Alta´r lifted his gaze from the papers and searched the shadows. A dark silhouette was coming from the corridor.
Malik nodded, quickening his pace.
"Thanks for your help, brother. What's the situation out there?"
"It is an hour past dawn already, Alta´r," the Dai answered, hastening to the Master's desk. "Everything is arranged properly – Rafik just brought together the villagers, with all the men we have left. They are all waiting outside the Fortress."
He nodded absently, still sorting through the brownish parchment under his fingers. Suddenly, not for the first time that morning, his attention was captured by the thin leather cover of a small book.
It was Al Mualim's diary. That small book, the key to many truths of the Brotherhood, had been found in his clothes before the burial. Secrets, information and names had been recorded through the decades, for the new Masters to read, in the old man's minute handwriting.
Alta´r let out a frustrated sigh.
"I still wonder how we will get out of this," he murmured to his friend, who was flicking through some other papers. "How we will march on."
Malik gazed at him for long seconds, pondering carefully the words he wanted to say. The worst tragedy in the history of Masyaf had happened two days earlier – it was only natural for his friend to look that worn and tired. Still, the shadows on his face were enough to make him worry for a whole year.
Alta´r had the heaviest burden on his lone shoulders; they were both aware of that, and Malik truly wished he could share it.
"We will never march on, I guess," Malik said bitterly. The parchment cracked under his touch. "All we can do is rebuild everything from the ashes. And we will, trust me."
The other Assassin lowered his eyes, sighing, and hid the diary in his bag. A little nod from Malik told him it was time to go. After meeting his eyes, he left in silence, treading the stone floor in haste.
"Well, Alta´r," Malik added, rubbing his sleeve. "You had better show them your friendliest attitude today. Starting over won't be easy; as long as we have no one to rely on, it will be impossible."
In spite of his answer, Malik could see the Master did not agree completely, and he waited for something else to come. He did not have to wait for long.
"Yet," Alta´r sighed, "I don't think we will ever be able to rely on our brothers".
They had reached the front door by then. Looking out for listeners, Malik gently pulled his friend's arm and brought him back, hiding in the vast silence of the library. Even in its unquiet attitude, the other's brown gaze was deep and attentive as always.
"Forgive me, brother, but I must understand before we go," the Dai whispered. "What makes you believe that so strongly, Alta´r? Who told you this?"
The answer never arrived, but Malik did not need any words.
Without a doubt, Alta´r's last assassination had scarred him much more deeply than any wound – that final fight had stolen, along with a fair amount of his blood, a part of him which would never come back, and probably the whole of his former self.
Stay by his side, follow him on the path of destiny, rebuild the Brotherhood with their four hands – Malik could no longer wish for anything else. He knew Alta´r was right, he shared his distrust; and if he was betraying their common certainty, if he was voicing his hopes and not his true convinctions, it was just to help him go on.
"They will understand one day, Alta´r. They will get used to you, as they always did. That is our only possibility, dear brother," he pleaded, slowly running his fingers on his arm. "Leave everything in the hands of time."
Alta´r opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He knew what Malik was trying to hide, and he was deeply grateful to him – but he could not give in to that lie, tempting as it was. In spite of illusions, in spite of Malik's promise of peace, he would follow the only path he knew, the only truth life had carved deep in his flesh. He voiced it, looking right in Malik's eyes.
"Nothing is real," he murmured, "and nothing to be trusted. We both know."
The Dai lowered his gaze.
"Not even yourself?"
"Less than everything else, Malik."
It was Alta´r's turn to pull his shoulder and lead him in the new sunlight. From the stone bastions, the closest watchman made a quick gesture, pointing at the wooden ladder just outside the Fortress. The two looked around carefully – they were alone.
As they walked, leaving the building and heading to the main entrance, Malik spoke again.
"If you say so," he whispered, trying to see through Alta´r's features, "then we shouldn't put our trust in each other, especially considering how different you and I are".
Alta´r seemed thoughtful for a moment; however, he found himself smiling immediately. His friend's keen observations always surprised him.
"Well, you do have a point," he admitted with a sigh. "However, Malik, I am afraid I still cannot agree with you".
Even there, out of the narrow spaces of the Fortress, the atmosphere grew more tense and uncomfortable; in spite of that, they did not stop walking. Beyond their feelings, beyond their own doubts, people were waiting for their explanations – lost souls, who craved for nothing but a new shade of light.
"What do you think, then?" the Rafiq asked.
Alta´r met his eyes with the most sincere look the Dai had ever known. He really didn't need any words to express his feelings.
"It's simple. We cannot deny it – two days ago, your eyes became mine, mine yours. By now, we share the same vision of the world."
The Master walked on, accompanying their strong heartbeats with a firm pace. Showing their most determined attitude would be essential; in the end, deep inside, they needed to feel invincible themselves.
"Our sight, as imperfect as it is, is the closest thing to truth. It is all we human beings have. You and I – we are human."
Those words bore a shade of bitterness; they almost sounded like a damnation. It still was their destiny, natural and inevitable.
Malik knew they would fulfill it at their best. Slowly, with patience and wisdom.
"Don't tell anyone else," he smirked. "We might be in real danger if the others ever came to know we are made of mundane flesh and blood."
After a few seconds, Alta´r was almost laughing and Malik smiled with the deepest affection. They were very good at hiding it from each other.
"Your tongue is always so sharp, Rafiq of Jerusalem, isn't it?"
"I guess so," he coughed. "What I care to know is if you really believe in what you just said."
"I don't just believe so," Alta´r answered, hiding a delighted expression under his hood. "We are human, and I know for sure. There – here is the ladder."
They left behind the main path almost immediately, going for the cliffs, until they found themselves on the highest point the Brotherhood had ever made reachable. A fair shade of rock was under their feet; the river flew, boundless, excavating its bed, and the mountains echoed with every voice of Masyaf.
Alta´r stepped forward carefully, his hand reaching for the other man.
"Stand by me, Malik. Let's show ourselves."
They grabbed two of the Assassins' flags, which floated high on the edge of the abyss. Their slim masts were lifted without an effort; the heavy fabric swung with their footsteps, announcing their presence to the village.
When they finally stopped, in plain sight, the Assassins' voices reached them up to the threshold of the abyss – it was a welcoming sound, with just a touch of uncertainty.
At their feet, behind the scattered bushes on the rocks, every inhabitant of the Brotherhood's lands had reached the wide barren space in front of the entrance. From there, their close figures looked steadfast and magnificent, their vests twisting in black and white.
"Indeed," Alta´r whispered to his friend. "From now on, a new order is born."
Obedient to their hands, the long wooden poles beat the ground; the roaring wind came, shaking their symbol in crimson and white blazes over one hundred heads.
And then, on the high peak of the Fortress, Malik saw the greatest wonder of his life – even in that moment, even with the strong awareness of all the struggles they would have to deal with, Alta´r's face shone with confidence and strength, ready to move his children and brothers onward to another era.
From behind, the Dai smiled warmly.
Their new life – with all of its glory and bitterness – had just begun.