Chapter 1: I shall name you our eagle.
Notes on the Masyaf Eagle by an unknown author (date around 2000):
“The Masyaf eagle – named after the pace it was mentioned for the first time – is a very rare kind of eagle that pops up only a few times in history. [..1..] Its first set of feathers is grey, which are then completely replaced all-white feathers that turn golden with high age and its beak has a light grey color which darkens over the years. [..2..]
Records, that mention this particular kind, state that it possesses an IQ just short of a human. [..3..] I assume that in a few texts the Masyaf Eagle is mistaken for white-bellied sea eagle. [..4..] It is unknown if and how many of the species still exist. Nonetheless, I would be honored to meet one.
Penelope had a big grin on her face; the crown was once again in the possession of her team the Nest. They had lost it last month and sadly interrupted a 4-month winning streak.
On the first Sunday every month (plus/minus a few days if it was a holiday) the five parkour-teams home in the big hall participated in a small game against each other. The rules as followed:
- Every team got a colored frisbee.
- Goal is to get the frisbees of the enemy teams.
- Was a team-member caught with their frisbee in hand by an enemy he had to pass the frisbee to one of his team and was disqualified for the game. (10 points for the enemy) If he was the last one, he gets 30 seconds to hide it within the hall.
- It’s not a requirement to hold the team-frisbee but if it’s found alone by an enemy the whole team is disqualified. (30 points for the enemy)
- Catch the crown-wearer with his team frisbee; 40 points.
-The team that survives wins.
Markus “the vulture” was the one who had collected the most points within her team and with that, was the next “king”. His laugh wasn’t unlike a dog bark and he flexed his right arm proudly to show off the crown-shaped band around it. The title of Queen was awarded to the trainer – who all did not participate in the game – responsible for the team; he or she got a tiara on the head.
Currently the Nest, six people in total, flocked – minus Markus - around their trainer, the crow. His once coal black hair had turned nearly white in the last few years and he had a soft down of beard. Despite his age, he still could outrun them all on the obstacle course. So far, only his stamina had suffered from age and only he could wear the tiara like a boss in comparison to the other male trainers.
Penelope liked praise and she especially liked hard earned praise from their trainer. He does it rarely, what makes them even more valuable.
“Great job today. And I have good news for you. Next week Dirk will be joining us, a possible new member.”
A variety of wohoos and yes’ went through the group. They were the smallest of the five teams and were just at the minimum to be counted as a one. Other had to take members out during the game to give them a fair chance.
The week was gone quite quick, they all had jobs to do after all.
Penelope worked at a remover, getting furniture and boxes from one flat to the other, sometimes meeting overly friendly people sometimes meeting complete douche-bags. It was always interesting to see how people went on with their day and how fast they could stress out or how they acted while stressed out. She even had it one time, that a woman had fainted in the middle of the stairs because she had thought, that she had forgotten something. Luckily a coworker had caught her.
Anyway, Penelope sat on one of the obstacle blocks in the parkour hall with a good view on the door. She did wait for ten minutes maybe as it opened a bit and an unknow head looked inside. That the crow – Henry was his actual name – approached him, was just further confirmation, that this had to be Dirk.
She jumped down, using a trampoline to cushion her fall and walked up to Henry and the newbie shaking hands. He was a little bit taller than her and had his dark brown, nearly black hair cut short. His clothes were held simple with grey sweatpants and a white shirt, that gave a free view on his tattooed arm. Especially striking was the scar that crossed over his lips.
Today only Luca, the Seagull, an average tall but lithe man with long limbs and sholderlong brown hair and Kiwi, a bear of man that could climb like an ape but can’t jump high to save his life and preferred to be called Kiwi instead of his actual name were present beside Penelope.
The training today mostly consisted of testing Dirk, if he had already existing skills and where his limits were. From what Penelope could see, he wasn’t a total beginner; he didn’t hesitate before an obstacle, but he didn’t seem to know what he could do exactly, making him falter if he had to jump a further distance.
Henry called for a break to prepare the true test for Dirk. Luca took the opportunity to ask an abundance of questions. They learned that way, that he was working as a bartender, preferred dogs over cats and had a sweet tooth. And Penelope noticed that he grew more and more hesitant with each question. She saw it as a clue to interfere.
“Come on Luca, lay off a bit. You are asking holes into him worse that in a swiss cheese.”
He just laughed but ceased with his asking. Dirk took a visible breather and took the role of the asker himself.
“Jup, but Nele is just fine.”
Kiwi threw in a sentence.
“Don’t let Markus know that Lope-Pope.”
“Markus-diddl-dee-doofus can go sulk in a corner and cry like a baby. Sorry Dirk, continue.”
“I know that this,” he pointed at Luca “is Seagull and this,” he pointed at Kiwi, “is Kiwi, I assume that you are the Owl?”
Dirk was totally right, Nele’s shirt was a dead giveaway. It had a white owl print on a brown background. The name was chosen for her love for books and late nights. And she liked jumping from high places unto a trampoline, going up again just like a true owl falling down onto its prey.
A call from Henry disrupted any further discussions, he was finished with preparations. While Dirk climbed up a block alone the rest got up upon another. Dirk’s task was to jump to them. Even if they made him space to land on, it wasn’t expected, that he actually made it. Even if there had been a few who did the jump on their first try, the general purpose was to see if the tested person could fall and more importantly, would go up again. For first timer the gap between the blocks had an extra layer of cushioning so nobody should get hurt.
Dirk was faltering, he looked down and skeptical at the distance he should jump. He looked from the gap to them and back again, his shoulders tense but he went back, all to the other end of the edge he had to jump over. They all could see the sagging of his shoulders and for a few moments it looked like he would back out.
His eyes steeled, and he ran;
And he flew,
His hand caught the edge and they rushed forward, grabbing his arm before he could fall. With joined forces, they pulled him up and showered him in awe and praises. The coldness in his eyes was gone in an instance and a small genuine smile took its place. The crow looked proud at him.
“I shall name you our eagle.”
Dirk came two, sometimes three times a week around the afternoon, settling into the team nicely. Jumping was his greatest strength as long as he didn’t have to do a somersault and his biggest problem was to find footholds for climbing.
He was a quiet person, never saying much, never asking much but he looked. Dirk watched them, watched the other teams like something would happen any moment. So far, Nele guessed she was the only one who noticed it; it took one to know one. But he tried to warm up to them, relaxing more and more at least within the team. A development they all could see and were happy about.
Penelope and Dirk were sitting together, getting a break. He swiped the sweat away with a towel.
“Have you ever thought about being a bird?”
She was a bit surprised that he started the conversation.
“Eh, yes. I mean we are all named after birds. I’d probably would try do a victory dance but fall upon my back when I do a pirouette.”
“You would do that, as a bird?”
“Yes, if I knew that I was human before. I think that being a bird would be very cool.”
The music was loud even outside of the bar. The Nest had decided to visit Dirks workplace as a kind of count down get-together because he would be participating in the game for the first time with them in a week. And they were curious to see him outside of the parkour hall.
Penelope didn’t like the mass of people squished into one place and forced herself to breath through her mouth instead of the nose to not get the full alcoholic aroma of the air. It didn’t take long to find him behind the bar. His whole demeanor radiated confidence while he mixed drinks, gone was the quiet and hesitant man. Using Kiwi’s tall statue and slightly intimidating look to make their way to the bar the six made themselves room at the counter.
“Oh hello, welcome at the Bad Weather, what can I get for you?”
It was a fun night despite the loud volume. Penelope wasn’t bothered by drunk people thanks to her team and Dirk also got her a place more to the side and even gave her a pair of earplugs. She was swaying to the now bearable loudness of the beat waiting for Dirk to finish. A coworker of him had found out, that he was part of the group and actually told him to wrap up and enjoy the time with them.
And that they did. Jokes and laughter all around and happy smiling faces. As the first of them started to tire, they called it a night. On the main street they dispersed in the directions of their homes. Hummingbird, the only other female of the group didn’t need an escort home, she lived together with the Kiwi. Their current relationship status was unsure but Nele guessed friends with benefits. The others didn’t bother with asking if she needed one, she would turn them down, but was Dirk was offering to get her home safely.
“Thank you, but it’s not needed. I am home in five minutes, just two streets down from here.”
“Then I’ll still walk with you.”
He looked determined making her huff out a breath.
“Fiiiine. You don’t have to make a huge detour?”
“I’ll get my motorcycle with me and drive from your home. Sadly, I don’t have a second helmet otherwise I would have driven you there.”
“Don’t worry your head.”
They walked around a street corner as Dirk stopped in his tracks. Penelope tensed too and tried to find out what was wrong, she couldn’t find something out of the ordinary. Dirk however, rolled his bike out of the way, locked it and took her hand. She got goosebumps.
And it was quiet, too quiet.
They started walking again, Dirk with a firm grip on her hand pulling her nearly along in a run. Everything was spun like a bow, waiting for release. While walking past the entrance to a dark alley the nervous energy snapped. Dark clothed men streamed out of it, pulling them inside before they had a chance to react.
What happened further Penelope didn’t know, for she blacked out.
Desmond came forcefully out of the animus, hitting his head nearly on the retreating glass over his face. His thoughts were all over the place.
“Now, now Mr. Miles…”
Abstergo Industries caught him, wants something from him in his mind. He either did what they wanted, or they induce him into a coma and let Penelope suffer. They had shown him a video feed of her, sitting in the corner of a small room, half hidden by a bed/bench combination with eyes wide. If Vidic had told the truth, she had been alone since she had awoken three hours ago.
He was angry. Angry at Vidic, angry at Stillman even if she did seem to be the nicer of the two, and more importantly he was angry at himself. For not being more cautious, more resistant getting Nele in the mess too. But they wanted him back in the Animus, that white uncomfortable bed-thingy.
Anger, defeat and apathy. He could only hope that she wouldn’t suffer because of something she just got pulled along.
The room was bright, too bright for her liking. She could be lucky, that she isn’t one of those people struggling to sleep with lights on, because they were always on or have panic attacks in enclosed spaces. She tried refusing the first meals she got pushed into her room, her cell, though a tiny openable slit on the bottom of the only door. The door had a handle but seemed to be dependent on a card to unlock it.
When hunger ate at her insides, she put the first bit of food into her mouth. Penelope would never admit it, but she cried. A lot. Not loudly but the tears just streamed down in small rivers in the corner of her eyes.
It was a thin broth she got this time. Pulling the bowl to her lips due to the lack of a spoon she felt something beneath it. Something was duck-taped onto the bottom. Faster now, she emptied it and turned the bowl around to get a better look. Carefully as it would attack her at any moment, she pulled the tape away and gave way to a-
A simple white card without any printings on it. Her blue eyes wandered from it to the door. Maybe…? She stood up and went to the door, it couldn’t do more than fail.
She jumped as it beeped. And opened. She stepped outside quickly in her white/grey garb that was pushed sometimes too into the room. There was neither a pile of worn clothes or food-trays because someone always putted them away while she slept. Hastily she looked up and down the corridor and to her horror a blond woman came running.
Like Penelope would do that. She took off as fast as possible, pressing the edges of the card nearly bruising into her hand. Somewhere an alarm went off. She found a staircase winding down and took shortcuts over the railing when the height was ok to jump down increasing the distance further and further to the blonde woman. Not even her calling and clicking of her shoes was hearable.
Dark dressed personnel, just like the ones who captured her, came the stairs up making her bolt through the door of the current floor sending her thought further derailing as she saw the famous Abstergo logo on the wall. She could barely hear the shouting from the many people following her over her own rapid breath – she would be able to continue like this.
In a split-second decision she turned around a corner and stopped at a random door. Smacking the card in high hopes on the scanner the door opened and she slipped inside, letting it fall shut behind her.
She was cursing at herself for basically trapping herself. Frantically she searched for a bit of light, nocking things over, hitting against other things, not noticing how a cable wound around her ankle.
The door opened, light went on and the personnel streamed in. Finally seeing her surroundings, and with that the oddly shaped door right behind her, she ran for it. The cable went taut, letting things crash to the floor on one side and letting Penelope fall on the other. But instead of hitting her head against the door she fell through.
Penelope was actually face down on the floor only there was no floor. She wasn’t falling either. It had to be an invisible floor because she could push herself up on seemingly nothing. Looking back, she could see the door frame bursting like glass and the cable that had been taut around her ankle was cut of where the doorway had been. With shaking hands, she pulled it off and looked around for the first time.
Her surroundings were cloudlike in a soft mixture between golden and pink, sunrise like but she was neither touching floor nor walls - like distance was non-existent.
“Again? Why don’t they leave me alone, they aren’t the ones I am searching for.”
Surprised Penelope turned around. There was a softly glowing person shaped thing-being without any distinguished features.
“Oh, you aren’t one of them maybe you can help.”
As it approached her, she shuffled fearful backwards, falling over her own feet, left to watch her own doom approach.
“Please, don’t be afraid of me.”
Slowly, glowing hands wound around her and pulled her up into its embrace. She could hear her heart hammering away and waited rolled together like an embryo to cease existing.
Nothing really happened.
Whatever had her in its arms rocked her carefully like a newborn, brushing her messy and short dirty-blond hair into a more orderly hairstyle.
“Are you alright again?”
She was. Surprisingly. Penelope felt warm, loved and couldn’t feel any kind of malice. She opened her eyes.
“That is much better, there is nothing to be afraid of.”
It sank down on the invisible floor with her in its lap in a half-embrace.
“A heart-sister of mine is trying to safe your world and has to bet on a single man.” A small cloud formed into a familiar face.
“That’s a name he has chosen and you know him? That is very good. Very, very good. His name is actual Desmond Miles. It is foretold that he will have a choice just before the end, but we cannot see what he chooses.”
The being leaned back on its arms.
“On one hand he can save all lives for the cost of his own and the release of Juno, who wants to enslave you again or he lets it be, letting millions of humans be roasted alive but bring forth a new era of humankind.”
Penelope was puzzled.
“Why should so many humans die and what do you mean with being slaves again?”
He explained the Isu, those who came before, to her, how they fell victim to the sun, how and why they created humans in the first place and how humanity is now facing the threat of the sun again. Stress tears were once more straining her cheeks and it rocked her back and forth, cooing softly until she calmed down again.
“My dear, you need to see that Desmond needs a huge amount of energy to activate that shield but if he had another powerful source not only could he survive it, but he could keep Juno locked up too. Sadly, I thought of it too late, only after I chose my unfitting vessel, so I had no chance to speak to my heart-sister to tell her of my plan.”
Penelope just let a nearly soundless how out.
“We created what humans call the Pieces of Eden. They are very powerful artifact and are radiating massive amounts of energy. My plan is – if you would agree to it of course – to send you back in time in a body that can save that energy. You’ll get all the time you need to collect enough, and you have the possibility to be a very important person to Desmond.”
“Important as in lover?”
“It doesn’t have to go to the last step if you don’t wish to, but everyone needs a true friend he can count on and tell all the crazy thinks he experienced.”
She shuffled a bit awkward and looked to the side.
“What would happen if I say no?”
It laughed lightly.
“Nothing, nothing is happening that you don’t want. I even would have let you out of that door without complaining but you managed to crash it while coming through. Now I would just keep you here, care for you until someone rebuilds the door.”
She was torn. Dirk – Desmond – has grown on her the last few weeks and from what she was told he will be going through shit. But time travel, for real? And what new body? Human, horse, whatever?
The being suggested sleep and sleeping she did.
As she opened her eyes again, she was laying on the floor with her head in its lap while it stroked her hair.
“Good morning, I suppose?”
“Good morning dear.”
And they just sat there in silence; it didn’t even ask about how she decided – if she wanted to time travel or not. They just sat there and sat and sat and did nothing else. And it went on until Penelope couldn’t anymore.
“What would happen with me if I say yes, or what would happen to you?”
“Well I would send you back in time as a bird, they are so powerful creatures and are a wonderful blueprint for an energy-saving body. As long as you are in this body I don’t exist because I have to give me to you in order to make this whole plan work. As soon as you are in the right time again, I am existing again and you get your original body back.”
“I would be a bird?!”
The being nodded. It would be cool to be a bird.
“What would happen if I fail?”
“Nothing bad, I would be back to being me and you would be back to being you. Only Desmond, he still would have to answer the question for the world.”
Penelope thought. And she thought long. There were no repercussions for her should she fail and if she succeeded, she helped Dirk – Desmond big time. She had to think about how relaxed he looked when he jumped over obstacles or how happy he looked at the bar, mixing and laughing with the team. Wasn’t it irony, that her team was named after birds and now her new body would be that of a bird? Irony of life in its highest form.
“-do it. I’ll do it. I’ve got nothing to lose, but so much I could help.”
“Ok my dear, you just have to sleep, and I do my job.”
She was pulled again in a deep embrace, warmth rising in a pleasant temperature. Penelope asked for its name and it answered but her muddled brain didn’t pick it up, falling into the darkness of sleep.
We have found an PoE in form of a key that, if records are correct, enables time-travel. […] The key worked, and the test-door is now some kind of portal. Any probe we have send into it came back again fried beyond recognition. The head of the research team went (unauthorized) through the door and came unharmed back. Volunteers that have done it afterwards report that something glowing in humanoid shape doesn’t let them through. We can’t achieve any process and now with the possible success of the Project Animus the focus lies now there.
The project is on hold until further notice.
Chapter 2: I shall name you Risha. (1/7)
This chapter started to become waaay longer than anticipated. With currently about 3,5k it has a nice manageable length; long but not too long (at least in my opinion). So, while I am working now on the rest of the chapter: I present you the first third of it.
PS: I know little to nothing about how to truly care for an infant bird. If there is someone who wants to educate me, please do.
“There is the first one Malik!”
With fascination young Altair and Malik, who had his even younger brother in his arms, looked to the eagle nest. It was time for the baby-eagles to spread their wings and leave the nest and Altair just had spotted the first one to make the big step.
Caught in the wonder of nature they watched as one after another left the nest, three in total. Mama eagle stood beside it on the branch, looking after her young. To their surprise she pulled something out of the nest and let it fall while it screeched pathetically. Without looking at it she spread her brown wings and followed her children into the sky.
Curious Altair inched forward to see what the majestic bird had dropped. In retrospect the small one he had found could be very lucky to land on a pile of hay. Its grey feathers so fluffy it had the shape of a ball only with a tiny, little bit brighter beak coming out of it. Compared to its siblings it was hugely underdeveloped and didn’t look like a typical eagle-baby.
As Altair was directly beside it with the Al-Sayf brothers behind him, the baby turned its head looking right at him. The eyes were molten gold and its helpless screeching stopped. Slowly, not to frighten it further he reached out, hoping it wouldn’t pick at him. It didn’t, now its eyes followed his hand, but the bird itself didn’t move even as his hand enclosed the fragile body.
The small being was as soft as the fur his father once got him. He started petting it with a small smile across his lips as it moved into his touch.
“Are you going to keep it Altair? By its size I don’t think it will survive very long.”
“I will try, as long as its ok with you?”
The last part was meant for the bird in the palm of his hand. Trilling weakly, it swayed with dopy eyes. Altair’s heart nearly stopped; it shouldn’t die before he even had the chance to try.
“Malik, what should I do?!”
“Calm down for one, maybe it needs food or water. Who knows how much it got.”
Without waiting for the brothers, he pressed the small bird to his chest and took off to the kitchen.
The first thing different Penelope noticed was, that the loving feeling was gone. She was nicely warm and had a comfortable amount of pressure on her body, but the love the being had transmitted wasn’t present anymore. Lazily blinking she opened her eyes.
And was greeted by darkness.
Her stomach was growling, so she moved a bit around to test what exactly pressed onto her, something chirped, and the pressure went away. After the darkness the brightness of the sun was harsh, and she had to blink multiple times until her eyes adjusted to the light. Around her sat three beautiful birds and off to the side, she guessed, was the bit larger mama bird looking in a mixture of surprise and disapproval.
For the first time Penelope tried to find out how she looked. She only could see grey down-feathers and every time she tried to stand up, she fell forward. The eagles around her send angry glares at her that were surprisingly frightening.
Her stomach growled again and the one to her right chirped to her. Somehow, she knew that she just got called pathetic.
“Hey.” She startled herself as her hey was a hey in her mind but was actually a high trill.
The birds made fun of her and pathetic was the nicest she got called. After a while she just gave up and laid on the bottom of the nest. That wasn’t what she had expected to happen. Just a bird for some minutes and directly insulted with no chance of returning the unpleasant favor.
Only with half her mind she registered, that the eagles started to leave the nest. The wake-up call came as the biggest of the four took her and just threw her out. The little pins of wings were useless and the ground advanced fast. Luckily, whatever she fell on cushioned her fall.
In the sky, she watched after the retreating silhouettes.
The sound of footsteps where behind her, making her turn. There were three boys: the one closest to her had a sun-kissed skin tone and bright brown hair and to the side behind him, was the second, darker skinned and black haired with the third and younger boy in his arms that looked suspiciously like his little brother.
Whatever the first one had said, she didn’t understand the language, but the tone was friendly, carefully. He reached out to her and for a moment she thought about fleeing but then remembered, that she was currently pathetic in her new body. Penelope didn’t struggle and was picked up slowly.
The eyes of the boy lit up and he started to pet her head. Maybe she should have protested but it felt amazing. Just like sinking in a nice and warm bathtub. It wasn’t long before she, unknowingly, leaned into the touch. She didn’t feel as warm as she was with the being, but she felt loved.
Her new body couldn’t keep up with the gnawing hunger anymore and she got dizzy. Desperate to stay awake she pressed herself further into the hand that was the only thing not moving around her. The boy said something quite panicked and cradled her against his chest before running of. Held like this she could hear his heart pumping and the wind blowing over the top of her head. It was nice.
It reminded her a bit of the small boat-tour she had done with her father – only it smelled less like salt. With her in the past her family shouldn’t notice her absence. How did time flow anyway?
The boy ran with her up a small mountain, the castle she could see than was…beautiful. The stone structure reached high up and had one entrance. In the inner courtyard he had to slow down a bit due to the many white-clothed people inside it. Quite many of them wearing hoods.
The inside halls were just as grand. Many wooden cupboards filled with worn books while people, wearing dark robes browse through them. Someone called and the boy stopped in his tracks.
“Altair what is wrong?”
Altair stopped and ran to him, pressing against him instead of the usual hug. However, before Umar could question it Altair revealed the bird in his hands.
“He got thrown out of the nest and doesn’t look well. Me and Malik guessed that he needs food and water.”
Umar took it out of his son’s hands to take a look at it himself earning a weak chirp. It even started to struggle a bit as he ruffled through the feathers to search for any wounds or alignments – he could find none. He gave the bird back.
“I can’t find anything wrong with her. Maybe food and water are the right answer.”
Umar motioned with his head in the direction of the kitchen and Altair smiled, taking the lead. Together they went inside. It wasn’t long until dinner, so the cooking ladies were already rushing around. Beside a crate in the corner they found a spot where they didn’t stand in the way in the usual buzz of the kitchen staff.
Relieved Altair breathed out as it – she – drank alone as soon as he had held her over the bowl filled with water. First problem: check. Now was the question small bread crumbs or meat? Even if she didn’t look like an eagle, they decided to go for the meat first.
She was placed on the crate with a rug under her and Altair held a small stripe over her head. Confused, golden eyes looked from the boy to the meat and back again.
“Go on, eat it.”
Altair tensed up more with each second the bird didn’t eat. He was just short of changing to bread as it opened the beak wide and swallowed it in one go. He gave it two more that were gone just as fast, then she turned away from the fourth.
Laughing lightly Altair hugged Umar, who then ruffled his hair. Now the bird had a true chance to survive. While Umar took the bowl and a few more stripes, Altair picked her up again.
The halls started to grow darker as the sun started to sink towards the horizon, marking the time most came inside for the shared meal. During the whole dinner Altair kept her in one hand, never letting her down. Only opening his hand as Malik asked how the feeding went.
It was strange to eat raw meat and she did hesitate, but she was a bird now and hopefully one who was not limited to crumbs. So far, she was sated, and her stomach didn’t protest against it. Now at full mind capacity she tried to find out where she was exactly. From what she had seen and the language she had heard, she guessed in the Arabic region. And there was no electricity – none! That had to be at least 200 years in the past. And she would have to live it all until 2012!
That was very unsettling and she was grateful for the distraction of novelty and boy’s hand brushing over her feathers. The repetitive motion was soothing. Penelope gave it her best to understand something of the language but so far, she only came to the conclusion that the boy was called Altair and the man, probably his father because they shared the exact same features only with different coloration, was called Alab.
The white clothing everyone wore with some variations seemed to be some kind of uniform, but for what exactly she didn’t know. All the medieval weapons like swords and knives didn’t ease her nerves but what’s happening now is happening. As long as she was in this small chicken body Penelope could do nothing, not even fly away and the true weight of her decision to become a bird was only slowly seeping in.
The father/son combo stood up and went a rather long staircase up, the way only lit by candle light. Beautiful rugs adorned the walls and a triangle design was found repeatedly – Penelope guessed some kind of logo but she hadn’t it in history.
They stopped at a room in which Alab went, Altair looking right at him waiting. The father just sighed and held the door open to let his son slip inside. She was placed on a rug once more while the two shuffled through the room. The water bowl wasn’t too far from her and she was thirsty.
A good reason as any to test out her new legs. As soon as she pushed herself up, she fell forward onto her upper belly. Again. Again. And again. Altair came to her rescue and held her just above the ground where she realized her mistake. Save for a few larger birds like the flamingo or stork, birds had their legs always bend. Slightly crouched it was much easier to keep balance. The helping hand retreated, and she stood. In the ears of the two males, she chirped happy.
For her next step, she tried to think like a bird from the start, using a mixture between walking and jumping to reach the water bowl. As a human it would’ve been especially humiliating, toppling over every odd jump. And her try to drink out of the bowl resulted in her being soaked completely through. But as she heard the young boy laugh, she couldn’t stay mad for long.
She got dried as much as gently possible and Penelope had shrieked in surprise as the two started undressing in front of her. Altair threw her a questioning eyebrow in her direction but continued without a care in the world.
A hooray for not-blushing bird cheeks. Like seriously, right in front of her?! But then again, she was a bird. A female one sure, but not a woman. Her eyes were drawn to the abundance of scars on Alab’s back, a thin but long one starting on the shoulder, fading into the direction of the spine, looked just freshly healed together.
What had happened to him?!
Deep in thought she didn’t notice that the two were finished changing in simple shirts and shorts. Altair picked her up again and to her embarrassment, she hadn’t noticed, that she had relieved herself on the rug. Unfazed he got her another piece of cloth, that he shaped into the form of a nest that he placed on the stool beside the bed next to the candle. After placing her inside it he closed it over her, then followed his father into bed.
The candle got blown out and the room fell dark. Thanks to the moon, outlines were still visible and she could make out the boy’s hand as he grabbed her while trying to move as little as possible in his father’s arm.
Said father rumbled about something and the son replied quietly, but Altair simply pulled her including the nest to his chest. After living alone for a rather long time, the realization that Penelope missed the warmth of somebody else while sleeping, came as a small surprise.
The next weeks consisted mostly of adjusting to her bird-body and trying to make sense of the language around her. It was a god-send that Altair took her with him wherever he went including lessons, even if he seemed to have quite many conversations with adults that send her disapproving looks. She now could read numbers and she could identify if Altair wrote his name. That’s more than she thought to know in the few weeks’ time and less than she hoped it would be.
Currently heights were her biggest enemy. Penelope could now stand and walk around but with her wings still not fully developed she could only get off things not on things. Altair had to hoist her up if she made any indication of wanting to get onto something. And she finally had somewhat control over her digestive system.
Her first – kind of – communication breakthrough with Altair was during a math-test. It took her normally longer that Altair to decipher the numbers but she noticed that he had made a mistake in the last addition that he had done.
From her now prime position on his shoulders she could easily pull on a strand of his hair. His head turned in question (into the direction of the wall, otherwise the teacher might have scolded him, for trying to cheat) and she looked at the slate in front of him. Penelope did it again after he tried to do the next one. He snipped lightly at her in disapproval, a move he often did when she did something he didn’t like. But as soon as he tried to continue again, she did it again and he paused. Altair’s hand hovered over the incorrect addition and revised it. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes as his hand moved onto the next problem – she didn’t pull his hair.
As Altair was dressed for the night, he set her onto the desk. He pulled the stool to him to sit on it and laid his head on the table to be on eye level with her. He asked her something, Penelope could make out the name he had chosen for her – Risha – but still understood nothing else. He sighed and went to his box of belongings at the end of his bed. The room itself was made for two people with the furniture placed in a symmetrical order, the second bed however was empty since she was here.
