Stepping down on the docks of Boston was like meeting an old friend he hadn’t seen for a very long time, recognizable scenery welcoming him back to his homeland. Any sort of enjoyment toward the lush surroundings in Europe was at best fleeting. These last couple of years have been some of the most intense and treacherous paths he ever walked on, containing no shortages of challenges to overcome or outright step over. He ended up traveling on it alone, his mere presence becoming far too dangerous to let anyone beside him even for a moment, moving from one place to another in quick succession to throw off or get rid of his unrelenting pursuers.
Because of his history with the Brotherhood, he was by far the most eligible of all Templars to be rewarded with a blade to the neck almost immediately upon discovery. Luckily, most couldn’t put a name or a face to the infamous traitor who crushed his own brothers and sisters under boot over twenty years ago for what he believed was a noble cause. They wouldn’t accept reason or justification, betrayal was an utmost irredeemable quality anyone could’ve committed. Slowly but surely, he’s become less and less concerned about their opinion of his being, dare even say complacent by the sheer amount of curses and abuse shouted at his expense.
Though it was equally as amusing when those same people would underestimate him in the same breath. Why is it they never seem to learn anything?
The Boston docks were brimming with life, the salty wind more home to him than any other and in a crowd of average everyday people going about their business, stood an unexpected familiar face he could hardly forget. The impression of a loud joyful man in a weathered old overcoat and a wide brimmed hat was forever burned into his consciousness since the day they first met, with a noose around his neck.
He didn’t notice him at first as an old couple blocked his vision, only for the newly arrived man to step to his side on a slightly less inhabited corner, his hand lightly touching the unaware man’s shoulder. His former first mate looked around swiftly, nearly turning back with an annoyed grunt before he noticed the person he’s been waiting for right behind him.
“Goodness gracious. Shay, is that really you?”
The older man’s eyes widened in surprise, tilting his hat away from his line of sight as a grin formed on his lips. “You dog, you! It’s been too long!”
“Gist…” smiling gently, the younger Templar raised his hand in an anticipation of a handshake just as the frontiersman grabbed him in a crushing bear hug with a deep laughter echoing through his chest, even lifting him up from the ground a bit. Shay didn’t protest as he had missed the man and his infectious enthusiasm, but then again he was slowly running out of air as he managed to inform him with a slightly panicked voice. “Wait, wait, wait… not that tight.”
“Oh, sorry,” Christopher Gist immediately dropped him back on his feet, setting his hands on the hunter’s shoulders instead as he waited for him to compose his breath and checked the hunter from top to bottom like an over concerned parent. “Look at you… you… you got…”
For a moment Shay thought he was going to say something profound or even heartwarming, but the eventual widened grin and crinkles at the sides of his eyes swept that theory under the rug as the man jokingly tapped his cheek.
“Oi,” Shay Cormac let out a mockingly outrageous cry, lightly punching the older man in the shoulder. “I don’t think you’ve looked in a mirror lately, mate.”
Gist simply laughed as he put an arm around Shay’s shoulders, walking off toward the rest of the city. “Now I wish I had a mirror! I desperately need a shave, this mane of mine has seen better days.”
He brushed his free hand against his chin, the messy silver beard knotting in his fingers. The Assassin Hunter noted his friend didn’t look all that different from when they last saw each other, apart from the grayness in his hair advancing to the point it had now completely dominated his physical appearance and he switched out his old uniform for a newer gray suit. He still wore the same brown overcoat and hat that somehow managed to stand the test of time all these years without being eaten by moths and rats. Though honestly, Shay couldn’t imagine him wearing anything else because it just wouldn’t be the same.
There was even a slight limp in his walk. Obviously not something that greatly impeded his movement and not so pronounced most people would even notice, but a small detail none the less as it indicated very clearly that some things have changed during his absence, though most not for the better if the rather cynical news from the colonies had any say in the matter.
“You better. I don’t wanna know where it’s been,” the younger man replied.
Immediately, Gist saw the opportunity to continue. “Oh, now I gotta tell you. There was this bear, you see…”
“Why’s it always a bear?” Shay rolled his eyes, more jokingly than anything else as he let out a short snicker. “That’s about as cliché as you can get. You could’ve thought up a better openin’ line, mate.”
“Well, as you know, ‘a good story always starts with a bear’s arse’,” the frontiersman announced proudly, so much so a passing older woman gave him a fierce glare and appeared ready to spank him for his foulmouthed behavior right in the middle of the street. Unfortunately (or fortunately), nothing came of it as they advanced further into the city and left the docks and the cranky seniors behind them.
The younger Templar also shot a short-lived glare toward him. “You just made that up.”
“No, it’s all true,” Gist threw up his hands in defense as if to say that God was his witness and that everything he ever said was absolute truth and the only truth. “My uncle Jedidiah once said that and he did in fact shoot a bear in it's arse. Now that’s another story I’ve never told you before.”
Cormac shook his head, trying to contain the laughter under his breath. “You know, Gist, I’m startin’ to think uncle Jedidiah doesn’t really exist.”
“Perish the thought! Don’t spit on my ancestry like that,” the two men stopped dead in their track, with the older Templar acting insulted as he crossed his arms and looked away from the former Assassin with a dismissive air. “He was as real as a wendigo with dysentery.”
There was a moment of silence between the two as they stood in everybody’s way like a bunch of idiots, only for them to drag their eyes back to each other, their mouths both quivering from the overwhelming need to just burst out laughing right there in the open. They immediately ducked into an alleyway to avoid any more glaring looks from pedestrians as they let it all out, possibly only scarring some nearby stray cats for life with their roaring guffawing. The Templars had to take a moment to catch their breaths, finding themselves quite content with the situation for a slight moment despite it being anything but rosy.
“I had to know if you were still the same man I served under for so many years. It’s good to have you back,” the older man was still out of breath when he tapped on his companion’s back. “I’d love to pester you with questions about your journey… I just wish to God it had been under better circumstances.”
“Me too, Gist,” Shay brushed away at the traces of tears in his eyes, composing himself for a more serious talk he knew they couldn’t really ignore anymore. “Walk me through it. On my way back, I heard from others but they weren’t any more informed than I was. Is it true Johnson and Pitcairn are dead?”
“Yes, it’s true,” the frontiersman nodded. “Hickey was also killed in a failed assassination attempt on Washington.”
