The wind blew, encouraging Yusuf to pull the scarf tighter around his face. His boots molded large prints into the fresh snow as he walked, but it was the air that really chilled him. Kostantiniyye had seen an unprecedented amount of snowfall that December, and the icy rooftops were taking their toll on the Ottoman Assassins' maneuverability.
As he strolled through the newly decorated streets of Galata, Yusuf considered where his life was headed. In truth, the walk had been meant to clear his head, as sometimes being Grandmaster was
Seven months had gone by since the death of Ishak Pasha, but the Brotherhood did not seem to have changed. Many of its members had already started to see Yusuf as the new Mentor before the old one retired, but even they felt something ebb away when the vizier passed. Though Yusuf couldn't blame them, he was left somewhat saddened that only a handful of Assassins felt truly sorry for Ishak's death.
It had been a struggle to retain their friends in the court, Yusuf recalled. When he'd first paid his visits to the nobles partial to his cause, the men had been skeptical. They did not believe Yusuf to be Ishak's pupil. He seemed too young, too inexperienced and finally- too common. It was his smile alone that managed to keep the Turk's allies from turning tail.
the accusation echoed in Yusuf's mind as he rounded a corner, making more tracks in the snow. Three months ago he'd turned thirty; old enough to have a wife and family, a home of his own. But instead he'd watched his childhood friends grow into fathers while he remained alone, a little boy playing general.
Yusuf was prevented from further grappling with his thoughts by the outburst of his student, who came dashing towards him through the bitter wind.
"Yes?" The Turk nodded for her to proceed and folded his hands into his sleeves, regretting not bringing his gloves.
The young woman paused to catch her breath, "Your presence is requested at the headquarters!"
"What seems to be the trouble?" Yusuf asked, eyebrows raised. Everything had been quiet when he'd left only an hour ago.
The Assassin appeared hesitant to answer. She bit her lip before replying, "There is a situation. Khamen said he could take care of it, but," she swallowed, "I thought you should know."
"What type of situation?" Yusuf's eyes narrowed. He'd been hoping for a little time off
"I cannot explain here, Mentor. Please, follow me."
When master and apprentice neared the hideout's courtyard, they were greeted by strangled shouts. The Bursan quickened his pace and entered the square to find one of his strongest pupils restraining a young boy.
The boy screamed profanity and threats his captor, who continued to hold him in a deathly-tight grip. Finally the Assassin noted Yusuf's presence and let the street urchin go, eager to show respect.
"What is this?" Yusuf demanded as the youngster collapsed onto the snow, coughing.
"Just a rat, effendim," The student replied, throwing a hand in the boy's direction. "He's been harassing us for days now."
The adolescent stood, brushing himself off. When Yusuf studied him, it became apparent he was much older than he looked. While the male was short, his eyes were large, and his hair messy, there was a certain hardness in his face that could not belong to a child.
When the young man caught sight of Yusuf, his expression brightened. Immediately he rushed to the Turk and fell before his feet, singing out praise.
Yusuf's eyes widened with alarm and he instinctively pulled his boot free of his admirer's lunge. Khamem, the larger Assassin, quickly dragged the boy off him.
"No," Yusuf intervened when the youngster cried out against his subjugator, "Let him speak."
The Assassin gave Yusuf a look that questioned his sanity, but released the teenager yet again.
"You are Yusuf Tazim," the young man exclaimed, staring at the Turk with uncomfortable intensity, "leader of the Assassin Brotherhood!"
"And what may I do for you, genc bir?" (young one) Yusuf asked cautiously.
Before anyone could stop him, the boy was back on the ground, groveling at Yusuf's feet.
"I wish to join you!" He swore, "I want to become an Assassin!"
"Please, Mentor, allow me to toss him out," The pupil pleaded, "he's a desperate case."
"No!" The adolescent yelped as his assailant's arms took a swing at him. Yusuf stopped his student with a waved hand and bent down to the boy's height.
"Why should I listen to you, eh?" He asked quietly.
There was no response. The wide-eyed teen's cheeks heated and he became flustered. It was clear his mind was racing for something, anything to say- but no answer materialized.
Finally, he whispered, "I beg of you, kind master. At least allow me a chance to prove myself."
Yusuf considered it. The Mentor then climbed back to his feet, glaring down at the street rat harshly. Even the wind fell silent as all attention in the courtyard centered on Yusuf's decision.
"One chance, provided you do not kiss my feet ever again."
The boy's name was Aharan oglu Amam, and he was nineteen years of age. He was skinny, easily fatigued, and inflexible- all traits that spelled doom to any upcoming recruit.
In the following weeks, Yusuf personally oversaw Aharan's training, but the results were not promising. The poor wretch couldn't hold a sword properly, and his sense of balance was practically a joke. And yet the young man was infused with a sort of determination that was so strong Yusuf shuddered just talking to him.
The one thing Aharan excelled in, to the surprise of both Yusuf and his peers, was bombcrafting. The recruit had a mind for such mixtures that even the master hadn't contemplated, and his casings never fell short, as others often did. Aharan was also a fine blacksmith, brilliantly repairing bent blades and blunt tips.