Altair got his slate and wrote two simple addition problems, placing it then in front of her. His honey-brown eyes watched her intensely as Penelope tried to make sense of them. The solution for the first one was hart to read, but the second one was definitely wrong; she picked against it.
He took in a sharp breath and did two more. Now Penelope stared back and tapped with her foot against each of them, both were wrong.
Altair tried to block out the snickering of the other children. They thought him immature, speaking to his bird like if she would be a person but his test in math proved that the bird had the capability of learning. Risha had saved him from a day filled with very boring revision of math – he was average and that wasn’t enough in the eyes of his teacher. His father was an epitome of Master Assassin and they demanded of him to become the same.
His bird was the best thing that had happened in a while. Stuffed animals were for babies (he hid his horse at the bottom of his trunk, it was too dear for him to truly part with it) but nobody said anything against true animals. Risha was fluffy and seemed to like cuddling as much as he did. With her showing clear signs of growth, the adults wanted him to leave her with the other birds, but he had set himself a goal. He would teach Risha. She would become the best bird in the world. It was still unclear, what kind of bird she was; only that she was a predatory one. But he was named after a bird, why not own a bird then?
He sat with her on the smallest of the towers, the one they were permitted to climb up. In the beginning it was quite an act to go up with her as an extra weight he shouldn’t drop, now her talons were strong enough, so she could hold herself on his shoulders or stick to his back while he climbed. Altair was in the middle of feeding Risha when Malik approached – without his brother, who was staying with his father.
“Still talking to the bird?”
“Risha is more intelligent than all the other birds we have. She learned math, why should she learn speech.”
Malik crossed his arms and looked down to the still sitting Altair.
“You truly believe that this bird can learn more than a few tricks?”
“Don’t believe me?”
Altair sat Risha on his shoulder and stood up; in the last few days her talons started to hurt when she tried to balance – he would have to find a solution for that. He grabbed Malik’s hand and pulled him all the way to his room. Being without a mother and his father often away on a mission, he already lived in the novice dormitory. Secretly, he hoped, that Malik would get the second bed – he wasn’t as boring as the other kids in their age and his snarky comments were for everyone and not only focused on him, but he assumed, that Malik would get a room with his brother Kadar.
During the remaining daytime, Altair couldn’t swipe away the smug look off his face. He had proofed Malik wrong!
Penelope’s body started to develop. Her grey down feathers were replaced by ones of pure white. It was a little bit like in the story of the ugly duckling only that she wasn’t a swan, she was something akin to an eagle. She had the form of one and now had the size of a full grown eagle but she didn’t show any signs of stopping to grow.
They had waited for Umar to return from his last mission for the special occasion. With him as a supervisor, they were allowed on the higher towers. Penelope sat on Altair’s, now in an extra layer of cloth wrapped, arm and Altair stood beside his father at the edge of the tower. It was the highest Masayaf had to offer.
“Risha, you ready?”
She bobbed her head.
Penelope was nearly suffocating in nerves. Her wings were large and beautiful but the final step, the flying was a very scary thought. So far, she never attempted to fly and only flapped with her wings around to communicate a bit better. It was good that she started to understand what Altair told her otherwise she would’ve been thrown into cold water today. Even Alab was with them, increasing the tension in the air.
Altair started to count down from three and threw her into the air. It was the same feeling as being in a roller-coaster than just went over a peak. She couldn’t stop her eyes from closing. The wind tore at her and the wings unfold creating resistance against nature. The lurch went through her body, forcing her eyes open.
After the initial shock she was gliding gently forward into the sunset, wind caressing her feathers. With the rectrices she could maneuver left and right. She took courage and flapped with her wings. Instead of falling down she rose, higher and higher into the air.
Penelope laughed, chirped, happy and turned around, using Altair’s chest as a landing spot.
Chapter 3: I shall name you Risha. (2/7)
Here comes part two of the chapter and I couldn’t stop my pencil. It’s rather hard to come up with how Altair looked as a child if not his full adult face is known, but I gave it my best. Sadly, I seem to be too dense to put them in here too, can someone help me?
Half of the populace in the Masayaf castle was ill. Something with the dinner the day before went wrong, banning many to the confines of their beds – Altair included. Normally never truly ill, the boy felt miserable and just wanted it to end. It was hard to keep what remained in his stomach. Currently, he was sleeping troubled in his father’s bed.
As long as Altair was out of commission, Umar cared for Penelope. It was in a way lucky that he was without a mission at the moment, otherwise Penelope would’ve been put to the other birds. Since she could fly Al-Mualim wanted her to be properly trained to be a messenger bird and was always on the search for an excuse to part her from Altair. Umar had vetoed for his son and took on the task of feeding her.
Umar had thought about nothing in particular when he sat at his desk, writing mindlessly in his journal with the bird perched on his shoulder, as Risha overbalanced and fell over, squeaking and trilling agitated.
“What is wrong?”
Mindful of the talons, Umar took the distressed eagle in his arm and tried to calm it down while looking around to find the reason for her behavior; he couldn’t find anything sending his Assassin instincts to the edge.
Only slowly Risha calmed down and eventually fell asleep. Umar was unsure whether or not he should lay her down, decided then however to keep her in his arms. Not only Altair liked cuddling.
As Assassins relationships were hard to maintain and since he was promoted to Master old friendships started to fade away; only Faheem and Ahmad stood still in frequent contact with him, being the only two (beside his son) who had more body contact than a shoulder pat. Umar knew he wasn’t a model father figure, but he tried. And hoped that it was enough. He loved Altair with all his heart and even if he wasn’t good with words, hugs could talk louder in his experience.
He settled down at the windowsill, looking at the stars, calming his own startled heart. The cold night air blew in like a gentle caress, Risha a warm weight on his chest.
The calming moment was interrupted as Altair started heaving behind him and emptied his stomach content.
The next morning Altair was as good as new, his stomach only aching a little bit and his throat a bit sore. He was mentally back on tour as well and noticed the slight catatonic state of his bird sending his panic levels haywire, making his own remaining discomfort insignificant. Can birds catch human diseases? He coddled her, managed to get her to drink and eat a bit but her head hung low, she made little to no noises and just sat limply around. He didn’t dare to carry her on his shoulders and carried her around like a baby in his arms.
That the rumor mill about him, was flaring up again didn’t help either. Bird boy, bird brain, insane.
“Risha, what is wrong?”
The bird just pressed herself deeper into his embrace. Abbas and Malik were the only ones who asked if everything was alright, but Malik said something that made Altair think.
“She looks sad.”
Maybe she was. Maybe she was missing something. He had seen often how Assassins react when someone dear to them never came back but they usually only showed true sadness when they are alone in silence. He only knew that, because he tended to hide himself and came across one or two Assassin’s crying in the darkness. He even gave the normally cheerful Rauf a hug as he found him in the stables after his fellow novice and best friend was killed in an accident. Assassins brought death and earned death, their only reward: the better world for the people. It was a noble cause his father followed, and it was going to be his own path too.
But what could a bird probably miss? Altair had no answer. She couldn’t answer him if he asked but he tried to cheer her up again. He groomed her carefully, showed her things he liked to do – jumping off things into hay for example – he even ran around, careful that nobody of his age group watched him, and held her up so she could feel the wind. Three days later, as he was running again, she opened her wings and flew again, trilling once more.
Altair was the sweetest boy Penelope had ever met. As Alab was writing in his book, she saw the year in the corner: 1175.
It was like a heavy punch in the gut, leaving her breathless.
That was way waaaaaay much further than she had thought to be. That were…2012-1175…; 837 years in the past! How should she live through all of that? She liked Dirk – Desmond, he was a really nice guy and pleasant to be around; a possible great friend. But was he worth it? Could she do it? 800+ years? Probably not.
Her thoughts grew dark, very-deep-abyss-dark. But then there was Altair. She couldn’t tell him what was wrong and he had no way of knowing or guessing what troubled her but he gave it his best to cheer her up. He brought light into her darkness bit by bit until he created kind of a save place in her mind. She would never know if she could do it until the very end (she would fail most likely) but for him: Altair cared so much for her that she could continue for him at least for a bit. Penelope didn’t like sad children. So, she flew and tried to get herself back together. If only for the boy.
There wasn’t a huge temperature fall during the day, but the cold night got even colder: the only sign of the approaching winter. A wooly blanket was added to the bed and Penelope was happy, that Altair had no problem to sleep with her in his arm. He was a living heater. She finally stopped growing, her size nearly comical on the shoulders of the still short boy.
When the daily lessons were over, Altair now took her into one of the storage room, trying to teach her how to hunt. It went as well as one could guess. It was disastrous. More often than not Altair hit his head on one of the crates or when he stood up to early under a cupboard when he dived after a mouse. In Penelope’s opinion, it was a spectacle worth for youtube vines. It was like watching her own personal epic fail compilation. In the end, she let herself fall down, talons forward, and just landed with a loud thud on the mouse that was originally running from Altair.
They were doing it for quite a while, Altair scaring the mice out of small crevices and Penelope swooped down on them. One of the kitchen maids came in and saw them. She had giggled as she saw the dust-collecting Altair, but he got a sweet bread and she a very nice slice of meat as a reward as she saw all the rodents they had eliminated.
Despite the sometimes hilarious moments, a rather productive day. Altair was forced to bath much to his chagrin, he wasn’t very fond of the cold baths, but Penelope just fled from his gasp and waited in his room.
It always came up here and there, that Altair should give Risha up to be trained like the other birds, but he always had his fathers support. As the pressure grew too great, Umar tried once more to reason them, that Risha was an unusual intelligent bird bound to Altair, as a demonstration he proposed to take her with him to Jerusalem on his next mission and send her back. Her flight back should take half as long as the ride to Jerusalem – she would have to fly with only little breaks.
It had been a gable on Umar’s side. He wasn’t sure if she really could do it, sadly the next step would’ve been that Al-Mualim pulled rank and she would’ve been sent to the other birds anyway.
As Altair heard of that he was furious. He sat on his father’s bed, the eagle securely in his hold, and demanded with a loud voice how his father could’ve proposed something like this. Umar, expecting the outburst of his son, tried to reason with him. At least, now there was a chance, that Altair could keep her. Altair’s anger didn’t lessen but redirected to exclude his father.
Altair went to Malik to ask for maps. Malik understood maps very well unlike him. They were boring.
“Malik, could you help me with a map?”
Said boy sat beside his little brother in the shade of the outer wall, helping him with his writing-practice task.
“Can’t that wait for later? I’m busy.”
“No, Risha has to come back from Jerusalem on her own or she’ll be taken away.”
Malik pinched his nose. A move, Altair guessed, he had copied from his father.
“You sure that your bird can make it because it looked at a map?”
Malik interrupted him in a mocking tone.
“Risha is more intelligent than any bird. You repeat it often enough.”
Altair squared his shoulders, giving him his most serious face. Sighing, Malik relented, shoulders sagging.
“You will look after my brother and help him”, he empathized the help part “and I’ll see what I can do with your bird.”
Malik was now on his way to the library with Risha on his crudely bandaged arm. They had just used one of those, originally wrapped around Altair’s forearm. He eyed her skeptical, not even closely convinced that the bird truly was highly intelligent. Maybe highly intelligent for a bird. But he told Altair that he does this and he won’t back out.
He came to a stop in front of the large map on a wall.
“So,…here is Masayaf….”
It was awkward in the beginning, Malik won’t lie but it came more and more fluent with each sentence. It was…nice. In the end he still didn’t know if Risha understood anything, but she did look interested and listened. There aren’t many people who listen. Altair does not and Kadar does not very long, but he is excused due to his age and no adult save maybe his father would listen to him because they are adults.
He explained on and on without stopping, finding great joy in explaining the fastest and safest ways, telling stories he picked up about the cities, later on not only limited on the way between Masayaf and Jerusalem.
It took a while until he noticed his father out of the corner of his eyes. He smiled gently at his oldest son while Kadar was already napping in his arms beside him was Altair, not necessary smiling but his usual grump in his face was absent.
Surprisingly reluctant, Malik went to Altair. Before he could give over Risha however, she nuzzled his cheek. Only after her weight was off his arm, he noticed how much it actually ached after carrying her for such a long time.
It was the day of departure. Alab – Umar? Penelope guessed that Alab was the word for dad and Umar was his actual name after people who weren’t his son, repeatedly called him that; she would probably continue to think of him as Alab. However, he stood there ready with a horse to his right and the old beardy man she found quite creepy, was to his left. The old man however had a cage in his hand.
That made the alarm bells in her head ring. She was skyborne before Altair had even the slightest chance to restrain her. Not that he was strong enough (at least for now) to restrain her if she truly wanted to get away.
“Risha please, come down.”
Altair tried to get her back down. Penelope didn’t want to be held in a cage, she wouldn’t fly away from Alab on the way. From up there she could have a look longer on the old man. Alab had made a bow before him, excusing her behavior – despite his age, it looked like the grandpa was higher ranked. Penelope had stopped to think of the white hooded men as some kind of guardians, they trained way too much and Alab always came home with many scratches and she had found him cleaning blood of his clothes. And with the extensive stealth training it had to be something sneaky-murderous; Assassin maybe?
“You don’t want to be put to the others, do you?”
That came through to her. It was either now going into a cage or later probably forever. With a heavy stone in her gut she landed a few feet away from Altair, looking wherever he was not. He sighed in a mixture of sadness and relieve. Without further ado, she was picked up and put behind the bars.
“Just this once Risha, then never again, ok?”
Altair had a good reason but it still hurt her. In a cage like some common animal…well...for now she was one. In the oddest of times it eluded her that she wasn’t human anymore. Penelope’s cage was bound on the back of the horse and Umar saddled up. She didn’t listen to the old man talking. Altair said something too, but she didn’t listen either.
At the gate two more riders joined Umar and they left the city of Masayaf. To the sides boulders and stone walls piled up high. What had seem small from the sky was like gaping jaw from the ground. Like the dark corridor in finding Nemo just more depressing. All the stress tired her out, but the cage was too uncomfortable to sleep. The bottom was too hard to lay on in and the horse moved too much to keep balance on her talons while asleep.
The sky grew dark as the land started to flatten out, but they were riding deep until the night before stopping. Umar was distracted as one of his companions approached. Restricted by the cage she had no chance as the man grabbed her head and forced something over it; rendering her unable to see.
It was Alab.
“Risha, stop trashing around. I’ll take it off.”
His voice was a soothing tone at least addressed to her, making her stand still. Hands wound around her and took her out. Alab had her in his lab while he removed that thing over her eyes. Finally free she spread her wings, the companions calling out in alarm but she didn’t fly away. She was unbound and that was all she wanted and after the cold alone in the cage the body heat was welcome. Using him as a pillow, Penelope finally found sleep.
Umar was relieved as the bird fell asleep. It had been a mistake to cage her but it was Al-Mualim’s orders. With an angry glare he fixated Ahmad.
“What was that for? It was bad enough that we had to put her into a cage and you have to blind her too?!”
Said assassins, standing off to the side, crossed his arms and looked back equally angry.
“How should it otherwise be trained? Al-Mualim wants to train it as a messenger bird. Rightly trained it’ll be faster than any pigeon.”
“This whole trip was to proof that Altair did train her right and can keep her.”
During the discussion Umar had stood up with Risha save in his arms and now the two stood chest to chest. Faheem purposely went between them and pushed them apart.
“Stop arguing you two. How about we keep her out of the cage unbound and unblinded, leaving that detail out of the report but should she get away and doesn’t do what’s expected of her Umar, you have to take responsibility. But with your faith in her it shouldn’t happen, right? That alright with you?”
Silence stretched over the three; it was a wonder that Risha hadn’t woken up by the volume of the argument. It was Ahmad who yielded first with an angry huff.
“Fine. On your head Umar.”
Crisis averted, Faheem took the first watch.
Jerusalem was a grand sight. So far Penelope had only seen it on TV in the news. The last two days were rather relaxing for her – not so much for the three assassins. The leather padding made it rather easy for her to hold on them and due to them being adults they had broader shoulders what meant more space to sit on. Faheem had warmed up to her, but Ahmad did not. He was still angry creating a tension between the three.
She had been sitting on Alab’s shoulders when they approached the gate. Penelope was shooed off with a friendly smile so she would fly off to the sky. The three assassins found a hiding place between the white scholars.
To her horror she lost the sight on them as soon as they disappeared below the archway and didn’t reappear on the other side. She tried straining her eyes to find them in the hustle of the people but instead of focusing the colors seemed to fade away. Shaking her head, she found the familiar triangle symbol on the roof of a house, taking it as a clue to land instead of circling in the hopes of finding the three. She took a seat atop the wooden trusses peaking inside. There was a small fountain, a mountain of various colored cushions and a doorway that led from the conservatory-alike inside. She saw parts of a counter and heard somebody rustling inside.
It wasn’t long as her three missing people appeared beside her. Quickly she found her way on Alab’s shoulder who had to chuckle and petted her head. The person she had heard inside came to greet them. He looked even older and more wrinklier than the old man in Masayaf.
“Is the bird ready for his flight?”
Penelope cringed mentally. Even if the man couldn’t be held accountable for his age his voice was very smoky making it even harder for her to understand the few things she actually could by now. Thanks to Alab she got the gist: she had to get ready.
As she was placed atop the counter a small rolled up paper on a leather-band was conjured. Knowing what it meant, she hoppled to the oldy and held out her neck.
To her confusion all men looked at her in question.
She still didn’t get it.
After a few silent moments the roll was bound carefully around her neck.
She was carried out by Alab and caught sight of an arriving messenger pigeon: it had the roll around its leg. Wouldn’t that be more of a hinderance? Anyway, she was petted for the last time.
“You just have to fly in that direction and you cannot miss Masayaf. I’ll come home as soon as my mission is finished.”
Penelope nodded and started her flight back.
“Altair its no use to just stand there and stare. You know how long it takes to Jerusalem, they probably haven’t even arrived yet.”
“I know Malik.”
Malik put his hand on Altair shoulders.
“Come join us as long as the sun is still bright, we want to play tag.”
Reluctant he followed behind his friend into the courtyard. They were currently practicing in the throwing range, giving the children enough space to play. Without them, there were five kids already waiting including Abbas.
“Look who has finally appeared, it’s birdy.”
Altair grumbled his name to himself, saying it out loud would’ve made him even more of a bully target. Being the last one to come in he had to be the first one to be the catcher. He was fast and strong for his age and had no problem to tag the first one in a matter of seconds. It was rather boring. Malik would’ve been the only one were he had to be on alert, but he too wasn’t caught.
Then it was Abbas’ turn. One of the younger had managed to chase him into a corner of crates and tag him there. Then used a slit between them to successfully escape the larger boy. Now Abbas was hot on Altair’s heels chasing him in particular, ignoring the others even if just had to reach out with his hand. He too tried to corner him against the smallest tower. His mistake.
With Risha he did it often enough and just used the familiar handholds to propel him upwards. From the edge he could watch in peace as Abbas struggled to follow him. Altair couldn’t stop his satisfied grin.
Huffing in exhaustion Abbas pulled himself over the edge. He steeled his resolve and ran to Altair following him for a circle round. Altair swung himself just back over the edge and climbed down until it was safe for him to jump.
From the tower top the children could hear Abbas’ frustrated shout.
Slowly the time came for Risha to return. He sat with Malik on the outer wall looking out to the horizon to find the silhouette of his bird. She would have until tomorrow morning to return in time. The guard stationed on this side already came to them to remind them, that dinner would start in a few minutes. But they stayed. Against the bloodred horizon it was like a smudge of dirt as first but as he heard the familiar cry, just deeper than a regular eagle he couldn’t stop himself from whistling back.
Altair pulled his shirt right once more. With Risha on his arm he stood in front of Al-Mualim’s personal study. His heart was beating heavy in his chest as he raised his hand to knock.
He couldn’t stop the surprised twitch. Slowly he opened the door and walked inside. The cupboards were even fuller than the ones outside and a strong smell of herbs lingered in the air.
Al-Mualim stood with his back to him at his desk. Altair had to breath heavily in order to calm himself. He was never before in the Master’s personal room.
“Risha has returned.”
A hand motioned him forward and only as he approached turned around.
Hastily Altair stretched his arm out to give easier access to Risha who dropped her head, presenting the roll. With a critical glance he took the paper and read it in silence.
The boy didn’t dare to move a muscle.
“The task is done accordingly, Risha stays yours. Dismissed.”
Altair was gone as fast as the wind. For now, hung heavy in the air.
It took more than two weeks for Umar to come home and he looked a bit troubled. Altair didn’t know what it was and he didn’t told it Risha in private either.
They slept uneasy and restless but Alab went back to normal until Altair was loudly awoken just shortly before he had actually to stand up. A novice came into his room and woke him by pulling his blanket away and haul him up. He barely had time to pull on his shirt and trousers before he was ushered into the main hall. Many were already there. It was thanks to Risha that he found Malik, Kadar and Abbas. They didn’t know what was happening. Only after a bit of listening and puzzling especially on Malik’s side they pieced together that an envoy of Salah Al’din stood at the castles entrance. They had Abba’s father! After that information came out the boy ran off followed by the other three but a guard stopped them.
A very heavy stone laid in the pit of Altair’s stomach and made it difficult to breath. Something was wrong and he had to know what.
The guard was unable to stop her and she flew outside. Alab stood beside Al-Mualim and she just caught his last sentences.
“I ask you one final favor. That you see to the care of Altair. Accept him as your novice.”
Final? That was bad. Very bad. With a mantra of nonononono she turned and flew back as quickly as she could. The boys were still held back now by two guard. Penelope used her momentum to crash into the one holding Altair, giving him the time to slip past.
She could hear him shouting out in distress for his father. After the impact she had to rearrange her wings before she could follow Altair.
Something could’ve been done.
Nothing could’ve been done.
Altair cried for the first time in forever.
A puddle of blood.
One called Shihab was contend.
Umar Ib’La-Ahad was without a head.
Chapter 4: I shall name you Risha. (3/7)
Heyho you lovely people,
Before anything can possibly happen for those of you who need it there is a TRIGGER WARNING in the notes at the end.
Otherwise I got help from DreamofStories to check this thing for spelling and grammar mistakes. Thank you very much.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Time slowed down.
They should have noticed, that something was wrong when Ahmad came into their room sickly pale with his pupils blown wide. He had been stuttering, shaking like a leave in a storm barely holding onto a branch.
They had been doing ok, Altair more so than Risha. They had been doing fine – as good as one could be with a just deceased father. There had always been the possibility of Alab not returning. Altair knew that and tried to not succumb to the dark pit of sadness. It was the first time seeing death for Risha, but the two had themselves. In the last few days Altair always carried her in his arms like a child would his most precious toy. They had been doing ok.
They should have noticed sooner but Ahmad was a Master Assassin, fast, precise. The blade flashed only for a second in the candlelight. It cut through the assassin’s throat - a clean cut.
Ahmad’s death rattle let the time continue again. His eyes rolled backwards, body crumbling to the floor. As Altair jumped off the bed and Risha remained seated in shock, a puddle of blood began forming underneath Ahmad.
Altair’s soul shattering shriek echoed hollow in Penelope’s ears. She should look away - somewhere, anywhere - but the sight had caught her and wouldn’t let her go. Ahmad looked so sick; dark-deep rings under his eyes, the remains of tears on his cheeks. The blood was still oozing out of the wound, widening the pool further with each passing second.
Not even the bang of the door got them out of the death’s spell. Two guards on patrol had heard Altair and came immediately. While the first one scooped up Altair, pressing her into the arms of the shaking boy, the second one called for reinforcements. They got carried out of the room, away from the scene – one they would never forget.
After that was a bit of a blackout.
Awareness came back to them in a secluded corner in the smith’s workshop in the back of the castle. Altair was sitting on the floor while he hid his face in her feathers, the sound of grinding metal filling the silence. It was soothing, it gave him something else to focus on. Not the why and the how that was bouncing endlessly in his mind - accompanied by the gruesome sight of it-
In this position, Malik found them. He sat down to Altair’s right and shuffled closer until their shoulders were barely touching. Altair accepted and leaned further into the touch. Malik hadn’t been told what had happened, but as the closest child to Altair he was told to find him and get him to the Mentor.
“Al-Mualim wants to see you.”
The answer was a nod at his shoulder. Slowly the two boys split again, Malik being the first one to stand on his feet. He pulled the other boy up, never letting go of the hand until they reached the Mentor’s study.
From there on, Altair had to go without him. A guard opened the door for him and pushed him gently inside. Al-Mualim stood still in front of the window flanked by two others. The only thing Penelope took out of the resulting argument was that Abbas would be told nothing – to his knowledge, his father died during a mission. That, and that Altair had the opinion Abbas needed to know the truth.
When they finally shuffled back, exhausted beyond measure, any trace of the body was gone. The only indicator, that something was different, was the missing small carpet that normally was right beside the bed. On autopilot, Altair dragged himself to the bed and let himself fall down. He nearly crushed Risha, but was too emotionally drained to care.
Altair left Penelope in Malik’s care to deal with Abbas. The sun stood high and most of the people that normally occupied the training ring sat in the shade of the walls.
Malik looked troubled, a small wrinkle on his forehead. His gaze always wandering to the entrance gate. However, he never said a thing.
Minutes passed. One minute, ten minutes… after a while Malik grew restless. He put Penelope on his other shoulder and went the same way Altair had gone. The scene they arrived at wasn’t pretty.
“You attention-seeking LIAR!”
Altair and Abbas were full-out brawling, punching each other black and blue. Other kids stood in a half circle around them, following the spectacle. It was surprising that no adult had heard them and come to deal with the fight. Before Malik could’ve said something however, a shocked gasp went collectively through the group: Abbas had somehow hidden a small knife on him – something they weren’t allowed to do until they were officially declared novices. With a mighty swing he nicked Altair’s lips - barely missing his eyes.
While Malik picked up the lightly bleeding Altair from the ground, Risha plunged at Abbas. Her talons bore into the unprotected arm that held the knife and her beak crashed punishingly into his shoulder. Whereas Altair had been too shocked to voice his pain, Abbas howled sky high, letting go of the weapon. She grabbed it and landed in front of Altair, wings spread wide.
Before Abbas could finish his sentence, Al-Mualim arrived. His shadow was a looming entity on the floor between the two fractions. While most of the other kids scattered after the Mentor’s arrival, two of Abbas’ friends helped him to his feet opposite where Malik was steadying Altair on the other side. Risha on guard in between them a talon possessively on the bloodied knife. If Abbas’ looks could kill, they’d be dead five times over.
“Malik, make sure that Altair cleans the wound, but it won’t be treated otherwise. Let it be a lesson for you Altair.”
He walked up to them and slightly intimidated by his presence, Risha retreated to the two, giving way to the knife. Al-Mualim picked it up and turned to Abbas who was shaking in his boots. Altair heard nothing more than the beginning of the scolding because Malik was dragging him away.
Malik maneuvered Altair through the stone halls into his room and sat him on his bed, Risha then followed him to get the water bowl. Malik refused to let her sit on him while her talons were bloody and instead cleaned them thoroughly at the fountain. Only then was she allowed on his shoulder, the best padded place on him for her to perch.
They returned to Altair who sat just like they left him, face emotionless and his back ramrod straight. While Risha landed on his right, Malik stopped in front of him and started to wipe away the line of blood that by now disappeared under his shirt.
“I just told him the truth Malik! Only the truth.”
It was like a broken dam as Altair started to recount what had happened. He repeated himself more than thrice, but he told Malik everything - from the beginning to the end. As he was finished, they half sat, half laid against the headboard side-by-side staring at the ceiling with Risha squashed up between their thighs.
While Altair was more or less a puddle of emotions, Malik was still strung like a bow.
“Malik what’s wrong?”
“Don’t say nothing, you’ve got that wrinkle over your brow.”
Malik sighed heavily, he too was emotionally strained and – while he would never admit it openly – he was afraid.
“At first it was Umar, then Ahmad too. My father is gone too long…he was never away this long without your or Abbas’ father.”
The I am worried hung unspoken between them. Altair’s gaze met that of his bird. She nodded subtly.
“We could send Risha to look out for him.”
“We send her off first thing in the morning.”
Malik was speechless. He never expected Altair to be that generous, the boy normally thought only about what’s best for himself – not for others. Altair disrupted his musings as he pulled the other boy lower into a deep hug. In vain, Malik tried to untangle himself but the other boy held strong. With another deep sigh he gave in and closed his eyes to sleep.
It was the same position they found themselves in the next morning. Both clinging to each other, Malik’s head tugged under Altair’s shin and Risha nestled between them, now at the height of their bellies.
