Crossed Eagle

Chapter 32

The first thing Selah registered was that her skull was pounding. The girl let out a loud moan, furrowing her eyebrows. She slowly opened her eyes. At first her vision was dark and blurry, but her eyesight adjusted to the gloom. Her instincts half-expected to see a ceiling or the jungle’s canopy above her, but instead the girl saw a wooden roof, primitive enough she could see the individual branches. …What?

The rest of the girl’s senses recovered, allowing her to detect more of her surroundings. A strange aroma filled her nostrils, smelling like some foreign perfume she never encountered before. It most likely was. She then registered a strange splashing sound filling the air. The teenager blinked, but before she could do anything else, something cold and wet touched her brow. Selah hissed in surprise and swatted away whatever was touching her. Immediately the sensation went away and the girl turned her head to where she heard the strange noise of water.

Finally she saw a face. It was a woman, obviously older than her but her flawless skin told she was still in her younger years. Selah immediately noticed the skin was dark bronze. The woman had dark almond eyes and coarse black hair that came to her shoulders, thick enough it made her head look twice as large. She wore a pale, ivory skirt that covered her legs, but a slit on each side revealed a glimpse of skin. Her stomach was exposed as well, a tunic covering her upper torso. Just like that girl…

Immediately Selah recalled the image of the Assassin she had killed, and how she had seen her reflection in her. Automatically her breath caught in her throat and she shuddered. It was then the images of the battle flashed across her vision. Wait. The Assassins. Selah meant to leap up, but suddenly a strong, but gentle hand held her shoulder. The teenager looked up to see the strange woman smiling down at her.

“W-Where am I?” Selah stammered.

The woman only continued to smile before turning around to face a basin of water, soaking and wringing out a cloth. Selah just stared in confusion at her silence. Suddenly she realized.

“Do you understand me?” she questioned. The woman only glanced at her. “Do you speak English? En-glish?”

Finally the woman realized what the girl was asking. Like Selah suspected, she shook her head in denial. It was then Selah recognized her as a native. Which only meant one thing…

While the woman’s back was turned, the Templar once again attempted to sit up. Only when she did, a stab of pain came from her chest. Selah gave a small cry. She quickly found the source. She looked down to her stomach, at the base of her ribcage. It was there a red crevice lay across her stomach, sewn together by stitches. She could tell by the greasy shine that it had been recently coated with ointment. What? When did she even get that? Staring at the wound made her dizzy. It was then she realized.

She could see her stomach. Selah discovered with horror her “modest” colonist clothing was replaced by the native attire of bare limbs and torso. Her cheeks reddened and she came to dislike the touch of air on her limbs, when she was so used to feeling the roughness of cloth. She felt exposed. Selah shifted again, only to finally feel her bed shift as well. She started when she realized it wasn’t a bed at all. It was a large blanket, enough to swallow her whole. Instead of being safely strewn across the ground or secure to a mattress, it hung in mid-air, each end tied to the ceiling. It swung with each of Selah’s movements. What was this?

Selah’s confusion and growing panic disappeared when suddenly she heard a shuffle of heavy footsteps.

“Ah, I see you are awake at last,” a deep, thick voice purred.

Selah glanced up to see a newcomer. It was a large, broad-shouldered man, more so than even Haytham and Shay. From what skin Selah saw, it was a deep bronze. He had long, coal-black hair. Most of it flowed down his back with a lock tied into place. The front locks of his hair lay across his shoulders. Unlike the other natives, the man hid most of his skin. Instead of ivory cloth, his attire seemed to be made of animal skin and leather, though Selah couldn’t tell of what. His arms were covered with tight leather and trousers swallowed his legs, with a pale animal skin wrapping around his chest. The tail of his robes fell to his ankles. That’s what the armor was, as told by the Assassin insignia on his chest.

Immediately Selah started and leaned away, even though they were on the opposite sides of the room. She gave him a suspicious glare. The Assassin saw. He raised a hand in a gesture of peace.

