Crossed Eagle

Chapter 16

Selah leaned against the wall of a building, arms crossed patiently. Haytham told her to meet her contact here. Several days had passed since her battle with Eleanor, and since then she had not heard or seen neither hide nor hair of the redcoat. The same went for Major Mallow. Selah was curious what Haytham had done to them, but he had refused to say a word. The Assassin decided pushing for information would do no good, relying on her imagination instead. She had a feeling a lot of yelling and threats were involved.

But now she had to do her part. Haytham would have her do low-grade missions for the Templar Order, small enough they could pass as errands. They would see where she could go to next based on her successfulness. Just the very idea of serving the Order still gave the Assassin an unpleasant feeling, but she supposed it was better than the alternative. The girl was pulled from her thoughts as she heard a voice near her.

“You must be, Selah, yes?”

The Assassin looked up to see man nearing her from the crowd. He was a Negro, but walked around with the confidence of a white man. He wore a brown coat like Selah’s, wrapped around a dark blue waistcoat. He wore wiry spectacles like Franklin’s, however with how the light reflected off of them gave the spectacles a green discoloration. Realizing he must be the contact, Selah pushed herself off the wall.

Seeing he had the correct person, he extended a hand. “Jack Weeks, a pleasure to meet you.”

Selah ignored the butterflies in her stomach as she accepted it. “Likewise.” She fell into step with him as they walked away. “What are we to do?”

“Nothing troublesome,” Week explained in assurance. “We just have to oversee some supplies that were intercepted earlier this week.”

“Intercepted? From who?”

“Just from brigands from the frontier. We decided to help lighten their load.”

Weeks smirked while Selah rolled her eyes. Typical Templars…

“And what exactly are these supplies?” she mumbled.

“That’s what we’re going to find out. They just arrived this morning.”

“Thomas Hickey, good to see you.”

It took a lot of willpower for Selah not to groan.

The mercenary looked up from where he was idly swinging his leg. He spared one glance at Weeks before he noticed Selah.

“Well, well, look wot the cat dragged in,” the man snickered.

“May I remind you that this cat has claws,” Selah retorted.

Hickey only snickered again and got off of his spot on a crate of cargo, snatching his musket leaning next to him. His uniform was splattered with several mud and blood stains, along with a couple tears. His stench spoke volumes as well. Somebody didn’t bother with a bath. Selah was able to quickly make the connections.

“You’re the one who stole the supplies?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Hickey boasted. “And I wuz just stealin’ it back, mind you.”

Selah rolled her eyes while Weeks settled, arms behind his back. “Do you mind if we see them?” he requested politely.

The Templar cocked his head. “Right this way, ladies and gents.”

Musket still in hand, Hickey led his guests to the back of the warehouse, allowing Selah to observe it contents. Every visible inch was cramped with cargo of all kinds—clothing, weapons, parts, useless items, and so on. Above the ground floor were rafters with boarding, making a makeshift second floor with even more cargo. Supplies were either places in tidy piles or thrown to the side in heaps. The rest of the warehouse itself wasn’t in the best condition. Dust and debris lined the floor with cobwebs collecting in almost every corner. There were patches of rotting wood, creating a sickening stench in the air. Selah swore she spied the carcasses of various pests that unwisely entered the hole of place.

“What is all this for?” she questioned. Did the Templars really need so much if they weren’t even going to care for it?

Hickey glanced over his shoulder. “Dunno. Used to belong to a gang. Still going through it all.”

What? This was an Assassin warehouse? Selah looked back to the contents with interest. How did the Brotherhood obtain all of this? Suddenly Weeks’s description of brigands entered her mind. More gang members? What could they be up to with their employers long gone? Now Selah’s head spun with questions, blindly following the two Templars into another wide room, also crammed with boxes of all kinds.

“Here we are,” Hickey chimed. “All yours.”

“Many thanks, Thomas,” Weeks said.

Thomas only nodded before leaning against another crate, musket between his legs and hands wrapped around the barrel. Weeks neared the nearest set of supplies, already lifting the top of one box.

