A few quick notes I'd like to put out there:
The first thing I'd like to mention is that this was written in the span of me being in the midst of several of the games. Initially this was started shortly after finishing AC2 and partway through Brotherhood. As of finishing this story, I have completed Brotherhood and am perhaps midway through Revelations. I also happen to own the AC Encyclopedia and turned to the AC wikia for additional help, though I've not read everything as I don't want to completely spoil the plot for myself :)
This being said, forgive any incorrect dates or facts though there are some things that were intentionally changed to help mold the story. Also, this was written as a single chapter but I've broken it up to make reading it easier.
And the second thing, please keep in mind that this is a comedy story…and can perhaps trail into being called a crackfic (though I'd like to think this has a little more structure). Either way, you've been warned :) Enjoy!
Altaïr tried his hardest not to shiver as he sat before Al Mualim in the drafty open office. He'd been tied to a chair by his "brothers", stripped of all possible defenses, but he wasn't too concerned. He'd been in this situation before. He'd be chided, sent on novice assignments, and in a week, he'd be back in his Master's good graces again. He was his favorite, after all. There was no way he would permanently demote him.
Then again, Al Mualim had never sat on the edge of his desk and just stared at him like this before either, nostrils quivering. Altaïr thought of a horse and did his best to hide his smile in his hood.
"You utterly disappoint me, you know that?"
"You reckless fool. You've nearly compromised the entire Order, everything we've worked for! With half the men injured on that one operation, I'm surprised the Templars didn't just follow the trail of blood back here!"
"Well, this is a massive fortress on top of a hill, which doesn't exactly scream 'subtlety', you know."
For the first time, he was slapped. As if popped open, his jaw went slack as he stared in absolute shock. Someone actually hit him! He blinked, realizing things were not going according to plan.
"You know the absolute worst part of this, Altaïr ?" Mualim asked, his dark eyes burning. "You're not even apologetic. On the contrary, you don't even see what you did wrong."
"We brought back the treasure you requested," Altaïr said evenly, trying to redeem himself. "I'd consider that a success."
"Malik's missing an arm."
Oooh…right. Altaïr turned just far enough to see a team of medics working frantically to make a tourniquet for Malik's severed arm. Catching his eye, the man said "Don't take it too hard, Altaïr! It's not like it was the right arm. I mean, I'm still wondering how I'm going to explain this to my wife and it's going to be harder to pick up my daughter but that's nothing as long as we got the treasure, right?"
Altaïr was currently feeling an emotion that at the present time was foreign to him: guilt. He realized very quickly that he didn't like it and sought to regain control. "I'm missing a finger, and I function just fine—"
"We're all missing a finger!" The rest of the Assassins screamed, revealing hands that had sacrificed the finger needed to use the hidden blade.
Before Altaïr could ready a good reply, Al Maulim had forcefully turned Altaïr 's face back to him. "There are losses we bear for the greater good of the Creed and those that benefit only ourselves. If we work on an individual basis, if even one of us shows weakness, we leave an opening for the Templars. They have shown nothing but a united front against us and we must match them stride for stride. And sometimes, that means reassessing our forces."
Altaïr was acutely aware of his Brothers now listening very closely. Even Malik leaned forward to hear better. "Meaning?" Altaïr dared to ask.
"I'm putting you on new recruit training duty."
While he felt something shatter inside, it was overshadowed by the screams of joy from the rest of the room. Glasses clinked as they were toasted; pages were thrown in the air, and a flutter of messenger pigeons were all but chucked out the window as they were made to bear the jubilant news to all the Assassin factions.
Mualim gave them a withering look in which the Assassins quickly went back to lookinglike they were busy. Altaïr decided to not show weakness, not giving his so-called Brothers any more satisfaction out of his demotion than necessary. In fact, he'd make it seem that this was a brilliant idea! "No problem, I can train recruits. Someone has to give them a shred of hope of getting to my status."
