"Not another word." Al Mualim said, sounding furious, "This is not what I expected. We'll need to mount another force."
"I swear to you, I'll-" Altaïr started to say, but Al Mualim interrupted him.
"No." he snapped, "You'll do nothing. You've done enough..." the old man paused. "Where are Malik and Kadar?"
"Dead." Altaïr said, not sounding at all regretful.
"No, not dead." I croaked, clutching my injured arm, warm, wet, sticky blood trickling through my already blood-caked fingers.
Both men whipped around, staring at me as if they saw a ghost. If either gave any indication that they saw my many injuries, they said and revealed nothing. I needed to do this first, before I could worry about getting some medical attention. This was more important.
"Malik?" Al Mualim asked, his gray eyebrows drawing together.
The three of us crept down the hall, as silently as possible, Altaïr in the lead, until we detected movement near by. I gestured for my younger brother, Kadar, to stay back as we peered around the corner, only to see an elderly man with his back to us, leaning heavily on a cane with one hand as he walked, the other on his back. I was about to sigh in relief, and tell Altaïr and Kadar that it was safe, when Altaïr's hidden blade slid out silently and he slowly inched his way towards the man.
"Wait," I hissed at him, "There must be another way! This one need not die!"
"I still live at least." I rasped with a grimace.
"And your brother?" he asked.
I bowed my head, and said, my voice rough with grief and exhaustion, "Gone," I looked up at Altaïr, fury in my gaze, as I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. "Because of you!" I yelled, pointing at him with my good arm.
"Robert bared me from the room! I had no way back!" Altaïr protested, "There was nothing I could do!"
"Because you would not heed my warning!" I shouted, tears running down my face, "All of this could have been avoided! And my brother! My brother would still be alive! Your arrogance nearly cost us victory today!"
"Nearly?" Al Mualim asked sharply.
"I brought what your favored failed to find." I said bitterly.
With my working hand, I fumbled with my belt pouch and tossed the Master the Apple of Eden. The Master caught the Apple, looking at it with an odd expression that I couldn't quite place, before his expression turned to normal and he placed the Apple on his desk and folded his arms behind his back. My fingers involuntarily clenched over my wound, my fingers digging into my ruined flesh, and I swayed where I stood slightly. I could see that Altair's golden eyes were still staring at me. I gave him a look of utter contempt.
"Although I believe that I have come home with more than just the treasure." I added weakly, hearing faint sounds of combat from outside the fortress.
Just then another assassin ran up the stairs, shouting, "Master! Robert de Sable is attacking the village!"
"Tell everyone to prepare for battle." said Al Mualim, turning towards the man and away from me, "Go! I won't have this fortress unprepared for battle."
The assassin ran off, and Altaïr opened his mouth to say something, but Al Mualim cut him off. "As for you, Altaïr, our discussion will have to wait. You must make for the village. Destroy the invaders, and drive them from our home."
"It will be done." Altaïr promised.
Before I could stop him, Altaïr ran forward and grabbed the man, holding his hand high in the air before plunging his hidden blade into the man's skull, splattering both Altaïr and the fresh corpse with brains and blood. I stared at him, aghast, as Altaïr let the corpse fall to the ground, and Kadar ran forward. Still scowling, I followed him.
"An excellent kill." Kadar said, a note of reverence in his tone, "Fortune favors your blade."
"Not fortune," Altaïr corrected boastfully, the trace of a smirk on his normally expressionless face, "Skill. Watch a while longer, and you might learn something."
Altaïr ran off down the stairs. I was now leaning heavily on one of the columns for support. Al Mualim was now turned away from me, pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to keep his temper under control. He paced back and forth, thinking for a couple minutes, while my life bled out onto the floor, and my breath came out in short, ragged gulps of air.
"Malik, tell me what happened." he said, still facing away from me, "What did you mean when you said you warned Altaïr?"
"Indeed." I said sarcastically, stomping forwards with my fists clenched, glaring daggers at Altaïr before turning to Kadar, "He will teach you how to disregard everything the masters taught us."
"And how would you have done it?" sneered Altaïr, folding his arms over his chest.
"I would not have drawn attention to us." I growled, "I would not have taken the life of an innocent. What I would have done is follow the Creed."
"Nothing is true, everything is permitted." Altaïr said, uncrossing his arms and placing his hands on his waist, drawing himself up proudly, "Understand these words. It matters not how we complete our task, only that it's done."
"But this is not the way of-" I protested.
"My way is better." he interrupted.