“I wonder how that must be for you,” the younger man looked at him curiously. “You saved the Commander’s life on an occasion, didn’t you? Or was that you blowin’ smoke too?”
Christopher snorted softly and gave him the ol’ ‘when do I ever lie’ look, only to exhale heavily. “Sometimes I think we should’ve just ignored Lawrence’s last wishes and attempted to recruit George for the Order, but a promise is a promise. Let it not be said we aren’t capable of respect towards the dead.”
The hunter sometimes wondered about that when he was younger. If he had a family and he asked the same thing, would the Order or the Brotherhood keep their business out of his loved ones? Though it seemed irrelevant as he hardly had any relatives left to speak of and his work turned out to be far too important and dangerous to even consider about starting a family. As an Assassin, he witnessed Washington’s plea to the other Templars about George before he assassinated him, only later realizing he could’ve ruined Lawrence’s attempt at keeping his half-brother in the dark from the greater plot at hand if he had arrived just a little too soon.
Though in hindsight, they probably wouldn’t be in this situation if that happened.
“It was an Assassin, Shay,” he confirmed with a nod. “They’re back. Or at least one of them is.”
“Do we know who it is?”
“It’s… uh, complicated,” the older Templar gained a rather sheepish tone to his voice as he shrugged, mulling it over in his head how he should go about tackling this. “You probably remember my drunken rants about the Grand Master’s love life, right? And let me add that was honest to God truth, not just alcohol messing up my brain.”
The corner of Shay’s lips twitched into a smirk. “Like it even takes you a couple o’ pints to spill the truth.”
He had a point there as the bearded man merely shook his head awkwardly. “Right. This new Assassin… he’s an Iroquois native,” Gist coughed before he continued with a vocal nudge. “Particularly of the Kanien’kehá:ka nation, better known as the Mohawk to us.”
The Assassin Hunter could already see where this was going.
“As you know, many years ago, Master Kenway was bewitched by a beautiful native woman from the, you guessed it, the Mohawk tribe,” the frontiersman put on his best theatrical impression he could muster in the moment. “But of course, their love was not to be because by God, Charles is a complete nitwit. But what nobody knew ‘til now was that a child was born of the brief union.”
“And now that lad is all grown up and doin’ what exactly?” the younger man folded his arms with a somewhat annoyed tone. It’s bad enough if the Colonial Brotherhood is preparing for a new uprising, now they would have to deal with someone their leader produced unknowingly. “Apart from murderin’ Johnson, Pitcairn and Hickey.”
“I’ve been collecting intelligence from my native friends,” the frontiersman continued. “It appears the village he hails from hasn’t picked a side in this war yet. He on the other hand, has. Perhaps he doesn’t want them to get involved.”
“Is that so?”
“Yet he’s allied himself with the Patriots. Combine that with the Assassin training and perhaps a little nudge from your former Mentor…” he shrugged lightly, the younger man tilting his head in response. “He’s probably been told we’re the real enemy in this revolution. Which is odd since Johnson was the one trying to keep the native lands away from the colonists. By killing him, he might as well have thrown a wrench in his own plan.”
“Achilles. He just couldn’t let it go, could he?” letting the man live was as much an act of mercy as a warning to all Assassins who dared to get overconfident in this never-ending war. Shay turned back to his friend. “If he has a new recruit, I should be the one to deal with him.”
The older Templar opened his mouth to speak, only to gain an unimpressed glare from the other man. “Well… uh, here lies the problem.”
“There’s more?” the hunter sighed heavily. “What is it?”
He only shrugged in return. “The Grand Master wants to deal with him by himself.”
Not particularly unexpected considering the circumstances but still…
“Strange, isn’t it?”
Cormac shook his head, not exactly surprised at the outcome. “Not really. It’s not every day you learn your own son is messin’ up your plans.”
It was then the older man sheepishly trudged over to the hunter’s side, seemingly uncomfortable with his current line of thought. He trusted his former Captain far more than anyone else in the Order, so he could run even some of his most controversial ideas through him and not be judged for it or even outright accused of treason. “Shay, I don’t want to sound like I doubt the Grand Master but…”
He didn’t hesitate to listen at all. “What are your concerns?”
“Let me just say this from a father’s perspective. I have three sons myself, you know that. They’re good boys and I love ‘em all as much as I possibly can,” the older man continued, swallowing hard. “If I found out they were on my enemy’s side knowingly doing damage to my work and the best solution was to kill them, well…”
Nodding, Shay understood completely what he meant. They both knew very well that if this new Assassin was some random nobody, Master Kenway wouldn’t hesitate to kill him and drop his corpse off some high cliff for good measure because the damage he’s already done to the Rite has been quite extensive. Now here you had the family connection, as slim and undeveloped as it was, it could still potentially cloud the Grand Master’s better judgment even if Haytham would be outright appalled at anyone even entertaining such a thing. Especially considering what a cruel bastard he could be to his enemies or just about anyone that was unlucky enough to get in his way.
“I need to talk to Haytham,” that was just about the only option he had as Shay wanted to know what the Grand Master’s plans were with his long lost son. “Any idea where he is?”
“He was at the Green Dragon earlier, but I think he already left,” he pointed in the general direction of where the tavern was, not that far away from where they stopped to talk. Gist grinned a bit. “Charles might be still there though.”
The Assassin Hunter exhaled heavily. “Just what I need, more Lee in my life.”
“Be careful, Shay. He’s been pretty jumpy these last couple of weeks,” there was an even wider grin on his face. He could remember a time Gist wouldn’t speak a word against Lee purely out of respect for the man, but now the slime ball more or less became their favorite whipping boy, not at all thanks to the hunter's antagonistic relationship with him. “Apparently, the Assassin has a personal grudge towards him.”
“Gist…” Cormac put his hands on his hips as he waited in anticipation. “If you got shite on Charles, you know I’m all in.”
“Shay! What on Earth do you take me for, a tattle-tale?” Christopher folded his arms and lifted his head arrogantly, only to yield immediately with a smirk. “The next beer is on you.”
Just like everything else in the city, nothing much has changed apart from the atmosphere and the attitude of the people who preferred freedom over the British Empire. This wasn’t the first time the Order changed its plans to accommodate for the new revolution, this time for the independence of the American nation which at this point might be inevitable, though they've already suffered numerous setbacks due to sudden Assassin intervention. If it continued the way it did, there actually was a high possibility of losing their footing in the New World.
