, considering that he and Altaïr had made their journey into this place not such a long time ago. Still, after he had spent an interminable amount of time bound within the power of the Apple, he couldn’t help the feeling slightly trapped when he could not see the open sky.

 

He wondered for a long moment if he would ever properly recover from such an ordeal, but Alnesr quickly put such thoughts out of his mind; he was an Assassin, he would will his way through.

 

Following Altaïr as he and the rest of their brother Assassins made their way to the main port of Acre, moving over the rooftops alongside Altaïr while the larger part of their group blended into the large crowd of citizens making their way into and out of the large, main port of Acre. For a moment, Alnesr felt as he always had when he’d done the Brotherhood’s work under the stern, exacting guidance of his former mentor. Still, there was a thought in the back of Alnesr’s mind that had not been there before.

 

It was as though he was only now aware of a presence just behind his eyes; one that seemed to watch all of his activities with a cold sort of scrutiny, one that did not seem to have anything but the most innocuous intentions, and yet one that Alnesr found that he could not bring himself to trust in the slightest.

 

Making up his mind that he would speak to Altaïr about such things as he had experienced when the two of them truly had a free moment to speak, Alnesr turned his full attention back to the infiltration that lay before him. Though infiltration seemed too grand a word for what they were doing, considering that he’d not seen a single Templar guard, or even a guard who was not a Templar, for that matter.

Chapter Text

He had a long moment to wonder if he and Alnesr would encounter any resistance this night, or if their brother Assassins had managed to dispose of them all on their way in. It would be all the more fortunate for them if such were indeed the case, and yet he thought that Alnesr might not appreciate such a thing. The sound of far-off people speaking in low tones drew his attention to the group of guards making their way through the harbor, clearly on patrol.

 

Signaling to Alnesr to follow his lead more closely, Altaïr moved closely along the harbor wall, taking care to keep out of sight even as he watched the guards separating from one another. The foremost guard was now almost directly under his and Alnesr’s position, and as Altaïr leaped lightly from the rooftops, he wondered if the guard’s thoughts were of home. If he missed his home, in England or France, and the family he might have left behind.

 

He wished, as he drove his hidden blade into the guard’s neck, that he could have found another way.

 

Watching as Alnesr descended – silent, swift, and deadly – upon the former guard’s partner, Altaïr allowed himself a moment to sigh, before turning his attention to whatever guards might remain to challenge them. As it turned out, however, the rest of their brother Assassins had come to meet with them here. Issuing orders to them in a low tone, so as not to arouse the attention of any other guards. However, the presence of more of the Templars’ forces in the area was hardly something that could be ignored.

 

Leaving the Templars in the capable hands of his brother Assassins, Altaïr signaled Alnesr to follow him back up to the rooftops. There was a gnawing fear at the back of his mind: that he had waited too long to gather his forces; that the Templars would have already departed from the harbor while he had been gathering the necessary forces that he thought would be needed to face them.

 

When he and Alnesr made it to the top of the harbor’s perimeter wall, looking out over the sea, Altaïr found that his misgivings had more ground in reality than he would have honestly preferred: he could see a small fleet of Templar ships, barely visible in the gathering darkness, departing over the Mediterranean Sea. Cursing lowly, even as he heard Alnesr sighing, Altaïr turned swiftly and began making for the heart of the docks.

 

He could hear the sounds of far-off battle, and while pleased to note that it did not seem to be drawing closer in any way, he could also hear the greater intensity of the battle as more of their brother Assassins arrived to reinforce those who were already present. He could also hear Alnesr, following swiftly along behind him, and a fleeting smile passed over his face. They may not have been in time to put a halt to the Templars’ evacuation of the area outright, but Altaïr was determined to at least prevent them from establishing themselves once more.

 

He was certain that the key to doing such lay within the fortress that presided over Acre’s docks; the fortress where he had cornered Sibrand the last time he had come to this city.

 

Trusting Alnesr to follow him, Altaïr moved swiftly forward into the fortress. The pale gray stone, washed nearly colorless in the weak light of the moon and stars, absorbed the sounds of his and Alnesr’s footfalls as they made their way inside. The inside of the fortress seemed completely free of Templar presences, a notable contrast from when Altaïr had last been present in this place; he and Alnesr climbed various stone stairways until they came to a balcony, where he could hear the sound of voices raised in conversation.

 

One of them, the one who gave him the strongest feelings of both elation and dismay when he heard her voice, was the woman who had been present at Majd Addin’s funeral to prevent him from being able to attack Robert de Sable the second time that he had tried; he’d no care for the other two Templars.

 

“Where are my ships, soldier?” the woman demanded, clearly displeased to have been forced to wait as she was now. “I was told there would be another fleet of eight.”

 

Taking a glance out over the darkening sea, Altaïr saw the small fleet of Templar ships that the woman had doubtless been speaking of. He wondered for a moment just how many others had previously departed while he and his brother Assassins had been deliberating, and also if he could have done anything more to stop them. But no; Alnesr and Jabal were the only ones present and hence in any position to have done anything at the time, and he would not have risked Alnesr’s safety on such a foolish gambit in any case.

 

“I’m sorry, Maria, but this is the best we could do,” one of the remaining Templar soldiers said, sounding genuinely contrite.

 

He was pleased to be able to hear the woman’s name once more, and to be able to observe her without being observed in turn, but he could not help but to wonder just what had occurred to bring her to this state. Yes, he had killed Robert de Sable, but surely her own skills as a warrior was not an asset that the Templars wished to squander. Narrowing his eyes in thought, Altaïr settled back to observe, signaling Alnesr to do the same when the younger Assassin looked askance at him.

 

“How do you propose to get the rest of us to Cyprus, then?” she asked.

 

He wondered just what the Templars could want in Cyprus.

 

“Begging your pardon, but it might be better if you stayed in Acre,” the soldier said, sounding rather hesitant about voicing such an opinion.

 

Altaïr wondered at that, as well; perhaps this was yet one more thing that separated he and his brother Assassins from the Templars that they fought. He himself had met women who had chosen to dedicate themselves to the Brotherhood, few enough as they were; whether driven to escape the strictures of their former lives, or else simply wanting to be something more, Altaïr would never have been so callous to disparage his sister Assassins – rare as they were – for encountering an opponent beyond their current skill.

 

“What? Is that a threat?” Maria asked, sounding far more cautious than she had previously.

 

“It’s fair warning,” the Knight said, his tone neutral but hardly unkind. “Armand Bouchart is Grand Master now, and he doesn’t hold you in high regard.”

Chapter Text

Catching Alnesr’s eye, he saw the younger Assassin nod. It seemed they would not have such a simple time dealing with these Templars as he’d once thought; they were not so leaderless as he had surmised. A troublesome development in some respects, and entirely unsurprising in others. While he may have despised the Templars’ means to achieving the goals they pursued – the goals that he and his brother Assassins shared – he was not so arrogant as to think them less intelligent than himself.

 

Not after all he had done during the course of his hunt for the nine Templars who had once held such power within the Holy Land.

 

“Why you insolent…” Maria bridled for a long moment, but then seemed to force herself to regain her composure. “Very well. I shall find my own way to Limassol.”

 

“Yes, milady,” the Templar said, bowing as he left.

 

Maria was left alone on the balcony, and as Alnesr came to stand beside him, he could hear Maria beginning to speak to herself in the tone of one who had been completely fed up with a situation.

 

“Damn. I was a single heartbeat from knighthood,” she groused, pacing the length of the balcony and then back again. “Now I’m little more than a mercenary.”

 

Moving softly forward, even as he signaled Alnesr to stay behind and guard their backs, Altaïr admitted to himself that there was not simply a practical purpose behind his current actions. He was not fully aware of the nature of the regard he held for this woman named Maria, but he would not deny that it was present and that he felt it, all the same. Such would have been the height of foolishness, and so an insult to his brother Assassins and the work they did.

 

“Well,” she said, calming quickly after she had spun to see him so swiftly. “It’s the man who spared my neck, but stole my life all the same.”

 

He’d little time to wonder what she meant, before her blade was out and she had fallen upon him with the fury he was so familiar with from Addin’s funeral. The fury that made him wish, for those breathless pauses between the swing of their respective blades, that he could convince her to renounce her allegiance to the Templars. Still, such a thing would ultimately depend on how deeply she believed in the ideals that the Templars held.

 

It was, much as he would regret such a thing, entirely possible that he would be forced to kill her as he had the rest of de Sable’s fellow Templars.

 

Sparing a quick glance at Alnesr, he found the younger Assassin intently watching for any of Maria’s fellow Templars that might have taken an undue interest in the battle that he and the woman were participating in atop the balcony where they might have been glimpsed by those beneath. He did not know if the prospect of Maria’s fellow Templars coming to her aid was a likely one, given that she had been associated with a fallen Grand Master of their Order, but he was pleased to know that Alnesr was prepared for them in such an event.

 

When he found himself with his back to the balustrade, Altaïr wondered for a pair of heartbeats if Maria would manage to force him over it and into the sea. He knew that Alnesr would act to save him, could not help but know it after all that the pair of them had been forced to endure, but Altaïr could not stop the thought from running through his mind. It would be a rather ironic fate, to be bested by one that he himself had bested in the past, and beyond that he did not in any way relish the thought of being made to swim.

 

Unlikely as he knew it would be for Alnesr to allow him to fall into the sea itself, such a thing might very well be beyond the younger Assassin’s control in the event that he were bested by this woman.

 

However, in her desperation to win she became rather careless, and Altaïr was able to regain the initiative once more. Spinning and kicking her legs from under her, Altaïr pounced, holding his blade to her throat. Alnesr’s soft footsteps came up beside him, but Altaïr kept his eyes upon Maria. He knew that his brother Assassin would understand the reason for his caution in such a case.

 

“Returned to finish me off, have you?” she demanded, looking with defiance at him, while sparing only the briefest of glances at Alnesr.

 

“Not just yet,” he said, maintaining his composure even in the face of his fascination with the woman he found before him; it was slightly more difficult than controlling his anger, but as he was a curious person by nature, Altaïr could not truthfully say that he had been unprepared for such a thing. “I want information: why are the Templars sailing to Cyprus?”

 

“It’s been a long, dirty war, Assassin,” she said, grinning confidently at him; he suspected that such was a façade, but could not help admiring her nerve once more. “Everyone deserves a respite.”

 

He bit back a smile, even as he continued holding her at bay; he knew that Alnesr would have questions for him after this, and he almost welcomed them. “The more you tell me, the longer you live. So I ask again: why the retreat to Cyprus?”

 

“What retreat?” Maria asked, clearly having regained her mental footing. “King Richard has brokered a truce with Salah Al’din. Your Order is leaderless, is it not? Once we recover the Apple of Eden, you’ll be the ones running.”

 

He caught Alnesr’s eye briefly, and the two of them shared a knowing glance. The two of them were fully aware of just how difficult their brother Assassins would make such a thing, if the Templars did indeed seek to attack Masyaf once more. He was also fully aware that the Brotherhood did have a leader, though he was not about to enter into such a discussion with Maria; not as long as she maintained her ties to the Templars and hence her support of their methods.

 

“The Apple of Eden is well hidden,” he said, carefully not looking to Alnesr; the two of them both knew that the artifact was still in his quarters, and thus not all that well protected as it might otherwise have been.

 

Conversely, there was also less of a chance of someone who was not prepared to resist the lure of the artifact taking hold of it if it stayed close to him; thus, there were advantages and dangers to every course of action he could take with regard to it.

 

“Consider your options carefully. The Templars would pay a great price for that relic.”

 

“I would say they already have,” Alnesr muttered, his tone mordantly amused, as the two of them led her down from the balcony and out of the fortress.

 

He and Alnesr had soon gathered together with their brother Assassins once more, and Altaïr took a moment to hear their reports in what privacy he could find in their current situation. Out of the corner of his left eye, he could see Alnesr and Jabal speaking with one another, and he was pleased that the younger Assassin had taken initiative where Maria was concerned. Once he had heard the reports, Altaïr made his way over to where Jabal and Alnesr stood.

 

“What’s happening on Cyprus that would concern the Templars?” he asked, having made up his mind to follow the Templars to their new stronghold.

 

He and Alnesr would journey to Limassol.

Chapter Text

“Civil strife, perhaps?” Jabal suggested, his hands spread in confusion. “Their emperor, Issac Comnenus, picked a fight with King Richard many months ago, and now he rots in a Templar dungeon.”

 

“A pity,” he mused aloud. “Issac was so easily bent. So willing to take a bribe.”

 

When they stopped at the harbor steps, Altaïr watched as Maria was led past them, her chin held high in defiance. It was all he could do not to smile; it was clear that, in spite of the people she served, Maria was a worthy opponent. Altaïr still wished that she could be something more, however.

 

“Those days are past,” Jabal said, returning his attention to the present. “Now, the Templars own the island. Purchased from the king for a paltry sum.”

 

“That is not the sort of government we wish to encourage,” he muttered, narrowing his eyes in thought. “Do we have any contacts there?”

 

“I know of one in Limassol,” Jabal said. “A man named Alexander.”

 

“Send him a message,” Altaïr said, turning back to the Rafiq. “Tell him to expect us in a week.”

 

“You wish for me to come with you, Altaïr?”

 

“Yes,” he said, nodding to Alnesr as the younger Assassin came to stand beside him. “You and I have done good work in the past, and I would appreciate the presence of one I know I can trust fully at my back.”

 

When Alnesr thanked him for the confidence that had been shown to him, Altaïr reflected upon the secondary reasons that he wished to have Alnesr present on this next mission. It was not simply because of the bond they had shared as master and apprentice, nor was it simply because they had worked well together in the past. Because while those were both valid reasons in and of themselves, he also wished to keep Alnesr close because the younger Assassin had been bathed – trapped, really – in the light of the Apple, and come out.

 

He wished, more than anything else, to ensure that his brother Assassin would not suffer any ill-effects from what had happened to him.

 

He also wished to find out who the man in black robes that he had briefly glimpsed within the light of the Apple. He knew now that it was not Al Mualim, as he had burned the man’s body and the man in black robes had not made a single move. And also, while he’d not gotten a clear glimpse of the robed man’s face, the way the man had moved when Altaïr had seen him had not been at all similar to the way that Al Mualim had moved.

 

Still, he knew that it would be best if he and Alnesr were able to speak in private, so Altaïr turned his attention back to the preparations he was making to sail. He would need more supplies than merely his own weapons and those Alnesr was carrying, and so Altaïr made is way to the docks to secure himself a ship so that he, Alnesr, and Maria would be able to depart for Cyprus and their next mission.

 

~AC: BL~

 

Narrowing her eyes as she watched the Assassins scurrying around, attending to their various tasks, Maria ground her teeth at the thought of what she was being subjected to. Being captured by these Assassins was a humiliation that she could barely tolerate; particularly that arrogant one that she had faced in combat. The one that had bested her, and then not even had the decency to take her life once he had done so. There was also the matter of that strange, yellow-eyed boy in Assassins’ robes that had been standing so close to him.

 

It seemed that the two of them were as close to one another as she had been to Robert, something that she could understand, if not sympathize with.

 

The Assassins had gathered at the docks now, and Maria found herself being hustled onto the ship that was soon to depart for the island of Cyprus; and beyond that to Limassol castle. Holding her head up proudly, unwilling to let these Assassins have the pleasure of seeing her brought low. The eyes of the Assassin who had bested her were upon her again, as well as the pale yellow of the boy he seemed so close to. The defiant expression she gave the man was answered merely by a smile, and she scoffed in response.

 

He was a fool for underestimating her in such a way, and she would do all in her power to ensure that he regretted such a thing.

 

Once the three of them had boarded the ship, settling in as well as they could manage with the persistent atmosphere of wariness that could not help but be present under such circumstances, Maria secluded herself as far away from the pair of them as she could manage under such cramped conditions.

 

~AC: BL~

 

He was willing to admit, if presently only to himself, that he was intrigued by Maria and so appreciated the opportunity that he had been given to come to know her better. She had a strength and conviction about her that reminded him of his fellow Assassins, and he’d found himself wishing once more that he’d had the chance to speak to her on more civil terms. Still, perhaps he would have that chance while they were in Cyprus.

 

Setting out his journal and the Apple both, Altaïr began recording his observations about the artifact, all the while pondering upon its intended nature and purpose. If there was any good to be found within the Apple, Altaïr hoped to find it; however, if the Piece of Eden was only capable of bringing misery and strife, he could only hope that he had the strength of will to destroy it.

 

All of this he recorded in his journal, reflecting on the Apple and what its ultimate purpose might be; and also on the connection that Alnesr seemed to have to it.

 

Closing his journal and tidying his desk, Altaïr carefully tucked the Apple away where it wouldn’t be easily found by someone searching his room. A knock at his cabin’s door drew his attention before he could begin to settle down in earnest, and Altaïr made his way over calmly. Alnesr’s familiar, pale yellow eyes shown in the darkness when he opened the door, and he gestured for the younger Assassin to enter when Alnesr paused at the threshold.

 

“Altaïr,” the younger said, hesitating for a moment as though he was unsure if he would be permitted to speak, but only for that single moment. “What was the expression on your face when you subdued that Templar woman?”

 

“Maria,” he mused, not caring for a moment that he had spoken the name aloud and hence was likely to be questioned for it. “In her way, she reminded me of one of our brother Assassins; she has conviction and dedication, and while I cannot but disapprove of the cause she serves, I fully admire those traits in anyone.”

 

“I suppose you would know her better than I,” Alnesr said, still seeming rather bemused; Altaïr could not find it in himself to rebuke the younger Assassin, since he himself found his actions bemusing.

 

“Get some sleep,” he advised, once it had become clear that Alnesr had run out of words to say. “Best we both be rested when we arrive in Cyprus.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” his brother Assassin said, sounding for a moment as uncertain as he had when the two of them had stood together in the Temple Mount.

 

Reaching out to clasp his brother Assassin’s shoulders, Altaïr smiled calmly. “It is nothing against you to have been taken aback by this. In truth, I myself hardly know what my heart wills in this instance.”

 

“Few enough of us do, I suppose,” Alnesr said, seeming to compose himself, his bemused expression softening.

 

Chuckling softly in response, Altaïr bid the younger Assassin good night, and returned to his quarters to prepare himself for sleep.

Chapter Text

When they arrived upon the docks at Limassol, Alnesr saw that the place was indeed swarming with Templars; hurrying from place to place, watched by a resentful but clearly cowed populace. It was clear that he and Altaïr would need to search diligently if they were to meet up with the resistance that had doubtless formed in response to the oppression that the Templars put in place in every area where they had come to power. Steeling himself for what was to come, Alnesr made his way back into the ship to rejoin his brother Assassin.

 

Making his report in low tones, low enough so that the Templar woman Maria would not be able to overhear them without making her attempts to do so more than obvious, Alnesr paused to await further instructions, and found himself sent to fetch ropes to bind Maria’s hands. Leaving to do just that, Alnesr returned to find that the woman had been stripped of anything that would have identified her as a Templar. Handing over the ropes he had been sent to fetch, Alnesr found the eyes of the Templar woman boring into him.

 

“What are you looking at, boy?”

 

“A captive,” he said, in response to the scorn he could see in every line of her face.

 

She scoffed. “I suppose your mother wouldn’t have had time to teach you manners, considering how long you’ve clearly been staying with this oaf.”

 

“Oaf indeed,” Altaïr chuckled. “Alnesr, stay close when we leave the ship,” his brother Assassin said, turning his attention slightly away from his binding of the Templar woman’s hands. “It may be that we will both need each other’s aid before this day ends.”

 

“I expect you have the right of it again, Altaïr,” he said, as the Templar woman scoffed.

 

She grumbled at the pair of them as they hustled her out of the ship, and Alnesr was wary as he took his first steps out onto the docks of Limassol. They were beginning to clear of citizens as the sun sank, but the Templar presence was actually increasing. It was not a situation he was overly fond of, but he was not such a one to complain about things that could not be changed. Or, as in the case of the Templars, things he himself would be working to change.

 

They disembarked from the ship and made their way down the docks, Alnesr moving to stand opposite the Templar woman as she grumbled and swore at the pair of them. She truly was beginning to remind him of the few sister Assassins that he had met during the course of his life; of course, such a thing was not an entirely welcome prospect, as none of his sister Assassins would have been slow to resist their captors, either.

 

“What if I just started screaming?” the Templar woman asked, the annoyance in her tone bringing a perversely sort of amused cast to Altaïr’s face; Alnesr could see it out of the corner of his right eye.

 

“People would cover their ears and carry on,” Altaïr said, amusement suffusing his brother Assassin’s tone. “They’ve seen an unhappy slave before.”

 

Alnesr knew, however, that beneath his play at mere amusement Altaïr was just as aware or the severity of their situation as he himself was. For there were too few people about in the streets, even with the hour becoming as late as it was, and as their group passed into the back streets of the city, Alnesr saw that the emptiness truly could not have been mere an artifact of the late hour at the docks. Else the three of them would have glimpsed more people walking the main roads when they caught sight of them through the maze of buildings.

 

It was not long after that, however, that Alnesr caught sight of another man coming their way, and another beside him.

 

“This port is off-limits,” the man at the forefront said, coming over to where the three of them stood. “Show your faces, strangers.”

 

“There is no one under these hoods we wear but a pair of faceless Assassins,” Altaïr said, sounding amused at the men that were standing before them.

 

Watching as Altaïr and this new man, apparently the Alexander that the two of them had come to this place to meet, spoke of what they had come to this place for and just why it was that the woman Maria was with them, Alnesr made a point to keep his eyes upon the woman so that he would be aware of any action she might think to take against them and their allies. The five of them continued on their way through the city, passing beyond the port and out of sight of the boats that had been moored there, walking at a steady pace so as not to draw attention to themselves from what Templars might have patrolling the city at this late hour.

 

Looking up, Alnesr saw that their small group was steadily coming closer to a large, old-looking warehouse at the far edge of the city they had arrived in. He suspected that this was to be where they would be staying for the duration of their mission to deal with the remaining Templars who had fled to this place, and as they all made their way inside, he found that he was perfectly right. While Altaïr checked the ropes that bound the Templar woman’s wrists, Alnesr himself watched for anyone who might have chanced to come close enough to catch a glimpse of the pair of them while they were gathered there.

 

He did not see anyone, and while he was pleased to note such a thing, Alnesr could not help but to wonder how long it was going to be before they encountered more of the Templar’s forces.

 

Following closely behind Altaïr as the two of them made their way inside, Alnesr tensed slightly as Maria’s eyes passed over him. He did not know, precisely, what it was that the Templar woman was planning, but there was no way that he could mistake someone who had a plan for escape when he looked in their eyes. He’d not be able to make proper contact with Altaïr until the pair of them had been settled within the warehouse and had a chance to get away from the Templar woman.

 

Altaïr led Maria into the warehouse, and he followed his brother Assassin into the warehouse where the pair of them would be staying.

Chapter Text

“I won’t assume you’re here out of charity,” Alexander said, as the two of them settled themselves down at the small table in what seemed to be a living area within the safehouse that the man had spoken to them of. “Can I ask you what your purpose here is, Altaïr?”

 

“It’s a complicated story,” Altaïr said, though he seemed rather impatient to leave. “But, it can be summed up easily: the Templars have access to knowledge and weapons far more deadly than anyone could have imagined. I plan to change this. One such weapon is already in our hands: a device with the ability to warp the minds of men. If the Templars possess more like it, I want to know.”

 

“And we can certainly trust the Assassins to put the Apple of Eden to better use,” the Templar woman, Maria, piped up with a cutting tone.

 

“Where are the Templars holed up now?” Altaïr asked, seemingly uncaring of the fact that Maria had spoken in the first place.

 

“In Limassol Castle, but they’re expanding their reach,” Alexander responded easily, though he sounded increasingly grim.

 

It wasn’t a thing Alnesr found himself wondering about; the reasons for the man’s feeling on the matter were obvious.

 

“How, then, do I get inside?” Altaïr asked.

 

Alnesr listened as Alexander laid out what information he had about Osman, the Templar whose sympathies were more aligned with the Cypriot Resistance than those he purported to serve.

 

“Kill the captain of the guard,” Alexander advised, his eyes dark and solemn. “With him dead, it’s likely that Osman will be promoted to the post. And if that happens, well, you could walk right in.”

 

“Alnesr, I would like you to stay here while I attend to this matter,” Altaïr said, pinning him with a determined gaze as he rose from the table. “I don’t wish to take chances with a Templar among us, so I would have you give them your aid if she manages to escape.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” he said, not knowing how he felt about being left behind, but pleased all the same to be of use.