They hurried to change their clothes – Malik into ones lent by Altair. They weren’t too different in height - at least for now. The lip-wound had only reopened a bit at the lower edge and the little bit of fresh blood on Altair’s shin was gently dabbed away.
In his finest writing, Malik bound a note around the bird’s neck. She should make a stop in Jerusalem and hopefully get directions because Malik was never told more than the bureau which his father had to report to during his missions.
He couldn’t stop himself and hugged Risha before Altair said his last goodbye and sent her on her flight. Malik would’ve stared after her for a long time, if Altair hadn’t dragged him away.
Penelope let herself fall into the familiar repetitive motion of wing flapping. She was a bit scared of herself: Not only did she tackle Abbas like the guard a few days prior, she had drawn blood and had been ready to go further. And that was the problem, she felt no remorse. Still didn’t! She had been ready to kill for Altair.
Ready to kill.
She shook her head. Malik’s request had been a godsend. She and Altair normally woke each other multiple times during the night when one of them was wildly thrown out of a nightmare, and today it had been Altair’s first night to sleep through. Her trashing luckily didn’t wake the boys and she used the opportunity to squeeze herself between them getting the warmth she normally got by sleeping under the blanket in Altair’s arms.
Some nights she saw Alab’s execution over and over again, lately they had been replaced by a beheaded Altair. Last night it had been him and Malik lying in a sea of their own blood with dead eyes open staring into thin air. As a bird, she could get naps during the day replenishing some of the lost energy but Altair didn’t. It was surprising to her that nobody had noticed his sleep-deprived behavior. Was nobody close enough to notice? Hopefully the two boys would help each other until she was back.
Below her the world sped by, the tailwind catching her wings and propelling her ever faster forward. Even as the sun warmed her back and shone onto the land, in her view, everything lost color. What a strange sight. But everything was so sharp – she could see every little stone on the floor.
It got even stranger as she approached the gate. The sun had set maybe two hours ago but the day’s light didn’t matter in the colorless vision, she still could see everything in high definition. There were some reddish and blue hues in the streets of Jerusalem but that was about it.
Penelope’s talons clacked lightly as she landed atop of the wood surrounding the bureau’s entrance. Tired and hungry she shook herself – and was back to normal vision. She could still see too many parts in gray put it was the normal twilight shades.
With as much of a sigh she could muster as a bird, she let herself glide down through the doorway to the inner parts of the building. The old rafiq still sat at his table browsing through different books and scrolls in the candlelight. He turned his head to her and rose a brow in question.
“I did not expect a new bird already, did something happen?”
Penelope still understood like half of the sentence but from the way he made space on the table, his intention was clear and she hopped over, presenting the message. While the dark, nearly black eyes sped over the paper he held a small monologue. Faheem’s boy – Malik – was mentioned, an assassin gone missing, but most of it was lonely words scattered around.
In the corner of her eye a mouse appeared under one of the stuffed shelfs. Once more her stomach growled at her in hunger. The Rafiq still mused over the massage and probably wouldn’t feed her in the next few minutes.
She was hungry now.
Not in a few minutes.
Without further thoughts she jumped off and used the pull of gravity to fall onto the mouse – it was dead within seconds crushed under her (for a bird) impressive weight, and pierced by her claws. Only as she had swallowed the whole animal and noticed the interested look the rafiq gave her that she realized she had just ate a mouse. A mouse! She never had tasted any kind of rodent before save for maybe one or two rabbits. But they had been expertly prepared by her mum and had tasted heavenly, the mouse however, she had swallowed it whole – skin and fur included.
The Rafiq chuckled softly, the bird must have been hungry. They had a small cage with caught rodents for the few predatory-kind of birds they had in the order but Risha, as she was called in the letter, had just got her own dinner. Faheem’s oldest son must have been very worried if he asked Altair of all people to lend him his bird.
The three Master Assassin’s had often sat on the cushions outside, telling tales of their respective sons. It was sad that he wouldn’t see them again. They always brought a sense of calm over the novices that came in and out with their years long experience. Even if Faheem’s death wasn’t official, he didn’t believe that he would be found alive. He had been gone too long.
He would humor the boy and send the bird in the direction Faheem went to investigate. Closure would be better. In the meantime, the bird had jumped back onto the table. She was a fine specimen: strong with fine white feathers. When she molted and changed to a newer set of feathers, hers would probably be collected to be used as markers for successful assassinations. It would spare some new novices the long and – for newbies – extremely exhausting climbs atop of the highest towers to collect feathers.
Her golden eyes still stared at him. With a friendly huff he held out his bracer-adorned arm to let her hop on. He pulled a ladder out of the corner to make his way onto the roof, he wasn’t the youngest anymore, and pointed into the right direction, sending her off.
Around her the world faded anew into grey. Even if she had a direction, she had no clue how far she had to fly so she just flew forward and forward and further forward. At first, she thought it was a trick in her mind but on the ground was a thin line that had a light-pulse behaving like a heartbeat. With a beat… in the opposite direction of her flight.
Her curiosity caught, she landed on the sandy ground. The line by itself was gone, but now heavy footprints were highlighted, leading in the same direction the pulse had. Her mind said no but her instinct told her to follow the footprints. As she looked around she could only see a small caravan with their backs to her on various kinds of steeds – they wouldn’t have made the prints.
She used a small rock formation as a direction point in case she needed to continue her original flight-pattern but for now she would follow her instincts and go after the imprints. The first dark spot made her falter, the second urged her on to continue faster. A third followed, and a forth each one bigger in size.
The trail led into a formation of different sized boulders. With so many of them blocking her view she was forced to land to follow the trail. By now she didn’t wonder over the reappearing thin and pulsing line if no footprints could be made out anymore.
Penelope heard his labored breathing before she saw Faheem hidden in a small alcove. The left side of the Assassin was soaked in blood and his eyes looked unfocused onto the stone. He must have heard her horrified chirp for he slowly turned his head. His gaze focused onto her and a fine smile adorned his face.
“Risha, is that you?”
Trilling agitatedly she walked to him and pressed into his right hand that was weakly lifted off the floor.
“It’s so good to see you.”
He had to take a rasping breath before continuing.
“I-…you have to get a message to the bureau.”
As if to contradict his next words he coughed, rattling his whole body in the process, as he saw her looking his bloody side.
“I am fine.”
His hand wandered in the direction of his pouch but Penelope interrupted. She was deeply out of her depth and miles away from her comfort zone and wanted to do anything she could. With a bit of tugging the remains of the buckle came loose and she pulled the pouch off. She placed it right beside his hand after she opened it.
Every tremor in the once strong assassin hurt her soul. On a small piece of papyrus that she had to pin on the ground for him, he scribbled a message with coal. He was sweating and panting by the time he was finished and as Faheem leaned back it had something final.
“Risha…bring this to my sons…”
Penelope shrieked in alarm as his head nearly lolled to his chest but he caught himself with fluttering eyelids.
“The-…roll in there too…”
With his last command, his head sagged lifelessly forward. If it wasn’t for the small rise and fall of his chest, she would think him dead.
Hastily she searched and found the mentioned roll in the pouch. If she was fast enough, she could get help! She flew faster than she ever had before.
She arrived in the bureau with the first morning light, barreling into an unknown assassin before making a small mess on the Rafiq’s table. The Rafiq had a knife pointed at her while the assassin had his hidden blade out. A novice’s curious eyes looked behind his teacher.
“Master, this is Altair’s bird!”
The two adults visibly relaxed. Penelope opened her talons and let the roll go. Curiously the Rafiq picked it up and found out it was addressed to Al-Mualim.
“What is the other thing you carry?”
Penelope still held the small message tightly in her beak. With a headshake she refused to let go of it. Before she could be grabbed, she glided over to the doorway and flapped hastily with her wings hoping someone would get the massage and follow her.
“Have you found Faheem?”
She started to jump around with more fervor. The Rafiq took the cue and turned to the Master and Novice pair.
“Do you have anything important to do?”
“I only wanted to prepare some training tasks for Rauf.”
“Ok, can you follow this bird? She probably found the missing Faheem if her behavior is any indication and she is as intelligent as Altair claims.”
The Master Assassin wasn’t convinced that a mere bird could do such a feat but Rauf, who had heard plenty about Altair’s pet, trusted him at least enough to persuade his teacher follow her for now.
With now two humans in tow, that had to get unnoticed out of town and find horses, everything took far more time that she wanted, and she was forced to circle over their heads more than once. By the time they arrived at the cluster of rocks the sun had passed its highest point.
With her size, she didn’t realize that some of the passages between the boulders were too narrow for an adult and it was Rauf who had to crawl after her until his master found another path to follow them.
Faheem looked even worse than when she had left him, pale and still unconscious. As the novice saw the extent of the man’s injuries he hastily crawled back and emptied his stomach contents. Then he called out an answer to his master’s questions, helping him find a suitable way in.
As the master finally managed to carry Faheem out of his hiding place his breathing was nearly non-existent, and the sun was nearly gone. When they came near the gates of Jerusalem, Faheem drew his last breath.
The master lowered the body gently to the ground. Penelope didn’t know about his passing until she had landed beside him. Hit by sorrow she cried her pain out to the world and succumbed to the darkness of exhaustion.
She awoke to the repetitive motion of a walking horse. Rauf held her in one arm while steering his steed with the other. A view to the side revealed the master with an ominous bag tied onto the back of the horse and the sorrow hit her anew. She hadn’t been fast enough. Faheem was dead and she had failed Malik.
Rauf noticed her struggling.
“I bound the note around your leg, the Al-Sayifs need to see that.”
True to his word the small parchment was rolled up and bound around her ankle. She flew. Penelope could do nothing else at the moment than finish her mission. Even with the bad outcome. The band around her ankle scraped painfully, she was hungry beyond measure and still tired out, but everything seemed minor.
Wingbeat after wingbeat - always in the direction of Masayaf.
The Al-Sayif brothers played in the shade of their house at the foot of the Masayaf castle. Their mother had just started to hang up the freshly washed clothing as Risha arrived.
As soon as Malik saw the sorry state she was in he knew something had gone wrong. She was swaying, exhaustion radiating off her in waves, her feathers in disarray. He slowly approached and fell to his knees in front of her. Kadar was looking at them with his naïve brown eyes while Ms. Al-Sayif looked in a mixture of puzzlement and curiosity.
Malik unbound the message around her leg and read it. Risha found herself in a bone-crushing hug while Malik silently cried. By now their mother understood that something was wrong and picked the message out of the dirt. It was written in a messy script but was undoubtedly Faheem’s handwriting.
I am sorry to leave,
I love you.
Beside the canon-typical violence and death the chapter starts with a suicide and to small parts on what happens afterwards.
Chapter 5: I shall name you Risha (4/7)
Heyho, here is the next chapter once again beta'ed by DreamofStories :)
Time is a fickle thing. One moment it goes slower than a snail, the next it goes at supersonic speed.
It seemed like yesterday that Penelope had watched the initiation of Altair into the Brotherhood alongside Malik and gained - much to their annoyance - Abbas as a roommate. It was a source of endless friction between the two and never gave them time to cool their heads and act like the “brothers” they were supposed to be. But Malik always had an open ear that kept any bigger escalations at bay, and even when Kadar joined him in his room after their mother withered away in grief. Malik’s door was open.
Now she sat on top of a shelf in the grand hall to witness the next milestone of her boys – what a thought, she had claimed them like family as they had her.
No amount of training could now keep the adolescent novices fully still. Every time the gaze of trainers turned elsewhere, feet were shuffled and posture corrected. Altair had by now lost all of his baby-fat and had grown lithe and tall even if he still was a bit… clumsy with his new body-length. He would adapt quickly enough.
Penelope was just happy that he wasn’t one of those boys who lusted after everything that wore a skirt. There had been a few awkward moments in the morning that were probably more humiliating for him than for her, but she just left the room for a while to give Altair some private time. A blushing Altair was cute, there was no denying it.
In those moments she missed having a mobile phone around just to take photos for blackmail – especially after Malik had walked into a private moment. She had been sitting in Kadar’s lap getting a round of belly scratches as Malik stormed into the sibling’s room face a nice tomato shade (a nearly unbelievable feat considering his skin-tone); he and Altair couldn’t look into each other’s eyes for many days.
The adults in the room snapped to attention. With the grace of a predator Al-Mualim descended the stone stairs, arms folded at first into his sleeves but opening into a wide gesture as he reached the bottom.
“You are here today to receive the blessing of the blade. It is not just a simple tool, it’s a weapon of finesse – hidden and ready to strike. The power released with only a flick of the wrist.”
The ash-brown eyes wandered from novice to novice, all trying to only look ahead. The tension in the air was thick and grew with each passing second. Sharply, the Mentor turned to the side and paced back and forth in front of the novices.
“The blade demands utter devotion and wants proof in flesh. Each one of you will be asked separately if he is ready to take the next step. There shall be no dishonor on those who decide against it or want to postpone the ceremony for a year. Once it’s done there is no way back. You’ll be marked for life. Take your time and choose wisely.”
Each fully trained adult – be it master, mentor or rafiq – went forth and picked a novice out of the crowd. Altair was taken by Mohamed, a Master Assassin who had his best days behind him thanks to an old knee wound and was now working in the smithy. He was a kind fellow marked by sun and age. Penelope caught Altair’s gaze, his eyes like molten gold in the adrenalin high. She could only nod to give him courage, it was something he had to do himself without her aid – not that she could anyway. The rite had been heavy on his mind in the last few weeks and his last look before sleep had always been to his ring finger.
His heart was like a hammer in his chest pumping blood continuous. Today was no day of thinking, it was a day of commitment. He had dwelled long enough on his choice the last few days.
Altair would accept the blessing of the blade - getting one step further in following his father’s footsteps. Alab had always been proud of what he did - telling stories of all the things he encountered. Sometimes just small things that had made him smile, sometimes he told of his blood-rush when he was just about to spring onto his target… but what Altair enjoyed the most had been the stories of all the new things he learned.
‘The world is larger than we know son, even if Masayaf’s library is grand true knowledge lies all around you not only within these protected walls.’
That’s what he used to tell him, he should listen and learn from all around and that was only possible if he was either an Informant or Assassin – the only positions that travelled longer distances. But Altair not only wanted to learn. He wanted to change things, do the right things…protect people. To become an Assassin was the most effective way to do so.
Altair had seen Mohammed a few times during his explorations of the castle. Even if the Assassin was no longer on active duty he still held this predatory air around him without even trying – he must be beyond terrifying if he tried! His limp did nothing to dampen it and all the smith-work led to an even more intimidating presence. While Assassins were lithe and most of the times not overly tall, Mohammed was a giant mountain of muscle. Now he was smiling sunnily down at him, hand clasped behind his back leading him to a secluded room.
Inside was a large wooden table with a small innocent looking knife laid upon it.
“From your look you have already decided Altair, didn’t you?”
He nodded solemnly.
“Then I am going to spare you the speech about how much of a life changer the blade is – a weight to always carry it around. You look determined, come forth and receive your blessing.”
Mohammed prepared the chair he had to sit on. One rope was bound around his hip to keep him seated. His left arm was bound to the wide armrest and his right was bound to his thigh. With him now seated, Mohammed appeared even taller and he couldn’t stop a slightly scared gulp. In one hand, the man had the small knife, in the other a piece of leather.
“As it is custom I have to ask: Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, are you ready to commit yourself to your blade?”
By now Altair’s heart was pounding against his chest like it wanted to escape. He was sure without a drop of doubt, that he wanted to embrace the Hidden Blade but in this critical moment all the bad rumors swirled around in his mind: Excruciating pain, inflamed fingers – wrongly amputated fingers because the adult that led the ceremony tried to server the finger in one go and hit the wrong one. Shakily Altair forced a breath in and out before he forced everything from his mind.
“I’m ready as I’ll ever be.”
The leather stripe was pressed against his lips and he took it between his teeth. With a deep breath he leaned back and closed his eyes. In and out.
In. And out.
Mohammed’s stern voice cut through the silence.
As soon as Altair’s eyes were open and fixed upon his hand Mohammed brought the knife down. Excruciating pain didn’t cover what Altair felt in that exact moment when the blade met his finger. His whole body jerked in response, trying to shy away, but the rope kept him from moving around too much. The legs kicked back and forth, barely missing Mohammed’s shinbone and his head could shake around but then with the third hit, his ring finger was gone.
Tears streamed down his cheeks and his cries echoed loudly despite the fact that he had something in his mouth. By the time Mohammed cauterized the wound with a small piece of hot iron, Altair had blacked out in pain.
The remaining stump of his finger was bound in a clean strip of cloth and the training bracer got fasten around his arm. Then Altair was unbound and Mohammed picked him up carefully to bring him to his room.
As he reached the stairs, a bird’s cry reached his ears and soon after he had an additional weight on his shoulder. They had warned him about Risha, the white eagle that followed the boy around and protected him at all cost. Everyone who had tried to bully Altair met her claws and hard beak. Now, he only saw concern. The bird’s face hovered over the boy’s head where it leaned against his shoulder and she cooed softly at him.
“He is out cold, it’s better for him so leave him be.”
As if she understood him the bird ceased his chirping and sat still on his shoulder until Altair was safely in his bed. There she jumped off and laid down on his chest. Chuckling lightly at the pair, Mohammed pulled the stool away from the small desk in the room and sat down beside the bed. He would wait until his charge was awake again but even the quite loud entrance of a rafiq that could barely hold the equally unconscious Abbas didn’t wake him.
Training picked up tenfold. A larger amount than normal had chosen to accept the blade so they had been parted into two groups that ran and jumped all around the city at the foot of the castle. In weapons training many struggled with the additional weight, but Malik and especially Altair took to it like a fish to water. It was not only because they were adept learners, but because they had become used to carrying around extra weight thanks to Risha, whom was heavier than a Hidden Blade could ever be.
Weekly, novices dropped out of the heavy training because they couldn’t keep up. Waking up early, running and fighting until one could barely stand upright, falling asleep way into the night. But five endured until the end. Altair, Malik, Abbas and two more. They had the chance to become Master Assassins.
The final test was the famous Leap of Faith before they got their private teachers. And they had to train without an instructor. Jumping into hay was easy, rolling on the floor was easy too but making the roll in the air to land on his back was something Altair just couldn’t get right.
Rubbing his hurt backside after he jumped out of the cart, he made his way over to his companion. She keened as he scratched just below her beak, an area that was hard for her to reach.
“Do you have any ideas, Risha?”
Her head turned to look somewhere behind him. Following his bird’s direction, he saw Rauf who had just been left behind by his teacher.
“I should talk to him?”
Risha bobbed her head in a yes movement. Altair rose his eyebrow unconvinced, but she jerked her head to Rauf. Sighing Altair turned away from Risha and made his way over to the older trainee. Who turned around in surprise as he noticed him approaching.
“Altair? What is it?”
Altair made a reluctant pause before he got his question out. He never had asked for help in training before, only for sparring partners.
“I- Could you help me with the Leap of Faith?”
Rauf’s face lit up after he realized that is wasn’t bad news Altair had delivered, but instead a request for help as politely as Altair could possibly ask.
“Sure, you have the test next week, right? I too had to ask an older trainee for help. Say, can you do a somersault? I started there.”
Penelope chuckled inside her mind. Altair was still awkward with friendly human interaction that didn’t include Malik. It would do him good to talk a bit with Rauf. In the last few weeks they hadn’t done much beside eating and sleeping together. The current training regime nullified any social interacting by running the boys to the ground until they could do nothing else than fall into bed like a stone at night.
What bothered her was, that Altair smiled less. She would get a small one when he caught his breath and scratched her feathers but his resting face turned from a slight smile more and more towards a frown. It was a sad development – human interaction might put an end to that or at least slow the process down.
It was actually surprising to her that Rauf was on a training path to be a master assassin. He seemed too peaceful for that, but it wasn’t her task to judge who was fit and who was not to walk the most dangerous career path.
Day for day she would watch the two after the morning run. Rauf trying to teach Altair how to do a somersault without aid while standing. They needed until the sunset of the day before the test for Altair to finally master the move. Eventually Rauf’s cheer was heard, downing out Altair’s own little cheer. She let out a happy screech barreling into Altair’s chest for a big hug.
It was the highest tower Masayaf had to offer. A lone wooden plank was fixed onto the edge. He had to jump off this thing into a stack of hay - a Leap of Faith. He had to believe that he would land safely. He had to believe that he would do it right.
A wrong move could mean broken bones if not death.
This was the ultimate test Masayaf had to offer. One could redo any other at a later time but this – this was a one-time chance. He had picked the shortest straw and would jump first.
Foot after foot he walked onto the wood. It was one hell of a drop. Beside the haystack stood Al-Mualim and the others who had trained them the weeks beforehand; even Rauf! He looked back and saw the other apprentices watching. Malik was the important one who nodded at him with his lips pressed into a thin line, then mouthed: you can do it.
Risha’s cry tore his eyes away from his friend to her. She was flying at high speed into his direction.
It was that moment his resolve steeled.
Altair ran the last two steps and jumped as Risha reached his side. His hands flew outward as if he himself had wings and for a little moment he simply flew in the air. Then gravity reached its hands out to him. He pulled his upper body inwards and turned, so his back facing the ground. The drop stole his breath and for a moment Risha’s silhouette blocked the sun. She turned green.
Before he could think any more about it, he was engulfed in hay. Now his arms waved around like the arms of one drowning. A calloused hand gripped his wrist and pulled him out onto his feet. His sight was taken over by something – someone - shining gold. Nearly hidden underneath the glow, he could make out the outlines of Al-Mualim. Taking a step away from the Mentor, he blinked multiple times to get rid of the strange sight, but it did nothing. His surroundings and most people were grey. Rauf and Mohammed were blue and Al-Mualim was the source of the intense gold.
“Close your eyes.”
At the Mentor’s command Altair closed his eyes and was led away from the group of people. As he was finally allowed to open his eyes again everything was back to normal. Al-Mualim had a strange gleam in his eyes but Altair dismissed it in his own confusion.
“You’re gifted too.”
They were the only words Al-Mualim said before he was gone like a wisp of wind, returning to the others who tried the jump – he had already missed Malik he wouldn’t miss the others; he was the Mentor after all and was supposed to witness everyone’s first flight.
At the whistled command, Penelope folded her wings to her body and dropped onto the guard that thought to go unnoticed behind Altair and attack him. He totally didn’t expect that which gave Altair the five seconds he needed to finish him of too.
Altair surrounded by a handful of now dead guards offered his arm to her to land on. He had grown into a fine young man. Sure of himself and his actions, unmatched by anyone else his age. He was the first one who got the true bracer with the blade strapped below it, later he switched it, without talking to anyone else, to the Hidden Blade his father had worn. Altair had to cut a bit of the leather away to have it fitting around his arm – much to his displeasure he was a bit shorter than Alab had been. Alab’s belt had been worn for a long time and was too battered be used anymore but Altair reworked the little bit of remaining good leather and two stripes of Alab’s red cloth to make a small bag which Penelope could carry around on her back. By now she knew the whole reigning area of the Assassins and carried back and forth messages for Altair or a few extra throwing knives and some extra things.
Penelope had thought herself to have white feathers before but after she had molted her adult feathers completely for the first time her new set was a truly shining-brightly stark white. When they had to sneak around in the night, she actually rolled in dirt beforehand to not be so noticeable. Like now.
Altair carefully picked a few larger crumbs of dirt out of her feathers and tapped lightly against the metal over her beak. Another one of his inventions: a sharp metal cover for her beak to she could deal even more damage. Her favorite one was the reinforcement for her claw, but Altair hadn’t managed to smith that one yet. It required very small and delicate pieces that had to work perfectly together to not hinder her movement and needed to be strong enough too. So far, no luck.
It was another development Penelope could only huff at. Not that Altair wasn’t great at inventing and building things – quite the opposite but the circumstances weren’t ideal. Al-Mualim picked Altair’s training up personally like he promised Alab but that just meant that Altair trained at quite odd times. It resulted in a lonely Altair because his free-time was barely parallel to the others. He ended up going to Mohammed who spent the lone hours in the smithery and learned under him. It kept him occupied but made Altair even more of an outcast. Still, he flourished so no one complained.
“Silly, you managed to bend your tip. Again.”
She trilled an answer and made a nonchalant shrug with her shoulders. They went in comfortable silence to city’s bureau.
The rafiq was quite surprised to see them that early but they were an efficient team, like a machine. She was his lookout and shortened the time by many hours of searching. With his usual swagger Altair placed the roll they were sent to retrieve on the table.
“I am done.”
“I see that. I just got your next instructions. You will ride to Jerusalem and meet up with Malik and Kadar. There you will get your next orders.”
With provisions refilled they went on their way to Jerusalem. Wandering around was something they did a lot. Without modern transportation, distances between cities took many hours if not days to travel. Penelope knew how much just an hour had been worth to her – it was the longest of free time she got on a workday. But now, now an hour was worth far less. Everything was much slower and got planned beforehand for weeks.
One thing she loved about travelling was the view. Be it while in flight or perched on Altair’s shoulders – the view was fantastic. Especially when the sun set and gave way to the night sky just like now. An endless sea of stars stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. The milky way clearly visible. She managed to shed a tear of pent up happy emotions despite being in a bird’s body.
At first, they had avoided riding deep into the night – dangerous animals were hard to spot but now they embraced it. The Eagle Vision guided their trail. What she first thought to be a fluke, part of a vivid imagination turned out to be one of their most useful tools that she and Altair possessed. Any danger appeared in bright red and allies in blue; targets got the color gold – very nice to pick out in the black-and-white environment. They saw each other in green but only she saw Malik and Kadar in green too – so it was hard to tell what it really stood for.
Speak of the devil, two green dots appeared on the horizon; the Al-Sayif brothers had taken shelter in a small cave. Quite happily Penelope sank down to fly on Altair’s side on eye-level and gave a chirp to tell him that she was going ahead – and then off she went with speed.
After the years she had spent within this body she mastered it to the max. Penelope knew every flight maneuver she could do, how to use winds to fly energy-efficient or how to flap her wings to get to the greatest speed possible. In this time-period she was among the fastest things that existed. The wind tearing at her feathers was the best feeling ever and made her forget more and more that she actually was human.
Penelope faltered for a moment. She was human not a bird. Human. Human. Human. This body was temporary so maybe – maybe Desmond could have another option to save the word. This was not her time.
Kadar’s careful question got her out of her spiral of thoughts who saw her silhouette.
She landed beside the boy. Malik was sleeping a bit further inside. Chuckling quietly Kadar pulled her into a deep hug –basically wrapping himself around her. From her three boys he was the true cuddle-addict. While Malik kept her in scratchable distance and Altair sometimes carried her around like someone with his favorite book, Kadar always engulfed her and let go of her only when one of the older two told him to stop.
When the clapping of Altair’s horse got audible, Malik jumped up coiled like a snake ready to strike but relaxed as soon as he saw Kadar cuddling her.
“Leave her room to breathe, ok?”
The little brother nodded while the older eased back down.
“Continue to sleep for a bit Malik, it’s not your turn yet.”
He didn’t answer and just readjusted his blanket. Altair arrived as silent as possible and stood with his own blanket in the entrance.
“It’s my turn Altair, go rest too.”
Altair only nodded and shuffled deeper into the cave. He opened the blanket half over Malik and laid down under it at the brother’s side. It was a peaceful sight.
Penelope wiggled with her wings to get out of Kadar’s grip who let her go reluctantly. Then she pushed her head against his tight to push him into the direction of the two nearly asleep Assassins.
At her nod he let out a yay and got his own blanket before opening it over the other two and squeezing himself directly between them who grunted in response. Smiling mentally, Penelope flew outside and sat down atop of the cave’s entrance.
The night was uneventful save for a small snake that ended up as her midnight snack.
As the first rays of the sun stretched over the land, her boys started to wake. By routine, blankets got stowed away and horses re-saddled. Penelope made herself comfortable on a piece of fur Altair had placed for her between the saddle and the bag mounted behind it. The soft swaying let her fall asleep quickly.
Penelope slept so deeply, she didn’t even notice that they had arrived in Jerusalem and Altair had used the fur to bundle her up and carry her to the bureau. She was nice, warm and had no motivation to give up sleep, but one had to wake eventually.
When she woke, she was greeted by the sight of a sulking Kadar. Still wrapped up like a burrito she laid in his lap and had a perfect view onto the angry furrowed forehead and crossed arms.
His brothers should stop babying him! Yes, he was younger and not as experienced as them but if they continued to protect him constantly, he’ll never grow and stay forever a novice. Forever the laughing stock in his group.
Malik and Altair barely agreed on anything arguing for hours with no peaceful solution in sight but as soon as the question arose if he should help or be involved in any way, they agreed within a few seconds ruling him out with age and rank.
