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And The Stars Remain

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Eyes. They followed me everywhere. There is a universe behind my eyelids. And I was lost in it. I could not find my way out. If there was a way out. Maybe I did not want to escape. Maybe I wanted to stay there forever in the darkness, my old friend. Normal people, they do not have a clue how beautiful darkness can be. It hides everything and shows all at the same time. One can imagine the light to be as bright as they want without the blindness of the eyes.

The demons appeared from the walls. They spun in circles and cried for my attention. I did not understand their empty chatter. But I succumbed anyway. They would always be there for me when all else failed. They would always love me. I had always denied their presence, for they’d been so quiet all my life I would never have known they were there. But now they were here forever. Forever and ever to stay. I welcomed them with open arms.

I have danced with my demons, many times. I can see from the look upon your face that you must not believe me. Worry not, for there will come a time when your life spirals out of your control until you can do nothing but accept that all you have is yourself and what lives within you. There is nothing better. They encircled me with their slithering arms and claws, engulfing me in their power. Let them come. Let me drown in their caresses. I’ll never have enough. They wanted me, though they didn't care about me. I let them have me.

No one came around anymore. My ghosts frightened them away. They weren’t able to be seen with the human eye, but their company was made known. All living things left me alone. That was the one good thing about my demons, the little shits. We fought on the same side. This was what had become of me when they left me here and let these monsters eat me alive.

There was chaos. I did not know if it was happening in my head or outside the door. I heard noises. Unnatural. Inhumane. Believe me, I would know what those sound like. I’ve lived them, seen them, felt them. And now, they echoed throughout the hallway like a riot.

But yet, I did not move. I am not sure if it was because I couldn’t, or chose not to. I almost opened my legs, preparing myself for him. But he never made his appearance so obviously, choosing instead to slither in with the silence of a snake. Something was wrong. But somehow, I did not care.

The door rattled. It reverberated with the pounding that emanated from the other side. This wasn’t my heart I was hearing. This was danger. I scurried to my corner, hugging myself together. The door swung open violently, the normal screech multiplied to a loud scream as its hinges were strained. The light itself was an intruder, intimidating and assaulting my eyes. I cried out, hiding my face in my arms, trying to get away, but the light came in anyways. I had always hated the light. Always... The demons squealed, hiding behind me or in the walls.

A man stood in the doorway, his face made indiscernible by the shadow of his hood. He yanked me to my feet and I stumbled forward. I did not know what was happening. I froze instinctively. He was taking me away.

I did not want to leave my cell, my safe haven. I did not want to leave. Why did I have to leave? They had never seen the need to pull me from it. Why start now when everything bad that could happen can be done behind closed doors and away from prying eyes?

The Assassin, upon seeing my refusal, took the initiative to scoop me up in his arms and hauled me away. I was too weak to fight, too drained to even voice my protests. He was flanked by two other young novices, who stood at the ready, on alert.

I was taken through the endless, stuffy corridors with stone as cold as my soul. Everything ran together in a blur. The Assassins did not speak, only continued with an air of steely determination. They were on a mission. They had their orders. I could not discern what those orders were. But they knew what to do.

My demons were not pleased. They hated the light. They rippled and swirled in my peripherals, dark masses with glowing, orange crevices for eyes that morphed into different, frightening shapes.

I wished I knew what was happening. But I could not speak my confusion. Why? Why had they come to retrieve me, the most unimportant, filthy, used piece of trash in this horrid place?! Where were they taking me, better yet? As far as I could comprehend, I was not to leave my cell. That was under the orders of the dictator and no one was to disobey his orders unless they wanted to be executed most painfully. What is… am I to be executed? No… there wouldn’t be this much commotion in that. Besides, the dictator did not account for mercy in his affairs, especially those that concerned me. Why would he…

There were screams from behind me, but my captor persisted, a blank expression on his face. Follow orders, ask no questions, even as his comrades were slaughtered brutally behind him. Continue the course even as I was thrown to the ground and the rings of swordfight came to life around me. I did not roll out of the way, only laid there in the hopes I would be crushed or stabbed.

No such luck. There was the thud of a body and then another. Muffled groaning came somewhere from beside me.

“A horse… at the front,” The Assassin grunted, blood flowing freely from his mouth, staining his gritted teeth. He could not be saved if blood had already reached the mouth. “If you want out alive… Run for your life.”

