An Assassin's Journal

I was asked an interesting question today. The following entry is a copy of the letter containing my reply. I've yet to decide if the letter will be sent but I found the question would not leave my mind.

How did you become such a monster? My answer seemed to perplex you. Define monster, I replied. For truly it is a malleable concept. One man's hero is another man's monster; one's god another's demon and so on. Of course there are obvious extremes, but for the most part it is a matter of perception and perception is a nebulous thing. There I go, playing with words again. Richard was right about my kind, I suppose.

Yes, I take life. Do I enjoy it? That is a difficult and complex question, so let us examine the monster a little and see what lies beneath.

I defend myself, the Brotherhood and those too weak to oppose the brutality of the power mad. When necessary I kill to prevent some greater atrocity or to right an injustice.

On two occasions, an innocent has fallen by my blade; one because I was impatient and arrogant, the other because I failed to draw the soldiers away from the civilians and a woman collided with the tip of my sword as I fought them. If anything damns me; if I believed damnation possible, it is for those two deaths that I would suffer.

Al Mualim said that we should honor those we kill as teachers, and I have tried to do so. I have learned a great deal about human nature and our capacity for rationalizing our evil deeds. Never was the rationalization more complete as when someone believed they acted in the name of God or to benefit mankind as a whole. Delusions of grandeur often lie beneath altruistic appearances. But I digress.

I was a boy when the Brotherhood took me in. I'll not bore you with the details; suffice it to say I was an orphan. For a long time I was nameless; a mute servant at the beck and call of the Master, the Assassins, even the Novices. I slept in the stables, worked from dawn to dusk and begged for more – anything to be near the Assassins. I listened to them recounting their missions and adventures. I drank it in, hoping that someday I may be accepted into their ranks.

As children do, I sometimes used my imagination to make believe that I was a Master Assassin. I ran around jumping and climbing on the walls and ramparts of the fortress, pretending to stalk my target. One particular day the Master caught me at my games. I remember his words well.

"You seem determined to test my patience, Boy, so now I will test you. I've watched you and see potential in you. Is it your wish to join the Brotherhood?"

I nodded. "More than anything, Master."

"Come with me, Altair Ibn La-Ahad. Your life changes today."

He took me to the Novice leader and from that day, I ate, slept, breathed and bled the Brotherhood. I was nameless no more.

I excelled at my studies and training, and it was not long before I began to rise through the ranks. When the Master informed me that I was ready to receive the Mysteries, it was the culmination of my most fervent wishes.

My training intensified – physically, mentally and spiritually. Many esoteric truths were revealed to me and I began to truly understand the philosophy of the Creed. Of course, the older I get, the more I realize that there are layers to wisdom. There are things I thought I had fully grasped, only to find I had only the most basic of understanding of them. Malik said that we can never know anything, only suspect. The wise words return to me often.

Soon I found myself a Master Assassin. I reveled in the privilege my position afforded me. The Master made no secret that I was his best. I worked very hard to improve my skill. I still do. The training never ends; perfection is always the goal.

My name was replaced with fanciful titles. I was the One, the Angel of Death; unstoppable, untouchable, and unerring. I would now add unbearable to that list. My brothers respected my skill, but avoided me for the most part. It was no great loss for me. The Creed was my companion. It did sadden me when I fell out with Malik. Our shortcomings perfectly aggravated each other's until we could not abide together for even a moment without harsh words.

More responsibility followed. I was now an Instructor, charged with helping my brothers improve their sword arms and their understanding of the finer points of assassination. I loathed having them along on missions and I made no secret of it to them. I found them little more than burdens. I justified my actions by telling myself that my cruelty would toughen them.

Then that fateful day came in the Temple of Solomon. Kadar's death weighs heavy on me still. For a long time, I blamed Malik. Blame is like regret. Ultimately, both are pointless and change nothing. We are all accountable for our own actions and as Assassins, we are accountable to the Creed.

I did not fight when Al Mualim buried the golden dagger in my flesh as the ultimate punishment for breaking the Creed. I looked him in the eye as my spirit prepared to abandon its fleshy home. I thought my life over and I wanted to face it bravely; to die as befits an Assassin. Imagine my surprise when I awakened. My death was illusion, my penitence would not be.

Being brought back down to earth was a very hard and very humiliating lesson for me. To be stripped of my rank was like having my heart ripped from me. I told myself it mattered not; that it did not change who I was. I attacked the missions the Master laid out for me, hell-bent on reclaiming what was taken from me.

What I discovered in the process of redeeming myself was the beginnings of wisdom. I finally understood that with position comes responsibility. I became less of a machine and more of a human being. Yes, the Assassin is a human being. Surprising? Indulge this monster a bit more.

My heart is not made of steel and it is blood, not ice that flows through my veins. I have loved, if not often, then at least well. With the possible exception of my horse and my weapons, I am most passionate about ideas – freedom, truth, man's search for meaning and uncovering wisdom all occupy my thoughts regularly. First and foremost, however, is the Creed. It is that which I live by, aspire to and measure myself against.

The philosophy of the Creed. Much of it is held beyond the veil and I will not write of it. The most important aspects are known to the outside world and therefore are somewhat open to discussion. Let us briefly look at the most contentious.

Nothing is true; everything is permitted. Our enemies twist the words and make them a perversion, failing to look beyond the words themselves. Ironic, that. The seemingly paradoxical statement is both elegant in its simplicity and devilishly complicated in its implications. It demands a level of responsibility that few are willing to hold themselves to and a constant understanding of the mutability of perception that most would find exhausting. Perception. There is that word again.

Some believe we use the Creed to justify murder; that our philosophy is a convenient construct. Which came first, the Assassin or the Creed? There is no Assassin without the Creed. Murder? No, not murder. Justice. Correction. Balance. This is our sacred task.

We do not act without extreme consideration, for we understand that it is a terrible thing to end a life. A warning is given. Some men will not be reasoned with, however. When the warning is ignored, when justice through ordinary means is impossible, the extraordinary is called for. I and my brothers are the extraordinary.

I would be a liar to claim that I do not enjoy the process to a certain degree. There is a strange connection that I feel with my target, a sense of exhilaration that comes from knowing that they will soon cease their predation and that it is I who will end it. More arrogance? I think not. Any hunter enjoys the hunt in proportion to his skill.

I deliver death to my target as painlessly as possible, which is more than many of them deserve. Most never see me until the blade is buried, severing a vital vein and the nerves that run along the spine. It is a deliberately placed strike. Suffering is not the goal, only death.

Do I feel remorse? I do feel the weight of the responsibility for taking a life. It is a difficult thing to describe. I would liken it more to empathy. I often come to know my targets more intimately than they know themselves. I am like their own conscience. They often confess as they lay dying, as if I were a priest. They seek absolution, but that is not mine to give.

As I read over the words I've written, I admit there is a coldness to them. Perhaps that is what makes me a monster in the eyes of some. The coldness does not come from brutality. It is simply the truth. I do not expect or desire understanding from those who live their lives free of such concerns and decisions.

Were the Brotherhood to cast me out… it is hard for me to even imagine. Someone close to me once asked if there was another path open to me, would I take it? I dodged the question like an enemy's blade. It is who I am, I answered. Even though it was evasive, it was true. It remains true and will so until the day I die. My loyalty to the Creed, like my resolve, is absolute.

I will leave it to you to make your own decision regarding whether I am a monster. I do not consider myself such, but like all things, I suppose, it is a matter of perception.

Altair Ibn La-Ahad

Masyaf, 1191