That’s how he ended up in this room. Al-Mualim had send a pigeon to inform the rafiq of a new mission for his brothers but before they knew what it involved, he wasn’t allowed into the meetings.
We’re responsible for your, so we decide if we can take you with us.
Responsibility his ass. He was just a random shadow as soon as the two caught the scent of the hunt. Malik, a master of anticipation – always standing where he could strike the best, the victim never knowing what hit him – and Altair, a beast. Kadar knew of no other word to describe him. Altair had such a magnificent presence, that the victims got skittish whenever he drew near. They seemed to feel him coming, but they never saw him and when the victim was mentally finished off Altair attacked with only one strike - powerful.
Kadar’s dream was to reach Altair’s level of power. Magnificent. And he was nothing. Just one of many novices trying to follow the Assassin’s path. Sometimes he even got the feeling that Risha was more powerful than him. He only saw her once in a fight, but it was just as impressive as Altair – and the two together were unstoppable. Hell, Risha stopped, if not killed more guards than he did! Stunning them by whacking against their heads letting their helmets ring and then used her claws to reach their throats.
The soft rustling in his lap let him look down. Risha looked up to him with her bright golden eyes and trilled. She was so cute! Unable to stop himself he cuddled her to his chest. It was the scene his brothers walked into.
“Could you release my bird?”
With a blush on his cheeks, he unwrapped Risha and gave her a small boost to jump up on Altair’s arm. Out of a pouch, the Assassin pulled a stripe of meat that she devoured in one large gulp. Malik walked deeper into the room.
“You’ll be waiting until an informant from Acre arrives and had a night’s rest, then you will follow him back to Masayaf. This is not your mission.” His older brother looked at him sternly and crossed his arms. “You won’t follow us.”
Defeated Kadar let out a huff. There was no way of talking Malik out of a decision. Especially if he got that expression on his face, brows drawn together and his mouth a thin line. It had to be an important mission. He battled with himself for a moment if he should ask for a reason why he wasn’t allowed – they had promised to take him with them on a mission in the near future – but both of them seemed to be quite tense. Kadar let any questions fall – at least for now.
With practiced ease, Altair opened all the small straps of leather that held everything onto Risha. First off was the beak-reinforcement; it was only slightly bent – he should be able to fixit until tomorrow. Then came the small bag; still empty at the moment. Last came the red cloth off that was below the bag; it had to be washed.
While Risha ate her meal, he started to clean and fix her and his equipment. Sharpening knives, sewing shut holes. Little tasks to help him reboot his mind because sleep wouldn’t. Next point on his mental task-list was the small cleanup of himself, his clothes and Risha. He filled up one of the larger buckets in an extra room and started with a sponge bath, then he washed any cloth that needed it and returned with a soft brush in his temporary room to where his bird was finished eating.
Risha flew into his arms and settled as a familiar warm weight against him. He was…afraid…to lose her. She had been with him since he was ten, always looking out for him, helping him but just like him, she grew older. Her age was impressive – she was the oldest bird to live in Masayaf but she grew quieter. And even if she still went with him, protecting him with all her might, Malik had pulled him aside and talked with him about the possibility, that she maybe had only about a year left until she got too old, to fragile to follow him. Then he would lose his hunting buddy.
Altair didn’t want to think about it, but Malik had planted that little thought inside his mind, and it scared him. Malik was at least kind enough to not recommend training another bird as long as Risha could help with that. Risha was so much more than a large bird, she was family – irreplaceable.
A small smile tugged at his lips as Risha cooed – she must have noticed that his thoughts turned to a dark place. She always cooed softly to get him out of his thought. He held her out in front of him.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Tomorrow they would stake out Solomon’s Temple.
The boy ducked his head between his shoulders. Malik was royally pissed. Altair looked grim too, Risha on his shoulder shared his stoic expression.
“I-…I can explain.”
“I sure hope you can!”
With a shaking hand, Kadar reached into his pouch and pulled a scroll out. It had been a long time since he had felt this terrified. This must be what their usual prey felt like under their scrutiny.
“Another pigeon came with further instructions but you two were already gone…so…I volunteered…to bring it to you.”
He flinched as his brother aggressively snatched the message out of his hand. With furrowed brows he read it and passed it wordlessly to Altair to read for himself. Kadar shuffled his feet through the sandy ground. He wanted to join them, that’s why he had said he would carry the message. Step one was a success, now he only had to find a reason why he shouldn’t be sent back.
His brothers did one of their silent discussions, staring at each other and bobbing their heads. It was most curious to watch. One moment the two clawed at their throats, the other they communicated in a way nobody else understood.
Malik sighed loudly and released the tension out of his shoulders.
“Kadar, what is your equipment status?”
“My sword, my throwing…”
Kadar padded at his holster for the throwing knives, it was empty. He had left them on the bureau’s counter. Slowly he reached up and scratched his head in embarrassment while giving his siblings an uncomfortable smile.
Malik was done with him. So, so much done. His left brow was twitching, fists clenched tight and just before he exploded, he turned around and walked a few steps away. Kadar knew he had just busted his chance of tagging along.
Altair was a great surprise. He took his spare ones out of Risha’s little backpack and pressed them into his hands.
“We cannot leave you alone; it’s too dangerous.”
Kadar wasn’t sure if that was one of Altair’s snarky-hidden comments because he forgot his equipment or if it was an actual statement.
The original mission had been to sneak into the Solomon’s Temple and stake out why a Templar camp was hiding there. Now, with the arrival of the new message they knew it.
Penelope had read it too. Inside, the Templars were searching for an Apple of Eden. From the name she was pretty sure that it was one of the Pieces of Eden the glowing being responsible for her bird-situation had told her about. The goal was to locate it and bring it back to Masayaf.
She wished that she had been more attentive in the history lessons at school. The only thing she could remember now was that there had been the crusades and that they had been a huge religious bloody head-butting… but that helped next to nothing. They were a threat to Masayaf and the surrounding cities – that was why Assassin’s fought against them and so she did too.
The risk of good trained henchman had been high before but with that information – and a possible artifact – there was a chance of fully trained Templars. They were an enemy Kadar was not fit to fight. But, sending him off now, when others could probably arrive, was an even greater risk. They were forced to take the young Al-Sayif with them. Altair tickling her chin brought her out of her musings.
“We need a lookout.”
It was an old tactic, Altair (and whomever he sometimes had to work with) did the mission while she flew over his head, having one eye on his back and the other looking out for possible arriving reinforcements. He gave her a small boost to take off to the sky and disappeared with the other two into the Temple.
Her feathers were itching. For a few minutes, Penelope tried to ignore it but it grew in intensity. She took a last good sweep over the horizon, finding nothing, and landed on the stone entrance. She sighed relieved as she rubbed the itching parts against the stone.
She was about to fly off again as she heard soft clashing. Landing in the entrance instead she perked up her ears. Metal was hitting metal.
Penelope puffed her feathers out unsure how to proceed. On one hand she could help her trio if they were in trouble but couldn’t possibly spot any new arriving enemies. On the other hand, she could continue flying around and spotting any possible enemies but not helping them if they were in trouble inside.
Shocked, she jumped up as the ground started to vibrate and rolling stones rumbled deep in the temple.
They needed help. Now.
As soon as the ground stopped she flew inside as fast as she could – which was not as fast as she liked considering the narrow corridor and her large wingspan.
Kadar’s ear-piercing cry spurred her faster, letting her wings bump painfully against stones still hanging from the ceiling.
While Kadar’s cry had meant trouble, Malik’s cry meant pain. Unbelievable pain.
Penelope stopped caring for her own well-being as soon as she saw a knight with a sword raised high before a kneeling Malik. She smacked into him, crashing with an excruciating feeling against the metal armor. The Templar shouted in surprise and let go of his sword as he lost balance…and he let go of a golden glowing ball. It was a slow-motion moment. Penelope fell, seeing Malik’s distraught face and the glowing ball touching the ground just a moment after her. It made a bell-like sound as it crashed and tumbled towards her.
The furthermost feather on her right wing made first contact with it and everything exploded into blinding light. And just as fast as it came… the light was gone.
Every Templar had been smashed against the wall, unmoving. In the middle sat Malik with wide eyes, shining with unshed tears, his arms around his limp brother. Her body felt like one big sore muscle and it took a bit until she had her wings together again and managed to roll on her stomach.
The first tear in Malik’s eyes fell.
From her new position, she saw what Malik’s body had hid from her. Kadar – he was impaled by his own sword. A desperate cry tore from her throat and Malik started to shake. Her legs didn’t work properly but not caring for her feathers caught on the uneven ground she bobbed forward until she bumped against his thigh.
There was no time. It had no meaning.
Malik moved first. Slowly he let go of Kadar and pushed her head softly away so he could stand up. Swaying like a drunk he found stability against the wall. He took a few deep breaths and gripped the sword embedded in his brother. Without looking at it he pulled it out with a jerk and put it still bloody into his sheath. It replaced his own sword – abandoned a few meters away. Mechanically he pulled a piece of cloth out of a pouch and staggered forward to the ball lying innocently on the floor. As Malik tried to squat down his leg gave up and he landed with a thud on the floor. He didn’t even wince.
Penelope chirped and made her own attempt to stand up. It was like learning to walk all over again.
Malik bundled the Apple up in the cloth and came back to her.
Once more he crumbled to the floor, his left arm reaching uselessly as he tried to catch himself. He laid the bundle to the side and reached for her. For a while he just brushed his hand through her feathers while she was resting on her stomach. Then he opened her bag, scratched but still functional, and put the Apple inside.
Malik put his hand on her head and pushed her gently towards the exit.
Penelope’s heart broke. Malik sounded so broken. The voice of someone in a desert without water. Everything inside her was numb. She didn’t know what happened but Malik- she knew Malik and he was family. No family was left behind.
She finally stood and turned her head to the hurt Assassin.
“Al-Mualim needs this…whatever it is…go.”
No. Her head was moving left and right.
She froze in her shaking movement.
Fly Risha, Alab died.
Fly Risha, Faheem died.
Fly Risha, Malik…
Penelope screeched loud and angry. Malik wouldn’t die, she wouldn’t let him! They needed to get out, before any more Templars came. Back to Masayaf, before Malik was gone forever. Penelope shouted at herself in her mind. Transport, transport…think! Horse!
They had hidden their horses a bit further out, she’d get one for Malik. It took her a bit of flapping until she was airborne, but she flew. Through the tunnel, out of the entrance to the rock-formation where they had hidden their horses in the shade.
Altair’s horse was gone. It was a mixture between a blessing – Altair was alive – and anger – he left Malik and Kadar. She tugged hard at the horse-knot and the reigns came free. With the reigns in her talons she pulled the brown mare along. The mare took a bit until she understood that she should follow but then did so obediently.
Had someone seen them, it would’ve been a strange sight - a flying eagle pulling a horse along.
The cave was a bit of a struggle. The horse had a few problems due to larger height differences on the ground, slowing them down considerably. That in turn forced her to fly slower and made it even harder for her to maneuver. As she finally arrived at the opening where Malik was left, she dropped the reign and flew down to the edge.
It was a heart-wrenching sight. Kadar laid on the floor with his arms crossed across his chest and his eyes closed. Malik was in the same position directly at his side, his rasping breath being the only thing filling the silence. As she cried out, the barely alive Assassin turned his head to her direction, blinking slowly.
It wasn’t more than a whisper as he called out for her. Pressing into his right side, Penelope sought out comfort, something familiar. His hand was a weight of comfort on her back.
The neighing of the left alone horse brought her thoughts back to the present. Malik needed to get out. Penelope stood up and pushed with her head into his side urging him to move. He didn’t.
Only when her claws made a scraping sound on the floor as she lost her footing from the force of her shove, did Malik move to sit up, letting her tumble onto the ground again.
His brown eyes darted from her to his horse and back again.
“Why didn’t you just fly to Masayaf?”
He sounded so small, it hurt. Trilling softly, she pressed against him again. Finally, finally he moved.
Everything and nothing hurt. His left arm was numb, and his emotions were slipping away. Altair had abandoned them. Kadar had tried to save him. A Templar had disarmed his brother and he had jumped into the way to save him injuring his side. Then he had tripped falling onto his left, injured, side and was unable to catch himself so Kadar jumped into the next attack.
And got impaled by his own sword.
Laughing the Templar had thrown Kadar to the side and shocked by the sight Malik had stumbled after him, pulling him into his arms. With Kadar’s last rattling breath, something had died inside him and he was convinced that he would share his fate. Without him, there was nobody waiting for him – he didn’t teach any students. Malik didn’t even look up at Robert de Sable as he swung his sword at him.
A loud cry resonated in the hall, followed by a great bang. It was Risha. Risha had come barreling at high speed against the Templar. It must’ve hurt, like – a lot. Her large white wings were spread on the floor, talons sticking into the air and de Sable lost not only his sword but the artifact too. Huh, he didn’t even notice that he had picked it out of the box.
Then the golden ball rolled against Risha and everything went white.
“Malik where are you, Malik!”
“Please I don’t want to die!”
Malik found himself in a grey area he didn’t know. It was just endless grey without anything to break the plane of nothingness but as he turned around, he saw Kadar. He wore the clothes from the day before he was accepted into the brotherhood: dirty-white shirt and darker trousers. Kadar was younger, still small enough to fit under his armpit.
And he was crying.
Many years of brotherly instinct activated, and Malik pulled Kadar into a deep hug.
“Malik I am so afraid.”
He shushed his smaller brother, weaving his fingers calmingly though Kadar’s hair. Malik didn’t even question why he was without any injury because his mind was set on soothing his sibling. An old melody came to his mind and he started to hum, the sound rising from deep within his chest.
With that Kadar became translucent and Malik fell through him. Surprised he fell to his knees.
Malik was still on the ground beside his dead brother. Risha was still sprawled on the floor. But any Templar that had still been standing had been flung against the walls, all were now unmoving.
What had just happened?
Risha was struggling to stand up. On her stomach, she pushed herself forward until she reached him. Kadar was cold on his left, Risha warm on his right.
Al-Mualim had sent them to get the artifact. He was an Assassin. He had a job to do. Malik’s left hand barely responded but he could wiggle his toes as well as the fingers on his right hand. So, he pushed her softly aside so he wouldn’t crush her if he fell.
Left leg, right leg, up it goes. His head started to spin, and he had to pause to lean against the stone. But… he had a mission. At least one thing to do, to finish. The lines on the so-called Apple were glowing. Malik didn’t want to touch it. Al-Mualim needed to see it. What was that light? He pulled one of the cloth pieces out of his pouch and threw it over it. As he bent his knees to retrieve it he lost muscle control for a moment and hit the floor once more. He was too weak. He wouldn’t be able to finish the mission!
Risha’s feathers were disheveled but she looked fine otherwise. She could finish the mission – take the ball back to Masayaf. Decision made, Malik dragged himself back to her.
Risha had come for them, him, Risha was still a loyal friend. Her golden eyes were fully of worry and he couldn’t stop himself from petting her. It would be the last time. Soft feathers.
The bag the traitor had made for her was still on her back, covered in sand and gravel dust and scratched up but it was still functional. She could carry the Apple. He untangled the cord, opened the flap and placed the Apple inside and did the reverse.
Risha must go and deliver it. No Templar could get it, the mission could still be a success.
“Al-Mualim needs this…whatever it is…go.”
Why did she move her head in a no, the mission needed to be finished!
She froze but then, like fire touching oil, Risha cried out so angry. Why?
Her great wings started flapping, whirling up the dirt. The take-off looked exhausting but she managed and flew away. Good girl. At least not everything would fail.
Malik’s remaining energy was dwindling away, but Kadar was still spread out on the ground. With the last of his strength, Malik rearranged his brothers’ body; closing his lifeless eyes, folding his arms ready for his eternal sleep. He would sleep at his side even if his body had already gone cold.
Consciousness flickered in and out. Malik was sure he had reached death as he heard an eagle’s cry, Risha was gone, but he found himself able to open his eyes again and turn his head.
It was Risha. Why was she here? It was impossible for him to be alive if she had made the travel to Masayaf and back. She pressed against him as a comfortable warmth and he put his hands on her to get more of the feeling. The ball was still in the bag… She hadn’t brought it to Masayaf.
There was a horse snickering.
The mission needed to be finished. He wasn’t above the mission. He was an Assassin. He brought death and earned death.
“Why didn’t you just fly to Masayaf?”
The sound of his own voice was pitiful.
The pressure in his side increased. It started to get uncomfortable. The screeching made by talons scratching against stone gave him goosebumps. Risha was giving everything she had to get him moving. She wanted him to move.
With his good arm, he pressed him himself upwards into a sitting position. Everything felt stiff. It made Risha happy. Now he could see the horse standing where the traitor had started the ambush.
“I…will not manage to get up there.”
Risha’ eyes were so expressive: sadness, anger, helplessness. But he witnessed how these golden pools steeled and she flattened her fluffed up feathers.
Malik nearly fell backwards as Risha went around him and jumped onto his back.
The flapping of wings filled his ears. Wind rushing at great speed. It brought tears to his eyes, she didn’t give up on him. He was such a lump of sadness and pity and she still wanted him to go on. Every muscle was shaking, his head felt woozy but… somehow Risha steadied him, taking a bit weight off him so that he wouldn’t topple over.
One step, two steps, foot by foot he moved his feet. Then he reached the ladder, he had successfully moved a few meters. The wood of the ladder was rough against the skin of his right hand. Automatically, he tried to reach up with his left and burning pain shook though his system. Malik barely registered Risha’s squeak as she had to hold up much more weight than expected.
His right hand was fine though – still usable. As he got his bearings back together, he reached higher and put his left feet into the first rung, the right one a step higher. Then arose the problem, one hand less to reach higher and pull himself up.
His throat started aching due to the constant pressure of his shirt against it. Could Risha hold him long enough so he could reach the next rung? What a leap of faith, to trust a bird. He was just above the ground, it shouldn’t hurt too much to fall.
He breathed in and lurched up – catching the next rung – breathing out. Again and again until he reached the top. His mare greeted him with a soft nudge against his chest and he couldn’t help himself but hug her head.
Behind him, Risha let go of his collar and flopped down to the ground, her chest moving up and down quite rapidly. As it was trained to do, the horse went onto her knees so the injured Assassin could mount without having to jump up.
Luckily, they hadn’t de-saddled the horses beforehand – Malik was in no condition to ride bareback.
The bird got her feet back under her and hobbled over. Ignoring his pain, he reached down to grip the bag and pulled it, bird inclusive, up in front of him – it was the least he could do. With a click of his tongue the horse rose and trotted slowly out of the cave.
The sky was blood-red as they came out of the cave. It was a normal occurrence but now it was even prettier. Such a fresh breath of air opposed to the dank smell of decay in the cave.
First things first: Look after Kadar’s horse. It was still where they had left it. Once more it was Risha who pulled the knot open, but the horse followed him willingly.
Malik, a bird, and two horses started their way back to Masyaf.
Mind dead and body just short of actually dying Malik saw the world around him anew. Enjoying his surroundings. Watching the sun disappear completely behind the horizon, seeing the moon rise with her trail of stars. Malik was tired, wanting to sleep but deep down he knew, if he took more than a nap, then he would have closed his eyes for the last time.
He had to ignore the dangers of the night and trust his animal companions to notice any predators.
Malik’s heart was a black hole of negativity. Kadar was dead and he was in no way capable of bring his body with him to bury. Alone he would’ve died at his side. Rest in peace my brother.
It felt like a trick of his mind as he saw in the darkness of the night a reddish smudge on the horizon were the small mountains began. As he rode near, he saw the torches of a moving army, de Sables’ men. Had he gotten out? But most importantly: they rode into the direction of Masayaf.
Malik was cursing anything and everything. He stopped his horse and turned slowly to the saddle bag; got out the provisions and a rope. Wolfing down the bread, and giving the meat to Risha afterwards, he drank most of his water supply as he made himself ready to ride hard.
With something in his stomach, life returned to his body along with awareness of his injuries. – they had to wait – Masayaf was in trouble if it was caught by surprise. Using the rope to secure himself to the saddle by his waist, he dug his heels into the horse’s side, speeding off.
He used the narrow path that trailed above the larger passage through the mountains to get ahead of the army. What a fine steed indeed - all Masayaf horses were strong and well trained, and within reason they even found their way back home.
Malik spaced out completely, he possibly even fell unconscious. As hands gripped him he was startled awake and started thrashing.
“Safety and peace, brother.”
Masayaf’s gate. He was home. The horse below him was trembling, Risha was out cold. The two entrance guards were helping him down.
Their mission was nearly finished.
Held up by his two brothers he reached to Risha and got the packed-up ball out with shaking hands. Easy, easy sounded dull in his ear. Nothing is easy.
More brothers arrived.
“T-take care…of them. Need…Al-Mualim.”
The one to his left answered him, he was the calmest and oldest currently present.
“We will, we will, but you need to go to get your wounds checked.”
“Yes, NO…Al-Mualim, Al-Mualim needs to know what happened.”
A flask of water was put against his lips and he drank. It soothed his dry throat. The guard ordered someone to get one of the fresh horses. This too went on his knees so Malik could get placed on it. After it stood up, the guard mounted behind him.
Normally there was a no-riding policy in Masayaf, but the guard must have understood the urgency. To carry him would’ve taken too long, especially up the hill. The eyes of the villagers followed them, but it was unimportant.
He chose not to hear Rauf’s question regarding Kadar’s whereabouts.
They dismounted at the large staircase in front of the castle, questioning and sorrowful gazes left and right. In the main hall he could hear Altair’s voice. Traitor.
With his last energy reserves, he left the guard’s side, walking with his head held high up the stairs.
The traitor’s slack jaw was a sight to behold.
"I brought what your favorite failed to find. Here! Take it. Though it seems I've returned with more than just their treasure."
Al-Mualim took the wrapped-up Apple out of his hand and listened intently as he told of the coming army. Malik was dismissed not a moment too soon, his feet touched the last step of the main hall’s staircase as he blacked out.
It was shouting that woke Penelope. Extremely hurt and loud shouting. She was laying on a small mountain of hay collected on a white linen. It had been draped over a table in one of Masayaf’s book-filled rooms. The familiar flag hung on the walls. Beside her was a bowl of water and meat strips.
With an aching body like hers she wouldn’t have moved at all if she wasn’t this famished. But the shouting did not stop. Who was it? It wasn’t an attack, otherwise there would be the ringing of steel and shouting of orders.
For the first time in a long time, she walked from one room to the other. The noise led her to the area in the castle intended for the sick and injured. A guard was stationed in front of the door the noise originated from. A scholar, the one teaching the children to write, had been talking with him but called out as soon as he saw her.
“Ba careful, this is Risha. Don’t let her into the room. She is overly protective of Ibn-la’Ahad and Al-Sayif. Got the tendency to attack anyone if one of them is threatened.”
The guard raised his eyebrow, not totally sure how a bird could be a true threat but like everyone, he had heard the tales of the Great White Eagle. Risha fluffed up her feathers as best she could - after that statement she definitely wanted into that room; were her boys alright?
Before Penelope could do anything more the door of the room was thrown open and Altair stormed out. His eyes fell on her, unusually shiny, and he quickly came to her. Without a word she got picked up and carried away. Altair stormed to their room. As a Master Assassin, he got his own room in the largest tower without an annoying Abbas in the vicinity.
Penelope got placed onto the small desk and Altair started to examine her after taking off the equipment she had still been carrying. A few times she clicked with her beak when he pressed into an especially sore area, but nothing seemed to be wrong otherwise. Carefully he got bigger dirt lumps out and straightened a few wild feathers. An astonished grunt was the first sound he made as he plucked one of the small down feathers out and held it into the sunlight. It was golden, not just children’s-pen golden, it was golden golden. After this discovery he took a closer look at the small downs – every odd one was at least partially golden as if they had been dipped in a vat of molten gold.
When there was nothing more to be cleaned Altair pulled her into his arms and moved onto the bed. Penelope was nearly asleep as he started talking.
“Thank you for coming back, for helping Malik…I got demoted. Novice again. Al-Mualim forbade me from taking you with me for my next mission.”
That got her attention. They were a team! Chuckling darkly, he brushed though her feathers.
“Could you do something for me…? They took off Maliks left arm, the wound was left too long untreated to have any chance of being healed again.”
Penelope tensed. Malik with only one arm, that was definitely an end for his Assassin career.
“Help him please. I am the last person he wants to see and he is in need of somebody watching over him.”
Without even waiting for a reaction from her he went to the window and held her outside.
Chapter 7: I shall name you Risha (6/7)
Heyho, I'm finally uploading the next chap.
This did not went though my beta-reader or rather is still going through her so there is a higher posibility for mistakes. Didn't want to let you wait any longer.
Her world had shattered in a million pieces. Kadar was dead, Altair was off hunting who-knows-whom to get his title back and Malik lost his arm. She was so tired.
Penelope was currently nestled against Malik’s armless side, looking into shiny brown eyes. After a very long week he was finally able to keep his eyes open more than a few minutes and sit up on his own.
Someone nocked softly against the door but strode in without waiting for an answer. It was Al-Mualim. The Mentor had the beginning of rings under his eyes; ever since the attack on the castle he had been barely seen around by the people of the Brotherhood let alone the citizens of Masayaf.
The other person in the room – she hadn’t bothered to learn his name – who was responsible for monitoring Malik got him a chair to sit upon and left the room.
Silence stretched between them, only the far away sounds of the training rink audible. Malik tensed further and further until he breathed out Mentor.
“You can probably guess why I am here Malik. With only one arm you cannot be an Assassin anymore.”
A tremor shook through the body at her side.
“But you’ve been one of our brightest students. Even if your body can’t follow anymore your mind remembers – it would be a waste of talent to release you from servitude. I have an idea – you’ll think about it and give me an answer if you’re feeling better.”
Al-Mualim made a pause, waiting for a nod from Malik before he continued.
“Jerusalem’s Rafiq had been requesting a replacement for months, I want you to relieve him.”
With that the old man patted Malik’s leg and was gone in his slow walk just as he had entered. Penelope found him strange, but this was a thought for another day – Malik needed her. He had tears in his eyes and tried to reach her with his good arm. Mindful of her talons she moved onto his chest and snuggled her head against his neck. He released a shaky breath and moved his hand though her feathers. It must be such an relieve for him to be kept within the brotherhood and in such a good position too! Rafiqs were Al-Mualim’s representatives outside of Masayaf. Even Master Assassins could only question their orders but not deny them without repercussion.
But for that to happen Malik needed to get up as soon as possible and currently that meant to be well fed and rested. He seemed contend at the moment so she didn’t dare to move – they could always eat later.
Under the watchful gaze of his caretaker Malik sat up in his bed and turned the side so his feet touched the floor. His whole left side was aching but that shouldn’t stop him, he would use the time period wisely when his non-existing arm was not hurting too much.
Using his good arm, he pushed up too fast and fell nearly over. It felt a bit like standing on a ship – he had been once on one to get a feeling for it in Acre. It was important that he got up again. He didn’t want to become weaker and even more useless than he already was.
Stubbornly he pushed his helper aside and focused on his feet. Malik was nearly at the door as his foot got caught by the edge of the carpet. By instinct he caught himself with his other foot, but his gravity-center was off balance. He was lucky enough that he managed to turn his body in such a way that he landed on his butt and not on his armless side. He could feel the surge of pain wandering through his whole body.
With a thud something landed in front of him. Risha had dropped an empty shoulder holster for throwing knives at his feet. It was intended to go over the left shoulder.
He rose his eyebrow at her, not understanding what she wanted from him. She fluffed her feathers up and pushed the leather further into his direction.
“You want me to…wear…this.”
The birds head bobbed up and down. What benefit could it be for him to have it empty? He would humor her, she had good ideas – sometimes. Malik would never trust her again with a brush dipped in ink.
Setting the big padding onto his shoulder was easy enough. (Deep down it was strangely satisfying that the straps hit his caretaker as he scrambled to help him; he wants to at least try to do things on his own; thank you very much) the clasp was much more of a struggle. In the end Risha held onto one end while he thread the leather through and pulled it taut.
Somewhere in the background his caretaker had let out a huff and disappeared miffed about being ignored and pushed away over Risha. Malik didn’t care. As soon as he was back on his feet Risha flapped up and sat down on the padding. It created an uncomfortable pressure and he was just short of telling her to go down again as it made click in his head as he staggered a bit forward. She helped him to keep his balance. Risha played the weight of his missing arm.
It felt like a victory. With her on his shoulder he managed to walk into the mess hall – on his own feet without anyone else helping – and could join his brothers for dinner. As he walked through the door only a few of the younger ones stared at his direction, a relieve to be honest.
