Assassin's Creed Novelization

Mirror and Image

"I have applied my heart to know wisdom; and to know madness and folly. I perceive that this also was a chasing of the wind, for in much wisdom, there is much grief. And he who increaseth knowledge, inscreaseth sorrow..."

Part One: Nothing is True

There were...

There was...

people walls fountains merchants rugs target where was the target roofs and running and dodging the guards and can't hide nowhere to hide no vigilantes to help all alone

He thought...

He felt...

anger hurt betrayal how could he do this where was he which one which one pain and agony and broken trust knowledge versus sorrow was increasing

Breathe, breath!

"We've got a problem. I can't anchor him to the memory; too much psychological trauma, he's rejecting the memory. He's retreating."

"Desmond I need to you try and relax."

"Let me try and stabilize him."

the smell of chickens and dogs and rotting garbage and feces and sand in the wind sound of people and water and jugs and cries for help he had to help it was part of the creed only no one was there he was all alone and the targets were everywhere the feeling of dried sweat mixed with sand and mud and matted hair and bleached cotton the weight of the sword at his hip and the dagger at his back and the blade his wrist that replaced the missing finger and

Jesus Christ! He was missing a fucking finger!

"Focus. Listen to the sound of my voice. Recognize that what you're seeing isn't real, just a picture of the past. It can't hurt you."

"Damn it. It's not working."

"Give it a moment, Miss Stillman. He'll adjust; the first time is never easy."

only he wasn't and he was at the same time and none of it made any sense and his home had been raped and he could never make up for his failure and forgiveness would never be his and that traitorous bastard was going to die only no one had betrayed him he had betrayed everyone they had a right to look down on him because he had run away but then why was he home and why was home a fortress and not the farm and he hadn't run away he had broken the creed and what the fuck was happening to him

"We're losing him."

"That's enough, Miss Stillman!"

there was a mountain and a city and a port and another city and there was blood on his hands and people screaming people walking all around him bumping into him please sir can you spare a few coins faceless guards were watching him diseased men running away from him a blond looking over him worried eyes only the women were in the garden and they wore scarves and skin and it never interested him because he had more important things to do he did as he was told and it was all for naught because knowledge and sorrow all lead to madness and he was going fucking mad and

"We need to pull him out. Now."

"All right Desmond, we're going to try and bring you out now."

Desmond's eyes snapped open, his head jerking up to pull himself up to a sitting position, only his forehead careened into some kind of visor over his head. Air sucked into his lungs and his arms flung weakly out to the edges of the... whatever he was on; a blank ceiling stared at him and there were voices. Voices he thought he might now.

"There? See? I told you he'd be fine."

An old man, tall, grizzled, and a voice entirely too smooth to be real.

Images were still flashing back and forth in his head, guards and women and old men and blood so much blood crowds and running and, and...

"Bastard!" Desmond cursed, still disoriented, still struggling for air, still half lost in that fucking whatever it was.

"Now, now," the man said, voice oily and smooth and placating. "I just saved your life." More images filled Desmond's head, ones that made infinitely more sense: leaving the bar, the unmarked van, the injection of... of... He remembered enough.

"Saved my life?" he growled, struggling to sit up. His muscles weren't as weak as before, the disorientation was fading. He felt more like himself. Swinging his legs over the edge of the... the... He glared at the old fart for all he was worth. "You kidnapped me! You strapped me into that... that... thing!"

The old man lifted an eyebrow, his face the picture of amusement and superiority. "Animus," he corrected. "That is the Animus."

Desmond would not be deterred. "I don't even know you people! What did I ever do to deserve this?"

And, like he was talking to a child, the stupid old man continued in calm neutral tones. "You have information that we need, Mr. Miles," he said.

"Information?" Desmond retorted. "I'm a bartender for Christ's sake! What do you need to know, how to mix a martini? Maybe a cosmo?"

The old man's face fell flat, the humor gone from his voice and his tone - however smooth - suddenly became much more menacing. "We know who you are, Mr. Miles," he said in cold tones. "We know what you are."

Something about it chilled Desmond. He realized that they maybe did know, and that scared him. Scared him shitless. He refused to show it, however, and somehow managed a shaky (if unconvincing), "I don't know what you're talking about."

The menacing old man's eyes narrowed. "Don't play coy with me, there isn't time. You're an assassin. And whether you realize it or not, you have what my employers want, locked away in that head of yours."

Any list of ideas sprung into Desmond's head of what to do, rejected one after another. Confronted with the fact that these people did know his heritage, he realized he knew utterly nothing about them. There was no wiggle room, not way to play the field, no aces to play, no information to use. Some of his teachings flashed in his head, how to break a neck, a kick to the groin, using pressure points to knock someone out. He'd been out of practice for years; his body was in shape but didn't have the muscle memory to pull any of it off gracefully. But he could do it. But... that was what assassin's did; and, ultimately,

"I'm not an assassin," he ground out, bitter. "Not any more."

And that meant he was helpless. Far better to play along. Until he did have some kind of upper hand. Until he did have information. Knowledge would give him the power to act.

"Yes," the old prick drew out, smug again, "your file indicated as much. Something about an escape."

... Christ, did they know everything?

"Most fortunate for us," the old fart added, all smarmy again.

Desmond resorted to growling. Again. "What do you want from me?"

"For you to do as you're told," the lab coat said. "The Animus will allow us to locate what we need. Once we have it, you'll be free to go."

Sure he would.

Desmond glared, the urge to resist flaring in his brain again. The idea of being plugged back into that, that thing - blood and deserts and chickens and a missing fucking finger - put an edge to his voice. Not quite a growl, he was resigned to his imprisonment for now, but perhaps it could be labeled as childish independence. "I am not going back in there!" Surely he could get information without ending up in that thing again.

But the old man brushed an invisible hair off the lapel of his lab coat, his smooth voice hard and menacing again. "Then, we'll induce a coma and continue our work. When we're done you'll be left to die." He stared with hard, almost impatient eyes at Desmond to make his point; not that he needed to. The bartender knew he had no cards to play, and right now staying alive was a priority. Alive meant learning. Learning meant power. Power meant escape.

Taking his silence as an answer, the old fart smiled again. "Truthfully," he said, "the only reason you're still conscious is because the approach saves us time."

Cornered, Desmond reached out for some kind of barb. "You're insane." It was a weak jibe, it did nothing to affect his situation, but he said it anyway. He needed to feel like he was fighting, even with nothing else but his attitude. He wanted to trick himself into thinking he had any kind of shot.

He was running away, in a sense. But then, he'd always been good at that.

The doctor or whatever wasn't even fazed. "Lie down," he commanded.