“Mind giving me a hand, Selah?” he asked.

Selah walked over without a word. She settled near the Templar and was about to rummage through, until Weeks sharp breath stopped her.

“What do we have here?”

Immediately Selah stopped what she was doing and inched closer to peer over the man’s shoulder. She saw what perked his curiosity. Nestled within a bed of hay was a set of shiny musket equipped with bayonets. Selah could tell that they had just been manufactured. They probably hadn’t even been used yet. Finding something like that was rare to come by, especially in the colonies. Only the military had a chance to have brand-new weapons. Forget a band of smugglers.

“Saw that, too,” Hickey spoke up when he noticed the duo’s stares. “Even I never had the luck of findin’ a booty like that.”

“Certainly quite interesting,” Weeks agreed. “Let’s see what else there is.”

However the rest of their search wasn’t so intriguing. Save for a few more crates of brand new weapons, everything else was typical. Old blankets, worn clothing, cheap medicine and liquor, salvaged parts. But if anything, it made the weapons stand out more. By the time there were done, Weeks was scratching his head.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” he confessed through a chuckle.

“So they ‘ave some fancy weapons, big deal,” Hickey shrugged. “They probably snatched it off some lobsters while they were being moved.”

“True.” Weeks just shrugged as well. “Anyway, since we’re here, might as well help organize all these supplies. You don’t mind that, right, dear?”

Selah ignored him as she continued to eye the stolen cargo suspiciously. She caught on that something wasn’t right. Why were there new weapons, but everything else was used? That was only part of the problem. She would open what seemed like a large crate, only for it to contain not many supplies. Like the crate was…

“Master Weeks,” she spoke up. “Do these crates seem smaller to you?”

Weeks glanced at her, blinking under his glasses. “Say again?”

Selah ignored him as she neared a particular crate. She pulled the top off, only to find it crammed with yellowish-white sheets. The girl yanked them out and tossed them on the floor. Underneath was smooth wood of what was supposed to be the bottom of the crate. But instead Selah could tell something was off. The wood was paler and rougher, not being the same kind of the exterior shell.

“Does someone have a knife?” the teenager requested.

She looked back to see Weeks merely shrug. She wasn’t surprised to see Hickey already leaning down, pulling a short, broad dagger from his boot. He was kind enough to right himself to his feet and walk over to her.

“Don’t cut yourself,” the man chortled as he handed her the hilt.

Selah ignored the comment as she thrust the tip of the blade into the bottom’s edge. Immediately she saw the wood bend in protest and the dagger creating a larger crevice than it shouldn’t have. The Assassin began to wiggle the knife, gaining more leverage. Hickey and Weeks neared to peer over her shoulder, curious to see what she was up to. Suddenly the fake board popped off, Selah immediately tossing it away.

“Well, won’t you look at that,” Hickey sneered.

Underneath the false plate was a bed of hay, bedding dozens on small knives. The trio exchanged glances before eagerly moving to the next box, not even caring about their current discovery. They went to one after the next, revealing the true treasures. Both feathered and hilted darts, swords, rare medicine and drugs, knives and daggers off all kinds, poisons. All things one could find within the shadow market. The more expensive side of the market, at least. However, the Templars’ confusion even grew.

“Wot the ‘ell?” Hickey snapped. “Wot is all this stuff?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Weeks commented.

But Selah had a better guess. She stared at the hidden supplies with wide eyes, a subtle tremble growing in her legs. She could tell from the first box they opened, but didn’t want to believe it. Now it was obvious, more painful than a slap to the face. The only people in the world who had all of these things…

“Oh, my God…”

Selah’s racing thoughts that sped her heart were cut off when suddenly a deafening thunder racked her ears. The teenager yelled and covered her ears, only for the already dusty air to be filled with thick smoke. Realizing her mistake, she brought her hand to her mouth, but was already hacking as debris entered her lungs. The violent coughs of men next to her proved Hickey and Weeks were in the same state.

“You have something that belongs to us, Templars!”