“I will not harm you, young one,” he assured. He laid a hand across his chest. “I am Mentor Cacicaná, chief of the Cueybá.”

A Mentor and a chief. But Selah did not pay attention to the latter. Mentor. She was among the Assassin Brotherhood. She allowed herself to refer to the anger she had been harboring, particularly at a recent annoyance.

“If you ‘do not wish to harm me,’ then why was I almost killed?” the Templar demanded.

Cacicaná glanced at the wound of her torso with a frown. “I apologize that my men were overzealous. We had to stop the Templars from traveling any further.”

“Why so?”

“If you had continued on, you would have found a village belonging to my people. Women and children.”

Selah bristled. “We would not have harmed them.”

“You, perhaps. But the same could not be said for the conquistadors.

A stab of confusion struck Selah, making her start. Spanish conquerors. She had heard stories of them, how they would invade foreign lands, completely destroying everything in their path and enslaving any natives they came across. No, Ojeda’s men were Spanish, but not that!

“We were not conquistadors,” the teenager assisted. “I assure you.”

It was then Cacicaná looked more solemn. His voice lowered. “So they have twisted you, my child. They would not even tell you the truth.”

“…What you talking about?”

“The Templars. They have turned you against your brothers, Selah.”

Selah would have demanded how in the world he discovered her name, but it was then she realized the absence of weight on her finger. Her Templar ring was gone. They had discovered her new allegiance.

“Where is my ring?” Selah demanded.

Cacicaná made a face that looked like disgust. “That did not suit you. It is gone now.”

“And this does?” The Templar referred to her absurd attire. “I do not like this.”

For the first time Cacicaná smirked, possibly amused by her pout. “If you wish to bear the heat, you will find that much more suitable. I will never understand you silly colonists in your too many skins.”

Selah made a face. She would rather be hot than to be half-naked! She watched Cacicaná and the healer exchange a few words in their strange language. The Mentor then looked to her.

“Would you walk with me, my child?” he asked, almost kindly.

As long you stop calling me that, Selah wanted to bite. But she held her tongue as she tried to reposition. Only when she did, her hanging blanket swung violently. Selah froze in fright. Bollocks, how was she supposed to get out of this thing?

“I… can’t get up,” she whined, praying her cheeks weren’t red.

Cacicaná’s eyes sparkled in amusement, but he obediently walked over. He offered a large hand, which Selah reluctantly accepted. Despite his large frame and thick muscles, he was surprisingly gentle. He offered as a support as Selah wiggled out of the blanket and plopped onto the floor. Her wound pulsed with soreness, but the Templar could ignore it. She followed on Cacicaná’s heels as the Mentor spoke more of his language to the healer and left.

Outside Selah was assured she was still in the jungle. The exotic trees towered above them, creating a great barrier surrounding them. However, the canopy was open, as the jungle broke here. Immediately Selah understood that she was in a village. Light-shaded huts made of wood and brush filled the jungle floor. They were round with the roof slanted to make a triangle-like shape. Natives walked casually between them, some women in a group as they wove baskets and clothing. However, as the girl looked around, she spotted paler faces with covered skin. She also noticed the symbol of the Assassins as frequently as she saw the Templar Cross during Ojeda’s ball. This was an Assassin village. A mixture of colonist society and native culture. There were even some structures made of stone and natives with muskets.

Most Assassins had their hoods down since they were in the comfort of home, but there were a few that still had their faces shadowed. In the distance Selah heard the clash of steel and gunfire, even a couple yells. Exactly how the Homestead sounded. The former Assassin tried to ignore the nostalgia creeping into her senses, especially how she spotted a fist fight between two training Assassins, a ring of spectators cheering them on. It immediately reminded Selah how the village held similar fights, and some would like to bet on the winner. She suffered from the pang in her heart. It wasn’t a surprise that Cacicaná noticed her staring and her distant look.

“It this how it is in the colonies?” he asked.

