Assassin's Creed © Ubisoft.
Vanity. Altair imagines it as a living, breathing, gleaming creature, all stone and flame and mad knowing eyes. His deficiency, his secret sin, that gnawing monstrous weakness that ruins his blade. And it is hard, so hard to overcome.
He has always been controlled. He locks his emotions down hard and fast and chooses ascetism over lust and greed and want. Only vanity flees the box. Once, someone told Altair that vanity is the sin from which all others arise. In the throat of the night, he wonders if it will be only the first sin. That first drop of poison, a spill from the dark cup.
And it's hungry, this sin, this beast, hungry as Shaitan, hungry as all of his sins. He has done and said and been so much, and he's not sure if he can be the kneeling penitent, the supplicant on his belly before God, or whatever rapacious and capricious being twists this world upside down.
Because at times (and he has never admitted this to anyone), he has enjoyed the killing. Vanity once more, because each brutal bloody satisfying murder has been proof. He is good, but death makes him so much more. For a heartbeat. And then, he is the sinner and the man and the pilgrim once more. The lonely pilgrim, but he has blood on his robe and slaughter in his eyes and he doesn't know if he'll ever find that gate again.
Deep within, he knows that he is nothing when he kills. Death does not change him, does not bring him ecstasy or beauty or power, just degradation. And however vain he may be, however grim, however determined, Altair holds that sense of humiliation and ruin close because he knows that that's the only way that he will survive this Crusade alive.
He has to survive this. It is a wretched, pitiful thought, but Altair knows inside his soul that to desire death, to welcome its cold embrace, to touch its cheek and take its hand and smile…well, he will die if that is what it takes, but he will not do so willingly. What it takes. Such an odd phrase. The thing that this- mission will carve from him, will snap from his bones and bite from his nape. He does not know what it is yet. Sanity. Life. Penitence. Wholeness. Spirituality. Hope. Want. Maybe it will take everything.
He is not so sure that he will still be Altair by the end of this journey. There's blood on his road and blood on his robe and redness in his sky, and he sees nothing across the hill. The uncertain path. Perhaps he will be a different person, for Altair is pride-pleasure-satisfaction-degradation-hunger-sin-loss-fearful death, and he doesn't know whether he will keep any of these. He supposes that the penultimate question will not be what he loses but rather what he becomes.
I am Quetzalcoatl's hunger. I am memory and past and shadow and glass, and I eat my descendents alive in their prisons of smoke and madness.
Desmond has drawn an eagle on the casing of the Animus machine with a strength beyond monstrous, and Altair dreams of the abyss, and no one is quite sure what is happening any more. Identity is a fragile thing.