“So we have a fleet of French ships where they’re not supposed to be; and a band of smugglers where they are not supposed to be,” Gist digested. “Am I understanding this correctly?”
Shay gave a grunt of confirmation. The captain leaned his back against the wheel of the Morrigan, arms folded. The quartermaster paced in front of him, thinking. Selah sat on the railing next to the wheel, half-participating in the conversation.
Gist paused his pacing. “Could there be a larger influence behind all this?”
Selah blurted it out before she could stop herself. “The Assassins?”
Shay closed his eyes in thought. “But that doesn’t make any sense, though. They have no reason to fight. The Brotherhood is gone and any morale they could have should be crippled.”
“We are aware there are still survivors about. Apparently someone still has a bitter taste,” Gist commented dryly.
The captain reopened his eyes, glancing at Selah. “Selah, if you knew something, would you tell us?”
The girl swallowed. At one time she wouldn’t have, but now she spoke what was on her mind. “Several weeks ago there was a raid on a warehouse led by an Assassin. He said he was following orders.”
Gist was nodding. “Sound like strings being pulled to me.”
Shay was now furrowing his eyebrows. “But what could they be after? There’s more to it than this.” The man moved off his support to pace a few steps.
Selah watched him. Suddenly something came to her that made her gulp. “Shay, that smuggler threatened your life. What if—”
“Trust me, if the Assassins were behind all this, not even they would go through such lengths to kill me.”
“They couldn’t even if they wanted to,” Gist chuckled.
Shay ignored him as he glared out to see. Selah could practically see the thoughts racing through his head. “The only constant is former gangs moving supplies around. What could that be for?”
“A new base?”
“…Possibly. Or it’s meant to distract us. All it is a bunch of false leads and trails that go in endless circles. The Brotherhood did it all the time.”
Gist groaned. “Yes, I’ve been down that road more than once. Certainly not an entertaining one.”
“But what could they be distracting us from?” Shay turned around, just happening to look at Selah. Suddenly his eyes narrowed. “Could it be—”
“SHIP HO!” a crew member suddenly cried.
The trio jumped at the yell and spun around. In the distance outlined against the horizon was a ship crawling across the ocean waters. She was out of mortar range, but close enough all three could identify her. Especially by her sleek design and large frame. The breath caught in Selah’s throat.
She was still alive…
“Battle stations!” Gist suddenly screamed. The first mate spun around to give orders, but suddenly Shay cut him off.
Gist spun back around. “What?”
“She’s the fastest ship in the North Seas,” Shay explained. “It would take days for us to catch up to her. Besides, she wouldn’t have survived this long if she wasn’t a capable ship. We leave her be, Gist.”
The first mate stared at his captain for a moment before relaxing in agreement. “Fair points, Captain.”
Shay relaxed when he saw his quartermaster had agreed with him, however the Templar glared at the Assassin flagship in the distance. “But we will get her. One day.”
Selah barely heard the conversation, having abandoned her perch to lean over the railing to peer at the frigate. She wasn’t the only one, the crew being stirred by Gist’s shout. The men turned their attention at the French vessel, pointing and shouting. The Aquila seemed to be heading south, away from the ice chasing her. It made sense. Despite sailing mostly in northern waters, the frigate was not built for ice. One hit and she was good as gone. It was a surprise she was here at all. Selah suddenly felt Shay behind her.
“She must be running supplies,” the captain guessed. “Why she isn’t engaging us.”
“The ship the smuggler mentioned…” Selah breathed.
“It was her.” Shay shifted, obviously becoming more stressed. “For the Aquila to be in these waters must mean something’s going on. It’s guaranteed now, the Assassins are behind this.”
The words made Selah recall the newfound information her heard at the camp, making her stiff and downcast her gaze. It didn’t take long for Shay to notice.
“When we were at the camp… I overheard the gang members talking,” Selah confessed, forcing out the words in a timid voice. “They said the Assassins were supporting the slave trade.”
Shay was silent, only looking back to the ocean, particularly at the Aquila that was slowly crawling away. Unable to hold it anymore, Selah spun towards him.
“They wouldn’t do that, would they?” the teenager demanded. “Not with everything we fight for!”
We. Selah couldn’t stop to call herself an Assassin. She still believed in freedom. But now she was learning her own mentors didn’t. Shay paused as he considered her for a moment.
“When I was working under Colonel Monro,” the Templar started, “I had to help a native tribe known as the Oneida that was being raided by Kesegowaase’s men. Although I was able to run them off, some of the natives were still captured.” Selah listened as he explained. “Some native tribes have the tradition to enslave prisoners of war. Kesegowaase practiced this more than once. As far as I know, the Brotherhood didn’t care, because he was their strongest link to the natives. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if they became more involved with it for funding, especially when half the Order was wiped out.”
