Crossed Eagle

Chapter 31

Selah pushed aside a branch (or maybe it was a leaf, she couldn’t tell) and ducked under it, following the barely-there trail. At least she hoped it was a trail. Exotic plants completely surrounded her, having her engulfed in an alien world filled with strange shades of green. Even the sky was swallowed up by the web of branches far above her. The humidity was suffocating, having a fine layer of sweat covering her skin underneath her thick clothing. Insects darted around her and a strange, high-pitched song filled the air. Whether it was from birds, insects, or even the trees, Selah did not know. Now she was beginning to understand Ojeda’s words of this colony being a foreign and dangerous land.

The Templar felt like she was in some absurd dream and not on Earth. This realm was nothing like the forests in America! How could it be part of the same world? Not only did the strangeness set into her bones, the warrior’s instincts were sharp. She did not feel any unsettling feelings, but she sensed a strange thickness in the air. It was if something was lurking in the shadows of the brush or hiding behind the trees, patiently waiting to strike its prey. It was unnerving.

The teenager did not voice her complaints as she kept pace with the patrol. Shay was in the lead, guiding them deeper into the jungle, occasionally chopping a troublesome brush with his sword. The party was composed of Spanish soldiers and Templar mercenaries, all armed to the teeth and watching their surroundings as carefully as Selah. Almost all of them spoke only Spanish, having a lieutenant act as translator between Shay and his subordinates. They were still on the island of Cuba; however they were on the opposite side from Havana. Haytham and Ojeda were gone, fled to whatever safe haven the Templars had for them. Now it was up to the Templar patrol to handle the rest.

“Whoever’s bloody idea to set up a bloody camp in the middle of the bloody jungle is a bastard,” Shay cursed as he chopped away at a particularly stubborn bush.

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of a hideout if it was easily accessible, now would it?” Selah replied.

“You’ve been talking with Haytham, have you?”

Selah couldn’t help but giggle, reminded of the Brit’s habit of snide remarks. Her smile disappeared as she went on with business.

“Those attackers from Havana, they didn’t really look like Assassins,” she confessed.

“While the Brotherhood in the British Colonies is known for hiring criminals for their work, the Order here is known for hiring pirates,” Shay explained. “At one point in time, half of the Caribbean Brotherhood was such.”

“What was the other half?”

“Local natives.”

Selah blinked. “I didn’t know there were tribes here.”

“Aye. Dozens of them. And they know the terrain better than we do, so stay on your guard.”

Selah nodded solemnly, following along as the patrol pushed on. Finally the foliage thinned into a clearing, the sky even visible above them. The mud and dead brush was replaced by green weeds and vines crisscrossing the ground. A shallow stream flowed across the clearing, sparkling beneath the sunlight. A stone-gray palisade towered over the patrol, covered by moss and shrubs. Shay paused in the center of the clearing with a sigh.

“We’ll take a rest here,” he announced.

He sheathed his sword while the lieutenant relayed his orders. Immediately the tight-knit patrol dispersed across the clearing, half of them dropping their equipment. Selah stretched her limbs, which were stiff from the tension of the jungle. Meanwhile Shay crossed over to the creek, kneeling down and cupping the water in his palms. He splashed his face several times, letting the semi-cool water wash his sweat-covered face. Selah could only imagine how stifling the humidity was for him with that thick black coat. His clothes were made for the purpose of traveling in the Artic, not the jungles of the West Indies. The teenager turned around to near him, but never got the chance.

Suddenly a strange gurgling sound reached Selah’s hearing, following by a muffled thud and several yells. The teenager spun around to see the uniform of a soldier collapse onto the ground, a ring of the patrol’s men around him. Shay was over in an instant.

“What’s going on?” the Templar demanded.

“H-He fall, señor!” a man cried.

“I can see that. What happened?”

“I do not know, señor,” the lieutenant spoke up. “He was fine a moment ago.”

