Some nights, I would wake up drenched in sweat, hands desperately grabbing the bed sheets. I wouldn't know where I was, my mind too focused on the nightmare that plagued me just moments before. I would stare at the ceiling, desperately gasping for air. This one was not unlike the others.
It was just a dream.
I repeated this mantra in my mind as I took steady breaths. The calming technique I had learnt slowed my ragging breathing and I could think clearly once again. It is just a job, I know this. If I don't do it, someone will. Masyaf is the stronghold of two hundred assassins, one will accept the mission. What's the difference then? It's not like I would save lives by saying no. The Old Man of the Mountain will just have to find another assassin willing to end the life of the man marked for death. Their screams don't bother me; I have gotten used to them. My eyes are always cold, not letting their pain flow through me, make me regret my decisions. I have been doing it since I was fifteen, and never has my victim’s pain visited me in my dreams. I have never regretted anything. But, I still see them. I feel nothing toward them. I just see them. There was a time I could sleep peacefully, but not anymore, not since I killed that man in front of his little son. Back then, I still hadn't learned how to control my feelings. I was still young and inexperienced; the death of his father reminded me of my own, how I lost him without saying goodbye.
Even now, five years later with my emotions under control, I still see the look on the boy’s face as my blade sliced into the man’s chest.
Getting out of my bed, I move to the open veranda. I stood there, letting the cold breeze wash out my thoughts.
I don't feel fear, sadness, or anger. I don't feel anything toward my targets. But, sometimes, I would dream about them.
Sometimes, I would wake up to the feel of blood on my hands. Blood would be everywhere, so cold, and at the same time warm. I know the smell of burnt flesh, and the sound a knife makes as it slices into flesh. I know how their eyes stare at me as they realize who I am. Sometimes it's worse when they are unfazed, when they know I am coming, when they know their fate. They look so broken, like there is nothing more to live for. Do they believe in Heaven? Hell? When I end their lives on this world, do they believe they are going somewhere better; or worse?
I close my eyes.
These are the questions, I ask myself every time I woke up to the sound of my victims screams. Like every time before, I cannot find an answer. Sometimes, I wonder how it would feel to die, to be on the receiving end of someone's blade. How would it feel, when a blade slid into my chest? Would I be afraid? Angry? Would I scream? Cry? Would I feel the blood flow out of my wound, or would I be too shocked to even notice?
No, I wouldn't. I'm an assassin and I'm trained not to feel fear. I would be unfazed; and I would die a proud death like many assassins before me, and those that will come after me.
Did it even matter? I have killed so many already, that I don’t care anymore. I will die someday. Will it be a failed assassination attempt, a disease, or merely of old age?
When I go to my final sleep, will I be at peace with myself? Will I have a family? Will I have somebody that will love me, regardless of my past?
Only time could tell.
Opening my eyes, I stare into the distance. In front of me rivers winding their way into the mountains like veins underneath fragile skin. The sun started waking up, making peaceful trails of light on the mountains, green fields below, and clusters of settlements.
Every assassin, when he joins our cause, is sent to a paradise. A place full of beautiful women ,and landscapes, where wine flows in rivers. A place without war and death. A place where only peace and serenity could exist. And then, when he realizes he could stay there forever, without a care in the word, he is brought back, to the real world. A world full of war and bloodshed, fear and pain. But, with the promise of return if he pledges his life to the Assassin's Order.
I move to the stone staircase, which leads me to a vast garden. The garden is massive and looks like that of an European nobleman, boasting a plethora of different trees, plants and foliage. There are flowers in so many shapes and colors, which are not naturally found in Syria. They were delivered to Masyaf by many travelers who came and left the village. Despite all the beauty of the various plants that reside in the garden, the crowning glory of the garden is the cascade that lies on the farthest end of it. A crystal blue lake sits in front of it, reflecting the golden rays of the sun in a grand display.
I move to sit on a stone bench that overlooks the castle and the river that lies below it. It's perfectly quiet, except the sound of waves crashing onto the stone walls.
I spend years traveling from village to village, from one city to the other, from region to region, every one more beautiful that the other in it's unique way. I completed every mission Sinan gave me without protest, all in hope of seeing Paradise again.
Now, whilst I sit here and gaze upon the citadel which loomed darkly in front of me, as if it had been hewn from the very limestone itself. I realize that I have been blind the whole time. I have seen more than most men my age and seen more bloodshed than any ordinary man could in his whole lifetime. I realize that the Paradise I spent years searching for was in front my eyes the whole time, I was just too blind in my want to find it to actually see it.
Paradise was not some far off place I had once visited that provided the inspiration to keep killing. It was the home that I had grown up in. It was the one place that I felt safe, protected by its tall, stone walls. It was the imposing castle of many turrets surrounded by shimmering rivers. It was the buildings and markets of the sprawling village below, the miles and miles of craggy terrain and flowing rivers.
An oasis of peace.