 

Altaïr left, to attend to the matter of Osman and the current captain of the Templar guard, and Alnesr himself turned his attention back to Maria where she stood among the members of the Resistance. The Templar woman seemed quite a bit more at ease than she had been before his brother Assassin had departed, perhaps thinking that he himself would not be as capable of combat as Altaïr, ten years his senior. If she was hoping for such a thing to be true, then she would be fully disappointed.

 

He might not have had the full benefit of Altaïr’s twenty-five years of life, but even his own fifteen years of life as an Assassin would tell, in the end.

 

“Well, boy, it seems as though your master had left you to your own devices,” the Templar woman said, looking at him with disdain as the two of them were left to face one another. “How ever shall you cope.”

 

“Yes, it would seem that we will be forced to spend more time in each other’s company,” he returned, narrowing his eyes as he looked the Templar woman over.

 

“What do you even think you could do if I chose to attempt to escape your grasp, boy?” she asked, her expression becoming one of clear, arrogant disregard for him.

 

“I would stop you, Templar,” he said, stepping closer to the woman as the two of them faced each other.

 

“Oh?” the Templar woman stepped over to him, using her height in what he could see to be an obvious effort to intimidate him. “How do you think you would manage that?”

 

“You should not take me so lightly, Templar,” he said, standing firm in the face of the Templar woman attempting to loom over him. “I am not the helpless child you seem so determined to see me as.”

 

There was a long moment, during which Alnesr was not certain if he and the Templar woman would be forced into combat by their own pride, before she smiled tightly at him.

 

“Fearless little thing, aren’t you,” the woman said, sounding like she could not help but to approve of him, in spite of their respective affiliations. “It’s too bad that you’ve been raised Assassin. We might have done good work in the world.”

 

“I might say the same to you,” he returned, prompting the Templar woman to laugh softly.

 

The two of them fell into a more comfortable silence then, moving back over to the table where he and Altaïr had been sitting while Alexander had been speaking to Altaïr of what he could expect when he sought out the captain of the Templar guard in this area. The two of them settled down at the table together, and some of the Resistance served them food while they waited for Altaïr to return after his work had been completed.

 

Eating the meal that had been served to them, Alnesr heard the sound of someone making their way back into the safehouse, and looked over to the entrance to see that it was indeed Altaïr as he had begun to expect.

 

“Osman is making the arrangements as we speak,” Altaïr announced, as he made his way deeper into the safehouse where the main room where the Resistance were all staying.

 

“Excellent, now what?” Alexander asked, coming over to stand beside the table where he and the Templar woman were seated.

 

“We give him some time,” Altaïr said, then turned his attention to the Templar woman. “He also told me about the Templar archive. Have you heard of such a thing, Maria?”

 

“Of course,” the Templar woman said, sounding as though she was attempting to be deliberately flippant. “That’s where we keep our undergarments.”

Chapter Text

Altaïr sighed, feeling as though he might despair for a moment; tossing those feelings aside, he turned to face Alexander once more. “Cyprus would be a good location to safeguard both armor and weapons. With the proper strategy, it’s an easy island to defend.” He stood, nodding to Alnesr as he did. “Osman will have had time to clear the walls of the castle now. Alnesr, you have done well to guard Maria as well as you have thus far, and so I wish for you to continue.”

 

“As you say then, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, nodding as he rose from his seat so that the two of them could bid each other farewell.

 

He swiftly departed from the safehouse, making his way over the rooftops to Limassol Castle so that he could truly begin his mission to clear the influence of the Templars from this island, so that they could be free once more, and also so that he would be able to find out just what it was that this man knew about the Templar archive that Osman had spoken of. His curiosity had been roused by that, and now Altaïr intended to satisfy it.

 

Or, at the very least, to make an earnest attempt to do so.

 

Stealthily approaching the courtyard of the castle he was making to infiltrate, Altaïr saw that Osman had indeed lowered the number of guards present outside atop the walls of the castle, and those walking the perimeter of the grounds below him. He was pleased to know that he’d not been led astray once more, and so he smiled slightly as he scaled the wall near the ramparts. Felling one of the nearby guards with his throwing knives drew the attention of one who was yet closer, and that one swiftly met his death at Altaïr’s sword.

 

Lowering the dead man to the stone floor of the castle, Altaïr swiftly removed his blade from the man’s back and continued onward. Continuing deeper into the corridors before him, disposing of what guards he needed to as he encountered them, Altaïr allowed himself a soft sigh of relief. Osman truly had done his job better than Altaïr had let himself hope for: not only were there fewer guards patrolling the walls and inside the outer courtyard, but there also seemed to be a distinct absence of the same within the castle, as well.

 

He was pleased to know that he’d not placed his trust mistakenly again.

 

Pushing aside the lingering unease he felt, not quite certain why he felt such a thing but knowing that it would only distract him from the work he was doing, Altaïr continued on his way. Onward and upward he climbed, steadily moving deeper into the castle, until he came to a balcony overlooking an inner-courtyard that was currently being put to use as a training field. For a moment, before he regained his composure, Altaïr was reminded of Masyaf and all of his brother Assassins training there.

 

Then, he caught sight of Fredrick the Red, and such thoughts were wiped clean from his mind; the man was every bit the brute Osman had described him as being. He could hear the Templar commanding his men, and as he watched for an opening that he could use, Altaïr took note of the man’s words. They were nearly the same as those he’d heard from Montferrat’s own mouth, and while he supposed that such a thing was only natural in the case of two such men who seemed so similar, he wondered for a moment if he and his brother Assassins shared such a manner of speaking.

 

Such thoughts lead almost inevitably to curiosity as to how Alnesr himself was fairing, and if he and Maria were getting along at least reasonably well, but Altaïr pushed those thoughts aside and focused his attention on the Templar speaking in the courtyard below him; this was the task he had before him now, so all that remained was to carry it out.

 

~AC: BL~

 

When he and the Templar woman had settled back down at the table opposite one another, Alnesr was given only a few minutes to reflect on what his and Altaïr’s task in this place was to be, before a member of the Resistance he’d not had the chance to meet before this moment came running into the room.

 

“Assassin, there are Crusader Knights approaching the safehouse!” the man shouted, tone and manner making his panic all the more plain to any who looked.

 

Alnesr could perfectly understand the temptation to succumb to such feelings, under the circumstances; though he also understood that he could not let himself be among them. “How many? And, how fast do they approach?”

 

“A great number of them,” the man said, and Alnesr noted with pleasure that this new man seemed to be swiftly regaining his composure.

 

“I’ll not be such a fool to think that you had a part in this,” he said, turning to the Templar woman so that she would take his meaning as he spoke. “Even so, it seems that we are discovered, and hence must move quickly. Stay with me; Altaïr gave you into my keeping, and I’ll not disappoint him.”

 

“Yes, I expect you won’t,” the Templar woman said, wearing an enigmatic smile as she came over to stand with him.

 

Putting thoughts about what the woman might have been thinking aside – he’d far more pressing matters to attend to at this of all times – Alnesr turned his attention back to those members of the Resistance whose lives were now in his hands. “All of you, scatter yourselves into the city. Go to another place that you might be safe; any other safehouses that you might know about. Send someone to meet with me or my senior when you feel it is safe to do so.”

 

Alexander and his remaining men all nodded to him, calling out that they would be well and that they would meet him again when they had managed to settle themselves in another one of their hidden strongholds. When the last of them had departed, he reached for the Templar woman, that the two of them might make their own way through the city until the Resistance members sought them out once more, the sudden scent of smoke and fire drew his attention.

 

“Damn! Looks like your companions won’t have this place to come back to anymore,” the Templar woman growled, as the flames licking at the outside of the building began to become visible, eating away at the walls.

 

There was truly no point in allowing himself to become distracted by idle chatter, particularly when there remained a task for him to complete. Something that Altaïr had asked of him, when it had become clear that there was something more to the Apple than the two of them – or, truly, anyone as far Alnesr himself was aware of – had suspected at first. Running over to the sack that Altaïr had so casually dropped upon a crate at the midpoint of what was about to become a former warehouse, Alnesr scooped it up and hurried back over to where the Templar woman was still standing.

 

“I certainly hope that was worth the time you wasted fetching it,” she said, not looking or sounding particularly impressed with his actions of the past few moments.

 

“Can I trust you with this?” he asked in return, narrowing his eyes slightly as he continued to watch the Templar woman now walking beside him.

 

“Trust?” she laughed, though it seemed rather more amused than scornful to his ears. “That’s an odd thing for an Assassin to speak of, boy.”

 

“Why do you say such a thing?” he returned, even as the pair of them ran out from the dangerously burning building that had once been as safe a shelter as could exist on contested ground such as this.

 

They’d no more time for conversation after he spoke those words, however: as soon as they left the temporary shelter of the burning building, the Templar soldiers who’d doubtless been the ones to put the safehouse to the torch in the first place came running out of wherever they had managed to conceal themselves when they had been moving into position.

 

“So, this is what we find when we come hunting for rats,” the man facing them, one who looked about as tall as Alnesr remembered Robert de Sable being, clad in heavy armor, and he even bore more than a superficial resemblance to de Sable, though his face was thinner and his cheeks and eyes more sunken. “A traitor and a child.”

 

“Bouchart,” the Templar woman snapped, narrowing her eyes at him as the two of them faced the leader of the Templars and the men he had brought with him. “I’d wondered when you were going to show your face.”

 

“So, when did you sell yourself to that Assassin?” the Templar; Bouchart, apparently. “And what was your price?”

 

“I’ve nothing to say to you,” the woman snapped.

 

There were no more words exchanged between them, and Bouchart called for his soldiers to attack them. Alnesr unsheathed the sword he’d been presented with when Altaïr had ascended to the rank of Master of the Syrian Assassins, bringing it up to guard himself as he turned back-to-back with the woman who’d once been part of the Templars. It was clear that the woman was not going to be part of that organization anymore.

 

He wondered just what she would do from now on, without the support of the organization she had been part of for so long, since it was clear that she was not particularly fond of Altaïr and his fellow Assassins. Still, he’d little enough time to think of anything else but the Templars attacking him. It was nearly the same as all of the other times that he’d been forced to face the Templars beside Altaïr.

 

He did not know exactly how he and this woman would be able to work with each other, but for the first few moments of the fight, the two of them were able to hold off the forces of the Templars attacking them. Then, though some kind of terrible serendipity, one of their attackers managed to slash the back of his left hand and cause him to drop the sack that contained the Apple, the artifact clattering to the ground and rolling slightly. The eye of every Templar around them turned toward the sack that had formerly been clenched in his left hand.

 

The entire group of Templars attempted to dive for the pile of cloth that had formerly concealed the Apple that Altaïr had been so interested in for so long. Alnesr attempted to drive them off as well as he could manage, but Bouchart managed to lay his hands to the artifact before he could do the same, and then all Alnesr could see was the bright, white light…

 

“Welcome back, Alnesr Ibn La’Altaïr.”

Chapter Text

When she saw the brilliant flash of colorless light from just behind her, Maria turned to see just what in the world had happened, and saw the large, broad-shouldered form of Armand Bouchart standing over the smaller form of the little Assassin whose name she couldn’t remember at the moment. She knew that the boy had one, since everyone who hadn’t been raised by particularly strange people had one, but at the moment it had slipped from her mind while the two of them had been fighting the Templars who had attacked them.

 

Turning, to see the boy standing idle before Bouchart as the old Templar reached out for him, Maria narrowed her eyes.

 

“Move, you fool boy!” she shouted, leaping over to cover the child so he wouldn’t be cut down for his lapse.

 

Bouchart grabbed for the boy’s shoulders, pulling him close without the boy seeming to have the mind to resist him, but when he turned the boy around she saw his eyes. His eyes were no longer the strange, pale yellow that they had once been, instead they glowed softly white in the same manner as the Apple was doing even as she watched. Clenching her teeth, Maria raised her sword and attacked Bouchart. The man seemed to think that, as she was a woman, she would be hesitant to attack him while he stood behind a child.

 

Conversely, after having been forced to spend even as little time as she had among the little Assassin and the man he had called his senior, Maria knew that the boy wouldn’t flinch from what she was about to do; in fact, he was more like to welcome it than anything.

 

Thus, when she attacked, Maria managed to catch that old bastard flat-footed, nearly carving a fresh wound in his corpselike face. And, while such a thing would have been rather satisfying – very few of her former fellows had been so willing to accept that she wanted to serve beside them as Robert had – Maria contented herself with forcing him to leap back, dropping the Apple and releasing the boy almost at once. Driving him back with relentless sweeps of her sword, Maria swept up the Apple and grabbed the boy’s robes near his left shoulder to pull him along as she began to run.

 

She did not know just where the pair of them would be able to take shelter from the Templars that were even now hunting them, but at the very least Maria was determined to escape from Bouchart; she’d once thought to tell him and the soldiers he commanded of the things she had been able to see during the time she’d spent in captivity with the Assassin and his fellows, but now… Bouchart could go hang, she would make contact with another, more level-headed Templar.

 

Or, perhaps…

 

Maria threw that thought aside with more force than she’d ever used before, dragging the little Assassin along by the shoulder, searching for a place that she might take shelter in while she determined just what the devil had happened when he’d touched the Apple. She’d never seen anyone react to the artifact in the manner of the little Assassin, but it was also a fact that she had never before seen anyone with the particular hair- and eye-coloring that the boy possessed, either.

 

There could easily be some sort of connection between the two things; in any case, she could find out such when she made it to a place she could shelter from the Bouchart and the remaining Knights he had pursuing her.

 

~AC: BL~

 

When he had managed to escape the remaining guards stationed within the castle that had previously sheltered Fredrick the Red, killing those who he could not quite manage to outrun, Altaïr swiftly made his way back over the rooftops toward the safehouse. Finding it in ruins, Altaïr forced himself to regain his composure as he looked down upon the destruction that had been wrought. He knew that Alnesr would have had the sense to leave, and he had to believe that Maria would have done the same under the circumstances.

 

Now, seated high in a tower in the shade of a large bell, Altaïr looked down. There was a great deal more movement in the streets than he’d noticed while he had been making his way back to the safehouse, and Altaïr was curious enough – and without other options at the moment – to follow it back to its source. Sure enough, with the safehouse destroyed, the Templars were mobilizing once more.

 

Drifting up from the crowd, Altaïr heard talk of revenge and reprisals – the townspeople feared them; from the Templars, and also from those they were hunting, while Altaïr found disappointing but unsurprising – and many mentions of the name Armand Bouchart. He’d not heard the name before, but as it seemed that he had just arrived on the island, it was to be expected. It seemed that the man was already forming a reputation as fearsome, unjust, and cruel; even if he’d not been a Templar, Altaïr would have felt compelled to deal with him.

 

If only to ensure than no others suffered under his rule of even an island such as this.

 

He was, at the least, pleased to note that neither Alnesr nor Maria had been captured by these new Templars that he was observing. Bouchart seemed to have some qualities in common with Robert de Sable before him: the two of them both being tall, powerfully-built, and clad in full armor. Bouchart wore no helm at the moment, so Altaïr could see his face rather clearly from the rooftop where he crouched: in stark contrast to de Sable’s strong-featured face, Bouchart had a rather sunken, cadaverous look about him.

 

“A foul murder has shaken my Order,” Bouchart bellowed, in a voice loud enough to command the attention of every citizen in the square, and to carry clearly up to the rooftops, besides. “Dear Fredrick the Red, slain in his very castle. He, who served God and the people of Cyprus with honor, is paid tribute by a murderer’s blade? Who among you will deliver those responsible to me?”

 

Such was always the way, among Templars: always seeking to use the fear of their fellow men against any who might have thought to rise up against their tyranny.

 

“Cowards!” Bouchart roared into the silence. “You leave me no choice but to flush out this killer myself. I hereby grant my men immunity until this investigation is concluded!”

 

“Bouchart,” Osman said, having shifted uncomfortably in the background of the conversation before working up the nerve to speak. “The citizens are already restless,” he looked down into the sea of muttering, shifting citizens. “Perhaps this is not the best idea.”

 

Upon the rooftops, Altaïr winced as Bouchart’s expression twisted in furious rage; it seemed that he, the same as most of his brethren that Altaïr had encountered, was not one accustomed to having his orders questioned. The matter of whether he considered such a thing to be insubordination or not was answered in a particularly final manner when Bouchart drew his sword and plunged it into Osman’s gut. Altaïr sighed in regret as he watched Osman crumple to the ground with a stunned shout that echoed around the square, cradling his stomach and writhing on the steps as he died.

 

His death rattle echoed across the crowd, shocked silent by the sudden brutality that Bouchart had demonstrated; Altaïr, however, knew that this was rather typical for the leaders of the Templars. Still, seeing another good man dying a needless death saddened him.

 

“If anyone else has objections, I invite you to step forward,” Bouchart said, after having wiped his sword clean on the right arm of Osman’s tunic.

 

Osman’s body shifted slightly, left arm hanging loose over the steps; his sightless eyes stared up at the sky. Needless to say, there were no further objections.

 

~AC: BL~

 

Having evaded her pursuers, Maria ducked into another abandoned warehouse, settling down atop a pile of empty crates and pulling the little Assassin over so that she could sit him down on another crate next to the one where she had sat down, herself. She’d seen glimpses of a man in black robes, sometimes standing next to the boy, and at times wrapping his arms possessively around him, for nearly as long as she had held the Apple. Maria wondered who the man was, and if any of those Assassins even knew what they were facing.

 

She also wondered if any of her fellow Templars knew about the man, or the little Assassin that seemed to be so deeply connected to the Apple he haunted.

 

The sound of footsteps on the grounds outside prompted Maria to stand up, pressing the Apple into the little Assassin’s hands, and also prompting the man in black to look over at her with the shadow of an arrogant smile on his lips. Turning away from the man, forced to let go of the Apple and allow the strange man to vanish, Maria turned her gaze to the far side of the room. She darted over to the door, drawing her sword and swinging it down upon… another sword that blocked her own.

 

“Assassin,” she greeted. “So, it seems as though we keep meeting in this manner.”

 

“Indeed, or something close to it,” the Assassin said, looking pleased for a moment, before he glanced over her shoulder and saw the little Assassin sitting on the crate.

 

~AC: BL~

 

The sight of Alnesr, once again lost within the light of the Apple, drew his attention before he could say more than a simple greeting to Maria. She seemed to understand, however, and stepped aside so that he could attend to the younger Assassin. Making his way over to where Alnesr had been seated, Altaïr allowed himself a moment of gratitude to Maria for protecting him as she had; he knew, after all, that it would have been so utterly simple for Maria to guide Alnesr into a Templar stronghold while he had been lost within the light of the Apple.

 

He was, and long would be, grateful that she had not chosen to take such an action; not only because Alnesr would likely have died in the hands of the Templars who took him captive, but because of what Maria’s choice might have meant for their future. If she was, in the end, willing to discus such a thing. Altaïr hoped that she would, at the very least, be amenable to a discussion on the matter.

 

For the moment, however, he needed to concentrate if he was to give what aid Alnesr would need to free himself from the Apple’s power. Altaïr wondered once again just how the connection was that Alnesr had with the Piece of Eden had been forged, and what its nature truly was. He also wondered about the man in black robes that he’d so briefly glimpsed when he and Alnesr had both maintained contact with the Apple itself; he wondered if, in some strange way, Al Mualim had been able to survive the destruction of his body.

 

If the Templar who had deceived the Brotherhood for so long had willingly abandoned his body for the shelter of the Apple, and was now attempting to exert his will through Alnesr by proxy.

 

However, when Altaïr drew close enough to lay his own right hand atop the Apple, his first sight of the man in black robes – arms wrapped around Alnesr’s neck in a particularly possessive fashion – served to disabuse him of that notion: for one thing, this man was far younger than Al Mualim had been when Altaïr had been forced to take the traitor’s life; his chin smooth and beardless, and both of his eyes bright and clear. The veritable waterfall of hair also gave the lie to the assumption that this man had ever been Al Mualim. However, it was the color of both this man’s hair and eyes that drew Altaïr’s attention more strongly than nearly any other thing other than this strange man’s presence in itself.

 

The man in the black robes had eyes as yellow as Alnesr’s own, and hair that was nearly the same shade of brilliant silver; had their facial features had any commonality to them, aside from the smoothness of youth they both shared, Altaïr might have thought that the man in black was a member of Alnesr’s family. However, before he could consider the matter in any depth, the man in black pushed lightly against Alnesr’s chest, and vanished back into the Apple with only a small, sly smile. Altaïr doubted that such a thing boded well for any of them; Alnesr in particular, of course.

 

“Altaïr?” his brother Assassin asked, holding his head and looking more lost than he had seen the first time he’d broken Alnesr free from the Apple’s grasp. “What… What has happened?”

 

“You were nearly lost within the Apple again; I begin to think I should not have left it so close to you, worried though I was about someone finding it on the boat,” he said, reaching out to clasp Alnesr’s right shoulder as he helped his former Apprentice down from the crate where he’d been sitting.

 

“Did you see the man in black, Assassin?” Maria asked, drawing his attention to the fact that she had actually chosen to remain in the room with them, even in spite of the fact that neither of them had acted to bar her way in any manner.

 

“I did,” he replied, as he stepped back to allow Alnesr to stand on his own feet once again.

 

However, it was not Maria but Alnesr himself who continued the conversation from there: “Man in black? What is it that the two of you are speaking of, Altaïr?”

 

“You couldn’t see him, boy?” Maria asked, addressing Alnesr for the first time since the three of them had met up once more.

 

“I’ve no inkling who either of you are talking about,” Alnesr said, sounding as though he wished to come off as stoic, but the uncertainty he was prey to coming through clearly to the one who had known him for nearly all of his life; Altaïr could not fail to see what moved his brother Assassin’s heart. “I’ve not seen a man in black since… Al Mualim,” Alnesr finished, a touch more of his uncertainty showing through.

 

“He seemed far more bound to the Apple than you once were,” he said, as Alnesr looked askance to him.

 

“Yes, but what I would like to know is just how the man came to be bound to the Apple in the first place,” Maria said acerbically. “It hardly strikes me as something an ordinary man could manage.”

 

“No; I would hardly call such a thing ordinary at all,” he said; beyond that, there was also the matter of just what the man’s connection to Alnesr was, because even aside his clear possessiveness of Altaïr’s brother Assassin, the physical similarities could not be ignored.

 

“I suppose I’d need to stay with the pair of you, if I’m to find out anything about that other,” Maria said, sounding as though the very prospect irked her to no end; Altaïr suppressed a smile. “Don’t expect me to betray my Order for this, Assassin. I’m doing this strictly to satisfy my own curiosity; that Apple clearly holds more secrets than any of us know.”

 

“Of course,” he replied, carefully holding himself back from smiling or giving any hint as to how he truly felt about the matter. “We should find the safehouse that the Resistance members relocated themselves to after the fire,” he said, turning his attention to Alnesr and observing the way his brother Assassin seemed to come back to himself in the presence of a task to be completed.

Chapter Text

“Yes, I suppose you’d better find out just what the next plan of my Order is, so you can go about foiling it,” Maria said, sounding distinctly unimpressed with the pair of them.

 

If Altaïr had been inclined to think in such a way, he might have considered that she was only saying such a thing to remind herself not to start to like working with either of them; all he did, however, was continue to bite back the smile that he could feel trying to spread across his face at the prospect of spending more time with Maria. Whatever her reasons for wanting to travel with them as she did, Altaïr was determined to make the best of the situation. And, perhaps she would even discover a reason to stay; he held some hope for that, at least.

 

When he and Alnesr ascended back onto the rooftops to make their way to the new safehouse that the Cypriot Resistance maintained, Altaïr heard Maria scoff up at the pair of them as they climbed.

 

“So, this is how you and yours always seem to vanish when we pursue you,” she said acidly. “I wonder how much this new knowledge will get me when I return to my Order.”

 

“I doubt many of them would be able to make use of it,” he volleyed back, allowing himself to smile now that he was not within Maria’s line of sight any longer. “Templars are not truly suited for activities such as this.”

 

“I’ll show you what Templars are suited for,” Maria growled, and Altaïr turned to see her climbing the very wall of the building that he and Alnesr had just crested the top of.

 

She had little of the smooth, easy grace that he’d seen demonstrated by his brother Assassins, but for one who had clearly never climbed in such a manner before, Maria was somewhat skilled in the purely physical aspect of an Assassin’s lifestyle. Signaling Alnesr to wait while Maria clambered to the rooftop to stand beside them, Altaïr suppressed his smile once more as he turned to her.

