Selah opened her eyes. Immediately a fierce pounding reverberated in her skull and her mind splintered into unfocused thoughts. Heaviness radiated across her body, numb and unmoving with reluctance. Enough remained of the girl’s awareness that she understood that this time it wasn’t weakness. She was drugged. Or very least wearing off from being so.
Selah squeezed her eyes, desperately trying to remember what had happened. Immediately memories of the night before flooded her mind. The girl’s gasp only died to a pathetic whimper. William… Her friend and elder. Most likely the only other Assassin left in America. Her only chance to escape and redeem herself. Now he was dead… All because of her. She led the Templars right to him. They had somehow known of their meeting. But how?
Suddenly Selah remembered when she met William after she escaped, she had felt like she was being followed. She blamed it on nerves, and she was too distracted with her thoughts to truly notice. But now she remembered feeling the same gaze last night. Watching her every move.
He had followed her. He had seen her with William. Suddenly his words after he caught her snooping became very vivid. The Templar wasn’t warning her of trespassing; he was warning her not to go to the meeting. Selah bit her lip harshly. How had she been so stupid? She was trained better than that. And because of her William was dead.
It was the Templars. They had killed William, preventing her escape. They had killed the Assassins, taking her as their slave. They had killed James…
Gaining new conviction, the Assassin reopened her eyes only to hiss as she registered the bright light of a lantern. Her vision was blurry and sensitive. Thankfully though her eyes quickly adjusted… only to see a dark figure sitting on the edge of the bed.
Haytham leaned on his knees, staring at the floor between his legs. Selah ignored him though as she forced herself to sit up, only to groan. Her head spun at the motion. Finally Haytham glanced up, almost looking concerned when he noticed her delirious state.
“Careful,” he warned. “Shay had to give you a strong dosage. It should be still wearing off.”
You don’t say… Selah wanted to bite. Instead she glared at the Grandmaster and accused with hatred and venom, “You killed William.”
Haytham didn’t try to hide his frown. “We had no choice.”
At an impossible speed, Selah flipped the bed sheets off of her and retracted her legs. Before Haytham could move to stop her or even know what she was doing, she slammed her feet into his side. The Brit gave a loud grunt as he was shoved off the bed, falling to the floor. Not hesitating, Selah jumped off the mattress and skipped over Haytham, dashing for the door.
“You are strong,” she heard Haytham mutter as he scrambled to his feet.
Just as the Assassin touched the handle, the Templar’s arm intercepted her, followed by the rest of his body. Selah gave a yell of protest as he tried to wrap his arms around her to restrain her. She ripped away and jumped to the other side of the room. She bristled and snarled like a caged animal, and Haytham completely blocking the doorway certainly didn’t help. The entire exchange had only taken a matter of seconds, but it was enough to have Selah’s adrenaline pumping.
“Is that your peace, then?” the Assassin demanded. “To murder and enslave when things don’t go your way?”
“Isn’t it the same with the Assassins?” Haytham retorted.
“No! We kill only because we have to! For a higher purpose, unlike you!”
“And what is that? Anarchy?”
“For the freedom of will! Those wish to restrain it are nothing but tyrants! It’s only they we assassinate because they deserve to die.”
“Oh? Then the man you killed last night, did he deserve to die? Was he a tyrant just for following orders?”
Selah froze. Suddenly the image of the man she forced into wall flashed across her vision. She had killed him? She couldn’t think about it much as Haytham’s heavy sigh drew her out of her thoughts. His voice went back to its controlled volume, when before it was a near yell.
He began to pace in front of her and waved his hand, like he was giving some lecture. “You just described every government in the world. People don’t do as they wish; they never do. They do what their government tells them to do. There will always be someone of more power or more privileged, and the underprivileged will follow them. Because they want to. They want the guidance and have no interest in the responsibility of power.” He waved his arms at her, as if challenging her. “There is no such thing as absence of authority. So how can there be freedom?”
Selah shook her head in disbelief, trying to block out his words. “There can be freedom in government,” she argued. “Just look at the native tribes!”
Alongside enlisting the help of smugglers and mercenaries, the Assassins made treaties with the neighboring Iroquois, even inducting a few of their warriors into the Brotherhood. Selah even had to the privilege to visit one of their villages and was able to learn a great deal of their culture. To start with they had no real leader. Only a Clan Mother to offer wisdom, and a council to lead in times of strife. But things were still accomplished—if anything, better than their colonist counterparts. And unlike the colonists, the Indians had respect for the ways of the world.
