Masyaf. The physical manifestation of the strength of the Brotherhood. If the brothers were the heart and spirit, it was the body, strong, enduring and unbreachable.

There wasn't a nook or cranny of the fortress that he had not explored in his youth, oft times earning the ire of the Master or whichever brother discovered him somewhere he should not be. The first time he'd climbed the outside of the tallest of the towers, he had been surprised to find the hatch leading to the ladder locked, and himself seized with an overwhelming, vertiginous fear, leaving him paralyzed and unable to get down. He'd been so angry with himself. The Master left him there for three days, until he finally summoned the courage to leap.

Yes, over the years, this hallowed ground had soaked up an abundance of his blood, sweat and tears, as it had from all who had ever called it home.

He laid his hands against the wall, reverently, and slowly brought his forehead against it and exhaled. Just for a moment, until the dizziness passes. The stone was cool to the touch, always. It soothed the heat that burned through him; the heat from his body and the heat of the fevered determination that had driven him, dazed and nearly broken, home. He closed his eyes and breathed it in. Safety. Peace. Home. How many times does an Assassin get to come home, after all?

He opened his eyes, bringing his cheek against the wall. He thought he heard the sound of a heartbeat. Was it his own or did it issue from the fortress itself? Perhaps it was the ghostly presence of all those who'd died in service to the Brotherhood. He felt it reverberate through his body as he stared out the small window to behold the moon, framed perfectly, the starry vista all indigo and silver radiance.

He shifted his weight. A slight wince and his hand went to his belt. He found the hole, his fingers tracing the ragged edges of it, his mind still not quite believing it existed. Clumsily he unbuckled the belt and it landed with a heavy thud at his feet, the eagle feather falling from it in slow motion. He instinctively reached down to catch it and gasped from the sharpness of the pain. There was a wet feeling; a bloom of fresh blood soaking through his clothing from the stab wound that had been constrained beneath the belt. He gritted his teeth until the roar subsided a little.

He'd already lost a good deal of blood, but no matter. He'd completed the mission; brought glory to the Brotherhood. As ever, he wanted more, but if death came to claim him, so be it. He had only one true regret. Her face appeared in his mind. Somehow, he knew that she would mark his death the moment it came to pass, no matter how many miles and years lay between them. He sighed. At least he was home. His hand ran over the surface of the rock. He knew that the greater part of him would remain here forever. He was immortal within these walls of stone.

It was getting harder to breathe, the effort shallow and painful. Someone called to him. Was it the Master, come to claim the mark? He tried to collect himself; opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The world began to slowly spin out from under his feet. He turned, laying his back against the wall for support and saw the look of shocked disbelief on the face of his brother.

There was shouting around him, but it was the walls he heard clearly as they whispered to him: rest now. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as his knees gave way and he sank down into the arms of Masyaf.

Home.

How many times does an Assassin get to come home?