Selah panted as a layer of sweat covered her skin, forcing her already warm clothes to stick to her body. Her muscles were sore and aching, but she ignored her discomfort.
Focus. Balance. Stay sharp.
Suddenly a flash of metal appeared from the darkness, streaking across her vision. The young girl instinctively ducked, having the blade miss the top of her head by millimeters. Without looking up, she lunged forward, thrusting out her own sword. Her reward was a gurgled cry and a warm substance covering her arm. She retracted her weapon, but it was stuck in some stubborn sheathe. Selah gave a stubborn tug of her own, finally recalling her sword but the momentum enough to send her stumbling backwards.
Her chest was heaving. Her vision was dark and blurry. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t think clearly, only a single train of thought kept repeating in her mind.
Focus. Balance. Stay Sharp.
Desperate to gain some grasp on reality, Selah observed at her arm, still clutching her French cutlass. It was red with blood. But it wasn’t her blood. Glancing across her body, she found several more crimson stains littering her robes. Her search led the girl to her feet. A man. A corpse.
He was Caucasian with a rugged, ugly appearance. The man was dressed in plain brown trousers and leather jacket, a tricorne hat sitting crookedly on his head. It was the “uniform” of the mercenaries he served. But that outfit was ruined by the large pool of blood on his chest, pouring onto the ground beneath him. Light glinted off his glazed eyes.
Wait. Light? That wasn’t right. Selah knew it was well beyond nightfall. Then she felt the heat.
It was a warm mid-summer night, but this sensation was too intense, despite the humidity. Selah whirled around towards the source of a searing heat that burned into her side. She was met with a giant wall of scarlet and orange, rising high into the night sky. The wall was dancing, shifting and turning to its own music. A music accompanied by a distinct crackling and loud roar. Fire.
Selah stared at the great flames with horror, eyes wide. The blaze completely consumed the house it fed on, barely a silhouette of the building visible. Selah wanted to cry. She knew that house. She had read books in there. She had laughed in there. She had spent nights in that house.
Realizing again her thoughts were slipping, she whirled around in an attempt to gain her surroundings. Shadows and darkness were all around her, the silhouettes of the guarding forest barely recognizable. Instead she saw infernos of light of ranging sizes through the trees. The entire village was being burned.
Selah closed her eyes, trying to focus her senses. But she was only greeted with sounds of war. She could hear distant screams of fearful civilians, the cracking of muskets and canons, and the roar of determined warriors. Selah snapped her eyes open, whirling around again. She had to do something.
Analyzing her surroundings, somehow through the brilliant light of the fire and shadows of the night, she recognized a large silhouette taking up the hill above her. The manor. Even with the roar of the blaze, the girl could hear the sounds of battle coming from there. Clashing of metal, vicious battle cries… the screams of death. She had to help.
Without a second thought, Selah sheathed her bloody sword and sprinted forward. A steep ravine stood between her and the manor, but thankfully she found a better route. A large, sturdy tree towered above the rocky incline, its green branches hanging over the top of the hill. A network of stubs left from broken branches climbed the trunk, reaching all the way to the adult limbs above.
Without hesitation, Selah bounded off the ground and attached herself to the base of the tree. Quickly and carefully as she could, the girl used the protruding stumps like the footholds of a ladder and she scaled the height of the tower. She was never particularly good with tree-climbing, but she had much better things to worry about.
Finally the teenaged girl heaved herself on a large, sturdy branch, gasping with breath. She ignored the dozens of splinters impeded in her hands. The sounds were much louder here. Using the balance gained after years of training, she crawled across the limb, heels digging into the wood. At its edge, she settled in place to watch the horrid scene below her.
Writhing figures covered every square inch of the ground, dressed in many shades of robes and the tattered rags of the mercenaries. Of the Templars. Selah watched as her Assassin brothers fought with all their spirit and strength, cutting down their enemy two to three at a time. But it wasn’t enough. The Templars clearly outnumbered the Assassins. And while the Assassins struggled to keep going, whenever a weary mercenary was cut down, a fresh one would take his place. With every streak of metal and flash of a firearm, a life was lost.
Selah looked directly below her to see a Templar and an Assassin quarreling, the mercenary’s back to her. The Assassin apprentice repositioned on her heels, unsheathing her sword. She fell from the branch, plunging her blade into the Templar’s neck.
Selah had expertly landed on top of him so the corpse would cushion her fall, but the force of the impact still racked her body. Panting and clutching her weapon, she glanced up at the older Assassin above her.
James Crawford. Her brother. Her teacher. Her mentor.
He didn’t fare much better than her. His usually neat hair was unkempt and wild, with his usually calm and collected gaze being darkened and cold. Still, he forced himself to let out winded speech.
“Are you alright?” he demanded.
“Y-yes,” Selah stammered.
James was already turning away. “Come. We’ve work to do.”