The others tittered in silent giggles. "His status," someone whispered in a carrying voice, and they laughed harder still. This time, Al Mualim didn't quiet them.
"There's someone in particular I want you to train," his mentor went on, taking his place again on the edge of his desk. "And your success will determine whether you stay with us or not."
Altaïr frankly didn't think that was fair considering not everyone was cut out for this line of work. He'd seen new recruits that were all swagger and yet couldn't stomach the sight of blood, much less actually killing someone. If lucky, they were able to take on a position in one of the Assassin Bureau's as an informant, which still paid better than most of the common trades. He wasn't sure how he was going to essentially force someone to become a murderer.
"And who is the lucky person that I get to take under my wing?" he tried for a joke.
"My nephew, Hassan." It was said with a grimace, implying both love and disappointment. "We know those that are truly born of the Assassin lineage are few and far between. Hassan has shown that he possesses all of the traits, but…"
Altaïr ventured, "No one to show him what to do with his skills?"
The Master shook his head. "If he had any skill, I wouldn't be worried about him. But that's just it; he has none! I even tried sending him abroad to become a blacksmith and they sent him back with a note begging me to keep him after he crushed two apprentice's fingers. He's seventeen now, I've waited long enough for him to show promise in becoming anything other than an assassin. This seems like it might be his last hope."
"Can't he work in a Bureau?" Altaïr asked, attempting to adjust his wrists which were becoming increasingly uncomfortable from being tied so long. When he tried to shift them, he gave himself a rope burn and decided to just leave it be for the moment. Of course he knew that in a real life or death situation, he could just break the chair but he figured this was more for the sake of making him listen than fear of retaliation.
Mualim though took notice of his discomfort and with his initial anger redirected for the moment, he gestured to someone who grudgingly untied him. He watched his charge thoughtfully rub his wrists while he said, "I think you really need to see him to understand why the Bureau wouldn't work. I've told him to be in front of the gates at daybreak and to be sure he's not followed. We'll see if he can at least do that much."
He got up and immediately the others began burying their faces in books, redressing Malik's already bandaged arm and becoming quite interested in the day's idle chitchat. "You're my last hope with him, Altaïr . Please, give me a nephew I can be proud of again." The sea of bodies parted as he swept down the stairs and out into the courtyard.
With their eavesdropping accomplished, the others slowly filtered out, leaving Altaïr alone and feeling numb.
Very early the next morning, he did as he was asked and waited by the front gates for Hassan. Al Mualim hadn't described the boy to him but considering he'd be the youngest person to get within even a hundred yards of the fortress, he was sure it wouldn't be hard to find him.
Thing was, Hassan wasn't there. Even from his vantage point of on top of the massive stone wall, Altaïr couldn't see him. However, he did have a great view of the entire village, made even easier from the fact that the fort sat on a hill. His line of vision followed the trail of crimson flags bearing the Assassin crest to the guards guarding the path leading to the entrance. Here is where ordinary travelers were turned away. Considering that the few who were standing there were gathered around staring impressively at someone's new sword (so much for security), Altaïr let his gaze travel further, down the steep slope to the village square.
He could hear it before he could see it. Bagpipes, tambourines and twangs of lutes had slowly been drifting its way back to him. In the distance, he could make out bright twirling cloths and a frenzy of people dancing. He groaned; the gypsies were back.
It wasn't that he didn't like them; on the contrary, he found himself especially lucky when one of his assignments collided with their appearance in a neighboring town. Festivities always made killing that much easier. His problem was the performance itself; music that sounded like cats dying, monkeys trained to pickpocket, and some of the dirtiest women he'd ever seen. No, these weren't the famed beauties of Notre Dame he'd heard about. These were desperate beggars masquerading in art.
Either way, there was still no sign of Hassan. Looking directly down from his perch, there stood the customary wagon of hay, soft and fresh and completely unassuming. Allowing himself to become weightless, he let his body plummet nearly a hundred feet below.