 

“That was well done,” he said, because it was true and because he was rather pleased with her accomplishment on a more personal level than he knew she would have preferred.

 

“Don’t sound so smug, Assassin,” Maria retorted, narrowing her eyes and raising her chin; he couldn’t help but want to smile in response.

 

Whatever else could be said about the woman, it was clear that she was not one to quail from even a self-imposed challenge.

 

As the three of them made their way over the rooftops on their way to the new safehouse that he had managed to find out about from the members of the Cypriot Resistance, Altaïr took note of Maria’s inexperience with moving as they did, and also of her clear unwillingness to be thought a burden in this or any task she found set before her. It was just one more facet of her character that Altaïr found himself admiring.

 

When they reached the new location of the safehouse, Altaïr watched from the side of his eyes as Maria descended from the rooftops after he and Alnesr had done so. She had a modicum of confidence from being able to follow them as well as she had, something that Altaïr had been pleased to see, as well. Her own return to the ground was somewhat less graceful than either his or Alnesr’s own, but such was only to be expected considering her relative inexperience with moving as an Assassin learned to.

 

Given time, and perhaps the proper motivation, Altaïr rather thought that Maria would make a fine Assassin; it only remained to sway the woman herself to their side. Not an easy prospect, he knew, but Altaïr had determined to do it all the same.

 

Falling into step with Maria and Alnesr as the three of them made for the safehouse before them, Altaïr greeted Alexander calmly as the Resistance leader waved him inside.

 

“I’ve somber news,” he said, once the Cypriot had finished speaking to him of what had occurred in his absence. “Osman is dead, during a demonstration by the Templar Armand Bouchart; he expressed sympathy for the Cypriots, and so Bouchart killed him.”

 

“That is indeed tragic news,” Alexander said, shaking his head sadly. “Still, despite his bravado, Bouchart must have been warned by someone within his forces; my sources tell me that, after destroying our safehouse, he immediately sailed for Kyrenia.”

 

“That’s a shame,” he said, frowning. “I was hoping to meet him. What’s the fastest route there?” he asked.

 

He still planned to meet with the Templar, if only to interrogate him about the Archive, and then to dispose of him so that the people of Cyprus could be free once more. Leaving the safehouse with Alnesr and Maria in tow, though he wouldn’t have said anything of it to Maria herself, Altaïr made for the docks to find a ship. Blending in among the crowds within the city, Altaïr took what chances he could to observe Maria as she kept pace with them.

 

The three of them were able to travel as a monk – Altaïr himself – a Novice studying under his guidance – Alnesr – and his consort, negotiating passage in the hold of a ship so that they would be able to sail to Kyrenia.

 

When the three of them had managed to settle themselves with reasonable comfort down in the hold of the ship, Altaïr carefully swaddled the Apple and bundled it away within a pouch concealed in the folds of his robes. He did not want to chance Alnesr being caught up within its light again, though he was now more curious than ever about the man in black that appeared to have bound himself within the Apple. He’d not risk Alnesr’s safety simply to satisfy his newfound curiosity, of course, but he was at least aware that there was something more he’d been unaware of concerning the Apple.

 

Watching as Alnesr and Maria settled themselves down to sleep after their exertions during the past day, Alnesr beside him and Maria as far from him as she could manage within the bounds of the tale they had crafted, Altaïr took out his journal and began to write:

 

I struggle to make sense of the Apple of Eden, its function and purpose, to say nothing of the man shrouded in black that seems to appear and disappear as he pleases from within it. Here he paused a moment, looking over Alnesr as the younger Assassin slept, arms folded loosely over his chest and hips. Also, what his connection might be to Alnesr is also a mystery. However, I can say with certainty that its origins are not divine. No; it is a tool, a machine of exquisite precision. What sort of men were they, who brought this marvel into the world? And, what of this man in black, who seems to haunt it?

Chapter Text

At the sound of Maria shifting in her sleep, Altaïr swept the Apple up and concealed it within his robes once again. Closing his journal, Altaïr looked down at Alnesr where he slept, smiling softly as he stood up. Stepping over the sleeping bodies of a pair of crewmembers, Altaïr came over to where she sat, settling down next to her where she leaned up against a stack of wooden crates. As Maria sat up, she tucked her knees up to her chest, clasping her arms around her legs; for a long moment, the two of them simply listened to the creaking and slapping of water against the hull of the ship.

 

“How did you find yourself here?” he asked, turning to look at her even as she looked his way.

 

“Don’t you remember, holy man?” she asked archly, her voice low enough that it wouldn’t carry. “You brought me here; I’m your consort.”

 

“I mean, here in the Holy Land,” he clarified. “Here, in the Crusades.”

 

“I should be at home, with a lap full of crochet, and one eye on the gardener?” she huffed, sounding supremely unimpressed.

 

“Isn’t that what Englishwomen do?”

 

“Well, not this one,” Maria said, raising her chin proudly. “I’m afraid I’m what you’d call the black sheep of my family. Growing up, I always preferred the boys’ games. Dollies weren’t for me, I’m afraid; much to my parents’ continued exasperation. I used to pull their heads off.”

 

“Your parents’?” he asked, smiling slightly.

 

Maria laughed. “My dollies’. Of course, my parents did everything they could to knock the tomboy out of me, and so, for my eighteenth birthday they gave me a special present.”

 

“And, what was that?” he asked, amused by her wit and yet curious as well.

 

“A husband.”

 

“You’re married?”

 

“Was,” she said. “His name was Peter. And he was a lovely man; Peter, just…”

 

“What?” he prompted, as she trailed off.

 

“Well, that was it,” Maria said. “Just lovely. Nothing else; you could say that Peter had hidden shallows.”

 

“So, not much use as a playmate, then,” he said, smiling slightly.

 

“In no sense was Peter much use as a playmate,” she said, sounding supremely unimpressed. “My ideal husband would have embraced those aspects of my character that my parents wanted to excise. We would have gone hunting and hawking together; he would have tutored me in sports and combat, and imbued me with learning. But, he did none of those things, of course. We’d soon enough retired to his family seat – Hallaton Hall in Leicestershire – where, as the lady of the house, I was expected to manage the staff, oversee the running of the household, and of course produce an heir or two. Two boys and a girl, preferably; and in that order,” she smiled, wryly amused, though at what Altaïr was not entirely certain of. “But, of course I failed to live up to his expectations as miserably as he failed to live up to mine. The only thing I cared for less than the hierarchies and politics of the staff was child-rearing, and especially the birth bit that comes beforehand. After four years of prevarication, I left. Fortunately, the Bishop of Leicester was a close, personal friend of the elderly Lord Hallaton, and he was able to grant an annulment rather than risk having this silly, impetuous little girl cause the family further embarrassment,” Maria “harrumphed” softly, though she still seemed rather pleased. “I was, of course, persona non grata at Hallaton Hall; indeed, in the whole of Leicestershire. And, returning home, the situation was no better. Hallaton had demanded his bride-price back, but Father had already spent it. In the end, I decided it was best for everyone if I made myself scarce, so I ran away to the Crusades.”

 

“As a nurse?”

 

She grinned, fierce and proud as he had ever seen her. “No; as a soldier.”

 

“Truly?”

 

“You have seen how adept I am at disguising myself as a man, yes?” she asked, a slight challenge to her tone, but smiling all the same. “Did I have you fooled, that day at the cemetery?”

 

“I knew you weren’t de Sable, but…”

 

“You didn’t anticipate me being a woman,” she said, a pleased cast to her face, as he ran out of words. “You see? Years of being a tomboy paid off.”

 

“And, de Sable? Was he fooled?” he asked, allowing himself to smile; he knew not how she would take it, but this conversation of theirs gave him the hope that they might build a rapport.

 

“I liked Robert, at first,” she said softly, and Altaïr sensed more than saw her rueful smile. “He certainly saw more of my potential than Peter did. But, of course he saw how I might be exploited. And it wasn’t so long before he was doing so,” she sighed, seeming to be reflecting on something. “It was fitting that you killed him. He was not a good man, and never was worthy of whatever feelings I had for him.”

 

“Did he give you that?” he asked, gesturing to the signet ring that glittered upon her right hand.

 

“Yes,” she said, after looking at it for a long moment, the expression on her face suggesting that she had briefly forgotten she had possessed the item at all. “It was a gift from him when he took me under his wing. This is about all I have left of my ties to the Templars, now.”

 

The silence that fell between them was awkward for a moment, before Alnesr inadvertently broke it by moving closer to him. The younger Assassin did not say anything, merely moving closer to Altaïr; he rather thought that Alnesr might have felt the need for reassurance, after the ordeal he had faced twice now. He fully understood; the man in black troubled him as well, and he’d not been taken captive by the man. Even if Alnesr’s mind had been addled by the Apple, Altaïr could fully understand his need for comfort.

 

“Did you study philosophy, Maria?” he asked, after Alnesr had settled himself more comfortably against his right side.

 

“I’ve read scraps, nothing more,” she said, looking at him with a dubious expression.

 

“The philosopher Empedocles preached that all life on Earth began simply, in rudimentary forms: hands without arms, heads without bodies, eyes without faces. He believed that all of these early forms combined, very gradually over time, creating all the variety of life we see before us. Interested?”

 

“Do you know how ludicrous that sounds?” she asked, all but yawning.

 

“I do,” he stated simply, as Alnesr moved slightly closer, mumbling tiredly. “But I take comfort in the words of philosopher Al-Kindi: one must not be afraid of ideas, no matter their source. And we must never fear the truth, even when it pains us.”

 

“I hardly see the point of your ramblings,” she said, with a laugh that sounded warm and sleepy.

 

He looked down to where Alnesr lay, wondering if he had misjudged her, in the end. Perhaps she was not yet prepared to go seeking after the truth, as those who had been raised among the Brotherhood were always prepared to do. However, the clear ringing of a bell in the distance let him know that they had arrived at Kyrenia, and he spared a moment to wake Alnesr, and then the three of them stood.

 

“Only a mind free of impediments is capable of grasping the chaotic beauty of the world,” he said, looking back at her. “This is our greatest asset.”

 

“But, is chaos something to be celebrated?” she asked, and Altaïr smiled to hear the question; it seemed she was, indeed, open to learning more of the world as it truly was. “Is disorder a virtue?”

 

“It presents us with challenges, yes,” he said, knowing that nothing less than the complete truth would satisfy her, and also that he would offer such in any case. “But freedom yields greater rewards than the alternative. The order and peace the Templars seek requires servility and imprisonment.”

 

“Altaïr and I have seen such things firsthand.”

 

Alnesr’s words, true as they were, were not what ultimately drew Altaïr’s attention. No, he was given to notice the words of the two apparent bounty hunters who had specifically mentioned their small group of three as being worth some greater or lesser amount of money. Likely greater, since such was more apt to persuade those kinds of men to ignore the threat posed by an Assassin’s skill and training.

 

Particularly when compared to common cutthroats such as these.

 

Dealing with them did not take particularly long, and Altaïr found himself rather pleased to be able to fight beside Maria and Alnesr both. Though he knew that she would say that such a thing was only so that she could satisfy her stated curiosity about the man in black, Altaïr made up his mind to appreciate the extra time in spite of what Maria would doubtless claim was the cause. As the three of them made their way out of the ship, Altaïr carefully maneuvered himself so that he would be able to watch her as she fought.

 

She was truly skilled with a blade, and though he’d long since known the fact from his previous encounters, Altaïr still found himself pleased to have the opportunity to observe and reconfirm such a fact once more. The three of them worked rather well together, and though such was like as not to be a futile endeavor, Altaïr wished for a moment that he could somehow convince Maria to join her strength to the Brotherhood. She not only had the skill, but more and more it was becoming clear that Maria had the mind for such a life, as well.

 

Resolving once more to speak to Maria in more depth when he could, so that he would be able to find out what it was that she truly wanted out of life, Altaïr allowed himself to breathe more easily as the last of the pirates fell dead to the ground.

Chapter Text

“What is your business with us, strangers?” Alnesr asked, and Altaïr made his way over to stand beside his brother Assassin as he questioned the men now standing before them. “Are you Templar spies?”

 

“No, sir,” the man standing at the forefront of the group said, sounding as though he were trying not to stammer fearfully after witnessing the battle that had just taken place. “The pirates attacked, and I had to see if I would be of use. I can’t stand the Templars.”

 

Altaïr smiled, even as Maria scoffed. “I know; you’re not alone,” he said, nodding to the man as he cleaned and the sheathed his sword.

 

“My name is Markos, sirs,” the man said, bowing to the three of them. “I’ll help in any way I can, if it means ridding my country of these Crusaders.”

 

“Then, I’ll need you to keep this woman safe, until my brother and I return,” he said.

 

Safe?” Maria scoffed. “After all you’ve seen me do, you still think me some fragile flower that needs protecting?”

 

“Far from it,” he said, allowing a small smile to show, before sobering. “But, I would not ask you to walk between your loyalties in such a matter.”

 

Maria smiled thinly. “I wouldn’t have thought you had the honor for that, Assassin. If I’m not careful, I might actually start to admire you.” She barked a roughly amused laugh. “Go on, then. You’ll need a head-start, if you’re to take on my Order.”

 

Altaïr did not know, precisely, how he felt about Maria continuing to describe the Templars as her Order, but given her tone it had almost sounded as though she was doing it to antagonize him to some greater or lesser degree. An odd thing to consider, if such were indeed true, but given all that he had learned of Maria’s character it was starting to seem all the more plausible.

 

He and Alnesr followed Maria and the Resistance members to the safehouse, this one having the outward appearance of a grain silo, so that they would at least know where it was and how best to return to it when they had completed their objective. Meeting up with the leader of this particular cell, a man named Barnabas, he directed Alnesr to take a moment to rest while he spoke to the man.

 

“I’ve been following Armand Bouchart,” he said, as he, Alnesr, and Barnabas all sat together on sacks of grain.

 

“Ah, is Bouchart in Kyrenia?” Barnabas asked. “He’s probably visiting his prisoners in Buffavento.”

 

“Buffavento? Is that a keep?” Alnesr asked, seeming to have had enough rest to at least make himself heard.

 

“A castle, yes,” Barnabas said, his expression questioning when he looked over at the younger Assassin; Altaïr could only be grateful that it was not wary or scornful. “It was once the residence of a wealthy Cypriot noblewoman, until the Templars seized her property.”

 

“Can you take me there?” he asked, frowning at the greed the Templars always seemed to display.

 

“Well, I can do more than that,” Barnabas said. “I can get you inside without the guards batting an eye. But, you must do something for me, first. For the Resistance.”

 

~AC: BL~

 

Turning her eyes away from the Assassin who vexed her such a great deal, Maria found herself contemplating the younger Assassin he traveled with.

 

“Tell me, boy: do you truly have no memory of the man in black?

 

“Nothing,” the little Assassin admitted, though Maria took note of the way he waited for the members of this latest group of theirs to pass out of earshot before he did so. “If you wouldn’t find it too much trouble, might you describe him to me?”

 

“He seemed a man in his prime,” she said, observing the hesitant way the little Assassin looked to her; she was starting to think that his stoicism was more a product of his age, rather than the way he had been raised. “I suppose one might call him handsome, but his manner was for too arrogant to persuade any but the most coddled of dullards. Oddly enough, he had your coloring; not only so far as his skin, but even to the hair and eyes.”

 

“What?”

 

“I hadn’t thought to see anyone else with that coloring, but it does indeed seem that you are not so odd as I once thought,” she said, studying the little Assassin as he folded his arms, a thoughtful expression overtaking his face.

 

She did not know just what was in the little Assassin’s mind, but Maria found her own mind turning back to the man in black that had revealed himself to her and that Assassin. She’d not been prepared for such a thing, seeing a phantom in the shape of a man appearing from within the Apple itself. Even the black robes he wore, though she might have dismissed them if another person were to ask her about such, didn’t quite seem normal.

 

They had appeared, during the short time she had been able to see the man clearly, to be made of heavy leather rather than anything approaching normal cloth; the bits of silver around the collar, that seemed not to be a part of the central silver striping, did not seem to be made of any kind of cloth, either. The striping and collar-piece were not the only silver upon the odd leather cloak, but for the life of her Maria could not truly determine what the tassels were for.

 

She supposed that they could have been strictly ornamental, but somehow Maria thought that that was not their true purpose.

 

Still, contemplating the wardrobe of the phantom within the Apple was not truly what she was going to devote her attention to, save to note that the Apple the man inhabited could not be returned to the Templars. Her Order would not hesitate to use the Apple, even with the man who seemed to haunt it, and she was not at all certain that she wanted to see what such a man would be capable of when in contact with her Order.

 

Particularly considering the way he had been able to possess the little Assassin’s mind; she didn’t know if there were others like him among the Templars, but as she’d not had the chance to meet all of them she had no real way of knowing if such was the case, and either way she preferred not to chance it after she had seen the way the little Assassin had reacted. He’d not done anything, aside from being raised the way he was, and Maria held no enmity against the child personally. She also knew that her fellow Templars would not take such a stance in regard to any member of the Assassins, not even a child.

 

It was another reason that she was not at all eager to reveal the little Assassin and his circumstances to them.

 

Still, during the time that the two of them had spent together before being forced to confront Bouchart and the fools working for him, Maria had become rather curious about the boy and just how he had come to live under the command of the elder Assassin. Turning back to the boy, Maria waited for him to settle back down on the bench beside her, before turning to him.

 

~AC: BL~

 

Making his way back into the safehouse that the Cypriot Resistance maintained, Altaïr made for the bench where he could see that Alnesr and Maria had sat down beside one another.

 

“Well, it seems as though there’s a hefty price on all our heads,” he said, as he came within earshot of the pair of them; he wondered just what the two of them had found to speak of, but he was not particularly concerned with such a thing as yet.

 

Perhaps he would ask Alnesr later.

 

“A price?” Maria demanded, sounding distinctly annoyed by the prospect. “Goddamn Bouchart. He probably thinks I took this one’s place as your apprentice,” she made an annoyed gesture in Alnesr’s direction.

 

“Someone called the Bull has dispatched his men to search for us,” he informed her, raising his eyebrows as she cursed harshly.

 

“The Bull? So they gave that zealot his own parish.”

 

“I take it he is no friend of yours,” he stated, wondering how she knew the man – had he worked closely with de Sable, or had Maria not stayed close to his side at all times – though he doubted he would learn such a thing easily.

 

“Hardly,” Maria scoffed. “His name is Moloch; a pious blowhard with arms like tree trunks.”

 

Turning at the sound of another approaching, Altaïr found that Markos was the one making his way over to where the three of them all sat on the bench that Maria and Alnesr seemed to have claimed for themselves.

 

“Do you know the Resistance safehouse in the Commons?” he asked the man.

 

“I know where it is, but I’ve never been there before,” the Cypriot said. “I’m just a foot soldier for the Resistance.”

 

“Alnesr and I will be able to make it there on our own, but would you escort Maria?” he asked. “All other considerations aside, the three of us should not be seen in each other’s company,” he continued, turning his gaze to Alnesr so that his brother Assassin would understand the true import of his words.

 

“I know some back-alleys and tunnels,” Markos said, looking around as he, Alnesr, and Maria all stood up to leave. “It may take some time, but we’ll get there in one piece.”

 

“Thank you,” he said, nodding to Markos and Maria both, as he and Alnesr turned to take their own leave of this safehouse.

Chapter Text

As he and his brother Assassin split from one another so that they would not be so easily discovered while they traversed the rooftops of the city, Altaïr reflected upon all the turns his life had taken lately. He would have never thought to be the Master of the Syrian Brotherhood, much less that Al Mualim would betray everything the Brotherhood stood for merely by gaining the Apple. He wondered, for a moment, if even such as that had been due to the influence of the man in black.

 

But no; everything that Al Mualim had done had seemed to stem from something within the man himself.

 

As he came within sight of the other safehouse that the Cypriot Resistance maintained, this one closer to the new location where he would need to be. Alnesr nodded to him as he approached from another direction, somewhere between perpendicular and parallel, and the two of them made their way back down to the ground and from there into the new safehouse that the Resistance maintained. He found Barnabas at the back of the room, lounging on sacks of grain that had been seemingly laid out for just that purpose, the man roused himself as though from slumber, shifting and stifling a yawn.

 

“I just got word that someone found poor Jonas’ body,” he said with a sneer in his voice. “What a waste, eh?”

 

As the Cypriot brushed grain from his robes, Altaïr forced himself to regain his composure. He might have been forced to work with this man by sheer necessity, but he was not fond of him on any real level. He took no pleasure in the death of others, but Barnabas seemed to be one of those that did. Altaïr held no love for those kind.

 

“You knew him better than I,” he said. “I’m certain he knew the risks of attempting to play both sides.”

 

“Yes,” Barnabas continued. “Unfortunately, this has complicated things. Jonas was a respected Cypriot, and his death has sparked riots near the Old Church. The public is hungry for revenge, and the Bull will tell them you were responsible. You may lose the support of the Resistance.”

 

“But, Jonas was a traitor to the Resistance,” he said; the nagging instinct that he’d ignored before, to his own detriment when he’d been forced to kill Al Mualim in defense of the Brotherhood and the world that they protected, became all the louder and more urgent. “Did they not know that?”

 

“Not enough of them, I’m afraid,” Barnabas said; Altaïr tried not to appear to be observing him too closely. “The Resistance is quite scattered.”

 

“Well, you’ll have the chance to tell them yourself,” he said, wondering just what Barnabas would say to that. “Some men are on their way here now.”

 

“You’re bringing more people here? People you can trust?” Barnabas asked, his tone and expression both concerned.

 

“It’s worth the risk,” he said, resolving to speak to Alnesr about his misgivings during this next task that lay before them. “Right now, I need to see these riots for myself.”

 

“And, per our bargain, I’ll see what I can do about getting you close to Bouchart. A deal’s a deal, after all.”

 

Even as Barnabas tried to smile at him in a way he seemed to mean to be comforting, Altaïr found that he still did not trust the man’s motives. There was simply something in his manner that rung as false. Standing and beginning to make his way out of the safehouse, Altaïr nodded to Alnesr as the two of them began to scale the wall of the building nearest to them.

 

Standing atop the rooftop for a few moments, he briefly discussed his plans with his brother Assassin, and the two of them parted company so that they would not be so easily spotted while there was a price on both their heads. Moving over the rooftops once more, Altaïr made his way steadily toward the destination, bent on observing the goings on there.

 

The church was the sight of more unrest than Altaïr had yet witnessed, with the notable exception of the time directly following his confrontation with Al Mualim. Altaïr narrowed his eyes, watching as Templar soldiers and guards cordoned off the marauding citizens that had already done so much damage to their surroundings. He could see smashed, overturned, and broken carts, crates, and barrels littering the streets, and the sounds of an angry crowd below. He’d heard such before, yes, and even been the cause of such a thing, but he’d no more love for it than the first time.

 

Alnesr joined him, and after a few moments more of watching the crowd from their perch – moments during which Altaïr decided that he and Alnesr would have to deal with the Bull if they were to restore peace to this region – he and Alnesr swiftly departed. Cursing himself, even as he paced Alnesr back to the new safehouse that the Resistance had established, Altaïr wondered, not for the first time, if he had allowed himself to be used for another task that he would not have performed if he had simply paused to think about who it was who had given it to him. And yes, he remembered that Al Mualim had once been the Master of the Syrian Brotherhood, and so he might be forgiven by another for not questioning him in that instance.

 

Still, he would be a long time forgiving himself for his own foolishness.

 

When he and Alnesr descended back to the street before the new safehouse, and from their making their way inside again, he searched in vain for Barnabas. Alnesr was the one who thought to seek out Markos and Maria, while Altaïr mastered himself and awaited them. They’d not met up with Barnabas on their travels, and that was simply more proof of Altaïr’s own foolishness in his eyes. He’d not listened, and he’d not questioned, and now a man who likely did not need to die had paid for such a thing with his life.

 

“Alnesr, could I speak with you a moment?”

 

“Of course, brother,” the younger Assassin said, following in his wake as Altaïr made his way to a secluded section of the safehouse.

 

“I fear I have allowed myself to become complacent,” he said, once the pair of them had passed beyond the hearing of any of the other Resistance members.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I had no love for Barnabas; he seemed a man too taken with what power he held here, and yet I allowed myself to believe that he’d been appointed as leader by the Resistance here,” he said, knowing that Alnesr had lived with him long enough to parse his words if he was not being entirely clear in his phrasing. “Still, I allowed myself to ignore what misgivings I had about him, and now I fear that an innocent man has died for it.”