“Y-yes,” Selah stammered, unable to stop herself.

Cacicaná smiled again, which was only a curl of his lips. “You do not have to be tense with me, my child. We are brothers.”

“I am not a brother.”

The Mentor almost looked hurt. “Why would you say that?”

“I am a Templar now.”

“But you are not.”

Selah glared at him. “I am.”

The Mentor looked like he was about to say more, but gave up with a shake of his head. He led her on, further away from the training grounds. They followed a trail that stayed on the edge of the village. Selah did not dare breathe a word and prevented any contact with Cacicaná. However, she would not be allowed to keep her silent treatment.

“Have the Templars treated you fairly, young one?” the Assassin asked.

“Yes, they have,” Selah assured, keeping her voice curt.

“That is a relief to hear. Templars can be… quite violent.”

Selah glared at him. “What makes you say that?”

Cacicaná raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Surely you understand their bloodlust. They do not fear to end men’s lives.”

“Aren’t the Assassins the same?”

Now the native man looked shocked, his tone matching his expression. “How could you say such?”

“You have not seen what I have, Mentor.”

The Assassin leader shook his head and closed his eyes. “They have poisoned you, Selah.”

The Mentor stopped and turned to her, Selah reluctantly following his example, but keeping up her defenses.

“No, they have not,” the Templar argued. “They told me the truth.”

“What is that?”

“Freedom is too dangerous, Mentor. Left unintended it leaves a wake of destruction. Instead there must be discipline and direction.”

“Oh, my dear child, what have they done to you?” Cacicaná’s voice seemed to be full of distraught as he brought up a hand to brush Selah’s cheek. The teenager had to stop herself from swatting it away. “The Templars have turned you into a shell of yourself. Kenway has given you lies to cover your vision. Do you truly not remember what they have done to your brothers?”

Immediately the image of the Purge returned. Selah couldn’t hide the pain in her eyes and couldn’t stop herself from lowering her gaze.

“So you do know,” the Assassin gasped. “The Templars failed to take that away from you.”

Selah tried to fight the trembling and to regain her breath as a sudden weight fell on her chest. He was voicing all the hidden fears the girl had been trying to ignore, all the while she was being forced to remember all the horrors of the Colonial Templars. No. She couldn’t let Cacicaná get into her head. She had to ignore his words. Selah shut her eyes and gritted her teeth to do so, but was forced to awake when she felt a sudden warmth on her cheek as the Mentor cupped her face.

“I know what happened, Selah,” Cacicaná murmured. “How the Assassin Hunter Shay Cormac betrayed Achilles and murdered his brothers. Haytham Kenway’s thirst for blood and cruelty. I know what became of the Davenport Homestead, and how James Crawford and Captain William de Saint-Prix were killed.”

“No, they cared about me,” Selah tried to argue, but her voice was pathetically weak. “Haytham would never—”

“Shh… The Templars will cannot hurt you anymore. Your brothers will care for you, Selah.”

Little did Cacicaná realize he said the wrong words. Hurt? No. The Templars have never raised a hand against her. Haytham had sheltered her and Shay had protected her. They were there for her whenever she was in pain, whether it was mental or physical. If anything, she had come to them in agony, and the Templars healed her.

“No, that’s not true,” Selah insisted.

She snatched Cacicaná’s hand and shoved it away, backing away from the Mentor. The Assassin only stared after her in shock, like he didn’t understand. The images of hurt were replaced by the images of everything the Templars had done for her. They were Selah’s family. She regained herself and looked back to the Assassin Mentor, eyes narrowed in a glare.

“You are wrong,” the Templar proclaimed. “I chose this for myself. I chose this because I want to protect those I love. I follow the Father of Understanding, and you cannot stop me.”

“You love the Templars?!” Cacicaná gasped.

“I love my family!”

It was then Selah spun around and fled from the man. She would tear through the village and escape to the jungle, where she would find her way back to the others. Only she never got there.

