Crossed Eagle

Chapter 36

The village was alit with flames. Huts were collapsing in on themselves as the flames ate them away, columns of smoke billowing from the structures. A thick haze filled the air, making eyes water and throats burning. Even specs of embers floated across the air. No one paid attention to any of that as Taíno villagers screamed and ran for their lives, snatching their young ones or their prized possessions. Warriors in either robes or armor took their place, roaring battle cries as they waved their weapons in the air.

The Spanish greeted them.

The soldiers were dressed in blue and red coats, but the colors were darkened by the soot. They clutched their bayonets, occasionally shooting or thrusting them into the meaty flesh of their targets. Majority of them grinned in delight and sadism, enjoying seeing the savages falling to their superior power. Their expressions of triumph were quickly replaced by horror and fear as the Master Assassins came. The veteran warriors appeared from the jungle like phantoms, diving onto their prey like eagles. Screams filled the air as their hidden blades dug into the throats of their victims.

Selah whipped around, trying to take in her surroundings all at once. Th-this couldn’t be happening! Her body was shaking and adrenaline raced through her veins. She was not foolish. These were Ojeda’s conquistadors. They had come to finish the Assassins once and for all. That meant they were Templars… weren’t they? Any idea Selah had died as the girl glanced down at her attire. She still wore tribal clothing. The teenager cursed.

Sure enough, a Spaniard charged at her, screaming violently and swinging a sword. Selah started in surprise and rolled away, the blade missing her by a hair. She landed in a crouch, watching as the soldier charged for her again. Selah jumped and leaped away, dodging another strike. She was still unarmed, which meant she was dead if she didn’t find a means of defense. Her prayer was answered as she took several steps back to avoid the crazed conquistador. Selah gasped and started as she rammed into a rack of muskets. She whirled around to glance at the weapons, only to immediately snatch one. The conquistador charged for her again, only the warrior to thrust out her bayonet, skewering the man’s chest. A look of shock flashed over the man’s face before death claimed him.

No, these were not Templars. These were conquistadors. They cared only for the death of their enemies. Selah would have to fight them, if she wanted to survive and find her way back to the others. The Templar forced the corpse of the soldier to the ground. She stripped him of his sword before turning around to face the battle.

Fleeing innocents were replaced by quarreling factions. Assassins and Taíno warriors fought side-by-side against the Spanish invaders, who were just as plentiful. The conquistadorsheld their own against their enemies. Selah’s stomach churned. If this was anything like the purge in the colonies, then there would be plenty more soldiers awaiting their turn to face the Assassins. Meaning the battle was next to useless.

Selah knew she should have run. To escape while the Assassins were preoccupied and live to see another day. To prevent herself from seeing the same tragedy she already lived. Both her voice of reason and her hidden animal instincts screamed and begged for her to flee.

Selah must have been very foolish.

The Templar charged with her own battle cry, ramming into an unsuspecting solider. She thrust her newfound sword into his neck, ending his life almost immediately. She spun back around just in time to face another Spaniard thrusting his rapier at her. Selah deflected it away from her and stabbed her own blade in his gut. The soldiers gasped and sputtered, but the Templar merely ripped the sword back out before leaping away.

Selah sent strike after strike at the conquistadors, weaving between them like some dancer. She panted as a layer of sweat covered her skin, forcing her already warm clothes to stick to her body. Her muscles were sore and aching, but she ignored her discomfort. She felt her mind becoming detached from reality.

Focus. Balance. Stay sharp.

Focus. Balance. Stay sharp.

Focus. Balance. Stay sharp.

The Templar’s trance was interrupted, letting out a cry as suddenly she felt her hair being tugged. Selah reached up at the large hand tangled in her hair, trying to pry it away. That only rewarded her with a painful twist that she swore tore at her scalp. Stumbling backward and losing her balance, Selah was forced to drop her sword. Before she could get a good look at her attacker, she screamed as suddenly the world violently panned and she was thrown to the ground, tasting dirt.

