Crossed Eagle

Chapter 25

Haytham always had mixed feelings about the frontier. Being born and raised in the crowded streets of London, having the absence of human bodies and cold stone always had a strange effect on him. Even when he had to cross the countryside during missions under Birch for the Templar Order, he felt isolated. However, the man’s business did not allow him to be picky, and he did enjoy the change of pace. Fresh air, lovely scenery, and isolation from all the troubles of society. From that perspective, the Grandmaster could understand why the Assassins enjoyed its sanctuary.

Then there was Ziio… Now he could not escape it. The wilderness of America would always be in a special place in Haytham’s heart. He would always remember the pleasant memories he had of the native woman. Their days camping together as they carried out their affair away from curious eyes. But, those memories could be painful, too. Haytham had not seen or heard of Ziio in years. Not since she boldly told him she never wanted to see him again. Haytham wasn’t a tyrant, so he respected her wish. Still, it continued to haunt him what had turned her against him so quickly.

However, none of these things went through the Templar’s mind as he sliced his sword into the throat of a smuggler. The man’s eyes flashed with shock and agony for a moment before glazing over in lifelessness. Haytham didn’t care, already lunging towards his next victim.

The Assassins. The Assassins. A stream of uncharacteristic vile insults and curses coursed through his mind. How? The Grandmaster went through such lengths to dispel their presence and shatter whatever morale they had left. It was why he attacked the Homestead, sent Shay to Georgia, and even killed that Saint-Prix. Yet they remained to dare challenge him.

Haytham poured all his fury and stress pent up from the last several weeks into his movements, slicing a gangster’s stomach open. He didn’t spare the spilling organs a glance. Instead he turned around to see a wave of mercenaries charging for him. The Templar noticed a large barrel of gunpowder near them. Using a trick he picked up from Shay, the man quickly pulled out his flintlock and fired. The barrel immediately disappeared in a ball of fire, consuming the adversaries and throwing more off their feet. Haytham meant to walk over to finish them off, but suddenly a streaking shadow stopped him.

The Assassins’ minions let out dying screams of agony as the shadow jumped and killed them one-by-one, like an angel of death. But it was no angel. They called him the “Coyote Man.”

…Why they chose that instead of a proper name was beyond Haytham. He would even take the man’s native name. The Grandmaster couldn’t tell what tribe he hailed from, but he wore the natives’ traditional moccasins and animal skin. However, unlike most, his clothing was decorated with unique Native American designs. Or, the clothing he chose to wear, majority of his torso and limbs still visible. The man didn’t seem to mind despite the cold, a layer of red and white even covering his bronze skin. …Coyote Man didn’t mind much.

The native mercenary finished his last kill with his bone dagger like a predator to prey. He rose slowly and barely bat Haytham an eye.

“Thank you kindly,” Haytham said in a friendly tone, despite the situation, “but that was not necessary.”

The native glanced at him emotionlessly. Whenever the Grandmaster saw him, the man only spoke a handful of syllables. He was told the Coyote Man was like that with others, as well. Many said it was because he knew little English, but when he did speak his voice was clear and educated. Semi-educated, at least.

“More white men,” the Coyote Man reported. “Come. More to do.”

“Agreed,” Haytham acknowledged, even though he felt a strange boil at being ordered. He was the Grandmaster.

However, the Coyote Man wasn’t an official Templar, only an ally they called upon time from time. That included now, when they hired the mercenary to help them attack a camp being used by a gang. The man was proved to be capable enough, especially when he had agreed to kill an Assassin Mentor some years ago. John de la Tour, Haytham believed it was. Besides, the native didn’t seem pleased with the idea of taking orders from white men. Considering how many of his people were enslaved, Haytham supposed it wasn’t very surprising.

The Grandmaster followed the Coyote Man further into the gang-controlled camp. The Templars had been searching for the Assassins’ base of operation for weeks now, ever since the Order found suspicious smuggling routes. When most of the searches led to dead-ends, once again Haytham realized he would have to do things himself. Besides, being out in the field was certainly a change of pace. However, he knew participating would be difficult to impossible with all his attention on Selah. That was one of the reasons why he sent her with Shay. Or, it was Shay who volunteered.

“I’ll take her, Sir.”

“I thought you disliked her,” Haytham drawled.

