It wasn't appropriate to work in the same teams or to even have favorites as the point of the Order was to work in harmony with everyone, but Altaïr would be lying if he said that he didn't give Hassan preferential treatment. He knew it was only because he'd played a crucial part in shaping him into what he was now, but there was something else as well.
Over the years, Hassan had never stopped his boisterous personality. No matter how many kills, he could still return back from an assignment and happily busy himself with fictional reading, doodling cooking (well…maybe not cooking. He enjoyed cooking but after an incident in which he nearly blinded a member with paprika, he wasn't allowed in the kitchen anymore) and overall he helped to keep everyone in a lighter mood.
Which was exactly what he was doing on this day as Altaïr at long last marked a final target in a long list of oppressors.
"After this, we can finally take a vacation, right Altaïr?" Hassan whispered excitedly from where they were hiding in the trees. Altaïr had a clear view of the main roadway leading to the encampment and further down to the castle of King Richard.
Without turning to look at him, Altaïr muttered "Hush."
"I think I want to head further East for my vacation," Hassan went on without a pause. "I heard they've developed a type of gunpowder that gives off colorful light and they use it for festivals. Imagine it, Altaïr! It's like being able to make your own cosmos!"
Altaïr groaned. "Nobody can create their own cosmos. And shh!"
"Yeah-huh! Maybe not literal stars but figuratively speaking—"
An arrow breezed past them, cleanly severing a branch above their heads. The shot had come from behind them and Altaïr attempted to extract a knife from his belt. Hassan proved to be much quicker and in the time that it took him to extract even one, Hassan had whipped his bow off his back and had taken down three guards.
As one, they jumped from the tree, impaling two more with the hidden blade. As Altaïr straightened up, he could see the wave of red soldiers spilling down from the surrounding hills. The only option left was to run. Hassan was readying three more arrows at the same time onto the bow but Altaïr threw out his arm. "Don't shoot, there's too many! Run, and stick to the woods!"
With impressive agility, Hassan re-sheathed and swiftly darted into the thick trees lining the road. Both were careful to dodge as many branches as possible so that they wouldn't leave a trail and at times split up to help confuse their pursuers.
As it turned out, the action was wasted. In a moment when Hassan had broken left suddenly, Altaïr intended to run a wide circle from the right and meet again. Fifty feet in, the ground exploded with a tremor strong enough to collapse him.
Distantly, he heard a similar sound and a loud scream. Now the guards would know that they were trying to split up and worse, would know their locations. Hobbling back to his feet, Altaïr tried to pinpoint the direction that Hassan had went, even trying his Eagle Vision, but his head was ringing and his vision was blurry. Hassan's trail was only definable as an intermittent glow before disappearing completely. He couldn't concentrate longer than thirty seconds at a time and was making little progress. In the end, he ditched the effort entirely and began heading in the direction he thought he'd heard him.
All around him, the guards shouted out instructions, also splitting up. Altaïr was good at keeping a level head but inside, he was mentally kicking both himself and Hassan. He should've taken on this assignment alone. Robert de Sable knew he was coming for him, had known all along, and had prepared accordingly. Altaïr had not. Had he been smarter, he would've left Hassan in Msayaf. It didn't take two people to do an assassination.
Maybe not, but he still needs the experience. And…you would've missed not having him. He sighed fondly at the last part. He no longer preferred the loneliness of going into an assignment alone. Even if it was a higher risk, he couldn't completely regret having brought him.
At this thought, he sped up, searching desperately for any signs of Hassan. He couldn't call his name and he started to have a terrible sinking feeling. Sometimes on group missions, if one member was lost or seriously injured, the best option was to leave them and hope for the best. When completely surrounded by enemies, most Assassins would take their own life instead of risk being tortured for information. This way, the most important tenant could be kept: Never compromise the Brotherhood.
But Altaïr didn't want to even consider that. Perhaps Hassan had actually gotten away and he was wasting time backtracking to look for him. They'd already decided that if they were to split, the best option would be to return to the nearest Bureau. He'd hold on to hope that that's what had happened and figure out how to escape as well.
That is, until he crashed through the foliage and onto a dirt road. The same road that only minutes before, he'd been watching. Furthermore, he was surrounded by guards from both in front and behind him and everything made sense; they weren't trailing him, they were herding him. They were one step ahead.
Looks like this might be it, Altaïr. Don't go quietly. Hidden in his sleeve, he released a bit of the blade. If he could at least kill Robert de Sablé, the ninth Templar leader, then this years-long hunt will have not been for nothing.
