"A small sacrifice to save many. It is necessary."
(Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for both Altaïr's Chronicles and Assassin's Creed ahead!)
Altaïr was born in 1165 into a group called the Assassins (or Assassin's Order, among other names), a secret order of –– you guessed it –– assassins dedicated to preserving the survival of free will; in order to do so, they would publicly (and often spectacularly) assassinate political figures who sought to take it away. Despite his parents both being Assassins, Altaïr wasn't close to them: it was thought by the Order that such attachments would weaken people, causing them to think twice and falter when their lives were on the line. As such, they were never able to show him much love; when they died, it was like two strangers dying. Al Mualim, the Grand Master of the Assassin's Order, was closer to a father to Altaïr: he raised and trained him from a very early age, teaching him the arts of combat and stealth. Altaïr excelled in his training, displaying incredible talent and skill. By the time he turned twenty-five, he had reached the rank of Master Assassin (thought to have learned all that he could), one of the highest in the Order.
In 1190, Altaïr was given a mission: to retrieve a sacred object called the Chalice, which was said to have the power to unite all the factions of whatever side obtained it. In this case, it would be either the Crusaders or the Saracens, which would end the Third Crusade and grant victory for one side or the other. It was believed that such power was far too great for one individual to hold; as such, the Chalice had to be found and destroyed.
So Altaïr set out to do just that. He learned that the Chalice was located in the Temple of Sand, and that he would need three keys to get in. After assassinating several targets to obtain the keys, then another to obtain a map to the temple, he finally arrived at the Temple of Sand. Once there, however, he discovered nothing but an empty chest. Lord Basilisk –– a member of the Knights Templar, a religious military order and sworn enemies of the Assassins –– was there as well. Basilisk hinted that the Chalice was actually a woman, but quite suddenly, the temple began to collapse, and Altaïr was forced to flee.
After finding out where Basilisk had fled to, Altaïr hunted him down and nearly killed him, but spared his life in exchange for information. Basilisk told him where the Chalice was located, then informed him that the Templars were planning to poison the water supply of the city Acre, killing everyone within. Altaïr managed to thwart the poisoning of Acre's water supply, then set off to obtain the Chalice. Upon doing so, he discovered that the Chalice was actually a woman named Adha, who he'd had some sort of relationship with before. (Later, it's very strongly implied that he was in love with her.) Unfortunately, their reunion was a short one: Adha informed him that a man named Harash, second only to Al Mualim in the Assassin's Order, was working with the Templars. She convinced him that Harash must be killed if she was to be safe, and they parted ways, planning to meet again and run away together once Harash was dead.
However, after Altaïr cut his way through Harash's guards and killed the man, Basilisk captured Adha. Naturally, Altaïr went after her again, catching up to Basilisk on his ship. Although he managed to kill the Templar, Adha was on a different ship, which sailed off before he could reach it. In spite of having no idea where the ship was going, he swore that he would find her eventually.
And eventually, he did. Unfortunately, he was too late: Adha had been killed. He proceeded to hunt down each man responsible and kill them, but found neither "satisfaction or release". In spite of these emotional wounds, life went on.
About year after this incident, Altaïr received orders to retrieve an artifact that the Templars were after, which was located in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. He and two other Assassins, Malik and his brother Kadar, infiltrated the temple to do just that. However, during the course of their infiltration, Altaïr killed an old man who was simply in the wrong place. Malik had harsh words for him, saying that it went against their ways; Altaïr defended himself by quoting the Assassin's Creed: nothing is true, everything is permitted. He went on to say that his way was better, and they proceeded further into the temple. Further inside, they spotted Robert de Sable, the leader of the Templars. Against Malik's advice, Altaïr exposed them all and attempted to assassinate the man. He was unsuccessful, and wound up being thrown out of the room: the door collapsed behind him, leaving him with no way to obtain the artifact, assassinate Robert, or assist his fellow Assassins. Thoroughly defeated, he returned to the Assassin's fortress, Masyaf, believing that Al Mualim would see things his way. (His way being that his failure was due to Malik attempting to restrain him, when he was attempting to go after Robert.)