“I never said that.”

“Pardon me, you have no interest in her.”

The lesser Templar shook his head. “Never said that, either. I only meant I don’t know the girl well enough to say anything about her.”

Haytham cocked an eyebrow, only for the Assassin Hunter to give a quizzical smile.

In the end, Haytham didn’t regret his decision. The Grandmaster took pains to know his subordinates well, so he was well aware that Shay and Selah had more in common than they cared to admit. Besides, both of them needed the experience. Selah needed to learn how far the Templar Order expanded and Shay needed to learn how to teach. Haytham trusted he would be a fine mentor. It certainly helped that Shay had seen the lit and shadowed portions of both sides. There was no one better to introduce Selah the type of world she lived in.

Haytham was no fool. The Grandmaster could teach her how to improve her skills, but he was well aware of her hidden defiance. Selah would never accept Templar principles from him. Especially now she adjusted to his authority. Shay was likely to have more luck, especially since he could prove that her little Brotherhood wasn’t as perfect as she wanted to believe.

The Grandmaster quickly shook his head. Now was not the time for daydreaming! Already the man could hear the cracking of musket fire around the corner of a run-down building, where more fighting was taking place. Bracing his sword, Haytham quickened his pace to participate, only to find it was not necessary.

Another efficient killer for hire. Gerhard von Stantten. He was a German hessian, knowing nothing except how to kill. If the Coyote Man was cold, he was nothing compared to the zombie-like mercenary. But the German was the most effective weapon Haytham ever paid for. He even believed part of the reason the raid on the Assassin Homestead was so successful was thanks to Stantten and his fellow hessians. It was well worth the price.

Once again the German noble was proving his value by slaughtering the gangsters two at a time. The Coyote Man had already disappeared to continue his hunt. Meanwhile other Templar footmen swarmed the compound, battling against their counterparts. Haytham was pleased. Already half the camp was gone and those remaining were weary. This should not last much longer. However, the Grandmaster knew there were a few Assassins stalking within the camp, and he had only seen two dead. …Speaking of the Devil.

Haytham’s sensitive hearing was racked by a war cry. The hairs of his neck stood on end as he realized it was above him and noticed the shadow falling over him. With inhuman reflexes, the Templar swung around with his sword with graceful agility. He was rewarded when his blade struck the meaty flesh of an Assassin. The woman cried in pain, but it was only her side, allowing her to roll away to land in a battle stance.

The Grandmaster blinked when he realized she was an Indian. Dyed blue cloth covered her bronze skin, once again designed with the elaborate patterns of her people. The woman’s dark hair was divided in two braids, beads and feathers intertwined between them. She was young, too, only in her twenties at the most. Her appearance wasn’t truly surprising, considering the Assassins’ ties with the natives and their desire for young recruits.

Haytham welcomed her by pointing his blade at her with a composed arm behind his back. The woman scowled and accepted it, charging with a cry. The master swordsman wanted to roll his eyes. What did the Assassins teach their students? No wonder so many of them were dead. To prove his point, Haytham simply sidestepped when the native lunged, slashing across her back when she glided right by him. The woman gave a high-pitched screech of pain, but quickly caught her balance. She spun around, eyes dilated with teeth bared and panting like some agitated bear.

She pounced again, aiming her stone dagger at Haytham’s throat. The Templar expertly blocked it with his sword, not really trying. In attempt to slip through his defenses, the Assassin unsheathed her hidden blade and thrust it towards him. But Haytham was quicker. Already tired of the quarrel, he lashed his hand, burying his own hidden blade in the Assassin’s throat. Her face fell with shock and she only choked a single breath before dying. However the native was still lodged on the Grandmaster’s blade, so the man had to push her off and watched the corpse crumble to the ground.

Haytham had no remorse. He didn’t have any guilt in the lives he took. They were a necessary sacrifice for a necessary cause. Some sane part of him scolded him for being ironic. Here he was slaughtering stubborn Assassins without a care, when he took such pains to bring Selah into his fold. No, Selah was an entirely different case. Still, surprised him only a matter of years ago he disliked the scene of death. But he lost all faith in humanity when he had discovered his venerable mentor had murdered his beloved father. This world was cold and cruel and one must be as well in order to survive.