However, it was King Richard that addressed him. "I have followed your progress over the years, Assassin. Your…Order…seems to see itself as judge, jury and executioner for everyone that doesn't fit within your ideals."
Altaïr raised his head higher, his eyes challenging. "Your most trusted advisor plans to kill you to become king himself. All those that fell before him were his pawns to help him reach his means."
Richard nodded. "Perhaps, but they were his pawns. Did you have to kill them?"
The king narrowed his eyes, then shook his head. "A good advisor is hard to come by and de Sable has been my best. However, I cannot ignore such dangerous accusations. I declare…a final match to the death between you two. No interferences. May God allow the most virtuous man to win."
"I'm atheist," Altaïr clarified.
Richard stared. "Oh. Well, pity on you." With that, he and his men retreated several steps to form a large circle.
"I've got thirty pounds on the Ḥashshāshīn!" one man shouted and soon his comrades were placing bets.
So that's all I'm worth to them. But Altaïr dutifully drew his sword.
Richard held up a hand in the air for three seconds before dropping it and the battle commenced.
Altaïr swung first, aiming for a mid-range cut across the abdomen, but de Sable jumped back just in time, following with an unexpected swing of his fist. The punch went wide and completely missed but Altaïr now had a better idea of how this fight was going to go.
From the sidelines, the guards continued to cheer and one took it upon himself to commentate. "We have de Sable the Unstable with a right hook—oooh, he misses! The Assassin counters with a feint swing of his sword and instead kicks him in the nether regions! Ouch, not cool, Assassin, not cool! But de Sable's not down for long and he pulls out a knife and—he has contact, people! The Assassin is 0 and 1 with a painful slash to the thigh. The Assassin isn't going down easy though folks, he pulls out his own knives and lands two blows back, one to the cheek and shoulder. Then a left punch, a right punch, a bite—yes, a bite!—from de Sable. Look at him bouncing on his feet, folks, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! One thing is definitely certain; this is going to be the match of the ages!"
Altaïr tried to block out the voice and was seriously contemplating throwing one of his knives at him to shut him up but he only had two left. By now, both he and de Sable were worn down, only taking swings every few seconds. He thought about returning home to Masyaf, going on the promised vacation that awaited him. He'd probably take Hassan up on that trip to China to see the colorful gunpowder displays.
If Hassan was still alive.
If he made it out alive.
Feeling an invigorating rush, he put his entire body into a final attack, a quick volley of blows with the sword that de Sable easily blocked. However, he completely missed at the last second the hidden blade punctuating his chest. His mind wanted to continue fighting but his body gave out and he collapsed to the ground. Altaïr leaned closer to listen to his final words.
"You're a foolish boy, you know that?" the man gasped, blood burbling from his mouth.
Altaïr grimaced. "So I've been told. But what were you ultimately trying to accomplish?"
"Peace…men are selfish, hurtful creatures. The Apple of Eden can subdue their beastly nature, at long last ending the fighting." He took another large breath, fixing an eye squarely on the Assassin. "But your Master is the most selfish of all. Where I sought unity, he only seeks the Apple for himself."
He'd been cradling the man in his arms to listen better but suddenly jerked upright, dropping him. Ignoring the whimpered "Ow!", Altaïr said, "You're lying. Al Mualim doesn't care for using the Apple. He just wanted to make sure it was out of Templar hands."
"He is a Templar!" de Sable countered. "You've been doing his bidding this entire time, and your real target has been right in front of you . Foolish…foolish boy." He coughed, spitting up blood. "I die only with the regret…of never being able to tell my son…that he's adopted." With a distinctive bleh, he died.
Without looking back, Altaïr stepped over his body and continued back down the road. Presently, he was aware of a pair of feet rushing to keep up. He wondered if King Richard was going to go back on his promise but suddenly, a hand reached out to his shoulder.
A hand that was missing a finger.
He wheeled around and came face to face with Hassan. Initially he wanted to bear hug him (he'd never admit that out loud) but Hassan wasn't smiling.
"Did he say…my uncle is a Templar?"
Altaïr nodded. "So it would seem, though I'm not ready to believe it. Let us hurry back to Masyaf to find the truth."
"Aww, look, Altaïr! They've come to welcome us home!"
The older Assassin cast him a look as though to question his sanity, then turned back to the large mob of people before them, comprised of both villagers and Assassin's alike. "They're clearly not themselves. They've been…possessed. I fear that de Sable might've been speaking the truth."
"Yeah, well, this isn't proof so I'm not believing it," Hassan denied obstinately.