The whole space on the bench to Rauf’s left was free. Malik steeled himself for any potential question with a deep breath and sat down beside the fellow Assassin ushering Risha off his shoulder to his side, happy to be rid of the extra pressure. Rauf was smiling at him and boxed friendly into his shoulder.
“It’s good to see you up and running brother.”
“What did I miss?”
Always ask questions if you don’t want to be asked one.
“I am now training the new novices. Five hyperactive little rascals, always asking when they get their first sword…”
Rauf continued to talk about his trainees – he looked happier than ever. He mentioned not once Kadar or the traitor and he was grateful for that, Malik didn’t want to think about them. How his brother would never again try to sneak after him trying to surprise him…
Risha pocked his tight. Seated on the bench she could barely place her beak onto the table, let alone eat something off it. Her eyes fixated on the meat. His lips twitched upward – currently she seemed to be always hungry. He turned to grab the empty plate that was placed in front of her and could barely contain the hiss as he felt the pull of his skin at his bandaged wound. Not wanting to succumb to his pain Malik continued with only a twitch of a brow and placed some meat onto the plate before handing it to Risha onto the bench.
His pride would never allow it, but he was thankful that Rauf, without making a big deal out of it, pulled the various filled bowls and plates he wanted further into his direction – making them easier to reach without having to lean far over the table.
Malik was so exhausted that he barely reached his room; he was out in a second.
With one last glance at the grand Masayaf Castle Malik mounted his horse – it was the same mare that had carried him from Solomon’s Temple a bit over a month before. Two Informants would accompany him to his new destination; Risha would too. A truly precious bird, helping wherever she could even if only a handful of people trust in her intelligence.
Ever since he was walking again, she especially helped in the balance and mental department; kept him on his toes so the shadows of his brother’s death wouldn’t overwhelm him in the dark. They were there – probably will never be gone – but they shan’t take him by surprise. His memory granting Kadar his own eternal live.
“Now boy, this is your responsibility.”
The old Rafiq patted against Malik’s back. He had his bags packed and was ready to leave the Brotherhood for a few last years away from secrecy and assassinations.
“Safety and peace brother.”
“You’ll need it more than me.”
With that, the Rafiq left through the door and Malik had officially taken his place. On the table was a list of things he had to do categorized in daily, weekly and things he had to keep an eye out.
It wasn’t required of him to prepare meals, but he had to keep the pantry stocked so his brothers could serve themselves.
The bureau was disguised as a map shop – he had to keep it up. Meaning that he had to make errand runs for materials too.
And every odd brother would arrive hurt – check that always enough bandages, ointments and whatnot were available.
And he had to clean the bureau. Due to his age the old rafiq had only been able to do it superficial. Yay – not.
“There is one behind the vase.”
Risha chirped an answer and fell onto the small shadow, Malik barely caught the large vase before it fell over.
The Big Bureau Cleanout started with getting all the cobwebs out in all the corners they could find – they even roped a few visiting trainees in for the task. In a particular dark corner hidden behind a pile of rolled up mats they found a nest of rats – and they were hunting those currently.
“You think we’ve caught them all?”
Something squeaked behind him.
Shivering in pain Malik laid on his pile of pillows. Especially at night phantom pains in his left arm would haunt him.
It hurt so, so much.
He questioned his sanity why he even continued. A live constant in pain, crippled. Was this a life worth living?
Risha was nestled against his head thrilling softly. Malik didn’t dare to take her into his arms – afraid to crush her when a new wave of burning hot pain seared through his side.
Cautious Malik rolled his wrist, getting a feel for the sword in his hand. It had been a long time since he tried it.
It felt stiff at first but more and more fluent with each movement he fell into the all-familiar rhythm of the sword. He had to move a bit differently to compensate for his lost arm but it felt nice – like being himself again.
Kadar did not pick up a sword to join him.
There was no Kadar.
Malik leaned against the doorway, watching the visiting Rauf with not only his group of trainees but others as well eating dinner together and having a good time goofing around – it was a small field-trip. Risha got fed left and right, seemingly everyone tried to pet her. Many were mesmerized not only by the pure white feathers but also by her now golden tummy.
He caught the conversation between two, one nearly ready for his Leap of Faith and the other a complete newbie.
“You have to try the soup! Rafiq Malik is an awesome cook!”
The newbie had spotted him and looked at him with wide eyes, the older one followed his gaze. And turned red, scratching embarrassed his head.
“…it’s the truth.”
Malik gave them a small smile.
For some reason his newly arriving brothers kept congratulating Malik and he didn’t know why. After the fifth he stopped the Assassin before he went on his merry way.
“Why do you congratulate me? I have done nothing out of the ordinary.”
“You don’t know? Really?! You’ve got promoted Dai.”
The disheveled pigeon carrying this particular message arrived in the evening of the following day.
His backside was aching. He had been riding much and fast in the last few weeks. Every new answer he found just revealed more questions. Al-Mualim’s cryptic words didn’t help either.
Altair’s next target was a slaver. There was barely anything more rotten than a slave trader. This one went by the name of Talal.
Unsure he looked onto the familiar Assassin insignia on the roof. He didn’t want to have a confrontation with Malik. He had done enough damage as is was, but he wanted his best friend back too.
Within his mind he wasn’t sure if he meant Risha or Malik.
Would he still be a Master Assassin he probably wouldn’t even consult the bureau before snatching some of the Informants and simply did his job. But he wasn’t a Master Assassin, so he had to do it like everyone else.
And that meant going into the bureau and talk to the Rafiq – no, no the Dai, Malik had gotten a worthy title.
From what he could see Malik had tidied up the place nicely. The small fountain was running smoothly and was not only a small drizzle, the various carpets had their original bright color back and a new mountain of cushions was placed too in the open part of the bureau.
Taking a heart, he stepped through the threshold and was greeted by the sight of Malik bend over a map, his feathered pen moving over the papyrus. Risha sat beside him well groomed, the few golden feathers he had first found had multiplied and now her whole tummy and the tips of her wings had that mesmerizing color.
“Safety and peace brother.”
Gold and brown eyes snapped up to him. One was clearly happy to see him, the other – not so much.
“Your presence deprives me of both.”
The words hurt more that he anticipated. With only the minimum of words he discussed his mission and was quick out of the door as Malik dismissed him with even more hurtful words.
Altair’s information finding task would start with the first morning light but right now, he wanted to be gone as far as possible from his brother.
For a moment he waited in the shade until the guard had passed then he gripped onto the sun-warm stone and pulled himself upwards. Right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot: repeat. Both hands grabbed tightly the upper part of a window frame and stemmed his feet against windowsill. Altair breathed in and jumped up. For a moment he touched nothing of the tower completely free but as every jump it wouldn’t last. It would be nice to be a bird; he could fly and better understand Risha.
Before gravity pulled him back down again his fingers caught the edge of the balcony and his way up continued until he reached the wooden plank normally reserved for birds.
Up here he could look over large parts of the city and everything seemed so small. Various birds were chirping, thrilling, screeching their tunes but there was one…he would always recognize it. With barely enough time to open his arms Risha flew against his chest.
He had missed her. Without her everything to so long and was pretty lonely. And there was no one to watch his six. After the last assassination he had to fix the clothes on his back and a few shallow cuts on his skin because some swords came too close.
Altair just held his friend in the light of the setting sun.
From below a peaceful melody of a flute was softly heard. Carefully Risha entangled from his hold and stood in front of him. With the beat of the music she opened her wings to their impressive span. Right on the edge she started turning around and around and around trilling happily.
One misstep and she fell over the edge. Startled Altair darted forward but with the thud created by something hitting hay he let out a relieved breath – Risha had fallen into a haycart and now poking her head out looking up to him.
Penelope was ranting in her mind. Altair and Malik were such IDIOTS. They were hurting but instead of helping each other wrapping their wounds they kept tearing them open over and over. Malik was missing company; Altair was missing company. The answer should be so easy but no, they made their lives harder than they had to be.
Only with a lot of cloth-pulling and nudging Altair finally budged and retreated into the bureau for the night. The two peacocks didn’t acknowledge each other as one went into his room and the other to the pile of pillows – Altair didn’t want to ask which rooms were already occupied.
Penelope slept beside Altair this night. but she knew Malik would be awake like clockwork because a new nightmare woke him. And it did.
The moon in combination with the half-roof wood structure made a giant tic-tac-toe pattern on the floor and walls as Malik emerged from his room. Penelope had been awake the whole time, restless, because she wanted to help them. She only moved her head to indicate that she had seen the Dai and he dipped his head in return.
As always Malik made himself something to drink and turned to walk back into his room, but he hesitated. His gaze wandered to the sleeping Altair. With a huff Malik went and appeared again with a blanket.
His eyes shone with unspoken sadness and loss and it made it hard for her not to do or trill something, but he understood – always watchful Malik understood – and patted her head with a grateful smile tugging at his lips.
The blanket was opened over her and Altair and Malik walked away. Would he have turned he would’ve seen that not only one golden pair of eyes was watching him but also one in honey-brown.
Penelope saw Altair only for a goodbye after he had finished his mission. It had taken weeks before she saw him again, back with another.
Once more the greeting wasn’t the friendlies but there were no direct insults thrown around this time. Malik must’ve seen too the disheveled state Altair was in. He had most of his equipment back, but his hair was longer that normally and there was a slight stubble in his face – Altair always made sure to shave regularly. He had tried to grow a beard once – ugly didn’t come even remotely close to describe it.
Altair had lost his presence too. There was nothing left of the hunter he had been. He picked her up, got something to eat and just sat on a pillow in a dark corner watching the normal day unfold. Civilians thinking the bureau a map shop came and went as well as some Informants, Informant Trainees and an Assassin that came in for a break before continuing on to Masayaf. As the sun was at its highest point he stood up and walked to the counter to place her down again and started with his mission.
Penelope could feel the tension between them. Ok, not only between them but in general. The city was one the edge grating at the nerves of every member in the Brotherhood, making them more twitchy, prone to drawing their weapons at the smallest disturbance and right in the middle of it where her two idiots. Around those two something big would go down soon. She felt it. They would need each other. But how could she help them if they did not even one step towards each other?
Like if Malik heard her thoughts, he nudged her in Altair’s direction. Him and her looking confused into the direction of the Dai.
“A brother of ours got caught. He’ll be at the execution. You keep an eye out for him and make sure Risha gets him free, understood?”
Altair’s thank you was inaudible, but his eyes spoke for him.
Penelope was happy…but also a bit confused. Who was it she should rescue?
Malik could stop his resigned huff. That man and his bird. Just as comfortable it is to have Risha around he had to face the truth that she was and always would be Altair’s bird.
He missed the old days when Altair came running because he and Risha had found something new eyes shining bright, his mind open for any and everything. When did it all stop? When was Altair’s inner eagle caged?
Al-Mualim had singled him out! It must’ve been him to press a bright boy’s mind into a small box. But why, why would Al-Mualim do it? What had Altair what nobody else could do. Because he is a natural would be a too small reason for such an intelligent mind as Al-Mualim. Malik knew he was one of the best – if this had been the reason he should’ve been isolated too. Or was Altair just unlucky to be the chosen one?
Something was amiss.
Malik had to wait only a bit longer until he could close the shop part and started to search through old letters and log-books, anything he could get his hands on that had potential clues but no such luck.
Jerusalem’s warning bells tore him out of his concentration. The novice could do nothing discreet. But had it even been possible with the hanging being a public event? Thoughts for later, for now he had to prepare for an undernourished maybe even seriously injured brother and anyone of those who helped in the rescue that got hurt.
Just as he had a mattress prepared and the box with the medical utensils out Altair came through the roof opening, carrying the injured brother. Much to his relieve and his brother’s luck the worst wounds were the chafing from the rope on the wrist and ankles and the red welts of a whip – but none of those open. The main problem was the undernourishment, but he would prepare a broth and would look after him for maybe a few weeks, but he should have no lasting issues. Altair had only a few scrapes that needed cleaning to not become infected but nothing serious.
One after another the other brothers started coming in, the worst injury being a sprained arm because of a wrong fall.
Malik made sure that anyone was taking care of and prepared dinner for everyone. He had to improvise sometimes so that round things didn’t roll off the chopping board, but he managed it and liked it. Cooking had a meditating quality sometimes.
As it was finished, he carried a tray with steaming bowls out and passed it to his fellow brothers. They were all huddled together around the previously captured one making sure he wasn’t alone.
The worst part of being caged was being alone – that was at least something everyone said who had gone through a capture.
And Altair was alone in the corner, Risha in his lap. He didn’t even look up as Malik approached.
“It’s done. Majd Addin is dead.”
Altair pulled out the bloodied feather.
Not standing the silence, Malik turned around and went back to his counter to bring the last documents he had out back in order. He must have fallen asleep where he sat because it was dark outside as something woke him, the moon being the only source of light.
Altair had put a blanket around his shoulders.
With the departure of Altair Malik continued his search for information and clues regarding Al-Mualim. It was a quite fruitless effort that was hard to keep hidden. Malik needed to know his suspicions to be wrong to be able to sleep again on the other hand he didn’t want to agitate his brothers without solid proof. A foul play from Al-Mualim would rattle the Order in its foundation.
Destabilizing the Brotherhood was the last thing he wanted to do.
Never compromise the Brotherhood.
But that meant if there was something compromising it had to be dealt with.
“What got you this riled up Dai.”
His muscles tensed. Malik hadn’t been aware of an Informants arrival. As the good girl that she was Risha shoved the personal correspondence between the last rafiq and Al-Mualim under her belly hiding it from view.
Forcing a relaxed posture Malik turned around and faced the other. What could he tell? He never wanted to lie to a brother. And it was especially foolish to try to trick one of the seniors.
“…a lot of things. The city is restive, my side is aching and some things in the bookkeeping are incomplete or at least in places I haven’t found so far.”
The man gave him a gentle smile.
“You work so hard for us. Maybe rest a bit?”
“I will…when I am done here. When you can wait a bit, I’ll prepare something to eat.”
“You’re spoiling us Dai.”
With that, the man turned away and Malik let out a relieved breath. That had been close. He had to be more careful in the future.
With each passing day Malik’s restlessness grew. Some of the rolls had small hints at something but none so far had real evidence.
Thankfully it was a slow day in the shop, so he had the time to flop down on the pillow-mountain and take a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had to calm down, being stressed-out could only work so long as an excuse.
The previously captured Informant Ali poked his head out of the doorway leading into the Brotherhood part of the shop. He was a bit pale around the nose and still a bit weak in the knees, but he was moving around unassisted.
“What can I do for you?”
Ali was hesitating, looking everywhere but not at him. With a raised eyebrow Malik shuffled a bit to the side and patted the place beside him.
“What is it?”
Only after another insisted pat on the cushion Ali came to him and sat down, wringing his hands nervously.
“I-The others…they say you’re stressed, struggling to compensate for your lost limb but- but…,” Ali made a pause, reluctant to continue “I don’t think it’s that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was longer here, I had time to…observe…you. When I see you, you don’t struggle – not that’s easy for you! But you manage. Something else is bothering you.”
By now Malik felt uncomfortable in his skin. What should he tell? Before he could answer Ali continued:
“You’re going through old messages, records. Dai…what have you found? ...I could help? Information are my specialty.”
Malik would go as close as possible to the truth. Secrets were none should be could only come back to haunt him later.
“I am unsure if I …found… anything. That’s why I am searching. Until I have more, I like to keep quiet about it.”
“But you will tell if you found something? We are all brothers here. We are all family.”
Kadar – brother – family. The thought hurt, aching deep in his chest.
Sensing the clear dismissal, Ali stood up and left. Malik had to find something – as soon as possible before anything derailed.
Once again Malik swept something off the counter with his elbow – this time luckily only a small and empty ink-pot. It didn’t shatter into too many parts either. They were large enough to be picked up one by one. Only one had gone below the counter.
On his knees Malik carefully grabbed below it. Stone floor, stone floor, paper, stone floor. Wait. Paper? He caught it between his fingers and pulled it out. It was a message and a large one too. Unrolling it he found the unmistakable handwriting of Al-Mualim.
Altair’s name caught his eye. Over and over he read it, but sense made it only little.
[…] Altair is the first student since his fathers awakening to show the traits of the Eagle Vision. […]
It sounded like some fairy-tale power. The ability to discern between friend and foe with just a blink of an eye. Malik was unsure what to believe. On one hand it seemed impossible on the other…it sounded crazy enough to be actually true and it would explain Altair’s uncanny ability to spot important things in an instant.
The explosion in Solomon’s Temple came into his mind – another otherworldly thing. He had kept it far away from his thoughts especially the vision of his panicking brother even if his body was already cold against the floor.
[…] After his first mission he came to me, confused – he had spoken with his target for a few minutes even if its body was already struck down in a space beyond reality. The information he had extracted in that time had proven to be correct. There seems to be more to the Eagle Vision than we currently know. […]
Talking with the dead?
A shiver ran down his spine. Was he too…? It cooed above him. Tilting his head, he came face to face with Risha’s questioning gaze, two deep pools of molten gold.
The hue of the world around him tilted until everything was black and white. Risha was a gentle source of green.
Malik pulled himself up at the counter’s edge and blinked rapidly to get rid of the strange sight. It didn’t fade. Most disorienting was the muffled sound. With each passing second his movements grew more sluggish and he slowly tilted to his side losing his balance.
The uppermost corner of the shelf was golden, but before he had a chance to even think about it, hands pulled at his body and his vision was filled with blue before fading to an unconscious black.
Malik awoke to quiet murmuring and rustling.
He was laying in a bed wrapped up in a thin blanket like a mummy. After a bit of orienting he came to the conclusion that he was in one of the spare rooms of the shop, early evening by the amount of light that came through the small window. Freeing himself he went after the sound.
In the kitchen area Ali and some other of various rank tried to cook together under the scrutiny of Risha. It warmed his heart and a small smile tugged at his lips.
“You know that you have to chop the vegetables in even pieces if you want them to be done at the same time.”
A chorus of Dai greeted him – a very bold trainee even hugged him. Malik just froze.
“Don’t scare us like that!”
Before he had a chance to utter a word he got pulled over onto a stool and had to wait there – they would cook for him today. He wasn’t even allowed to raise one single finger, they even shushed him as he tried to help verbally. A reason why some things were slightly overcooked if not slightly singed.
But it was…fun. Made the rest of the evening very pleasant.
Altair was unsure what to believe in anymore. His head was swimming with information, theories and possibilities that his head felt as it would explode any moment now.
He didn’t want to admit it, but his heart was thumping heavily in his chest as he approached the familiar roof in Jerusalem.
How would Malik greet him today?
“Do you want to stay up there all night, or do you join us for dinner?”
Altair had been so engrossed in his brain that he didn’t notice Malik standing in the doorway with Risha happily chirping away on his shoulder.
He had been greeted friendly.
He only nodded and joined Malik at his side as he went on his way to the others already eating. The atmosphere was…careless. Not careless as in not looking, unmindful of the ones around but in not caring what happened tomorrow, for once not weighted down by the unknown danger-filled future.
Malik had truly made a small oasis, a save heaven for the Brotherhood away from home.
But was it truly away from home?
It was another home.
As the last ones retreated into their respective rooms for the night Altair cautiously walked up to Malik’s counter. There had been no snarky remarks, no stabs at his pride or the former loss of rank – not only from Malik but everyone had been at least respectful while talking with him.
“Dai, my next target is Robert de Sable.”
“Dai…really Altair?! Now you’re using rank?”
Altair had to look away from the brown eyes drilling into him in the shine of the candle. He didn’t know if Malik had heard the your have truly earned your rank that he mumbled in his collar. He made at least no move to acknowledge it.
The Dai let out a huff.
“Go search in the morning for information in the middle district. Now, sleep. As does everyone, in a room. The second to the left is still empty.”
“Why are you still standing there?”
Why indeed? Freed from a spell he didn’t realize he was under Altair walked past his brother deeper into the bureau, sleeping well for the first time in weeks in a bed with his bird in his arms.
Penelope had watched Malik now for long enough to notice that he had an idea he was unsure to execute. He was always so thoughtful which made him highly efficient, but it slowed him down sometimes too – like now. Wouldn’t she be needed here, Penelope would’ve already flown to Masayaf and sneaked after Al-Mualim to get the info they wanted.
The message concerning the Eagle Vision was tugged away in her nest. A small rug that had been placed up high in the shop-part for her to perch on during the day away from any eyes. From there she had a good look at anyone entering and leaving the shop – effectively stopping a few thieves too; not that Malik wasn’t good enough to do it himself. Or the brothers hiding in the back just a call away.
For now, she had to nudge Malik into action – he was rarely wrong about something. As a human she hadn’t been overly expressive with her body-language, now she had to be. Wing flaring, screeching, head-tilting all the way. It was frustrating to be unable to talk with people. For questioning she landed close to whomever – in this case Malik – she wanted to communicate with, pulled the wings to her body and tilted her head far to the side with a mixture of soft cooing and trilling.
“What do you think about the Eagle Vision?”
In her opinion-
“Could it be that I have it too?”
Another drawback of a talking-inability. People just continued to talk, and one had no chance of interrupting them or keep them from interrupting you. The only thing she could do was catch the sleeve of Malik’s coat and pull to get him moving.
The Dai sighed, as he did quite often, and turned away from the counter to the shelf behind it. For a few seconds she watched him stretching as far as he could to reach the uppermost board on which a thick roll was placed but she decided to ease his small struggle and heaved herself up to shove it down.
Malik was unable to caught is with his hand but managed well enough with his armpit.
The roll was so stuffed that Malik had to cut the cord holding everything together and it was a mini explosion of papers of various size, intent and age.
One of the folded ones had still an intact seal. Where had she seen it before? Penelope wracked her brain over it. There were only a handful of messages she had transported that were sealed. Most had been correspondence from Altair’s targets she had flown to Masayaf for a few days of extra planning time because she arrived faster that Altair ever could.
The seal had a strange shade of red, but wait... Penelope took it and flipped it around: there were faint fingerprints and a few dark sprinkles. Old blood sprinkles.
The revelation floored her and seemingly increased the pressure on her tenfold.
It was the message Faheem had retrieved.
Somehow it found its way into this clusterfuck of paper.
Malik had noticed her freezing and picked the message up himself.
The seal was easily broken, brown eyes speeding over the paper and with each line the Dai’s body grew more tense. In the end he was clutching the paper so hard it started to wrinkle.
He must’ve found something because he was cursing loundly.
“It was a woman!”
Altair’s hands made a slapping sound as they hit the bureau’s counter, letting the papermountain scatter further and throwing Malik out of his own musings.
Malik had totally not expected the outburst.
“Robert de Sable had a decoy. A woman! He sent a woman to fight in his stead.”
“Where is de Sable now?”
Asking the truly important questions Malik tried to calm Altair down. He reacted to it and took a deep breath, collecting himself again.
“Arsuf. He wants initiate an attack on the Brotherhood, uniting the Saracen and Crusaders.”
Now even more worried Malik stemmed his own hand against the counter opposite of Altair.
“My targets, they had affiliations with each fraction. It’s his argument to rally against us, we’re an enemy to everyone.”
“You have to ride for Masayaf immediately, make sure de Sable cannot harm another brother of ours.”
Altair clearly wanted to say something but bit it down, nodding. Within a few minutes his provisions were refilled and he out of the roof, Risha hot on his heels. For the first time since a long time she too was armed again.
A few hours outside Jerusalem Altair came to a stop, offering his arm for Risha to land on.
“There is no time to ride for Masayaf, I’ll be going directly to Arsuf. Take that to Malik.”
It was a message containing this exact information. Risha was clearly hesitant to leave him and he was strangely grateful for that. It was endearing. But after a last hug and an insistent half-punch movement with his arm she circled once over his head and was off back into the direction of Jerusalem.
The bureau was one big chaos, shadows from the candlelight danced over the thrown around paper and the Informants, Assassins and Trainees alike could only watch as Malik shuffled through them with enormous speed. Ali was brave enough to raise his voice:
“What’s happening Dai?”
“What do you know about the Solomon mission?”
“You were sent to retrieve something. A golden ball thing, right?”
Malik picked one paper out and laid it onto the only sorted pile on the counter before continuing.
“Yes, an artifact that should not fall into Templar hands. Ten people knew the location in the Solomon Temple. Guess who had nine targets?”
“Altair! But…who is the tenth- Al-Mualim?! But isn’t it a good thing?”
“Not if he is just as greedy as a Templar.”
A shocked what went through the whole group. Finding the last piece he wanted, the Dai motioned everyone to huddle around the counter. Everything unnecessary was swept down and the remaining papers spread for everyone to see.
“You see, the artifact gives power to the wielder. Power to conquer, to control – Templar ideals. Al-Mualim is searching for them since a long time. He must’ve collaborated with the Templars to reach his goal and needed everyone who knew to disappear afterwards. He had his hand over Altair since he was a child – letting him imprint on him, he would never question his orders and would do everything just to please him. We didn’t care for the outsider bird-child. But he made a mistake. Al-Mualim let Altair realize that there is more and gave him not enough to satisfy his curiosity. He started questioning the orders he was given, sadly a tad bit to late. But the targets he had; people of high power were in all fractions that could possibly rally against Masayaf. De Sable was able to flee and will now try to get everyone marching against our home. We have to stop it.”
“I don’t understand how Al-Mualim stands in all of this.”
Malik guided them through the letters. In everyone was spoken of power and control in some way or the other, using Altair as his personal hidden blade. The last one he presented was the one Faheem had found. A direct correspondence between Al-Mualim and de Sable, the Templar Grand Master had asked if the Assassins were ready to be used in a war against their own home country in exchange for the Apple.
“Altair is already on his way to Masayaf-.“
Risha chose that exact moment to fly inside and placed Altair’s small message down.
“That damn NOVICE! Altair is riding after de Sable; we’ll be going for Masayaf.”
The eyes around him shone in anger, chock, disbelieve. The tension in the room buzzing with electricity. One after another everyone who could laid a hand against Malik’s shoulder or backside.
“We’ll follow you Malik.”
Chapter 8: I shall name you Risha. (7/7)
'S only self-beta'd.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The impression Malik normally associated with the gates of Masayaf were home and warm and most of all safe. Currently he felt none of those.
It had taken them a day to prepare properly plus the time required to ride from and to but now Malik and everyone who followed stood in front of the open but unguarded gates. It felt like standing in front of a large maw of a dangerous predator.
The wind was blowing softly but there was absolute silence. No murmuring from Guards, no activity from the civilians or the squealing of playing children – not even the sound of neighing horses from the nearby stable. All quiet.
A truly eerie silence nobody wanted to break – and maybe give away their position too. For now, Masayaf wasn’t the home they returned to – they would return to Jerusalem.
The sun didn’t do anything to warm the stones and created instead long and dark claw-like shadows.
And safe…it was far from safe.
Malik thought for a moment, he wanted to avoid the people just living here – if they were still here - but he was unsure too, in what state the city was in. That meant going the full-blown Assassin way.
His gaze wandered to his missing arm. Would he be able to do it?
No, no he wouldn’t.
He looked to the sky to the circling Risha and waved – a signal for her to land – and offered her his arm as she came down. Malik squared his shoulders and ushered her atop of them.
Then he motioned the others towards the rock-formations, the Assassin way meant climbing, jumping and balancing. A way no trainee would be sent because one mistake meant death most of the times or at least an injury that was carried a lifetime.
Below their hood’s eyes flashed with determination and various nodded in agreement. They would take the back-route to the castle.
By now Risha understood what he wanted to do and went lower onto his back digging her claws into the leather straps hidden below the Dai’s robe usually meant to carry his weapons; she would start flapping when he needed her.
He actually didn’t. The only time being as he wandered cross a rather thin and long beam over a large drop for balance, the other times he was assisted by his fellow Assassin’s and Informants. Hands secured his back when he had to reach for the next hold others pulled him up when he couldn’t reach high enough.
Malik should’ve felt resentment – he had refused help quite frequently living his life with a bird as his only assistant. But now he was just…grateful. There was no pity in their eyes just respect. One brother simply helping another.
The sound of clashing swords snapped through the silence urging them to even greater speeds. As they came out on top, they had the perfect view onto a surrounded Altair. Surrounded by their brothers. But their posture was off – all stiff, all in the same way.
As much as Altair went for non-lethal blows he could only do so much while being alone surrounded by people that were clearly trying to kill him – they had to help. And they did. Between the six of them their supposed-to-be brothers were incapacitated pretty quickly.
Malik shivered every time he had to look into the pupil-less shiny golden eyes, had they been possessed? In Al-Mualim’s messages he spoke of control of the masses, was this it? Empty puppets.