Selah moaned as her head spun, barely hearing that deep chortle sounding above her. She glanced over her shoulder to see a burly Spaniard nearing her, a decorative spear in his hands. He grabbed it with both hands and lifted the blade, as if to strike it at her. Selah braced to move and her body prepared to feel pain, but it never happened. Just before the man could thrust his weapon at her, a distinct sound of metal grating metal sounded. The conquistador’s mouth opened, blood pouring from it, before he fell to his knees and collapse face-first on the ground. In his place was a Master Assassin.

Selah jumped to her feet in a heartbeat, snatching her fallen sword on the way. But the Assassin made no movement. The Templar glared at him suspiciously, only for the veteran to dip his head and take a cautious step away from her. It was then Selah understood. He had saved her. The realization made her body grow stiff for a moment before she forced it away, lowering her sword.

“…Thank you,” she muttered.

At first she couldn’t tell what nationality the Assassin was beneath the shadow of his hood, but the girl eventually noticed his clear blue eyes and scratchy beard, telling he was a colonist. The Master muttered something in another language, but Selah didn’t know what. However the Assassin quickly switched to English.

“Follow me if you want to live,” he ordered coolly.

Selah’s Templar instincts told it was foolish to listen to him, but her survival instincts were stronger. With a nod, the girl followed the Assassin further into the jungle, hot on his heels. Whether he was trying to escape or find more enemies, Selah didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. They had only rounded a couple bends before a line of conquistadorsappeared, muskets pointed at them.

Simultaneously, the duo separated to duck for cover. Selah couldn’t help but give a startled yelp as the gunfire roared the moment she slipped behind a tree. She didn’t hesitate. Drawing her sword, the Templar leapt back out, the Master Assassin already taking the lead. The freedom fighter thrust his double hidden blades into the necks of two soldiers. Meanwhile Selah clashed with her own opponent. She batted his sword away, exposing his defenses and slicing across his chest.

The girl glanced around to see several more conquistadorsfilling the clearing. They were endless! Dread began to seep into Selah’s veins. This was just how it was during the Colonial Purge. One enemy after another and another and another. Until their overwhelming numbers exhausted the Assassins. Selah’s grip tightened on her sword. Haytham must have told Ojeda how he defeated the Assassins. A plan the Spaniard approved of, not caring of the lives for guns for hire. The girl couldn’t find herself hating Haytham. She knew why he was here. But how much longer would they last?

The Templar asked far too soon. She was ripped from her thoughts as she heard a bloodcurdling scream. Selah glanced over to see a trio of soldiers taunting the Master Assassin, a fourth bleeding onto a tree. The Assassin leaped forward to thrust his sword towards a Spaniard. The man parried it, only for the warrior to bury his hidden blade into his neck. While the soldier’s life drained away, the action forced the Assassin to freeze. A pause another conquistadordid not hesitate to take.

Wielding another spear-like weapon, the man lunged forward and skewered the blade through the Master Assassin’s back. The man screamed in agony, a hand reaching up to grip the tip protruding from his chest. Another soldier pounced to put him out of his misery, but the Assassin still had fight left in him. He thrust his sword out, ending the Spaniard, but not before they spiked their own sword in him. He made another sound of pain. He began to fall to his knees, but before he could, he drew out a pistol and fired behind him. He fired between his arm and side, so his original assaulter did not notice until it was too late.

Selah started as all three men fell to the ground. It all happened in an instant, before she could react. But now the Master Assassin was dead, blood soaking his pure white robes. And Selah was left alone, surrounded by the surviving conquistadors. Their bloodthirsty looks told they were not pleased.

Selah tensed and held her sword, challenging them as the soldiers swarmed around her like a pack of wolves. The Templar dared to close her eyes for a moment. If she died fighting, then she could respect that. She reopened her eyes and braced.

Without warning a bellowing battle cry racked her ears, grating her nerves. A sickening sound of shattered bone and torn flesh filled the air, coming from behind Selah. Before the girl could turn around towards the sound, several more came, accompanied by screams of death. Along with whoops of victory. What?

Finally Selah spun around when she felt a presence nearing her. The girl fought a squeak and the urge to run into a hole as she came before a beast of a man. He could easily eat her whole. Hearing more sounds around her, Selah glanced at her surroundings to see the conquistadorshad been replaced by men dressed in tattered clothing. Pirates? The Templar’s fighting instincts were still raging, having her brace her sword. There was no telling if they were friend or foe. The teenager dared to glare at the hulking man before her. She refused to be intimidated as the pirate scanned up and down her body. Suddenly he gave a crooked smile with a strange laugh.