And, out of options - never having had any options - Desmond complied.

The visor from before slid out from somewhere over his field of vision, a stylized triangle, maybe an A, the well-known symbol of Abstergo the pharmaceutical company, appeared as the system started to boot up. He looked to the blond, reticent up to that point, but she didn't meet his eyes as she continued to tap away at a keyboard. He felt pressure in the back of his skull, right where it met the spinal cord, and something hummed underneath him, making the oddly shaped table vibrate slightly. Heat emanated from somewhere. Desmond couldn't quite understand how any of it was working, and he still didn't get how those deserts had anything to do with what they were looking for. They weren't the deserts of his home; they looked nothing like the farm...

The grizzled lab coat saw the confusion on his face, and in a grandiose gesture of false sympathy, he explained.

Memories. Recollections of past events. Pictures and sensations and emotions captured in the brain. But while personal memories were stored in the brain, ancestral memories were imprinted in DNA. The reason birds could migrate, bears knew when to hibernate, how any species always seemed to mate in spring, all of it could be traced to genetic memory. Instinct was, in point of fact, memories of previous generations of animals, the living species playing out what hundreds of generations before were telling it to do - absent the requisite experience. The doctor had spent thirty years studying it. DNA was more than a glorified parts-list for the human body; it was an archive of experience from previous genetic donors. The Animus, somehow, decoded the DNA and constructed the memories in real time, projecting it to several different media - Desmond's sensory center of the brain, for example, to an MPEG file recording, for another, and apparently several other ways, too; for further decoding of course.

"But there's a problem," the blond said, finally speaking. Stillman, right? Desmond couldn't figure out why he knew that. Her voice was warm, much more approachable than doctor prick. His eyes finally met hers, but she quickly looked away, turning to the screen and tapping a command. "Here's the memory we're trying to access," she said, and the visor, filled with loading images up to that point, suddenly displayed a long string of DNA straightening out to form a line of bars, almost like a horizontal ladder. One bar on the far right glowed white, highlighted. Above it was a small string of text: memory locked.

"Unfortunately, every time we try to access the memory, your mind withdraws."

Knowledge and sorrow...

Desmond frowned.

"You lack the confidence to step into your ancestor's body."

Desmond looked at her. Did they find that surprising or something?

Her face changed again, a micro-expression that Desmond had been taught to look for, but he couldn't recognize the emotion, and it was gone in a flash and she was still talking. "That's what happened earlier. You got knocked out of the target memory and pushed back to a more stable state."

He glanced at the lab coat and decided she was infinitely more approachable. "... Why?" he asked, hoping she wouldn't be smarmy in her answer.

She shrugged. "Your subconscious. When people undergo hypnosis to relive traumatic events, they, too, resist the memory and have to start farther back. Your mind is doing the same thing. In order to relive it you, like they, have to be eased in." She looked away again. Was it guilt? Desmond wasn't sure. "Even then there can be problems."

Wanting to sound cooperative, he asked, "So... how do you fix it?"

"We start at an earlier memory, one you can synchronize with, and move forward from there." She offered a small, almost sad smile, and the micro-expression crossed her features again. "You'll get used to it," she offered. She turned and left Desmond's field of vision. "This is the closest we can get," she said, one of the DNA bars highlighting, "I'll upload the tutorial program now."

Seriously? These guys had a freakin' tutorial?

Then everything went white.

As a plus (if anything about this could be considered a plus) the disorientation wasn't quite as bad as the first time. At least he didn't have a flood of images and people and voices and smells assaulting him. That didn't stop him from pitching forward, however, his knees banging against the ground and his hands shooting out to catch himself.

His... his hands...

He had thought the hallucination before had been, er, well a glitch or something; but there, his left hand, it was indeed missing a finger. He was missing a fucking finger...! Adrenaline from panic started to flood his brain as he stared at the missing appendage, his mind repeating, "It's not real it's not real it's not real," over and over until he could find something vaguely resembling calm. When his breathing evened and he could manage linear thought, Desmond leaned back on his knees and looked at his hands.

The ring finger was a stub, cut at a small knuckle and only barely poked out of fingerless gloves. He tugged at the glove trying to see it better. Skin had folded over the amputation; the scarring was clean and healed but not yet faded with time. Desmond tried to remember when the scar on his mouth had looked like this, but he had gotten it so long ago he couldn't place it. Maybe it was a few years old...? But he had all his fingers when he lay down on the glorified table.

Frowning, Desmond flexed the fingers on his hand, trying to concentrate on the sensations. The hand, his hand responded exactly as he wanted it to, he could sense the motion and yet, further away, in a disconnected corner of his mind, he could feel muscles twitching on cool metal, and he knew, somehow, that he wasn't really moving. He could just feel the metal, the pressure on the base of his skull.

The sensations dispersed like mist, however, when his flexing hand suddenly sprouted a knife.

"Shit..." he cursed and brought his focus back to his hand, and he realized that the missing finger was only the beginning of the changes. Strapped to his wrist was a gauntlet of some kind, metal bracers belted to his forearm while some kind of mechanism was hidden under the leather straps, and from it protruded a metal blade. Fumbling, he wiggled his wrist and hands again, trying to figure out what he'd done to make the blade appear. It snapped back into is hidden sheath with a soft grating sound.

The rest of him was just as screwed up as his arm. His uniform had been stripped of him in a "thorough search for weapons," he had vague memories of through the drugs they'd pumped him with, and he'd been left with spares. But the loose fitting stained jeans and grey sweatshirt were gone, replaced with some kind for freaky white skirt.

Standing up, Desmond realized it wasn't a skirt but ridiculously elongated coattails. Everything seemed to be made of some kind of cotton - he wasn't an expert - except for a silk looking red sash, mostly hidden by no less than three layers of leather belts. A gauntlet was on his other arm, and leather shin guards were strapped to his legs. And... he was wearing a hood.

"What the hell is this?" he muttered.

"It's your avatar," a feminine, disembodied voice said. Desmond startled, looking around. He was surrounded by off-white fog, drifting all around him. He could see no edges or walls, only bits of flying, er, he wanted to call it code. He recognized protein structures and bits of algebraic formulas and greek symbols and other pieces, though none of it seemed connected in any way.

"Where am I?" he asked, wondering if he was saying it here if he was also saying it in that washed out room.

"You're in the construct now," she explained. Stillman, wasn't it? "It's a loading screen you wait in it while the Animus is buffering the DNA it's decoding. Memories are sometimes fuzzy; it isn't a perfect science, so what the Animus does is construct a simulation based on the information it finds. In other words, when this is done loading you'll find yourself at some kind of location, and then you'll have to do something to trigger a memory."