With a grateful gaze Altair sheathed his sword.
“Safety and peace brother.”
“Your presence will deliver us both.”
Altair’s whole posture stiffed, unsure how to take the compliment.
“Go, get the Apple.”
The eagle boy nodded and was gone like a flash.
Malik looked at the remaining people, like Altair he had not many friends amongst his brothers, but he felt for his comrades that had the sadness reflecting in their eyes, their hurt and regret. He ordered the four others to remain here to look after their fallen and keep their backs clear. Malik would follow after Altair. He had to make sure that he was alright butting heads with Al-Mualim.
He started to run up the mountain, but a thud let him stop in his tracks.
Risha was on the floor.
Quickly he bent down to shake her carefully, his heart hammering uncomfortable in his chest. As soon as he touched her, she jumped up as if he had just woken her up. So strange…and worrying.
It had creeped up on her. Sleep.
Penelope understood Malik’s worried look – she had fallen off his shoulder after all. What was happening to her? She had slept and ate properly beforehand but as she sat on his shoulder knowing Altair was safe, she just…took a nap.
Sleeping in the middle of a battle – how could she?!
Seeing that Malik made no indication to move she stood up and swung herself up in the air. Altair couldn’t face Al-Mualim without backup.
She didn’t know what kinds of skill the Mentor possessed having never seen him fight or how strong he was in general. With the Apple already in use they had no time to analyze his movement. Seeing her partner as only a small speck she ceased to care if Malik could keep up with her and sped after Altair.
As Penelope finally caught up with her Assassin he was in the gardens, kept unresponsive by being wrapped up in golden light. Her instinct to protect took over and made a dash towards Al-Mualim who stood with the Apple held high on a balcony.
She was never able to reach him.
A golden wave smacked against her, throwing her against the castle’s walls. Gravity pulled and she fell onto the floor.
Pain whitened out her vision.
Altair. Altair needed her.
But everything hurt.
Hurt. Hurt. Hurt.
She had to get up.
Silhouettes danced across her vision. They slowly took shape. Due to the posture she guessed who was who but her body was unresponsive. She couldn’t move.
Penelope cried. She wanted to help.
But she couldn’t.
She had to watch the whole fight hoping Altair would be fine – at least healable alive afterwards.
It was the hugest relive she ever felt as Altair’s blade tore through Al-Mualim and no duplicates appeared afterwards. Altair lowered the dead body to the ground and sprinted in her direction.
He was fine.
Her boy was fine.
The few scratches could heal easily.
Altair handled her so carefully as would she be made of glass, picking her up and cradling her to his chest. Penelope’s pain had become so great that her pain receptors just stopped working. She felt nothing in terms of touch.
Malik’s calls clang through the garden. Malik checked them over agitated beyond everything.
Altair shifted her to one side and pushed gently Malik away. He had switched to a hunter-auto-mode, something he fell back to if there just too many emotions at once. As soon as the cursed Piece of Eden was picked up it started up like a portable google maps.
A huge and pretty globe hologram appeared, marking dots scattered around on it.
She was so tired, so very tired.
Her boys were safe.
She could sleep for now.
The Brotherhood was a mess. Altair had barely time to check over Risha – she had no broken bones but didn’t wake up either – and hide the Apple away. Both were now secure in Al-Mua…Rashid ad-din Sinan’s old study. His own room would’ve been too obvious.
Many hours they bickered back and forth between the remaining and currently awake Assassins. In the end they decided to call it a night and meet up again when the sun stood high.
A lone candle was his source of light as he opened the heavy wooden door. Carefully he pulled back the cloth over Risha’s makeshift nest. He had to gasp.
All of her feathers were golden.
Weren’t it for her dark beak and the small rise and fall of her chest she could’ve been a statue made of pure gold! Desperate he pulled her up in his arms hoping that his friend, his family would wake up.
Something was pulling at her feathers. Half-asleep she shook herself trying to get rid of the small and touchy fingers interrupting her sleep.
A child squealed and the hands grabbed her even harder.
Penelope made the bird-equivalent of a groan and opened her eyes, coming face to face with the chubby face of boy of five years at most.
He was smiling widely at her and tried to pull her out of wherever she was. Taking a look around she was in some kind of study in Masayaf going by the banner on the wall and the stone structures. She had been placed up high in the shelf, but the kid stood on a stool trying to get to her.
She wasn’t a small bird and that meant she wasn’t a lightweight either. Before she could stop him, she was pulled out completely, the child didn’t expect her weight and fell backwards barely missing the edge of a desk.
The crash was quite loud, and the child was caught between wailing in pain and the pride of having her.
They were heard obviously, and a man stormed inside.
The man – Master Assassin going by his robes – stopped in his tracks, freezing like a statue. Using the shocked state the child was in, she pushed against his chest effectively freeing herself from his grip.
The voice was quivering and familiar. Why was there a tremor in it? The Assassin moved and light fell against the lower part of the hood-hidden face. The scar was unmistakably Altair.
He looked so old.
Not bad-old but definitely older that before.
Penelope trilled and the man sprung forward. She got scooped up and pressed against his chest. Altair was shaking, brushing through her feathers mumbling her name over and over again like a mantra.
By now the little boy was back on his feet and pulled at the robes of Altair. Why did he call him Alab? Was he adopted? Altair loosened his hold on her giving her the chance to look in his face. There were more wrinkles and the strand of hair on his forehead – it was grey?!
“Hello Risha, this is Darim. My first-born.”
First-born? That meant more than one. And that too meant there was a woman in the picture. When did Altair get a wife?!
Penelope was confused. Like really what the fuck happened?
Altair must’ve seen her confusion.
“I’ll…show you around.”
She shuffled a bit and turned around to sit comfortable on his left arm, the kid Darim took his father’s right hand. The castle looked largely the same – just even more books around filling the shelves. But the people, they send her confused looks and bowed their heads in respect. Outside Altair called out for Malik.
He stood in the shade of the castle walls with a well-worn Dai robe. He too had the lines of age on his face and grey streaks in his hair. As soon as he saw them the throwing knife in his hand fell clattering to the ground.
The disbelieve apparent on his face the Dai came forward and started to pet her, his eyes shiny. She leaned into his touch.
“It’s so good to see you, old friend.”
“Darim sneaked into my office and pulled her off the board. I only heard the resulting crash before I ran in.”
“Are you sure that this is Risha?”
Now, that was not nice! Penelope fluffed her feathers up and snapped after Malik’s clothes. In an instant he backed away but the relieved smile on his face did not disappear.
“Ok, it is her. Has she already met your other rascal?”
Altair’s wife – that would be interesting too, Penelope was itching to know. How long has she been out? Regarding Malik’s question Altair shook his head – getting to know the rest of the family was their next stop. For the way back around Darim got picked up too and he didn’t even wait a second before clamping around her. Her Assassin clearly wanted to scold his boy but said nothing as she did nothing. Darim was only a child after all and didn’t had enough strength to crush her.
They were carried into the garden to a woman hiding behind a few bushes. She sat on a blanket with a toddler crawling around.
“Risha, this is my wife Maria and my other son Sef.”
Altair sounded so proud and she could see why. Despite the natural age-lines the woman was beautiful. Slender but not a twig with long black hair and the boy had healthy baby fat. Both sons were a good mixture between their parents as far as she could see.
The woman was obviously confused as to whom she was introduced to. A bird. Not necessarily normal.
And Penelope was golden. Completely golden. What had happened to her white feathers? Too many questions not enough answers. She completely missed the conversation between Altair and his wife only coming out of her thoughts as Darim was pried off her and Altair sat down. Maria reached out curiously to her and she held still as she brushed over her fathers a few times before retreating.
The brown eyes of the toddler tracked after her. He was cute – both of the kids were cute. Altair had a good gene-pool considering his looks and it did add wonderfully with Maria’s. She couldn’t deny those eyes, jumping off Altair’s lap hobbling slowly towards the youngest Ibn-La’Ahad.
He was less grabby than his brother. He only grabbed her once in the best way he could, fell to his side and snuggled against her. So sweet! She just had to coo at him.
It seemed to work like a lullaby because he yawned loudly, produced some spit-bubbles and fell asleep against her.
Darim wanted attention too but was pacified with something like a biscuit. He even came to her and held a bit in front of her beak. Penelope did take a bit of it, but it didn’t taste good, bland like edible paper. In the end Altair interfered before Darim could force-feed her further.
After a while Darim got bored and laid down on Risha’s other side, throwing one arm over her until he had his hand on his brother’s side and put the thumb of his free hand into his mouth.
And Penelope was awake. Squished between two children there wasn’t much she could do.
Maria must’ve sensed that Altair was reluctant to leave.
“I’ll go get something to snack for us. You’ll keep an eye on them.”
Altair nodded thankfully and moved so she didn’t have to crane her head around that much to see him.
“You’ve missed so much. I’m leading the Brotherhood now… I don’t know where to start.”
He truly didn’t know were to start so she got told things not chronological accurate and had to piece them together herself. Maria had left them something to eat and drink, Altair feeding her. They sat there until Darim and Sef started to stir. They were hungry too.
By now it was dinnertime anyway. Maria took them away to clean up.
It was a pride-filled picture: The Mentor striding into the mess hall with the golden eagle on his shoulder.
They caught the look of everyone. As they sat beside each other a man with scruffy beard and hair approached. It took her more than a few seconds to recognize the person below all of that.
“Is that Risha?”
It was Rauf.
“Girl you had us worried.”
She noticed how Altair gripped his bread tighter after the exclamation and she shuffled closer until she was basically laying in his lap.
Penelope still didn’t understand how she had slept that long. And was alive. Everyone was older. The squealing of Darim interrupted her thoughts, the boy ran to them arms and smile wide and more or less crashed into the backside of his father demanding attention. A few meters behind came Maria with little Sef in her arms.
“The two didn’t want to sleep before seeing the pretty bird again.”
On cue Darim’s arms let go and collected Risha mercilessly. The proportions between her and him were quite humorous, because she wasn’t much smaller than him, but she took it with stride even as it was a quite uncomfortable hold. Penelope could never say no to sweet kids.
“Can the bird sleep with me?”
Penelope trilled to interrupt Altair. They had much to catch up with, but she would survive the night until the novelty wore off.
She nodded and was quickly carried away into the double room of the family Ibn-La’Ahad. One would enter into the larger one first in which two beds were placed beside each other to create a large one, to the side half hidden behind a shelf and covered by a curtain was the doorway to the smaller room where Sef and Darim slept in – they had mattresses placed directly on the ground probably to keep them from hurting them if they roll out of bed.
What warmed her heart were the toys. On each bedding was a white stuffed eagle with yellowish-golden seams. Sef snuggled against his as soon as Maria laid him down. Darim pushed his fondly to the side and snuggled against her.
Penelope’s eyes started to water as she was allowed to witness the going-to-bed routine of the boys. Maria cared for them greatly showing it with each and every gesture. It made her miss home more than ever before.
She wanted home.
Maria actually told them as a bedtime story how she and Altair had met. It was quite interesting; it seems as love could conquer even the borders between two opposite fractions. By the end of the tale both boys were deeply asleep, and she tried to wiggle out of the octopus-like hold.
She only managed it with the help of Maria.
And she was tired.
She couldn’t fall asleep again and uncertain if she would wake up in a long time without saying bye to Altair! Carefully she plugged two of her larger feathers out and placed them beside each boy.
Now she had to find Altair before she couldn’t fight against it any longer.
Penelope didn’t react to Maria’s questionable gaze and used the window as an exit. She found her Assassin where she thought he would be. Time couldn’t change everything.
On the highest tower away from everyone his silhouette sat in the moonshine.
She flew into his arms the tiredness pulling on her. Yes, she wanted home, but she didn’t want to leave him alone either; she didn’t want to hurt him!
Altair drew her even deeper into his arms and rocked gently back and forth. He saw how worked up she was and the tiredness and sadness in his eyes made it clear that he understood.
“Calm down my friend.”
She fell into darkness to the sound of his beating heart.
“Niccolò, Messer La’Ahad said not to open this.”
“Aren’t you curious too brother mine?”
Muffled Italian voices woke Penelope. She was wrapped up in something barely able to move and wood was creaking. Steps came to her as well as a loud no.
The intensity of the sun took her view for a moment.
A double exclamation of disbelieve came from the two men that stood in front of the now open box.
“A bird?! He wanted us to lock away a living creature!”
Where the hell was she?
Now seeing in what she was wrapped up – a beautiful piece of cloth – she was able to free herself and go airborne before she was caught.
Penelope was on a ship, the shouting because of her escape reaching up to her. They were so far away from shore that she only saw a slight line of gold in with the Vision. Her heart was hammering loudly in her chest. What should she do?
Eagle Vision never lead her wrong so she would follow it. After one last glance she made her way to the onshore.
The wind on the sea worked in her favor and carried her far very quick. The sunlight reflecting like many little stars on the blue surface.
The sun started to paint her evening colors onto the sky as she reached the coast. From there the way to Masyaf was easy, she knew where she was.
How long had she been out this time?
This question created a stone of balled up angst that made himself home in her chest. That something inside of her urging her to fly faster did nothing to reassure her either.
The land below her looked battered and she cried out desperately as she saw the unkept state of the castle. The thin golden line in her vision guided her inside the castle through the empty halls.
No Assassins, Trainees, Informants, Guards, - nobody.
The banners showing the Brotherhoods insignia were gone and bookshelves were thrown over.
It hurt deep inside of her.
Instinct lead her deeper underground until she reached the cellar. Green flashed up for a second and was locked away in the next.
Penelope wailed, a pitiful sound echoing in tandem with the heavy stone-door falling shut
She didn’t even look at the person standing in front of the gate even if he wore the familiar Assassin Whites.
Stricken with grief she landed in front of the large and decorated stone and leaned her head against it.
And dissolved into firefly lights.
 The first time being in the remaining notes of the Levantine Mentor around the 12th century Altair Ibn-La’Ahad. Like the others he spoke of the bird as loyal and kind – unreplaceable. Risha, as his eagle was called, was dear to him like a sister and he speaks of her fondly.
Unlike my other sources he made quite a few theories regarding the bird’s plumage, but none could be proven so far.
And with that comes the adventure in Altair's time to an end...
Chapter 9: Let the Eagle fly.
The interlude 's beginning!
And thank you very very much for your kind responses :)
“Make sure that this video is deleted immediately wherever it is uploaded again or should appear next. We can’t have it out in the world - nobody shall search for them.”
“Desmond, we have to move!”
“Where is Penelope?
He grabbed Lucy’s arm and came to a stop in the hallway.
“She’s not here, not at another Abstergo facility. So. Run. We don’t have time now!”
Reluctant to leave his parkour-buddy behind he followed the blonde only slowly.
“Where is she then?”
“I. Don’t. Know. Desmond.”
“What do you mean you don’t-.“
Dark security personnel came around the corner. Cursing the two started running again, running around corners, closing doors behind them to shake them off their tails and came to an open space filled with tiny container-like animus workspaces.
Sure of the direction Stillman led him through the maze until they came out in front of the elevator. Number locked elevator. Lucky that not only hallucinations bled through and his view plunged into the black n’ white spectrum highlighting what he needed in gold.
Inside he started to ask again.
“How can you not know where she is?”
“I tried to smuggle her out beforehand. But she didn’t hesitate to use the card I put under her meal and use it to escape before I caught up. She was good but walked into a dormant experiment with an artifact and disappeared into thin air.”
Desmond was confused and was nursing a huge headache. He wanted out but he wanted to help Penelope too because she was in his mess and now, he could do nothing else than to run?
He could do nothing else than to run.
Running behind Lucy hoping to not get caught. The garage had been a close call, but Lucy shoved him unceremonially into the trunk and was now jostled around in the darkness. It made it so much harder to ignore the sliver mist in the corners of his view sometimes taking form of thinks he had experienced before. Altair had experienced.
It seemed strange to him to have a ring finger and his body felt too big. But that was Altair. He was Desmond. Desmond Miles. Abduction victim of Abstergo who just had to leave someone behind who was the closed thing to a true friend he had in the last years.
Lucy spoke of an artifact that disappeared with her. What could disappear like that?
He was tired, he wanted to sleep.
He tried to squeeze his back into a thinner part of the trunk to keep himself from sliding around too much and hugged his knees closer to his chest. Trying not to think of the missing body of a bird in his embrace.
The Universal Key to Eternity, modernly called The Swiss Key was the name of the artifact Penelope disappeared with. Lucy tried to explain it to him the best she could, but time travel was a hard thing to wrap his mind around – it sounded even stranger than relieving his ancestor’s memories.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
That would be the next one. Rebecca currently made the last adjustments before he would go into the glorified Assassin version of the Animus. Would Ezio overwrite, mix or add to Altair’s memories that were like a small pressure in the back of his head? Would they push him away until Desmond is no more?
17 did not want to be like 16.
Shaun seemed to be annoyed by him. Or with the world in general, it was hard to distinguish. Markus would have a field day with him and drive him mad within seconds.
Markus… did the Nest miss them? Their owl sure – him? Hopefully. They had been friendly to him and made him feel at ease – not really to be honest but more than everyone else in the resent years.
Assassin. Templar. Assassin. Templar. The war he had been only told about as a child was a true thing. It was his genetics they were after and that would mean he would’ve ended up in an Animus either way. He didn’t regret running away living as long as he could. It would probably end now.
He just got asked if he was ok or if he was fine, never how he was doing. And considering his situation he was ok, he was fine but the situation itself was shit – he wasn’t doing well.
Desmond would have to ask if he could manipulate animus memories. He had seen not much of Altair’s bird and he seemed to be pretty close to it but Risha dancing at a synchronization point until she fell over. That was too close to discussion he had with Penelope to be true.
“Baby ‘s ready.”
There goes nothing.
“Hey Beccs, can I manipulate the memories inside of the Animus?”
Rebecca who was elbow-deep in the wirings of the cursed stool looked up in surprise.
“No, why should you? It’s more or less a pre-recorded film, nothing changeable there unless you mean the little knick-knacks to keep you better entertained. Why are you asking?”
“It’s nothing, curiosity.”
With that Desmond turned away deep in thought. Maybe Shaun could help him. He does a superb job in collecting facts and he should have access to his unraveled Altair memories. If someone could help, it’s him.
Carefully he approached the furiously typing Brit.
“WHAT do you want Desmond? I am busy.”
“Did you go through the information gathered about Altair? It’s his bird Risha, she was quite unusual.”
The gaze that was thrown his way was one of disbelieve.
“Seriously, of all the unusual things about the Levantine Mentor you ask about his bloody bird?!”
Desmond felt uncomfortable in his skin and shuffled from one foot to the other.
“You’re serious about this.”
Shaun sighed heavily and drank out of his coffee-mug. A memory-stick was pulled out of a compartment under the desk, plugged in, filled with some folders and pushed into Desmond’s hand.
“Now, leave me alone and don’t bother me again.”
Crestfallen he turned away to his own computer. It wasn’t connected to the internet or anything. The only thing it was usually useful for was killing time by playing solitaire or flipper – at minesweeper was he abysmal.
It took him a bit of searching to find a document about Risha, a so-called Masayaf Eagle. Shaun had just dumped nearly everything to Altair on that stick. In the end he found one single file.
There were some black-and-white photos of bird sketches and the confirmation that she had existed but nothing that could help him finding the answer. Altair had found her as a fledgling when he was just a young boy himself and the records of her stop after the fall of Al-Mualim.
Pity stirred in his chest. Desmond had seen how she had tried to protect him – protect Altair – and he had picked her up too while she was still breathing. She must’ve died because of the injuries after the memory ended. Getting smacked into a wall wasn’t good for anyone. Altair had been so worried about her.
Still no information that answered his question.
Was Animus-memory manipulatable?
Penelope cried. She was kneeling on nothing, bend down with her hands over her head. That she was human didn’t bother her at the moment.
She had missed Altair; she couldn’t say goodbye to him. Or Malik. It must’ve hurt him; had he saw her in the end? Thoughts in her head turned around and around.
Penelope would never see them again.
Strong hands grabbed her sides and pulled her against a warm surface. The being had her in its embrace. It held her tight, rocked her gently brushing through her hair.
Time here meant nothing. She could stay this coddled until her heart calmed down as well as her mind.
As Penelope had finally a grip on herself, she relaxed her strong hold on the being’s thin arms and leaned a bit backwards. The world around her was not only nothingness anymore. Patches of wheat-plants as if they had been directly taken out of reality were here and there. It must’ve followed her gaze.
“I threw some seeds around so they would grow while we were away. It looks better now, or not?”
Right. It wasn’t existing while she was a bird. Penelope wasn’t sure if she would call it better looking but it made it easier to have some sense of distance. A question burned in her chest.
“Why did I sleep?”
It shuffled his position until it was sitting on its bum while she was leaning against its side.
“The body has to be trained to contain that much energy, that’s while you dissolved in the end. You should’ve been gone as soon as you were hit by the blast of the Apple but that’s not fair to you. I thought it would bring you peace to see that Altair managed his live wonderfully and died just as peacefully too. His age is impressive even if he were born around your time. By letting you sleep it kept the body from overflowing and you had the chance to see him again.”
That was…ok. Altair had been so proud of his family and Malik had been looking well too as she saw him. It still hurt. But it was ok.
Penelope reveled in the warm and soothing presence days, weeks, months – hell years! And didn’t care but something inside of her grew restless.
The being broke the silence.
“Is there a flower you like?”
“My favorites are water lilies.”
It made a thinking pose and hummed.
“We’ll need water. I’ll make a dent, plant the seeds and let it rain while we are away.”
The head nodded in content.
Penelope didn’t want to be put into a person’s live again and be torn from him or her again. She didn’t need to be hurt twice – or hurt somebody else. She told it that thoroughly. Not again.
The being made his thinking pose and started humming again. It actually reminded her of the harrums of Treebeard from the Lord of the Rings films when she thought about it. Strangely soothing. It had been so long since she saw a film.
“I maybe have a solution. It’s close enough to the next ancestor Desmond will visit and you’ll be in contact with an Apple. But not as much and you’ll be able to collect more too this time.”
“I’ll be going from null again?”
“Not completely, you’ll be a young bird and not a fledgling straight out of the nest. I think you are going to like him. Quite a quirky personality.”
Insecurity festered inside of her. What the being proposed sounded good enough, but could she continue without breaking? Did she want to continue?
This time she initiated the embrace and pressed herself against the warmth.
Fuck. She was curious.
She had leaned so, so much already and she could learn so much more. Saw places others could only dream of or admire in photos because they got worn out by time. In terms of memory capability she was neither good nor bad – an average – but having the time of more than a lifetime gave her the opportunity to learn more than a human ever could. And if she thought about it, hurtful things – be it physical or mental – were only few in-between, easily less that what she had by living her human life.
She must like to torture herself.
Chapter 10: Do you like Chiara? (1/?)
True to the being’s words she didn’t begin at null. Going by what she could see of herself her feathers were the first set of white plumage after her grey baby downs.
And she was in a cage.
A fucking cage.
She barely had enough space to turn around! Naturally she didn’t like it one bit and made her discomfort and anger known with loud and high screeching.
“Ah, it’s awake!”
Very dirty and ugly fingers entered her line of vision. They were part of an equally dirty and ugly man that reeked like he came from the deepest slum of Jerusalem. He was fat as well as his hair extremely oily.
Weren’t Italian supposed to look good?
How long must’ve someone go without a wash to archive this level of uncleanliness?
At this point a hooray to Altair’s language lessons. Would she have to talk Italian she would probably pronounce most things wrong, but she understood it well enough.
As these fingers were in range Penelope gave it her best and snapped her beak shut around them. The man howled in a mixture of surprise and hurt, throwing the cage off the table where it had stood.
The impact made her brain rattle and she needed a few seconds to regain her bearings, but the overall feeling made it worth it.
Penelope must’ve truly hit because the man was swearing her to hell and back and a bit of blood was dripping onto the floor.
Well…never underestimate a bird?
But she should’ve thought more about it. In this cage she had no way of fleeing and the man was angry. Very angry somewhat understandably. And the man had a knife.
“I’LL GUT YOU OUT AND EAT YOU FOR DINNER YOU STUPID FEATHERBALL!”
By now they had the attention from everyone around them. They were right in the middle of a market. Colorful displays of clothes, spices, and food everywhere.
The merchant from the next stall was laughing loudly about his fellow’s misery, making himself a target to vent out the anger.
Fist fight ahoy!
From her position she had a prime view onto the spectacle worthy of the is-the-fish-fresh debates from the Asterix-comics – ah good childhood memories.
More and more people joined in on the fun until armed men came and tried to untangle the mess.
Two slender boots blocked her vision and – whoa! And that must be the blues blue in eyes she had ever seen. The teen had long blond hair bound back loosely, wore a grey tunic and with just a hint of a rather feminine figure it made him the most beautiful boy in that age-class she had ever seen. Like truly, not kidding. People would probably pay tons to have him modelling.
In his arms he had a large wooden box but he bended down with the ease of someone used to carrying such cargo around often. Uninhibited curiosity reflected in his face. Whatever he found with her it had to please him greatly. He turned to face the aftermath of the brawl and asked into the group of people.
“Whose bird is this?”
No one made a claim, the ugly man who had held her was currently dragged away unconscious. One…guard, maybe… he was an armed man, was clearly stressed and done and just waved his hand dismissively.
“Take it, leave it, I don’t care.”
The boy didn’t need to be told twice. The box he carried was put down, slender fingers grabbed her cage and turned it right-around steadily, giving her the time to shuffle accordingly, and the cage was placed atop of the things in the box. There were papers, brushes and little pots – probably some kind of paint going by the rest of the content.
The small tower was picked up and the long legs carried her quickly through the people.
“Leo, over here! We should head home!”
“Oh, ok Domenico.”
“Please don’t tell me you bought another bird.”
The older, brown haired teenager sighed excessively and facepalmed.
“Then I won’t tell you and I haven’t paid anything for her.”
“By God’s, no! I found her on the floor besides a fight. Asked who’s bird it was, and no one answered. A guard said I could take her. And look at her! She looks magnificent just like the sketches Maestro owns.”
To underline his point Leo held the box with the extension of the cage closer to the other’s face who still didn’t look convinced.
“Just…let us go. Maestro will want his utensils.”
A third and older boy also carrying a filled box joined them and the trio made their way out of the colorful mass of people a few streets down to a carriage. The newcomer had brown hair as well but was rounder as an overall shape. While they were sitting, shaken by the ride over the uneven ground he bend down to get a good look on her – Leo had the cage currently on his lap.
“A truly magnificent creature. Say, what do you have to pay this time?”
“Nothing – and no I didn’t steel her – a guard allowed it. Remember the collection of loose bird-sketches Maestro got a few months ago? We couldn’t tell what bird it was but look at her, she fits the description perfectly.”
The boy made a humming noise.
“You’re right – all-white feathers, grey beak and intelligent golden eyes. Fits perfectly.”
After a break he added:
“How are you sure that she’s a she not a he?”
“I guessed,” he turned his head to face the cage, “you are a lady, aren’t you?”
He got it right on his first try and made honest compliments too! Penelope thrilled. It startled him a bit and she got lifted up to come face to face with him.
“Truly a beauty. How about a name for you? Do you like Chiara?”
Along with the various boxes she was carried inside of a pretty stone building with a shop at street-level. The inside was stuffed with canvases, sketches and half-finished statues; she didn’t know where to look first with the colorful display.
“Maestro Verrocchio we’re home!”
A man appeared with a kind smile behind a larger block of stone, hammer and gouge in his hands. As soon as he saw her his smile faltered for a bit.
“Leonardo, I told you that you have to stop buying animals to set them free. There is not enough money for it.”
“A guard said I could take her; didn’t have to pay. And just look at her! I want to draw her.”
The man sighed and put his tools away.
“Then let’s have a look at her. Make space on my desk.”
The younger boys answered with mumbled yes-s and set to work. The aforementioned desk was in a separate room (looking quite deprived of live compared to the main room without the excessive amount of artworks) and the remaining things atop of it were carefully put aside.
Penelope wondered how many were here. There was Leonardo, Domincio, the third one, that Rochere-someone as well as another boy, that came a few minutes later eyeing her curiously.
The only window in the room was closed as well as the door.
Leo cautiously approached her cage which was already standing on the desk. From his movement it was easily to decipher that he didn’t want to be pecked at.
“I am going to open the door Chiara. Don’t make a mess.”
The quiet please was nearly inaudible.
Nimble fingers opened the door and the blonde stepped back quickly.
Penelope took her time, examining the others with the Eagle Vision. Except Leonardo everyone had a blue shade barely stronger that the civilian grey. But Leonardo, that boy was a halogen spotlight in comparison forcing her to blink to get rid of the sight. He had shone in a deep blue color littered with streaks of gold and green – a very friendly and honest person.