 

“I am sorry to hear that, Altaïr,” his brother Assassin said.

 

There was no recrimination in Alnesr’s tone, but for a moment Altaïr almost wished there would be.

 

“Come, we should find what it is we’re to do next,” he said, mastering himself once more; it was foolish to think that Alnesr would denounce him for a single mistake after the two of them had lived and worked together for so long.

 

“What’s going on out there?” Markos demanded, once he and Alnesr had sought the man out again. “The city is in turmoil; I’ve seen riots!”

 

“The people are protesting the death of a citizen; a man named Jonas,” he said. “Have you heard of him?”

 

“My father knew him well,” Markos said, sounding stricken. “He was a good man. How did he die?”

 

“Bravely,” he said, forcing himself to look into Markos’ eyes even in spite of the way he felt his heart sinking ever lower. “Listen, Markos: things have become complicated; before I find Bouchart, I need to eliminate the Bull and put an end to his violence.”

 

“You’ve quite the taste for chaos, Altaïr,” Maria said sardonically; even in spite of her tone, Altaïr liked the sound of his name on her lips.

 

“The Bull is one man responsible for the subjugation of thousands,” he said, attempting not to smile. “Few will mourn his loss.”

 

She shifted slightly, a subtle expression of what Altaïr thought might have been approval in her eyes. “And, what? You propose to simply fly into Kantara, sting him, and exit unnoticed? The man surrounds himself with devoted worshippers.”

 

“Kantara,” he echoed, knowing the place that she spoke of but still wanting to be reminded; this was the first time he’d brought Alnesr with him to Cyprus, after all. “That’s to the east, yes?”

 

“Yes,” she said, giving him a sidelong look that he could not quite interpret. “It’s the most well-defended,” she smiled thinly. “Never mind; you’ll both see for yourselves.”

 

“I trust we will,” he said, smiling in gentle amusement at her continued defiance in even the smallest matters; she may have stated that it was simply curiosity that bound them together, and so far as he could see that was that she wished to believe such was the case, but for his part Altaïr hoped… well, such was not important at the moment. “Come, Alnesr; we’ve work to do.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr.”

Chapter Text

The pair of them swiftly departed, making their way back up the side of another building, and off to the east to make their preliminary foray into Kantara Castle, so that they would be able to determine the best rout in and out. And so that they would be able to determine the best time to deal with the man at last. Parting company with Alnesr, so that the two of them would be less easily spotted by the mercenaries that would flock to the bounty that Bouchart had put on their heads, Altaïr continued east toward Kantara Castle.

 

Over the heads of people who didn’t have the time to look up, those whose lives the Assassins sought to protect even though none of them – or at least a select few – would ever truly come to understand the lives of sacrifice that each and every one of the Assassins lived, those who lived the lives that those of the Brotherhood would never have the chance to experience. Forcing his thoughts away from the melancholy path that they had taken, Altaïr mastered himself once more and continued to move on.

 

His first sight of Kantara Castle was the walls; walls patrolled by Crusader soldiers, over an expanse of fanatical zealots that Maria’s description had not truly done justice to.

 

The Bull was not a Templar, as it turned out; he was a fanatic who used them as they used him in turn, with an army of followers that he used as personal guard, or as those who acted to spread his word, or as servants within his castle. He was nearly as devoted to Bouchart as he was to his religious principles, and the castle he lived in was presumably gifted to him by Bouchart himself; or else by the Templars as a whole. Altaïr also found that the man was most often seen worshipping within the Castle’s church.

 

As he and Alnesr rejoined each other on a clear patch of wall, he nodded to his brother Assassin as the two of them stepped down into the castle, the pair of them discussed what it was that they had seen on their separate journeys.

 

Making their way further into the castle, the two of them were often forced to pause in shadowed alcoves to evade the gazes of the fanatics that served within the castle in one capacity or another. They were clearly held in contempt by the Templar guards that patrolled within the castle, if the snatches of conversation that he overheard while he had been making his way deeper inside were anything to go by. Still, the Templars seemed to want to use him in the same way that they wished to use everyone else that happened to fall into their path.

 

Maria had said that the castle was well-defended, and it seemed as though she’d not spoken idly. Of course, it only meant anything if one was to attempt to besiege it with an army, but such defenses would and did mean nothing to a pair of Assassins entering the castle by stealth and secret ways. Particularly when those two brother Assassins had such a great deal of experience in doing such.

 

The pair of them made their way into a vast banqueting hall, and found two guards standing at the opposite end. He took a throwing knife, and saw Alnesr doing the same just beside him, and the two of them loosed them into the standing forms of the guards. Altaïr knew that they were close now, that they would soon be able to put an end to the Bull and his tyranny.

 

Making his way into what seemed to be a dead end, Altaïr paused to check behind them, and out of the corner of his left eye he saw Alnesr crouching to study the ground beneath them. His brother Assassin called softly to him just as he was turning to look back, and Altaïr looked down to see the trapdoor that those men had clearly been standing guard over. The pair of them paused to listen to the deep voice of a man speaking.

 

He shared a smile with Alnesr; it seemed that they had managed to find the Bull at last.

 

“I will make the first advance,” he said. “Wait until I call upon you.”

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” his brother Assassin said. “Good hunting.”

 

“Thank you, brother.”

 

The pair of them descended through the opened trapdoor onto the rafters of the church within Kantara Castle, and there they found an empty room lit by the flickering illumination of a large brazier upon the altar. And there, kneeling before the altar, was the Bull himself; Moloch, as Maria had called him. Her description of him, while it had had a certain paucity of words, did him a great deal of justice: bare-headed, with a drooping mustache, bare-chested apart from a medallion he wore.

 

His tree-trunk arms, wide chest, and bare head all glistened with sweat as he stoked the fire, chanting some incantation that resembled a growl just as much as it did the pious devotion that he clearly meant it to.

 

His attention was clearly absorbed by whatever rituals he was attending to during the course of his worship, and Altaïr smiled thinly to see it. The man was clearly powerful, and if he was even half as strong as he looked this would be a difficult battle even with Alnesr’s aid. Not only was the man large and powerful-looking, but he was said to use a weapon like a meteor hammer, and that he wielded it with ruthless and deadly accuracy.

 

He’d even less desire to fight this man now that he’d seen him than when he’d merely been listening to Maria as she described him, and he was all the more pleased to know that this was to be a stealth kill; clean, quick, and silent.

 

Making his way with the silent grace that he had learned at the feet of some of the greatest within the Syrian Brotherhood, and then passed on in his own time, Altaïr dropped lightly into the room behind Moloch. He found, however, that he’d landed slightly farther back than he’d planned, and held himself quiet and still, hoping that the Bull had not heard him as he landed. However, it seemed that the brute of a man had not been made aware of his presence; rather, he was still engaged with the brazier and his pieties.

 

Moving steadily forward, Altaïr forced himself not to look up to the rafters where Alnesr was watching, both so that his brother Assassin would not think that he was in need of aid, and so that the Bull would not have cause to do the same. As silently as he could manage, Altaïr engaged his hidden blade and raised it. The flickering light from the brazier reflected on the polished steel, glittering along the sharpened edges as he brought it to bear as he crouched and prepared to leap upon the unsuspecting brute.

 

He was in midair, just beginning to fall from the apex of his leap, when the Bull spun with deceptive quickness for a man of his great size, and Altaïr quickly found himself trapped within the circle of those tree-trunk arms. Before the Bull could make any other moves, however, one of Alnesr’s throwing knives imbedded itself deep in the meat of his left shoulder. Altaïr braced himself, landing back on his feet as the Bull stumbled back in pain, and leaped back from the huge man’s reach so that Alnesr could rain throwing knives down upon him.

 

Breathing more easily for the reprieve he had been given, Altaïr unsheathed his sword and charged forward to ram it deep between the brute’s ribs, deep into his heart.

 

His sword stuck fast, forcing Altaïr to place his right foot on the corpse so that he could wrestle it free while thick, syrupy blood spilled over the flagstones that he stood upon. Finally managing to free his sword from the corpse at his feet, Altaïr cleaned the weapon and then sheathed it once more, breathing more easily as he ascended back up into the rafters where Alnesr was still waiting for him.

 

“That was not precisely what I had planned, but I do thank you for your aid, brother,” he said, crouching down next to the younger Assassin.

 

“I had hoped that you’d not need to face such an opponent,” Alnesr said, looking from him down to the corpse of the Bull. “Still, I am pleased that I could be of some aid to you, Altaïr.”

Chapter Text

Smiling back at his brother Assassin as the two of them made their way out of Kantara Castle, Altaïr wiped the last traces of emotion from his face as he continued on his way back out. Making his way out to the high walls of the castle, between the patrols of the Templar guards and the servants that paced the length of those walls, Altaïr descended lightly down to the ground, and then made his way back up onto a nearby building to the west.

 

As he continued on his way over the rooftops and alleys that stood between Kantara Castle and the safehouse that their group had moved to once he and Alnesr had arrived in the Commons within Kyrenia, Altaïr wondered just what he would find when he arrived once again. Barnabas was clearly not to be trusted, but he was also beginning to wonder about the other members of the Resistance that he had had dealings with. Markos had seemed trustworthy, yes, but it could also be that he was better at not speaking what he felt than Barnabas had ever been.

 

It was not a thought that Altaïr relished entertaining, but he would do such all the same; such a thing was his duty to the Brotherhood as a whole since he had become the Master.

 

Coming into sight of the part of the city that the safehouse within the Commons had once stood within, Altaïr found himself being confronted by Maria on the very rooftop where he and Alnesr had met up once again.

 

“We always seem to be meeting up this way, Assassin,” Maria said, her tone carrying more than a hint of sardonic amusement.

 

“What has happened?” he asked, looking from Maria to what he could see of the safehouse in the distance.

 

“Crusader soldiers working for Bouchart attacked just after the pair of you had left,” Maria said, quickly sobering after her earlier amusement. “A great deal of your compatriots in the resistance were taken prisoner, though some managed to escape. You might even be pleased to know that the one you were speaking to – his name was Markos, yes? – was among those who managed to hide himself when the Templars made their move.”

 

“Thank you for informing me of this, Maria,” he said, subtly bowing his head in gratitude for what she had offered to him.

 

Even though she would likely still continue to insist that she was present solely to assuage her own curiosity about the man in black, and though she still gave every indication of merely tolerating his presence for her own ends, Altaïr still found himself nurturing the hope that the two of them could perhaps come to see eye-to-eye one day.

 

“The question remains, Assassin: what do you intend to do about this?”

 

“I will speak to Markos, find out what he knows about this matter, and from there I will make further plans,” he said, turning to look at Maria more squarely when she scoffed.

 

“Do all your plans come to this, Assassin, or am I merely present on a special occasion?”

 

Turning away, a slight smile on his face, Altaïr descended back to the ground and made his way into the abandoned safehouse.

 

“Markos?” he called, pitching his voice to carry but remaining alert in case there were any Templar soldiers that had remained behind.

 

“I wanted to stop them, but I had to hide,” the Cypriot said, looking more than a little shame-faced. “There were just too many.”

 

“This was not your fault,” he said, after a moment’s pause; he may not have truly known who it was that he could trust, after Barnabas had revealed himself as a traitor, but that was no reason to go needlessly antagonizing those who might still be his allies. “The Templars are crafty.”

 

“I’ve heard they harness the power of a Dark Oracle in Buffavento,” Markos said. “That must be how they found us.”

 

He did not know if such a thing could be true, but after all he had seen of the power of the Apple and the man in black that haunted it, he was more willing than he would have been otherwise. Still, he rather suspected that such an advantage as the Templars had demonstrated here in Cyprus had a great deal more to do with the fact that the Resistance had been infiltrated by Templar spies rather than any kind of Oracle.

 

“That is a curious theory,” he allowed. “However, I expect it was Barnabas who tipped them off, in the end.”

 

“Barnabas?” Markos echoed, sounding more surprised than Altaïr could account for. “How can that be? The Resistance leader Barnabas was executed the day before you and yours arrived.”

 

Altaïr cursed himself for allowing himself to be duped yet again by those who held allegiance to the Templars. Jonas had not deserved to die for his mistakes.

 

“I will see to rescuing the prisoners that were taken from you,” he said, knowing that it was the least he could do in recompense for the foolish actions that he had taken earlier. “Will you be able to find another place to stay?”

 

“We will be able to take shelter in another of our safehouses,” Markos said, nodding. “I thank you again for your offer of aid.”

 

“Of course,” he said, nodding and leaving the safehouse once more.

Chapter Text

Ascending to the rooftops once more, Altaïr alighted and found himself facing Alnesr and Maria. The two of them had seemed to be speaking of some matter or other, but when he came to them they stopped.

 

“What news, Altaïr?” Alnesr asked, sounding more comfortable than he had for some time; Altaïr was pleased by it, yes, but for a moment he wondered at the cause of such a thing. “What are we to do next?”

 

“The Templars have taken the prisoners from the Resistance into the harbor district,” he said, stepping closer to Alnesr as Maria stepped back from the pair of them. “I would like your aid to free them, even though I fear that it might be more difficult to keep them that way.”

 

Alnesr seemed for a moment as though he wished to ask further on that matter, but held himself back after only a moment’s thought. Altaïr was pleased to see such discretion, for he’d no wish to force Maria to choose purely because of circumstance. The two of them bid Maria farewell – Altaïr was almost surprised to hear Alnesr add his own voice, but then recalled how long he and Maria had had to become acquainted – and departed for the Harbor District of Kyrenia. The pair of them swept over the rooftops and across the alleys that separated them from the harbors, and soon enough Altaïr found that he could smell the sea.

 

The pair of them were soon able to discern just where it was that the prisoners taken from the Resistance had been taken: each of them had been thrown into a cell that was just as small and filthy as the cells that he had witnessed Talal the slaver using. He was not pleased with the reminder, and hence all the more eager to see these Templars dealt with in the most final of ways. Nodding to Alnesr, the two of them leaped back down to the ground.

 

Together, though each of them had taken a different angle of approach to the Templars guarding their allies in the Resistance, he and Alnesr each carved their way through the Templars that had been keeping the Resistance members prisoner. Stepping up to the cell while Alnesr stood guard, Altaïr swiftly unlocked it and received the thanks of those who had been trapped there. Breathing more easily once they were free once more, Altaïr turned to his brother Assassin.

 

“We should make for Buffavento castle now,” he said, watching as Alnesr nodded silently. “To see if we might put an end to Bouchart at last.”

 

“Yes; I would have suggested it myself, if you hadn’t spoken, Altaïr.”

 

“I am glad to see you gaining more confidence, Alnesr,” he said, smiling slightly. “Come.”

 

The pair of them swiftly departed from Kyrenia’s harbors, leaving behind the scents of sea and ships, and the creaking of wood and slapping of waves; heading now for Buffavento castle.

 

After some time, Altaïr found himself facing the imposing façade of a castle that seemed just that much larger than Kantara. He did not know if such a thing were indeed true, but as Alnesr joined him and the pair of them began to make their way into Buffavento by secret ways that the Templars who guarded it would not be able to track, Altaïr forced his thoughts to turn to other paths.

 

He did not truly know if the Templars had an oracle they could call upon in times of need, or if they were simply resorting to the methods of offering coin or intimidation that had served them in the past, but whatever their present methods, Altaïr was determined to see them stopped.

 

As he and Alnesr descended still farther and deeper into the bowels of Buffavento castle, Altaïr took care to observe his surroundings in depth, in case there were more Templar guards lying in wait. As before in Kantara, he and Alnesr were able to make their way into the castle with the careful combination of stealth and assassination that had brought them into so many of the Templars’ previous strongholds. Soon enough, over the sounds of dripping water and the soft breathing that Altaïr had always heard from inside himself, he began to hear a familiar voice.

 

Bouchart was indeed present, but it seemed as though he was speaking to someone.

 

“So, you lost to the Assassins again?” the Templar snapped.

 

The man who answered – one dressed in fine, long, fur-lined robes – was unfamiliar to Altaïr as yet, but he had the feeling that he would soon come to know him just as well as any of the other Templars he had encountered during the course of his work. “I tell you, that boy-”

 

“Yes, I know. I’ve heard plenty of your tales about that yellow-eyed demon boy,” Bouchart said, sounding more impatient with every word spoken, Altaïr turned to see Alnesr narrowing his eyes slightly, and sighed softly. “Don’t insult me, Shalim. If you have difficulties dealing with the Assassins, don’t blame them on the appearance of a single one of their members.”

 

“I will deal with the Assassins, and take that traitor prisoner,” Shalim said. “I promise you, Grand Master.”

 

He and Alnesr both took care to observe Shalim where he stood speaking to Bouchart; there was nothing in his form or his manner that served to connect him to his father Moloch. Not his appearance, not his form, and certainly not his attire.

 

“Do it quickly,” Bouchart snapped. “Before she leads those Assassins directly to the Archive.”

 

All this time, and he hadn’t thought to repeat his question to Maria about the Archive, and he swallowed a chuckle as he continued to watch as Shalim and Bouchart spoke. When Shalim turned to leave, however, Bouchart reached out to stop him.

 

“Oh, and Shalim; see that this is delivered to Alexander in Limassol,” Bouchart said, handing Shalim a large sack, and Shalim nodded his assent.

Chapter Text

Altaïr clenched his teeth in fury; so, even Alexander had been working for the Templars, or else they had replaced him with one of their own as in the case of Barnabas. However, the two of them had soon begun to move off, leaving the path clear for them to make their way yet farther into the deep parts of Buffavento. Finding himself unable to pass through a gate that stood before him, Altaïr signaled Alnesr and the two of them clambered out onto a balcony, then made their way across the outer walls of the castle, and then climbed back in and continued on their way downward.

 

However, when they entered Buffavento’s walls once more, Altaïr began to hear ranting and screaming. A pair of guards that had been distracted by the noise echoing from farther down the halls fell to his and Alnesr’s blades, allowing the pair of them to move farther down through the corridor. As he came to the end of a tunnel that opened into what seemed to be another jail cell, though stronger and thicker than the others he had been seeing previously, Altaïr was finally able to find just where it was that Bouchart had gone.

 

“What’s happening?” the Templar asked the guard standing by on the side of a barred partition standing before yet another row of cell doors.

 

Altaïr crouched further out of sight, hidden in an alcove within the tunnel, some steps ahead of where Alnesr had stopped to hide himself.

 

“It’s that madwoman, sir,” the guard reported, raising his voice to be heard over the tumult behind him. “She’s on a rampage. Two of the guards have been injured.”

 

“Let her play,” Bouchart said, smiling with no kindness at all. “She has served her purpose.”

 

Once more, Altaïr found that attacking was just beyond his means; he and Alnesr might very well have been able to overcome Bouchart and the single guard he presently had with him, but there would be no way of knowing just how many others such an action would alert. He would not be such a fool as to trust to luck when he and his brother Assassin were surrounded by Templars in this way. He would not forget the lesson he had learned, nor the suffering he had inflicted on Malik and Alnesr both.

 

Watching as Bouchart and the guard he had been speaking with left, Altaïr turned to signal Alnesr and together the pair of them moved forward to stand before the partition. He found it locked, as he’d nearly suspected it would be in a place such as this, and so he spent a few moments working it open as Alnesr stood silent and watchful beside him. Finally having done with the partition barring his path, Altaïr clapped Alnesr’s right shoulder and the two of them made their way still deeper into the cell of the madwoman so many had spoken of.

 

The presumed dark oracle who was said to have given the Templars every advantage over the Cypriot Resistance; Altaïr rather doubted the latter, but after glimpsing the man in black more than once, he found himself curious about the latter.

 

As his eyes grew ever more accustomed to the darkness this deep within Buffavento, Altaïr was able to grasp the true size of the madwoman’s cell. It was nearly the size of a well-appointed banquet hall, rather than the small, cramped spaces that he’d seen in the proceeding halls. There was also a curtain of mist clinging to the floor at about mid-calf height on him, hiding the exact look of the floor, and also what looked like patches of some kind of foliage. He’d never seen the like of it before, not in any of the prisons he’d infiltrated during his time as a member of the Brotherhood.

 

The madwoman was making a long, drawn-out screeching, and the farther he continued into the oversized cell that the Templars had imprisoned the madwoman that they had used for their own purposes, Altaïr came to a complete halt as the screeching stopped. He saw Alnesr’s lips just beginning to part, the expression on his face making it clear that he was about to ask a question, before a disturbing voice echoed through the cold, dimly-lit room.

 

“Pagan blood,” the jagged, singsong voice came out of the shadows of the room. “I know your names, sinners,” she cackled. “I know why you’re here. God guide my claws. God grant me the strength to snap your bones.”

 

Drawing his sword, and hearing the hiss as Alnesr did likewise, Altaïr moved toward the sound of the madwoman’s voice with his blade drawn. She dove headlong at the pair of them, squalling and hissing almost like a maddened cat, and he brought his sword forward to block her charge with the flat of his blade. When Alnesr stepped forward, acting to push her backward with the flat of his own blade, their eyes locked and the madwoman hissed.

 

“Son of the heartless man,” she growled.

 

Alnesr scoffed, continuing to drive her backward as Altaïr closed with him.

 

“The heartless man, and the thirteen who would become him,” she warbled, her eyes widening and her mouth pulling back into a snarl.

 

Steadying his breathing, Altaïr drove forward to deal with the madwoman before she could attack them in earnest with her long, sharp nails. She had the desperate strength of madness, and Altaïr found himself hard-pressed to drive her back without suffering more than superficial wounds. However, it seemed as though the madwoman was particularly focused on Alnesr; either she thought his brother Assassin the greater threat somehow, or else she had been startled by his yellow eyes in the same way as any of those outside the Brotherhood had been. He did not know which it ultimately had been, but either way he was not going to simply disregard a useful advantage.

 

Though he often wished that Alnesr would not be looked askance at by those that he acted in defense of.

 

“Whatever the Templars have done to you, my lady, they have done you wrong,” he said, once he and Alnesr had managed to subdue her enough that she could no longer attack them; Alnesr’s yellow eyes staring into her own behind his brother Assassin’s own sword seemed to be a sufficient deterrent to keep her from moving to save herself. “Forgive us this.”

 

Taking what life the Cypriot had been left by the Templars who had held her for so long, Altaïr bowed his head briefly in a small gesture of regret and respect for the Cypriot woman who had been so ill-used by the Templars. Turning away from her sad, crumpled form, he caught Alnesr’s eye and the two of them swiftly departed from Buffavento along another path. As, considering what they left in their wake, there was always a chance that the remaining Templars would find their fallen comrades and attempt to start a search.

 

They encountered little enough resistance on their way out, and Altaïr was pleased at least to know that his skill had not been compromised alongside his better judgment.

 

Once they had left the dangerous grounds of the Templar-held castle behind, Altaïr turned his path toward the old safehouse that they had been staying in when they first arrived in Kyrenia, and he and Alnesr hurried their steps to get there. The safehouse was as they had left it so long ago; Markos and Maria had both found their way back there, and he greeted the pair of them easily. Though, when he spoke to Maria, it was for somewhat longer, and he was certain that she could hear the fondness in his voice when he did so.

 

Making his way over to an empty desk toward the back of the room, Altaïr took his journal out and opened it to the next blank page and then began to write:

 

Why do our instincts insist upon violence? I have studied the interactions between different species. The innate desire to survive seems to demand the death of the other. Why can they not stand hand-in-hand? So many believe the world was created through the works of a divine power; but I see only the designs of a madman, bent on celebrating death, destruction, and desperation.

 

He turned to contemplate the Apple again, musing on what he had found of it, and what else he might need to know:

 

Who were the ones who made it? What brought them here? What drove them out? What of these artifacts, and the man in black? Could he be one of them? Are these artifacts some kind of messages in a bottle? Tools left behind to aid and guide us? Or, do we fight for control over their refuse, giving divine purpose and meaning to little more than discarded toys?

 

Setting his quill aside, Altaïr contemplated the Apple farther. Running the tips of his fingers over the seams between the Apple’s metal plates; the odd, colorless light within the Apple flickered for a moment, and for a brief moment Altaïr thought he saw the form of the man in black. Wondering if such a thing could have been true, Altaïr closed his journal once again as he continued to think. He still did not know just what more he could do on that subject, about the Apple or about the man in black that haunted it, and so he decided to set both matters aside for the moment.

