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.