And as if he wasn't right behind the guards, they took no notice. Altaïr hopped out, brushed the straw off him, and strode down the path. They started for a moment when they saw that someone had actually managed to sneak that close to them, then grinned.
"Altaïr! How was the mission?" They greeted him and he realized that miraculously, the guards had no idea that he was an absolute peon now. He knew the tides of power would soon switch and decided to make the best of it for the last time.
"You should pay more attention to actually doing your day job instead of gossiping about your newest toy," he snapped and he relished in watching how their faces fell. Oh, he was going to miss this! But it wouldn't last forever. He hoped.
Walking just a little bit taller, he happily made his way down the foothills to the bottom of Masyaf. There, pouring through the massive front gates of the village was the most colorful chaos he'd ever seen. Many people politely stood back to only watch the party but many more had been infected by the mood and were now wildly spinning with the gypsies, swinging their arms with no particular rhythm. He took a second to tighten his money pouch to his belt, needing a moment to prepare himself. Then, with a deep breath, he stepped into the fray.
He was pushed, prodded, stepped on, grabbed, jostled and essentially man-handled as he fought his way through the crowd. It felt more like he was swimming upstream against a current that threatened to completely carry him away if he didn't keep fighting. Faces flashed by in front of him, most not young enough to look the part of a new trainee, looking absolutely delirious with joy. Indeed, even if the music sounded like cats in heat, the people needed the reprieve.
But suddenly, before he could fend them off, someone tried to slip their hands onto his wrists. He managed to pull back just enough so that they took his hands instead, sparing them from touching the blade in his arm. With surprising force, he was swung violently around, an elderly woman grinning wide as she twirled him. He spun and tottered on his feet, jerkily righting himself back up all to find that somehow, he'd entered the eye of the storm.
On the edges, he could still see the dancers. But through the swarm, he could see a small circle of space that surrounded a pair of dancers. His assassin intuition kicked in and without knowing, he knew the boy was him. And as he watched, he knew exactly why his master had called him a hopeless case.
Draped across his shoulders was a rather festive purple wrap, decorated with gold on the fringe. In one hand, he shook a tambourine while using the other to guide the gypsy in an under-armed spin. As the two twirled, it was almost as though they were a magnetic spinning top, and others began being pulled into the loop. Two became ten and still more as a circle formed and thus the peaceful eye dissolved to become part of the raging storm again. Altaïr meant to back away but the boy caught his eye and on his next pass, he was unceremoniously sucked in too.
Altaïr didn't dance. Not that he'd call this primordial writhing "dancing", but he still refused to be a part of it. Every second he thought he could get away with it, he tried to slip back, but Hassan would smile blindingly at him and nudge him back forward. He seemed to enjoy making up dances as much as he liked being part of them, encouraging everyone into a move where they gathered close together before breaking apart, wiggling their hands.
"Spirit fingers, everybody!" Hassan shouted, demonstrating enthusiastically the greatest impression of worms that Altaïr had ever seen. "These are spirit fingers!"
He'd had enough. On a pass during their looping that brought them near the thickest of the crowd, Altaïr pulled the boy's robes back with him into the shadows, cupping a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet. Pleasantly enough, the boy complied and he easily dragged him halfway back to the fortress before roughly spinning him around.
Altaïr opened his mouth but Hassan got the first words out. "You're him."
He paused for just a second but an assassin must always be fast on their feet…and with their words. "You've heard of me?" So much for subtlety.
Hassan nodded so hard, it seemed his head was going to snap off his neck. "My uncle praises your name daily! 'Altaïr , the youngest assassin ever! Altaïr , already completing assignments for those twice his rank! Altaïr , I wish I had twenty more like him! Altaïr—'"
"Okay, that's enough!" Altaïr cut in, snapping his hand back over his mouth. "You sort of ruin the point of what we do by yelling it to the wind." He looked around, though the music from the village safely drowned out anything they were saying. Then again, he wouldn't put it past someone to know how to read lips; he certainly did. It'd become a thin line between gauging paranoia and genuine caution but he wasn't taking any chances. Gripping Hassan's robes again, he proceeded to pull him up the path, past the guards—who tried, and failed, to hide that they were still admiring the sword—and into the courtyard of the fortress.