 

Tucking away his journal within his robes once more, Altaïr stood up and turned away from the desk where he had been working and made his way over to where the remainder of the Resistance, along with Alnesr and Maria, were all spread out to sleep. Settling himself down nearby, just to the right of where Alnesr had chosen to take his rest, Altaïr closed his own eyes. It was not long before he himself had fallen asleep as well.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after he had gotten what sleep he could while he was still curious about the Apple and what secrets it still held, Altaïr rose from the pallets that occupied the furthest corner of the safehouse and made his way to the back of a line that led to what was clearly an eating area, given the setup he was becoming ever more aware of as he closed in on the small section of the room where those who served in this safehouse had all gathered for the moment.

 

“Well, a hearty good morning to you, Assassin,” Maria said, as the two of them fell into step beside one another on their way into what served as a dining room in this place.

 

“We always seem to be meeting like this, don’t we Maria?” he echoed her words, and saw her face twist briefly in amusement.

 

“Don’t think I’m going to tell you anything about anything my Order has planned, Assassin,” Maria said, her tone every inch as haughty as it had always been, but something like amusement glittering in her dark eyes.

 

“I would not think to ask such a thing,” he said, raising his own chin so that it matched hers.

 

He thought he glimpsed a small smile upon Maria’s face, but if he did indeed see such a thing he found that it was hidden almost more quickly than it appeared. As Altaïr made his way over to the place that Alnesr seemed to have claimed for the both of them, he allowed himself to settle down by his brother Assassin’s left side as the two of them began to eat the meal that Alnesr had gathered for the pair of them.

 

Once he had finished with the meal with the members of the Resistance that had gathered in the sectioned-off area of the safehouse, Altaïr rose and made his way back toward where Markos had set himself up to oversee the workings of the Resistance cell that inhabited this place. He wanted to get an early start in dealing with Shalim, and for that he would need to speak to Markos, on the very real chance that there was something he was unaware of.

 

When he found Markos, behind his desk even this early hour, Altaïr smiled slightly as he made his way over to the man so that they could speak.

 

“The Oracle is dead,” he said, sobering as he spoke the words; the death of another, even those necessary to safeguarding the peace and freedom that the Templars would steal from every living person if they were given the chance to do so, was not and would never be something that he took pleasure in. “She will not be spilling anymore secrets.”

 

“That is a relief to hear,” Markos said.

 

“Who is Shalim?” he asked, before the Cypriot could think of anything else to say. “I heard Bouchart speaking to him. Apparently, he was the one who carried out the attack on the previous safehouse your group was operating out of. I heard the two of them speaking about it last night.”

 

“Shalim is the Bull’s whelp,” Markos said, with a distasteful shudder. “He is a vicious man, though not so devout as his father. He’s been seen with Bouchart on more than one occasion.”

 

“I think I’ll tail him for awhile, to see what I can learn,” he said, pausing for a moment to consider whether or not he would involve Alnesr in such a matter; on the one hand, if he lost sight of Shalim in the crowds it would indeed be helpful to have another to pick up his trail, but on the other it was likely to have been Alnesr’s presence that had given Maria the chance to slip the net the Templars had cast for her.

 

“Meet me in the Market district when you’re through,” Markos said, and Altaïr wondered why he was so eager to meet up there, of all places. He could have perfectly innocent reasons for it, but Altaïr could no longer afford the luxury of blind trust; no Assassin truly could, but him less than most, considering the circumstances. “I want to know what you find.”

 

“Very well, Markos,” he said, allowing himself to hope for a moment that Markos was a man he could at least trust so far as matters of the Resistance were concerned. “I shall find you there, then.”

 

Departing from the safehouse without another word, Altaïr made his way back out into the city and up the side of a nearby building. Breathing more easily once he was safely out of sight of the Templar guards who might have been patrolling the streets that he would have otherwise been traveling on, Altaïr searched for the familiar form of Shalim within the crowds. It did not take him long to find the man; wearing no less of his finery than when Altaïr had first laid eyes on him, he made quite the easy mark.

 

Following him just far enough to see that he was going to a brothel, and shook his head in slight amusement; less devout indeed. Breaking off from Shalim’s trail, Altaïr turned his path toward Kyrenia’s market district so that he could meet up with Markos and hence be able to provide the information the Cypriot had requested that he bring. He still did not quite know just what it was that Markos had intended by such a request, but for the moment Altaïr was willing to give the man the benefit of reasonable doubt.

 

Once he came within sight of Kyrenia’s large market, Altaïr swiftly caught sight of Markos, wandering between the various stalls as though he could not quite decide what to buy. Nodding to himself, having often used just that sort of a disguise when he was seeking to meet with a contact or else to observe a target without being observed in turn, Altaïr set about finding a clear patch of street so that he could descend back to the ground without being seen.

 

Finding one rather quickly, Altaïr returned to the streets of Kyrenia so that he and Markos would be able to speak plainly, now that he had gathered at least some information about Shalim.

 

“I need to get close to him,” he said, once he and Markos had settled down on a bench together; something that would draw only the barest attention from the curious, and even then only for a few moments. “If he’s as stupid as he is brash, then I may be able to get some secrets out of him.”

 

“Speak to one of the monks near the cathedral,” Markos said, with a rather amused chuckle. “Shalim’s wayward lifestyle demands frequent confessions.”

 

“That does sound rather promising,” he said, nodding slightly with a soft smile of his own. “I will meet with you again later, Markos.”

 

“Good fortune, my friend.”

 

Nodding a last time as he ascended the side of a nearby building, once out of sight of those still on the ground, Altaïr set off to find the cathedral that Markos had spoken about. It was not so long before he had, and not long after that when he found himself a bench to sit on, this one placed beneath a light canopy that flapped in the strong breeze. The crowds of people going into and out of the cathedral, and around it on the way to their various errands, took little to no notice of what seemed to be a lone scholar resting his feet for a time.

 

Paying only a modicum of attention to those people whose presence wasn’t of interest to him at this place and time, Altaïr made sure to appear as though his interest in those people was as cursory as theirs appeared to be in him. When he saw one of the monks making his way out of the cathedral on some business or other, Altaïr sighed softly in relief that he would soon be done with this part of his task.

 

“Does it not trouble you, brother, to suffer the sins of such a vile man as Shalim?” he asked, in a low tone so that none but the man he was speaking with would overhear him.

 

“It does,” the monk said, after having checked to see that he would not be overheard while speaking his mind; such fears would be laid to rest when Altaïr was finally able to make an end to Shalim, Bouchart, and the rest of the Templars in this place. “But to oppose him would mean death. The Templars have too much at stake in this place.”

 

“You mean the Archive?” he asked, curious to know what he would be able to find out from this conversation. “Can you tell me where it is?”

 

He received only a grim-faced headshake in response, as the monk vanished into the crowds. As he was considering whether it would be worth his while to pursue whatever information the man might have had, Altaïr caught the sound of a man speaking from the top of an orator’s platform. The voice was particularly familiar to him, and Altaïr wondered what Shalim thought to accomplish by making speeches. Or, indeed, how he had the mind and constitution for speechmaking after the drunken whoring Altaïr had previously seen the man at.

 

“Men and women of Cyprus,” he announced as his audience assembled; Altaïr made note of how his mannerisms were smoother and more precise than the last time the man had been within his sights, and the lack of the prostitute that he had taken for his pleasure inside the brothel. He did not know if this lack would be explained by his speech, but Altaïr wondered at it all the same. “Armand Bouchart sends his blessings, but with a stern provision that all who foment disorder by their support of the Resistance will be caught and punished. But, those who seek order and harmony, and pay obeisance to the Lord through good work will enjoy Bouchart’s charity. Now, let us work together as brothers to rebuild what hate and anger have torn down.”

 

When Shalim had finished with his speech, Altaïr only found himself more bemused by the content of it. Shalim did not seem the type to speak of charity at all, much less in such a way as he had just moments ago. It took only another moment for Altaïr to make up his mind to follow the man, and he soon found himself standing before the high, imposing walls of St. Hilarion Castle. He quickly saw that Shalim was making his way inside, and since he did not know what defenses he might encounter within the castle, or else what kind of skill Shalim would have to be able to recover so well and so quickly from the state he had been in when Altaïr had first encountered him.

 

He was not such a fool as to confront an unknown quantity like Shalim without aid, particularly not when he still did not know the man’s full capabilities.

Chapter Text

Making his way back to the safehouse in the Commons so that he could speak with Alnesr, Altaïr found his brother Assassin in a rather contemplative pose, simply watching as the remaining Cypriots around him went about their business.

 

“Alnesr, I would have your aid on a mission I am about to undertake,” he said, once he and the younger Assassin were alone within the small space Alnesr seemed to have claimed for himself.

 

“Of course, Altaïr,” Alnesr said, nodding as Altaïr sat down next to him on the bench.

 

“Where is Maria?” he asked, curiosity finally overcoming him as he realized that he hadn’t caught sight of her on his way in.

 

“I’m right here, Assassin.” Altaïr snapped his gaze to where the woman in question had been standing, just as she made her way over to the pair of them. “I’ll be coming along on this errand of yours, and don’t think to deny me, because while I might not have your skills at climbing, I can still follow you.”

 

“You’re welcome to come along,” he said, both for his own and for far more practical reasons. “We could always use another sword-arm.”

 

Maria nodded sharply, though there was a brief moment when Altaïr thought he could see surprise in her expression, and the three of them swiftly stood and departed from the safehouse for the third time that day. While they made their way back over the rooftops toward St. Hilarion Castle, Maria filled them in on the situation with Shalim. And, unexpectedly, the man’s twin brother Shahar.

 

He’d not been prepared for such a revelation as that, but it did rather explain just how what he had seen – what had seemed to be an impossibly fast rate of recovery – had been accomplished in the end.

 

“When we reach the castle, there are some things that I wish to speak with Shahar about,” Maria said, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen over them as they continued on their way to the Castle again.

 

“Oh?” he asked, turning to look at her as the three of them stopped on the roof of a nearby building. “What do you wish to know?”

 

“I wish to know what it is the Templars are truly planning for the world, and what part that Apple of Eden plays in their plans,” Maria said, narrowing her eyes slightly in contemplation.

 

“I have no objections to that,” he said. “Alnesr, what are your thoughts on the matter?”

 

“I find myself rather curious about that matter, as well,” his brother Assassin said, looking rather contemplative.

 

In the end, the pair of them agreed to give Maria what time she would need to find out what purpose the Apple would have served in the plans that the Templars had been making, and only to intervene when it became clear that Shalim and Shahar had no more patience for words. Continuing the rest of the way to St. Hilarion Castle, he and Alnesr made their way up the walls and up onto a nearby balcony so that they would be in a position to look and listen in on the conversation that Maria would be having with Shalim and Shahar.

 

Finding their way up to a wide balcony, uninhabited with the full heat of the sun beating down on it and no shelter from such a thing, he and Alnesr settled themselves there in order that they might be able to observe the conversation that was to take place between Maria and the Templar brothers Shalim and Shahar. Looking down upon her as she made her way inside, Altaïr smiled slightly as he saw the fierce set of her shoulders and the proud way she walked.

 

“I didn’t expect to see you again,” Shahar said, in fact seeming rather startled. “How might I be able to help you, Maria?”

 

“I’m not here on social business,” Maria said, her voice terse. “I want answers.”

 

The two of them made their way into the castle, Maria tagging along beside Shahar as the pair of them began speaking again.

 

“Is it true, what I have heard?” she demanded. “That the Templars wish to use the Apple of Eden for ill? Not to enlighten the people, but to subdue them?”

 

Shahar smiled, in that same way that Altaïr remembered Al Mualim smiling when he would speak of the next task that Altaïr would be given. He was no longer impressed by such a small gesture as he had been, and was hence all the more eager for Maria to find out just what it was that the Templars were planning, and not the stories that de Sable had clearly told her when he had brought her into the ranks of his Crusaders.

 

“People are confused, Maria,” Shahar said, still wearing that smile. “They are lambs begging to be led. And that’s what we offer: simple lives, free of worry.”

 

“Our Order was created to protect the people,” Maria insisted, folding her arms in disapproval. “Not to rob them of their liberty.”

 

Shahar’s lip curled, looking rather contemptuous. “The Templars put no stock in liberty, Maria. We seek order, nothing more.”

 

“Order, or enslavement?” Maria demanded, standing firm as Shahar came toward her.

 

“You may call it whatever you like, my dear,” Shahar said, his tone darker and more menacing than it had previously been; Altaïr tensed, and signaled Alnesr to prepare himself, as well.

 

The two of them burst in through the doors just as Shahar was beginning to step towards Maria with malicious intent in his eyes.

 

“Apologies, Shahar, we let ourselves in,” Altaïr said, as he and Alnesr strode boldly into the room, himself proceeding by a few steps as the pair of them drew their swords.

 

Assassins,” the Templar hissed, drawing his own sword; Maria jumped back from him and drew her own sword.

 

He could see Shalim and several of his guards hurrying into the room with them, and as he and Alnesr fell into step with Maria, Altaïr braced himself for combat once again.

 

The guards were easily dealt with, but the Templars themselves proved hardier and more skilled, as seemed to be the usual situation in those places he was forced to travel to when dealing with Templars. Shalim and Shahar also seemed to be as adept at working together as he and Alnesr, and Altaïr suspected that such a thing was probably for rather similar reasons. Still, in the end, their greater numbers and drive to win prevailed, leaving Shalim, Shahar, and the guards that they had called to them all dead at their feet.

 

Altaïr was particularly pleased at such a conclusion, and as the three of them made their careful way back out of the castle of St. Hilarion, he smiled briefly at Maria. He was not entirely certain that she would share in his appreciation, and so he made certain to smile when the back of her head was turned toward him. He also took note of the way her skill at climbing seemed to have increased, not only between this time and the last, but also from the time they had been initially scaling the walls of St. Hilarion and their efforts to descend once more.

 

It was yet another thing about the situation that he was starting to enjoy, knowing that Maria was willing to come with him and learn more of what the Assassins wished for the world.

Chapter Text

When the three of them finally made it back to the safehouse where the three of them had been staying while they aided the Cypriot Resistance, Altaïr allowed himself to breathe more easily when he climbed back down the side of the nearby building just slightly to the side of the one that he had climbed up originally. Taking the lead, and looking to the side as Maria fell into step just beside him, Altaïr soon found himself standing in the center of the trio he had once been leading. It was a rather interesting turn of events, Altaïr thought, but he’d little time to think about such a thing before Markos was addressing him.

 

“It’s happening, just as we wanted!” Markos exclaimed happily, reaching out to embrace him in comradeship; Altaïr smiled, though there was a part of him that still remained uneasy with things as they were, with the rumblings of Templar spies in the background of all his doings in Kyrenia and Cyprus as a whole. “The ports are emptying of Templar ships! Kyrenia will soon be free! And, after that, maybe the whole of Cyprus will soon follow!”

 

“Stay cautious,” he reminded both the Cypriot and himself, sobering even as he said such. “The Templars wouldn’t leave their Archive undefended, so it cannot be here,” he’d a moment’s thought to ask Maria about such, but then supposed that it was still likely she would refuse to speak of it; if out of a lingering sense of loyalty to de Sable, if nothing else.

 

“Most of the ships that left here were headed back to Limassol,” Markos said. “Could it be there?”

 

“I do not know, but I will make a thorough investigation in any case,” he said, allowing himself a smile wider than the one he had worn in any of these places; matters seemed to be proceeding more smoothly, and while he might have his doubts that everything was going to be proceeding with the same smoothness, Altaïr felt content for the moment. “Thank you, Markos. You have served your country well.”

 

“God speed to you three,” the Cypriot said, then turned squarely to Maria. “And, I am sorry I judged you so harshly, beforehand.”

 

“Think nothing of it,” Maria said, that same edge of fierce calm that he had heard so often when he had listened to her in the past. “I was a Templar, and I still agree with their motives, if not their means.”

 

“Come,” Alnesr said, before anyone else could say anything. “We should leave quickly if we’re to find a ship to travel with.”

 

“Thank you for your hospitality, Markos,” he bowed slightly to the man. “But, my brother is right: we truly should be leaving.”

 

The trio of them did not even bother with the streets this time, opting instead to travel over the rooftops between them and their present destination. Altaïr took note of the way Maria’s skill had improved almost literally by leaps and bounds, and was pleased that even when he was not actively attempting to teach, he could still manage to impart the wisdom that he had gained in such a way that it left a lasting impression.

 

Once the three of them finally made their way back out to the harbor, surrounded again by the creek and rustle of bobbing ships – the snap and crack of unfurling sails – Altaïr paused only briefly for a breath of sea air, still rather less than familiar to him after all this time, then signaled Alnesr and Maria to follow along with him as he moved. He’d spotted a likely candidate to take the three of them back to Limassol, and now all the three of them would need to do was board the ship, conceal themselves, and await their return to Limassol in at least a modicum of comfort. This he had explained to Maria, knowing that Alnesr’s learning – if not direct experience – in such an area would serve him as it always had.

 

Slipping inside under the very eyes of the Templars provisioning the ship for travel, Altaïr led the three of them to the hold where they perched atop the various crates that had already been stacked there. He was all the more pleased to note how well Maria seemed to be adapting to the rigors that life as an Assassin imposed upon those who had taken up the cause of the Brotherhood by choice, or even by birth as he and Alnesr both had. Clearly, the time she had spent under de Sable’s tutelage had borne fruit that would be useful for more than mere service under the Templars.

 

Settling himself into the state of relaxed alertness that had served him so well during the course of his many hunts for the targets that the Brotherhood had selected for him – and that he himself would soon be called upon to select for the Assassins that now served under him, Altaïr recalled after a moment’s thought – Altaïr felt the gentle rocking of the ship as bore the three of them and the Templars back to Limassol.

 

Soon enough, the journey had ended and the three of them were called upon to leave the ship and the harbor both without alerting the Templars to their presence now or then.

 

It was not such a simple thing, leading a group of three to move with stealth and silence when one of those three seemed more the sort to confront their enemies head-on while declaring their intent, but Maria learned quickly and the three of them were hence able to remain out of the hands of the Templars who would have only been too eager to take them in chains to some prison or other. If not kill him and Alnesr outright for being Assassins, and perhaps even Maria for being a traitor. Altaïr was just as happy to avoid any of those fates.

 

Climbing up the wall of a nearby building once the three of them were safely out from under the eyes of the Templars in Limassol’s own harbor, Altaïr paused for a moment to look down into the streets before he set off again. The Templars still seemed just as firmly in control as they had been when he had departed for Kyrenia; the populace seemed as resentful and beaten-down as they ever had been, and even as he continued on to a place were he might be more free to observe the layout of the city and hence find out just where the Resistance had moved to since he had departed this place, Altaïr resolved that he would make every possible effort to free them as he searched for the Templar Archive.

 

Making his way over to the side of a tall spire he had spotted in the middle-distance, rather familiar to him after all the time he had spent in Damascus and other cities of the Levant, Altaïr activated his second-sight and searched for the telltale soft blue glow of allies. He’d not thought to use the skill when he was working with the Cypriot Resistance as a part of it, but he knew now that it had been a mistake to neglect such a skill as he had done in the past.

 

He was not going to allow himself to make such a mistake in the future; more lives than his own depended on his caution.

Chapter Text

Signaling Alnesr and Maria to follow him, once he had fully determined the location of the safehouse, Altaïr directed the pair of them over the rooftops and across the streets as he made for it. As he drew close enough to be able to make out the forms within the safehouse rather than simply the building itself, Altaïr again used his second-sight to determine if those within would be his enemies or not. All of those inside glowed a friendly blue, and so he let out a breath of relief as he descended down the side of a nearby building and then made his way inside.

 

“Assassins,” one of the Cypriots who had been attending to some manner of business behind the main counter said. “I apologize that Alexander was not here to meet you, but he was called away on business just this afternoon. For now, please, take some rest and make yourselves at home. It’s likely he will arrive tomorrow.”

 

“Thank you,” Altaïr said, making a mental note to use his second-sight to determine if it would truly be Alexander that he would be speaking to and not simply a Templar playing at being him. “Get some rest,” this he directed at Alnesr and Maria. “We’ll likely have a great deal to do come the morning.”

 

“Remember your own advice, brother,” Alnesr said, smiling gently at him. “We’re not the only ones likely to need sleep for what might be coming.”

 

“Thank you, brother,” he said, smiling in a slightly rueful fashion as he recognized just what the younger Assassin had seen to say such a thing; the thought of being the Master must have weighed upon him more than he truly saw.

 

Still, there was at least one thing he wished to have done before he slept, and while he fully understood that Alnesr would not be entirely pleased to know such if he managed to find out, he was determined to have it done before he forgot the thoughts he had been having during the course of these last few days. Settling himself down at a desk nearby the sleeping area, and returning the wry expression Alnesr gave him when his brother Assassin nodded that way, Altaïr turned back to the desk and laid out his journal atop it.

 

Opening to the first blank page he found, slightly down from the last entry he had made, Altaïr took up his quill once again and began to write:

 

I remember my moment of weakness, my confidence shaken by Al Mualim’s words. He, who had been like a father, was revealed to be my greatest enemy. Just the briefest flicker of doubt was all he needed to creep into my mind with this device, he set his right hand upon the Apple, musing again about it and the man in black. But I vanquished his phantoms, restored my self-confidence, and sent him from this world. And yet, now I find myself facing another conundrum: who is the man in black, and what might he intend?

 

Left with that question to ponder as he tried to settle himself down to sleep, Altaïr resolved that he would discover the answers to those questions.

 

~AC: BL~

 

When the next morning came, Altaïr rose with the sun and woke Alnesr so that the two of them could spar. He’d the feeling that the both of them would sooner than later have need of sharp skills and sharper blades if they were to survive what would clearly be coming. Maria joined them after only a short time spent observing how the pair of them fought, and he smiled slightly as she adapted herself to their rhythm and added a third side to their conflict.

 

Once their muscles and skills had been properly prepared for whatever else would come this day, Altaïr made his way over to the desk in the forefront of the building to find Alexander waiting for him. The Cypriot did not seem particularly pleased to see him.

 

“Stay back, traitor!” the man all but snarled as he approached. “You have betrayed the Resistance, and sold out our cause! Have you been Bouchart’s man, all this time?”

 

“I was about to ask the same of you, Alexander,” he said, after quickly mastering himself after the accusation that had been thrown at him; he might have deserved some of it, not having had the wit to question Barnabas until it was too late, but in light of what he had found out of Alexander he hardly thought the man was in a position to question him. “I overheard Bouchart mentioning your name. He delivered a package to you, did he not?”

 

“Yes: the head of poor Barnabas in a burlap sack!”

 

Altaïr felt chilled for a long moment; he’d not thought to ever be manipulated in the same way that Al Mualim had once done, and for much the same ends, it seemed. Making his way over to the burlap sack where it lay, already smelling the stink of what he had quickly recognized as rotting meat, Altaïr looked inside.

 

“This was not the man me and mine had dealings with in Kyrenia,” he said, not quite certain what he was to feel about such a thing; it was not as though he could have been expected to know the members of the Resistance by sight, but even within the privacy of his own mind the words sounded like an excuse.

 

“What?” Alexander exclaimed, looking as shaken as Altaïr had felt for those few moments before mastering himself.

 

“The real Barnabas had more than likely been murdered before we arrived,” he said, speculating aloud for both their benefit. “Replaced by a Templar agent, who did a great deal of damage before vanishing.”

 

“God help us,” Alexander muttered, composing himself after a moment’s loss of such. “The Templars have been equally brutal here: with Captains roaming the Market, the Ports, and the Cathedral square, arresting anyone they see fit to.”

 

“Don’t despair,” he said, pitching his tone to be calming. “Kyrenia has already shaken off the Templars; we will expel them from Limassol, too.”

 

“You’re right,” Alexander said, his resolve already looking more firm. “But, you and yours must be careful. Templar propaganda has turned some of my men against you, and others will still be wary.”

 

“Thank you for the warning,” he said, nodding as he made his way back out to speak with Alnesr once more.

Chapter Text

It seemed as though they would soon be able to make at least some amends for the mistakes he had made in his handling of their contact with the Cypriot Resistance. Speaking briefly to Alnesr and Maria both, Altaïr called for his brother Assassin to follow him as the pair of them made their way back up to the rooftops over Cyprus once more.

 

“Good hunting, brother,” Alnesr said, as his brother Assassin turned and prepared to depart from the rooftop where the pair of them had alighted for the moment.