Admittedly, Yusuf wished he had twenty recruits with Aharan's resolve. But the fact of the matter was that if Yusuf had twenty recruits with Aharan's resolve, they would no longer have a city to defend, as the Templars would have vanquished them years ago. And so even though it pained him, when the day came for the recruits of his class to receive their new ranks, Aharan received nothing.
Yusuf was not surprised that the boy came to visit his office later that day. The Turk was napping at his desk using a stack of reports as a pillow when the knocks came.
The Assassin quickly roused himself and shook, muttering a gruff 'come in'. Fortunately, the lad who entered was too caught up in his own dilemma to notice Yusuf's brief slumber. Aharan sat across from the desk in the same seat Yusuf had occupied countless times before, and in the back of his mind the Bursan wondered if his successor would sit with him the way he did with Ishak.
"Speak, ogrenci," (student) Yusuf beckoned him, discreetly cracking his fingers on the desk's surface.
"Forgive me, Mentor, for I am stupid."
Yusuf sighed heavily. This would be a difficult talk, this would.
"No, you're not. You are simply challenged."
"Challenged?" Aharan repeated, glaring up at his teacher with evident self-loathing, "I have failed nearly all of your tests!"
"I cannot climb, I cannot run, and I cannot fight. I am a disgrace to the Brotherhood-"
"Silence!" Yusuf's eruption stunned the boy into closing his mouth, but the Turk felt his patience wearing thin. After a few moments of irritated quiet, Yusuf continued: "No apprentice of mine is a disgrace."
Aharan bowed his head and mumbled, "Of course, Mentor. Forgive me."
Why did the mutterings of a single man unnerve him so? If Aharan continued to feel so utterly hopeless, Yusuf would be forced to grab him by his shoulders and shake the boy until he developed a sense of confidence.
Suddenly the Turk felt the need for another nap.
"You are a smart boy, Aharan," The Bursan began, composing his thoughts and straightening, "whether or not you know it. And your training has been sticking to some recess of your mind, I'm sure."
Yusuf allowed the teenager to process this information before bringing his idea into the light.
"I propose you take on a mission by yourself," at the pupil's alarmed expression, Yusuf added, "I will watch over you, of course. But I will only intervene if something should go wrong."
"You know what your problem is?" Yusuf continued pointedly, frowning down at the boy, "You have no self-esteem. You do not respect yourself, nor give yourself credit where it's due."
Aharan merely stared in confusion, unable to decide whether Yusuf's analysis was a compliment or an insult.
"Well, arkadashim, how can you expect me to commend you when you cannot commend yourself?"
"But, master," the younger man cried, "I do not understand! How does one acquire esteem?"
"Ah," Yusuf grinned wryly, waving a finger as he leaned forward in his desk, "That's the question, isn't it? Hopefully, your next assignment will help you discover the answer."
When Yusuf sent the boy out that afternoon, both were wondering what that assignment would be.
Despite the harshness with which winter was proceeding, Yusuf found he was almost used to the cold by now. As he watched Aharan's progress from his icy perch on the roof, the Turk noted that his toes were losing their blood flow quite efficiently. Luckily, this mission would be a brief one. Yusuf was looking forward to a nice hot drink when he got back
The task had practically presented itself the moment Yusuf left his office: a Templar official had grown bold enough to set foot on Assassin turf. It was an easy job to get rid of him and enforce a rule for the rest of Kostantiniyye- do not infringe on Assassin territory.
And so Yusuf rubbed his hands together, still waiting patiently as Aharan tailed the noble and his two almogavar bodyguards. Yusuf assumed the sole reason his student was not tossing a bomb was because a citizen must be nearby. Inaction made his supervision quite tedious, though
Finally, there was a spot of movement. Yusuf's gaze focused on Aharan's sudden lunge as he thrust his hookblade into the back of an unsuspecting almogavar. The brute cried out, more in surprise than pain, and staggered forward. While the Templar and his companion stared, shell shocked, Aharan hurled a smokebomb to the ground.
And Yusuf's sightseeing came to an end.
The master scrambled down from his roost and ran into the street, squinting as best he could into the thick, black screen. He could hear a hookblade in action, whirling, clicking, and striking. A man screamed, only to be silenced, and a heavy thud sounded.
After a few more moments, the artificial fog lifted. The axe-wielding Byzantines lay on the ground in a heap, beaten but breathing. In the center of the road, Aharan held his blade to the Templar's throat.
Yusuf approached hesitantly, anticipating his student's kill. But the longer they waited, the less sure Yusuf became that the murder would even take place.
"What are you waiting for, Assassin?" The target mocked through a split and bloodied lip. Apparently, the little recruit had quite a punch.
Aharan's hookblade bit deeper into the man's neck, but it still did not run through. His hood shielded the boy's thoughts from Yusuf, who was now glancing around the area anxiously. If they were not gone soon, the local Ottoman patrols would be forced to involve themselves.