Shay neared enough to stare at the fallen soldier with narrowed eyes, the man completely unmoving. Selah did not need to see his blank face to know he was dead. Suddenly Shay’s slit-like eyes widened.

“He’s been poisoned!” he gasped. “Stay away from him!”

The lieutenant echoed his words, having the patrol jump away from the body without hesitation. Selah was confused how he possibly knew that, until she happened to glance at the dead man’s neck. A dart. Suddenly Selah’s hairs stood on end.

“Shay!” she gasped.

The Templar reached for his weapons. “Get ready for a fight!”

It was then a long, piercing sound filled the air. The men only blinked and spun around in confusion, but for Shay and Selah, it had them frozen in place with crawling skin as the ultimate sense of horror captured them. It was the cry of the eagle.

Suddenly the canopy came to life, violent sounds of rustling filling the air. In the same moment, multiple shadows fell from the sky, a couple landing on unsuspecting soldiers. They fell with the screams. Selah unsheathed her sword just in time to hear war cries of different pitches assaulting her ears. She spun around to see a band of pirates leaping from the undergrowth. She barely had time to notice some of them weren’t even wearing colonist clothing. Then a force had her look up. She wished she hadn’t.

Where moment ago the top of the palisade was empty, now stood three figures. Three figures wearing hoods. Selah’s eyes widened at the Assassins. But they were not ordinary Assassins. No, they wore pure-white robes that symbolized the prosperity they claimed to fight for, stained with red accents that represented the blood to be spilled to achieve it. Their attire was completed with the sharp point on their hoods, representing the eagle’s beak as it guided their path. Master Assassins.

It really was true… Selah was forced from her thoughts as a savage yell nearly deafened her. She raised her sword just in time to block a swing from a machete. She could tell from the man’s dark, scarred skin that he was a Maroon. His look was feral as he shoved her back with raw strength. Selah cried as she was forced back, but thankfully she was able to keep her balance. Not for long as the thug charged again, swinging his weapon at her stomach. The teenager had to leap back to avoid it.

She stayed on the defensive as the Maroon sent attack after attack at her, the Templar barely able to keep up. It wasn’t like he was skilled. No, being compared to an Assassin, he was pathetic. But he stayed on the offensive, not letting up from his attacks and preventing the young fighter to strike back. She seriously began to wonder if his scars were from slavery.

Finally an opportunity presented itself. With a roar, the Maroon vertically swung his machete at her, the Templar leaping to the side avoid the attack. She did not hesitate to slice her rapier into his ribcage, provoking a loud yell of agony from him. But it seemed to only make him angrier, even as the blood spilled from his wound. He swung again, like he was trying to behead her. Selah had to duck back only for the Maroon to immediately strike again. This time she ducked beneath the weapon, allowing her to lunge forward, driving her weapon into his heart. The pirate gasped and stumbled back, actually reaching up to grab her sword, as if to pull it out. He could not as death took him, having him fall. Selah almost followed him, but was able to withdraw her sword at the last moment.

She turned around to hear another battle cry, but it wasn’t for her. Instead, she saw Shay standing on the other side of the battlefield, a shadow falling over him. The Templar looked up just in time to see a white phantom slamming into him, forcing him onto the ground. The Master Assassin drove his hidden blade towards the traitor’s neck, but Shay shoved him away at the last moment. The Assassin was forced to his feet, only to be knocked back further as the Assassin Hunter kicked him away. Shay rolled onto his feet in a battle stance, clutching his weapons. However, before he could strike, the second shadow of another Master landed next to him. Selah’s heart stopped. They were after Shay!

The young Templar made to leap for the senior Templar, but a high-pitched yell stopped her. She ducked away in time as a blade went for her head, but hissed in pain as the tip nicked her ear. She spun around to see her next opponent, who this time was a female. But the amount of skin she exposed would never be acceptable in colonist society. Her skirt only made it halfway down her thighs, leaving the rest of her legs bare. No cloth covered her stomach, only a small tunic that protected her chest. Her arms were open as well, only the leather of her hidden blades covering them. Her face was obscured by a thin hood. The female’s skin was darker, but not as much as the Maroon.