The teenager had only gotten matter of feet from the Mentor when suddenly a white wall materialized in front of her. Selah cried as she slammed into the Master Assassin. She tried to rip away, but the man’s hands shot out and snatched her limbs. She flailed madly to break free, only for the Master to wrap an arm around her torso to hold her steady. The Templar tried to claw at his chest, but the Assassin’s clothing was too thick. Selah yelled. No! She had to get back! She wanted Haytham! And Shay!

“The Templars have bent you more than I realized,” Cacicaná stated solemnly. “They truly are deceitful. You leave me no choice, my child.”

Suddenly a sharp stab of pain pierced Selah’s neck, making her cry out. Immediately her thoughts jumbled and her body went numb. In moments the bright, green jungle was replaced by strange colors and shapes. She barely heard Cacicaná’s muted voice.

“You must be cured.”

Shay glowered in the dimness, the cool of the stone wall providing a strange haven from the unforgiving climate of the jungle. The Templar silenced his hisses of pain from the slashes across his body, particularly one on his side that stretched to his back. Courtesy of a Master Assassin. The Assassin Hunter always dreaded fighting just one, never mind two. But he upheld his title when he was able to kill one and wound the other. But by then it was too late.

“I’m sorry, Haytham,” Shay apologized, voice slow and careful. “I left her only for a moment.”

The Grandmaster was massaging his brow and eyes. “It’s alright, Shay,” he assured, “you did your best.” Haytham spun around, adding through a mutter, “You always do.”

Despite the assuring words, Shay could tell Haytham was far less than happy. The British noble stormed off, Shay following obediently. The lesser Templar had no fear when he told his superior that Selah was missing. No, captured. Instead, the Irishman felt overwhelming pity for the Assassins. He would never want to suffer under the wrath of Haytham Kenway. That what would happen to them once the Grandmaster got his hands on them. He would use all of his power to ensure their existence would be erased. Shay had seen it many times before. The Colonial Assassins were a clear example. The Caribbean Assassins would be next.

Still, Shay felt guilt and concern. The Assassins were after Selah. They must have discovered her from spies in the colonies. Now Shay remembered as he battled the two Master Assassins, the third disappeared in the same direction Selah had run off to. Clever bastards. When the Assassin Hunter had defeated the Master Assassins, the first thing he realized was Selah’s disappearance. He tore into the jungle to follow her, only to find her abandoned dagger on the ground. Along with some footprints in the mud that were far too large to be hers.

The Templar had turned his hunting skills, trying to analyze the surrounding brush to tract the Assassins. He found larger footsteps, but none that could have belonged to Selah, meaning she was carried. Unconscious, most likely. However, as he searched further, the trail disappeared in thin air. Not surprising. The Assassins were accustomed to the jungle. They knew how to fade away, like ghosts. These were not ordinary Assassins.

After the ambush, Shay took the survivors (which weren’t that many) and fled the jungle, returning to where Haytham and Ojeda were hiding. Now the next plan of action.

“So I hear you have lost something, Haytham?”

Speak of the Devil.

“Yes, I have, Ojeda,” Haytham snarled. “The Assassins took Selah.”

The conquistador looked like he was about to cluck chidingly. “How unfortunate. I tried to warn you of the dangers, Master Kenway.”

Oh, he did not. Sure enough, Haytham bristled at the condescending tone. The Brit wasn’t arrogant, but he was not a man that could stand having his pride threatened. Shay watched him cautiously, skin prickling.

“My authority over my subordinates is none of your concern,” the Grandmaster spat.

“But do realize I am the Grandmaster here,” Ojeda retorted, his voice full of arrogance. “I hoped you would follow my advice.”

“You didn’t follow our advice when we told you to move your headquarters,” Shay stepped in, deciding he had to act before Haytham could wring the Spaniard’s neck. By his look, he was just about to.

Ojeda seemed to understand the jab, his sneer disappearing with a frown. “Yes, I suppose you are correct.” He turned around, leading his guests. “Fortunately, I have a solution to our problema.”