His life then dribbled from his lips, everything he had worked for spilled onto the front of his robes. The poor man. He was only following orders. That is the true mark of an Assassin. One who follows his Creed and his leader to the death.

His body exploded into a million shards of light. I did not know what was real anymore. I struggled to my feet and tripped my way back to the floor. I crawled down the hallway, the coldness of the stone seeping into my skin. I felt for an exit, hoping to not be discovered. No way but forward. What way was forward?

There was fog in my vision and the demons were swimming in it, playfully inviting me to join. I only ignored them. That man had an undertaking to do and for whatever reason, I was going to finish it for him.

I did not know how I was not spotted, for I was so discombobulated I was rolling my way down the stairs as my legs refused to hold me up for long periods of time. I supposed everyone was too busy fighting to pay attention.

I was then outside. I could not figure out what baffled me more, the sight of the sun or that Assassins, hooded figures with the same white robes, were at war everywhere I looked. They bit and tore at each other with iron fangs, hungry for the other’s blood, the only thing that united them anymore. The light tore at my vision, sending my knees to the rocky earth, burning my skin. What was happening? Why? Why, why, why?! Tears poured down my face unknowingly. Some of my demons beckoned me back into the castle, back to the safety of my cell. Others, either the brave ones or the stupid ones, soared into the fray, encircling warriors, poking and prodding at them, as if betting who would win each particular dual. I can’t figure out what way to go, what way is up and down. My world was tumbling, falling faster with every clash of a sword that I heard. I couldn’t sort it out, discern what was reality and what was not.

I did not wait to stop and ask. I pulled myself to my feet and ran to get away from it all, from myself. Run hard. Run fast. Run forward. Don’t look back. I failed the last two orders. Swords impaled and crashed above me and on all sides of me. I dodged them the best I could, swinging at every – Look out! That’s a knife!

I dove down below a silvery line that glinted in the rays. Note to self: don’t run into those. Watch where one runs. Don’t hit anyone, don’t let anyone hit you, don’t trip and fall and most importantly, don’t draw attention to yourself and let them catch you alive. How hard can that be? After all, I did not know who was who and what side they were on. There was only the demons and what was left of me and these simple commands to keep me in one piece.

Down the steep, trademark incline of Masyaf I went. Miraculously, I was not felled. There! There’s the horse, the white one, awaiting my arrival. I made it to the horse colored Assassin white, the color of snow. I used to love snow. At least, I think I did...

Only when I had mounted the white steed did those against me bother to give chase. I was running, digging my face in the horse’s mane. I was alive. I was going, going, gone. There were shouts behind me and the whistling of the wind in my ear. I shivered. I was not safe yet. I trusted the horse to know the destination, as it was not here.

There was a yell to my side and suddenly I was being pulled from my seat. I was screeching and kicking like a caged eagle. The ground was distorted, flying at a dangerous speed, a blend of instant death. I pushed the man into it. I was not sorry.

But I was now in a precarious position, hanging like a madman on the side of my horse, exposed, easily nabbed and overtaken. They took advantage of that.

There was a shouted signal in the distance. A banshee wailing of oncoming danger. A symphony of instantaneous injury. Arrows. There was no escape from them.

They buried themselves in my horse’s side. He screamed and toppled to the ground. I was soaring in a leap of faith. The ground became even closer. I accepted it. I wanted it. I embraced it. I would have kissed it if I could.

The ground arrived faster than expected, with a thunderous blast, giving me not only a bear hug, but a prompt punch to the entire body. Darkness returned, zipping up around me like a comforting blanket. I have wanted you, darkness. I’ve always loved you.

And with that, I am dead, gone gone, gone… The dictator’s dear one is dead.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

The dimness was nice while it lasted. For once, my demons were at bay and I was at peace. The gloom was a comfort, secure and warm. Lovely.

And then it was ripped away like the covers on a cold morning. I was startled by how fast it went, almost as quick as it had come on. Colors swam into my vision, blinking and flickering until my gaze was fixated upon eyes. They stared down at me through golden irises. Another through dark ones, like that of the night I had just escaped from. Reserved, blue ones stared at me from afar, unsure of how to help.