I could see that it was futile to argue with him any longer, his ego would just get in the way of making him see sense. Still, that wouldn't stop me from reporting him to the Master later. He had broken one of the three sacred tenets of the Creed, and that cannot go unpunished. Altaïr was still part of the brotherhood, and he still must abide the rules, even if he thought himself above them.
I looked between Altaïr and Kadar before saying, "I will scout ahead. Try not to dishonor us further." I added to Altaïr scathingly.
I told him everything that happened from the moment we left, to when Altaïr got blocked off from Kadar and I.
"The Templars attacked us." I said dimly, barely conscious due to pain at that point, "I got the Apple of Eden, and Kadar was... was murdered."
The Master stared at me for a while. I could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he thought about what I had just said.
"It is obvious that Altaïr will have to be punished then." he sighed resignedly.
I ran ahead, dimly aware that the two of them were talking to each other behind me, but I didn't care. I felt a little guilty for leaving my younger brother with such a bad influence, but I told myself that I would talk to Kadar about this later, and correct any misconceptions he had about the third assassin on this mission, not that I hadn't tried to do so before. Besides, when Altaïr was being that intolerable, I couldn't stand to be around him for more than five minutes. It made me want to punch something, especially him, but I seemed to have managed to learn a little more self control than my childhood friend over the years.
To be honest, I was disgusted when the Master assigned Altaïr and I to the same mission, but I didn't want to show my displeasure openly, because I did not want to displease him. Instead I asked if Kadar could come along to Solomon's Temple with us, so that I could at least have a few moments of peace when I was in the labyrinth under Jerusalem. Call me selfish, if you like, but it seemed like a good idea... at the time.
Still, we were doing this mission together. I went around the corner, jumping on the logs placed over a gaping hole in the ground, most likely set there as a feeble attempt at a trap for anyone who wasn't paying attention. I waited where the ground was more stable for the other two, watching the torchlight make my shadow dance eerily on the stone walls around me.
Once Altaïr and Kadar were both safely on the ground next to me, I ran ahead again, jumping over another hole in the ground until the three of us reached a place where there was a latter that would most likely lead up to our goal. I gestured to the latter for Altaïr, momentarily considering making a rude joke, but decided against it; I needed to be the one here to provide a good example for Kadar, because Altaïr sure as hell wasn't going to. I knew that Kadar wasn't a child anymore, he was only three years younger than Altaïr and I, but he was still my little brother.
"However, I am grateful that you escaped alive, despite the loss of your brother." said Al Mualm, turning back towards me, with a praising look on his face.
I grimaced, tears running down my face once more, as I pictured Kadar's body collapsing before my very eyes once more.
"Why don't you get a medic?" Al Mualim suggested, his silvery eyes lingering on the gory, bloody mess that used to be my left arm, "It looks like you could use one."
"I figured that you should know what happened at Solomon's Temple first." I whispered, before loosing conscious completely. I felt myself falling, like the world had been jerked out from beneath my feet like a blanket. I was vaguely aware of Al Mualim shouting for someone, but I couldn't make out his words. Before I knew it, however, my entire world went black.
I followed Altaïr up the latter, to see him kill someone else. At least this time the man was clearly a Templar, judging by his uniform, so I did not react. Kadar and I passed by Altaïr and peered into the next room cautiously. There was a dull thud from behind us as Altaïr let the Templar's corpse drop to the ground, before he stepped into the room after us.
Within the room, on a raised platform directly across from us, there looked like an enormous golden sarcophagus, with a spherical object about the size of an apple, sitting on top of it. The object was glowing faintly, and it was clear that it was something incredibly powerful. I knew at once that it was the thing we came here to get; the Apple of Eden. We were only told that was what we were to fetch, not really what it was or what it could do. Beneath it, there was an archway leading further into the temple, and there was some ancient wood stacked up against the wall. Other than that, I could see no possible way to get up to the object. Luckily, as assassins, we had been trained in the art of climbing.
When I awoke, I was still in terrible pain. My vision was blurry, and I was dimly aware of people operating on my arm. Other assassins. I tried to lift myself up, but one of the medics saw me and gently pushed me back down on the wooden table.
"Just try to relax, Malik." he said soothingly, "We're doing all we can."
I tried to speak, without really knowing what I was going to say, but my mouth felt numb, I felt like I was going to vomit, and my head was throbbing painfully. The medic shushed me, before turning back towards my arm.
"You did a very good job attempting to take care of your own wound." he continued quietly, focused back on his work, "You saved your own life. If you hadn't even tried, you would have died days ago."