"Trigger a memory?" Desmond asked, disbelieving. "How the hell do I do that?"

"How does anyone trigger a memory?" the smarmy doctor dick asked. "You can trigger it manually, of course, but that doesn't work with genetic memory. Not at first, any way. So you'll have to do something that triggers nostalgia, which then triggers the memory. For example, that destitute bar you worked at probably holds many memories for you, and going there would trigger them. The smell of a Bloody Mary may remind you of a particular customer. The lyrics of a song may remind you of an old girlfriend. The very act of shaking out a martini could remind you of something. That is what the construct inside the Animus is for."

"I don't understand," Desmond said, too lost to put any attitude in his voice. He felt very isolated in the damnable white fog.

The girl replied, "You're going back to the year eleven-ninety-one." Shit that was a long time ago! "I don't think they were mixing martinis back then, but the act of riding horseback or the sight of a particular city square could trigger a memory. Once the Animus is done buffering, you can experiment until the memory is triggered."

"Might I recommend killing a few guards?" the old fart suggested. "You are, after all, an assassin. I hear assassinations were very public in those days. Maybe listening to the screams of innocent men and women dying, people running from you in terror will trigger a memory."

"Dickhead," Desmond muttered. Louder, he said, "So let me get this straight. The Animus is going to load some snapshot of the past and I just wander around aimlessly until a memory is triggered?"


"Well, gee, this will be quick."

Stillman said, "Buffering complete. Let's see what's loaded."

And the white fog slowly transitioned. The ground at his feet became slightly uneven, everything darkened, the infinite sense of space shrank to narrow and confined. Water dripped onto his shoulder, there was the sensation of cool and damp. Torch lights in darkness, a silhouette in the distance.

Desmond blinked, sucking in a breath. That felt so weird. He didn't have words for it.

"Okay," he muttered. "Project: Wander Aimlessly Like an Idiot: begin."

Yeah, it sounded stupid even when he said it out loud. He looked around and recognized that he was in a tunnel, narrow and recently created. The support beams looked new and lacked the rot of years spent in a damp environment. Cast iron sconces held torches. Frowning, Desmond turned around and looked behind him. Two men were at his back, one dressed exactly as he was, the other wearing the grey hood of a lower rank.

Wait, lower rank?

Desmond studied the faces, what he could see of them under the hoods. They were brothers, maybe, or cousins. No, they were brothers, the brothers A-Sayf: Malik, just one rank under him; and Kadar, a journeyman, midranked. And Kadar died so young...

"... How do I know this?" he whispered.

Kadar was looking at him in awe, eyes wide and mouth parted in an O, but Malik looked concerned, perhaps even irate.

"No, there must be another way. This man need not die!"

Desmond blinked. What?

And it felt like he was receding, he turned around vaguely back to the tunnel and there was a man there so small so insignificant he was just in the way and it would hardly mean anything no one would miss him...

Altair ibn La-Ahad saw the miner, a peasant. Looking around he could see no other tunnels around to bypass the probable witness. A glance behind him saw Malik, too, was eyeing other tunnels. Kadar was studying the man, eyes wide as they always were, making him look younger than he actually was. He glanced to Altair in askance.

Useless. The boy didn't know what to do. How did he ever get as high in rank as he was? The choice was obvious.

Frown pressed into his features, Altair marched forward with purpose. If there were no ways around, then he would have to make a way.

Malik's voice pleaded behind him, "No, there must be another way. This man need not die!"

Altair did not heed him, the miner was small and insignificant, and now he was simply in the way. No one would miss him and it would hardly matter regardless.

On silent feet he marched forward, invisible even in his white robes, grabbing the man's shoulder and forcing him to his knees by kicking the back of his legs. His hidden blade contracted, he held the weapon over his head, eyes calculating the best point of entry, before plunging it into the soft tissue of his neck, scraping against a major artery and penetrating deeper, behind the collarbone and ribcage, and eviscerating a lung. Any one of these injuries would be lethal, but Altair was nothing if not thorough. Blood spurt out, warm and wet and meaningless, and then the miner simply fell, dead.

"An excellent kill," Kadar said, staring first at the body and then at Altair, his eyes were even wider, now, awe caressing his face. As he should, Altair supposed, he had witnessed the work of a master assassin, after all. The thought was ruined, however, when Kadar added, "Fortune favors your blade."

"Not fortune," Altair corrected. "Skill." He grinned, then, looking at the younger man and glancing at the infuriated Malik. "Watch a while longer and you might learn something."

Kadar's face blossomed with opportunity as he thought about it, but Malik of course was quick to weed it out.

"Indeed," he said, his voice bitter and angry, "He'll teach you how to disregard everything the Master has taught us." He glared at Altair.

The master assassin glared right back; that was not the retort he was expecting, and he suddenly found himself feeling defensive. "And how would you have done it?" he demanded.

Kadar watched between the two, uncertain if he should say something.

"I would not have drawn attention to us," Malik said, "I would not have taken the life of an innocent." He gestured to the body at their feet, as if it were somehow distasteful. Altair failed to understand what was wrong about it. "What I would have done is follow the Creed."

That only caused Altair to feel anger. Was he suggesting...?

" 'Nothing is true. Everything is permitted,' " he recited in retaliation. "Understand these words: it matters not how we complete our task, only that it is done."

Malik was already interrupting him. "But this is not the way of-"

Altair interrupted him. "My way is better."

The two glared at each other, emotions firing back and forth. He had not seen Malik in years; he had not expected this kind of reception. The air was charged, neither man wanting to back down, bitterness swelling between them.

Then, finally, "I will scout ahead," Malik said, glancing at his brother and slowly turning his back. "Try not to dishonor us further," he tossed over his shoulder, his voice self-satisfied and smug. Altair glared after him, his golden eyes nearly melting the darkness around him.

Kadar was still glancing back and forth between the two, torn between loyalty to his brother and admiration of the master assassin. Struggling, he found a neutral topic and turned to Altair. "What is our mission?" he asked. "My brother would say nothing to me, only that I should feel honored to be invited."

In but a blink the anger boiled away, locked up for later, and Altair refocused on the mission. This then, was Kadar's test; if he did well he would raise another rank in the brotherhood. He recited the details to the journeyman: that Al Mualim believed the Knights Templar had found something under the mount of Solomon's Temple. Kadar's eyes brightened at the thought of treasure, young and naïve and still able to dream about adventure. Altair was quick to cut him off; what it was, was unimportant. The only thing that mattered was that the Master needed it. It was an assassin's job to do the Teacher's bidding, and Altair had little else to believe in these days. Templar corruption seemed to spread everywhere, even into the ranks of the assassin's. Just a year ago Altair had been forced to kill Al Mualim's second in command for his betrayal; the kill was still painful, even now, and Altair refused to think on it. All he could do was trust in his master, the one man above the motives of the Templars.