Unfortunately for Altaïr, Al Mualim didn't see it his way. Furthermore, Malik survived, and managed to obtain the artifact as well. This came at a price: the Templars followed Malik back to Masyaf, which until then had been secret. Altaïr's punishment was delayed until the horde was defeated. Although Altaïr managed to save a great deal of Assassins, as well as trigger a trap that forced Robert's forces to flee, Al Mualim told him that it was ultimately Altaïr's fault that they attacked in the first place. In a single mission, Altaïr had broken all three tenants of the Creed: he had killed an innocent (the old man), he'd exposed and brought attention to himself (confronting Robert), and finally had compromised the Brotherhood (his actions having led to Robert's attack). Declaring him a traitor, Al Mualim stabbed him in the stomach (whiiich was actually an illusion, but anyway).
Upon waking (and getting over the fact that he was alive), Altaïr found out that, as punishment for his betrayal, he'd been stripped of his rank (and possessions) and had to earn it back again. He was a novice once more, and he had to relearn how to be an Assassin. To begin, he had to track down whoever had assisted the Templars in their attack on Masyaf, though he wasn't permitted to kill the man. After biting down his pride and adequately performing this task, he was given another task: nine men throughout the Holy Land needed to die, and he was to carry out the deeds. In exchange for their lives, his rank would be restored, and he would be permitted to continue living.
So Altaïr set off to take down his first target in Damascus. Before, his targets were tracked by other Assassins; he simply killed them. But, as part of his punishment, he had to do the work himself. Grudgingly, Altaïr did so, eventually coming up with and carrying out a plan to assassinate the black market dealer, Tamir. Before Tamir died –– or rather, in the conversation he and Altaïr had in the moments between life and death (more on that in the abilities section) –– Tamir referred to "brothers" and admitted that he wasn't working alone. Altaïr was slightly puzzled by these words, but returned to Al Mualim, and a rank and a piece of his equipment was restored.
Next came the assassination of Garnier de Naplouse, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier in Acre. After gathering enough information, Altaïr received permission to and assassinated Garnier in his hospital. Before he died, Garnier was the first to refer to the Artifact as a Piece of Eden, but hardly had time to elaborate. After escaping from the guards and hiding in the Bureau, Altaïr returned to Al Mualim once more. He was granted another rank and piece of equipment, then sent out again.
This time, Altaïr's target was in Jerusalem, where Malik was now leader of the Bureau. He was received understandably harshly, with Malik not even trying to contain his hatred. But Malik reluctantly granted Altaïr permission to investigate, which he did. Equally reluctantly, Malik granted him permission to then assassinate his target, the slave trader Talal. However, Talal knew that Altaïr was coming, and he had to be chased through the streets before being executed. Like Garnier, Talal insisted that what he was doing was helping people, and like Tamir, he referred to working with others. After escaping back to the Bureau, Altaïr was criticized by Malik for bringing so much attention to himself during the assassination, then returned to Al Mualim once again.
Al Mualim granted Altaïr another piece of his equipment, then sent him out to assassinate three more targets; one in Damascus, one in Acre, and one in Jerusalem. In Damascus, he killed the merchant king Abu'l Nuqoud; in the moments before death, he mentioned serving someone else's cause, and said that he thought Altaïr already knew them. Then he said that he and Altaïr weren't so different; they both took the lives of others with the conviction that their deaths would make life better for others. Altaïr denied this, to which Abu responded, "I see it in your eyes: you doubt." Somewhat shaken by this, Altaïr nonetheless returned to the Bureau, then to Masyaf.
Next came the assassination of William of Montferrat, lieutenant of Richard the Lionheart and regent of Acre. Believing that William wished to kill Richard and secure Acre for his son, Conrad, Altaïr killed him without a second thought. However, in his dying words, William laughed at the idea of giving Conrad the city, and insisted that it belonged to the people. He claimed, "Everything I did, I did to prepare [the citizens] for the "New World"." Then he said that Altaïr didn't free cities; he damned them. Shaken once again by a dying man's words, Altaïr returned to the Bureau, then Masyaf. But there was no time for reflection; he had another target to eliminate.