"Not good enough..." I whispered, "Not good enough..."
"You're going to be fine, Malik." said the assassin medic.
"No... You don't understand..." I croaked, tears once again welling in my eyes, blurring my vision, "Kadar... Kadar..."
"There, that must be the Arc." I said, pointing at the golden sarcophagus, remembering the stories our father had told Kadar and I when we were little, and he was still alive.
"The... Arc?" asked Kadar, his eyes widening in amazement, "Of the Covenant?"
"Don't be silly." Altaïr said dismissively, waving his hand, "There's no such thing. It's just a story."
"Then what is it?" said Kadar, turning towards Altaïr, his eyebrows raised in earnest curiosity. Altaïr shot him a glance to tell him that he was being stupid. I scowled at him, but he appeared not to take notice.
I paused as I heard footsteps coming this way. "Quiet!" I hissed to the other two, gesturing for them to crouch down, "Someone is coming!"
The tears started to run down my cheeks, overflowing from my eyes. The medic put a damp cloth over them. I laid there, sobs escaping from my open mouth, my chest heaving with each ragged breath.
"His blood!" another medic said.
"Malik, I need you to calm down." said the first medic, "If you're agitated, your blood flows out of your wounds faster."
"Of course I'm agitated." I wanted to snarl, but it came out as more of a squeak and I passed out again.
Through the archway, about ten Templars walked through, not appearing to take notice of the three assassins on the other ledge. Perfect. Then there was still time for a sneak attack. Two of us could take as many of them out as possible while the third could grab the Apple of Eden. Then we-
"I want us through this gate before sunrise." one of the Templars said in a thick French accent, a tall bald man I recognized as the current leader of the Templars, "The sooner we can possess it, the sooner we can turn our attention towards those jackals in Masyaf."
"Robert de Sable." Altaïr said, his voice hushed with cold excitement, his posture changing in a way that I knew he was going to try to strike, "His life is mine."
"No!" I growled, putting my left hand on his shoulder to stop him, "We were asked to retrieve the treasure and end de Sable's life, only if necessary."
"He stands between us and it." said Altaïr, shrugging off my hand, "I'd say that's necessary."
"Discretion, Altaïr!" I reminded him sharply.
"You mean cowardice?" he snarled, glaring at me from beneath his hood, "That man is our greatest enemy, and here we have a chance to be rid of him!"
I glanced at Kadar, who was looking between Altaïr and I fretfully, then down at the Templars, who were still oblivious to our presence in the room.
"You have already broken two tenets of our Creed, Altaïr," I reminded him angerly, "Now you would break the third? Do not compromise the Brotherhood!"
"I am your superior." he said coldly, crossing his arms over his chest, "In both title and skill. You should know better than to question me."
For a moment I considered making a snide remark about his inability to swim, but I kept my mouth shut.
"Altaïr, maybe Malik's right-" Kadar suggested timidly, his right hand fidgeting with his hidden blade as it often did when he was nervous or uncertain.
Before we could stop him, Altaïr was scrambling down the latter on the side of our platform as fast as he could. I climbed down after him, Kadar following me. Altaïr walked out boldly towards the center of the room, spreading his arms wide so that it would be difficult to miss him.
"Hold, Templars!" he yelled, his voice echoing about the stone walls of the ancient room, "You are not the only ones with business here this day!"
"Ah, well, this explains my missing man." de Sable said to Altaïr, sounding amused, as I descended the latter and the Templars around us grabbed the hilts of their blades, "And what is it you want?"
"Blood." Altaïr said, before running forward and attempting to stab the man in the neck with his hidden blade. I tried to grab his arm, yelling for him to stop, but it was too late; de Sable grabbed Altaïr, locking him in place so that he could not move and stared him straight in the eye, a slight sneer on his face. To Altaïr's credit, he did not look remotely worried.
"You know not the things in which you meddle, assassin." hissed de Sable as Kadar and I drew our swords, "I spare you only that you may return to your master and deliver this message; Your holy land is lost to him, and he should flee while he still has the chance. Stay, and all of you will die."
This is bad. This is so very bad.
And it got worse.
For the next few hours, I alternated between drifting in and out of nightmares, mostly me being forced to relive Kadar's last minutes, and waking up in the operating room, the medics still working on my arm. Most of the time they didn't notice when I awoke, but when they noticed me watching them blearily, one of them would gently take two of their fingers, their skin smeared with my blood, and close my eyelids.