Selah swallowed as a haunting memory returned to her. “I remember once… I went on a mission with James and a few other Assassins. We eliminated someone named Anthony Benezet. I never really knew why. James only told me he was slandering the Assassins, but I didn’t understand since—”
“He was opposing the slave trade,” Shay interrupted. “As well as suggesting treaties with the Indians. The Assassins eliminated him so they could continue their activities.”
Selah’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the railing. “They never told me…”
“They wouldn’t have.” Selah’s shoulders trembled only once, but it was enough for Shay to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Selah.”
“So what do we do now?” the teenager demanded, wanting to change the subject.
“There’s a settlement south of here where there should be Templar safe-house. We’ll send a report to the Grandmaster from there.”
Selah could only nod. Obviously not the sentimental type, Shay failed to know how to comfort her. He only patted her shoulder and walked away, leaving her privacy. The Assassin looked back to see the Aquila disappearing in the horizon, fighting back tears.
“Stop it, Shay!” Selah screamed.
The Assassin Hunter ignored her, digging his dagger in another victim. The body fell to the floor, their identity still obscured by their hood. An Assassin.
No. No. No. She meant to come back. To talk James out of selling the slaves. But no. The slaves were dead, covering the floor of their cages with blood. The Assassins were soon to join them.
Another bloodcurdling scream split Selah’s ears as Shay assaulted another Assassin, this time slicing open their gut with his sword. The Templar immediately twisted around, driving his dagger in another. A geyser of blood flew from the Assassin, soaking Shay’s face and cloak. He only sneered maniacally, like he sought amusement in seeing his enemy’s death. No! No! No!
“Stop it!” Selah screeched.
The teenager lunged towards the Irishman to interfere, only for Shay to spin around and backhand her with the butt of his blade. Selah crashed onto the ground with a cry, pain exploding from her skull. Whimpering, the Assassin looked back up to see all the Assassins were unmoving, sprawled across the frozen ground in various positions. Except for one.
Shay clutched both his weapons by his sides, stalking towards a writhing figure. James.
Selah sobbed and tried to move, but a force had frozen her in place. She could only watch. Her teacher’s eyes met hers, filled with confusion and hurt and knowledge that his end was near.
“How could you?” he seemed to say.
She had led the Assassin Hunter to them. She had allowed him to kill them.
“I’m sorry,” Selah mouthed, her voice failing her.
James didn’t seem convinced. By now Shay had closed the distance, settling next to his prey. The Assassin Hunter raised his sword.
“Selah! Selah! Wake up!”
Selah was still screaming she opened her eyes. Immediately a dark, cold gaze filled her vision. The flashes of sadism she had seen in them reappeared. Selah yelled and pushed away, but her cot was too small so she only ended up flailing. Shay saw her ploy, snatching her arm and yanking her towards him so he could capture her in an embrace.
“Calm down, it was just a dream,” he hushed.
Selah squirmed for several moments before finally her energy was sapped and the adrenaline died. She went limp in Shay’s hold, head falling on his shoulder as she panted desperately. A nightmare. It was another nightmare. There was silence for several moments.
Shay broke it when he scoffed slightly. “And here I thought Haytham was exaggerating,” he chuckled quietly.
Selah only closed her eyes, ignoring the comment. Suddenly she noticed who had come to her and a sense of embarrassment and horror coursed through her. Selah was in the lower deck a moderate distance from Shay’s cabin. He… couldn’t have heard her, could he?
“Did I wake you?” the girl wanted to know.
“I was already up,” Shay assured. “You woke half my crew, though.”
It was then the teenager heard shifting outside her cabin of boots and tossing sailors. Her stomach burned. No doubt she would be the topic of gossip tomorrow, and she would be lucky if she wasn’t bombarded by Nicholas.
“I’m sorry…” the poor girl whined.
“It’s not your fault,” the Templar reassured softly.
Shay finally released her, slowly drawing away and allowing her room. Selah was grateful he didn’t ask what the dream was of. It would be awkward for her to explain she had seen him slaughtering the Assassins. The images made her shiver, but she said nothing. No. She saw it now. The Assassin Hunter in her nightmare was not Shay. He did not seek joy in killing. The Assassin even remembered the look of horror and disbelief the man wore when the gangster had committed suicide. He killed because he had to. But why? Why did he have to?
The dream made her remember. Her fear and panic transformed into courage and determination. She had to know. She couldn’t take this more. Selah would not let Shay slip away again.
“Shay. Why did you leave the Brotherhood?”
The Irishman was silent, staring at her solemnly. Selah only replied with a glare. Shay seemed to know he wouldn’t be escaping this time and the teenager demanded answers. The former Assassin gave a heavy sigh.
He told her. Everything. Selah listened to every word, drinking it in, even though she knew it was poison.