The Green Dragon Tavern was rather empty, but it was still early in the morning. The hunter quickly made it up a flight of stairs and to the Rite’s preferred table of conducting business, around which all the usual players could be found at some point or another. As he expected, it wasn’t completely vacant despite the Templar shortages, only inhabited by a greasy haired man mumbling to himself under his breath and one of his hands around an empty glass with a still unopened bottle of whiskey beside him, while the other supported his forehead. Charles Lee didn’t seem to be much of a drunkard in his free time, but then again there were other ways he could make an arse out of himself.
He exhaled and approached the table, sliding one of the chairs out from the table which alerted Lee to his arrival. The man immediately tried to straighten himself, only to gaze upon the Irishman and sneering instead.
“Oh. It’s just you.”
And then he went right back to ignoring him.
“That’s it?” Shay snorted and took a seat, crossing his limbs. “Don’t I get a hug or somethin’?”
“Piss off, Cormac,” the Englishman raised his voice up a notch and pointed an accusing finger at the fellow Templar as he tightly gritted his teeth. “You couldn’t have come back at an earlier date?”
The Assassin Hunter merely shrugged. “S’pose I could… but do you really expect me to bail you out every time you hit a snag in your master plan?”
“Don’t overestimate yourself,” he continued, tapping the glass against the table. “We’ve been doing quite alright even without your damned existence.”
Considering that without him the Templars would have most likely had a more difficult time taking over the colonies, the hunter severely doubted that. “If you call this alright, then I’d hate to see what you think is a bad situation.”
“Oh, for the love of Christ. If you think you can do a better job, then go ahead and hunt down that bastard yourself!” Lee rose up from his seat, nearly knocking his chair over and still holding the completely empty glass in his hand, probably without even realizing it completely. As he circled away from the former Assassin with a hand on his forehead, the man continued his diatribe. “I can’t believe this rubbish. Those three are already dead and now Church’s ran off clenching his nutsack as well.”
Alright, that was news to him as he furrowed his eyebrows and looked up at him. “Where did Ben go?”
Gist didn’t mention anything and he himself didn’t ask as it didn’t even cross his mind where the surgeon might’ve gone off after the first three assassinations. He figured he’d stick close to the other Templars out of fear of being the next on the hit list. Not that he especially cared about the man; his business practices disgusted him to no end. The one good thing the good doctor inspired in him was not getting injured as much anymore, because his bedside manner was absolutely atrocious. You would think Benjamin Church hated being a healer by the way he treated his patients. He’s seen butchers with more respect toward carved up meat.
“To the British most likely,” Lee raised his glass to his lips, only then realizing it was utterly empty as he put it down on the table with a loud thud. He sat down again opposite Cormac as he brushed at his eyes. “Not that it’ll do him any good. He’s as good as dead when the Grand Master gets a hold of him.”
Shay opened his mouth to ask about Haytham’s whereabouts, but the disgruntled Templar beat him to it. “No, I don’t know where he went, so don’t even bother asking.”
“I thought he tells you everythin’, bein' his favorite bootlicker and all.”
Lee was not impressed. “Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you.”
The hunter just shrugged in response as he really had no other plans as of now. If the Grand Master would just give him the order to eliminate the Assassin, he could walk straight into the Davenport Mansion and fix the entire complication in less than a day. However, from what Gist told him, this might be a bit more complicated if Master Kenway decides to involve himself personally in the matter concerning his estranged son. There was really no point speculating about it as he was determined to get the answers straight from the source despite not knowing where he was at this time. The journey back home had been tiring as well and he didn’t really feel like running from one end of Boston to the other just to catch a glimpse of the tricorne hat.
“What?” Charles snarled at him and interrupted his rather thoughtful trance, not realizing the former Assassin was staring right at the man which annoyed him to no end.
In the end, Shay merely smirked despite it being completely unintentional. It has been a while since he had a good time pushing all of his buttons at the same time. Lee’s hair trigger temper didn’t help at all which is what made it so much more satisfying. “I gotta say, Lee, you look different. A bit paler and sweatier. Done somethin’ with your hair?”
“I swear to God, Cormac, if you don’t piss off-”
The Templar cut him off as he stood up and leaned forward on the table, not wasting any precious time rubbing the incriminating information the frontiersman had given to him right in the man’s face. “I hear this new lad has a special place in his heart for you,” the greasy haired man glared much more intensely than before. “I always knew you were a pain in the arse but not so much you’d risk bringin’ down the wrath o’ an Assassin upon the Rite.”
“You think this is my fault, you bogtrotter!?”
Lee rose up immediately and grabbed the Assassin Hunter by the collar, getting up in his face entirely as he started snarling at him in a relatively subdued manner than he appeared at first. “I swear to God, if he doesn’t get to you first, I will. You’d do well to remember this as well. If the Colonial Rite falls, you’re going down with the sinking ship. You are nothing without us… nothing! Do I make myself clear?"
“Clear as day. Just one thing…” the younger man raised his eyebrows, grabbing Lee’s wrist. “… don’t touch me.”
Shay twisted his arm, a yelp of pain escaping the man’s throat as he stumbled onto the table for support when the former Assassin suddenly let him go. He cradled it close to his chest when he lifted himself up, shooting daggers at the Irishman with every breath he took. “You insufferable… outside, now!”
“C’mon, Charles,” the Templar turned around and spread out his hands. “Why not settle this like gentlemen?”
“I see only one gentleman in here and it sure as hell ain’t you!” he pointed at the man, his patience dissipating. “God, am I sick of you. If I was in charge, you wouldn’t have lasted a minute in the Order.”
He snorted in response. “Then let’s both thank God, cuz frankly you’d be a poor leader. Considerin’ your level o’ challenge involves smackin’ children around.”
At the end with his nerves, Charles threw a punch toward him which he dodged just barely as he was still finishing up his sentence. The hunter instinctively went for a left hook which ended up slamming the greasy haired man into the table face first and then onto the floor, nearly knocking him unconscious as he started shuffling on the ground in groaning pain. It took a moment for the event to sink in properly as it happened very fast.