I listened to their conversations, mostly dull things that I barely remember when they weren't asking one another to pass some sort of medical supply. However there was one conversation that stuck in my mind. I was still on the operation table, and judging by the light from the other side of my eyelids, it was the evening. The medics' voices sounded tired, but I felt a twinge of gratitude towards them for not giving up on me, although another part of me wished they would.
de Sable threw Altaïr through the archway, where he hit a small structure that was supporting it. The archway collapsed, and the last thing Kadar and I saw of Altaïr was his face turning from arrogant and cocky to shocked and angry.
Instinctively, I shoved Kadar behind me and gripped my sword with both hands and pointed it at the Templars. de Sable stared at us in triumph, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, drawing his own sword. I knew the leader of the Templars was thinking the same thing as us; we didn't stand a chance.
"It's not working." one medic said tiredly.
"Men! To arms!" de Sable had shouted, "Kill the assassins!"
"We can't just give up on him." said another.
"We could try it." said a third grimly.
"If we do, he might die." said the first.
"If we don't, he'll die anyways!" argued the third.
I had no idea what they were talking about. Clearly, they had had other conversations in the periods in which I had been knocked out.
"We have to try something." a fourth said grimly.
As one unit, the Templars drew their swords and charged. I tried to keep Kadar close to my back, but as we fought I was pushed farther and farther away from him as I fought the five people who were slashing and cutting at me with their swords at every bit of my flesh that they could reach, as I did with them. I twisted and turned, hacked and slashed; I kneecapped one man with my sword, stabbing straight through his leg, while I punched another in the nose and allowed my hidden blade to slide out directly into his face. The man crumpled to the ground instantly, dead, and I thrust my sword through the stomach of another. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Robert de Sable standing off to the side, his arms crossed over his chest, a smirk on his face as he took in the scene before him.
Fear clouded my mind, and the look and smell of blood muffled my senses; there were too many of them, we were done for.
My back bumped against something hard. Not taking my eyes off of my three remaining enemies, I judged my location by what I could see of the rest of the room, and I knew that it was the wall beneath the Arc of the Covenant. Maybe we could salvage this mission after all! If I could just get my opponents back far enough, maybe I could-
"Shouldn't we wait until he wakes up to ask him? Imagine waking up to-"
"If we wait any longer, he'll die." said another quietly.
I groaned and tried to ask what was going on, but my mouth couldn't seem to remember how to form the words. The medics whispered to one another hurriedly, lowering their voices so that I could not hear them as I couldn't hold on to consciousness anymore, and drifted off once again.
"MALIK!" Kadar screeched from across the room.
My heart sank. I didn't have much time. Rather, I didn't have enough time. I knew I couldn't save them both. What should I choose? The Creed or my own brother?
It was a difficult decision, but in a split second, I decided.
When I came around for good, it seemed that it was still late at night, but the stiffness of my limbs told me that it had been a couple days since I had last awoken. My head was pounding, and my entire body felt cold, especially my left arm, despite the sweat on my forehead, indicating a fever. The air was thick with the nauseating smell of burned flesh. A part of me wondered, or perhaps even hoped, that I was dead. I was in incredible pain, so I didn't even try to sit up at first. I just stared blankly at the stone ceiling of the infirmary at Masyaf, apparently alone. The medics were gone.
My hand closed around the Apple of Eden, the small round thing above the Arc of the Covenant, and I looked across the room to see Kadar in the corner, with the Templars who were still alive all attacking him; the ones that I had been fighting gave up on me when I was out of reach, stupidly lacking any sort of bow to try and hit me with, although I wasn't complaining, mind you. Kadar looked like he was barely conscious, partially slumped up against the wall, drenched in blood, cuts all over his body. The remaining Templars, excluding Robert de Sable, hacked away at my little brother. From up on top of the platform, my heart clenched.
Robert de Sable looked up at me, that same sneer on his face. He knew that if I were attempt to save my brother, I would have to climb down, thus bringing the treasure closer to him, giving him an opportunity to take it from me.
"Malik!" Kadar yelled, his voice much weaker than before, "Malik, please! Help me! Malik!"
When I finally was able to sit up, my body somehow felt lopsided, but the moment I sat up, a wave of nausea washed over me, and my only thought was to not have my guts spill out through my mouth. I sat there, woozy for a moment, before taking in my surroundings.
I wasn't wearing anything other than some light brown pants, with some bandages wrapped around my torso. There was also a rough blanket that seemed to have been flung over me at the last minute. I glanced around the room, but there was no one there. I was alone.