Over the Templars violent hacking, Selah registered the crack of a musket, followed by Hickey’s loud curse. Before the teenager could move, something gripped her shoulders. She didn’t have a chance to swat the force away as she was thrown behind a pile of crates. She glanced up to see Weeks running past her to dive for another barrier. On the other side of the room, Hickey leaped over a box to find cover of his own, musket raised.

“Damn you, Assassins!” the Templar roared.

The smoke finally clearing, Selah shot her head up to the rafters above them. In the shadows of the ceiling were men wearing the tattered clothing, all armed with pistols, muskets, and knives. Gangsters. Assassins. Selah was just frozen with shock, eyes wide and staring up at the attackers. Suddenly a yell broke her out of her spell.

Get down!” Weeks wailed.

Selah blinked, allowing her to register a gang member pointing a musket straight at her. With a gasp, the teenager ducked her head down, just in time for there to be a blast that sent splinters over her head. There was another blast from Hickey’s hiding spot.

“Where the ‘ell is Shay when you need ‘im?” the Templar demanded.

“I guess they missed the schedule!” Weeks hollered. “Shay’s not supposed to be back for a few more weeks!”

“Well, next time, send it to ‘em!”

Weeks finally pulled out a pistol, aiming it at an unsuspecting criminal. He fired, having the gangster fall with a yell. Selah was pressed against a crate, trying to decipher what was going on. These supplies were for the Assassins. The smugglers from the frontier worked for them. And now they wanted it back. Gangsters did not give up easily. They would complete a mission at any cost. There was too much money at stake for them. Sometimes their lives. The Assassins were their employers, after all. Wait. The Assassins were their employers.

Selah heaved as she fought for breath, still winded from the smoke, and she trembled uncontrollably. But now it was becoming more of excitement than fear. Her chance to escape. She was still an Assassin. She wouldn’t have to join the Templars. She wouldn’t have to betray everything she knew. She would no longer have to be in “debt” to Haytham. Selah could be free.

Suddenly another crack and an explosion of wood cut off her thoughts. No, Selah wasn’t foolish. She wasn’t going to ask for mercy from the gangsters while they were shooting at her. The image of the abused boy flashed through her mind. No, they weren’t trustworthy enough. But these gang members had to be under orders from someone. They would never attack a Templar stronghold on their own. No, there was an Assassin nearby. That was who Selah needed to talk to. She needed to get out of here.

The Assassin glanced around her cover to see most of the criminals were focused on Hickey’s hiding spot, where most of the fire was being exchanged. If she could make a break to the door…

Selah repositioned to balance on her haunches, tensing all her muscles. The teenager had one eye trained on the gang members and the other trained on her escape route. There was a blast of thunder as multiple muskets were fired. Selah took off. She never made it to the door.

Selah wheezed as something heavy slammed on top of her, forcing her to crash onto the ground. Pain exploded from her chin and elbow where she had landed hard onto the stone floor. The teenager struggled to breathe as a crushing weight was on her back, putting painful pressure on her lungs. That weight disappeared as suddenly she was flipped over, the world panning dizzily, before it reappeared on her stomach. The girl gritted her teeth when she felt her hair being tugged.

“Well, are you a pretty little Templar?” a cold voice sneered.

Selah finally opened eyes, only not to believe what she saw. It was a broad-shouldered man in dark clothing, similar to the gangsters’ but in much better condition. The man wore a mask over his face, only showing his ice-blue eyes that gleamed in a strange light. Selah stared at the flap of fabric wrapping around his head. A hood. An Assassin.

The man’s eyes crinkled as he sneered again. “I hope you weren’t trying to get away to call your friends—” He paused for a moment as he unsheathed his hidden blade from his wrist. “—because that would be a mistake.”

Selah’s eyes went wide. She was grateful when her mouth moved on its own for once. “I’m an Assassin!”

The Assassin only laughed. “Sure you are…”

“My name is Selah! I am James Crawford’s apprentice!”

Suddenly the Assassin narrowed his eyes and his gaze darkened. He leaned closer to Selah’s face, their noses only an inch apart. Even with his mask, Selah could smell the stench of alcohol and foulness from his breath.