I did not recognize a one of them. Foreign. Unfamiliar, perhaps a threat. Where am I? A glimpse of the surroundings told me I was in a room of some sort, a lantern burning beside me. The sheets were tucked tightly around me and immediately I felt tied down. The room felt claustrophobic enough with all of these people staring down at me like they had discovered an alien. I sure felt like I was.

I wanted out. I wanted to escape. Had I fulfilled that man’s wishes? I felt I had not. He was still rotting in that hallway and I had let him down. I would not let his death be in vain. He was only following orders.

“Shh, shh, you’re safe, Rajah…” A soft, female voice cooed me, laying a gentle hand to my torso. I was not safe. Not yet. That man died in vain! I had to get away! I was not away! I needed to be! Far away. Far, far, far…

By then, the man with the golden eyes and a graying face was trying to hold me down, forcibly. I would not be stopped. These people were no more than enemies in my eyes. I wanted away, to Jerusalem, though I know not why.

I was clawing, kicking, screaming until my throat bled. I must get out! Get away from this place where I have known nothing but pain and fear. Let me out! LET ME GO!

And they did. They let me take flight out the door with my freshly coated, blood caked nails and sore throat. I ran into the night. The abandoned village disappeared like the clouds of dust I kicked up. There were sentries on duty, hooded and lethal. They caught my crazed escape attempt within seconds.

They all grabbed for me at the same time. I darted and fought. I yelled my reasoning, among other things. They were unconvinced. But I gave them no choice, aggressive and belligerent in my actions, struggling like the animal I had become until they let me go. I ran until my legs cramped and my lungs burned. Rocks cut my feet. Wind tore at my face and hair.

I kept going and did not look back. I kept running until I came to a cliff side overlooking a canyon with a blue snake at the bottom. It would not stop me. I would not let a cliff side stop me! But I hesitated to admire the beauty of it.

Nature had created a daunting masterpiece. The white cliffs were jagged and menacing, jutting out into the crevasse. The trees grew at odd angles from the side, trembling in the cold wind that blew from below. And the river, peaceful and slow, cut mercilessly through the rock and soil, making its way silently to the sea, never to be seen again. Like me…

I stared down the dizzying drop. My hair blew in my face and my clothes, tattered threads, flapped violently in the breeze. I looked up at the unending bright dots. Why? Why must it come to this? They didn’t answer.

Unashamed, I peered back down to see my demons floating and swirling around one another. Some splashed in each other’s faces. How joyful they seemed… They called to me, promising to catch me, that it wouldn’t hurt. One step was all it took. And all my hurting would be over. No more pain, no more agony, no more hallucinations, nothing. It was tempting. The man’s orders had been to get away, had they not? He told me to run. I had done so. This would do him justice and then some. He would be proud.

I edged my foot off of the cliff, my toe testing the air like I would test the heat of bathwater. There was nothing holding me back, nothing but air…

Stop!” An urgent cry came from behind me. I froze. Oh Allah, what now?

I turned to find the man with the golden eyes inching towards me, approaching me as if I were a spooked horse.

“Do. Not. Move.” His voice was slow, reassuring. I did not buy it.

“I’m going away. You can’t stop me!” I am not sure if that was the demons or me speaking.

The man halted, his eyes hard. “No, you aren’t. Not while I am here.”

“Go away! Leave me be!” I cried, turning back to my work.

“Rajah, if you jump, I will have to jump in after you.” With all the confidence in the world, he began to remove his boots.

“Don’t be absurd. You’ll be killed.”

“That makes two of us. Besides, I am a good swimmer.”

“The hell you are. You can’t swim.” I blurted out. Old Eagle Eye couldn’t swim. Wait…… Eagle Eye? Where did that come from? How did I know his nickname?

The man smirked. “As long as we are both bluffing, would you be ever so kind as to move away from the edge?”

I made no move. In seeing that, he sighed and proceeded to remove his hidden blade and belt.

“I am not going to say the fall won't hurt. But I am more concerned about how cold that water will be.” He said, peering down regrettably at the calm below him.

I snapped my head to him, eyes ablaze. “How cold?”

He pursed his lips. “Freezing,” he replied, “Perhaps a little warmer.”