When she mentioned her argument to Haytham, she saw something flash across his eyes, telling her he knew her meaning. She continued on, trying not to screech but it was hard.
“And just look at the war! What has monarchy gained for anyone? All it does is create wars of power, destroying lives and homes. You really think the people are content with that? I doubt they are, but no one knows because they can’t talk about it. The people are denied to the right to voice what they believe in.” Haytham’s narrowed gaze showed he was not convinced, making Selah continue in exasperation, “The Assassins fight for a world where those who speak won’t be shunned. We do not fight for anarchy.” Selah became well aware she was using James’s words. “We fight for free will. Allow people to make their own choices. Even if there are differences in classes, at least they will be equal in mind.”
Finally Selah went silent, her patriotic speech somehow quelling her intense anger. She stood there, feeling a strange sensation crawling across her body but not knowing what to call it. Self-consciousness? Conviction? Never before had she spoken her beliefs aloud, never mind so strongly. The girl was always around people who thought the same, so she never needed to. She just hoped her words made sense, instead of sounding like childish babble. Probably wouldn’t make a difference anyway, directed towards the Grandmaster of the Templars. The man wore an inscrutable expression, peering at her through narrowed eyes. Selah dared her body not to move or shrink under his gaze.
“You have great conviction,” he murmured finally, “I’ll give you that much. Even if it is error.”
Selah honestly didn’t know if that was a compliment or not, and had no idea had to take it. The teenager decided she didn’t care as she stated with confidence, “As long as there’s a free mind in this world, the Assassins will survive. And you know this—that’s why you try to restrain whatever you find. But there will always be someone who will fight what they believe in—and the Assassins will always back them. You will never destroy us.”
Haytham’s half-curious gaze gave away when he looked down with a snort, smiling. “Well we’ve been doing an efficient job of that, my dear.”
No, you haven’t! Selah wanted to snap at him, but decided instead snarl with resurfacing anger, “Why bother with me, then? Aren’t I just another Assassin to you? Why not kill me?”
“I already told you,” Haytham sighed, “I have no intention of killing you. And besides, I rather not strike a lady.”
“What do you want from
me, then?” She already suspected the answer, but wanted to hear the words.
Haytham opened his arms. “Simple. Swear loyalty to the Templar Cross and embrace our teachings. You will be given a new life. Protection. I swear it.”
Actually hearing it aloud made it feel like Selah was shot with a bullet and her blood rose with fury. “You’re mad!” she spat.
Haytham left out a half-frustrated sigh and slumped his shoulders. He obviously wasn’t expecting this to be so hard. “Look, you can deny it all you wish, but I know you have no wish to surrender your life. You have proven that enough. I instead offer another one. Is that really so awful?”
The Templar closed his eyes with another sigh, obviously trying to control his own emotions. He was silent for a few moments before saying, “You want me dead.”
The Grandmaster reopened his eyes and glanced at her, his body language oddly relaxed. “How about a contest, then?”
Selah cocked an eyebrow, inviting him to say more.
“How fair are you at swordplay?”
The Assassin knew where this was going. “Fair enough.”
“Very well.” Haytham took a step towards her in a turn, but made sure to keep his distance. “A duel, then. Defeat me, and you will be granted your ‘freedom.’ I’ll even have you chartered to England, if you wish.”
Selah couldn’t help but widen her eyes. “Are you serious?”
Haytham nodded. “You have my word.” He suddenly raised a hand. “But, if I win, you end this silly game of yours and surrender your loyalties to the Templars.” Selah couldn’t help but frown in distaste, but listened with interest as the Grandmaster went on. “If you happen to kill me during our little scuffle, you will take no blame. My Templars will not touch you nor try to avenge me. Meanwhile, I will restrain myself from seriously hurting you. You will have the complete advantage.”
Selah smiled in pleasure. This was far too easy. Almost too good to be true. But she had already learned by now that Haytham did not lie. The Templar seemed to noticed she had calmed and was highly considering his offer, allowing him to cross his arms behind him and continue in a matter-of-factly tone.
“However, I will be fighting for my life, so don’t expect me to be particularly easy on you.”
Selah’s grin widened. “I would have it no other way.”
“Then you accept?”