Suddenly, the apprentice lowered his head. His blade slipped from his target's jugular, and he murmured, "Forgive me, master. I cannot do this."
Yusuf walked over swiftly, eyeing the smug Templar with disdain. He crouched down to his student's height and touched his shoulder. When Aharan's eyes became visible, they welled with tears.
"Are you certain, arkadashim?"
Aharan nodded slowly. Yusuf sighed, admitting to himself that this had not been one of the expected outcomes. He brandished his own hidden blade and drove it into the noble's chest, listening closely to his last, wrenched gasps.
The call originated from down the street, but Yusuf knew that wasn't much of a head start. He leapt to his feet and broke into a run, Aharan behind him.
It was easy to lose their pursuers in Galata, as the area was quite friendly and hide spots were widely accessible. But the snow and ice slowed their progress, and Aharan's footsteps were misguided.
The chase ended on a rooftop near the hideout. Yusuf cleared the area as his apprentice scampered up the ladder and doubled up, wheezing. It appeared the Ottomans had lost their trail for the time being; they were free to relax.
Yusuf stared at Aharan with crossed arms. The teen took a while to notice, preoccupied as he was with soothing the burning sensation in his legs. But within a few seconds, Aharan looked up and nearly shriveled under his master's scrutiny.
"Mentor," He swallowed, staring wide-eyed into the snow, "I
"You do not need to apologize, young one," Yusuf explained, "I am not upset."
"Your expressions indicate otherwise
" Aharan whispered almost inaudibly.
The Bursan rolled his eyes and grit his teeth, thinking carefully on how to present the case in a non-threatening way. However just when he opened his mouth to speak, his student's eyes bulging from his head and he cried:
Before he could react, Yusuf was knocked to the ground. His head slammed against the hard ice of the roof and the air fled his lungs. A crossbow bolt sailed through the place he'd just been standing.
A panicked yell sounded and Yusuf turned just in time to see his student fly off the edge of the roof, arms flailing. There was a sickening crunch.
Yusuf climbed to his feet and flung a throwing knife at the crossbowman he'd failed to notice earlier, effectively ending the threat. Then he leaned over the rim and winced down at Aharan's twisted form. Fortunately, the fall was not quite enough to kill a man, but still somewhat deadly
Yusuf descended quickly and ran to his apprentice's side. The poor boy was out cold, and at first glance already supported a broken leg and a splintered wrist.
It was lucky indeed that the hideout was not too far away. This, Yusuf told himself as he gathered the teen in his arms, would not end well.
The doctor warned them that it could be several days before Aharan awoke. But the moment Yusuf laid him in his bed at the main Den, the boy's eyes fluttered open.
Yusuf hushed him, and soon Aharan slipped back into unconsciousness.
The hekim reappeared in the room after a few more minutes, clutching a pad of paper in his hand.
"How bad is it?" Yusuf asked tentatively, referring to the doctor's prior examination.
The elderly man peered at his notes before replying, "Bad, but not terrible. I doubt he will ever be able to run again, but he should be able to stand."
"Not able to run?" Yusuf repeated, brow furrowing, "What do you mean?"
The doctor shrugged, speaking with an air of crude honesty, "His knee is shattered. I've managed to fix the bone's alignment, but it's going to be an esik agri when he gets older." (pain in the ass)
Yusuf stared at him for a moment, then sighed in defeat. "He will never run again?"
"Not without much difficulty, no."
The Assassin nodded dumbly and paid the healer, thanking him for his time. The recruit would be crushed, but Yusuf did not have the heart to lie to him.
It was another day before Aharan came to. Yusuf was not with the incapacitated adolescent nearly as much as he'd intended to be, but he managed to be there when the boy opened his eyes once again.
"Ah, welcome back to the world of the living, ogrenci." Yusuf's smile was the first blurry image to come to his vision.
"Master," Aharan said after a moment. His tone was sad.
"How do you feel?"
Aharan only shook his head. For someone who'd just recovered from a small coma, he was awfully coherent.
I failed, master."
It looked as though the apprentice wanted to say more, but he was too fatigued. Yusuf placed his hand on the teen's, forcing him to look up.
"Aharan," He began kindly, "it is true that you failed your mission. And it is also true that I will not be promoting you to Assassin status."
A look of extreme disappointment clouded the boy's face, and his cheeks colored with shame.
"Instead you will become a Bombmaster."
Aharan looked up suddenly, puzzled. "Bombmaster?"
Yusuf's smile returned, "You have a talent with the little devils I've never seen before. And Allah knows I cannot keep track of all the Brotherhood's gunpowder myself."
Realization began to dawn on the eager recruit. The humiliation and despair slowly melted into a look of excitement, "You mean
I'm still an Assassin?"
"Evet, arkadashim. And a very welcome one at that."
Aharan's lips split into a grin and he hugged his master with his one good arm, "Thank you, Mentor! Thank you! I will not disappoint you again, I promise!"
Yusuf chuckled, "I know, young one. Only do me a favor, and try not to worship me in public."