Beyond the massive walls the boy gave an unmistakable longing gaze as he watched two fighters practicing in the sparring pit. Altaïr looked upon them and saw room for improvement but he knew how it looked to a newbie. It looked damn awesome. He looked back at his new charge, sizing him up for the first time. Puny arms, knobby knees, slightly pigeon-toed and he didn't miss the fact that he squinted frequently. Excellent vision was a must in this line of work. And Al Mualim wants this to become as good as him?
"The Master tells me he's been training you with a few skills. What've you learned so far?" He figured he might as well get a run-down of what's been taught so he'd have a starting point.
Hassan started ticking off on his fingers. "Well…he at first wanted me to become a merchant. But the sun managed to hit the glass jars from the stall next to mine just right and all my rugs caught on fire. Then there was an apprenticeship at a blacksmith's—"
"I've heard of that one," Altaïr assured him, already feeling his hope for the boy draining.
He nodded, continuing. "Finally, he tried teaching me to fish, which I thought I was really good at! Until…my hook ended up in a man's mouth. He kept screaming something like 'Oh dear God, the pain!'…Who's God?"
"Nobody," Altaïr muttered, more frustrated than ever. He struggled to remember how he himself started out. And then, he smiled as he remembered.
"First thing's first, I need to push you off the roof."
"Mr. Ibn-La'Ahad, I'm not sure about this."
"You can call me Altaïr ." Thanks, Mualim. "Just close your eyes and concentrate on the haystack."
"That's a contradictory statement," Hassan knowingly corrected before adding, "It must be fifty feet down!" He tried to step back from the ledge but Altaïr blocked his retreat. He also decided to keep to himself the fact that the leap was twice that height but minor details, right?
"You'll be fine. Every Assassin can do this."
"Has anyone ever died?"
Don't lie. "No." Technically, no one had. There was one man that knocked himself into a coma and after waiting two weeks to awaken, his family finally decided to suffocate him with a pillow. But the actual cause of death was not the fall.
"I dunno…" Hassan stalled. "What if I crash through the bottom?"
To this day, Altaïr still wondered about that himself. "You won't. It's…industrialized."
Hassan stared at him.
"Oh, for the love of dogs, go!" And without meaning to, he pushed him.
For a sickening moment, he watched the body twist through the air and just knew Hassan was going to miss the cart. Al Mualim was going to kill him. Not in the way the figure of speech suggested, with another tongue-lashing, but literally kill him. Before Hassan even landed, he'd already begun planning his escape. He'd steal a horse and head to Jerusalem. He'd avoid the Bureau and catch the next ship sailing to Europe. He'd change his name, learn a new language, start life anew. The only problem was that there were Assassin Orders all over the globe. And Assassins possessed a sometimes inconvenient knack for always being able to find their own.
But with a soft crunch, Hassan disappeared into the hay and Altaïr let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. The boy slowly climbed out, as though making sure all his limbs were still safely attached. Once he realized he was still one, he turned and gave the thumbs-up to Altaïr who gave a dainty leap before meeting him at the bottom.
"That," he said, picking yet again more hay from this clothes, "is called a Leap of Faith."
"It was amazing!" Hassan looked entirely thrilled, seemingly forgetting that he'd been pushed off the roof, no leaping about it.
"It is very useful," Altaïr conceded. "Especially when you need to hide from guards or you're being chased on rooftops. Of course as time goes, you'll jump from places much higher than this but as long as you're facing towards the hay, you'll always fall in."