In Jerusalem, Altaïr once again received a chilly reception from Malik before beginning his investigation and before setting out to assassinate Majd Addin, regent of the city. Altaïr struck during one of Majd's public executions, before he killed a captured Assassin. Before he died, Majd said that he served the "Brotherhood" because he wanted power, and stated that he killed people simply because it was fun, and because he could. He said that Altaïr would have done the same if he could, to have that kind of power. Altaïr denied this, saying that he may have once, but he'd "learned what becomes of those who lift themselves above others", then stabbed Majd in the neck with his Hidden Blade.
Upon returning to the Bureau, Malik lightened up on him very slightly, saying that he performed as an assassin should; no more, no less. Then it was time to return to Masyaf once again. There, he forcefully demanded that Al Mualim explain the truth of the connections between his targets. Despite that show of arrogance and blatant disregard for authority, Al Mualim did; he said that all nine were members of the Knights Templar. Then he went on to say that the Artifact (the Piece of Eden) that the Templars had been seeking had the power to control people's minds. Now completely convinced that his actions were for a greater cause, Altaïr set out to kill two more targets.
First came a return to Acre to kill Sibrand, the Master of the Knights Teutonic, who had become terrified of the possibility of being killed by the elusive Assassin; he even went so far as to kill an innocent scholar, thinking that the similarly robed man may be the cause of his death. He was right to be paranoid; Altaïr assassinated the man on his ship (taking a very dangerous route over the water in order to do so), where he thought he would be safe. The dying man said that he feared death because he didn't believe in any life after death, and that the Piece of Eden had taught him that there was no god. Saying that they sought to free the Holy Land "from the tyranny of faith", he claimed to have followed his orders while believing in his cause, just as Altaïr did.
After a brief visit to Masyaf, Altaïr set out to Damascus to kill Jubair al Hakim, the Chief Scholar of the city who had set out to burn every book, believing them to be the fuel for the ongoing war. While speaking to the dying man, Altaïr stated, "Men must be free to do what they believe", and that it wasn't their right to punish them. He said that people had to be educated, and that they had to be freed by knowledge, not force. Jubair argued that he was naive, then said the he, too, was a "source of knowledge with which you disagree." Altaïr responded that it was necessary, being a small sacrifice in order to save many; Jubair said that was exactly what he was doing, then passed on.
With eight of his nine targets now dead, Altaïr returned to Masyaf. He only had one man left to kill: Robert de Sable. Having received word that Robert would be in Jerusalem to attend the funeral of Majd Addin, Altaïr set out. There, he met with Malik, but their conversation wasn't hostile; Altaïr had changed over the course of his quest for redemption, and Malik recognized that. After investigating, Altaïr decided to strike during the funeral. Before leaving, however, he apologized to Malik for his actions in Solomon's Temple, which he'd been too proud to do before. Malik refused his apology, saying that Altaïr was no longer the same man, and had nothing to apologize for.
Then Altaïr set out to kill Robert. However, his actions were anticipated, and he was ambushed by Templars. After fighting them off, he moved in to kill Robert … but it wasn't Robert's face he saw when he pulled off his target's helm; it was a woman's. This being the 12th century and all, Altaïr was shocked at the fact that it was a woman, and demanded to know if it was sorcery. The woman, later revealed to be named Maria Thorpe, told him what had happened: Robert knew he would be next, and had put a decoy in his place, giving himself time to ride to Arsuf to plead that the Saracens and Crusaders unite against the Assassins. Altaïr argued that they had no reason to; Maria reminded the Assassin that he had killed nine men on both sides, giving the two a common enemy. Altaïr said that it wasn't nine, but eight; she wasn't his target, and he wouldn't kill her. Then he fled back to the Bureau.
After telling Malik what had happened (and after they both expressed astonishment that the decoy was a woman, right in the middle of a very serious discussion), Malik insisted that Altaïr return to Masyaf and tell Al Mualim what happened. Altaïr refused, saying that there wasn't time, and that he suspected the business with the Templars went deeper … and that Al Mualim could be trusted. The two argued, with Malik insisting on the importance of the Creed, and Altaïr accusing Malik of using it as a shield. In the end, Altaïr told Malik to investigate and try to figure things out for himself, then he left for Arsuf.