The Assassin charged for Selah, yelling in a language she did not know. The Templar used her rapier to deflect her hidden blade, stumbling backwards. The Assassin fought similar to the Maroon, sending strike after strike. However, the female sent them with unpredictable movements and twists, almost like she was dancing. When Selah had a chance to swipe at her, the Assassin would skip away or easily parry the attack.

Their blades met, Selah forcing the hidden blade downward. The position allowed her to catch a glimpse of her opponent’s hand. What she saw shocked her. The ring finger was missing. What? That practice was banned centuries ago! Selah stared at it, allowing her guard to be lowered. The female Assassin took advantage of that by swiping her second hidden blade at her.

Selah cried as it sliced into her neck, but was next to her collarbone instead of her throat. Before she could retaliate, all her breath was ripped from her lungs as the Assassin pounced on her. Selah wheezed as she crashed on to ground, her opponent sitting on top of her. The female raised her hidden blade, aiming it at Selah’s neck. She twitched her arm to drive it down, but Selah regained control of her senses. The Templar’s arm shot out, burying her own hidden blade between the Assassin’s chin and neck.

She finally had a clear view of the face to see it was full of shock and pain. She also saw it was a teenager, barely two years older than her. The girl had dark almond eyes and still-white teeth, the strands of black hair escaping her hood. Selah only stared wide-eyed, not even noticing the blood dripping onto her face. Finally gravity captured the corpse, having it collapse onto the ground with a thud. Selah remained motionless.

A teenager. An Assassin. A teenaged Assassin. Selah had killed her. Selah had killed an Assassin. The girl could not feel her body. No, she lost feeling when she saw her reflection in her opponent’s face. That girl was Selah. That girl was Selah if she had become an Assassin.

“You are an Assassin now, Selah.”

Selah screamed. The teenager shot up, only to whirl around and face the dead Assassin. The corpse was twisted in a strange position, eyes glazed. Selah was still able to see herself more than the Assassin. She gasped and leaped away. She was trembling. She had killed an Assassin. She had killed a sister. Selah shut her eyes, trying to force rational thoughts, but none came. She didn’t want it to come to this! This wasn’t why she joined the Templars! She never wanted to!

Suddenly the sounds of the battle surrounded her, assaulting her ears in an amplified volume. The girl covered her ears. The sounds did not fade, only growing stronger, accompanied by dying screams and maniacal laughs. That night. That night. That night. That night.

Selah screamed again. Instinct kicked in, fueled by her racing heart and pumping adrenaline. The teenager spun around, taking off. The clearing was immediately replaced by shadows and green walls as Selah tore into the jungle, ignoring the branches that slapped into her face. She flew across the ground as she sprinted as fast as she could. She did not dare look back, even as the shouts faded away. Finally her legs denied her.

Selah yelled as she slammed onto the ground as her body gave way beneath her. She skidded across the earth, scraping her skin. Selah’s head spun, but she desperately tried to crawl to her feet. She only coughed as her lungs burned painfully. The girl’s legs were wobbling beneath her. She took a step forward to continue on, but never got the chance.

Suddenly a hiss filled the air, a thick film covering Selah’s vision in the same instant. The Templar gasped, only to feel a vapor entering her throat. Immediately the girl started hacking, doubling over and covering her mouth. She tried to stay upright, but numbness was spreading across her body, having her lose feeling in her limbs. Her already clouded vision was blurring rapidly and her head spun violently. Suddenly through the hazy film, Selah saw dark shadows nearing her. Using her warrior instincts before they completely left her, she ripped out her dagger and braced to lunge. She never got the chance as with a choking gasp, Selah collapsed onto the ground.

The teenager lay on the mud, paralyzed, desperately fighting the unconsciousness capturing her mind. She saw the shadows near until they stood above her. Deep, accented voices reached her muted hearing.

“Is this the girl?”

“Yes.”

“Take her with us.”

Selah’s world disappeared.


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