The two began to run together, down the tunnel after Malik, the older brother's white shadow could just be seen in the distance as he scouted. The shaft was uneven and had large sections that had no torchlight. It bothered Altair little, his eyes keen and focus so narrow he was like an eagle, hopping from one support beam to another in absolute confidence as Kadar slowly fell behind, graceful but less certain of his footing.

When they had caught up to Malik the younger brother asked, "How is it that you can do that?"

"I say again," Altair said, "Skill."

Kadar grinned, making him look even younger, and Altair found a smirk on his scarred face before he schooled the expression. At least one of them had not changed.

The three scampered up a ladder and down another shaft, all three weary of how close they were to the enemy. Malik stayed several meters ahead, his head swiveling this way and that, on the lookout. Altair did the same, his keen eyes missing nothing. Kadar looked at them both in awe but played his part, scanning what he could see.

Up another ladder and the tunnel gave way to a more structured façade, the dirt replaced with stonework; a torch showing ancient designs and columns. At a doorway stood a guard, his back to them.

Altair glanced at Malik, daring him to beg the man's life, but the other assassin nodded his head, agreeing that the death was necessary. Nodding in return, Altair once more crept forward on silent feet. This man was more alert than the peasant, guards always had some level of training, and so Altair quickly wrapped his arm around the man's neck, hand over the mouth, and plunged his hidden blade into the man's back, below the shoulder blade and between ribs and chinks of armor. The guard gave a low, gurgled grunt before slumping to the ground.

Malik and Kadar stepped past him, Altair taking the rear and looking for people who might spy the body, but none followed, and after another few minutes of traveling the tunnels they met their obvious destination.

Below them was a great room, still only half dug out, scaffolding and support beams littering the stone façade. There were narrow columns and pictures in relief, depicting what, Altair did not know nor did he care. In the center of the far wall, above the vaguely Greek archway, two torches bore light to a great golden box, old designs, perhaps hieroglyphics, decorating it's sides. Atop it was a stylized flower, maybe an egg, sitting with great pomp.

"That must be the Ark," Malik said, staring at the golden box.

Kadar gasped. "The... Ark of the Covenant?" he whispered, incredulous and wondrous at the same time.

Did they actually believe the old legends?

"Don't be silly, there's no such thing," Altair corrected. "It's just a story."

Kadar looked incredulous; his face so like his brother's Altair had to work to not to double take. "Then what is it?" he demanded, pointing to the golden box and egg.

"Quiet!" Malik hissed, peering over the edge of the ledge they stood on and spying three shadows approaching. The three assassins turned invisible in the dark with trained skill.

The leader, head shaven, marched in, barking orders in a thick accent. French? His grey cloak did little to hide the heavy chain mail armor, nor the white smock bearing a blood red cross. Templars!

"I want us through this gate before sunrise!" he commanded, the four Templars following him nodding like obedient dogs. They were clearly of lower rank, their red crosses not emblazoned on white smocks bur rather painted onto their small plates of armor. They bore no red helmets, either.

"The sooner we possess it," the leader was saying, "the sooner we can turn our attention to those jackals at Masyaf."

"Masyaf..." Malik breathed, his silhouette betraying the sudden tension in his body.

Altair had a different realization: "Robert de Sable," he growled. There were rumors that a new Grand Master of the Knights Templar had at last been elected after Altair had killed Basilisk. Basilisk was the carryover Grand Master while the knights bickered over who would take over after the capture and beheading of Gerard de Ridefort. Robert de Sable was well known to the Saracens and Crusaders both for his strategy and string of victories along the Palestinian coast. And now he was here? Altair snarled, "His life is mine."

Malik's head snapped up. "No. We were asked to retrieve the treasure and deal with de Sable only if it was necessary." His hands were up, as if trying to placate Altair.

It only made him dig his heels in.

"He stands between us and it, I would say it is necessary," he said, frustrated.

"Discretion, Altair!" Malik hissed.

The master assassin scoffed. "You mean cowardice! That man is our greatest enemy, and here we have a chance to be rid of him."

Malik stood to his full height, not as tall as Altair but powerful nonetheless. Kadar looked between them again, uncertain what to do. "You have already broken two tenets of our Creed; now you would break the third? Do no compromise the Brotherhood!" His voice almost echoed in the large cavern, such power he put in his whispers.

Altair had had enough. "I am your superior, in both title and ability." He glared, showing his anger instead of his hurt. How could Malik doubt him? "You should know better than to question me."

And with that he leapt over the edge of the ledge, grabbing the sides of a ladder and keeping his grip just loose enough to control his fall down to the bottom of the cavern dozens of feet below. Then, he boldly marched into the torchlight, visible for all to see. "Hold, Templars!" he called out to the cluster, the group having been pouring over a parchment of some kind. "You are not the only ones with business here."

De Sable only glanced at the white robes and red sash before smiling.

"Ah," he said, "Well, this explains my missing man."

His underlings fanned out, hands clutching the hilts of their swords. Behind him Altair could hear the brothers A-Sayf join him, one at either side. He could picture Malik's glare if he cared to, but his focus was entirely on the Grand Master, bloodlust slowly filling his veins.

De Sable eyed the other two, his sneer fading only slightly. "And what is it you want?" he demanded.

"Blood," he answered simply.

He raced forward, only faintly hearing a pleading, "No!" only barely feeling a hand reach out to try and stop him but he would not be deterred, he would not fail, he would end the conflict at this moment! With the Templars dead Richard's forces would be weakened and the Crusaders would finally be driven out and maybe then, maybe then they would learn to stop pointless bloodshed and end their quest for artifacts and people like Adha. Blood pulsed in his head, red haze clouding his sight but not his vision, and he dashed forward faster than any could stop, hidden blade piercing through his fist where a finger was supposed to be.

An elbow, de Sable's elbow, rammed into his face, distracting him just enough so the Templar's free had grasped his wrist. Altair pushed, snarling, determined to see blood. He angled his arm; the blade was mere inches from his enemy's throat. Victory would be his!

"You know not the things in which you meddle, assassin," de Sable whispered. "I spare you only that you may return to your master, and deliver a message." A massive hand gripped Altair's throat, choking him, driving him back. Both fought for favorable footing. He was loosing ground but still he persisted. This man would die!

"The Holy Land is lost to him and his. He should flee now while he has the chance. Stay, and all of you will die."

