A/N: I'm testing this style of writing. Don't know if I'll keep it though since I'm so used to past tense. Hopefully, it goes well. ^^
Disclaimer: I do not own Assassin's Creed.
Sometimes, Altair feels that he is not alone in his mind.
The Syrian assassin is both consciously and unconsciously aware of the slight pressure in his mind. When he thinks about it, attempts to reach out for the alien entity, his mind shifts elsewhere, whisking away the curiosity that had been there prior and he forgets all about it until the cycle repeats itself. So, Altair maintains a balance between conscious awareness and naivety.
It is...a weird feeling; intrusive, but not uncomfortably so. He first feels it when he was in Solomon's Temple with Kadar and Malik. It had started slowly, as if waking for the first time and cautiously pulling at the edges of his consciousness with the strength of a newborn kitten. At the time, he had ignored the sensation, his mind preoccupied in completing his objective fast and efficiently to give it much thought. He was in control, moving with the grace of a master assassin that he was, but there was the nagging feeling of being a spectator in his own skin at the same time because the thing had begun to learn within the recesses of his mind.
The presence in his mind persists in its hungry curiosity for weeks, and before Altair knows it, the presence is ingrained in him, a limb that his mindscape has accepted for its own. The transition happens so effortlessly and seamlessly that Altair does not realize it until far later when it truly begins to matter.
Altair is adaptable, and as so grows somewhat used to the presence in his mind. Living with it is an out of body experience of a sort. He imagines it like he is in a dream, passively observing, but he is acutely aware of all that is happening, calculating and relaying what and when to act, like he is...guiding the presence sharing his body. Altair remembers times wherein, for a split second, he forgets how to throw his knives or stealthily pickpocket individuals. (The latter had caused him more than enough grief, having caused a generous amount of city guards to give chase not seen since the time he had truly been a novice.) The slips are fortunately brief, fleeing moments.
It is days later when he also notices a change in him. More particularly, its...influence- no not that, its feelings in his mind. During interrogations, there is hesitance before the kills, a strong feeling of admonishment and reluctance radiating like waves down his chest where before there had been blank acceptance in the past. Then his blade sinks into their flesh and the other's feelings disappears, but leaving a sour taste in his mouth in its wake.
Altair begins to notice a pattern of when it is at the strongest at the forefront of his mind as well. During missions and assassinations, it greedily watches through his eyes, taking in and watching the proceedings play with a thirst. When Al Mualim returns his weapons to him piece by piece after every successful assassination, he senses both its curiosity and interest; making him almost fondly think of a kitten pawing at the tools of his trade.
Altair finds that it is at its weakest during his down times. When all is calm and he is given rest after each successful assassination of the nine given to him, the presence retreats, dimming in his mind to a low hum, and Altair is grateful for having a moment in time of absolute respite from the confusing, otherworldly duality within his character.
And strangely, as time goes by, Altair grows to not mind the other. If anything, he comes to like it as it accompanies him in his journey, wordlessly offering silent support and just being there. It stays with him for a long time; through all nine assassinations, through the betrayal of Al Mualim, and the witnessing of the other locations of the Pieces of Eden, before it rests as it always does after a long mission.
But it doesn't come back.
The other does not wake after the usual time lapse and Altair knows that he should feel relieved that he now has the semblance of normality in his mind, but instead Altair feels like a bucket of cold water has doused his skin, sinking through the bone into the very marrow of his being-
The silence is deafening.
-because Altair realizes that he is in too deep now. He had grown used to it in his mind- its curiosity and prodding reproaches as he went about his days. Its sudden departure illogically rattles his nerves and Altair knows with a clarity that he lost a part of himself-a limb had been removed, like Malik's arm, but deeper than that.
And it drives him crazy.
For days after that, Altair is a beast. The change is noticeable to the brotherhood and they are appropriately cautious to not provoke their prowling predator of a Mentor and incite its rage upon them. Even Malik, though no longer holding amnesty towards Altair, is wary, inwardly worried and suspicious that the other Syrian may do something foolish. Instead, he watches the other assassin, keeping tabs on Altair and wondering what has gotten into the usually calm and collected man.