I put the Apple of Eden in my belt pouch, and leaped off of the platform. I tried to make my way to Kadar, but from his place from in front of where the arch was. He rushed forward, slamming me against the wall. Robert knew that it would be useless and and a waste of time to try to pry the Apple from my hand, as I tried to hold it out of the larger man's reach. de Sable drew his blade and stabbed it into my arm just above my elbow, twisting it over and over again, knotting up my veins and arteries. His other arm was pressed against my chest, and my right arm was pinned between the wall and by body. I screamed and screamed, the pain blinding. To this day, I do not know why he didn't just kill me.
"Give me the Apple." de Sable hissed.
"Never." I spat.
de Sable released me, and I slumped against the wall, my fingers still clenched numbly against the Apple. There were about five Templars left, along with Robert de Sable. de Sable crossed the room and one of the remaining Templars hauled me to my feet by my hair, as the Grandmaster did the same to my little brother, who's bright blue eyes were half open. de Sable pressed the tip of his blade to Kadar's back.
"Give me the Apple, or your brother dies!" sneered the Templar.
Unable to sit up any longer, I laid back down, still feeling woozy. Subconsciously, my right arm reached over for my left.
"NO!" I screamed, "I- I-"
I was about to do it, to surrender the Apple, and both my brother and de Sable knew it. de Sable grinned in triumph, and Kadar shook his head, whispering, "Don't do it, Malik."
"Three!" de Sable began to to count down, "Two!"
Kadar closed his eyes, accepting of his fate, while tears threatened to spill out of mine. "No, Kadar-" I reached out futilely with my right hand.
"One!" said de Sable. He ran his blade sharply and quickly through Kadar's chest, the hilt pressed against his spine and the blade protruding through his front. With a final spurt of blood from the wound, Kadar's chest's ragged attempts at breathing ceased. Robert put his boot to my little brother's body and wrenched his blade free.
I knew there was nothing I could do for him. Cradling my left arm, after I somehow managed to get the Apple of Eden into my belt pouch, I ran back the way we came. I ran, and ran, and ran, and ran; all the way outside where I barely took notice that Altaïr's horse was gone. I took my own, and broke into a full gallop, trying to put pressure on my wound and doctored it to the best of my ability to keep it from getting too bad, although I knew that it wouldn't work properly anymore, if at all, at best.
However, as I reached over to my arm, my hand only groped at air. Horror washed over me, and I allowed my fingers to move upwards, only to have them scrabble at what I guessed were bandages.
I rode for five days straight, nearly killing my horse in the process, and getting very little sleep, but I didn't care. I knew that the Templars would probably be following close behind. I didn't let myself focus on anything other than reaching my goal; I needed to get to Masyaf. Only once the Apple of Eden was safely in the hands of Al Mualim, I could worry about getting proper medical attention, other than what I could barely treat and sew together, and... mourn Kadar.
I left my horse at the front gate and ran through Masyaf, dodging other assassins. I could hear them whispering about me as I passed.
"Wasn't that Malik?"
"He's covered in blood!"
"Someone get help!"
In horror, my head turned towards my left side, so see my fingertips grazing slightly soiled, reddened bandages covering the end of a stump where my left arm should have been.
Still, I didn't stop. I sprinted all the way to the main fortress. I burst through the doors and ran, or rather limped, up the stairs, as I heard Al Mualim speaking to Altaïr. I took a dull pleasure to hear that he sounded angry.
I vomited on the floor before I laid back down on my back and draped my right arm over my eyes and, finally, sobbed, which was long overdue. Huge, racking sobs made my body convulse, causing another wave of pain to crash over me. My chest heaved and I laid there like that for a long time, lamenting what had been lost, and thinking that I would give anything, anything to go back in time and prevent myself from going to Solomon's Temple.
I was alone; I had no family related to me by blood. My younger brother is dead, and it was my fault. He was only twenty three, Allah damn it! Not only that, but my arm was gone, and I was basically useless as an assassin, let alone a Master Assassin, which was what I wanted to be ever since I was little. How could I be a proper assassin with my body in this condition? I'll be lucky if they even let me even leave Masyaf anymore, as not to botch any contracts and embarrass the brotherhood.
"Not another word." Al Mualim said, sounding furious, "This is not what I expected. We'll need to mount another force."
What was I going to do?
"I swear to you, I'll-" Altaïr started to say, but Al Mulaim interrupted him.
"No." he said, "You'll do nothing. You've done enough... Where are Malik and Kadar?"
"Dead." Altaïr said, not sounding at all regretful.
I may as well be.