Finished with her assessment she stepped out of her cage and spread her wings. The whole room tensed but it wasn’t her intention to fly away. Just stretching.
What a wonderful creature! Leonardo had always been fascinated by birds, but she overshadowed each and every bird he had ever seen personally in beauty.
It was wonderous too how calm she was despite how wild her eyes were. After exiting the cage and spreading her wings she made no move to flee. Had she been born into captivity?
The picture of her – the wings spread wide with the little sunray coming though a small hole in the cover of the window shining upon her and the little bit of dust dancing around – didn’t left his mind.
It took him a bit of searching, but he found an unoccupied paper and some coals. Ignoring everyone and everything around him he sat himself against a free speck on the wall and started drawing.
Stoke after stroke the picture came to live, but much to his frustration he didn’t seem to get it right. The proportions were off, lines too thick, too dark for such a bright creature.
A surprisingly deep trilling got him out of his thought. Chiara as he had named her sat between his legs craning her neck…to see what he was doing? He breathed in sharply and lowered his paper; the bird’s gaze followed it.
For him it was a proof of intelligence.
Those around them could only watch.
“A am Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, a pleasure to meet you Chiara.”
For some reason she squeaked, he interpreted it as a hello.
Penelope was just greeted by one of the most famous artists she knew of – or rather who would become one of the most famous artists she knew of. It floored her instantly, an undignified squeak of shock-surprise leaving her.
He just smiled and moved to pet her – slowly should she pull away, but her thoughts were otherwise occupied.
Da Vinci is scratching her head! She got petted by da Vinci!
The rest of the day was more of a dream. After she had made no move to be averse to human touch Leonardo had no trouble picking her up and carrying her around. She got fed with a mouse they had caught in a trap in the panty and a bowl of water was placed in front of her. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was.
After a while they didn’t even bother to make sure everything was closed. The night came and the boy quartet retreated for sleep. They were sharing a room over the atelier with two bunkbeds.
Was it strange that she thought that it’s strange that none of them had scars, at least none that were visible? Just as carefree with his body as Altair had been changed the four in front of her. By now she just found her sleeping position while, whoever was in the room, switched to sleepwear. The bedpost would do for now. She tugged her head under her wing and was out for the night.
Leonardo’s thoughts wouldn’t settle down. They turned and spun in his head ever creating. Chiara was a great inspiration, but a bad bedtime thought.
The different breathing-pattern of his fellow apprentices slowed down, and he waited a moment longer to ensure their sleep before throwing back his blanket. Careful of the bed above him he moved completely silent out of his bed. After more than a year he knew by heart which wooden plank creaked under which move.
Two golden marbles flashed in the moonlit-darkness and he hissed in shock. Only slowly came the realization that it were the bird’s eyes reflecting the little bit of light. She unfurled further and reached out with a leg towards him.
What did she want of him?
Her claw opened and closed but he still didn’t understand her reasoning. On a whim he moved closer and moved his hand towards her. As soon as he was close to her, she jumped on his hand making him nearly stumble against the bedpost as he tried to counter her unexpected weight.
Now she sat on his hands pressing his fingers uncomfortably together.
He was awake, she was awake, and he wouldn’t sleep within the next hour.
Leonardo would draw. Maybe it could settle his mind. On tiptoes armed with a bird he sneaked back into the atelier.
“Still awake Leonardo?”
The boy froze in his spot. His teacher was still awake sketching in the light of candle and moon. The man pulled a stool beside him and patted it – Leonardo should sit with him.
Andrea del Verrocchio was kind to him like a second father. With three boys his shop was already quite full, but he still allowed him to join in. Hesitantly he sat down and ushered Chiara onto the floor.
“I saw your sketches. Nature is a mixture between stiff lines and moving curves, don’t be shy to move your wrist.”
Leonardo got pen and paper pressed into his lap.
“Let’s draw again.”
Teacher and student looked up in surprise as they heard the shuffling of feathers. Chiara had positioned herself in front of them – wings spread wide.
“There is no better sign to start.”
Andrea smiled to himself as he watched his pupil draw with a new and eager flame in him. He had listened as his boys talked about the bird’s resemblance to the sketches he got.
They were the still intact ones he had found between the pages of an old Arabic book. Compared to the book and it’s writing the sketches were considerably better preserved, a small miracle if the dates on them were correct. Roundabout 300 years were an immense amount of time, the book had maybe 60 and was in far worse state.
The little bit of text he could decipher with his crude knowledge of the Arabic language spoke of a bird called Risha. An eagle with the intelligence of a human, caring beyond measure. His first guess had been that it was the start of a children’s story; the eagle had a form that made it easy to recognize it but the size and plumage were nothing he had ever encountered before. And he had done some research.
A weight settled against his tight – Leonardo had fallen asleep against him. Andrea took everything out of his student’s hand and carried him as well as he could considering his age and Leo’s weight to the fluff-carped they had; normally it was meant for models to sit or lay down for a longer period of time.
He wasn’t strong enough anymore to carry the boy to his bed.
With a fatherly smile he brushed a few loose stands out of the boy’s face and tugged a blanket over him.
Chiara actually came over and crawled under the blanket too, her head barely sticking out.
The teacher had found something new to draw.
“I want to keep her.”
The next morning right before breakfast Leonardo stood in front of Andrea with Chiara in his arms. The Artist had been continuing his work on the statue and turned away from it with a sigh.
“You know animals can’t stay here. This is not the right place. It’s unusual that she broke or dirtied nothing so far.”
Leo breathed in to make an argument but was interrupted.
“And we don’t know what she would require. As calm as she seemingly is, she still is a creature of the wild…let her go.”
When his teacher had that stern mimic there was no chance of persuading him. He nodded downcast and made his way to the backyard. Through the shop, out of the backdoor.
The warm sun somehow made his mood worse. Sandro, the oldest of them, who was sketching flowers outside gave him a raised eyebrow.
“Leo…what is it?”
“I can’t keep Chiara.”
“You haven’t kept any animal you bought more than a day.”
“But I want to keep her.”
Sandro’s face turned to a gentler expression as he saw Leonardo’s small pout. He put his things beside to stand beside the younger one and gave him a shoulder pat.
“Let her fly. As smitten as she looks to be with you, she won’t stay far away.”
Leonardo sighed and gave her a boost into the air. Chiara staggered in the beginning but then flew lazy circles over their heads letting out a screech.
It took him minutes before Leonardo could turn away and go inside but the fluttering of wings stopped him in his tracks. Not wanting to have false hopes he turned around slowly but there she was – directly behind him on the floor.
He made a step towards the door.
She did too.
He made another one.
In that manner the odd duo walked inside back into the atelier.
“Maestro she follows me.”
Would he have stood on the other side of the room he could’ve seen his teacher’s rolling eyes.
It took a while for Penelope to be fully accepted.
At first, she wasn’t even allowed into the house anymore however slowly but surely the rest warmed up to her. Or rather Andrea was pleaded repeatedly by his pupils to keep her until he couldn’t take it anymore and capitulated.
The last place she was allowed in the atelier. Pietro – the rounder one from the first day – refunctioned an old hatrack for her so perch on in the artist’s heaven.
In the end she kind of had the function of a cat: keeping rodents out of the house.
The five-head strong household was sunny. They were respectful and friendly towards each other; the students fitting seamlessly into the work of their teacher. Wistful she thought back to her old trio, the time before Kadar’s death. They would’ve loved this.
So many things to see, so many new things to learn with no shadow created by death. She wished to introduce them Leonardo.
Even this young he was an exceptionally bright mind growing in a good environment. Perfect for people meant for greatness.
Even the bird’s praised him.
Being a bird herself she understood them. When Leo was outside training his skills, sparrows and doves lingered longer, waiting for him to finish his work before they flew away. He had set so many of them free that they saw no need to flee when he came close.
In Masayaf she never interacted with the other birds living there, especially the other predatory ones seemed to be big-headed and unpleasant company. Altair and Malik took care of her. But here in Florence she slowly grew to the boss of the biggest rumor-mill that existed outside of human’s reach.
After the smaller birds understood that she wouldn’t eat them – even protect them from other predators – they came to her and talked to her about everything and everyone – no filter.
Human Penelope turned eagle, formerly called Risha and now called Chiara found a home in 1467 Italy in – again – an all-male household.
Where there ever important women around?
Chapter 11: Do you like Chiara? (2/?)
Thank you all very much for your kind comments, means a lot to me 😊
Actually, I broke my first big milestones of 500+ hits and 50+Kudos – thanks once more.
I’ve got my car-theory-test tomorrow (one step closer to a driver’s license whoop whoop – if I pass, hopefully) and I’ve got holidays next week spending them at the beach while I should be studying for my university-exams in about a month…so I don’t know if I can update as frequent as I have been with the last few chaps. And it’s self-beta’d again. Just you know should you hear nothing from me the next 2 to 3 weeks from me.
Have a nice day you all.
Penelope sat on a low stone wall letting the sun shine on her belly while Leonardo drew her. She had just eaten the rest of the meat that had been over from last night’s dinner and was happily sated. It was such a good day that she tried to trill the melody of you are my sunshine.
Tried was the word. Leo laughed at her wailing, but she took it in good humor.
Two pairs of small and fast footsteps slapped onto the pavement accompanied by childish giggling. The responsible ones ran around the corner with such speed that the older one barely missed Leonardo and the younger one ran into the artist’s side.
The two were obviously brother – same hair and eye color. One around the age of ten and the other maybe a bit over five. The smaller noticed her as he detached from Leo’s grey tunic.
“Brother, look! Pretty bird!”
The other let out a sound of excitement.
“Sir, is this your bird?”
The artist put his things away in a safe distance and pulled a leather glove on, reaching out for her to land on it. The two others gasped in awe.
“Yes, she’s my eagle. I am Leonardo and you?”
The older one pulled his brother back to keep him from crowding Leo and did the introduction:
“I am Federico sir, and this is my brother Ezio.”
From now behind him Ezio singsong pretty bird, fluffy bird while Federico had a soft blush from embarrassment on his cheeks.
They didn’t know her, but Leonardo did, and he knew how much she liked to be scratched. He held her closer to the siblings.
“If you are careful you can pet her.”
After that Ezio was without a hold and stepped forward as fast as possible on his short legs. His hand went over her plumage in an uneven fashion, making her squeak in protest and Federico caught Ezio’s hand and pulled it away.
“Ezio, you have to do it with the grow of the feathers not against it. It could hurt her.”
The boy looked crestfallen and pouted.
She couldn’t stand sad children! Penelope ruffled her feathers to order them the best she could before bending to her belly. She selected a big down feather and plugged it out. It was hard to make a sound with a feather in her beak, but she managed a muffled one and bend forward.
Ezio’s eyes caught hers and grew wide. Slowly he came close again and held his hand out where she let the feather fall in. In silent awe he inspected the perfect white feather. She did the same for Federico who gave her a silent thank you.
“FEDERICO AND EZIO AUDITORE!”
A fury wouldn’t be sufficient to describe the woman that came around the corner, the siblings flinched in union and got their ears pulled.
“You are not to run away from me or leave your brother behind.”
A third and even younger boy looked up sheepishly behind his mother’s dress. Like a switch turned off she turned to Leo with a beaming smile, startling Penelope as well because it was quite a picture with her still pulling Federico’s and Ezio’s ears who were quietly begging for forgiveness.
“I am sorry if my sons bothered you.”
“Eh…no problem Mrs.?”
“Auditore. Maria Auditore,” her eyes fell onto the discarded sketches beside him, “you are an artist Mr.?”
“Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, Mrs. Auditore. But I am still learning under Verrocchio.”
“Then, your work looks promising and you have a great teacher. Excuse me I have to bring them home.”
And as fast as she came as fast she disappeared with her sons. She and Leo could only look at each other in surprise.
“Do you think we should decorate her too?”
Currently the artist household was dressing up to bring a commission to its new owner and attend his little party which was basically just a big sign for look at me I have money.
“Should be even bring her with us?”
Domenico asked a valid question, but Leo wouldn’t hear it.
“Of course, we take her with us, maybe I have an idea.”
She was placed onto the table and the blonde got a damp towel to clean her up a bit. After that he got a thin wine-red band. He placed it around her neck and closed it in a small bow, the ends were cut off.
“Now she looks like she could go into fine company.”
The rest just sighed. Leonardo was so hooked onto the bird there was no chance of convincing him otherwise. Then Penelope saw her reflection. Her breath hitched.
Damn girl, you are looking fine.
The red made a beautiful contrast to her white feathers and it remembered her of Alab and Altair, the color was just a tiny bit darker than their belts had been.
Below his green tunic Leonardo had hidden leather around his arm so she could sit on it without drilling her claws into his flesh – even if she was careful, they were quite long.
They were the middle of the party.
People approached them fascinated by the tame and beautiful predator amongst them and the equally pretty youth that carried her around. Verrocchio got quite many new commissions this night.
During a quiet minute the son of the employer snatched Leo’s free writs and pulled him onto a balcony. Under the night sky they talked about everything under the sun, after a while she repositioned onto the railing because Leo stated to talk more and more animated waving his hands around and the other was fully caught in it.
The more Penelope thought about it, this was as close as flirting two males could do in this time period. Weren’t there some rumors in her time whether or not da Vinci had been interested in male partners? Mentally she shrugged – she would see it in the next years to come.
Actually, she got quite a good hint at it as they came home in the early hours of the day. Leonardo was sketching him. Without clothes. Yeah...
After the party she refused to let them take off the red band and Penelope was allowed to keep it.
Currently she was sitting on the rooftop because there was too much chaos in the atelier were the rest was located. The only entertainment she had at the moment was the little group of doves on the next roof were two of them reenacted a play they had watched.
Doves could neither sing well nor were good actors.
Her mind was nearly offline as she heard it: a very soft and weak chirp. It took her a moment to truly register it. Cautious she switched her vision and looked around. A mini golden speck was in the tree down the street.
She leaped of the roof and flew towards it.
There was a little chick, barely eyes open, caught in a crotch. On the floor was a torn apart nest and the half-eaten remains of a crow. The struggling of the chick grew weaker, she couldn’t leave it!
With her heart beating wildly she trilled softly to soothe the young and carefully encircled it in her claw. As soon as she had it, she made her way back barely landing without overbalancing on the windowsill.
Ignoring the chattering of the gossiping doves the squeaked to get the attention of at least someone of the five inside – she got them all.
“What do you have there Chiara?”
She chirped again with more vigor and turned her claw a bit around so the chick would be better visible; she wouldn’t let go of it, however.
“Oh my! Chiara has a chick!”
A collective what went through the others.
Out of some rest cloth a makeshift nest was made on a shelf close to the window and it was easy enough to place the little crow inside of it and drape herself over it for warmth without crushing it.
Now came the hard part: feeding.
What did he need?!
The doves outside were giggling until she could take it no more. Penelope turned to face them and screeched in their direction.
“What would you do?!”
“Worms my dear, worms.”
One of the elder doves answered her.
“How do I get them.”
“You stay here. We get you some. You help us often enough and you need a break anyway.”
With that began the most exhausting weeks she ever had. And she had flown many maaany kilometers over ocean and land in searing heat before. She couldn’t leave the little one she dubbed Abraxas or short Rax for more than a few minutes and he was hungry like 24/7.
The household was quite cross because of the many doves flying in and out because they weren’t careful with the work standing around and they were a loud bunch too, they were tolerated only because they brought food for the small one. However, as soon as the little one could eat small meat-stripes on his own Andrea closed the windows and shooed any dove away that came even close to the workshop. Penelope pitied Leonardo who always had to clean up the mess but when he was done, he came to the nest his eyes sparkling in excitement. By now he had a whole book worth of sketches that recorded the growth of Rax. Or Fernando. The household dubbed him Fernando. In the end it was the name that stuck instead of the one she had chosen.
Then finally, he molded into feathers that would be able to carry him to the sky.
And they were white.
A crow with white plumage.
Nobody could deny that he was a fine specimen to draw. This was the time too, he really started to communicate.
And he called her Mother.
Highly flustered she explained between embarrassed stuttering that she wasn’t his mother and would rather be called a sister.
“What am I?”
“A crow. Just with white feathers instead of black.”
“I wanna see one!”
“Then you have to fly.”
In the evening she stood up and flew to Leonardo’s side who was munching on some apple slices. She opened her wings in front of him, softly flapping as not to leave the ground then looked in the direction of the nest.
It dawned on him slowly.
“Fernando is ready to fly?”
Penelope nodded rigorously.
The blonde stood up, armed himself with leather gloves and went to the nest to collect the young crow. He held his hand out and it jumped on it and offered his other to her. With them both he went to the backyard.
Penelope took the sky and called to Fernando encouragingly. He flapped his wings but did not leave the safety of the glove. She endured it for a few minutes before she grew impatient.
Penelope pulled her wings to her body and fell down. Last second her wings snapped open and she snatched the crow carrying it up. He barely fit into her hold and wiggled. As she was high enough she simply let go.
Fernando was screeching in panic but just as her first flight had been purely instinctual, nature kicked in in him too.
Leonardo was laughed up to them, waving.
From there on Fernando was gone most of the time until one night he came back battered and bruised.
“Crows, that’s what happened.”
He pulled his head down in shame and retreated under the safety of her wing. After a few deep breathes he told her his sorrow.
“I am a crow, you said that! Then I looked for some; had to search quite a while – you scare them…they called me an ugly dove! I just wanted to fly with them!”
Oh boy, she had no idea how to deal with peer groups. As a human she had not been an outcast but just had one or two constant people around her – the rest were friendly acquaintances. Peer groups were never a problem for her.
Penelope could only hold him.
“Lorenzo could you please get my commission from Verrocchio?”
“In a moment!”
Lorenzo de Medici finished his sentence on paper and stashed his things back into his desk. He quickly ran down the stairs before his father could disappear in his study.
“Verrocchio was not far from Tony’s smithery, right?”
The man stopped in his tracks and turned around; his arms filled with papers.
“Yes, it’s the on the street running towards the city entrance.”
With that the teen was out into the streets of Florence. The sun shone with nearly brutal strength down and he was just short of turning around going back into the much colder house.
But he hadn’t done the assignments for the bank he should’ve been doing during the last few hours – poetry is so much more interesting. His father would notice this. So no going back home now.
By the time he arrived at the workshop his hair as well as his shirt stuck uncomfortably on his backside thanks to the sweat. He knocked on the door.
It was opened and he got pulled inside quickly. After the brightness from outside his eyes needed a moment to adjust in the comparable darkness. Verrocchio had opened the door for him, but his apprentices were half sitting, half laying on stools and the floor unmoving.
Lorenzo was very grateful as he got handed a wet cloth.
“You are here for the commission of your father? It’s done and stands beside the door. You are welcome to rest a moment before you go back outside.”
Imitating the others, he sat down where he stood. Verrocchio chuckled at that and eased down onto his own chair and pulled a wet cloth over his eyes. Lorenzo took the time to look around. What caught his eyes were the birds sitting beside the blonde teen laying on the floor. While one looked just as drained as he felt the other was actually quite lively especially compared to the rest.
The aforementioned teen had noticed his staring and raised his hand in a greeting.
“I am Leonardo, this white puddle is Fernando, “ he pointed to his left, “ and this hyper lady is Chiara,” his finger wandered to the other side.
“Nice to meet you, I am Lorenzo.”
There wasn’t more energy wasted on talking. But he took a good look at the birds, an eagle and a crow both in snow white where a rarity onto themselves.
Leonardo looked concerned to Chiara. Fernando was gone for a few days now and she was agitated. Every two hours she flew outside and came back after another looking more and more worried.
He picked her up and brushed though her feathers to calm her down. Laggardly she leaned against his chest and her breathing slowed.
Tock. Tock. Tock.
Startled Chiara head shot up. Leonardo gently pushed her head back against his chest and made his way to the door. As he opened it, he came face to face with a sheepish looking Lorenzo.
“Oh, hello Lorenzo.”
“Greetings, I may have your bird.”
Leonardo opened the door fully and led him inside. And on Lorenzo’s shoulder was the missing crow.
“He visited me, but I just noticed that he never flew far away from my window when I send him into the night. Sorry.”
Chiara started screeching and Fernando looked away. Was she scolding him? The two teens could only watch in wonder and the others of the household that were currently home came in too, looking what the commotion was.
End of the song was that Fernando stayed with Lorenzo. It was one bird less to care for and he looked happy even if Chiara was quite grouchy.
“That’s it Chiara, hold it a bit longer and then you can sing!”
Andrea was very busy but there was nothing Leonardo could do to help him at the moment without standing in the way. So, he picked up his other pastime when he wasn’t sketching – music. He had been sitting outside playing a fine tune on his lyre as she couldn’t help herself and whistled along.
Leonardo took it as a challenge to teach her how to carry a tune. And they’ve been at it for hours torturing everyone in a 500m radius.
But no one was able to stop Leo when he was on a run but hey, she now could hold a note in her mediocre range of bird voice without wavering.
Someone hid Leo’s lyre during the night.
“Mr. Auditore, how long as it been!”
Lorenzo sped up to his old childhood hero he had spotted by chance on the streets. In his company was his oldest son.
“Good day Lorenzo. My, my you certainly have grown like a weed. How are you?”
“I’m well, helping my father here and there, my teacher is dumping so much on me as if I had nothing else to do – you know, the usual.”
The older man chuckled.
“My boys would agree with you, but education is important.”
Federico started whining in a response.
“But not that much father!”
From above them Fernando crowed, his sign that he wanted to land. Lorenzo held his hand out and he came down to them. Auditore junior’s eyes went wide and he pulled excitedly at his father’s clothes.
“Look, look. He has a white bird too!”
Lorenzo tuned so that his crow was easier to see for the smaller boy.
“This is the newest addition to our household. I got Fernando from a friend of mine.”
“Leonardo has one too!”
Giovanni looked at his son with pulled up eyebrows.
“Who is Leonardo?”
“I and Ezio-“
“Ezio and I.”
“Ezio and I showed you the feathers, we got them from Leonardo’s bird.”
Lorenzo linked himself into the conversation.
“I know Leonardo, he is the friend I mentioned. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is an art apprentice under Verrocchio. A few months ago, he acquired a young white eagle and she found a white crow a few weeks ago. He cared for the crow until it was old enough and flew out, he had been following me ever since.”
An unreadable expression flashed over Mr. Auditore’s face, but he kept smiling on and the promise of a proper meeting was exchanged before all went on their merry way.
At first Penelope thought it was a fluke. But for the third night in a row her instincts were tingling. It wasn’t danger per se but there was someone stalking the shop. She switched the vision to make sure that she saw everything in the dark and didn’t nock something over on her way to the small window in the roof that was kept unlocked for her.
Outside half hidden behind a chimney was a golden figure covered in blue streaks. Before he or she could disappear, she flew over and sat onto the chimney.
Her breath hitched. The Vision has gone dormant again, but the robes of this person were unmistakable. More layers, more decoration than Altair had ever worn, but with the white hood and the red belt – those were the robes of a Master Assassin.
Chapter 12: Do you like Chiara? (3/?)
Greetings from the ocean; you lovely people I managed to finish a chap for you 😊.
I passed my car-theory-exam (barely but who looks that closely) but still, I’ll propably be needing more time for the next chaps.
It was an elusive bird.
Since days – or nights to be exact, after all he couldn’t just leave the house as an Assassin while his children were awake – Giovanni tried to spot the white eagle living in the household of the artist Verrocchio.
Every time his heart was hammering in excitement. He hopefully wasn’t wrong regarding the bird and it was more than an albino. To at least see a legendary Masayaf Eagle was a dream he carried since his teenage years, ever since his father pulled him aside and initiated him into the secrets of the Brotherhood. His father told him the stories of the great Altair Ibn-la’Ahad in the light of the fireplace but the stories of the time before the Legend became Grandmaster intrigued him the most.
Risha – how could a bird be so intelligent? Giovanni had doubts most of the time but then his sweet, sweet wife, only aware of facts about his true calling that were absolutely necessary so they could function as couple, found a page of Altair’s Codex and stole it for him, just like that on a dinner party. It was the second page the Brotherhood knew the whereabouts of. It had taken him more than five months of headache filled nights as well as excessive help from his brothers to decipher its content. Between the instructions for bird weapons were the praises from the Master about his eagle, little tid-bits that convinced him that Risha had existed and had been as intelligent as stories claimed her to be.
After that started a personal hunt of his to find out more. Giovanni searched through the oldest records from the Brotherhood he could get his hands on and read until his head swam. Since the beginning of records Assassins took eagles and other predatory birds as hunting buddies but Risha was the first one in white. Some other birds in all-white were mentioned after her, for example a gull, a crane and even a hummingbird - all showed signs of heightened intelligence - but none reached to the likes of Risha.
And that’s why he was here now. Trying to find glimpses of a white eagle between the closed-up windows while hoping his dream wouldn’t shatter at reality.
He couldn’t get closer, one in the household was always up and would probably notice him. Artist were trained to find details and pattern – a fifty-fifty chance that they could spot him without even trying.
Giovanni braced one hand against the chimney at his side and closed his eyes.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Shutting down his racing thoughts until he sunk into that calm spot inside of him where nothing mattered.
Then he opened his eyes.
The world around him was sharper, more nooks and edges visible despite the dark of the night. The very soft hue of gold that had surrounded the house was gone, his target had to be elsewhere.
What didn’t seem like much was his greatest pride after his children. There had been generations of Assassins rich of people able to use the Eagle Vision and some that had only a few but in the resent ones the number went down more and more until it was basically extinct. Giovanni knew that La Volpe could access it subconsciously, but he himself was one of the last remaining people able to switch vision by pure will even if it was fairly weak. Nobody was sure if it was a trait specific to family lines or if it was something that was dormant in everyone – it was too irregular to tell.
The fluttering of wings stopped his musings and he looked up to the end of the chimney.
Brilliant green, stronger that he had ever experienced, sat in his vision. It was as if it opened a whole new world for him. His eyes darted left and right his mind barely catching up with what was happening. Everything was still black and white but rich with details as if he stood right in front of those things in broad daylight. There were gray sludges where the people inside of their houses where and another green sludge in the direction his family was. In comparison to that, he had been blind before!
Overwhelmed by the new input he fell on his knees, not registering the surprised squeak above him. A gentle weight settled into his lap, this weight pulling his hood down further and filled his Vision green. Being the only thing he saw now, it made it easy to concentrate on until he was calm enough to switch his sight back.
In his lap was an eagle, its white feathers glittering in the moonlight with a thin band around its neck. The wings were spread wide over his head, blocking out the world around him.
Giovanni could barely believe it: a Masayaf Eagle!
The beak as well as the legs were grey, and the eyes colored as if they were molten gold – it wasn’t an albino! A Masayaf Eagle. An eagle with white plumage but oversized compared to any other kind of eagle.
A disbelieving chuckle left him. The predator pulled his wings back and waited for a reaction from him. Or it was as clueless as he was.
How was he supposed to act now!
The bell tower rang in the distance reminding him of the time. He had to go home or risk tumbling over either his house staff who stood up very early to prepare everything or wake one of his children who could oversleep an apocalypse but not if somebody tried to sneak past their doors.
His head turned back and forth between the magnificent creature on his lap and the direction of his home. The bird must’ve guessed what was on his mind. It stepped off him onto the roof, nudging him to stand up. It opened its wings again and plugged a feather out. With shaking hands he received the gift which was as long as his lower arm. The eagle rubbed his head once more against him and flew off, back to Verrocchio’s house, going inside through a tiny roof window.
Giovanni couldn’t stop staring at the feather in his hand, he couldn’t wait to tell it Mario!
The strange Assassin incident didn’t change a thing in the daily routine of Penelope. Utilizing the gossip-mill she got to know that one or two white-hooded people ran around every odd night but things like Assassins, Brotherhood or Templar Order were foreign words to the doves.
Now, that it had been brought to her attention she wanted to know how the Assassins fared and if and how they stopped the Templars. Where Assassins only around because they weren’t stopped? Where the Assassin’s still the same as they had been? Where the ideals still the same? What had happed after her deep-sleep-disappearance?
She couldn’t find the answers.
Even if she would’ve searched and found Giovanni who basically worshiped her, they didn’t understand each other. After stalking him in return Penelope knew that Assassin wasn’t his full-time occupation. He had a respected job, wife and children. Giovanni could be seen in public without people associating him with a deadly blade.
She turned away from him concerning answers – from what she saw he could take care of himself and his own and had nothing that would help her further.