And then the pressure on his neck disappeared, and the sudden lack of resistance pitched Altair forward. De Sable used that momentum and swung Altair to the side, away from him. Altair tried to roll with it but in their struggle de Sable had angled him towards some of the support structure. Before he could complete the recovery he crashed into something, and suddenly his vision was blurred with dirt and rocks and rubble and the sounds of crashing and then instead of recovering he was dodging as the Grecian pillars fell. Standing, he shook his head of the dirt and dust and fought to get his bearings. The support scaffolding had collapsed, the entrance of the temple now in ruin before him. He pressed himself against the rubble, straining his ears.

"Men!" de Sable. "To arms! Kill the assassins!"

Swords drawing, metal against metal, grunts and screams.

And then: painful, empty, silence.

They were dead. Malik and Kadar were dead. Altair stared at the stone slabs, for a moment uncomprehending. They were dead.

Growling, he pounded his fist into the rubble, a useless slap against tons of weight. He did it again. And again and again, before he took a ragged breath and forced himself to turn around. If he was the only one left, then he had to get back to Masyaf, back to the assassins, back to Al Mualim. He had to know.

This section of the ruin was only partially built, poles stuck up for no reason, not yet connected to scaffolding, stone structures peeking out of the earth like missing limbs, and Altair scaled all of it, burying his regret, his loss. He hardened his heart, refusing to feel pain.

He had already felt enough of it.

He saw light above him, and as he crested a vertical stone wall he saw the late evening sun pouring it's last rays over the city of

"Fast forwarding memory to a more recent one."

"What the hell?" Desmond demanded. "What happens next?"

Stillman's voice filtered into his ears. "Don't worry. We're just skipping over the memories of travel."

"Indeed," the grizzly old fart said. "We're not here for an extraneous jaunt down memory lane, we're looking for something much more specific. The less time we waste, the better."

Desmond frowned, but knew there was nothing to do.

Altair subconsciously took his time at the stables unsaddling his horse and brushing her down. Invariably his thoughts turned to the brothers A-Sayf: Malik and Kadar. He and Malik were age-mates; they grew up together in Masyaf, chasing imaginary enemies and hitting each other with practice wands and sneaking around the markets with all the skill of half trained seven year olds possessed. They had spent every day together until their fourteenth year when they were apprenticed out to the other cities, Malik to Damascus and Altair to Jerusalem. Their letters to each other had gradually faded, both becoming absorbed in the training, the small missions and reports and lessons the city rafiq offered.

Malik was one of the brightest students of their age group. While Altair had a skill for language and writing, Malik not only excelled at that but the mathematics and the sciences as well. The master assassin often teased Malik, saying that if his head became too full he would be top-heavy and forever fall on his face. Malik in turn said that if Altair's head became too empty he would trip over a rock for not knowing its purpose. They were young and competitive and close - as close as brothers. But now, not anymore. Their angry words that day scraped at Altair, he did not want to leave on bad terms, but now he could not reconcile, and he knew their fight would haunt him, tainting his fond memories of the other man.

Kadar, Altair had vague memories of a small wide-eyed child always watching his brother, and so he was surprised when the boy had been apprenticed to Jerusalem. By then, Altair was already a senior assassin, many exploits under his leather belts and taking missions out of the city. He only saw the boy occasionally, but knew Kadar was surrounded by the stories of Altair's adventures as told by the other journeymen. His respect whenever Altair was at the Bureau was obvious.

Kadar... he was not useless as Altair had thought him that day. His wide eyes and innocent face made him a skilled informant and spy. He listened, and his mind was as bright as Malik's. With the right training he would have been skilled at seeing patterns, a rare skill highly coveted by many. His lack of experience was his only hindrance, and now his future had been ripped from him.

Fortune did not favor Altair's blade, as Kadar had suggested, but it was not skill as Altair had bragged; if there was he could have prevented their deaths.

At last he put the brush away, his motions jerky and violent, and he marched out of the stables, his face black as his mood. As if their deaths did not weigh him enough, he would now have to face the disappointment of his Master, the one man he saw as a father.

He entered the gates of Masyaf, not even glancing at the journeymen at attention, entering the small town.

"Altair! You've returned!"

Altair turned slightly to see an all too familiar man leaning against a fenced in tree. "Rauf," he greeted. He did not want to talk.

"It is good to see you unharmed," Rauf said genially, walking up to the master assassin. Despite being a sword master, he was perennially warm and welcoming outside of the practice ring. He also seemed determined to make conversation. "I trust your mission was a success," he said with complete confidence.

"... Is the Master in his tower?" Altair asked, looking away.

"Yes, yes. Buried in his books as always. No doubt he expects you."

"My thanks, brother."

"Safety and peace, Altair," Rauf said, tone warm but his eyes changing; he saw something in the reticent assassin that Altair did not want to be seen. And yet, at that moment, Altair did not want to take for granted another friend, never knowing when one would die.

"On you as well," he said simply, hoping it would be enough.

Masyaf was small compared to the great cities of the Holy Land, a simple town carved into the base of a mountain. The winters were harsh and unforgiving, the ridges sharp and vertical. Buildings were butted up against sheer faces, squares and the one market were small and uneven in shape, but it was home. Assassins knew every corner, every wall, every haystack and bench. Rafiq and dai, the nobility of the brotherhood, were side by side with merchants and basket weavers and potters and goat herders. Shepherds bought supplies here, children played here, and most important of all, they had fresh and clean water from winter's runoff. They did not have to worry about bitter or tainted water, substitute it for wine as the cities did. Their minds were always clear and their actions always deliberate.

Altair hiked up the steep main road, passing villagers and homes and dozens of trees that offered blessed shade against the approaching summer's heat. Members of the order would occasionally nod to him but Altair bade no response, he had but one goal in mind: talk to the Master.

Much higher up the mountain he saw the order's flags, marking the end of the village and the beginning of the brotherhood. Here was the training, the practice ring, the library, the quarters, the armory, the last stand of the order. Altair was not a man of wishes, but he hoped that they would never fight here. It was not Holy, but for him it was sacred ground. The fortress was an enormous, imposing structure, and Altair took a moment to just look up at it, appreciating it, before refocusing and continuing his hike. There were no villagers here, everyone walking in or out of the fortress wore the red sash of the brotherhood, some with chain mail of the guards, some with the dark robes of rafiq, some journeymen, some simply novices, but all of them trained under the Master himself.

At the fortress gate, another man assaulted him with conversation.

"Ah, he returns at last."

"... Abbas," Altair greeted.

The other assassin looked theatrically behind Altair. "Where are the others? Did you ride ahead hoping to be the first one back?" He glared at the master assassin, antagonism radiating off his body. "I know you are loath to share the glory."

There was no glory to be had over the failure. That Abbas would suggest it only made Altair glare at the man.