That was proved when Haytham just happened to turn around. The Coyote Man had reappeared, digging his bone dagger into the spine of a brute of a man. The gangster was dead before he fell to the ground. The Coyote Man stilled, scanning the battlefield for another kill. A tragic mistake.

Haytham didn’t even see the shadow behind the Templar mercenary before it was too late. An Assassin seemed to literally materialize in thin air, jerking the Coyote Man’s head back by his hair enough to cause him to yell. There was only a flash of the hook before it was buried in the native’s throat.

Haytham cursed before drawing out his flintlock and firing. The Assassin was quick, though, already leaping away before his victim could fall to the ground. At least Haytham believed he was an Assassin. Instead of the traditional robes and hood, the lean man wore tight leather clothing, almost like a mercenary’s. However, he did follow the tradition of hiding his face, wearing a bandanna and his eyes were shadowed by a broad-rim hat. The Grandmaster bared his teeth when he recognized the description of the figure and recalled the Assassin capable of such skill.

The Night Stalker, most called him. Some rumors called him Joe. It apparently came from when one of his Templar victims had screamed the name when he was being killed. But it didn’t matter what he was called; only what he was. An Assassin who only hunted at night and vanished without a trace after a kill. Haytham considered himself lucky to find him in broad daylight. He also considered himself fortunate that he might have a chance to end the shadow’s reign of terror in order to avenge a death.

…That thought was banished when the Night Stalker pulled out his own flintlock in a blink of an eye. The Templar dived for an abandoned crate, splinters flying over his head. Instead of staying down or reloading his gun, Haytham felt rather bold, leaping from his cover to charge the Assassin. Thankfully the man didn’t have a second weapon, but held his ground as the Grandmaster pounced him.

The Night Stalker’s hook caught Haytham’s sword, the blade hovering an inch from his mask. The Templar meant to twist his sword to gain leverage, but once again the Assassin was faster. Without warning, Joe kneed the Grandmaster in the stomach in a powerful blow. Haytham winced, allowing the smaller man to shove him off and onto the ground. The Templar braced as quickly as he could, half-expecting the Assassin to pounce on him. The Night Stalker didn’t, instead tearing away at an impossible speed.

“Stop him!!” Haytham roared.

A few mercenaries tried to heed to order, only to receive a hook in the eye. Haytham hissed as he sprung to his feet and gave a chase. It was a short one as a pair of gangsters came to the aid of their superior. Once again the man had to hide behind a barricade when the footmen raised their muskets. He saw a glimpse of Joe pausing and glancing back before the mercenaries fired, forcing the Templar back. The second the splinters flew, Haytham leaped back out and flew towards the assailants. The men could only give startled cries before the Grandmaster’s double hidden blades found their throats.

Haytham looked back up to search for a trace of the Night Stalker, only to see the edge of the lush green forest. The man quickly scanned with his Eagle Vision, only for empty shadow to greet him. The Templar groaned. So the rumors were true. Gone. Just like that. No matter, a temporary setback. The Order would find him some day.

Haytham straightened just in time to hear a scuffle of boots behind him. Adrenaline still pumping, the Templar spun around, bracing to slice his sword through the throat of whoever snuck up on him. He stopped mid-slice when he realized it was only Stantten. If was the hessian was aware that he was almost beheaded by his superior, he didn’t show it, standing as still as a statue with his musket on his shoulder.

“Za zreat is eliminated, Sir,” the man greeted in his thick accent. His extremely thick accent. “Mashter Lee vould like to speak wiz you.”

Already? Haytham still felt adrenaline and raw energy coursing through his veins, muscles twitching with eagerness to slice his sword again. However a quick sweep of his surroundings showed there was in fact no one to release that out on. Well. Haytham anticipated it would be quick. The Grandmaster regarded his subordinate.

Danke,” the Templar told him, taking pity on the solider by speaking in his language. Not that Stantten needed pity, but nonetheless.

The Grandmaster wiped his sword clean on a gangster’s vest before sheathing it. He followed the hessian through the camp, not really knowing where Lee was. Every step was crowded with the corpses of gangsters and mercenaries alike, the pure-white ground stained red with blood. Some time was lost trying to work through the maze of the deceased and random layout of the camp. Stantten moved unhindered, even a few paces in front of Haytham.