Automatically Selah ripped the sword from her work and jumped to her teacher’s side. Moving as one, they raced back into the battlefield. Immediately the Assassins were completely surrounded by the mob of fighting men and women. Weapons flailed in every direction, forcing Selah to dodge every few seconds. There was no spare room, having her brush up against jerking bodies, but they paid her no mind. They were too distracted. Already she lost sight of James, who was swallowed up by the fray. But it didn’t become too much of a problem as Selah was already joining the battle herself.
A Templar had noticed her and was lunging towards her. With supreme reflexes, she twisted and plunged her sword through his abdomen, making sure to slice his spine. The man let out a gasp and fell limp. Selah immediately removed her sword. Then all she had to do was turn around to face her next opponent.
This time it was a dark-shinned man nearing her, swinging his axe with a yell. He slammed it down over her head, but Selah expertly deflected it. She skirted to the side away from the range of his weapon and where his side was completely exposed. The Assassin flicked a hand out, a small metal blade ejecting from her wrist. The blade disappeared between the man’s ribs, having him cry out in agony.
He desperately moved away, forcing the blade back out. He stumbled as he clutched his deep wound, blood seeping through his fingers. However in his misery he had lowered his weapon and left himself completely defenseless. Selah took advantage of that by slashing across his chest. He fell to the ground just as the teenager heard a scream behind her.
The Assassin whirled around, and what she saw made her chest clench. The still body of a female Assassin lay of the ground, a scrawny mercenary above her, bayonet of his musket still buried in her chest. A wicked sneer twisted his scarred face. Selah snarled in fury and lunged forward.
The bastard didn’t even know what was happening as the Assassin jumped behind him and slit his throat with her hidden blade. Hand on his shoulder, she shoved him away so the man’s corpse wouldn’t fall on the Assassin. All it took was a glance at her sister to confirm she was dead.
Her chest clenched again, but she tried her best to ignore it. It was hard. The warrior turned to find another opponent for redemption, but she only froze. The body of an Assassin momentarily blocked her view before they moved away, revealing a terrible scene.
It was her teacher, James Crawford. But something was wrong. His face was screwed with pain and he clutched his chest, blood pouring through his hands. The man was on his knees and nearly doubled over. Above him was a tall, broad mercenary. He was more equipped than his comrades, wearing thicker clothing and a large of pack of supplies—mostly weapons—on his back. An axe balanced in his hands, larger than the one before. Selah saw him reposition the weapon in his arms, mostly likely to prepare to behead his victim.
“No!” Selah screamed. The girl had never run so fast in her life. She practically flew—feeling her feet leave the ground only to land beside the giant of a man.
Without hesitation, the Assassin swiped her cutlass at him, slicing his side. The man let out a throaty, startled yell and stumbled away. Selah almost smiled in relief that he had gotten him away from her master… but now he focused on her. And he was easily almost three times her size.
The mercenary showed an angry snarl before raising his axe again. He swiped it at Selah’s abdomen, but she lithely dodged it. But before she could retaliate, the beast of a man swung the axe again, this time lifting it above his head with one hand to gain deadly momentum. Just as the blade was about to make contact with her head, Selah lunged forward in a desperate dodge.
She rolled past the man, who was stepping forward to keep up with the force he made. Landing in a crouch, she quickly twisted and made a slash at the monster’s leg. The man bellowed, but stayed on his feet and spun around to face her. Selah scrambled to her feet to meet him.
This time she was on the offensive as she swiped her sword downwards toward the man, but apparently he had greater defense than she thought. Before the cutlass could slice into his shoulder, the giant’s oversized hand enveloped her forearm. Selah squeaked and try to pull away, but she knew it was useless. Just as quickly as he had seized her, the man brought up the hand with the axe, slamming its butt into her temple.
Selah crashed onto the ground with a strangled cry. Her vision was darkened and doubled with shaky knees, but somehow she was still conscious. Forcing her body to move, she slightly rolled over to peer up at her opponent.
The man was giving her a dark glare as he raised his axe far above his head with both hands. Selah gave a sharp breath. She knew she would die if that blade touched her. Her body realized this, too.
It moved on its own as she leapt to her feet and struck her sword, plunging it into the Templar’s heart. His face fell as death claimed him, axe still raised in his hands. She moved too fast for him to react.
Thankfully he fell backwards, falling with a heavy thud. If he had crashed onto her, his weight could’ve killed her. But there were more important problems.
James was now lying on the ground, hands still clutching his chest and face buried in the dirt. With little regard of her surroundings, Selah streaked towards him, letting out a cry.
Letting go of her sword, she landed beside him. He didn’t react to her approach, but his shoulders were heaving with heavy labor. Selah gently rolled him over, only for bile to rise to her throat.
A large gash spread across his chest, blood cascading across his pristine white and blue robes. Judging by the darkness of the liquid, the wound was deep. Very deep. Now Selah was becoming hysterical, wrapping an arm under his neck and unable to hide her pitch.
“No, no, no,” she begged. “Come on, stay with me.”
James only choked on his own blood.
“Stay with me!” Selah demanded, her voice rising to a sharp screech and tears rolling down her cheeks. “I can’t do this without you!”
Finally James cracked a smile, his perfectly straight white teeth contrasting greatly with the crimson around his lips. His brown eyes shined even with their dullness.