“Selah, I presume?” he guessed.

The girl started as she heard her name. “Who are you?” she demanded, annoyed her voice was quivering from exhaustion and surprise.

“Kumi Berko, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Selah only continued to glare at him, prompting the Maroon explain himself. “Shay sent us to find you.”

Shay?”

What? That made no sense! Selah tensed even more. Did these pirates really think she was going to believe their game? In the corner of her eye, the girl saw another pirate near her, tall and skinny as a toothpick. His tattered clothing was far too large and a crooked bandana was on his head.

“Oi, Boss, you sure this is the one?” he asked in a nasally voice. “Shay said it will be the girl with the saw.”

Selah immediately made a face. “…I will kill him.”

Kumi’s grin widened and humor gleamed in his eyes. “You’ll have the opportunity soon. We’ll take you to him.” The man turned to the pirate that had spoken. “Adrien, scout ahead. Make sure we don’t run into anything nasty.”

Adrien gave a crooked grin full of jagged teeth, and it owned too much sadism for Selah’s liking. After a cackle of confirmation, Adrien and a handful of pirates scuttered into the jungle. Meanwhile Kumi swung his machete to have the blade rest on his shoulder.

“Rest of you, see if our Spanish friends left any valuables for us,” he sneered.

There were immediately whoops of joy and agreement. Selah stood awkwardly as the pirates looted the bodies of the conquistadors, relieving them of their weapons and any possessions they happened to have. Though scent of acidic smoke, coppery blood, and rotting flesh filled the air, no one seemed to mind. No Spanish soldiers even leaped out of the brush to attack them. Not that they could anyway, the pirates completing their chore almost as quickly as they set to work. Once Kumi was pleased, the beast-like man barked an order and the party fled the scene.

Selah followed on the Maroon’s heels, begrudgingly accepting he was her only ally in this madness. And if he was legitimate on taking her to Shay… The thought made her wonder something.

“Why is Shay not here?” the girl demanded.

“Wounded,” Kumi barked. The man seemed to sense her face and growing anxiety, as he added, “He’ll live. It’ll take much more to kill that bastard.”

Selah couldn’t help but sigh in relief. The traces of the battlefield subtly lessened, the smoke becoming less thick and the horrid stench was disappearing. Or maybe Selah was just adjusting to it. However, she did notice the screams faded into distance and the occasional crack of thunder was muffled by trees. Still, the sharp sounds made the Templar’s stomach knot. She had no idea where they were going—only away from the village. The girl first assumed the pirates were taking her to their ship, but the jungle seemed to go on forever. Selah convinced herself she was willing to run the length until suddenly Kumi skidded to halt.

“Wait,” the Maroon ordered, holding out an arm. “Where’s Flood?”

“Maybe he ran up ahead,” a pirate guessed. “You know him.”

I do.”

The pirate leader ripped out his machete, his thick muscles tensing and rippling beneath his skin. He began to step cautiously, even though the undergrowth beneath his feet cracked beneath his great weight. Immediately the silent command rippled through the rest of the group, the pirates quickly falling into the same routine. Selah stayed directly behind Kumi, though she peered her head around his broad frame.

Selah thought she made a noise, but she didn’t remember. All she remembered was the forbidding abyss for the jungle before them illuminating in a brilliant light with a deafening thunder. A film of soil covered the Templar’s vision and inhumane screams drowned her hearing. That, and the splitting ringing in her ear that buried into her bones.

The world turned black.

Selah didn’t even feel the persistent touch on her shoulders. She didn’t hear a voice speaking to her. Some detached part of her only heard muted garble, if it was even that. Selah’s senses told she only saw blackness, but she watched it the darkness began to take shape. The garble turned into sounds.

“Selah… Selah…”

Her detached state registered a presence over her and something touching her. Selah moaned.

“Selah, my child.”

Finally her senses began to push back her disconnected mind and forced rational thoughts to replace an empty void. The Templar’s eyes fluttered, only to see shadow and dirt and smoke. Selah felt her shoulders moving on their own. With a groan, the girl tried to shift and push on her elbows, only for pain to rack through her body. She felt a force on her shoulder, which she submitted to as she rolled on her back.