Shay cursed under his breath as he quickly dragged the half-conscious man to the chair, laying his head on the table. He always believed Lee wouldn’t be able to take him in a straight up brawl but he tended to avoid any violent confrontations with him because as much as he wanted to punch his face in, it was a complete waste of time and the Grand Master was very adamant about infighting in the Rite. But now he had to go and more or less completely disregard everything he set himself up for, even if it was purely instinctual.
He was supposed to be smarter than that.
Shay awoke suddenly behind a desk, breathing heavily as he brushed at his eyes to compose himself. Contrary to what everyone else believed, the nightmares did actually stop after a certain point. The hunter never forgot the tragedies he witnessed over the years and perhaps he simply came to terms with them, growing in his ability to inflict awful things with the utmost conviction that he’s doing the right thing. The path to a better world wasn’t going to be won with nice words and pats on the back. That much he knew and he was willing to dirty his hands so others didn’t have to.
He retired to his room after punching out Lee a bit harder than he intended, trying to get some shuteye. The ship that brought him back to the New World wasn’t exactly well-maintained and he could hardly get a good night’s rest when the Captain was incompetent enough to have no idea how to sail properly over rogue waves or something as simple as turning the ship, many more times finding it leaning dangerously to the side, nearly throwing off at least one deckhand. It took all of his strength not to just kick his arse overboard and assume command himself as he was sure a pair of untrained monkeys could’ve done a better job. He was surprised his crew hadn’t mutinied by now, as they themselves seemed to think their Captain was a complete joke if their utter contempt for him was anything to go by.
Leaning back in his seat, the former Assassin took a quick look out the window, still finding it light outside. He couldn’t have been out of commission for long, maybe an hour or two at best as he glanced downwards. He fell asleep on his opened journal, an unfinished paragraph giving him headaches. Normally he didn’t care much for taking notes or doing any sorts of reports as they were about as exciting as watching paint dry, but the Templar decided to keep one to succinctly document his way through Europe.
However, with each passing year the logs got longer and longer, often finding himself spending his evenings at a desk rather than outside or at a pub. Maybe it was his age catching up with him; perhaps his remembrance of Chevalier’s words from many years ago left a sour taste in his mouth. Being what he was, the hunter will likely be condemned to obscurity in a couple generations from now. Not entirely unprecedented as his low class upbringing more or less cemented him to this path and his inclusion in neither the Brotherhood nor the Order could’ve rectified that despite the world spanning influence he managed to build for himself.
Sighing heavily, he found himself distracted for a moment when he heard familiar footsteps outside in the hallway. It might have been a while, but the younger man still remembered how the Grand Master’s walk sounded like. His sixth sense helped him pinpoint an attack or an assassination attempt but listening to individual sounds and picking them apart had become standard routine for him rather quickly even if it seemed a little paranoid, though it was justified in his case.
The footsteps grew more pronounced and there wasn’t a knock at the door, the older Templar just let himself in, with a slightly louder thud when they closed on him again. Cormac remained still and oblivious to his presence, his head supported by his hands as he stared diligently at his journal. The Grand Master must’ve already uncovered the mess and came to confront him about it.
“Why is Charles bleeding from his nose?” Haytham asked firmly, wasting no time to get to the point but there was no hint of surprise in his voice since the only shock should have been from how long it took till it happened. After he was inducted into the Templar Order, Shay made sure he was on good relations with the other members even if he didn’t particularly like them. He could tell most of them didn’t particularly care for him either but were at least respectful enough to get out of his way or focus on work first.
Or maybe they just really wanted to avoid being shanked in the neck… who knows.
However, the former Assassin and Lee took an almost instant dislike to each other, not unlike the relationship he had with Chevalier. If he had to work with him, he’d swallow his pride and just focus on the mission instead. Afterwards, he could take all the potshots at the man he wanted, out of Haytham’s hearing range. It didn’t take him long to discern why Lee bothered him so much. He had an unpleasant attitude about him, one that made Charles think most people were beneath him, including some of the Order. The one exception was the Grand Master whom he kissed arse at any opportunity he got and groveled before him like an attention seeking pup, which made Cormac sick to his stomach.
If Shay was Haytham’s bloodhound, Charles must’ve been his poodle.
A vicious arrogant poodle.
Kind of like Lee’s Pomeranians. Cute lil’ things, but badly trained. Like Lee himself, apart from the cute part.
The hunter didn’t face him and inspected his dried up quill as he hardly considered this situation being worthy of anyone’s time. “Just a mild disagreement, sir.”
“Mild disagreements don’t usually end with people unconscious at the table. Should I be worried about you if the first thing you do upon returning is senseless violence?”
He probably had a point there, as Shay pressed his lips together in an attempt to suppress an incoming but rather self-righteous snort. Though if Haytham had been around in his childhood, he’d probably think otherwise, as senseless violence was just about the one thing he was exceptionally good at instigating across New York. “It wasn’t senseless, sir. It wasn’t even violent. He went down in… one punch at best.”
“Shay…” there was a stifled heavy sigh from his side and he was probably giving him an exceptionally dirty look as well. The Englishman used that particular tone of voice when you know you’ve done something wrong, like a parent scolding his children for pulling each other’s hair. “I don’t need to remind you that right now it’s a most tumultuous time for the Order and we’re losing men faster than we can replace them. I’d rather not lose anyone because of infighting.”
Not only does he come back and find the Rite at its most vulnerable, including Johnson, Pitcairn and Hickey all dead because of one young Assassin (how ironic) deciding rather rashly the Templars needed to die with no foresight for any sort of consequences it would bring in the future. And then you had Church turning around and running off to the British like the opportunistic coward that he is. He was wondering just what was it that got Achilles back on his feet after the rather disastrous way the Colonial Brotherhood fell. As far as the general rumors went according to Gist, it was a native boy butchering his way through the Loyalist troops and their Templar brethren with noticeable Assassin training, so he was clearly involved.
He merely snorted and shook his head. “Yet you’re doin’ nothin’ to stop it.”
“I beg your pardon?” Haytham’s tone wasn’t completely outrageous, as the Assassin Hunter was hardly the most polite and eloquent person alive, as much as a former street brawler with a foul mouth and a penchant for stabbing people in the neck could be anyway, albeit the older man probably did expect a bit more courtesy after all these years and numerous lessons in etiquette.