He grinned, happy, "Silence is just another form of assent."

"Have you nothing better to do?" Altair demanded.

"I bring word from the Master: He waits for you in the library."

Altair nodded and started to walk past the other assassin.

"Best hurry," Abbas said, following him. "No doubt you're eager to put your tongue to his boot."

"Another word and I'll put my blade to your throat," Altair threatened, wanting to be rid of the man.

"There'll be plenty of time for that later, brother," Abbas said, falling away and joining a small cluster of other assassins. Altair could hear his barbed comments and the raucous laughter of the others, but he paid it no heed. He had other worries on his mind.

Entering the main courtyard Altair walked around the training ring, Rauf's second home, and up the sloped stairs to the main building of the fortress. A guard at the door bowed to him, mumbling a polite, "It is an honor," as Altair brushed passed. The library was filled with scholars, marked with their white cloaks. Guards were everywhere, this was the sanctuary of the Master, the Teacher, the Leader of the Order: Al Mualim.

"The Master waits within," one of them said.

Altair ascended the stairs, giving but a glance out the glass windows to the gardens below. Up another flight and through the shelves narrow pathways and he was at another great glass window, large and ornate, looking out over the center courtyard of the fortress. Framing it were assassin flags, in front of it was a table, filled with rolls of parchment and scrolls and books. By it was a pigeon coup for messenger birds. And at it was the Master himself.

Al Mualim was a tall, wizened man. Beard white and long, one scarred eye was milky white with blindness. He wore the dark robe of a dai, but darker still, a pure black that even the sun could not bleach, and his hood was over his head.

"Altair," he said, turning to face his most prized student.


"Come forward. Tell me of your mission," he gestured, his voice as warm, or as warm as it could ever be for the distance he held to everyone. "I trust you have recovered the Templar's treasure."

"... There was some trouble, Master," Altair said, struggling to find words that could somehow soften this blow. "Robert de Sable was not alone."

"When does our work ever go as expected? It is our ability to adapt that makes us who we are," Al Mualim offered, still expressing confidence in Altair's abilities. The inherent praise only served to hurt Altair more, and his words were almost lost to him.

Still, he was able to offer, "This time it was not enough."

"What do you mean?"

"I have failed you."

Open shock. "The treasure?"

"... Lost to us."

"And Robert?"

"... Escaped."

Everything changed. Al Mualim's face contorted and his words suddenly became hard and biting. "I send you, my best man, to complete a mission that is more important than any that has come before. And you return to me with nothing but apologies and excuses."

"I did-"

"Do not speak! Not another word!" Al Mualim turned, his anger contained for the moment as his mind began once more to work. Altair could not look at him, kept his head down in shame and deference. All he could do was wait. "... This is not what I expected; we'll need to mount another force."

A chance at restitution, perhaps? "I swear to you I'll find him," Altair said. "I'll go and-

"No! You do nothing; you've done enough!" Al Mualim hissed, anger briefly flaring at his disappointing student, but one again it vanished to the wind, his critical eye assessing Altair in a new light. He looked to either side of the top-ranked assassin. "... Where are Malik and Kadar?"

The answer was the longest yet in coming. Altair could not look up. "... Dead."

"No, not dead."

Master and student both turned, startled, to see a third figure approach, the whites of a senior assassin stained heavily with blood. The man clutched his arm, hanging limply at his side. Altair could not school his expression; shock was blatant on his face.

Malik. Malik! Alive!

"Malik," Al Mualim said, his voice painfully neutral.

"I still live at least!" his voice hoarse and dry, he had not had water for days, mostly likely had rode without stopping when he was strong enough to travel. Altair was impressed, this on top of his relief and shock and concern and any other emotion that was vying for his attention. Alive!

"And your brother?" the Master asked.

"Gone," Malik grunted, his eyes pained before looking away; and Altair could only think of the face of that wide eyed teen, looking up at him in awe. The moment passed, however, and Malik threw a furious glare at Altair, throwing a finger up to point to him. "Because of you!" he shouted, raw loss in his voice.

"Robert threw me from the room, there was no way back, nothing I could do." He had wanted to; oh, how he had wanted to, but-

"Because you would not heed my warning!" Malik shouted, overriding Altair's words. He swayed on his feet but anger kept his going, kept his shouting. "All of this could have been avoided! And my brother... My brother would still be alive!" His voice cracked with grief and Altair could only stare. How? How could any of this have been avoided? Did he mean the death of the miner? Or...

Malik swayed on his feet again, legs almost buckling, but he held firm. It was as if the energy his anger generated was at last snuffed out. His voice was weary when he said, "Your arrogance nearly cost us victory today."

"... 'Nearly'?" Al Mualim asked, surprised once again.

"I've what your favored failed to find. Here," he said, pulling the decorated egg out of a pouch at his back. Bitterness over took him. "Take it; though it seems I've returned with more than just their treasure."

"Master! We are under attack!" A young apprentice said, dashing up the stairs in a panic. "Robert de Sable lays siege to Masyaf's village!"

Whatever thoughts the Master had were carefully hidden. He rubbed his long white beard, muttering to himself. "So he seeks a battle..." He paced about his table, deep in thought. Malik grabbed the edge of the railing, steadying himself; he had lost much blood, Altair determined, but knew better than to ask that he see a physician. Whatever else, Masyaf was safety for assassins, and Altair knew that the best way to help Malik would be to turn away the Templars.

The Master came to a decision. "Very well," he said, "I'll not deny him the battle. He turned to the young apprentice, his face as white as his tagelmust. "Go. Inform the others. The fortress must be prepared. The apprentice nodded and dashed off. Hard eyes turned to the top-ranked assassin. "As for you, Altair, our discussion will have to wait. You must make for the village. Destroy these invaders, drive them form our home."

Altair bowed. "It will be done," he said, committed.

"How can you still trust him?" Malik demanded, his voice weak, "After what he's done?"

"Trust is irrelevant," the Teacher said, his blind eye glaring at Malik, "The fact remains that he is our best warrior, and now is the time that warriors are needed." He turned back to Altair. "Go."

"Yes, Master."

Altair leapt over the banister to carry out his orders.

It took an hour to pass word to the associated parties. Abbas took charge of the men in the citadel while Rauf was in charge of ferreting out the villagers and escorting them to safety. Altair checked from the tower to observe the curse de Sable. It was a small force, an insult to the order, with only one siege engine and one contingent of soldiers. The narrow pass of the Orontes Valley gave the assassins some advantage, and they were not without their defenses.

The siege began. Altair, done with his checks, ran down the fortress halls and outside to join the fight as Al Mualim had commanded. Running down the narrow path to the village he had to dodge running villagers and wounded men.