Selah clenched and unclenched her hands in anticipation. She tried to stretch out her stiff muscles as she anxiously paced her small spot. The weather was the same as the night before: clouds drifting slowly across the sky, occasionally blocking the brilliantly shining sun. Selah was grateful they had decided for the contest to be done outside instead of some stuffy room hidden away inside the fort. Inhaling the fresh air and the soft wind in her hair spurred energy through Selah’s veins. Not near as effective as the winds in the village out in the frontier, but it was enough. They stood outside the Templar buildings of the fort, the inner gates closed to prevent anyone from accidently wandering in and whatever debris that had littered the courtyard had been moved to the side.
Her restlessness reaching its peak, Selah turned around and selected a sword from an array presented to her. The Assassin swung it calmly to test its weight and feel. Not as fitting as her cutlass, but it would do. She swung it a few more times to allow more adjustment and stretching. The teenager already done several quick exercises, knowing even with last night’s sprint, it had been over a week since she properly used her muscles. Last thing she needed was to be skewered by a sword just because of a spasm.
Glancing over her shoulder, she spied Haytham playing with his own sword as well. He swung it a few times and twisted in it his hand, even pressing his fingers to the blade to test its sharpness. His face was emotionless, but Selah sensed no concern coming from him. Humph, she’ll show him.
A scuffle of footsteps by the dirt-laced courtyard reminded her of their audience.
“Hehe, can’t ‘member the last time I saw the Boss in a grapple,” Hickey was chuckling.
“This should be interesting,” Johnson agreed, fingers to his chin.
“I just hope the fool
knows what he’s doing,” Church growled in noninterest.
“I give ‘er ten seconds,” piped Hickey.
“Give the girl a little more credit than that,” Lee said. He grinned. “I give her twelve.”
“Come now,” Pitcairn protested. “I’m sure she—”
Selah finally tuned out the Inner Sanctum’s discussion on how long she could stand against the Templar Grandmaster as she turned to him. He was nearing as well, peering at her from under his tricorne hat and cloak still elegantly draped over his shoulders, the blood-red underside flashing brilliantly in the sunlight. Selah restrained herself from rolling her eyes. He could at least take them off. But the cold shine of the Templar’s blade clutched in his hand kept her nerves sharpened.
“You can still yield, you know,” he offered.
“No,” Selah refused, raising her sword.
Haytham stepped back in a battle stance, but still had his sword lowered. “Very well…”
They stared coolly at each other a moment more. Then through an unspoken challenge, both charged towards each other. Their blades meet between them. Selah could only keep hers in place for a second before Haytham pushed her back with raw strength. The teenager stumbled away only for the Templar to swipe towards her midsection, but the Assassin leaped back. Haytham kept the offensive as he struck his sword forwards like an extension of himself. Selah deflected it, only for the man to swing it over again towards her head. Selah blocked it.
Recalling a trick she had learned in training, the apprentice twisted her sword over Haytham’s, forcing it down and piercing his defenses. Just before the tip of her sword could touch the man’s coat, the Brit forced his sword back upward; forcing Selah’s to slide off with a sharp sound of grating steel. The Grandmaster swung again, forcing the Assassin to block it before ducking out of the way.
Suddenly her instincts were sharpening and her mind going back to its detached state. James’s teachings rung in her ears.
“Focus!” he barked.
Selah scanned Haytham’s every movement—from the twitch of a muscle to the flick of clothing. She analyzed his attacks and used it to anticipate the next move. His fighting style screamed of English—he was practically fencing.
“Balance!” James snapped.
Whenever Haytham’s strength met her own, the teenager stayed on her feet, refusing to submit to the force. She expertly weighed her offensive and defensive choices, keeping strict control over her movements and her sword.
“Stay sharp!” her teacher howled.
Selah refused to let her thoughts drift as she only thought of the fight. She only saw the movement of her body and of her opponent’s. She even refused to register her own name.
Finally their swords met between them once again, their bodies inches apart. Selah pushed with all her strength, but in her surprise Haytham stepped back. The result sent her tumbling forward, allowing the man to manipulate her sword downwards, and exposing her body. But instead of raising his sword to her chest, he twisted her blade away from her and turned his body.
Selah wheezed painfully as he planted a strong kick to her abdomen. The teenager stumbled backwards, Haytham chasing her. She tried a frantic stab with her sword, but Haytham deflected it and used the force to push her again. Selah cried as she tumbled to the ground. Adrenaline still pumping and mind in panic, the teenager attempted to scramble to her feet, only for something sharp to suddenly press against her neck.
Selah flinched. Her vision was blurry, forcing her to wait a couple moments for her senses to readjust. Her heart only stopped. Haytham stood above her, a leg on either side of her and the tip of his blade to her throat. Selah could tell from the pressure that any sudden movements would draw blood. But what made her blood run cold was when she twitched her fingers. Her sword was gone.