Cormac looked up from the page and carefully set down his quill, turning in his seat toward the Grand Master’s unamused expression. Back in the day, he would’ve been a bit more careful when it came to addressing their Templar leader, his rather colorful choice of words not making him any friends and skeptic thoughts stifled whenever something had to be done, but he learned well and everything he knew came from his illustrious leadership. As much as he wanted to follow Monro’s example, Shay didn’t think he had it in him anymore.
Like Gist, the Grand Master hasn’t changed much either, not that he expected him to. The tricorne wearing Brit had only grown older in the process, but that was true for all of them.
“I know everythin’, so don’t try to spin up some fairytale.”
Kenway folded his arms, that stiff upper lip of his in full effect as he very nearly rolled his eyes. “Good grief.”
“Your long lost son an Assassin?” Shay shook his head as he more or less laid out the entire plot out in the open and realized just how ridiculous it sounded. “Sounds like one o’ those Roman tragedies you keep readin’.”
“Greek tragedies, Shay,” the Grand Master corrected him instantly, realizing very quickly it might have been on purpose if the former Assassin’s barely audible snort was anything to go by. “Greek.”
“Though it explains why you haven’t done anythin’ yet,” Cormac continued, crossing his arms and supporting himself on the back of the chair. “If it was anyone else, you’d send me after ‘em the moment I got back.”
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, the older man exhaled heavily and dropped his arms back to his sides as one of them made it up to his forehead, shaking his head lightly. “Alright. Alright…” he ended up saying, sounding somewhat relieved for an unknown reason.
Haytham shifted in his stance and started pacing up and down the room. His eyes were focused entirely on the walls as he explained, his voice growing more and more sarcastic toward the end. “He’s… confused, young, naïve. Easily impressionable. Hell-bent on righting the world’s injustices in the name of freedom and all that other self-righteous rubbish these people just love to preach.”
He shot a look toward Shay with a small smirk painted on his lips. “Remind you of someone?”
“I was never like that,” the Assassin Hunter contained his laughter at the comparison. As a young man he moved through the world with no real ambition or aspiration until he’d ultimately die having made no significant impact in some ditch or having his head bashed against the table one too many times. In the end, it was the Brotherhood that gave him a purpose and it more or less sealed their fate in the coming years.
“Perhaps. At least you had a point to prove,” Haytham nodded, stopping in his track as he put his hands behind his back and his tone turned serious again. “On the other hand, he’s ruining everything. Everything you’ve achieved for us.”
Shay straightened in his seat and looked at the older man right in the eyes. “Then why not let me end it?”
If the Assassin was such a big threat to the Order, then surely he’d have dealt with it immediately with no question.
“Because he needs guidance, to be steered to the right path,” Kenway continued, absolutely undeterred of his present train of thought he had in store. “Once he realizes everything he’s been doing will bring nothing of value, he’ll bury that axe in the field. Or better yet, join us.”
“Like one big happy family,” Cormac exclaimed with mock enthusiasm. “You make it sound so easy.”
Haytham merely blinked at him. “He’s my son. I should know.”
“A son you didn’t even know existed ‘til now. If I was in his place, pardon my current insolence, I wouldn’t believe anythin’ comin’ out o’ your mouth,” he wasn’t entirely sure just what the Grand Master wanted to achieve here. He knew Haytham to be a coldhearted manipulative bastard, so there’s no way he was doing this out of some sudden familial love for his long lost son. “If my own mother, God bless her soul, suddenly appeared before me alive and well, I’d be confused. And if she were a Templar, then it’d be even more confusin’.”
“I didn’t think you’d understand either way,” the older Templar shook his head and then turned his back to Shay. “Connor may be an ignorant little pest, but one way or another, he’ll learn the truth the hard way. As it stands now, he’s merely a pawn for some old man’s revenge scheme.”
Shay silently rolled his eyes; he understood perfectly, just not the intention behind it. While the hunter was a living proof that Assassins can be saved from their misjudged paths, there is no way it will work with just about any of them and that included Haytham’s offspring who may or may not even had an idea about what he was really doing. However, that wasn’t what drew his attention next as the Grand Master mentioned the supposed name of his estranged son. He’s been wondering about that ever since France. Either there was some sort of significance behind it or just very lucky coincidence, but he had to ask nonetheless.
“Connor… is that his name?”
“Clearly a fake one,” Kenway mused, clearly having thought about it as well. “Doubtfully he would’ve blend in with his native name, whatever it is.”
Then it was true and instantly, the entire matter just started to make more sense. Shay sighed and put a hand on his cheek, shaking his head. “Then you’re the one not understandin’ it, sir. He’s a Davenport now.”
“I don’t follow,” the Templar turned around swiftly with a puzzled tone.
Of course he wouldn’t know anything about it. Why would he? It was hardly in any interest of his and the hunter was the only who knew about it anyway, besides the old man himself. Despite it happening over twenty years ago, he could still remember it very clearly. The entirety of homestead remained in mourning for over a month and even afterwards lacked a certain spark that made it decent and homely, even charming to a degree. Abigail was pretty popular among the residents and Connor was still a young rascal holding onto his mother's skirt. It was always a shame when a life was extinguished prematurely and this time was no exception.
The Mentor’s reaction had been something else entirely though; he’d never seen him angrier, which disturbed him immensely, almost made him want to avoid the man entirely. Achilles was always a fairly serious person, but now he just radiated frustration and intensity which appeared to affect everything and everyone around him. Shay’s preferred method of grieving was drowning in booze and self-pity, so what did he know?
“Achilles’ family…” he hesitated for a moment. “They died when I was still in the Brotherhood. His son-”
Haytham interrupted him with a raised hand, putting the final pieces together by himself. A low laughter escaped his throat upon the realization, unnerving the Irishman as the older man found himself leaning against the nearby wall. “That cheeky little bastard. I should’ve aimed for his head when I had the chance.”
He didn’t regret stopping the Grand Master from killing Achilles. He wasn’t a vengeful person and it was the only way the Assassins could be shown the error of their ways. He used to think peace would be possible between the two factions if they just stopped stabbing each other for a moment and sat down at a table, but it won’t be instigated by him. Assassins feared and loathed him for his defection and he was sure none of them would extend an olive branch. Throughout the years, he’s had to deal with numerous attempts on his life by just about everyone imaginable, by Assassins from the Far East to the North Atlantic despite the Order making sure nobody was to know who the Assassin Hunter really was.
Not that the Templars had much to work with anyway to keep their secret weapon hidden.