"Altair!" someone shouted, and the master assassin slowed to see Rauf, bloody but seemingly unharmed, dashing towards him with two men. "It's good you've come; we need your help."

"What's happened?" he demanded.

"Templars. They've broken through the main gate and are attacking the village. Most everyone has been evacuated. Most, but not all."

"What do you need me to do?"

"Distract the Templars. Keep them occupied while I rescue those still trapped."

"As you wish."

"Good," Rauf said. "I knew I could count on you; may fortune favor your blade!"

Kadar filled his mind, and Altair's steps seemed to grow faster.

Wounded were staggering up the path, some being helped by scholars or rafiqs, others alone. Blood filled the air and Altair knew he had little time. He had just reached the edge of the village when he saw a mass of Crusaders swinging wildly at the innocent villagers as they ran. The savagery only fueled Altair's anger, and he drew his sword while running. Someone saw the white terror racing towards them and shouted, "Assassin! Don't let him get away!" and the entire throng turned to the master assassin.

Fighting through the village Altair saw three different buildings on fire; the market fountain was red with blood. Their home was being raped.

That only made him fight harder.

At last he made his way to the main gate. The stables were ablaze and horses were running everywhere, panicked. The massive tree trunk-stakes that had surrounded the gates were in splinters, but strangely the gate itself was in once piece, hanging open and inviting.

Bloodlust filled Altair, and he lost himself in the fight, slashing, stabbing, dodging, parrying, breaking bones and piercing lungs, throwing knives, fountains of blood spraying wherever he went. Crusader soldiers had training, but they did not have metal; they were but peasants drafted by their distant king to fight in a distant land filled with distant enemies. Routed from their homes they did not have the spirit to battle, where the Saracens, and the brotherhood, had a much more personal attachment to the war. Altair was death walking, no one could break his tight guard as he slaughtered every armored body around him: slitting throats, stabbing armpits, snapping arms and legs so violently bone fragments flew in the air. Throwing knives suddenly erupted from eye sockets or collarbones, hands were shattered and weapons disarmed. This was Altair at his best: a living, breathing, fighting machine.

"Break off the attack and return to Masyaf!"

Abbas' booming voice carried over the screams and the death throws and Altair's own adrenaline. Altair had run out of Templars and was now looking at retreating assassins. He would not run away, he would finish this! The master assassin tried to bowl through his comrades, blood still throbbing in his veins, intent of killing his way to de Sable himself but his allies were too great in number. They grabbed him and all but dragged him away.

Abbas threw an unhindered punch at the assassin. "Al Mualim commands it!" he shouted, punching him again.

The red haze withdrew slightly, and, rubbing his chin, Altair nodded; frustrated the de Sable's life was so close and yet so far away. He would murder that Templar some day soon!

The retreat was slow with the Templars nipping at their heels. Altair had long run out of throwing knives, and combat needed to be much more selective. He could not blindly start a melee, he needed to give the others time to retreat, and so he would dash towards the Crusaders, swinging his sword wildly, scaring them almost to a halt, and then turn on his heel and run. When two or three managed to catch up to him he was draw his curved short sword and eviscerate them in front of their comrades, making his next dash to the chasing army even more weary.

Abbas had joined him at some point, egging on the Templars before displaying his own skill with the sword. At last, however, they cleared the fortress gates and the iron bars slammed closed.

The center courtyard was filled with refugees, the injured being treated by the scholars and physicians in the training circle. Women and children cried, the soldiers tried to be brave but were haunted. This was Masyaf, the one refuge of the assassins and yet they had lost so much ground. What was the Master planning?

Altair wished to know himself, and he all but ran around the ring and through the halls to the library, ready to carry out whatever order his Teacher had for him.

"Altair, come!" Rauf called. The master assassin paused, looking up to one of the defense towers to see the sword master. "Al Mualim's not done with us yet."

"Where are we going?" he asked, walking to a ladder and ascending to join Rauf.

"Up there," Rauf replied, pointing higher up the tower. "We've a surprise planned for our guests." The sword master offered a hand to help Altair up but the master assassin refused. Together, they climbed even further up the tower. "Just do as I do, it should become clear, soon enough," he added, a vicious grin in his voice.

He recognized immediately where he was going, and could hazard a rough guess on what the Master had planned. Rauf didn't need to tell him as they stood on the highest floor of the tower, three platforms extended out over the infinite expanse of the mountains below. The two confidently marched out onto the platforms, the wind billowing bout them, a third joining them soon after.

"Heretic!" de Sable could be heard cursing, sitting on a black warhorse and shouting up to the fortress. He had perhaps a hundred men with him. "Return what you have stolen from me!"

Altair grinned slightly, happy to see the man angry.

"You've no claim to it, Robert!" Al Mualim answered, Altair could not see from where. "Take yourself from here before I'm forced to thin your ranks further."

"You play a dangerous game!" de Sable spat.

"I assure you, this is no game."

"So be it!" de Sable replied. He turned to his men. "Bring forth the hostage!"

A journeyman - if his grey hood was an indication - was tossed forward by the Crusaders. Altair could just make out the man look up to his Master before a soldier ran the man through with a sword, blood spurting out. Even from their great height the master assassin could hear the gurgled groan as the hostage slumped forward, dead.

De Sable spoke again: "Your village lays in ruins, and your stores are hardly endless! How long before your fortress crumbles from within? How disciplined will your men remain, when the wells run dry, and their food is gone?"

"My men do not fear death, Robert," Al Mualim countered. "They welcome it, and the rewards it brings."

"Good!" de Sable spat. "Then they shall have it all around."

Rauf turned to the third man, his voice soft and reassuring. "Follow me," he said, "and do so without hesitation."

Al Mualim's voice was booming and confident as he gave the order. "Show these fool 'Knights' what it is to have no fear! Go to God!"

And, without the slightest bit of doubt, Altair, Rauf, and the third leapt off the battlements, plunging down to their deaths. Air whipped through Altair's ears and hair, the battlement wall streaking by him like a heat mirage, and the ground rushed up to meet him, and death was replaced with the sweet, dry scent of hay. Any assassin knew these parapets; this was where the Leap of Faith was practiced.

Altair quickly rolled out of the hay, Rauf doing the same. The third was not so quick, an agonized scream exiting his haystack instead of him. Rauf got to him first, Altair quick on his heels as they unburied the man, clutching his leg. "Quiet, quiet!" the sword master hissed, "or the Templars will hear us." The man bit his lip, moans muffled and softer, but still he grimaced in pain and leaned to one side, trying to favor the leg he clutched. Rauf deftly probed the leg, his hands quick and efficient, and with a sickening crack pulled and popped the leg to position. Tears leaked out of the man's eyes, so excruciating was his pain.