Cacicaná’s face filled her vision.

Selah blinked. She had lost track of the Assassin Mentor before the attack. At the sound of the invasion, the Taíno completely forgot his rage, which was replaced by panic. He had torn into the jungle with his Master Assassins, Selah having no choice but to follow. The Assassin didn’t look too well. His coarse hair was in disarray and blood smeared his face. His once pristine armor was torn and covered with filth. Blood still oozed from his wounds. Instead of the raw anger from before, Cacicaná stared down at her in concern.

“Can you hear me, my child?” he asked.

It was a good question. Selah winced as the high-pitched ringing returned, echoing in her ears. His voice was horribly muted, but some sense must have still been working.

“Y-yes,” Selah stammered, only to wheeze and clutch her side. She felt the wetness of blood. The girl could practically feel Cacicaná’s grimace.

“Come, we must get away from here.”

Selah could not argue even she wanted to. Her body was numb and her head was swimming as it tried to recollect itself. The Mentor carefully placed an arm behind her head and the other wrapped around her torso. He muttered a warning before lifting to her feet. The Templar only seethed in pain, but swallowed it. She stood on trembling legs, trying to keep herself upright. Cacicaná stood beside the girl, keeping a gentle hand on her to keep her steady.

As Selah waited for her strength to come back, she scanned the jungle around them. Only a few inches away from her was a black crater of scorched earth, birthed from the cannon shot. She saw two more as well. The rest of the path was covered in blood, flesh, and bone. Less than a handful of Kumi’s pirates were still in one piece. The Templar swallowed when she spotted the Maroon’s body several feet away, his frontal body horribly burned and eyes glazed. Selah felt a wave of nausea.

They had died saving her. Like the Master Assassin had. Like William. Like James. Selah closed her eyes and whined. Why did everyone die around her? What had she done? She stumbled again, causing Cacicaná’s grip to tighten.

“Let’s go,” Selah breathed—that fearful, animal instinct to survive ordering her.

Cacicaná nodded, and gently supported her as he led them once again further into the jungle. Once again Selah had no idea where they were headed or even how close the fighting was. All she could tell whoever had ambushed Kumi’s pirates were gone, most likely convinced that the party was dead. They had the right to believe so.

It wasn’t long at all before Selah’s body began to operate on its own once again. Ever so slowly her stiff legs began to loosen and move, able to support her weight. The numbness subtly ebbed away, only to be replaced by waves of soreness. Her swimming thoughts began to rationalize and understand her surroundings.

Night had officially fallen. Shadows completely engulfed Selah and she could only see the phantom silhouettes of the fronds around her. Before it was nearly impossible to judge the time of day with the thickness of the smoke, but Selah had been able to see the sun slipping beneath the trees when she was with Kumi. The Templar still smelled the scent of battle, but it was faint, telling they were a fair distance from the village. Selah didn’t even see the red hue of flames. And by the lack of sound, either they were too far away or the battle was drawing to an end. Selah’s stomach knotted. It was doubtful the Assassins had won.

Some sane part of her told she was foolish following Cacicaná. Not only was he the Mentor and she declared her allegiance to the Templars, but not too long ago he had threatened her life. But once she ignored her reasoning. How many times the Assassins had attacked her after she joined the Templars, but here was their Mentor, protecting her. She was a Templar, but he seemed concerned for her welfare. Why?

Why did he care? Selah tried to ignore the strange feelings in her chest. She couldn’t worry about that now. Survival was her highest priority. She had to get away from the village and find the Templars. Cacicaná was her best chance of escape. The conquistadors could be searching for survivors.

Little did she know the conquistadors were the least of her concern.

Selah heard the rustling of the fronds more than saw them. It was the same with Cacicaná’s stiffening posture, bracing his hidden blades. It was futile as a phantom leaped out of the jungle, pouncing on the Assassin. Selah only saw a flurry of movement in the darkness and the sharp sound of clanging steel. Before the Templar could react, the two quarreling figures broke apart.

“Selah, are you alright,” Haytham demanded through gritted teeth.