After fighting his way through the battling lines, Altaïr arrived at Richard the Lionheart's camp, and was promptly accused of being there to kill the king. Altaïr insisted that he wasn't, and began to explain what Robert had done. Robert naturally denied the accusations, but Richard wasn't sure who to believe. He ended up deciding to leave it up to God, and had the two fight. Altaïr fought off the Templar elite, then Robert himself, and finally managed to strike the man down.
But that wasn't the end of it. As he died, Robert told Altaïr that Al Mualim was also a Templar, and that the only difference between them was that Al Mualim didn't want to share the Piece of Eden. At first, Altaïr couldn't believe this twist, but Robert managed to convince him. He told the Assassin that, now that everyone else who knew of the treasure was dead, Altaïr himself would be next; Al Mualim couldn't let him live, knowing what he knew. After a brief discussion with Richard, in which he told the king the Assassins fought for peace, Richard pointed out the contradiction and said that people simply were violent and unstable, and Altaïr said that people were what they chose to be, he returned to Masyaf.
But what he found wasn't the usual bustling village. What he found was a mass of hypnotized people. As he made his way up to the fortress, he was attacked by his fellow Assassins, who were all under the same spell. Quite outnumbered, Altaïr was saved by the arrival of Malik and a few unaffected Assassins; Malik had discovered the truth of what was happening by investigating Soloman's Temple once more and finding Robert's journal. After a brief discussion, Malik and his men went to distract the hypnotized Assassins, and Altaïr set out to confront Al Mualim.
Of course, it wasn't easy. He was immediately frozen in place by the power of the Piece of Eden. Nevertheless, he demanded an explanation, and Al Mualim responded by creating illusions of each of Altaïr's targets, which he had to slay; upon doing so, he demanded that Al Mualim release him and accused him of being afraid, to which Al Mualim responded by creating illusions of himself, which also had to be destroyed. Finally, Al Mualim began to explain properly: he said that as long as men had free will, there could be no peace. When asked why he left Altaïr's mind intact, he said that who the man was and what he did were tied to tight, and the other Templars needed to die … then he went on to say that he did try, but Altaïr somehow saw through the illusion. That, of course, prompted an explanation of what the treasure actually did: it created illusions to enslave people's minds. He insisted that at least his illusions, unlike the ones created by religion, would be peaceful; Altaïr argued that at least men could choose whether or not to follow religions. Realizing that Altaïr wouldn't follow him, and knowing that he couldn't compel him, Al Mualim decided that the only option left was to kill the man.
That didn't go as planned. Altaïr killed each of his illusions before killing the man himself. Al Mualim called it impossible; Altaïr reminded him that nothing is true, and everything is permitted. Altaïr then said that the Piece of Eden should have been destroyed, but Al Mualim seemed repulsed by the idea, claiming that it was the only thing that could bring peace. Altaïr said that he would, but Al Mualim doubted that.
The Piece of Eden rolled from Al Mualim's hand and activated, displaying a map of the world with the location of other pieces marked. As he stared at it, Altaïr realized that he couldn't destroy it … or perhaps he simply wouldn't. At least, not yet. Malik and the other Assassins he had fought with joined him, and all stood in silence, staring at the map.
After this point, things become a little less clear, due to a time skip between games. But after the death of Al Mualim, Altaïr became Grand Master of the Order, and he began to look into the Piece of Eden (also known as the Apple) and study it. Malik, who appeared to become his right hand man (they even worked together to create new assassination techniques at some point), advised against this, but Altaïr was occasionally consumed with study of it nonetheless. Fortunately, this didn't overtake every aspect of his life; he eventually set out to continue taking down the Templars, specifically Armand Bouchart, who had taken over after Robert's death.
Altaïr Woke around this point: after he had begun studying the Apple and writing the Codex (an encrypted personal journal in which he writes about all kinds of things, including his investigation of the Apple, various discoveries related to the Assassins, and some philosophical and general biographical things), but before he set out for Cyprus and met Maria a second time.
- Woke beside a canal in the Eastern District when he nearly rolled into it; immediately climbed a cathedral to get a look at his surroundings.
- Encountered the network for the first time. Was terribly confused by the moving, speaking illustrations, but eventually chalked them up to illusions.