Rauf looked up to Altair, and the two nodded, silently agreeing on the next course of action.

Altair edged around the narrow ledge where the haystacks lay, the rocks giving him cover. Masyaf was built atop a mountain lake from which they drew their precious water, and while de Sable cursed and threatened Al Mualim, Altair crossed narrow support beams from one edifice to another, circling around the Templars until he reached his destination: a defense tower built into the mountain itself. The entrance was on de Sable's side but it mattered little to Altair. He took but a moment to study the vertical wall, plotting out his route before his calloused hands expertly found the necessary hand and footholds. It took perhaps half an hour to climb the half dozen stories until he reached the top.

Now he had a much better view. Al Mualim stood on the outer wall of the fortress, gazing down at de Sable as he would an errant child. The Templar Grand Master was directly below, his men trailing out behind him, cramped in the narrow pass. Perfect.

Altair looked to Al Mualim. Their eyes met, however briefly, and the Master nodded.

Sword drawn, Altair cut the rope to the trap, and dozen cut logs of varying sizes rolled out of the parapet directly onto de Sable and his men. Chaos erupted as the men tried to fall back, some crushed as the logs fell, others trapped as they rolled after them, others still run over by their compatriots as they tried to get away. Soon after the gates opened and the assassin troops chased after what was left of the throngs.

It took over two hours to weed out the last of the Crusaders, the assassins going building by building and searching for cowards or stragglers, assisting the villagers back to what was left of the ransacked village. Bodies were collected and gathered in a pile by the remains of the main gate for later disposal. Altair paid little attention to these things, instead riding his horse with the others, slashing and biting at Templar heels down the Orontes Valley and away from their territory.

It was late afternoon by the time Altair and the others returned to the city. He, Rauf, and Abbas were summoned to see Al Mualim, the mighty teacher standing over the training ring. Many of the troops were gathered around, intent on their Teacher's speech.

"You did well to drive Robert from here. His force is broken. It shall be a long while before he troubles us again. Tell me, do you know why it is that you are successful?" He gazed intently at Altair, apparently this conversation was meant for him.

Uncertain, the master assassin remained silent.

"You listened," Al Mualim supplied. "Would that you had listened in Solomon's Temple, Altair, all of this would have been avoided."

"I did as I was asked," Altair said, refusing to show weakness.

The Master held up a hand, stalling his next words.

"No. You did as you pleased. Malik has told me of the arrogance you displayed, your disregard for our ways."

The bearded man glanced at the two at Altair's side, and Rauf and Abbas grabbed the master assassin's arms, restraining him.

"What are you doing?" Altair demanded.

"There are rules. We are nothing if we do not abide by the assassyun's Creed. Three simple tenets," he said, pacing slightly before turning a cold and merciless gaze to his student. "Which you seem to forget," he spat, grabbing Altair's chin and forcing the man to look at him. His blind eye was penetrating, his clear one furious. Altair could say nothing; one did not defend himself to the Master.

"I will remind you: First and foremost: stay your blade," and the Teacher's voice was harsh with disapproval.

"From the flesh of an innocent," Altair finished, his face blank, his body tense but neutral, all of it hiding his true emotion boiling inside of him. "I know."

Al Mualim backhanded the master assassin, a violent punch that sent his head snapping to one side.

"And stay your tongue," the Master added, "Unless I give you leave to use it."

Altair said nothing more.

"If you are so familiar with this tenet, then why did you kill the old man inside the temple? He was innocent; he did not need to die." He paused, waiting, silently daring his pupil to speak. Altair said nothing, causing the older man to frown. "Your insolence knows no bounds. Make humble your heart, child, or I swear I'll tear it from you with my own hands."

He let the words sink in before continuing. "The second tenet is that which gives us strength: Hide in plain sight. Let the people mask you such that you become one with the crowd. Do you remember?" he demanded, still eying the assassin. "Because as I hear it you chose to expose yourself, drawing attention before you struck!

"The third and final tenet, the worst of all your betrayals: never compromise the brotherhood. It's meaning should be obvious: your actions must never bring harm upon us, direct or indirect. Yet your selfish act to leave Jerusalem placed us all in danger! More still! You brought the enemy to our home! Every man we've lost today was lost because of you!"

A long, pregnant pause drew out between them. Murmurs could be heard breezing throughout the crowd. Public denouncements like this were not common, moreover the fact that this was Altair, the prize of the order, the best of the best. As the litany of his sins became apparent, the murmurs grew louder and angrier, but never did they overtake Al Mualim's angry rebuttals. Altair's ears were pounding, he was struggling to look disaffected; he could feel Abbas' hot breath grinning at his disgrace. He saw Kadar's face, awed and trusting; he saw Malik's face, twisted with anger and betrayal. Emotions raged through him, he did not know which to act on, and so he did nothing.

"I am sorry," the wizened Teacher said, drawing a knife. "Truly, I am. But I cannot abide a traitor."

Altair struggled against the men restraining him. "I am not a traitor," he said. Surely his actions this day had provided restitution? He had aided Rauf, held back the Templars, set off the trap that had slaughtered them, defended their home. Did that not count for anything...?

Al Mualim shook his head. "Your actions indicate otherwise," he answered, contemplating the blade in his hand. "And so you leave me no choice. Peace be upon you, Altair."

And the knife was thrust deep into the master assassin's side, above the protection of the leather belts, below the protection of the ribcage.

Pain exploded across his senses and he fell to the ground, Abbas grinning in victory and Rauf looking on in sadness and the Master not even sparing him a second glance because in the end even he was worthless after all...

Author's Notes: To say we love the game is something of an understatement. We have both tossed around the idea of novelizing the game for along time. It's been a daunting thought, given how long the game is and the logistics of just how to novelize it. We've read the Brotherhood book, but we were both disappointed with it and how it didn't jive with our sense of Ezio. Ergo we assume (and yes, it's an assumption) that any novelizations in print for Altair's story aren't as good as the game.

So, last June, while still debating weather or not to novelize this, that I (Mirror) had a long-term sub job and Image had more free time. I told her to give start it as a test run and see how it went. When I came home I was very pleasantly surprised with what I read. (See above...) And thus, I got sucked into agree to write this. Now, one-hundred-sixty pages later, Image is having a blast writing the investigations for Abu'l Noquod and I'm eagerly waiting to write the assassination for Abu'l Noquod.

We just know people will start asking for Assassin's Creed II... And the logistics of that since it takes place over decades is just a nightmare... 8(

But for now, we're having great fun. Hope all of you do as well.