Sighing again, he crouched down, rubbing his hands together, eyeing the horizon thoughtfully. After a while, he said hesitantly, “Your husband, his brother and I, when we were young and foolish, ventured out and were playing out on a frozen lake during the winter. Well, we thought it frozen. I went through some thin ice and Rajah, water that cold, like that right down there, it knocks the wind out of you. Every rational thought leaves your mind. It is similar in feeling to being stabbed a thousand times.”

He exhaled again, straightening up, his hands on his hips, lamenting. “That is why I am not eager to jump in there after you. But I will. I’ll follow you all the way to the bottom. I have no choice. I owe it to Malik.”

Malik?!” That name… I knew that name… from somewhere..

“Yes. Your husband would be none too pleased with either of us if you follow through with your thoughts. Neither will your son.”

I looked back down at the water. The demons looked annoyed, whipping the water furiously, angry I was not coming as fast as they desired.

My husband… son… I had a husband? A son? Who were they? I know, you are thinking this is the moment that I will remember their faces and come away from the edge. You are in for a letdown. I did not remember. Their faces… I cannot remember. I couldn’t… There was nothing.. I had shut everything out in my time in that cell. I did not want to remember what I had lost, for the pain that would consume me would leave me in a state worse than I am now. I had nothing to live for. As far as I was concerned, no one existed anymore but me, my demons and the dictator. Nothing… They were little more than dead to me.

“Rajah… Take my hand. You do not want to do this, to yourself or them. The chances of you making it to the bottom without hitting something are slim. You may not even die at the bottom. You may break every bone in your body, except your neck. It will not be painless.”

I stared at his hand. Who were my husband and son? Were they alive? If not, it would be easier to jump. The demons assured me I would not feel anything. But would Eagle Eye have it the same? I would have his death on my hands. I could not take a life that had nothing to do with my suffering. But I remained frozen, for the demons would not let go or loosen their grip.

“You love Malik. This is true, Rajah?”

“I… I’m not sure. I don’t feel anything. I don’t think you understand that.”

“Perhaps. That may be true, but I know he loves you. Do not give up on him.”

“I do not know that. I don’t feel it.” The demons spoke.

“So you believe ending your life is the best option?”

“Yes. I do.” I did not hesitate.

Eagle Eye was crestfallen. “What you will do to Malik… What will your son think of you?”

“Then lie. Tell them anything but the truth.”

“I don’t lie, Rajah. Not anymore.”

I looked back and his eyes spoke the truth and nothing but the truth.

“If you do this, Rajah, I will never forgive you. Because you will hurt Malik, and for that, forgiveness is unattainable for you in my eyes.”

I could care less about his forgiveness. But I did not want to hurt the mysterious man he spoke of. Malik. My… husband. My child could easily be lied to until he was old enough to understand, but my husband… No. He would know the instant it happened. If we had been married, we must have been close enough to feel each other’s pain. I could feel it now. I would not have that on my hands, either.

I reached back and carefully took his outstretched hand, rough and warm with years of sun, work, and blood, following numbly as he pulled me to safety. He said nothing as he led me back to their camp. No gloating in his victory. Not a word.

He left me with the night-eyed woman, whom he kissed and promised of his quick return. He then threw me a soft goodbye, “Safety and Peace, Rajah.” He and his expectant blue eyed son then left the house.

The woman simply held me in her arms, never letting go, only humming softly in the lamplight, a soft glow that illuminated her aged but still beautiful face, with the sparkling black eyes of the young woman she had once been. She rocked me like a child. I stared at the lamp, flickering at me. The demons had begun to subside their protests, taking to nipping at the lantern’s flames and floating lazily about the ceiling. I just clung to the woman, whose presence radiated safety and warmth. She would not hurt me. I did not remember these people well, but I felt a familiar, long forgotten sense of home. I did not remember where that sense had come from beforehand, but it felt nice. There was no obscurity, no perverted thoughts, no more of that. I relaxed. I felt at ease, at home and cared for. This was –

A ruckus outside had me rigid in her lap. She had to pry my fingers away from her middle to move and she glanced quickly out the window, exclaiming with a look of joy upon her face, “They’re back!”

I could only assume she meant her husband and son. I watched her fling open the door gleefully. She paused only to acknowledge that I had not joined her.

“They got him out, Rajah. He’s safe.”

He... Him… Who? … My... husband?

My husband. He was safe… he was alive… Not dead, unharmed.. away from the dictator… He was away from the demons.. He was-

“He’s home.”