As far as anyone was concerned, Shay Cormac was a nobody with no family or meaningful ties. It was rather easy to make him disappear and make him less of a target. Not that it stopped other Brotherhoods from trying to discover the traitor’s identity and having the privilege of sticking a blade in his neck. Neither the Templars nor the Assassins took betrayal lightly and in the latter’s eyes, he was the worst of the lot. If it weren’t for his acute sixth sense, he would’ve been dead a long time ago.
Haytham finally shook his head after a long silence. “No matter. What’s done is done,” he pushed himself off the wall and slowly headed toward the doors. “Shay, leave Connor to me. I will see this to the end.”
“That’s not a good idea, sir,” Shay felt like he was repeating himself. “Not at all.”
“Then what do you suggest?” the Templar leader turned around swiftly, his cape billowing behind him and his voice turned up a notch which caught him slightly off guard. As tolerant he tended to be of his disapproving antics, it seems Shay had been testing his patience for far too long at this point. “Letting you kill my own flesh and blood? Do you really think I’m not capable of doing that myself?”
He asked, undeterred. “If it comes to that, will you do it?”
“It won’t come to that.”
“I don’t believe you, sir.”
The older man left out a heavy sigh, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance. He then suddenly hurried over, his hands loudly gripping the back of the chair and leaning dangerously close toward the younger Templar who instinctively backed away as far as he could. He ended up with his lower back hard against the edge of the table; not a particularly comfortable position. The Grand Master towered over the hunter, staring him down intensively while somehow maintaining an air of dignity about it.
“What is it with that attitude of yours, Shay?” he hissed. “Have I taught you absolutely nothing?”
He always wondered why Haytham took it upon himself to fix the hunter’s rather simple (or in his own words, audacious and crass) attitude when it wasn’t something he would’ve bothered to do with anyone else, figuring the posh stiff upper lipped Brit in him couldn’t stand the thought of mingling with the unmannered lower classes. Didn’t explain Hickey; though the fellow Irishman had been in it for the coin than some higher purpose and thus Kenway hardly needed to keep him in line when such a basic need comprised most of his character.
Huh, a problem he actually could fix just by throwing money at it.
“Hardly,” Cormac straightened himself as best as he could in such a tight spot and folded his arms without breaking the intense eye contact. “You were the best teacher anyone could’ve had.”
The Grand Master snorted under his breath, though his general demeanor didn’t change. “You should know by now that flattery will only get you so far with me.”
“Could’ve fooled me, sir,” there was no way some part of Haytham’s ego wasn’t enjoying the absolute devotion of Lee’s puppy dog routine and if that was the case, Shay must’ve drove him insane with his constant remarks and it might account for all the lectures he received from the older man throughout the years. It wasn’t the question of his loyalty to the Templar cause; it was his interpretation of it. If the hunter was given an order, he would most definitely accomplish it successfully, but everything between the order given and the goal was fair play.
Some Templars side-eyed him for it, thinking him to be a complete unpredictable wildcard. That is, if they didn’t already mistrust him because of his Assassin past, just as it didn’t stop them from mocking him about his lower class, his lack of social graces or just his Irish Catholic upbringing, but he’s gotten better at dealing with such petty insults. On the other hand, the Grand Master didn’t focus much on his technique as he didn’t seem to care how the goal was accomplished, as long as it didn’t purposefully put the Rite in any danger or drew unnecessary attention to them.
“Then I’ll assume this is the result of fatigue and strain than anything permanent,” Kenway lifted up his chin a bit, still looking down at him. “I’m not going to pretend being stuck in the Old World chasing after a Box for years to no end is good for anyone’s sanity.”
Shay snorted mockingly as if he could understand even an ounce of what he’s experienced. “You have no idea what I’ve been through,” somehow that came out with a lot more bitterness than he intended. At this age he was a lot harder to anger, but Haytham managed to strike a chord immediately anyway and from the look on his face, he knew it as well.
“Oh, I see,” the Grand Master nodded and widened his eyes as if a sudden realization came upon him. “If that’s all there is to it, then give it your best shot.”
The hunter was befuddled as to what the hell he was even suggesting. “W… what?”
“If you have to release your pent up frustration on somebody, then go ahead and try me,” the older Templar challenged him quite seriously, the younger man unable to come up with an actual response to what he just heard. A small smirk crept up on a corner of Haytham’s lips as he nonchalantly played with a strap on his bracer. “Though I assure you, I won’t go down in one punch.”
“That’s not the point,” he objected to that remark. Sure, he taunted Lee but it was never his intention to knock him out or use him as an outlet for his miseries. Maybe that was his method in the past, but he’s grown past it.
“Honestly, it would be easier if you admitted it to yourself,” the older Templar kept pushing and nearly left Shay at a loss for words. “How long have you waited for an opportunity like this? Years? Decades?”
“That’s not what this is about!” quickly, the hunter realized what Master Kenway was doing, distracting him from the initial point he was trying to make as he pointed his finger at him. “Don’t be changin’ the subject just cuz you ain’t prepared to deal with it. Whatever you’re tryin’ to do with Connor has bad news written all over and I can’t believe you’d choose to ignore it!”
Haytham was going to retort rather calmly. “Shay-”
In that moment however, the Assassin Hunter rose up from his chair, leveling the playing field as he got right in the Grand Master’s face about it. He wasn’t entirely controlling the rather emotionally charged outburst as he interrupted the man’s sentence. “Look, sir! If you want an obedient lapdog sayin’ yes to your every whim, he’s downstairs, droolin’ on the table and humpin’ your leg every chance he gets! Don’t worry, Haytham, I’m still a loyal subject to the Order but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree to everythin’ you pull out o’ your arse!”
An uncomfortable and tense silence enveloped the two for a couple of moments, thinking of a way on how to approach this situation further. Cormac breathed heavily, feeling the sudden surge of anger inside him dissipate quickly but he still stood his ground as did the Grand Master. The two stared at each other for what it seemed like an eternity, only for the older man to make a move first as he blinked cautiously.
“Satisfied?” he asked with a tilted head, leading Shay to slowly drop down back on his seat feeling rather defeated as he brushed at his face with a grunt, having been played at his own game. The older man stood up straight this time, only one of his hands remaining on the back of the chair. “I understand what you’re trying to do, but I assure you, I’m not that easily swayed. You think I’m being emotionally involved in the matter?”