The Colonial Templars reluctantly followed, half-curious and half-dependent on the conquistador’s intentions. They listened as the Grandmaster went on.

“We have located their main stronghold to be a Taíno settlement hidden in the jungle. Most likely you’re lost muñeca is there. I have prepared parties, filled with my best warriors.”

It was then the echoes of barking reached the Templars ears, belonging to canines. Shay and Haytham exchanged glances. What in the world? They only had to travel a little further.

Shay didn’t know to cover his ears from the thundering ruckus bouncing off the walls or shield his face from the stench. The corridor led them down to a series of cages on either side, replacing the stone walls with iron bars. On the other side instead of human prisoners, were dogs half of Shay’s size. He swore a couple he could probably ride on. Most of them appeared to savage wolfhounds and barbaric mastiffs. The oversized beasts were locked in their undersized cages, several put in the same one. Some of the animals had to crawl over each other to move. Shay winced as he watched a couple of them bite each other.

Meanwhile Ojeda was laughing at the spectacle. “Savage monstruos, aren’t they? They have been trained that way since birth. Now they are more efficient than the most skilled soldiers.”

Shay’s gut wrenched. Spanish war dogs. How he hated them. The Templar captain still clearly remembered the last time he had worked with them, when one of the hounds mistook one of Shay’s crew as a chew toy. The Irishman had to shoot the beast in the head to get it off of the sailor’s leg. Lad still couldn’t walk right…

Shay narrowed his eyes as Ojeda neared his hand towards the bars like he was going to pet one of the canines, but paused just outside the cage. One of the wolfhounds noticed it and launched toward the Spaniard, only to slam right into bars, muzzle of chopping fangs being forced through. While Shay and Haytham started at the event, Ojeda laughed again.

“They are tamed creatures, usually,” he explained. “However, I find keeping them hungry is never too bad. Makes them more eager for human flesh.”

Shay muttered a colorful phrase in Irish, a favorite of his father’s for certain individuals. Haytham, unable to find solace in another language, kept his thoughts to himself. The Grandmaster’s face was scrunched up in disgust at the smell, a hand hovering under his nostrils.

“And how will they help us find Selah?” the man drawled.

“Oh, I’m afraid there is not much they can do for that,” Ojeda replied. “But they will certainly make short work of those Asesinos. We can find your muñeca then.”

Now it was Shay who wanted to wring the conquistador’s neck. Did he just say he cared more about killing than his own comrades? He also didn’t like the tone he used whenever he mentioned Selah. The Templar prepared to move and even opened his mouth to tell the bastardo off, but a touch on his arm stopped him. Shay looked over to see Haytham staring at him. The message exchanged between them was almost immediate.

“Thank you for the presentation, Grandmaster,” Haytham drawled, using false politeness. “We will assist you in your conquest.”

Ojeda gave a wicked grin that looked too much like the Devil’s. “Gracias, señor. Anything for our Order.”

Shay was staring at Haytham in disbelief, but the Grandmaster sent him a quick glare. The captain understood and followed his superior out of the solemn hallway. It wasn’t until the stench of unkempt dogs and feces faded that the Templars dared to breathe again. Haytham immediately spoke what was on both of their minds.

“We cannot allow Ojeda to send his army to the Assassin headquarters,” he decided. “His abominable beasts won’t discriminate between the Assassins and Selah.”

“What do you suppose we do?” Shay demanded. Haytham always had a plan. The Grandmaster didn’t fail to disappoint as he paused, Shay following his example.

“Find her, Shay. Before he does.” The noble clasped his hands behind his back, trying to regain his composure. “Then we can worry about the Assassins.”

“The Assassins could have only taken her so far. I’ll find her, Haytham.”

Haytham nodded. “Good.” The man paused before ordering in a low voice. “Bring her back to us, Shay.”

“I’ll get Selah back. I swear it.”

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