Shay told her of the search of the Manuscript and the Precursor Box. The assassinations of the Master Templars in order to retrieve them. Of the Disaster of Lisbon. How the city shook and was leveled when he had touched a Piece of Eden. How Shay had loyally, dutifully, carried his mission out in the name of the Brotherhood and to make one of himself. How he had only been rewarded with the deaths of thousands of innocent lives. All because of an Artifact. An Artifact the Assassins should not have. Shay went to Achilles, trying to warn him. Only the Mentor did not listen. And when the young Assassin attempted to steal the Manuscript in order to make things right, his brothers turned his back on him.
“I ran,” Shay continued. “But they cornered me on a cliff. I fell when La Chevalier shot me, hoping it would kill me. I was found by a Templar named Colonel George Monro, who took me to the Finnegans. They were the ones who brought me back to health.”
Selah didn’t even notice the subtle tremble she had. She wanted to say it was absurd. Especially that Shay expected the girl to believe he had destroyed an entire city by a Piece of Eden that he simply touched. That the Assassins didn’t even care. But no. Selah saw the truth in his eyes. The pain and guilt and sorrow that had been haunting him for years. Shay had not betrayed the Brotherhood. At least, not in the way the teenager thought he had.
Suddenly in a trance, Selah couldn’t stop her arm from moving towards Shay’s face. Slowly, carefully, she touched his red scar with tentative fingers. The Templar didn’t even flinch, even as she traced its path from his brow to his cheek.
“That was how you got your scar, wasn’t it?” she breathed.
Finally Shay’s mask broke, the man sighing as he closed his eyes and let his face fall. “I think I must have hit my face on a rock when I fell. I don’t really remember.”
Selah wisely withdrew before she could overuse her welcome to his skin. “So when you joined the Templars…”
“I worked for Monro for a year afterwards. I… had my suspicions what he was, but it wasn’t like I could choose. I only joined the Templars by mere chance. I didn’t even meet Haytham until I was indoctrinated.”
So he didn’t go to the Templars by choice. They took him in after the Assassins casted him out for dead. Much like her… Now Selah understood why Haytham wanted them to work together.
“I had no idea, Shay…” the Assassin murmured.
Shay only shook his head, almost in sadness. “You wouldn’t have.”
Suddenly Selah’s trembling worsened and her teeth gave a single chatter. During the entire conversation, she had unraveled from her blanket and the sweat from the nightmare had frozen from the frigid temperatures. Shay noticed.
“This is all you have?” the captain observed, flicking the thin sheet around her legs.
Selah couldn’t find another blanket, forcing her to use an under-sized, laughably thin one for warmth. She eventually became desperate: sleeping in her clothes and even wearing double layers of socks. The girl found a pair of gloves that were too large for her hands, but she didn’t care. Anything to prevent freezing to death at night. The teenager saw that it was god-damned miracle she hadn’t lost a toe or a finger.
Shay grinned. “You really have no tolerance for cold, do you?”
Despite being raised in northern climates and out in the frontier, where the weather was unpredictable as out in the open ocean, Selah had built little defenses against harsh elements. She was always tucked safely away, either in a warm home or cozy shelter. If she happened to camp out in the unforgiving climate, it wasn’t for long and she usually snuggled with James for comfort. Now that she had none of those things, being locked on a freezing ship with no fire or proper protection, Selah was absolutely miserable.
Shay scoffed. “You could’ve told me.”
The captain stood up, the teenager watching him. She half-expected him to walk away, instead being surprised what he did next. Before the Assassin could protest, the Irishman slipped an arm behind her shoulders and the other under her knees. He lifted her up, having Selah give a startled squeak and wrapped her arms around his neck for leverage.
“What are you—”
“Sh,” Shay hushed. “I don’t need you to freeze to death and I certainly don’t need you to have another nightmare to keep the boys up.”
Selah’s cheeks were red, she just knew it. She surrendered though, knowing he was stronger than her. Besides, his body was radiating with warmth that seeped into her veins. The girl had no desire to leave it to be exposed to the biting cold air. The teenager rested her head on Shay’s shoulder, closing her eyes as she was lulled to sleep by his rhythmic movements. Selah was kept awake though when she caught Shay’s smell. It was like what a pirate would have: a strange mixture of salt from the sea and rum. The alcohol wasn’t a vile smell; it was faint enough it could pass as cheap cologne. Selah found herself inhaling the sailor’s unique scent.
The teenager was almost asleep by the time she felt herself being lowered on warm plush. Warmth. Selah was already snuggling in, wrapping herself in the thick comforter pulled over her.
“Better?” Shay’s voice came.
“Hmm…” the Assassin only hummed, losing consciousness.
She barely heard Shay chortle as he lay next to her, slipping his arm underneath her head. She certainly didn’t notice the bed was small, having them invade personal space, but neither cared. Selah feel asleep, warm and content. The girl didn’t dream at all.