Altaïr shrugged. "I never missed it." Finally feeling a kinship building up between them, he put his arm on his shoulder as he led him back inside. "Now, let's do that about five more times."
The gatherings for meals were always a quiet event but the moment Altaïr entered the room, everything became silent. He knew not to cower at the staring eyes but he also realized that no one had seen Hassan yet. Their eyes shamelessly searched him all over and Altaïr was reminded that however Hassan presented himself was exactly how Altaïr would be perceived from then on.
He felt like he was in primary school again.
However, he was impressed when Hassan stopped before the head of the table, next to his uncle. Al Mualim stood up and made the introductions. "This here is my nephew, Hassan. Of course, all of you already knew that…news has a tendency to spread unusually fast here…"
The assassins cleared their throats , some looking away.
"He will be training amongst you and, with enough dedication, will hopefully join your ranks. I ask that each and every one of you shed your knowledge and guidance on him." Under his breath, he added, "He'll need it."
Altaïr found two seats halfway down the table. He himself took the seat next to a young man who was a little younger than himself, and began to freely pile food on his plate from the dishes in the center. The other young man was grinning to himself and staring down at his left hand, which was heavily bandaged. Inwardly, he sighed. Had he been paying more attention, he would've chosen a different spot than to sit next to Micah the Maniac (as he liked to call the man to himself).
Two days ago, Micah had finally graduated to Assassin status and his left ring finger had been sacrificed for the hidden blade. Since then, he'd been flicking his wrist whenever possible, releasing the knife and smiling all the wider each time it made a shhink sound. Today was no different, but now, Micah had stabbed his meat cutlet with the blade and was proceeding to eat it off his wrist as though this were normal.
Altaïr was about to look away when he caught his eye and held him there. The manic look darkened as Micah slowly chewed on the meat, unblinking. Without preamble, he said "Isn't it beautiful? So useful…"
"I guess," Altaïr said without much conviction, managing to pull his gaze away to reach for the salad. To stall for time, he tried to offer Hassan some as well, but was waved away.
"I can't wait until I'm sent on my first assignment with it," Micah went on. Altaïr didn't need to ask what 'it' was. "Such a fine tool isn't meant to sit idle. Tell me, Altaïr , how often do you use yours? I hope to use mine every day. All those people out there, waiting to be Judged—"
"If you haven't forgotten, the first order of the Creed is to stay your blade from the flesh of the innocent," Altaïr quickly reminded him. He was starting to look around desperately for anywhere else to sit but by now, the table had filled.
Micah chuckled, his eyes flashing, making Altaïr unwittingly flinch. "I know that. I'm just saying that now that I have this, there's certainly more…possibilities…"
Thankfully, he trailed off, nibbling thoughtfully still on the speared meat. Altaïr took that chance to cast around for someone else to talk to. His eyes happened to land on the person a seat over and across the table. At twenty-seven, Nazia was the oldest female Assassin in the Syrian Order. Though she was only four years older than himself, Altaïr always felt like a child when he encountered her.
Could it be because she already has two children and is happily married? He thought with a hint of bitterness. Like himself, she too was born and raised in the fortress, pruned her entire life to be an Assassin. Unlike him though, he knew that whenever he had children, he did not want them to follow in his footsteps. Secretly, he looked to the little boy and girl sitting between their mother and father, the oldest no older than five and already able to catch small game. Nazia took pride in continuing this tradition while he himself stayed only to make amends on behalf of his deceased parents. He knew a small flicker of fondness remained for her (dulled from the roaring crush he'd had in his teens) but he couldn't fully respect the mother that'd knowingly put her children in harm's way.
Which made the situation with Hassan that much more difficult. However, Hassan was given options. He just happened to be…very inept at just about everything. And he was also old enough to have a say in the matter. He eagerly wanted to be trained so Altaïr wouldn't turn his back on him, no matter what his personal principals were.
With that resolved, he heartily dug into his meal, trying his hardest to ignore Micah as he continued to brutally shank his food.