From atop a roof, Malik revealed himself and shouted, "Al Mualim has taken control of everyone's minds!"
"…That means nothing," Hassan said in response to Altaïr's pointed stare becoming stronger.
Leading the way, Altaïr shouted to Malik to prevent anyone from entering into the fortress, he himself continuing on to finally make someone a believer.
However, a cursory search of the castle revealed that the place was now deserted. Likely, all in the Assassin Order were now under Mualim's influence outside, which was a lucky break. Last thing he needed was a hoard of brainwashed skilled killers attacking him…not that they were any less dangerous when they weren't brainwashed. The searching finally led them outside into the small garden, though this too looked empty, until:
"You're too late, boys!" Mualim thundered above them from the balcony.
"You won't get away with your dastardly plan!" Altaïr shouted, making it Hassan's turn to stare.
"I have the Apple of Eden…and soon, it will show me the other Piece. Once I have both, nothing will stop me!" Mualim pulled a golden sphere from his pocket and held it up. A flash pierced the sky and Altaïr found that he was now immobilized, struggling in vain against an invisible vice.
"Uncle, no!" Hassan cried, still able to move. "Why are you doing this? Can't we all just get along?"
"Not…helping…" Altaïr grunted.
Mualim laughed, causing the Apple to nearly roll off his fingertips. Recovering at the last minute, he cleared his throat with a serious expression. "I'm not biologically related to you. I'm adopted."
There's a lot of that going around… Altaïr noted.
"What luck on my part that my adoptive parents were Assassins! Thus, I too was given the opportunity to become an Assassin, which, perhaps the lack of discrimination of the Brotherhood is its biggest weak point. With infinite information at my disposal from the Order library, I found out that my real parents were Templars. And," he finished with a shrug, "I happen to like their agenda more than the Assassin's."
Hassan shook his head, begging with his eyes for all of this to be an elaborate joke. "That still doesn't explain why you'd allow me to become an Assassin. Why train one of your enemies?"
"I have a few reasons for that," Mualim conceded. "After you failed to grasp any other trade, I would've looked suspicious by not offering the one skill that was in your blood. Your mother and father might've retired early but they expected you to succeed them. Altaïr's fast rise in the ranks offered a chance for you to train with the most top-ranked Assassin, ensuring that you learned even quicker. And also ensuring the demise of the other Nine that much faster."
Taking a step back, Hassan shook his head violently. "You used me as a pawn in your sick games?"
The old man laughed. "Oh Hassan, welcome to life! Where brother betrays brother to get ahead. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must kill Altaïr. Once I'm done, if you ask nicely enough, I might spare you to make another mindless puppet."
He held up the Apple and it flashed once again, producing several shadowy figures that surrounded Altaïr in the courtyard below. An exact nine people. Altaïr already knew what this was about to be.
"A revival of your rivals," he scoffed, unconcerned as the men drew closer. "Aren't you one for originality."
"More like the irony," Mualim corrected, tucking the Apple in his pocket. "You killed them and now they seek revenge! That's also part of a novel I'm writing; figured I'd try the plot out on you to help capture the raw emotion." He flicked his finger and what had only been fluid ethereal figures solidified into...Altaïr wouldn't call them humans, but something that was much more substantial. "Go ahead, Altaïr, don't be too proud to admit your own defeat."
Altaïr let out a growl, pulling his arm tightly against the invisible bonds.
"That's right, let me hear it! I want you to grovel at my feet!" Mualim encouraged, leaning closer over the balcony.
But Hassan saw what his uncle—ex-uncle?—could not see; Altaïr was now able to move his fingers. This was it; this was what all his training had been for. It was now or never!
"Chaaaarge!" he yelled, running at break-neck speed towards Altaïr.
"No, Hassan, I'm fine—!"
Too late. Hassan crashed into him, sending both of them tumbling over the raised platform of the garden and onto the lower courtyard twenty feet below. Disentangling themselves, they were backed up against the wall as the shadows drew closer. "You should've taken out Mualim," Altaïr muttered, starting to withdraw his sword. "If we had've launched a surprise attack on him and the Apple, we could've avoided this."
But in the same moment that he was unsheathing the sword, Hassan had already fitted an arrow into the bow. "For once, I'm actually ahead of you." With a whispered goodbye, Hassan released the arrow which pierced through the chest of a still cackling Mualim. The man stumbled, using both hands to brace himself on the balcony. The Apple fell out his pocket and seemingly tumbled in slow motion towards the ground, shining like a falling star. It crashed to the earth, breaking open into two.