Finally they made it to a familiar figure. Charles was standing in a spot not covered by bodies, bundling in his overcoat and folded arms pressed tightly to his chest. Haytham remembered the man was not very fond of the cold. However, he tolerated it when it came to the Templar Order. The Grandmaster’s second-in-command lit up when they neared, turning to greet his superior.

“I assume things are handled on your end?” Charles purred.

“A few got away,” Haytham confessed, “including that Assassin-Night Stalker. A few deaths on our side as well. The Coyote was killed.”

“Bollocks.” Charles shifted stressfully, but stamped his emotions down when he remembered Haytham’s presence. The Grandmaster pressed on.

“And you?”

“All are dead. Now we have to fish out what secrets their hiding.” Lee’s eyes suddenly gleamed. “Which reminds me, there is something you might like to see.”

Haytham cocked a curious eyebrow, but followed his colleague and friend across the snow. The Grandmaster immediately liked what he was given.

It was yet another native, being held in place by two hessians. Or somewhat held in place, the Indian flailing madly and spitting like a feral animal. The Indian wore tall moccasins that almost covered his entire legs, leading up to a colonist shirt wrapped around his torso. To protect him from the cold, the man wore a green shawl-like blanket of his people around his shoulders. He was bald as well, only a single strand of tied hair intertwined with feathers. Upon nearing him, Haytham noticed the Indian’s skin was fairer than most of his people and his features weren’t as defined. Oh, a half-breed, then.

Still, the Grandmaster was pleased, recognizing the infamous Assassin. He patted Charles’s shoulder in a gesture of good work and neared his prey. The Assassin was finally forced to his knees, but he still squirmed in his captors’ grip. Deciding to help tame him, Haytham drew his sword, placing it under the Indian’s chin. The Assassin immediately stilled when he felt the cold touch, raising his glare to meet Haytham’s stoic stare.

“I believe I recognize you,” the Grandmaster started. “So you’re the one who had been cutting down my associates across the colonies.”

“Many of my brothers have done so,” the Assassin retorted. The native didn’t have the thick accent of his people’s, instead sounding of thin Irish dialect.

“Not like you. Did you know we picked a nickname for you? ‘Silent Shadow.’ However, I found you prefer Chogan or Krynn. Though you have a native name, yes? At-ata…

The native’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Atasá:ta.”

“Ah, that was it. Forgive me for not being able to pronounce it. How about I call you Chogan, shall I?”

The Assassin, Chogan, only glared. Haytham was unfazed, raising his sword slightly to tilt his prisoner’s head.

“I thought you were supposed to be dead,” the Grandmaster observed, his deadly question underlining his statement.

Chogan’s intense gaze flashed with anger. “Achilles was a fool. I did not wish to serve that man.”

“Why not join the Templars, then?”

“Because I would rather die than succumb to the likes of you.”

Haytham tsked. “Rest assured, you are very close to accomplishing that. However, tell me what I wish to know, and I’ll let you live.”

He wasn’t really surprised to find the Assassin’s gaze skeptical. Nonetheless, the native questioned, “And what is it you wish to know?”

“You will tell me what you little group has been up to. Why is it you are carrying operations with no leader?” When Chogan only narrowed his eyes, Haytham decided to help fill the gaps with his own hypothesis. “Unless, there is a leader.”

The Templar twisted his blade into the prisoner’s skin enough to draw blood. To the Assassin’s credit, he did not even wince, but Haytham still saw his muscles clenching beneath his skin.

“Where are you receiving your orders?” the Grandmaster demanded, his voice dropping to a deadly, dangerous tone.

“If I tell you, you will let my brothers and I live?”

“You have my word.”

Atasá:ta told him.

Haytham smiled, only a curl of his lips visible. “Thank you kindly.”

The Grandmaster sliced the Assassin’s throat.

Selah’s paced across the Morrigan’s deck restlessly, rubbing her arms subconsciously. Where was Shay? He should be back by now. The teenager looked up just in time to see the Templar captain nearing the ship, looking solemn. The Assassin’s stomach knotted. Something had happened.

It was Gist who greeted him first. “Welcome back, Shay. Did you hear anything from headquarters?”

“Yes,” Shay immediately replied. “We are to set a new course.”

Selah narrowed her eyes and tilted her head in confusion. “To where?”

“The West Indies.”

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