 

“To you as well, brother,” he said, drawing a small, brief smile from his junior, before the two of them parted to be about their work.

 

Making his way steadily back toward Limassol’s Marketplace, over the rooftops and across the gaps that stood between him and the Marketplace that was to be his first destination, Altaïr paused for a moment to deal with an archer that had the misfortune to be in his way as he was traveling. Leaping lightly down from the rooftops, just as he saw the Templar captain that patrolled in this particular area of Limassol, Altaïr swiftly ascended back to the rooftops and continued on his way.

 

He and Alnesr had already made plans to meet up at the Cathedral Square, while Alnesr himself dealt with matters at Limassol’s port, and so Altaïr turned his path to make for the meeting place that he and his brother Assassin had previously elected to meet when they had spoken atop the roof of the Resistance’s Limassol safehouse. Breathing more easily for the fact that he had completed the first of his and Alnesr’s tasks for the day, Altaïr took a moment to conceal himself within one of the rooftop gardens. Alnesr would be able to quickly spot him, using the second-sight that they both shared, and so the two of them had elected to meet up in this place.

 

~AC: BL~

 

Stalking his prey from the docks, Alnesr used his second-sight to determine just which of the ships carried the Templar captain that he was seeking. Flicking his eyes over the ships to either side of him within the expansive port, Alnesr was soon able to locate the man. Now, all that remained was to make his way out onto the boat where the Templar had secluded himself so that he could come to grips with the man for the first and final time. Turning his path away from the Templar’s boat, after having marked it with his second-sight, Alnesr blended neatly back into the crowds moving all along the docks and the waterside.

 

Departing once more from the crowds of citizens going about their daily business, Alnesr waited a moment for a break in the crowds so that he could remain unseen, and then made his way up the side of a building so that he could leap into the rigging of a nearby ship. Swiftly making his way back over the ships, evading the gaze of those few on the docks who thought to look up into the rigging where he was, Alnesr made his way back to the ship that he had marked in his second-sight.

 

Waiting for a simple lapse of attention from the sailors tending the cargo within this vessel, Alnesr acted as soon as he managed to spot such. The death of the captain threw those around him into disarray just long enough for him to escape with the deaths of only a small number of sailors. Blending swiftly back into the busy crowds, Alnesr broke away once more and made his way back to the buildings. Breaking from the crowds once more, Alnesr regained the rooftops and began to make his way to Limassol’s Cathedral Square.

 

He was due to meet Altaïr there, as the two of them had agreed upon just before they had parted company for the morning.

 

Making his way back over the rooftops that stood between him and the Cathedral square of Limassol, Alnesr wondered just who they could ultimately trust within the Resistance. Altaïr had told him of the trouble that the Templars had stirred up all about the Resistance – the agents that they had employed to discredit the Assassins in the eyes of the Cypriots – and Alnesr found himself annoyed by the prospect. He knew that the Templars were determined to bring down the Brotherhood by any means that they could manage, yes, but he still found himself irrationally annoyed by such a thing.

 

Setting those thoughts aside once more, Alnesr sighed and continued on his way back into the city.

 

Alighting on a rooftop nearer the square, Alnesr searched by quadrants for his mentor and brother Assassin. Soon enough, he had managed to locate Altaïr, and so moved quickly so that they could meet up once more. Meeting atop the buildings surrounding the Cathedral Square, he and Altaïr spoke briefly about their respective experiences while they had been hunting for the two Templar captains. They also mutually decided that the pair of them would each take half of the square; each searching it for signs of the last Captain’s presence.

 

~AC: BL~

 

Splitting off from Alnesr as the pair of them began searching the grounds of Limassol’s Cathedral Square, Altaïr allowed himself to feel a brief swell of pride for the skill that his brother Assassin had demonstrated during his own hunt for the Templar captain at Limassol’s port. Setting those thoughts aside, Altaïr returned his attention to his own hunt for the last of the three Templar captains in this area.

 

Searching for larger gatherings of Templars, knowing that the Captain was far more likely than not to have extra guards and soldiers around him while he went about his own work, Altaïr quickly found himself tailing a group of soldiers making their way quickly and with purpose through the streets and alleys of the Square. He was rather pleased to note that they were indeed making their way toward a meeting with their captain.

 

Descending swiftly from the rooftop he’d alighted on, Altaïr killed all of the gathered Templars as quickly and smoothly as he could manage.

 

Rising from the pile of bodies that he had left behind him, Altaïr returned to the rooftops so that he could meet up with Alnesr, and so that the pair of them could return to the Resistance’s safehouse to speak with Alexander. They would both need to know more about the situation as it developed, in order to make plans for what actions they would need to take next.

 

Perhaps he would also speak with Maria, to see if she could shed any light on what the Templars might be planning, herself.

 

Perched atop the rooftops for a moment, Altaïr searched for his brother Assassin, and swiftly found that Alnesr was making his own way closer. Smiling slightly, Altaïr turned his own path so that it would intersect with that of his brother Assassin. The two of them met up with each other once again, speaking briefly about what they had seen and done while they were making their own ways through the Cathedral Square.

 

Hearing of Alnesr’s own dealing with the Templar soldiers that had once roamed the streets of the Cathedral Square, Altaïr spoke in turn of his own encounter with the Templar captain in this area. Side-by-side once more, he and Alnesr made their way back to Limassol’s Port. Alnesr had said that the captain the Templars had employed had seemed to him rather more of a pirate than a proper sailor, and now Altaïr was curious to know what that meant.

 

He’d not thought that the ideals that the Templars espoused would have countenanced dealing with those kinds of people, but then all of those he had dealt with had seemed all too willing to compromise their stated ideals for material gain of one sort or another.

 

So, as he and Alnesr made their way back to Limassol’s port, Altaïr found himself growing increasingly curious about what the ultimate result of their actions in this place would be. They had at least made some form of progress in routing the Templars in this area, but there was clearly more for the pair of them – not knowing Maria’s present feelings, he couldn’t speak to her willingness – to do before they would be able to call this latest task of theirs complete.

 

Returning to Limassol’s docks once more, he and Alnesr had a brief discussion as to what each of them would do during this latest task of theirs. Alnesr volunteered to scout the docks and see to the disposal of any remaining Templar guards or soldiers, while Altaïr himself would interrogate the Port master. True, he did have the greater experience in such an area, but after this was finished, Altaïr made up his mind to begin teaching his brother Assassin his means and methods of interrogation.

Chapter Text

Making his way back through Limassol’s Port, Altaïr remained on guard for those who might seek to challenge him. Not all of them would be Templars, after all; Alexander had previously informed him that some of those working within and beside the Resistance had been deceived by the propaganda that called him a traitor to the cause. And, beyond that, there were still those who had no true idea of the struggle between the Assassins and Templars, and would simply seek to hinder him because they were paid to do so.

 

It was this last group that Altaïr did not relish fighting in the least; those who had no stake in this war of theirs, in his view, should not be in danger of losing their lives in it. Still, he knew better than most that the would that they all lived in was far from ideal.

 

Scanning the crowds of citizens hurrying along about their business, he heard the low, rumbling voice of a man speaking to someone or other.

 

“I’d honestly rather be out at sea than idling away in this dump,” the man speaking groused. “You know where I can find some entertainment, eh?”

 

“Go away,” a nearby man, this one wearing red, and a Templar cross, said in a tone of dismissive contempt.

 

The trio split up after that, and Altaïr followed the man in blue robes and turban. He was clearly the man Altaïr would need to interrogate, and so he would need to follow the man without being seen. Smiling slightly, Altaïr continued on his way; he’d not had the need to perform an interrogation in some time.

 

Following the man in red on his rounds through the city, Altaïr found himself making his way back into sight of Limassol’s marketplace once more. He thought it rather strange, that a man who had been assigned to the Docks would go so far away from the place where he had been assigned without some overriding reason. Making his way back up to the rooftops once more, Altaïr sought out the man once more from his new vantagepoint.

 

Once he had managed to catch up with the man, Altaïr descended as swiftly as he could manage. Silently inserting himself into the back of the group the man was traveling with, Altaïr followed him until he had departed their company, then struck him from behind with a hard punch. Beating the man down until he had agreed to cooperate, Altaïr stood back.

 

“I have a message for Armand Bouchart. Has he come through this port recently?” Altaïr demanded.

 

“I couldn’t say,” the man replied, wincing slightly as he slowly lowered his arms. “But, he’d do well to avoid this place. We had some awful murders here last night.”

 

“Who was killed? Templars?” he asked, hoping that such would be the case; he’d no desire to see more innocents involved in wars beyond their ken.

 

“No,” the Port master said, shaking his head sadly. “A couple of my men working the docks; cut down where they stood. It was so dark, nobody saw a thing.”

 

“Who was on duty that night?” he asked, wondering just what these new developments would come to, in the end.

 

“A goddamned Templar Sergeant,” the Port master snarled. “But you won’t find him here, if you’re looking.”

 

“I am,” he said, knowing now that this man, stubborn though he may have been, was not ultimately his enemy.

 

“He’s over by the Cathedral today,” the Port master said, his tone distinctly unimpressed. “Praying for his own soul, I hope.”

 

“Thank you for your time, my friend,” he said. “My Brother and I will see to this man.”

 

“Good luck to you both,” the Port master said, a wry smile on his face. “I hope you give him more than what you gave me.”

 

“I certainly will,” he replied, turning to leave the man behind.

 

He would need to speak with Alnesr about the new information he had gathered from the Port master, so that they could make further plans.

 

Ascending once more onto the rooftops at the edges of Limassol’s port, Altaïr searched for his brother Assassin. Spotting Alnesr’s agile, white-robed form as the younger Assassin darted down on another unsuspecting Templar soldier, Altaïr smiled softly as he hurried to catch up to the younger Assassin before he could draw too far away. Once the pair of them had drawn close enough to be able to speak once more, Altaïr detailed just what it was that he had learned for Alnesr’s benefit.

 

“It seems as though our presence will be a deterrent for more than just the Templars,” Alnesr said pensively.

 

“True enough,” he allowed, nodding. “Come; we’ll find our quarry back in the Cathedral Square.”

 

“Of course, brother,” Alnesr said, nodding and following his lead back down the side of the building and into the crowds of Limassol’s Port once more.

 

Leaving behind the wafting scents drifting in from the Marketplace’s many stalls for the scents of wood, water, tar, and pitch, Altaïr proceeded his brother Assassin on their way to the path that would return them once again to Limassol’s Cathedral Square. He’d not yet seen evidence of the Templar propaganda that was said to have turned the Cypriots against him and his, but all the same he had determined to keep an eye open for any signs of such. He’d no wish to be caught by surprise when he could avoid it.

 

Traveling over the rooftops on their way back into Limassol’s Cathedral Square, Altaïr found himself wondering once again just what Maria had gotten herself up to while the pair of them were gone; he knew that he could not afford to allow himself to become distracted by such thoughts, and so he put them aside to be examined later.

Chapter Text

Once the pair of them had returned to Limassol’s Cathedral Square, Altaïr proceeded Alnesr down from the rooftops so that they would be able to track this Templar sergeant more easily. Pausing for a moment to activate his second-sight, Altaïr searched the crowds of citizens rendered colorless by the strange un-light that was only visible to him when he allowed himself to see in such a manner. Moving more quickly through the crowds, now that he was able to more easily dismiss those who would hold no interest for him, Altaïr was able to quickly spot the one of them that did.

 

“Alnesr, come; I’ve found him,” he said, looking back over his left shoulder.

 

“Yes, I see him, too,” his brother Assassin said, nodding.

 

“Follow along, this time, and take note of how I handle this,” he advised. “You might very well have need of these skills yourself, someday.”

 

“As you say, brother.”

 

Nodding with some sense of satisfaction as Alnesr fell into step behind him once more, Altaïr prepared himself once more to act as the teacher and mentor that he would need to learn once more to be, if he was to properly perform his new duties as Master of the Syrian Brotherhood.

 

Once he’d managed to catch up to the Templar sergeant he and Alnesr had managed to locate so simply – he did not often relish using his second-sight, for fear that he ease of it was more likely than not to make him complacent – Altaïr glanced back briefly at his brother Assassin, smiling at the expression of concentration he saw on Alnesr’s face, and moved forward to confront the Templar sergeant. It was time they found out what a man like that would know.

 

His first blow was blocked by the sword of one of the Templar’s fellow Knights, and just that simply Altaïr found himself dealing with a rather completely different situation than the one he had been mentally preparing for. Alnesr was, as always, swift to join him in battle, and together the pair of them were able to swiftly dispatch the Templar Knights that stood between them and the sergeant that they had both come to this place for in the first place.

 

“You cower like a man wracked with a guilty conscience,” he snapped, not feeling particularly charitable toward one who had upset the usual procedure for interrogations so completely; yes, he knew that such a thing was a natural consequence of fighting those who had minds of their own, but knowing such was not enough to keep Altaïr from feeling as he did.

 

He let the feeling pass; now was hardly the time for outbursts.

 

“Your kind is getting desperate, Assassin,” the Templar said, smiling up at him in a way that Altaïr did not like at all. “Attacking us blindly, grasping for answers.”

 

“You let Bouchart slip through the ports last night, and murdered two good men in the process,” Altaïr said, reining in his temper with both hands; men like this were the worst of all, as they had actually managed to convince themselves that they acted for the good of those they aimed to enslave.

 

“That wasn’t my work,” the Templar sergeant said, his tome sounding as though he found the very idea humorous. “I just patrol there; go pester Demetris, he practically owns those ports.”

 

“Demetris?” he echoed. “A wealthy man, I suppose…”

 

“Quite!” the Templar grinned up at him with bloodstained teeth, briefly prompting Altaïr to grind his own. “A debouched merchant and gluttonous worm, but he’s been a useful ally in this operation.”

 

Sickened by what he had heard, though Altaïr supposed that he truly should not have expected better from a Templar, Altaïr unhesitatingly ended the life of the Templar sergeant and let him fall to the ground. Alnesr’s soft hand on his right arm drew his thoughts back to the present where they properly belonged, and he turned to smile at his brother Assassin.

 

“This is an important lesson for you to learn, Alnesr, though not the one I had first intended to teach you,” he said, once the two of them had left the dead Templars behind them, crouching safely in a rooftop garden out of sight of the citizens on the streets and those few guards on the rooftops. “Not every plan you make goes as well as you might want it.”

 

“Yes, I have come to realize that myself, during the course of my own work for the Brotherhood,” Alnesr said, his tone sounding more wry than Altaïr had ever heard from the younger Assassin in all the time they had worked together.

 

It was a rather odd thing to hear, all told, but Altaïr chose to think of it as a sign of Alnesr’s increasing level of comfort in his own skin. His brother Assassin had always seemed more like an adult wearing a child’s skin, ever since the day Abbas had tried to kill him. At least, when he had gathered himself enough to be able to speak again. Altaïr still wondered, sometimes, what course his brother Assassin’s life would have taken if he and Abbas had not had their falling-out.

 

Still, he did not think himself wrong for sharing the truth of Ahmad’s fate with Abbas; it was only bitter denial that had led Abbas to reject such a thing, and it was more than likely to have been mere stubbornness that drove his actions since that day.

 

Putting aside those thoughts, important though they might have felt to him, Altaïr turned to confer with Alnesr again. The both of them agreed that the place they were most likely to find a merchant such as Demetris was in Limassol’s Marketplace, and so that was where the pair of them would go to first, before they widened their search.

 

Rising from his crouch, hidden within the rooftop garden and safely out of sight of any patrolling guards they would have otherwise been required to deal with, Altaïr moved in concert with Alnesr as the pair of them began making their way back towards the cheerfully wafting scents and sounds of Limassol’s Marketplace. He’d more than his fill of dealing with corrupted merchants – those that had given into either the Templars or their own desires – but, all the same, this was one more service he could perform on behalf of those who would not be able to protect themselves from the depredations of those who would otherwise seek to dominate them. His own desires were less than important, in the face of what services he could render to those under the protection of the Brotherhood.

 

Looking down on the varied stalls of Limassol’s Marketplace for yet another time, Altaïr gave a nod to Alnesr and the two of them descended back into the streets once more. Blending into the sparse crowd making their varied ways among the stalls for their varied reasons, Altaïr considered for a long moment whether or not to use his second-sight to find the merchant they were searching for. One the one hand, he did not wish to become overly dependant on the sense, however he also wished to have done with this task as soon as he could manage.

 

Above all other concerns, he needed to speak to Alexander about what he and Alnesr had discovered as soon as he could manage.

 

Pausing a moment to concentrate, Altaïr saw the world washed out into the soft light-and-shadow that composed his second-sight, revealing and reflecting the motives of those around him. Beside him, just to his right, he saw Alnesr’s eyes dart briefly to him, before his brother Assassin narrowed his own eyes in brief concentration. Nodding with some small sense of satisfaction that his brother Assassin had learned well enough to anticipate the need for such a thing without the two of them having to discus it.

 

He was fully aware that such a thing was, like as not, a product of their time spent together, but it was for that reason that he could not deny its utility.

 

Descending back to the streets, once he had spotted a man who shone with the golden light of those who carried information that would aid him in the completion of this newest – and, for the moment, last – mission that he and Alnesr would undertake before returning to the Resistance’s safehouse to report their findings to Alexander, Altaïr found himself confronted by the guards that the merchant had employed. Taking up the poise of a scholar before the men had drawn close enough to truly present a threat to him and Alnesr where they stood, Altaïr sighed inwardly as he realized that the man he had seen was inside the building rather than outside as he’d initially thought.

 

Moving carefully out of sight of the guards that had been gathered before the front entrance of the building, Altaïr led Alnesr around to the back, and the pair of them entered swiftly through an upper window. Following the sound of a man’s voice back toward the front of the building, and Altaïr paused for a moment. If the man they were about to confront called for his guards, it was likely to cause far more trouble than the two of them would be able to handle easily. It was also more than likely to result in the death of the very man he’d an interest in.

 

So, briefly turning back to Alnesr to speak with his brother Assassin about that matter, in low tones that wouldn’t carry to Demetris where he waited below, he posed the idea. Alnesr agreed with him easily, and went back out through a nearby window to deal with the guards that the pair of them had passed by on their way inside. Breathing more easily, knowing that Alnesr would be able to handle himself against the guards stationed before the building, Altaïr continued deeper.

 

The sound of a man’s voice, speaking to other people of his acquaintance, drew Altaïr forward until he was looking down on an elderly man seated in the middle of a pair of concubines. Pausing for a few moments, to see what the man he was observing might do next, Altaïr settled himself to wait for Alnesr to return. The pair of them together would doubtless be able to deal with anything this man thought to bring to bear against them; in addition to that, of course, was the simple fact that he’d long since learned that one was always better served bringing along a trusted companion when one was heading into an unknown situation.

 

It didn’t take much more than a few, long moments for Alnesr to return, the scent of blood still lingering on his robes to anyone who had the training to discern it.

Chapter Text

Turning his eyes back to the man who was most likely to be Demetris himself – he acted the part well enough – Altaïr leaped lightly down from the rafters. The concubines who had been the focus of the man’s attention all scattered, some of them screaming at the sight of the pair of Assassins.

 

“This isn’t a public house, for God’s sake! Remove yourselves, paupers, before I call the guards!”

 

“We’re here on business, Demetris,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he and Alnesr closed with the man. “We’re looking for one of your clients. A killer.”

 

Alnesr folded his arms across his chest, clearly attempting to appear more imposing than his still-short stature would have otherwise been. Although, Altaïr rather thought that his brother Assassin’s uncanny, yellow eyes made up for quite a bit.

 

“What makes you think I know where to find such a man?” Demetris demanded, his eyes flicking briefly to Alnesr where he stood. “I deal in textiles, not cutthroats.”

 

“The, what is to be made of the rumor that Bouchart hired you to sneak him through the ports this morning?” he returned, curious to know just what this man’s answer would be.

 

“You- you’re crazy! I would never work with such a vile man as Bouchart, no matter how much money he offered!” Demetris shouted vehemently.

 

Altaïr was not entirely certain that he should trust the word of the man before him, and yet it had been a Templar who had directed him to this man. It was entirely possible that, much as he disliked the thought, that he and Alnesr had been deceived once more. However, the next words out of the man’s mouth put paid to that supposition.

 

Before either he or Alnesr could act on what they had just heard, Demetris collapsed to the ground. The knife that had been buried up to its hilt in the portly man’s back was revealed then, and Altaïr looked back down along the weapon’s trajectory to determine if he could find the man responsible for murdering Demetris. He found himself instinctively activating his second-sight; he found an enemy sitting atop the roof, crouched just outside the large opening in the roof that Altaïr had briefly taken note of when he and Alnesr had made their way into the building.

 

As he and his brother Assassin gave chase to the man, following him for a few, long moments as he made his way to some destination that Altaïr found himself particularly curious about, Altaïr had the sudden, unpleasant feeling that he was being led into a trap of one sort or another. Or, at the very least, being distracted from an important matter. Alighting on a rooftop, he called for Alnesr to halt as well.

 

“What troubles you, brother?”

 

“I begin to think that we should not be so swift to follow that man,” he said, seeing the confusion on Alnesr’s face and knowing that he himself would have wanted an explanation if their positions had been reversed. “He seemed rather too eager to lead us astray.”

 

“Perhaps,” his brother Assassin said, looking out in the direction that the man they had previously been chasing had departed in. “Still, do you think it’s truly prudent to allow this man to escape uncontested? I could pursue him, myself.”

 

He still felt uneasy about the prospect, but this was one of the few times that Alnesr had been willing to suggest something to him without the uncertainty that had seemed to plague him all the stronger since his interactions with the Apple. And, in particular, the revelation of the man in black and the fact that Alnesr had seemed so blind to his presence. Altaïr did not wish to rob his brother Assassin of that certainty, and yet he could not deny the unease he still felt.

 

“If you feel it necessary to find out what that man was dispatched for, you have my leave to do so,” he said.

 

It was not as though his brother Assassin needed such a thing, considering his present rank, but Altaïr had come to realize that Alnesr seemed most comfortable when operating under his guidance. It was a habit that he would clearly have to work at breaking, if the younger Assassin were to be expected to take an Apprentice of his own in turn, but all of those concerns were for later. At present, more pressing concerns were at hand.

 

“I thank you for your confidence, brother,” Alnesr said, smiling in gentle gratitude to him, before turning to leave, following the same rout his quarry had taken over the rooftops of Limassol.

 

“Good hunting, brother,” he muttered, forcing himself back to his feet so that he could begin making his own way back to the safehouse that the Resistance maintained in this area.

 

The building itself was not difficult to find, at least when one was traversing the rooftops and hand been there previously, and so Altaïr made good time on his way back. The unease that he had been feeling had not been diminished in any real way by the decreasing distance, and so it was that he returned to the safehouse almost expecting something to have gone wrong. What he found there did not serve to allay his suspicions.

 

If anything, it only served to worsen them.

 

He found that the safehouse he was standing in had been completely deserted by the time he had made his way inside once more, and Altaïr did not like the conclusions that he was drawing in light of such an occurrence. However, with Templar agents at large in the city around him, and the clear knowledge that they had already managed to infiltrate the Resistance before, Altaïr could no more deny the likelihood of another infiltrator than he could stop himself from wondering at Alnesr’s progress in tracking Demetris’ killer.

 

The sight of a scrap of paper laying atop a barrel on the far side of the room, what turned out to be a note from Alexander, asking that the two of them meet in the courtyard of the nearby castle, did nothing to dissuade his suspicions. If anything, finding the safehouse empty only served to heighten them all the more. Still, he knew that he would not be able to learn anything if he did not act.

 

And so Altaïr made his way back out of the safehouse, determined to find out just what it was that Alexander – or else, the Templar agent who had been playing that selfsame part – wanted with him at Limassol Castle.

 

When he had managed to make his way back to that place, Altaïr paused for a moment to call up his second-sight once more. While it was true that he did not relish the thought of becoming overly dependant on even such a marvelous sense as the second-sight he had awakened when he was younger even than Alnesr when the pair of them had been given to each other as Master and Apprentice, neither did he enjoy the thought of such a talent going to waste simply because he feared becoming too dependant upon it.

 

When he finally made it into the courtyard of Limassol Castle, Altaïr found himself facing an empty courtyard.