The nine figures were swiftly reabsorbed into the piece of Eden where the Apple fitted itself back together again with a metallic click. Just above, their leader clung desperately to his final moments, staring them down with a loathing that Altaïr would find hard to rival in later years.
"Curse you," Mualim groaned, sliding down against the railing. "Man cannot be trusted with free will and to govern himself or he is doomed to follow the same path for all eternity. True freedom is slavery! With one mind, there can no longer be hunger, war, hate. These things are a base trait of humans that can only be quelled by universal control. But no matter…you may have killed me but may the Templars live on forever!"
With a dramatic bleh, his head fell to the ground, dead.
Altaïr closed his eyes for a moment for their leader before hearing a sniffle come from Hassan. Awkwardly, he patted the boy on the back, muttering a quiet "There, there…"
"He *sniff* he was the best non-uncle ever! He still had some faith in me even when everyone else didn't. And…even if we're ultimately on different sides, I think that somewhere deep, deep, deep down inside…I made him proud when I became an Assassin."
Altaïr could mildly relate, having been raised as an orphan with Mualim's approval being his biggest goal. However, that approval hadn't been towards their accomplishments themselves but what it meant in terms of the Templars getting that much closer to using this…piece of Eden. He decided though to keep those thoughts to himself as it wouldn't help any to remind Hassan of that. Instead he said, "You'll always have a family in the Brotherhood."
But Hassan shook his arm off, taking a few steps away. "Actually…I don't think I want to be an Assassin anymore."
Altaïr snorted. "You don't just decide to not be an Assassin anymore. It's what you are, what you're born as. You're either in or you're out, no halfway about it."
Hassan shrugged. "Okay, then I'm out."
His mentor blinked, then bluntly pointed out, "You chopped off a finger! You can't undo losing a finger…that's gone forever!"
"I still have nine other ones. And with them…I'm going to become a tailor! My mother is a seamstress so I can become her apprentice. Then I can take over the family business!"
With an ironic smile, Altaïr shook his head. "Then how come you didn't do that before?"
Sagely, Hassan responded "Because I had to find out what I was capable of. I had to know if I even could become an Assassin. But…I don't want to live my life murdering people—"
"—If there's something else out there that I can do," Hassan added. "Besides, I've always wanted to create my own clothing line. Just you wait and see, they'll be wearing my clothes all across the nation!"
Nodding in resignation, Altaïr held out his hand. Hassan shook it, smiling just as brightly as the very first day. "Good luck to you, brother."
They parted ways that day though were never to meet again.
When he opened his eyes, Desmond was in the secret cavern under the Auditore Villa. Sitting up, he pulled himself out of the Animus. "What the hell did I just see?" he asked to no one in particular.
"For once, I'm just as clueless as you," Shaun muttered as he began to tap across the keyboard in front of him. "I don't remember a Hassan Mualim mentioned in any of Altaïr's notes. Nobody else wrote about him either. What's so important about him that Altaïr would want to hold onto those memories?"
"Maybe it's just as simple as he saw him like family," Rebecca added, seemingly much less concerned about it. She dug into a bag of chips on her lap, crunching loudly. "It was a strong emotion and that's why Desmond was able to see it."
"How trivial," Shaun said, his voice taking on the telltale signs of a rant. "We could've been given more insight into the actual key members of the Order, of the Templars, of what happens to the Apple, but no, we had to take a detour down Happysville to hear Altaïr's touching story. Time completely wasted."
With no forgiveness, Desmond asked "Are you always such a bitch?"
Rebecca cheered, Doritos flying all over. "I've always wanted to say that!"
An indignant huff came from Shaun's side of the room and he retreated into moody silence behind his computer screen.
"I think it was very sweet and endearing for Altaïr to keep that so strongly in his memories," Lucy told them. "Take a breather though, Desmond. You deserve it." The man nodded to her, stretching as he walked out of the room to get some fresh air.
Meanwhile, Lucy proceeded to further her search for anything she could find on Hassan. So there'd been another person that indeed could use the Eagle Vision…Altaïr was the only recorded person that had the skill. Perhaps she could trace his lineage, find an ancestor of his that was still living…bring them in…
Appearing back around the corner, Desmond casually asked, "Lucy, wanna take a walk?"
Wiping the screen blank and locking the computer, she forced herself to put on an innocent simile. "Sure thing, Desmond." Soon…very soon, she'd be able to end the charade.
Nothing too different from the games for my first AC story; however, critique is always much appreciated!