- Received several explanations of Nautilus, none of which he believed. It was an illusion, and he intended to break free from it.
Altaïr undergoes an enormous amount of change over the course of his quest for redemption. In the beginning, he's selfish and arrogant, disregarding the tenants he'd been taught his entire life in favor of doing things his way. He argues at the drop of a hat, holds his rank and talent above people's heads, and is utterly convinced that he is in the right. He also has little to no regard for human life, going so far as to kill an old man simply because he's in the way.
As time passes, however, and he has to earn back his rank and honor, Altaïr's personality changes dramatically. He becomes far more humble, performing his missions for the people that he'll help, rather than personal glory. Where before he would disregard people's words, now he listens to others, and carefully considers their advice. He no longer relies on brute force, but patiently and carefully plans his attacks, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Where before he was impatient and rebellious, he becomes calm and focused. He achieves the very thing that Al Mualim told him he must, that being inner peace.
In spite of having matured considerably, however, Altaïr is far from perfect. He's still prone to taking action without fully thinking things through, or disregarding advice when he's convinced that he's right. If he believes that what he's doing is important, he'll stubbornly continue on, even if it's clear from an outside perspective that his actions aren't good for him (as evidenced when he begins studying the Apple). Despite believing that people must be educated, he's only human; he still feels intense anger when he sees people abusing others, and contemplates killing those responsible for the mistreatment. Although he's a remarkably intelligent man, quite capable of strategy and quick-thinking, he still prefers to let his actions do the talking.
As an added note, Altaïr shows a surprisingly philosophical side later in life, something that appears to develop over several years. He also becomes still more humble, at one point calling himself an 'ugly old Assassin' when asked to remove his hood; in his earlier years, he would have arrogantly insisted that he didn't have to. He's also something of an artist and inventor, although at least one of the designs that he sketches is attributed to his studies of the Apple.
Altaïr is in peak physical condition, and has trained as an Assassin since he was a child. This includes learning to pickpocket, eavesdrop, and interrogate. He's incredibly skilled in close combat, especially with a blade. His usual equipment, and the skills that go with each, are as follows:
Long & Short Swords: The long sword is obviously longer, as well as more powerful, and the short sword is quicker and more agile. Although incredibly adept with both of these weapons, and capable of taking out large groups of guards with either, his specialty lies in using counterattacks: his opponent attacks, and he uses that opportunity to break their guard and go in for the kill. Some of these attacks are quite spectacular, while others are simply gruesome.
Throwing Knives: It's really remarkable how good Altaïr is with these. He regularly takes out guards with one hit, throwing with both precision and great force.
Hidden Blade: The iconic weapon of the Assassins, the Hidden Blade is used primarily for stealth assassinations, and is the reason for Altaïr's missing left ring finger. It can't really be used in combat, being entirely a weapon for an instant kill, either in the spine, the abdomen, the back of the neck, or through the nose into the brain. (Lovely, I know.)
In addition to his weaponry, Altaïr is also quite a skilled fist-fighter, and usually employs this tactic during interrogation.
With combat aside, we come to a lovely ability known as Free Running. This involves scurrying up walls, leaping across buildings and poles, and basically overcoming almost any terrain, provided he can leap high enough or find just enough of a handhold. And a handhold can be very, very small. But what does he do, once he reaches the top of some very tall church? Why, he leaps off of it, of course! Somehow, Altaïr is capable of surviving ridiculously high leaps of faith off of structures into piles of hay. Awesome.
Next, we come to Eagle Vision. This is an interesting ability that allows him to sense how people and objects relate to him. Enemies, allies, information sources or hiding places, and targets all show up as different colors. This is a rarity even among Assassins, and is one of his only real powers; many of the others can be chalked up to training.
The last of Altaïr's powers is one that is not adequately explained in-game, but one that has a significant impact on events. When he assassinates a target, he's capable of speaking to them at length just before they die. This is in spite of the guards all around, and the fact that Altaïr may be a split second from getting sliced by one of them. The conversations are far from imagined, as he uses the information he gains from them later on.
To be added: Malik, Jun, Alexandra Roivas, Lara Croft, Ned, Claire Stanfield, Alexander Wolfgang, others to come