 

His unease only grew, as he continued on his way deeper into the courtyard. The lack of guards in the courtyard and archers on the ramparts of the castle whose shadow he was currently standing in only served to make his unease all the more acute. As he continued deeper into the empty courtyard, the sight of Alexander’s lifeless body was, while not remotely a surprise considering what he had come to expect from this day of all days, still served as a grim reminder that his trials were not yet done.

 

Sparing a thought for Alnesr, hoping that his brother Assassin was holding his own against whatever it was that he might have been facing during his pursuit of Demetris’ killer, Altaïr continued forward.

 

Crouching next to Alexander’s body – the body that he could not help but to identify as the leader of this cell of the Cypriots’ Resistance, given all that he had seen in merely the past day – Altaïr turned the corpse onto its back. A single glimpse of the corpse’s face was all Altaïr needed to confirm his suppositions, and Altaïr closed his eyes in brief remembrance. He’d not managed to do so much good here in Cyprus at all, and could have easily been said to have done more harm than good by coming out this way.

 

Still, it was his duty as a member of the Brotherhood – to say nothing of the fact that he was now Mentor of the Levantine Assassins – to challenge the oppression of the common citizens whenever he bore witness to such a thing occurring.

 

“A friend of yours?” a voice called out from behind him.

 

Turning swiftly, Altaïr found himself dazzled by the sun for a long moment, before he raised his left arm to block the light and was hence able to see more of the man standing on a balcony above him. The man wore white robes emblazoned with a Templar cross, already giving Altaïr reason to dislike him, and stood with legs apart as though to declaim himself some kind of conquering hero.

 

“You,” he snapped, narrowing his eyes at the man, even as he tensed himself for the combat that was certain to be coming; his personal feelings about this man aside, Altaïr had never been a friend to Templars. “I didn’t catch your name.”

 

“What did I tell you and your boy back in Kyrenia?” the spy asked, and Altaïr could nearly hear the mocking smirk in his very tone. “Barnabas, wasn’t it?” the spy made a brief show of looking about for someone, and Altaïr had a moment of relief that – whenever this man had planned – Alnesr would at the very least be away from it. “By the by, where is your boy? Has he gotten lost, perchance?”

Chapter Text

Before any other words could be exchanged between the pair of them, Altaïr began to hear the rising shouts of a crowd beginning to gather around him, and it was then that he came to fully realize how thoroughly the spy before him had managed to lay his trap. The citizens now gathering around him had begun to call for his head in earnest, and as Altaïr searched for a way to extricate himself from his current situation without attacking the citizens around him – an action that would have shattered their faith in both the Brotherhood and the Cypriot Resistance itself – he seized upon the Apple itself.

 

He hesitated for a long moment, not wishing to enthrall the minds of the citizens around him – and, beyond that, not knowing what kind of effect it would have on Alnesr, even so far away as he was – but, in the end, he knew that he would not be able to avoid bloodshed if he did not act. And so, gathering himself in the same way that he’d done before diving into the Apple to pull Alnesr free of it, Altaïr held the item aloft.

 

Even as he did so, however, Altaïr made a personal vow that he would never use the Apple for such a thing again.

 

Diaphanous light spilled out of the Apple, spreading over the crowd almost as though it were a liquid, and the crowd as a whole seemed to stop in its collective tracks.

 

“Armand Bouchart is the man responsible for your misery,” he said, watching the expressions of the people around him, even as they were calmed under the unnatural influence of the Apple. “He is the one who hired this man to poison the Resistance against itself. Go from this place, and rally your men. Cyprus will soon be yours once again.”

 

Even saying that much was an effort for him, though not in the way that another might have thought had they been watching. Commanding the attention of these people was a terribly easy thing, with the Apple in his hands and a crowd of citizens before him, but Altaïr knew his duty as a member of the Brotherhood. Pulling his mind free from the Apple with some effort, watching as the citizens who had once been so misguidedly eager to take his life slowly turned away and began making their way back out into the city.

 

For a long moment, Altaïr stared down at the Apple, resting easily in his hands. The sphere seemed almost too small, for all that it could cause to happen, and all the power that it clearly exerted over the minds of men. To say nothing of the man in black, or what always seemed to happen to Alnesr when he came into contact with the artifact.

 

“Quite a toy you have there,” the spy said, drawing his attention back to where the man stood on the balcony, even as Altaïr tucked the Apple safely away. “Mind if I borrow it?”

 

Turning to confront the spy, with a personal vow that the Apple would only leave his possession if he died in this battle, Altaïr prepared himself for combat. However, just as the spy was preparing to leap down from the balcony he had been standing upon, a sword pierced his chest from behind. Altaïr watched, in curiosity and hopeful anticipation, as the still-bleeding corpse of the spy fell to the ground. Behind where the man had been standing, now revealed to him, was the familiar form of Maria.

 

About to call out in askance as to where Alnesr might have been, he saw his brother Assassin making his own way over the ramparts and onto the balcony where Maria stood. It was clear that the both of them had been through a fight of their own, but Altaïr was simply pleased that neither one of them appeared injured, or overly troubled.

 

“There, now you see what manner of weapon the Apple could prove to be, in the wrong hands,” this he directed at Maria, as she stood atop the balcony and Alnesr leaped lightly down.

 

“I don’t know that I’d call yours the right hands,” Maria returned, her eyes having briefly followed Alnesr as he moved.

 

“No, you’re right,” he admitted; it was not a safe thing, toying with the Apple as he had, even though he’d acted to spare the lives of the citizens all about him. “I will destroy it, or else find a way to hide it. Until Alnesr and I have found the archive, I can’t say.”

 

“Well, look no further,” Maria said, sweeping her right arm wide to indicate the large space they were all inside. “You’re standing on it.”

 

The sounds of running feet, followed quickly by the familiar shouts of Templar soldiers, drew his attention to the doors just before they were thrown open once again. The trio burst in, and Altaïr heard the sound of Alnesr unsheathing his own blade as the pair of them turned to confront the men now standing before them. Maria called something from up above, but Altaïr found that he could not pay attention to such a thing at the moment.

 

Once he and Alnesr had dealt with the last of the three who had attempted to stand against them, Altaïr turned his eyes back to where Maria had been standing. He found her staring down at the pair of them with a distinctly unimpressed expression.

 

“If the two of you are quite finished, we might be able to come to the real reason the pair of you came to this place.”

 

“Of course, Maria,” he said, permitting himself a small smile, as he was far enough from her sight that she was not likely to be able to make out his every expression.

 

There was a certain, satisfied finality to the way Maria nodded after he’d spoken, and as he and Alnesr climbed and leaped up and over the balcony and then over the ramparts themselves, Altaïr wondered just what it was that the three of them would ultimately find when they reached the end of the path they were currently on. Reaching the door at the end of the hallway they currently stood in, Altaïr watched as Maria stepped forward to push it open.

Chapter Text

Once the three of them had made it through, Altaïr smiling slightly as Maria took up a position at the forefront of their triangle-formation, he heard the doors they had just come through slamming closed behind them. As they began descending the staircase that spiraled down into the dark depths, torches casting only flickering, insubstantial light on the Templar crosses all around them, Altaïr took note of the state of the building.

 

There were rather a great deal of gaps that they needed to leap across, and beyond that the stonework and mortar looked to be crumbling away in places. It would have been clear to anyone who took the time to observe the state of the building they were all moving through would likely have come to the erroneous conclusion that it was entirely abandoned. It was a useful ruse, disguising a place that was truly important as no more than a deserted ruin, but he doubted that such a thing could be managed in the long run.

 

At the very least, the structural integrity of the building was likely to give out sooner than later, necessitating a move.

 

Still, such a consideration might have very well made this place all the more attractive to the Templars; he did not know their thoughts, and was no longer so arrogant as to claim to be able to discern them from such small things as he was observing while their trio had been pressing ever deeper into this particular stronghold. Spreading out once the three of them had reached a wide chamber whose floor was scattered with sand, Altaïr made to search for the guards who would doubtless be present in such a place as this.

 

Maria was the one who spotted them, in the end, and the two men died in a hail of thrown knives from him and Alnesr.

 

The place where the three of them stood, for just a moment before they all began to move forward again, seemed far more open and airy than he would have previously expected of a place where the Templars had chosen to shelter even a part of their holdings. Perhaps such had been the point, but Altaïr could not help wondering just which of them had been the one to suggest such a place. And also, what reception the idea had gotten from his brothers-in-arms.

 

Neither of those two musings were in any way relevant to his current task, however, and so Altaïr put them aside as he continued on his way down, holding his place on Maria’s right.

 

A glance at Alnesr let him know that his brother Assassin was also preparing himself for the battle that they were about to undertake, against the leader of the Templar contingent in this place at last, and he felt both pride and sorrow at the thought of what he would soon be doing. It was something he held in common with Al Mualim… or, perhaps the traitor had been lying, in an effort to off-balance him so he would not turn the full skill he had learned during his life on him. Forcing those thoughts aside, Altaïr turned his thoughts toward Bouchart once more.

 

Looking forward once more, Altaïr saw that the three of them were about to pass under a large arch that had been decorated with a Templar cross at the apex. Turning his eyes back to the path before their trio, he saw that they were about to step into a large chamber, what looked like some kind of ceremonial area. The chamber itself was ringed with stone pillars, and Bouchart was standing in the center of it, looking up at them with clear disapproval.

 

“Witless Emperor Comnenus,” Bouchart snapped, his tone full of contempt. “He was a fool, but he was our fool. For almost a decade, we operated without interference on this island. Our Archive was the best-kept secret on Cyprus. Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans were not immune to Issac’s idiocy.”

 

For almost a decade, Altaïr reflected, narrowing his eyes and taking a step forward. “He angered King Richard and brought the English a little too close for comfort. Is that it? Purchasing what you already controlled?”

 

“And look where that got us,” Bouchart confirmed, his tone one of controlled fury. “Ever since you and yours turned up and started sticking your noses into too many dark corners, the Archive has not been safe.”

 

“I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I tend to get what I want,” he said, projecting the bravado he didn’t feel in his tone; there was something wrong… something he’d not yet seen, but something that was present before him.

 

“Oh, not this time, Assassins,” Bouchart said, wearing a fierce grin on his face. “Not now. Our little detour to Kyrenia gave us just enough time to dismantle the Archive and move it.”

 

Of course, he mused, growling deep in his throat; it wasn’t a meager Archive that he and his had been making their way through, no. Indeed, it was the paltry, unwanted remains of a much larger showing. Annoyed with himself, that he hadn’t thought to examine the motives of the Templars, or at least to dispatch some of his fellow Assassins within Cyprus to monitor their activities. “You weren’t shipping artifacts to Cyprus, you were shipping them out.”

 

“Exactly,” Bouchart said, and Altaïr narrowed his eyes at the man’s nod. “However, not everything must be taken,” Altaïr narrowed his eyes all the more, as Bouchart smiled thinly at them. “You and the traitor may stay here, and I will take the child and the Apple back to my Order.”

 

“Take me, will you?” he heard Alnesr mutter, and smiled thinly himself.

Chapter Text

Bouchart leaped forward, into the newly-drawn swords of himself, Maria, and Alnesr as they all stepped forward to meet his charge. Breathing as deeply and steadily as he could manage during the course of the battle they were all participating in, Altaïr fell almost naturally into the triangular formation that had formed around Bouchart as the three of them continued to battle. Bouchart seemed to have no clear idea of what to do, now that he was surrounded and being slowly, relentlessly picked apart by the trio surrounding him.

 

Smiling slightly as Bouchart began to flag at last, the man bleeding and sweating and flailing at whichever one of them he was capable of reaching, Altaïr flowed into another slice just as Alnesr’s and Maria’s own swords bit deep into the flesh of the Templar they had surrounded and drove him down to the ground at last. Running the Templar through at the same moment as his compatriots, he stepped back and pulled out his sword as Bouchart collapsed bonelessly to the ground.

 

It was with some sense of satisfaction that he watched the Templar fall, but Altaïr pushed that aside and focused on what the Templar seemed to want to say to him.

 

“You are, a credit to your Creed…” the dying Templar gasped.

 

“And you have strayed from yours,” he said; Altaïr found that he could actually feel pity for this man, even if only at the last.

 

“Not strayed,” Bouchart wheezed. “Expanded. The world is more complicated than most people dare to admit. And if you, Assassin… if you and your kind knew more than how to murder, you might understand this.”

 

“Save your lectures on morality, Armand,” Maria snapped, before he could say anything. “We both know that you were never one to follow them.”

 

“Ah,” Bouchart smiled tiredly, as he continued to bleed out upon the stones. “Is that, then, why you chose to betray us?”

 

Maria scoffed, but gave no answer to the Templar’s question. Altaïr suspected that he knew the answer where Bouchart did not, but he was not about to say a word about that, either.

 

“You may die, knowing that I will not allow the Apple of Eden to fall into any hands but my own,” he said, looking down upon the man.

 

“Keep it close,” Bouchart said, with an ironic smile. “You will come to the came conclusions we did… in time…”

 

Bouchart’s eyes fell closed, and the man died with that same, ironic smile on his face. Altaïr sighed, but he had little time to gather himself, before he heard the sharp retort of cannon fire and was forced to step quickly out of the way of a sudden fall of broken stone and other debris. It seemed as though the Templars would not be satisfied with merely sending one of their own to kill him, instead they were shelling the building in an effort to see that none of them escaped from the building at all.

 

Maria took the lead again, owing to the fact that she was the most likely to know a faster way out than attempting to retrace their steps through the crumbling maze that the building was swiftly becoming.

 

Soon enough, with no more than a few close calls involving falling stones and other debris, the three of them made it out into the open air and bright light of Limassol’s port. Breathing deeply, he lay down on the sidewalk and tried his best to catch his breath, even as the Templars continued to shell the castle that had once held the Templars’ Archive. Closing his eyes slightly, Altaïr looked over at Alnesr and Maria where they lay.

Chapter Text

“Are the two of you all right?” he asked, turning slightly so that he would be able to face his brother Assassin and the woman he could now freely admit that he was coming to care for.

 

He received weary confirmations from the pair of them, and sighed in relief. Laying back down once more, breathing deeply of air that was beginning to smell distinctively of stone dust, Altaïr settled against the low wall. Half-closing his eyes, even as he heard the shelling continuing on, Altaïr allowed himself to relax for a few, long moments. Then, during a lull in the shelling, Altaïr stood back up, called to his compatriots, and the three of them made their way out to the edges of the former castle.

 

Finding a spot that would be outside the arc of the cannons the Templars were steadily using to demolish even the remains of the castle that they had held what artifacts had made the Templars so dangerous to those that they had deemed enemies, Altaïr sat down against the base of another wall. Alnesr and Maria settled down on either side of him, and he smiled as his brother Assassin leaned against him.

 

The three of them stayed that way, each resting from the ordeal now behind them, as the sun made its slow path across the sky.

 

When he felt rested enough to stand again, Altaïr rose back to his feet, helping Alnesr to stand back on his own. He’d a moment’s thought to offer the same courtesy to Maria, he found that she had already stood up once more. She gave him a rather sardonic smile in return, and the three of them began making their way along the docks. Altaïr wondered what Maria was thinking.

 

“Everything I worked for in the Holy Land, I no longer want,” Maria said, before Altaïr could begin to articulate the questions brimming in his mind; and, at that same moment, removing all need for them. “And, everything I gave up to join the Templars… I wonder where it went, and if I might try to find it again.”

 

“Will you return to England, then?” he asked, not knowing even then what he would want her answer to be.

 

“No. I’m so far afield already, I’ll continue on… east. To India, perhaps. Or until I fall off the edge of the world,” she turned back to him, and Altaïr thought that there was a shadow of a smile on her face. “And what of you and yours, Assassin?”

 

“For a long time, under Al Mualim, I thought my life had reached its limit, and that my sole duty was to guide others to the same precipice I stood upon,” he glanced briefly to Alnesr, who smiled in response.

 

“Yes,” Maria said, nodding with a reflective sort of smile. “I felt the same way, once.”

 

“As terrible as this artifact is, it contains wonders,” he said, removing the Apple from the satchel concealed within his robes. “I would like to understand it as best I may,” he continued.

 

There was also the matter of the man in black, and just what he might have wanted. Perhaps he would even be able to find out what connection the man had with Alnesr, though with his brother Assassin present, he wasn’t going to speak of those desires. He’d no wish to cause his brother Assassin further distress, and the fact that he could not remember the presence of the one within the Apple, even when he had held it in his own hands, was bound to cause just what he would want to avoid.

 

Whatever else happened, he was going to have answers for that.

 

“You tread a thin line, Altaïr,” Maria warned, the look in her eyes telling him that she had guessed at the deeper meaning of his words.

 

“I know,” he said, with a slow, solemn nod. “But I have been ruined by curiosity, Maria. I wish to meet all the best minds, explore all the libraries of the world, and learn all the secrets of nature and the universe.”

 

“All in a single lifetime?” Maria asked, fond amusement in her eyes now. “It’s a little ambitious, Assassin. And what of you, little one? You’ve been so silent all this time.”

 

“I will follow where Altaïr leads,” Alnesr said loyally, a smile on his own face. “My Brother has never guided me down the wrong path.”

 

Altaïr did not know if he would have been so swift to forget the mistakes – and he could see so many of them, with the benefit of hindsight and his hard-won wisdom – that he had made with regards to Alnesr, Al Mualim, and the things that he had done in the past that was all too recent by his reckoning. Still, even if it could be called a child’s fancy, Altaïr appreciated Alnesr’s loyalty.

 

“Well then, where will the pair of you go first?” Maria asked, and Altaïr wondered if he was simply imagining the invitation in her tone; he rather thought the challenge would have been audible even to someone who did not know her.

 

Still, there was no more question in his mind that he wished to have Maria in his life, and he rather thought that the feeling had become mutual, during the time that they had spent walking beside one another. True, they had been at cross purposes in the beginning, but here and now they seemed to have come to an understanding. Some might have considered his actions self-serving, but he did not wish to give that up.

 

“I think we shall head east.”

Chapter Text

The smile Maria turned on him was challenging, and Altaïr answered it with one of his own. Not only a challenge, but a promise: that the pair of them would stand together, not only against whatever else might think to harm them, but through the other struggles that living in the would that they did would inevitably bring them. Of course, it would not be so simple as merely deciding that they wished to spend their lives together, but this would be a start.

 

Another beginning, in a life filled with ends and beginnings both.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

They did indeed travel east, as Altaïr and Maria had both decided upon, and Alnesr soon found himself coming into contact with those members of the Brotherhood who had never set foot within the walls of Masyaf. It was not an experience that he would have ever thought to have, but that did not mean that he scorned it. Far from it, in fact; having the chance to speak with those who had never heard of the Levantine Brotherhood – or else knew of it only distantly – was one of the most interesting things he had done in several years.

 

During the course of their travels, Altaïr and Maria grew all the closer, and nearly two years to the day after the debacle at Limassol, the pair of them were returning to the island to be wed. Naturally, he was called upon to play a part, and while he was happy to do such, he still found the concept rather odd. He’d not have expected to attend the wedding of an Assassin to a Templar, even a former one such as Maria had declared herself.

 

Still, the event itself seemed to go as well as one could expect such a thing to proceed, and soon enough Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad and Maria Thorpe had been wed.

 

There was not so much of a change in their lives as Alnesr would have thought, but perhaps such a thing was because the two of them were of such a kind as to understand each other without the difficulties that others seemed to find. Whatever the reason, however, Alnesr was happy that his brother had found happiness after all the hardship he had faced during the course of their shared lives.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

When he was able to take some time for himself, away from those who might have been adversely affected by what he was about to attempt – Alnesr in particular, since he was not about to risk his brother Assassin’s wellbeing merely for the sake of satisfying his curiosity; no matter how such a thing had gnawed at him – Altaïr took the Apple of Eden from the small chest he kept just underneath his bed. Holding the artifact in the palms of both his hands, he noticed the traceries of light flashing through the grooves in the artifact for a long moment, before dismissing them from his mind and delving into the Apple itself.

Chapter Text

It seemed a mere moment before he saw the form of the man in black once more; seemingly walking out of the light within the Apple, and then circling around him as though the man believed himself some sort of predator. His first impression of the man in black – hood up and voluminous robes billowing about him as he stalked in a tight circle, always keeping Altaïr within the sight of his hidden eyes; the only visible part of his face dominated by the wide, amused smirk he was wearing – did not seem to be a favorable one, and so Altaïr resolved to be on his guard around this man. Whoever he was, it was clear that this man was dangerous.

 

When he reached up with black-gloved hands to remove his hood, Altaïr found himself beholding the face of the man in black for only the second time since he had become aware of his presence within the Apple.

 

The first things that anyone else was apt to notice were his bright, deep yellow eyes, and the veritable waterfall of silver hair that cascaded over his shoulders, and even framed the sides of his face. However, having spent so many years living with and working beside Alnesr had inured him to the oddities of his brother Assassin’s appearance, and so Altaïr was able to look beyond such ultimately minor things and see the true nature of the man before him. He had a look of avarice about him, and in that way the man in black was more akin to Al Mualim than he had suspected at first.

 

Such was clearly not a man that could be trusted.

 

The man in black tilted his head slightly, then raised his right hand. At a momentary loss as to what the man in black wished him to do, Altaïr paused for a moment to see what he would do next. The man in black tilted his head slightly, as though beckoning him forward, and Altaïr stepped forward with his own right hand held out.

 

When he reached out to touch the man’s right hand, his fingers passing through the man’s own up to the palm, Altaïr…

 

… he saw a room of high thrones, and the faces of other men passed before him… a one-eyed man whose long, black hair was heavily shot through with gray… a man whose heavy features were shadowed by a myriad of long, thin black braids… a vulpine-featured man with a great deal of long, pale blond hair… another man with heavy features, this one with bright, coppery-red hair, and a frame almost as large as the Bull in Kantara Castle… a young man with dark hair shadowing half of his face, and a certain scholarly air about him… a man whose hair was longer than any of the others Altaïr had seen before, who had a wild fringe of hair on the top of his head… two children, one fair-haired and one dark… and finally, a man with a bald pate; he only glimpsed this one from the back, and so could merely catch sight of the long, black robes the man seemed to possess, before Altaïr found himself…

 

Standing before the man in black, surrounded by bright, colorless, coruscating light that seemed almost apt to reach out and embrace the pair of them.

 

“Who are you?” he asked, as the man in black, once he had pulled his hand away and held it at his side again.

 

“Nobody in particular,” the man in black said, the shadow of a sly smile lurking on his face. “I am pleased to meet you, however, Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad.”

 

“You learned of me from Alnesr, yes?” he asked, forcing himself not to narrow his eyes in response; he did not know how this man would react to any hint of open suspicion.

 

“Indeed,” the man in black said, the sly smile on his face coming becoming fully visible at last. “He and I have become quite well-acquainted during the time we’ve had together. And, I would like to thank you for taking care of him so well as you have.”

 

“Of course,” he said, still wary of the man before him. “How long have you been here?” the man in black merely chuckled, softly, in response to his question. “How did you first come to be within the Apple?” The man in black gave merely an amused smile. “Is there anything that you will deign to tell me?” he asked at last, beginning to become exasperated, in addition to suspicious.

 

“Your Alnesr isn’t the only one of those who bear my imprint,” the man in black said, reaching up to replace his hood once more. “When you meet them, during your travels, do keep that in mind.”

 

The light around him pulsed strongly, and Altaïr found himself once again within the room in Limassol that he had taken for his own. He suspected that he’d not actually left in any real sense, and that anyone who had been present while he was speaking would have been able to tell him just the same. He did not know that they would have remained unaffected by his presence, and therefore until he could determine just what the man in black might want, he was not going to risk exposing anyone else to the man.

 

Gathering himself, Altaïr carefully tucked the Apple back into the satchel he used to transport it those times when he needed to move the artifact and remain unnoticed while doing so, and then tucked the satchel away in a drawer near his bed. Once he had managed to secure the artifact well enough that he was no longer concerned that someone who might not be so able as he was, to see the man in black for who he truly was, would chance to come across it.

 

He might not have gained the man’s name, but a name was truly the least of the various aspects of a man’s life.

Chapter Text

Leaving Limassol behind, to resume their journey east, Maria couldn’t help but take note of the increasing amount of time Altaïr would spend locked in his chambers, the lights showing under the door indicating that he was looking into the Apple. The fact that he had been able to tell her the future of the small family they were beginning to build for themselves had had to be weighed against her husband’s increasing obsession with the artifact, and her husband’s obsession was beginning to win out.

 

The amount of time he would spend looking into the artifact was steadily growing longer, and even the presence of Alnesr here with him in Masyaf was not bringing him back to his senses; if anything, it seemed to encourage him to pursue the secrets that might lay within the Apple.