“Of course you can,” he argued. His voice was so strained… “I have faith in you.”
Selah only shook her head. “Please don’t leave me…”
James raised a shaky hand and placed it on her cheek. “You’re an Assassin now, Selah. Be strong. Don’t lose faith in the Brotherhood.” He was interrupted by another mouthful of blood. “As long as there’s a free mind in this world—which there will always be—the Assassins will survive. Even if we are grind to dust… we will live…” His words were losing their strength and his eyes were dulling. “Do not die tonight, Selah. You must… live. Do not… give up…”
Selah’s grip tightened and a lump appeared in her throat as she realized her mentor was slipping. But before she could give one more plea, he gave a final sigh and the life from his gaze faded.
“James!” Selah gasped. “James!” She shook him like a child trying to wake their parent. He did not stir. “MENTOR!”
She let out a pained scream that echoed across the battlefield, not caring who heard. The Assassin did not stop her tears and sobbed over her master’s chest. He had recruited her into the Brotherhood… He had saved her from starvation… He taught her all she knew. James was more to her than a brother or a teacher… he was like her father.
If the situation was different, she would’ve hugged his body and cried into the night. But she was offered no such luxury. Reluctantly, shakily, she pulled away from James’s body, still sobbing. She forced a hand to close his eyes, murmuring a prayer. Then the young apprentice’s trembling fingers wrapped around the handle of her sword and she lifted herself onto wobbly legs. She turned to force herself to continue, but she only stopped dead.
On the edge of the battlefield was a man. He observed the conflict with cold, dark eyes from his perch on a large black stallion. He wore a navy-blue coat, untouched by the grime of war. A tricorne hat of the same shade rested on his head, perfectly straight and placed. A regal cloak was wrapped around his shoulders, an elegant design decorating its back. Selah knew who he was. Haytham Kenway, Grandmaster of the Templar Colonial Rite.
All of this was his doing. His fault. He had killed her master.
Selah slowly turned to him, eyes shadowed by the rim of her hood. Focus. Balance. Stay sharp. Be strong. Live. Her grip tightened around her cutlass. She braced. She took off.
Selah sprinted across the parched ground, charging towards her target with reckless abandon. All she thought of was his death. A deafening thunder interrupted her, followed by a sharp pain in her arm. It was enough to send her stumbling to the ground, gripping her bleeding wound.
Next to the Grandmaster was another man upon a brown-speckled horse, musket in hand still smoking. His pitch-dark hair was messy and a bushy mustache hid his lips. His clear blue eyes were dark as he glared at her, but they still glinted with sadism and his face twisted in a wicked sneer. Selah glanced up to see the Grandmaster had finally noticed her, peering at her from under his hat. At first she couldn’t see his eyes, but then he tilted his head. She locked with his gaze. It was dark, frigid, piercing. He would kill her without remorse.
Be strong. LIVE.
Live. She had to live. Her master’s final plea. No… she couldn’t do this anymore. There was no way she could keep fighting. No way to kill the Grandmaster. Not without breaking James’s will.
With trembling lips, she climbed to feet, her arm dangling. The Assassin and Templar stared at each other a moment more. Selah ran.
She blocked out the dying screams of the Assassins and the sadistic laughter of the Templars as she plunged into the forest. All of the pain she owned disappeared as she sprinted, flying across the forest floor. The girl did not know how far she ran, but it wasn’t long before the light of the fire faded into darkness which was eventually replaced by moonlight pouring through the canopy. Never once did Selah slow down. But it still wasn’t enough.
The numbness was just starting to set into her legs when suddenly the thunder of hooves echoed behind her. Her organs twisted and she tried to spur herself faster, but it was no use. The pounding was steadily growing louder… closer… The baying of a horse almost deafened her when suddenly the thundering was upon her.
Without warning, a force slammed into her shoulder, forcing her to crash onto the ground with a cry. She landed face-first and her arms failed to catch her fall. The impatient snorts and pounding of a stallion filled her hearing. The Assassin forced herself to look up, only to see a flash of red in the darkness.
Red… The color of the Devil.
Selah tried to climb to her feet as her pursuer circled the horse around to near her. The girl heard a thud as the rider fell from the horse and the crunching of leaves as they stormed to her. Using the last of her energy, the Assassin apprentice surged forward into the forest.
She only let out a yell of protest when a strong hand wrapped around her arm. It was her wounded arm, but thankfully not the wound itself. It was still painful enough to force her to still. It was enough for her captor to launch her back and allowed another arm to wrap around her neck. She snarled as her hands shot up to the foreign limb, trying to tear it away. It was of no use.
Immediately Selah’s labor thickened and the darkness around her vision grew. She screamed and flailed, but she was quickly losing control. Hot breath panted on her ear.
“Sshh…” a voice coaxed. “Calm down. I won’t kill you.”
Selah was beginning to lose feeling in her body as it fell limp. She panting slowed. Her captor realized this and continued to hush her.
“That’s it… go to sleep now…”
Selah’s world disappeared.