“That’s your call to make, sir,” despite making it fairly obvious he wasn’t on board with the orders currently given, the hunter wasn’t going to tell him what to think as he could only advise in his own ‘disrespectful’ way. “Once upon a time, I made a choice too.”
The older man nodded. “And how do you feel about it now?”
“I don’t regret it. I did what I had to do,” the former Assassin sighed out the truth. The sharp pain, the frightening nightmares and the wracking guilt dulled over the many years. Regardless, his work was quite successful and influential in the Templar Order, even if that wasn’t the point of his membership. Replacing those harrowing things with the idea of striving toward a higher purpose had been a challenging task which took him years to resolve.
He looked up to the Grand Master, the tension in the air somewhat lifted and relaxed as he folded his arms in his lap. “But that’s my burden to carry.”
“Then let me carry my own,” Haytham emphasized those words greatly, his fingers tapping the back of the hunter’s chair as he continued. “If the Rite suffers for it, it is I who will shoulder the blame.”
That would be a good point, if the American Rite wasn’t already suffering for it with the assassination of their three high ranking members and one turncoat on the run. Perhaps it would’ve been more prudent to stay in France and oversee the events there, albeit he was hardly needed and his mission was completely successful, giving him no real reason to stick around. Besides, he started out as a Colonial Templar and he belonged back in his homeland where all of this started in the first place.
“I’m just as responsible for bringin’ us to this point,” Shay argued in defense of his effectiveness. “You can’t tell me to just watch from the sidelines.”
“You won’t have to,” the Grand Master stated simply without much explanation, leaning on the wall again. “For now, I want to concentrate on finding Church. Perhaps you could help with that in the meantime. You have better contacts on the sea than I do.”
Cormac had a suggestion of his own, even though he probably wasn’t going to be one to do it. “I could help him depart this mortal coil myself but… you’re not lettin’ me do that either, are you?”
Master Kenway tilted his head at him, already answering his own question.
“Of course not…” the Assassin Hunter let out a heavy exhale, turning himself back around to the desk.
As he glanced down at the rather messy writing of his latest paragraph, he only now noticed how much his head started aching, with a probable onset of a migraine if the light drumming in the back of his skull was any indication. Shay supported his head against the table, his arms just about the only thing keeping his head from crashing onto the table. He shut his eyes and let his mind wander just for a moment, realizing how tired he still remained. A short nap was probably from the farthest thing he needed right now.
The younger Templar felt a pair of hands lightly grip his shoulders, an icy shiver running down his back as he heard Haytham’s voice near one of his ears. “Perhaps it would be wise of you to rest for a while. I may truly have no idea what you’ve been through these last couple of years, but I’d like to know.”
For some reason he never liked it when the Grand Master talked like that, showing compassion of any sort. It hardly ever felt genuine. Maybe it was because he’s seen enough of the older man’s dark side that anything out of his ordinary attitude automatically set off an alarm in his head, telling him to be suspicious or at least alert. Perhaps somewhere deep in that black hole he called a heart there was a glimmer of light, but it was a rare sight indeed. Everything he did was to suit his or the Order’s needs.
Haytham gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze before slowly making it to the door, halfway opening them before he remembered he forgot to ask something all this time. “Oh. And the Box?”
“In a safe place,” the hunter replied quickly. “Wasn’t sure o’ the situation back home, so I didn’t want to take the chance o’ bringin’ it in conflict.”
“Good thinking,” the Grand Master gave him a nod despite the fact the former Assassin couldn’t see him. “Don’t worry, all of this will be settled in due time.”
The door closed behind him and Shay dropped his head onto the table.
He really did need that rest.
The Morrigan was a tough little lady. Not as big or strong as some of her other kind initially, but it was ensured she had everything at her beck and call only a Templar ship could afford; armor plating, extra carronades, additional sails whenever needed and a dedicated carpenter in each port. The sloop-of-war gradually became somewhat of a second home to Shay. After his father’s death, he truly believed he could never return to the seas and remain as confident as he had at the helm. That all changed with Morrigan entering his life which at that point was certainly on a right track back to a steady and fulfilling life.
Of course, that didn’t pan out either. Life in general enjoyed screwing him over whenever there was a slight chance for him to have any sort of decent mode of living. Right now, Cormac was back to square one again, his life as an Assassin that could’ve been ruined forever. He was a Templar now, given a second chance at an existence that at least promised some sort of success and purpose.
“The higher ups are very interested in you, Captain. Sounds like you really impressed them,” Gist told him excitedly, his hand firmly on the Irishman’s shoulder, trying to cheer him up.
However, Shay wasn’t sure he liked the sudden attention heaped onto him. Even if his situation drew eyes, which it most assuredly did, it wasn’t why he joined the Templars in the first place. He just wanted to do the right thing, something he haphazardly failed to do and in the process destroyed hundreds if not thousands of lives.
With the Brotherhood still hot on his trail and ready to kill him at a moment’s notice, the hunter found himself with little choice but to accept the Order’s invitation. Colonel Monro showed him there were other ways he could help and guide people to a better future. Perhaps his place ultimately didn’t lie with the Assassins as he initially thought. What happened to him was a humongous slap in the face, forcing him to wake up and start taking things more seriously. If he wasn’t such an idiot, none of this would’ve happened.
He shook his head. “I dunno, Gist. Maybe I’m just not used to it.”
“Trust me, this is a good thing,” the frontiersman assured him with a wide smile. “With attention like this, your reputation will rise through the roof.”
“Sure,” the younger man rolled his eyes, one of his hands holding the helm. Even after his induction into the Order, they were still challenging him with simplistic missions and other trite crap they already knew he could handle just fine. He’s already proven he’s ready to dirty his hands despite his guilty conscience following him everywhere he went, still waiting for the so called superior to show up and grace him with another task. “And in the meantime I get another landlubber tellin’ me how to run my ship.”
Gist shrugged and looked over Cormac’s shoulder, appearing slightly uncomfortable. “Well…”
“I suppose this landlubber will have to follow Captain’s orders.”
The former Assassin gritted his teeth and closed his eyes momentarily at the sound of that voice. “Shite,” he hissed under his breath, turning toward the Grand Master with an apologetic tone. “Sir, I didn’t-”
“Sure you didn’t,” Haytham cut him off immediately with a wave of his hand, settling himself on the other side of the helm opposite Gist. “Shall we depart?”