 

She knew that this situation of theirs couldn’t go on as it was currently, for Darim’s sake if none other, and she had made up her mind to confront him about his obsession this very night. Maria only hoped that she could make Altaïr see reason at last.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

Settling back into the room that Altaïr had granted him after their return to Masyaf, Alnesr found himself wondering how his mentor – now fully instated as the Master of the Levantine Assassins – was faring. Maria had spoken to him of her misgivings about the increasing amount of time he spent gazing into the depths of the Apple, but as Alnesr himself could never quite recall his thoughts when he was in the presence of the artifact, he hadn’t yet attempted to speak to his mentor about that matter.

 

However, as it was morning and he had not yet broken his fast, Alnesr was making his way down to the main dining area so that he would be able to do so.

 

Passing a fair few of his brother Assassins in the corridors, Alnesr caught snatches of talk from small gatherings of them along the way. He did not pause to listen to them, as he would not have wished any of them to intrude on his own conversations, but given what he was able to hear as he passed them all by, it seemed as though Altaïr had indeed regained the confidence of those present here. He was glad for it, as while his mentor had indeed made a grave misjudgment when he had first attempted to take the life of Robert de Sable within Solomon’s Temple, Altaïr had also used the lessons he had learned to grow as both a man and an Assassin.

 

When he made it into the main dining area, however, Alnesr found that Abbas was in the same area. More than that, the man was looking in his direction. He did not know what to make of the expression on Abbas’ face, as he had deliberately chosen a seat as far from the man as he could manage. He’d no care if it appeared that he was attempting to flee from the man who had once been as close as Altaïr still was, nor the impression that he was giving to his brother Assassins who were eating alongside him.

 

When he had finally finished his meal and was hence able to leave the dining area, Alnesr quickly gathered himself and departed.

 

He could hear the sound of another man following him, and while he hoped that it was not Abbas who was pacing him through the corridors, he knew that the length of the man’s stride was very similar to the last time he had heard it. It was not a situation he enjoyed being in, but he was beginning to suspect that he would not be able to evade such a situation for as long as he would wish. Steeling himself for what he was going to face, Alnesr turned and stopped in an unused study.

 

“I was hoping that I would have the chance to speak with you again.”

 

Turning to confront the man who had spoken such words to him, he found that it was indeed Abbas.

 

“Why did you pursue me, Abbas?” he asked, drawing away slightly as the man himself stepped forward; he’d no true antipathy for the man as he was, but the feel of strong fingers closing out his life was not one he would soon forget.

 

“I’d not known how to approach you before this day, my boy,” the man said, a gentle smile coming to his face; Alnesr thought it appeared rather false on the surface, but he of all people could hardly deny that a man was capable of change that others might not be willing to grant the possibility of. “I’d some hope that I might be given the chance to make amends.”

 

“May I have time to consider your words, Abbas?” he asked, belatedly realizing that he had been unconsciously tracing the paths of the bruises that had once been visible upon his neck when Abbas’ expression shifted into one of contrition.

 

“Of course, my boy,” the man – who Alnesr still could not quite bring himself to think of as his brother Assassin – said. “I’d forgotten… I am truly sorry to say, but I forgot the anguish I had caused to you. I do regret it, my brother, and I will give you what time you may need to come to terms with what I ask of you.”

 

“Thank you,” he said, nodding. “Abbas.”

 

He was not yet prepared to call Abbas brother once more, but Alnesr thought that such might not remain the case for such a long time as he’d thought. If Malik could forgive Altaïr for the mistake he had made – a mistake that had cost Malik far more dearly than Abbas’ mistake had cost him, in the end – then Alnesr himself could hardly be called a brother to Malik if he did not at least attempt to do the same.

 

Departing the empty study where he had spoken to Abbas, Alnesr turned to watch for a moment as the man departed. Not long enough that the man would take note of him doing so, but long enough that he could determine that Abbas was making his way down and out of the fortress. He wondered for a moment just where Abbas was going to go from there, since as far as he could recall Altaïr had not presented the man with a particular mission on this day, and then decided that such a thing was not his business.

 

Aside from that, there were many things that one could do without needing to leave the grounds of Masyaf.

Chapter Text

“Alnesr, I’m glad to have found you so quickly.”

 

“Maria,” he greeted, as the woman firmly grasped his right arm and began tugging him along. “What do you want of me?”

 

“I’ve tried my damnnest to get that man to see reason; to give up that artifact, and thus break the stranglehold it seems to be tightening over him, but I think that seeing you again will serve to remind him of just what it truly is he risks by continuing to toy with that artifact of his.”

 

He did not truly know how to respond to such a thing, and so Alnesr remained silent, hurrying his steps so that he would not be pulled off-balance by the speed that Maria was traveling. As the pair of them made their way back up to the place that had once been Al Mualim’s study, Alnesr winced slightly as he felt the sensation of something pressing lightly against the sides of his head. He did not know what to truly expect, when he and Maria had made their way into Altaïr’s study at last, but before he could ponder such a thing too long, Alnesr found himself standing before the door to Altaïr’s study.

 

The bright, colorless light seeping out from under the lip of the door made it quite clear what he and Maria were going to be dealing with, once they had made their way inside.

 

Steeling himself once more, knowing all the same that there was little chance that he would be able to so much as glimpse the mysterious “man in black” that Altaïr and Maria had both spoken of seeing during the missing time he had been a victim of, Alnesr followed Maria into his mentor’s study. He found his brother Assassin just beginning to remove the Apple from whatever he used to store the artifact when he was not making use of it.

 

“Right, that’s enough!” Maria snapped, marching decisively over to where Altaïr had seated himself.

 

Alnesr would have been very close behind her, if not for the fact that the pressure on the sides of his head was steadily increasing the longer he spent in Altaïr’s study so close to the Apple. He imagined, just for a moment, that he could see that same flickering, colorless light that he had seen from the artifact before. The pressure around his head – and a strange, indescribable feeling in his chest – steadily increased as he drew closer to the desk where Altaïr was sitting.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

“Alnesr!” he called, just as he saw the first emergence of the man in black from his place within the Apple.

 

Maria acted faster, however, and was able to catch Alnesr before his brother Assassin struck his head on the stone floor of his study.

 

“This has gone on long enough, Altaïr,” Maria snapped, gently settling Alnesr into a nearby chair so that she would be able to speak to him more freely. “That artifact, the man in black within it… Whatever you discover within it, it cannot be worth constantly risking the health, or even the life, of someone you clearly care so much about.”

 

“She makes an interesting argument, Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad. How will you respond?”

 

Gathering himself, ignoring the goading words of the man in black, Altaïr forced his thoughts back into some form of organization. “I know that what I do is a risk; I act to mitigate such things as much as I may, and yet… I cannot simply allow the secrets this artifact holds to remain undiscovered, if they will provide new ways and means that I might be able to use to aid us in our struggle against the Templars, and all of those who might seek to deny humanity the freedom to grow and develop as they will.”

 

“Those are very fine words,” Maria said, though she did not sound impressed in the slightest. “However, they sound almost like the ones you said your old Master spoke when he was attempting to sway you back to his side.”

 

“I am not Al Mualim,” he said; it was his determination to be better than the man he had once looked up to in the not-so-distant past that would serve him in dealing with the Apple and the man in black both. “I do thank you for your concern, Maria,” he said, reaching out to clap her right shoulder. “However, I ask that you trust me in these matters. And please, by all means, continue expressing whatever concerns you might have. And, if you would, keep Alnesr out of these matters from now on,” he continued, looking over at where his brother Assassin rested in one of the larger chairs.

 

“Mind that you don’t become so absorbed in chasing shadows that you forget there is a whole world outside that artifact of yours,” Maria said, turning to gather up Alnesr from where he had been resting from his swoon.

 

“As long as I have you to remind me of such a world, I doubt that I will be able to forget so quickly.”

 

Maria gave him a dryly amused look over her shoulder as she turned to leave, and Altaïr smiled in response. Whatever else she thought of his motives, his words were no less true than they had been when he first wed her on Limassol. If anything, his bonds had only been strengthened by the demands that the Apple was placing upon him.

 

“Interesting…”

Chapter Text

When he regained consciousness, with Maria helping him to make his way back to his room, Alnesr sighed in frustration. More and more of late, it seemed as though he could not stand within the light of the Apple without suffering for it. And yes, Altaïr had spoken of the times he had seemed to be lost within the light of the artifact, but as he could not truly recall those times, he’d no other word but Altaïr’s own to suggest what had happened. And, while he was not truly questioning the integrity of his brother Assassin, it was truly a strange thing to consider.

 

Though, perhaps not so strange, in light of what he was continuing to see – or rather, fail to see – when he chanced to be in close proximity to the Apple.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

As he continued to study the Apple, in between searching out new areas to establish guilds of his brother and sister Assassins and updating the Codex that he was compiling on the information that he had gained from the Apple and the ideas he had worked out for improving the tools and tactics of the Brotherhood, Altaïr was also making detailed observations on the man in black. He took care to record those findings in another, secret codex that he was keeping for that particular purpose. Everything he had learned about the man in black, precious little from the man’s own words, gave him the impression that the only way he was going to find out anything about the man was through strict observation.

 

The man in black had steadily proven himself to be both self-amused and recalcitrant in the extreme.

 

He had also been observing events in the world at large, both during his travels and through the contacts he had made through the various guilds he had previously established, and given everything that he had learned, Altaïr was growing certain that the man who had come to be known as Genghis Khan was in possession of a Piece of Eden. There were precious few other explanations that he could see, as there was very little chance that a man, even a war leader like the Khan, would be able to amass such a large following purely on natural charisma. Altaïr even doubted that he himself would have been able to unite the many disparate clans that were said to be following this Khan’s banner.

 

This was, therefore, a matter of significantly more importance than his half-successful attempts to establish a sect of the Brotherhood in Constantinople.

 

At the moment, however, his concerns hewed closer to home. He now had two sons whose welfare and training he needed to consider before he made any far-reaching decisions, but as he also had Maria, Alnesr, and Malik to aid him in seeing to those and other matters that he might need to attend to, Altaïr found that he was not so pressed as he may have been otherwise. He was pleased, insomuch as he could be when he knew that there were other matters that would soon require his attention; matters taking shape in a different part of the world, yes, but that was no consolation, given what he suspected.

 

Truly, men in possession of a Piece of Eden were not to be taken lightly; he knew this better than most, and would not soon forget the lesson.

 

Returning his attention to the secondary codex that he was writing, that which detailed his observations and extrapolations upon the nature of the man in black, Altaïr reflected once more upon who he would be able to leave the slender volume with once he himself had come to the end of his lifetime. His main codex was not a thing that the man in black had ever shown any signs of interest in, but Altaïr rather doubted that the same would hold true about a book that was solely dedicated to the man himself. Particularly given how closely-guarded the man in black held any and all secrets about himself.

 

Even to this very day, Altaïr had not heard the man speak his own name.

 

Once he had managed to finish his drawings, detailing what little he could remember of the appearance of the others that he had glimpsed so briefly when he’d first passed into the light of the Apple, Altaïr carefully tucked his secondary codex away where no one else – particularly the man in black, those times when he would see fit to appear from within the artifact for his own incomprehensible reasons – would think to search for it. He was always careful with this secondary codex of his, making certain to keep it out of the way when he was working with the Apple, and in turn keeping the Apple safely out of sight when he was working on this secondary codex. He truly doubted that the man in black, secretive as he so clearly was, would take kindly to the efforts that Altaïr was making to uncover what secrets he could.

Chapter Text

Making his way out to the training ring with Darim and Sef, Alnesr reflected on how strange it felt for him to be doing such a thing. Yes, he had once acted as Altaïr’s Master, but the pair of them had agreed that such a thing had just been one more of Al Mualim’s schemes to destabilize their relationship and so keep the pair of them off-balance so that they would be less able to counter his manipulations with the Apple when they discovered them. Alnesr tried not to think of those times when he could avoid it, since the complicated emotions he still felt about Al Mualim were not something he was quite prepared to deal with, even now.

 

As he directed Sef into the care of Rauf, Alnesr took a moment to thank the aging instructor for assisting him in these matters. He’d known for a rather long time that he was not going to have the chance to become a field Assassin, simply due to his odd appearance; it would take no less than several lifetimes to acclimate anyone who might have encountered him to seeing past such a thing. It was a lesson that had only been reinforced by his encounters with those others that Altaïr had mentioned the mysterious man in black speaking of: those who shared his appearance, if not his exact circumstances.

 

Some of them had been forced from their homes, to wander the streets in an attempt to preserve what they could of their own lives in the face of open hostility from those they encountered; those had, naturally, been foremost among the ones who flocked to Altaïr as he had spoken of what they were attempting to do. He’d been glad of it; to be able to help those whose circumstances mirrored his own to such a great degree, but also shamefully pleased at his own good fortune to escape such an outcome. He hadn’t liked the thought, not wanting to think himself better than those whose circumstances would have been his own if not for a fortunate twist of fate.

 

Still, it did serve to remind him that he was still human, if nothing else.

 

It was Rauf who had first suggested the idea that he become an Instructor and thus aid in the training of his brother Assassins in the Levant. Altaïr had been in favor of the idea nearly as soon as he had heard of it, and even Malik had been supportive. Alnesr had, of course, been pleased by such an outpouring, and so he had volunteered his services to Rauf. First as a trainee himself, and then moving on to more and more difficult assignments.

 

This, here and now, was the culmination of his efforts and his learning.

 

He’d found that, appropriately enough, working with Darim was nearly the same as working with Altaïr had been. Darim had the same intensity and focus as Altaïr, and working with him served to remind Alnesr of all the years he had spent under Altaïr’s own tutelage, both inside Masyaf and in the cities surrounding the fortress. He was pleased by such a thing, but Alnesr could not help reflecting on the strangeness of it.

 

Turning his attention to what it was he was going to have for lunch, now that he had finished working with Darim for the afternoon and was being given some time to eat and refresh himself before he returned to teach more of his brother Assassins the combat skills they would need to survive out in the field. It amused him, sometimes, to think that he would be teaching his brother Assassins to survive in a place he was not likely to return to, but he supposed that Altaïr sometimes felt that way, himself, being the Master of the Assassins and hence spending more and more time in Masyaf.

Chapter Text

“Alnesr, come!”

 

“Abbas,” he greeted his brother Assassin, nodding to him as he carried over his meal and climbed into the chair that was being offered to him. “How have you been?”

 

“I have been well enough, for my part,” Abbas said, smiling at him as the pair of them began to eat their respective meals. “I’d heard that you’ve taken up the post of instructor from Rauf. A noble profession, that; I’m certain you will bring the Brotherhood credit with your work.”

 

“Thank you, Abbas,” he said, smiling softly.

 

It had become a great deal easier to speak to his brother Assassin, over the intervening years that the pair of them had spent repairing their relationship. True, there still remained times when he would recall the feel of Abbas’ hands closing around his throat, but those times had lessened dramatically as he had come to renew the closeness that he and Abbas had shared so long ago. He was pleased about that, but he could not help noticing the way that his brother Assassin still seemed to cling to the resentment he felt toward Altaïr.

 

More distressing still was Abbas’ clear reluctance to speak about the breakdown of the relationship that he and Altaïr had once shared; it had been many years since the pair of them had parted on terms that could not have been considered remotely amicable.

 

Still, now was not the time for his attempts at getting Abbas to see that his was not the only side of the story that he and Altaïr had both lived; to say nothing of Abbas’ clear distaste for the topic, Alnesr himself had his own duties to concern himself with. Once he had finished with his meal, Alnesr swiftly returned to the mid-sized building beside the training ring. Soon enough, another group of students would come to him wanting instruction, and it was now his duty to see that they had it.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

Time passed, as it was wont to do, and Altaïr soon found that he could no longer afford to delay his dealings with Genghis Khan. Darim and Sef had grown well, under the tutelage of Alnesr and his fellow instructors. He himself would have never thought to see his former Apprentice among the ranks of Labib, Rauf and the others like them, but as Alnesr’s appearance was not one that would serve him when he was in the field – something he felt that the man in black was responsible for, given his words and the way he acted – Altaïr was pleased to know that his brother Assassin had found a place that suited him.

 

At the very least, Alnesr had managed to make a place for himself in Masyaf.

 

Making his way out of his study at last, having gathered everything that he would need considering his aims, Altaïr turned at the sight of the man in black.

 

“Best of luck, Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad.”

 

There was a small, self-satisfied smirk on the man’s face, just before he vanished back into the depths of the Apple once more. Shaking his head, knowing by now that the man in black wasn’t one to reveal his thoughts unless there was something for him to gain in the doing. It was yet another reason for his distrust of the man, and also why he kept his work on items – particularly that extremely dense, yet almost feather-light metal alloy that he had worked with Alnesr to forge into a suit of armor – that he had manufactured with the aid of the Apple a secret from the man in black.

 

He was not such a fool as to idly trust the words of a man who made himself so deliberately mysterious; he’d learned every lesson that he might need on such a subject from Al Mualim.

 

Speaking to Darim and Sef both, directing his eldest to pack for a journey to the territories held by Genghis Khan and his devoted followers and his youngest to stay behind so that he could care for his family and attend to his training, Altaïr then turned his path toward Alnesr. His brother Assassin would naturally want to know where it was that he was going, and he’d no desire to worry the younger man unduly.

 

“Alnesr,” he called, once he came into sight of the training ring and was thus able to determine that it was empty. “I would speak with you, brother.”

 

“Of course, brother,” his former Apprentice said, turning to look his way with a slight bow; Altaïr wondered idly if he would ever lose such a habit. “You look as though you have important matters on your mind.”

 

“I came to inform you that I will be leaving soon,” he said, as he and Alnesr fell into step with one another as they made their way slowly toward the dining area. “The Khan’s depredations have become too numerous to ignore, and I fear he may have managed to lay his hands to another of the artifacts like the Apple. Perhaps the Sword,” he continued, thinking aloud for Alnesr’s benefit.

 

“It sounds as though you have quite a task ahead of you,” Alnesr said, his tone pensive and his gaze going distant for a long moment. “I certainly hope you don’t intend to attempt to take this task on alone, Altaïr.”

 

He chuckled softly, warmed by the concern his former Apprentice was showing for him. “No; I have learned my lesson well about such things, brother. Darim will be accompanying me for this task. I will return as soon as I may, but I simply wished to tell you of my plans in this so you wouldn’t worry about me.”

 

“I know your skill in these matters, brother,” Alnesr said, and he smiled in response to the calmly confident expression on his former Apprentice’s face. “Still, I am pleased to know that you will have one of our brothers beside you. Truth to tell, I would be concerned if you had told me you planned to go alone, no matter how fair-spoken your words were.”

 

“Yes, I rather thought that,” he said, smiling as the pair of them made their way into the dining area and he parted company with Alnesr.

 

Though not without a final farewell on both their parts.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

When Altaïr had left Masyaf behind, in an effort to curb the excesses of Genghis Khan and those people who might not have been following him entirely of their own volition, Malik found himself rather amused at his position. Altaïr had elected to name him leader of the Levantine Brotherhood, and while Malik could hardly deny having wanted the position once, when he and Altaïr were both much younger men, he now knew better just what true leadership entailed. He’d seen such a thing wearing away slowly at his brother Assassin while the pair of them – plus Alnesr, since he had been raised by the man, and naturally shared a close relationship to him – were working side-by-side in Masyaf.

 

He’d little enough desire to take the reins of power after that, but it seemed as though his own desires were not particularly important at the moment; what mattered now, what had always mattered no matter that he hadn’t seen it, was to care for their brother Assassins and see that the Creed was upheld as well as any of them could manage.

 

That was the task before every member of the Brotherhood; from the youngest of the Novices learning their craft at the feet of their scholars, and instructors such as Alnesr and Rauf, to the members of the Brotherhood that carried out their missions in the field with the aid of the Rafiqs working in the cities: all of them worked to preserve, promote, and expand the influence of the Creed. Each of them, in their own way, worked to protect the lives under their care. He was pleased, at least, to be contributing to such an effort.

 

It was not as though someone in his condition would ever be able to return to work as a field Assassin; he and Alnesr had often discussed that very matter, speaking about their own experiences and finding a common ground on such.

 

~AC: TSC~

 

Falling into the rhythm of the sword fight as he continued to instruct his students, Alnesr steadied his breathing once more as the pair of them broke apart.

 

“Good work,” he said, smiling in the same way that Rauf had done when the man was aiding in his own training; both as an Apprentice and as his co-instructor while the two of them had been working together.

 

Taking a few moments to speak to his latest group of students, congratulating them and advising where he found it necessary, and then made his way back to the small outbuilding where the tools and trappings of his new trade were stored. Setting down his practice sword on a nearby rack, Alnesr turned and left the room, aiming for one of the washing areas so that he could properly clean himself up before making his way to the dining area.

 

Once he had finished with that, Alnesr made his way into the dining area to get his midday meal.

 

“Come, sit here, Alnesr!”

 

“Abbas,” he greeted, sweeping his gaze over those others seated at the table around his brother Assassin. “Are these men friends of yours?”

 

“This is Swami,” Abbas said, smiling as he gestured to the bald man seated at his right hand. “He and the others are those I have come to know quite well during my time here.”

 

“It’s good to meet you,” he said, a bit uncertain as he settled down among them.

 

He thought that he might have heard Altaïr speaking of them, some time or another while the two of them had been speaking of matters concerning the Brotherhood, but if there had been things that his former master had said about these men in particular, Alnesr couldn’t recall them. Speaking to them as he ate his meal, Alnesr found that they were rather genial sorts, though each and every one of them seemed to hold Abbas in higher regard than anyone else. He did not know if that was a good thing, considering Abbas had still not given up his bitterness toward Altaïr.

 

Swami in particular seemed ready to do far more than merely sitting at Abbas’ right hand.

 

Alnesr did not know what would happen, with Abbas clearly gathering support for some reason or other, but he knew that he would need to speak with Malik. It was clear that Abbas, as amicable as he acted when Alnesr spoke with him during those times when they would sit together to eat, was planning something. He might not have known precisely what it was that Abbas had in mind, but it was still important that Malik was made aware of the matter.

 

Once he was able to part ways with Abbas without raising his brother Assassin’s suspicions, Alnesr made his way back up into the fortress to speak with Malik.

Chapter Text

Given what Alnesr had told him, Malik found himself watching Abbas more closely than he had been before. It seemed as though the man was gathering the weaker-willed members of the Brotherhood to himself, overawing them in ways a Templar might have done, for some purpose that Malik couldn’t quite determine. He did not yet know if Abbas merely intended to take leadership of the Brotherhood for himself – not an outcome he was at all in favor of, but not the worst he could think of – or if he had some greater goal that wresting leadership of the Brotherhood was just one step of.

 

Either way, however, Malik knew that he would need to keep a closer watch on Abbas’ activities from now on. He’d asked Alnesr to keep him informed of any thing else that Abbas did or said while the pair of them were speaking, and while the younger Assassin had seemed reluctant for a moment, he had agreed once Malik told him of the concerns that Abbas’ behavior was causing. Now, with the extra information that Alnesr’s observations were able to provide for him, Malik found himself rather hard-pressed to believe that an Assassin could be so petty as Abbas was acting.

 

Yes, it was true that Altaïr had wronged them both to varying degrees, but a better man would have seen that their brother Assassin had grown beyond such things through the pain that he had suffered, or at the very least would not have sought to involve anyone but the man who had wronged them in their scheme for revenge. Still, it had become increasingly clear that Abbas no longer cared for anyone but himself; not even those Assassins that he had swayed to his way of thinking would be spared by what he was planning. Malik knew that the same held true for Alnesr, despite how much the younger Assassin might have wished to think otherwise.

 

And, while he himself could understand not wishing to think badly of those who treated him with kindness, Malik knew that he could not allow his brother Assassin to remain blind to Abbas’ glaring flaws as he clearly had been for so long.

 

Knowing all that he knew, Malik was fully aware of just how precarious their situation now was. The people of Masyaf could ill-afford the shadow war that Abbas seemed to be preparing to fight, but as Malik had come to know the unreasonable bitterness that the man had hidden behind his façade of a dutiful member of the Brotherhood, he had come to realize that such a thing was not only inevitable at this point, but that attempting to prevent it by speaking with the man would only bring such a thing on all the more swiftly. With all of that in mind, Malik knew that the only reasonable course of action he could pursue was to prepare t