The Grandmaster did not look pleased. He had his treasured sword unsheathed, gripping it tightly in his palm. The blade was already red with Cacicaná’s blood. The man glared at the chief, eyes cold and unforgiving. The Mentor was not much different: staring at Haytham with a hard gaze and unsheathed hidden blades. Selah could only dart her eyes between them, mind still trying to catch up to what had just occurred. Finally she did, only for her cheeks to redden when she realized was still half-naked and in clear view of Haytham. The girl forced herself to speak.

“Y-yes,” she stammered. She didn’t even consider the amount of blood and scrapes that covered her.

“Good,” Haytham hissed, still glaring at Cacicaná. “Now then, I’ll be taking back what is mine.”

“She is not yours to own,” Cacicaná retorted.

“Nor is she yours.”

“We do not enslave our fellow brothers.”

“No, you merely manipulate them until they suit your cause.”

“A crime you Templars commit!”

“Said nothing of you anarchic, barbaro—”

The two men lunged at the same time, before Haytham could even finish his insult. Both raised their weapons to plunge it into the other’s throat.

Stop!”

Selah forced her way between them.

Immediately the Assassin and the Templar froze mid-stance, their blades an inch from her skin. Both stared at her with surprise.

“You can’t hurt each other without hurting me!” Selah yelled, looking between them.

“That man—” Cacicaná started.

“He—” Haytham spoke at the same time.

“I was once an Assassin, and I am now a Templar. Both orders live within me. And enough have already died because of that. I won’t let another die for my mistakes.”

Cacicaná and Haytham had awkwardly loosened their tense muscles, watching her. Even if her words may made no sense to them, they seemed to understand her distraught. However, Haytham wouldn’t be who he was if he didn’t add another word.

“They tried to steal you away,” he accused.

Selah only glared at him. “And you stole me.” Seeing the leaders seemed to lose interest in each other, the girl cautiously lowered her hands. “You wish to kill each other when in truth you share the same goal: to protect your order and to protect me.” They glanced at each other then, reluctantly seeing her point. “So what value is it?”

Haytham closed his eyes and sighed through his nose. “Valid points,” he grumbled.

“Truthful words,” Cacicaná agreed.

Selah relaxed her muscles with a sigh. Big mistake. Without warning, Haytham lashed out his sword, reaching past the girl.

Selah yelled in fright and surprise, but cut off her scream. Cacicaná was still alive, chin bleeding as the tip of the blade scraped it. The Assassin did not dare react, not moving at all as he only narrowed his eyes dangerously. Somehow he looked fearfully intimidating. Meanwhile Haytham was just as unflinching.

“I should kill you now,” he snarled. “But fortunately for you Selah’s life is more valuable than yours.”

Selah almost fell to her knees in relief when the Grandmaster just as quickly sheathed his sword. There was clink as the Mentor sheathed his own blades. The tension in the air was unbearable, literally suffocating Selah. But Haytham and Cacicaná were still, and that was enough for her to tolerate it. Even their menacing glares. The staring contest was interrupted for a moment as Haytham looked around.

“So, how do we get out of this godforsaken jungle?” he demanded.

Cacicaná tilted his head. “There is a path that leads away from the village. It meets the river, which flows to the ocean. A ship awaits there. That is where we will escape.”

“Lead the way, then.”

The Mentor gave a curt nod at the Templar’s curt gesture. The Assassin took the front while Haytham touched Selah’s shoulder, ushering her to step beside him. The trio fell into silence, then, the air being far too strained. The only sounds were the undergrowth beneath the soles of their feet and the song of the jungle’s inhabitants rising in volume. The strange solace was interrupted when a sound came from the distance.

It sounded strange, being softer than gunfire but harsher than a war drum. But the noise owned a grating note that sent chills across Selah’s skin and her hairs to stand on end. All three of them froze.

“What is that?” Haytham demanded, looking over his shoulder at the source.

They all realized it the moment he said it. The war dogs.

A look of horror appeared on Cacicaná’s face. The Taíno whined something in his language, as he backed away from the increasing sound. Now Selah could hear the distinct howls, growls, and barking of the canines.

“Run!” the Mentor yelped.