“James Crawford is dead,” the man growled. “You’re lying.” Suddenly his grip tightened, tugging the roots of Selah’s hair enough it caused pain. “And I don’t like liars…”

Before Selah could say another word to prove her allegiance, the Assassin forced her to her feet, only using her hair to do it. The teenager was too busy yelling and clawing at his hand to say anything. Suddenly the world panned again and a crippling pain exploded from Selah’s brow. The girl screamed and placed a palm on her face, feeling the wetness of blood where her head slammed onto the wood. The world panned again as the Assassin spun her around, bringing a strong knee to her stomach in a brutal blow. Selah coughed before her attacker finally tossed her back to the floor, summoning new pain and bruises.

Too disoriented and hurt to move, Selah just lay there. Her head spun—her vision of the world kept shifting between all different angles as stars danced around it. She barely sensed the Assassin storming towards her, unsheathing his hidden blade once again. Now Selah only gasped as he kicked her to roll her to her back. His heavy boot then pressed against her chest, pressing down painfully. Selah gasped as the struggle for breath returned, her hands reaching up to grip the man’s leg, even though it did not budge.

“It’s a shame to kill you, really,” the Assassin sighed, although his tone wasn’t sincere at all. “But we were told not to leave anyone alive, s—”

BANG! The blast hurt Selah’s sensitive hearing and the pounding in her skull multiplied. At the same time, the Assassin let out a gasping groan. Selah had just opened her eyes to see the man falling over, landing with a thud. He fell face-first, but his neck twisted on impact, having his glazed, lifeless eyes stare right into Selah’s gaze. The teenager gasped and shot up, which only rewarded her with a blow to her head and a wave of nausea. She ignored it to look from the dead Assassin to see Weeks kneeling towards her, still-smoking flintlock in extended in her direction. However the man raised the barrel when he realized the threat was gone. His mouth moved, but Selah only heard muted garble. It was then the girl registered a loud ringing in her ears, drowning out all other noise.

Terrified, the girl climbed to her feet, only to sway. Her equilibrium was off and her body refused to obey her. The Assassin could just barely remember what she had been told from her medical lessons to recognize she was having symptoms of a concussion. A severe concussion. No doubt from when that Assassin had banged her head. Selah was shaking. An Assassin had tried to murder her. A Brother. And it was Templar—a man she never met—who saved her. No, that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Something was wrong. Selah was too unstable to realize she was hyperventilating. She had to get out here.

Mind and body completely detached—mind too unfocused and body working on its own—Selah ran.

Selah finally collapsed to all fours in an alleyway, heaving and her body trembling madly with a fine layer of sweat on her skin. Her head still whirled enough that she stumbled when she walked. It was amazement she had gotten as far as she had. But how far was here?

She was in the back alleyway of several buildings, the ground littered with rotting wood and abandoned junk. The sunset had sunk to nightfall, a half-moon hanging in the sky with only a handful of stars. Selah didn’t even notice as she tried to pull herself to her feet.

She pounded a fist to the wall and braced her arm against it. The Assassin tried to right her feet, only for her legs to feel like noodles. After what seemed like eternity, the soles of her boots planted on the ground. However when she tried to push off the wall to continue on, she only crumbled to the ground again. She tried to curse, only to bite her tongue when she fell. The taste of blood filled her mouth. On all fours again, Selah growled as she tried to reattach her disconnect state.

She was so distracted she almost failed to hear a chortle behind her.

“You shouldn’t be here all alone, little girl,” a voice purred.

The Assassin felt as presence nearing and already the stench of alcohol was reaching her nostrils.

“Get away from me,” Selah tried to snarl, but it only came out as a tired whisper.

The drunkard only snickered again and neared her even more. Selah tried to climb to her feet, still swaying, but never got there. Suddenly her ribs exploded with pain as the man viciously kicked her side. Selah crashed onto the ground with a yell. With shut eyes and gritted teeth, the teenager rolled over on her back while writhing in pain. However her instincts still flaring, the Assassin tried to use whatever adrenaline was in her system to climb to her feet. This time she actually got halfway up and was able to move away from the drunkard, only for multiple hands to grab her shoulders. Selah was thrown back to the ground.