Penelope beat herself up about it for two weeks, three weeks, a month but slowly the question settled back into her deepest mind once more. She saw a glimpse of the Assassin she had met and the shade of another but that was as far as interaction with the Brotherhood went. It didn’t seem to be a pressing issue.
She really liked Leo. Such a kindhearted soul should be far away from an Assassin’s life – even if it seemed to be less intense now as it was in Altair’s time. Kadar would’ve loved him.
When the blonde was skipping, nearly dancing, though the shop sprouting ideas out into the world, she couldn’t help herself and smile alongside him. A precious cinnamon roll that required protection.
And how he needed it.
“Come on join us Leonardo!”
The broad hand of the last employer came down between the teen’s shoulder blades, sending him nearly to the ground. Leonardo had just brought over the commission and stumbled into the aftermath of a birthday party. All minus Leonardo had at least some alcohol in their systems.
As he arrived a servant took the statue and brought it into the house, away from the drunken mass of people but as soon as his hands were empty a glass of wine was pressed into it and he got surrounded by some that were on their way to the bordello.
Mercilessly he got dragged along, no chance of declining the amicable meant offer. The slight panic in his eyes was obvious as they darted back and forth ever searching for a way out.
Penelope wreaked havoc on her brain to find a solution that would neither hurt civilians nor out Leonardo as gay, bi – whatever, as not-as-currently-norm interested in women and more-interested-in-that-broad-backside.
As the group reached the front gate, already getting lured inside with the promise of fun and relaxation came her small flash of genius.
Flying as low as she dared to drop without a place to land on safely, she stopped moving her wings and crashed onto the pavement. It wasn’t painless but she cried out as pathetically as she could, trying to make it sound as if she just had been mortally injured. The screech stopped most in their tracks and turned their attention to her.
It gave Leonardo the time to slip away and ran to her. Her plan must’ve worked because the worry was written all across his pretty face. As the blonde’s backside hid her from the view of the group, she raised her head and winked at him before letting herself slack once more.
He caught on her play and picked her up, cradling her to his chest. Turning to the group he excused himself and ran home. From behind them they just heard an:
“Awww, maybe next time.”
Even if they could’ve stopped, Leo continued running through the alleys of night-time Florence. He sometimes caught his foot in an uneven stone or lost balance while turning around narrow corners, but he ran on and on and on until he reached his home door.
Leonardo hadn’t let go of her and she could hear his heart pumping in his chest. With shaking hands, he reached for the doorknob and walked inside. A few candles were still lit so Andrea was probably still awake, but he sneaked through the shop upstairs. The other apprentices were all already asleep, snoring safe and soundly in their beds but he went straight to his.
Penelope got placed onto the blanked and was pulled up again in a bundle of blanket and pillow. Leo continued on tiptoes to the ladder that would lead them to the roof. It took a few tries until he managed to climb with one arm occupied but he managed the short distance.
With a creak the window was open and the teen outside. Luckily the roof wasn’t too dirty and the summer night warm because he made himself comfortable beside the chimney. With her in his arms he laid on his side against it staring up to the moon.
“Am I a freak to find attractiveness in men not women?”
Leonardo was sniveling quietly, but his tears ran like rivers down his cheeks. With her body immobile she couldn’t wipe away his tears, but she could sing. Leo had taught her after all. Operas or highly difficult songs were out of question but something simple – that she could do.
Neither of her parents had been good singers nor did she remember ever getting one sung for her, she had an abundance of music boxes but there was one melody she had picked up in the Gardens of Masayaf. She had never known that particular Guard personally but when he laid in the arms of his woman, she sung for him. It was the time of night were the whole of the castle tried to be as silent as possible so her song could be carried through the stone halls until it had reached everywhere.
And she shared that melody with Leonardo. She chirped and thrilled until slow and even breathes brushed over her feather. Only then she stopped.
The roof window creaked, and Andrea’s shock of hair peaked out. A blanket and a pillow were pushed outside before the artists body came out.
Then came another bundle of blanket and pillow was thrown outside and Piero crawled out behind it.
And another bundle.
It continued until everyone was outside. Andrea sat to Leonardo’s head and pulled it into his lap – the boy did nothing more than a huff and the others huddled around.
After a particularly loud sneeze from Domenico Leo’s eyes blinked awake. As he realized his position his head shot up, but his teacher caught him with gentle hands and eased him down again before brushing the half-dried tears and hair away.
“I wanted to tell the others about the stars, do you want to listen?”
Leonardo nodded and the body pile shuffled closer together, using each other as pillows.
“This is the constellation of the Eagle, the brightest star being Altair…”
Leo never had to explain why he had been crying on the roof that night.
With a heavy heart she looked at the red band that laid at her feet. She had been wearing it constantly and now she broke it as her claw was caught in it while she had tried to scratch the itch at the back of her head.
“What is it Chiara?”
Leo had found her and looked at what she was staring. A soft exclamation of oh left his mouth and she was pulled into an embrace.
She felt a bit numb inside. It had reminded her of her time before Italy. She didn’t want to forget it. Already had she problems to find the details in her memories of Masayaf.
The days afterwards Leo was occupied, and she got passed around to the other household members. Model here, get some doves to pose for them, check if there was a specific color currently sold on the market so there hadn’t to be made an extra way if it wasn’t.
Approximately a week later Leo shook her gently to wake her from her mid-day nap.
“Hey, wake up. I’ve got something for you.”
Blinking away the sleep from her eyes she stood up and puffed her feathers to straighten them. After a hearty yawn she looked at what Leonardo held in his hand.
A red band.
It was a bit wider and thicker with black swirls stitched upon it. And unlike the last one it could be opened and closed with a silver clasp.
The present took away her breath.
“We long passed your guessed birthday and the date we found each other but it’s a belated anniversary present. For you.”
Leonardo had a wide smile on his face, and she could only come near slowly struck by awe. The teen fastened it around her neck and carried her to her nest where he pulled out the broken band and laid it inside before transporting her to the small mirror they had hanging on the wall.
She loved it immensely and gave this feedback with an enthusiastic hug, making Leo laugh out loud.
“Leo you outdid yourself!”
Penelope had no clue how it started but her feathers recently turned into a temporary canvas. Most of the times she was covered in a plethora of colors and was then used as a model but today Leonardo only used blood-red. After laying her band carefully into her nest, he painted intricate lines all over her, reminding her of a circuit board. It made her feel pretty.
She tuned in various angles to see everything of herself as Leonardo cried out for her to stop.
Frozen in place with half-opened wings she looked as if she would dance.
It was gruesome to keep the position until Leo had everything he needed to sketch down but the resulting painting was totally worth the effort. It was vibrant, full of dynamic and probably the best he had made so far.
For once Leo was proud of himself and true confidence reflected in his posture as he made his way into Andrea’s study where the Master was currently sorting through some letters.
Andrea put his things aside and inspected the work.
“You did it.”
Confused Leo looked at his teacher and asked nonverbal for further explanation.
“You came to me with your work, positive that you’ve done it right. You gave your work value and did not only see it as something far below mine. Art has no wrong or right Leonardo. Use that confidence because from today on you are not only a studio boy looking over my shoulder. Today I officially declare you my apprentice to the public – not that everyone doubted that you were anything less in the last few years.”
Whooping and cheering Sandro, Piero and Domenico busted inside, embracing the youngest who could only endure it still shock-stiff. As the three finally pulled back it seeped through to him.
Leonardo let out a cheer on his own and clumsily pulled everyone back into a hug.
Now he was allowed to sell his work and have a look out for commissions himself and – in a few years’ time – maybe call himself a master of arts.
“What got you this riled up Lorenzo?”
Leonardo was currently visiting the Medici for a nice evening tea, but something bothered him so much that he was pacing back and forth, barely keeping his cup from spilling over.
“It’s my father, illness has caught him yet again and a good friend of mine is out of town and that far longer that he should. I’ve got an important message for him but no way of contacting him.”
Penelope turned away from her musings with Fernando who had settled in nicely as the pampered house-pet of the Medici family and gave more attention to the discussion. It had been quite a long time since she truly stretched her wings. Maybe she could help.
But how should she tell it those two who only looked at her confused as she flew over and landed chirping between them? Looking around she found a rolled-up paper on a nearby desk. She snatched it, hearing the loud protest of Lorenzo but landed on the windowsill, half-leaning outside continuously flapping her wings in an imitation of flying away.
It was Leonardo, more in tune with her behavior who deciphered after a bit of guesswork what she wanted to express.
“Chiara wants to deliver your message.”
“She can do that?”
“I…guess so. Where would it have to go?”
“My friend said he would visit his brother in Monteriggioni, I have no clue where he could be between here and there.”
Silence stretched between the two. Both clearly thinking much and hard.
“I could make a copy and we try if she manages it?”
“Sounds alright? That ok Chiara?”
She trilled affirmatively.
Lorenzo quickly made a copy of his original message and sealed it. After that came the next obstacle: how should she transport it.
The two couldn’t know her history but she refused to get the message bound around her ankle and stretched her neck out towards them. After a bit of shuffling Lorenzo got a cord and fixated the message by looping it through her band and binding it around her belly
More awkward silence arose.
Not taking it, she affectionately brushed against Leonardo and squeaked a goodbye to Lorenzo before taking off through the window. Only with half an ear she heard Lorenzo’s question behind her.
“Does she even know the way?”
It was nice to fly again, and the land surrounding Florence with his green fields and lush forests had even more that she could watch than the rather dry acres in the area of Masayaf’s rule.
With the Eagle Vision under full control she had no trouble finding her way to her objective despite never being there before or knowing to whom it truly went other than that it was a friend of Lorenzo. Penelope only stopping for a little snack of a rat she caught on her way.
It was early morning as she spotted large defensive walls on the horizon that quickly grew larger.
Monteriggioni was not poor nor was it wealthy. From what she could see it was a rather small community that made do with a notable number of houses being unoccupied. Her instinct led her to the villa settled a bit above the town. It was grand but had seen better days just as the city itself.
Landing on a windowsill she looked inside of a warmly decorated bedroom, her golden highlighted target still asleep. But that would change in a second.
The door to the room was thrown open with an ear-shattering crash and a scruffy looking man strut inside with a wide grin on his face and a plate in his hand.
“Good morning brother, a wonderful day outside. Are you already awake?”
The glee was obvious in his voice. Parallel to that the brother shot out of his bed before hissing in pain, holding his bandaged chest.
“Mario! Was that really necessary?!”
“Then don’t sleep that long.”
Finally, the two noticed her in the window and she recognized the man in the bed – he was no other that Giovanni Auditore.
“I am not seeing things brother, am I?”
“No, you’re not or I am too. Why is the Masayaf Eagle here?”
She rolled her eyes at the two and came inside, landing on the end of the bed presenting the message around her neck. Giovanni sat up further and took it off.
“Why would Leonardo-,” he stocked as he saw the seal, “it’s Lorenzo.”
Now curious too the older brother sat down beside his brother to see the message. Its seal now broken, and the paper unfurled.
“He’s a bit late but I appreciate it.”
None of the brother’s explained further and she had to sneak a peak as they allowed her to have something of their breakfast.
Lorenzo had tried to warn him of a possible ambush. Because it came too late now, he had walked inside and came out hurt but alive thanks to his brother who had ridden towards him to greet him.
In the evening after Giovanni had written a reply and she had a nap; she was sent back with the message containing the Assassin’s thanks and the customary well-wishes.
She did not understand why something inside of her wanted to stay in that town.
The two brothers looked after the retreating silhouette of Chiara – her name was mentioned in the message.
Mario, seeing her for the first time up-close in daylight, turned to his younger brother.
“You were right. The alikeness is uncanny. As if she were the statue coming to life.”
“It seams like yesterday that we sneaked through father’s study finding the passageway by accident.”
“Don’t tell me it was an accident; you have the sight.”
Unlike Giovanni, Mario never showed even a single side-trade of the gift. He never knew if his brother was envious or resented him a bit for it, but Giovanni was afraid of his answer – so he never asked the question.
But thinking of old times reminded him of another matter – his true reason for riding out of Florence, leaving the rest of his family behind before falling into an ambush.
“Brother, I think it is time to ease Federico into the ways of the Assassins – he is already questioning why I try to have him running and jumping all around and he is suspicious too of me climbing alongside him to the highest roofs despite being in an age the average man starts to grow weary and short of breath.”
“Your kid, your decision.”
“Could’ve had some of your own. They turn your whole world upside down.”
“No, thank you.”
Having-children, having-no-children was an age-old discussion between the two. Mario just couldn’t warm up to the thought of caring for a crying infant and having to protect it, teach it until it was old enough to leave the house and even then he would have to worry permanently for it because it was his own flesh and blood – he worried over Giovanni more than enough to last him three lifetimes.
Own children were a no-go for him and he has no permanent partner that would be needed to create a child with a stable childhood. Temporary company for the night was easy – just as the rest of his family he had the Auditore-charm no woman could resist – but not only did he found no one, Mario didn’t want the responsibility connected to wife and children too.
Giovanni had tried to convince him otherwise on multiple occasions – he made a fine uncle after all– but now it was just meant as a little bit of teasing. He would have to care for Federico when his father had to return home after bringing him here. Federico would be as close as an own child he would get. Then Ezio, then Petruccio and maybe even Claudia. But girls were more complex than boys. Give a boy a sword and freedom an he was happy, girls they were delicate and needed tons of things to keep them happy and occupied.
Mario then crossed a random thought from no-where.
“Does Chiara know of the Assassins and Templars? Is she a Masayaf Eagle because she is not an albino and Altair was the first to mention her kind or is she a Masayaf Eagle because like Risha who had understood the ancient power-struggle and knew what it meant to live by the Creed, Chiara knows it too?”
“What was first the chicken or the egg? But it’s an interesting question. However, how should she know about it?”
“How long has she been under that blonde teen’s care?”
“That my dear brother, I don’t know.”
They turned from the window, the older helping the younger back inside the bed without pulling stitches. Wishing Giovanni a good night, he walked into the next room and used the shortcut to the study by jumping over the railing – stairs and ladders were not meant for Assassin’s.
His desk was a mess.
Loud groaning he wandered over but stopped in his tracks as he saw what exactly was on his desk. Black ink-spots were splattered everywhere, the picture messy and the still wet pet laid beside it but on the paper was unmistakably a crudely drawn Assassin insignia.
Chapter 13: What a dream?
I actually just wanted to distract myself because my head started to hurt from all the stuff I tied to press into it…whelp, just finished the rest of a chap I am really excited to see your reactions to.
It’s another milestone too, breached the 50k+ words. Now it’s the longest one I’ve ever did and there is no stopping soon.
Groaning silently Desmond carried the small and still locked chest into the Sanctuary. Knowing that the others would’ve disapproved of him roaming around the upper parts of the house during the day he just had followed in the footsteps of Altair’s ghostly mist. The Master Assassin of old had led him quietly past the backs of Shaun and Rebecca who were ingulfed in their tasks while Lucy was getting a new hoard of instant-noodles and water. On the half-broken stairs Ezio waved his hand to him from the top and he disappeared with his sister behind the wooden door that hung crooked in the frame.
Lead by boredom and struck by curiosity he followed the bleeding images. Effortless the remains of the door were heaved out of the hinges and laid besides to make as little sound as possible; inside of the empty room was something in the back of his mind tingling annoyingly.
It wasn’t the stern personality of Altair or the currently still small devilish mirth of Ezio, who would probably grow larger too – maybe larger than Altair as he now laid longer times and more frequent in the Animus even if he got more and slightly longer breaks because the others feared he would shatter like 16.
One couldn’t shatter if one never was whole to begin with, but Desmond just hoped to stay relatively sane until everything required was done and Penelope’s disappearance resolved.
During his musings the Eagle Vision activated, ceasing the tingling, and marked one of the floor-planks golden.
Shrugging his shoulders, he pulled it aside and was greeted by a stone-floor, with one golden marked stone. It took a bit of wiggling to get his fingers in the thin clefts around it but then he pulled it out. And below the fist-thick stone was wood again. But that was part of a box, not another floor.
And ho and behold the box was golden too.
Not wanting to get caught with his hand in the cookie-jar Desmond got it out and sneaked the reversed way back into the Sanctuary.
Quick as a mouse he darted behind Altair’s eagle bearing statue and past Ezio cuddling with an eagle. Eagles. Or birds in general were an Assassin’s best friend. It was maybe his only regret as he ran away that he couldn’t continue feeding old Olly, the whitest eagle Assassin’s had found in the last fifty years and the closest thing he had to a friend.
None of the other two in the room even raised an eyebrow because of his behavior.
Sparing a last glance at them he let his hidden blade spring free and made short process with the old lock. Inside were feathers.
Small feathers filled high up to the lid.
He stuck his hand inside, looking if there was something else and caught a paper roll by the feeling of it. And he was right.
As he got it out and unfurled it another feather landed on his lap, only this one was significantly larger – as long as his lower arm – and stark white.
His skin touched it and his whole vision was engulfed in blinding light.
As Desmond reclaimed consciousness he was laying back-down in a field of high growing wheat, the sky over him filled with dot-formed rainclouds in the distance.
Other than the obviously different location nothing in him registered danger and still – something was different.
There was no wind.
And he was himself. Neither Ezio nor Altair were pressing into his mind. That fact alone let him relax on the surprisingly flat ground, relieved to be rid of the constant pressure for a sacred few moments.
But he still wasn’t in the Sanctuary, so he stood up and brushed over his jeans.
As far as he could look only wheat. From one side to the other. In front of him and behind him as well.
Not knowing what else to do he called into the quietness.
“Hello? Somebody here?”
Ah childish oh sounded somewhere behind him followed by the rustling of plants. A boy, barely reaching over the field with his sunkissed-brown chest, emerged. The hair on his head was black, formed in nearly dreadlock like curls and the only thing kind-of covering his torso were a variety of necklaces.
“Hi stranger, who are you?”
Laughing the boy made his way over to Desmond.
“You are dressed strangely Dezmund. Where are you from?”
“Where is Nu Jork? I never heard of it. Is it upper or lower Egypt?”
Desmond wasn’t sure what to think. If the boy guessed that New York was some part of Egypt it probably was his homeland and the only thing he knew. He went with a vague answer.
“It’s a bit further out. Do you know where we are?”
The question seemed to puzzle the boy.
“How do you not know? Ma’at deemed your Ka light and allowed you into the Field of Reeds. You’re the second one to ask me that.”
“Who was the first?”
“A man in long blue robes and short hair, kept on ranting about a someone, didn’t want to interrupt him”
The description sounded eerily like Malik. Desmond knew of nothing to continue the conversation, but the boy did it for him.
“I am waiting for my Papo. Will you wait with me? The other man was off before I could ask him.”
Having nothing better to do he decided to stay with him for the time being. With a few strong stomps a small circle was made on the ground where the two could sit down and see each other without green in the way.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
Was there even someone who would miss him and not the fact that he left work behind?
“I…I don’t think that anyone would largely miss me, so I guess there is nobody I could wait for.”
“That’s so sad!” the boy shuffled over and pulled him into a hug, “Now, I would miss you Dezmund. You don’t have to be alone anymore.”
Those simple words nearly brought him to tears, and he hugged the boy back to hide the tell-tale shine in his eyes. Desmond hadn’t understood what the boy had meant by the field of reeds and was with that none the wiser about his whereabouts, but he felt at …peace with the smaller, warmer presence in his arms. How long has it been since somebody hugged him and meant it?
He needed to think and the little snack-bar he had snatched yesterday was pressing into his hip.
“Say, do you like chocolate?”
Curious brown pools looked up to him.
“What is cho-clad?”
Who didn’t know chocolate? Desmond sat back to make a bit of space between them and got the bar out of his pocket, de-wrapped it and offered half of it to the boy.
Curious hands grabbed it and it was sighted from all angles.
“Don’t hold it too long or it melts.”
After that it got shoved completely into the young’s mouths and his eyes lit up.
“A wuve vocol-d!”
Desmond chuckled at the display of happy childishness and took only a bite of his half before offering it too to the boy who had quickly swallowed his own piece. The next one was eaten slower, but it was still gone within seconds.
“Thank you sooooo much Dezmund!”
After a bit of running around through the field the boy settled at his side, his head against Desmond’s tight.
“You know my father is a Medjay…”
The boy started to talk about his mother and father until his eyes started to drop. After a large yawn his breathing evened out and left Desmond alone with his thoughts.
He wished he could talk about his own parents as fondly as the boy did of his. It sounded like a happy childhood. Desmond only associated cold and dull and pain with the farm.
In the end, Desmond had to go back even if he felt comfortable wherever here was. As much as he disliked what he had to do – it had to be done. After the boy – he should’ve asked for a name – shivered for the third time he carefully maneuvered out of his hoodie and laid it over the bare shoulders.
He got a smile and an even closer curled up youth beside him.
There was something.
Desmond tried to stretch his head as much as he could to maybe see what it was.
He could’ve sworn that somebody just called his name that sounded suspiciously like a stressed-out Brit.
Awakening came like a sledgehammer.
“You bloody git. Wake! UP!”
Desmond sat still behind the statue of Altair in the Sanctuary with the box of feathers now toppled over on his lap and Shaun had just woke him up by violently shaking his shoulders.
“Where did you get all those feathers?!”
“In this box.”
“Don’t tell me you wandered around in the house.”
“Then I won’t.”
“Desmond Miles. Was there at least something else inside than those?”
He held up the paper that was still in his right hand.
“Nice, a badly drawn Assassin insignia. Really nice. Now get your buttocks back to the Animus, Rebecca has finished her update.”
The Brit stormed off and left Desmond alone once more. As he stood up, he noticed that he only wore his black undershirt and his hoodie was missing and in extension his chocolate bar. By looking around he deducted that Lucy wasn’t back.
And he was hungry.
“Malik makes the best soup.”
That the ghost-voice of Altair spoke of his secret favorite dish didn’t help to diminish his hunger.
Before making his way over to Baby he made a stop at Shaun’s desk.
“Could you look something up for me?”
Annoyance was dripping in Shaun’s voice, but he backtracked a little as he saw that Desmond truly meant his request.
“Ok, ok. What is it this time?”
“In combination with Egypt: Medjaj, Kaa, Mat and fields of reeds.”
“Is that all?”
Desmond nodded and left the other alone. Rebecca was already waiting for him. She seemed to be the only one who had at least a bit of fun with her job.
Ahoy for another round of Animus.
Finally sating his hunger on two packs of instant noodles Desmond mused over the notes Shaun got him.
Ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife – the Duat. The Field of Reeds, also known as Aaru, was the final destination only reached by those worthy. The Ka of a person, a crude equivalent would be the soul, was weighted against a feather by the goddess Ma’at and if it was lighter one had led a good and fair life and was worthy of a peaceful afterlife. I don’t know how that should’ve worked.
And Medjay were kinda a police-force under the orders of the pharaoh.
After the short summary came quite many articles filled with details to life in Ancient Egypt and its believes. But Desmond was tired and desperately needed sleep.
His hoodie was still gone without a trace, and the feather as well.
That the strange dream felt like it had been real and both things couldn’t be found made for an unsettling train of thought.
Another problem to be solved after sleep.
Shaun was currently sorting through the data left behind in the Animus by 16 as a mail new popped up. Reading through the content, he sighed and rolled with his chair a bit back to get sight-contact with Lucy and Rebecca.
“Hey, you two, has anyone of you tried to hack into the Abstergo-webside the last few days?”
Both girls denied.
“Why are you asking.”
“Someone is currently at it and is just short of triggering a server-sweep and lockdown. Upstairs they try to find out if it is one of our men or if there is a third party. Attached was the order to retreat out of the systems if there are any fingers of us still inside so they won’t be found if the sweep is triggered.”
“Desmond, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, why isn’t the memory loading?”
Surrounded by the vast-mirror space of the Animus loading screen, Desmond didn’t know what kept him from going inside the next memory sequence. He was calm, felt alright and he even wanted to go into the next sequence – he couldn’t be the interference and wanted to know what was happening with Ezio’s family after the evidence had been delivered.
“Hmm, I can’t seem find the problem. I load an older one, maybe it’ll ease you into it. Wait a second…this one looks ok. Here you go.”
Around him the new memory took shape. It was surprising for Desmond how far they had gone back in Ezio’s life – not only one or two years, by the looks of it the Italian was nine – maybe? He could barely look over the windowsill without having to climb onto something.
“Pretty bird, fluffy bird~.”
The Auditore was skipping through his room with a white down feather in his hand. The child’s singsong was interrupted however as the feather started to glow.
Brighter and brighter until it was blinding.
Ezio expression of pure awe was the first thing that came afterwards. They – Ezio – was standing on a small patch of half-grown wheat plants. Surrounding him was seemingly nothing with sunset-colored clouds all around. There were other wheat-patches too, looking as if they had been copy-pasted.
“Rebecca did something go wrong?”
There was no answer from the other side of the Animus. Meanwhile little Ezio started exploring. Desmond would’ve scolded him immensely if he truly had been beside him as the boy started to stretch his foot over his little standing spot and move it downward.
Come to think of it, it reminded him of his dream from yesterday it just looked less…whole.
Ezio found out that he could step on nothing at the same height of his patch as if there was an invisible floor. Recklessly and laughing he ran off with his arms spread wide crying:
Out into the world.
Desmond could do nothing else than tag along and wonder over and over about the validity of this dream and if it was true, how Ezio could’ve been so careless. After a while glass-shard like forms started to appear not unlike the Animus-loading screen replacing the plants but the boy continued driven by curiosity.
“Somebody here?! Hello? ANYBODY PLEASE!”
A familiar voice – an Altair familiar voice – shouted in the distance. Continuing his reckless streak Ezio answered, cupping his hands around his mouth to sound even louder.
The two kept on calling out to each other in the ever greyer turning environment. It was a small dot on the horizon at first but then it grew larger, faster than a running person should.
Desmond recognized the other as soon as he could see details and he couldn’t stop the aching and hurt in his chest despite it not being truly his own feeling. It crashed greatly with the happy vibes he got from Ezio.
But running towards them, him, in a dirty-white shirt and darker trousers was no other than Kadar Al-Sayif.
The teens hair was disheveled and his eyes red and puffy from crying but there was no mistaken it that is was the younger brother of Altair’s best friend.
Ezio had his hand raised in a greeting but the Masayaf-boy barreled into him, his arms coming around in a hug. The younger one was obviously confused as to why the – to him – stranger was cuddling him as if his life depended on it. He opted for awkwardly patting the back.
“T-There was nobody…NOBODY!” Kadar was openly sobbing, “I called and cried – my brother just gone! But…but thank GOD…not alone…not alone.”
“Hello to you…?”
Finally realizing what he had done Kadar lowered Ezio to the ground and whipped through his snot-filled face but hovered as close as possible.
“Kadar, ok. How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. I don’t KNOW! Just white and grey and white and grey...”
“Over there had been colorful, you could walk on clouds,” Ezio pointed vaguely into the direction he came from. Seeing that the other was not really functional he gripped his wrist and pulled him after him. They started with a slow walk that developed into a jog until the two were straight-out running again.
“You just have to run a bit further now and you should see some plants”
“I stay with you as lo-.”
Ezio woke up laying on the carpet in his nursery. In his hand a bit of golden dust that was gone as soon as he moved. Blinking owlishly the boy arranged his limbs and stood up. A few seconds of silence then he bellowed:
“MOTHER YOU WON’T BELIVE ME WHAT I JUST DREAMT!”
Storming loud stomping out of his room and down the stairs he searched for his mother. He found her knitting with Claudia and Petruccio in the yard.
“Lower your voice Ezio, we can hear you just fine.”
“But there was this boy…!”
The world around Desmond shattered and he was back to the normal Animus-loading screen.
“Desmond, you ok in there? We’ve lost you for a sec.”
“Ezio fell asleep.”
Everything turned dark and he felt the usual pressure of the Animus against his spine. Blinking to adjust to the artificial light in the Sanctuary Desmond got his bearings together and sat up. Rebecca had her hands against the armrest and looked at him expectantly.
“Did you see what Ezio dreamt? Please tell, I am curious what a boy in this time could dream about.”
“Eh…there was a field and he dreamt of flying.”
Finding it rather boring judging on the heavily censored version of what he truly saw Rebecca deflated a bit but kept on muttering that she needed to upgrade the Animus so they too would see what Ezio dreamt. Nearly forgetting something she stopped in her tracks.
“Desmond, eat and take a nap. I’ll have Baby ready again in 2 hours max.”
He nodded numbly.
Desmond would have to process what he had seen. First it was a dream from him, the world a wheat field wherever one looked and inhabited by that Ancient Egyptian boy; secondly it was him seeing Ezio dream of a world that looked like the beta version of what he had seen featuring Kadar of all things.
Fuck, he had a monster headache.