She peered up at Haytham, who was smirking victoriously.
“I win,” he purred.
Anger and humiliation pooled to Selah’s stomach, having barely her recognize the small applaud from the side of the match.
“Ha!” Church yelled triumphantly. “Twenty seconds! I win!”
Selah blinked and her violent thoughts were replaced by shock. What? She glanced over to see Lee slap a handful of coins into the surgeon’s hand, Hickey laughing hysterically between them. She had to digest what they were talking about.
Twenty seconds. The match lasted twenty seconds. Selah flinched again. How?! The battle felt like at least a minute! Then she remembered adrenaline made time slow, making it impossible to distinguish seconds from minutes. So while it felt like an eternity to the Assassin, in reality only twenty seconds had gone by.
She stared up at Haytham, trying to remember what had happened. Had she made a mistake? No, she couldn’t think of any. She had done all she was trained to do. Then— Selah realized with horror that Haytham outmatched her. She was a child with only several years of swordplay; Haytham had practiced and mastered the art for decades. He was far stronger and larger than her, making her look like a runt. The humiliation returned, making Selah’s cheeks burn scarlet.
Dammit! How could she have been so foolish?! He was the Grandmaster. Of course he was more skilled than her. Even though she realized of her costly mistake, she continued to glare at the Templar with anger. He knew that, too. He knew it would be a contest where he would excel. He had tricked her. And she had fallen for it.
Suddenly Haytham finally moved his blade away and outstretched a hand towards her. Understanding the gesture, Selah wanted to refuse, but realized the Templar had positioned himself where she couldn’t get up without his help. Selah’s lip curled as she reluctantly took his hand. Haytham calmly pulled her up with a small grunt of effort. Selah tried to move away once she was on her feet, but suddenly Haytham grabbed her and pulled her close. She winced as she felt his hot breath on her neck.
“Learn to choose your opponents wisely, Selah,” he advised in her ear. The coolness of his tone and how he said her name sent chills across the Assassin’s skin. However her teenage side still grumbled. Oh, he knew alright.
The Grandmaster wisely stepped away from her personal space. Selah stood rigidly, still trying to decipher the situation. She had lost. Now an official slave of the Templars. Her instincts screamed for a new escape plan. But her mind’s logic found none. There were no allies in the city to help her. She had no sources or tricks to hide or escape. And the Templars had proven that they would not let her go so easily. Selah was trapped.
The girl swallowed and tried not cry. For a moment she considered scrambling for a sword and to kill the Grandmaster right then and there, but a cruel logic dictated that would only reward her with an angry mob of Templars. So fighting to control her emotions and blocking out the laughs of the Inner Sanctum she was. However the Assassin wasn’t depressed enough to fail to sense a familiar sharp gaze boring in her back. Realizing who it was, she snapped her head up and whirled around.
As she expected, she spied Shay watching her from the edge of the courtyard. He leaned a shoulder on the wall of a building, arms crossed over his chest and expression stoic as ever. The Templar almost looked as bored as Church a few moments ago. Either he was unimpressed or held no interest in what had occurred. Even though they didn’t make eye contact, the Assassin Hunter seemed to notice Selah had spotted him, prompting him to push off the wall and disappear into the shadow of the corner.
Selah watched him go with a narrowed confused gaze. She couldn’t stop herself from speaking out loud. “Does he always lurk?”
Haytham followed her gaze and caught on to what she was talking about. “He’ll come around,” the Templar shrugged. Selah now felt the Grandmaster’s gaze on her. “He highly considered killing you, you know…”
Selah snapped her head back at the man. His stony eyes told he was not jesting. The teenager narrowed her eyes and demanded, “Why didn’t he?”
Haytham glanced back to where the Irishman had vanished. “He didn’t tell me…”
The Assassin stared up at him, more confused than ever. However a scuffle of footsteps interrupted them.
“Congratulations, Master Kenway,” Lee piped merrily. Selah snarled at him, changing her mind to stab him instead. The Templar was oblivious even as he looked down to her. “What will you do with her now?”
I’m right here! Don’t treat me like some lost pet! Selah wanted to roar. She began to think of ways how to quickly kill him and rid of the arrogant man once and for all, but Haytham interrupted her. His words made her heart stop.
“In fact, Charles,” the Grandmaster confessed, “I think I’ll invite her to my home.”