“Where do you think you’re going?” a new voice mocked.

There were multiple laughs as more men came, forming a drunken circle around her. The men watched with hungry eyes and amused gazes as Selah continued to writhe weakly on the ground. The drunks were unable to stay on their own two feet themselves. A couple even still held their liquor, taking an occasionally swig.

Finally some orientation and her Assassin training returning, Selah pushed herself off the ground and harshly snatched the wrist of the man that had reached for her. The drunk gave a yell of surprise, but before Selah could break his hand, a powerful force struck her temple. A bright light and stars flashed across her vision before the world panned back down to the cold dirt. Then suddenly pain exploded from every part of Selah’s body.

All the breath she had was ripped away from her as her ribs were struck multiple times. There was no inch of her skin that was left untouched from the men’s violent beating. Selah had no way to fight back, being attacked from all angles at once. Eventually all she could do was curl in a feeble ball. She was left panting and whimpering by the time the drunkards moved away, however one gave one final kick to roll her onto her back. Selah didn’t move. Not even when the men’s laughs grew louder, a couple even whistling.

Suddenly she felt a pressure on her forearms and her hands being forced to either side of her head. A suffocating presence loomed over her, blocking out the outside world. Hot, foul breath panted on Selah’s face, making her involuntary scrunch up her face in disgust.

“This is what you get for meddling in other’s business, gurl,” Quincent snarled as he settled between her legs.

Selah could only whimper. Her mind spun so much… The world was so dark… Maybe if she could fall asleep…

Selah was denied that when the sound of sharp metal piercing human flesh filled the air.

The teenager didn’t have to look to see that Quincent’s eyes went round. There was another sickening squelch immediately after the first, this one accompanied by a scream. More wet thumps were quickly to follow. Quincent quickly pushed himself off of Selah and spun around, wild with confusion and panic.

“What the he—”

The man couldn’t even finish as a sword skewered through his neck, severing both his windpipe and spine. The rotten excuse of a human gurgled, eyes still wide and mouth dropped open. The sword was ripped out, having the corpse crumble to the ground in a twisted heap.

In his place was Haytham.

The Grandmaster wore a violent look. His eyes were dilated and his usually cool and stoic gaze was burning with fury. His lips were drawn back in a snarl and the tense muscles under his skin were like a cougar’s. The Templar sheathed his sword and was already making his way to Selah. The girl had only watched the scene through narrowed eyes, darkness around her vision. She was completely unmoving, not even as responding as Haytham kneeled next to her. His analyzing gaze only had to flicker across her broken form only once.

“Animals,” he snarled in a tone Selah never heard before.

The Grandmaster ripped his cloak off, but his violent jerks ceased when he reached for Selah. In a great amount of gentleness, he raised her into a slouched sitting position, gingerly draping his cloak on her shoulders. Selah was somehow able to look up to find his face filled with concern.

The rest of the night passed by as flashes of light, still images, garbled noise, and pain. Selah thought she heard the raised voices of Haytham and one she did not recognize. All she got out was “payment.” Selah couldn’t feel her body, but could sense presences hovering over her. The girl gasped whenever they became suffocating.

Finally the racing images and lights slowed enough Selah could detect her surroundings. She first felt the familiar warmth of Haytham and then his cool, silken cloak wrapped around her. One of his arms was wrapped around her shoulders and the other was placed beneath her knees. Selah’s own arms were loosely wrapped around his neck, her head leaning against his broad shoulder. The teenager registered the heavy footfall of his boots as he carried her up the stairs of his home.

The next Selah registered were the warm sheets quickly enveloping her, only to be contrasted by an ice-cold wetness on her head. The girl mumbled in discomfort, but otherwise offered no resistance. She was so tired… All she wanted to do was sleep. Selah just barely heard the Ann’s soothing, distraught voice in the background, followed by Haytham’s patient, stern voice. Selah’s eyes fluttered before drifting off in a sea of nothingness.

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