The Templars did not need to be told twice. They tore after the Assassin without a moment’s hesitation. There was no way to see where they were going in the pitch-black, but no one cared. Selah only focused on Cacicaná’s bulky form, praying he knew where he was going. His guidance failed to protect her from fronds slapping at her face and her legs stumbling over roots. She stayed on her feet though, not daring to slow down for a moment or even consider it. Some distant part of her wondered if she ran this fast when she escaped the Homestead.

But it did not matter.

Even as all three warriors ran at frightening speed and their desperate panting and the sounds of impacts filled the air, the baying of the hounds grew louder each heartbeat. More than once Selah feared she could look over her shoulder and see the demons nearing them. But they did not dare slow down, forcing to continue. Or at the very least, attempt to.

It was in fact Haytham falling behind. The British noble had no experience navigating through thick foliage, and it was obviously hindering his progress. Not to mention his still wore his overcoat and cloak, the humid air taking his toll on him. Selah could hear his ragged breathing over her own.

“This is intolerable,” he seethed through his gritted teeth.

Selah skidded to a halt. “Mentor!”

The Assassin stopped dead at her call and whirled around. Haytham leaned on a tree, using his arm to support him, panting desperately and sweat forming a layer over his face. Within just a few minutes it looked like he had aged almost a decade, but the fury in his stone-eyes said otherwise. Without warning, the Templar ripped out his flintlock and spun around.

“I’ll be damned I’ll be ended like this,” the Grandmaster swore, storming. “I won’t be bested by some pest-infested mongrels.”

“Haytham, no!” Selah screamed. The girl tore after him, grabbing his arm and burying her heels. “You can’t!”

“Like hell I can’t!”

“She speaks the truth.”

The Grandmaster paused at the Mentor’s voice, sudden enough it cause Selah to stumble. He turned enough to peer at the Assassin over his shoulder. Cacicaná was slowly nearing them, expression inscrutable.

“I have seen too many of those demons kill too many of my people,” the chief confessed solemnly. “They feast on human flesh until they can no longer be recognized. They will do the same to you.”

“What you suggest we do, then?” Haytham spat.

“‘We’ will do nothing.” The Mentor stopped before the pair. He held his gaze on Haytham for a moment more before glancing down at Selah. “Do you truly believe the Templars is your place?”

Selah blinked at the sudden question—and his tone was impossible to read. So was his expression. All the girl could tell was that he wanted an answer. She swallowed.

“Yes,” she murmured. She raised her gaze to look at him and made her voice stronger. “I know what I want now. I want to follow it.”

Cacicaná only nodded, closing his eyes for a moment. “Yet you still have sympathy your brothers.”

“My life would not be where it is if it was not for the Assassins.”

Finally the Mentor’s mask broke as a ghost of a smile curled his lips. “You are a strange one, my child. So you wish to hold both ideals in your heart.”

Selah couldn’t help but hesitate for a moment, taken aback by the comment. She sighed and closed her eyes. When she steadied her breath, she reopened them.

“A wise man once told me,” she murmured, “that the world is in many shades. Many of us are blind to it, but if we learn to open our eyes, we can see the world for what it truly is.”

Cacicaná’s smile reached his eyes. “Captain Saint-Prix was a wise man, indeed.”

Selah remained silent, not knowing what else to say. Haytham was quiet as well, aware that this conversation was not his. However, the Grandmaster would anxiously look over his shoulder as the howls of the dogs drew ever nearer. Finally the Assassin Mentor came aware of the threat, glancing up with hard eyes. He stared into a jungle for a moment before glancing to Haytham.

“Do you truly care for her, Grandmaster?” the Assassin demanded to know.

Haytham was just as solemn. “Yes.”

Glancing between them, Selah could practically see a silent message slipping between them like a second conversation, but she would never know of what. Finally Cacicaná spoke.

“Care for her, Haytham.”

The two leaders exchanged that final message.

Without warning Cacicaná tore into the jungle. Towards the dogs.

“Wait, what are you doing?!” Selah screeched after him.

The Templar lunged for him, but only Haytham to snatch her and hold her in place. She flailed, but Haytham’s snap stopped her.

“Let him go.”

The Assassin Mentor vanished.

Selah was frozen with shock, but the Grandmaster’s tug forced her to turn back around. They continued their sprint through the forest, now hearing the dogs’ howls of victory and satisfaction.


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