His brothers in arms usually came back with small reports on Altair's behavior. He is harsher, they say; unruly. Malik cannot but agree. Though he sees that Altair is obeying the Creed, he is doing so within the farthest extent with a thrum of agitation laying dangerously close beneath his skin.
One day he confronts Altair and it is there that he truly sees with his own eyes the extent of Altair's conduct and its consequences. It is after an interrogation on the evening of the third day of Altair's strange behavior. Malik had watched from above as Altair followed the normal route of interrogation: stalk, beat, and extract, before the inevitable 'silencing'. The gasping body staggers to the ground, and Malik notices silently that the force of execution done was far more appropriate for that of a large mammal than a stocky orator.
Malik makes his presence known and lands behind the older man. He keeps his voice low when he speaks. They are at the bazaar of Jerusalem, behind some busy shops and the walls separating the rich and poor district of the great city, but that does not grant any safety.
After all, an unstable assassin was a dangerous assassin.
Malik had never been one to beat around the bush, and plainly asks directly the question that had been on everyone's mind. The sudden tenseness in Altair's shoulders is noticeable and his head careens slowly over his shoulder, hood drawn down so Malik doesn't see his eyes. He can see the lower of his face though.
'He's thinner.' Malik thinks when he sees a slight hollowness is in the curve of his face and also notices some rare stubble as well. Malik looks up when Altair speaks, and he speaks in a terse tone that is strange on the man he knows-or, used to know. It sends unease down Malik's spine and elicits a feeling of wariness within him that is horribly familiar with Solomon's Temple.
The answer he gets is one he fears.
"My friend...I think I am going crazy."
Altair raises his eyes and the look those amber give him are strikingly familiar.
It reminds him of the look in his own eyes after he saw Kadar cut down before him. Desperation, grief, rage...all swirling chaotically in a tightly controlled hold.
Malik doesn't talk to him about it again after that, but then again he doesn't know what to say to him. With Kadar, Malik had been able to cope with his loss with anger at Altair. It was easy to blame what had happened on the other Syrian and mourn afterwards. But in this case... Malik decides to leave him be.
Days pass and Altair's behavior does not stop. Sleep becomes hard to come by and though his performance as Mentor and Assassin does not decline, it is obvious to those frequently around him that his health-both mental and physical-is. When Altair does manage some sleep, he awakes to a gnawing feeling on the edges of his consciousness that leaves him to stare at the ceiling for the remainder of the hours of darkness.
Then one night, sleep...oddly comes peacefully to him.
He dreams of a beautiful gold woman. Her brows crinkle with an elusive smile, and points to a location to a holographic globe of the earth...
Then Altair knows what he must do.
The next morning finds Malik...in a state of utter confusion. Never did he expect Altair to pop up quite literally in his Bureau looking well rested than he had been in days and an apology for his behavior on his lips.
Malik is too shocked by Altair's sudden mood switch to fully understand what is going on, only able to nod numbly at a hastily given request and watch disbelievingly as Altair flashes a smirk at him before sprinting off. For a moment, Malik can only stare at Altair's retreating back with wide eyes, before shaking his head incredulously. He doesn't dare question what just happened, only glad that things seemed to have patched themselves over.
There had been a determination to his step after all. Malik had seen conviction and a fervor in Altair's amber orbs that had replaced the former fury and agitation and it filled him with great relief. He didn't seem like the only one who felt the same way because the other assassins, when they made their way to his bureau, expressed their thankfulness and seemed to release a collective sigh of relief.
It is only later that Malik remembers the retrieval mission request that Altair had asked of him, crinkled and forgotten in his hand. He opens the folded note and what he reads makes his brows furrow.
High above the city, Altair leans back against his perch on the tallest building of Jerusalem. His head feels clearer than it had in days and as he breathes in the crisp morning air, the master assassin settles for a brief rest-
In his lap, the Apple of Eden pulses almost reassuringly.
-and dreams of a boy named Desmond Miles.