“Aye, sir,” the hunter motioned for the sails to be unfurled. “Though I still don’t know what this is all about.”
“Consider it an impromptu mission,” he explained, looking over a letter in his hands. “I haven’t had the time to organize anything, but I suppose you’ll do.”
He wasn’t sure if that was a slight against him. “Uhh, thanks?”
The older Templar continued as the Morrigan slowly started making it out toward the sea. “There was a shipment headed for Boston this morning, but was intercepted and raided by a French ship and its contents stored in a military stockade. Usually that wouldn’t be a problem, but this is the sixth time in a row they’ve attacked a lone transport ship carrying Templar cargo, leading me to speculate they’re probably targeting them intentionally. Someone may be leaking out the ship names, but I’d like to procure one of those shipments and see if I’m correct.”
“Sounds simple enough,” Cormac shrugged lightly, not exactly sure why looking at the stolen supplies would reveal anything important. “But how’s the cargo goin’ to tell you who’s responsible?”
“You’ll see,” the Grand Master said nothing further.
Shay didn’t know what to make of Haytham Kenway at first. For all of his life he’s been particularly cautious of Brits. Well, it’s not that he liked the French any better now that he thought about it. The older Templar just appeared to exude every other stiff upper lipped posh Brit he’s met and heard other people moan and joke about; the calm and collected authoritative force laced with condescension and sarcasm, cold and unapproachable from any side. What little he knew about him came from Gist’s drunken rambles that weren’t slurred completely or other Templars talking about him in passing. He remembered somebody mentioned he doesn’t like ships or sailing in general.
Right now, it didn’t appear so as the older man leaned on the railing and looked out at sea with a rather blank stare. If there were going to be complaints about his sailing, he didn’t hear any so far. Knowing only through Gist’s big fat mouth that Haytham’s father was a Welsh pirate in addition to being an Assassin, the younger Templar could only speculate how much of either got passed down to the next generation.
“You’re good at this, aren’t you, Shay?” the Grand Master asked out of the blue, interrupting Shay’s line of thought as Kenway continued staring off toward the horizon with a hand on his chin. It took him a moment to actually realize just what he was asking about before the hunter kicked himself mentally for a rather obvious question.
“I’ve been on the sea since I was eight.”
Haytham continued. “Family business?”
“My father was a Captain in the merchant marines,” it only just now dawned upon him that it’s been a while since he thought of him. The Irishman used to think his father’s death was just about the single most devastating moment of his life, coupled by losing him at sea and having no body to bury in the end. He’d been proven dead wrong in just a couple of years, when just about everything else went crashing down as well. With everything that’s been going on, he was just trying to keep his head straight since then.
“He taught me everythin’ I know.”
“Good,” the Templar straightened himself out. “I’d hate to be marooned.”
Shay glanced at his first mate who gave him a shrug and little else. The rest of the voyage passed by quietly and without much activity apart from an odd sighting of a whale or another ship, with an added moment of Haytham forgetting his place and commanding crewmembers whom more or less ignored or scoffed at some overdressed Brit trying to order them around and the frontiersman just barely keeping his mouth shut at a sight like that.
They eventually arrived at a remote forested location where the French had set up a stockade far away from prying eyes. The Captain of the Morrigan sailed her near a small inlet from where they could get in without being seen by the guards.
When they stopped completely with the anchor dropped, the Grand Master motioned for Cormac to follow him on shore and into the French stockade, the rest sticking behind on high alert. The two navigated through the bushes to avoid any potential patrols in the area, eventually finding a hole in the high wooden wall, big enough for the two to squeeze through. The Templars quickly made it to the nearest building and flattened themselves against the wall, observing the area and the soldiers’ movements.
“That’s the warehouse we’re looking for,” Haytham motioned toward the back of the stockade, a large but nondescript building with two guards securing the entrance. He looked around for a short moment before making a judgment. “There appears to be enough cover for us to pass through without raising an alarm… if we move quickly.”
The Assassin Hunter was also inspecting the area, his eyes focused on higher ground as he tapped the older man’s shoulder. “Sir, there are trees all over the place. Wouldn’t that be easier?”
Kenway looked at him strangely at first before he looked upwards rather concerned. “Up a tree?”
“Aye,” Shay shrugged lightly, finding it an obvious strategy in this case as he observed the man’s weird expression with narrowed eyes. What was he was so afraid about, losing his tricorne perhaps? It’s not like he ever took the damn thing off, it was probably bolted to his head anyway. “What’s wrong with trees?”
“Nothing,” when he noticed the younger man had been staring at him incredulously, Haytham quickly went back to his stiff upped lipped mode, changing the plan accordingly with a stifled cough. “Then you go up and I’ll follow you on the ground, then we can meet-”
Cormac interrupted him with a rather innocent question. “Can’t you climb trees, sir?”
The Englishman only inhaled heavily, trying to complete his sentence. “Meet on the other side and then-”
Having a delayed reaction to what he’d just find out about him, Shay planted his hand across his mouth in an awkward way, interrupting his boss again quite apologetically. “Oh. I uh, didn’t know. I thought that… well…” but for some reason, this couldn’t be any funnier either as he could just barely hold in his laughter, earning himself an unamused glare when he chuckled out his apology. “I’m so sorry, sir.”
“Get up there already,” Master Kenway ordered him with a hiss, raising his voice just above a whisper. “I’ll find my own way around.”
“Aye, sir,” nodding stiffly, the Irishman started climbing on the side of the building, still chortling under his breath as he pulled himself onto the roof.
The man below continued to voice his displeasure. “I can still hear you, Shay.”
“Sorry,” he repeated even though he really wasn’t, trying to get rid of the annoying hiccups that started appearing instead of laughter. Cormac didn’t know why it was so funny, but the idea of an impeccable British Templar Grand Master knowing how to climb in the first place seemed rather absurd despite the man’s Assassin connection. He knew the Order was far more practical; very few of them actually possessed the agility and strength to be able to free run like them, preferring to stick to the ground. Most of them knew how to fight with a sword and a gun, but that meant precisely diddlysquat when your nemesis could kill you before you even had a chance at defending yourself.
The hunter made it up on the tree and observed the ground beneath him; Haytham disappeared somewhere in the bushes and didn’t bother checking after him. Instead, he put all of his senses together and started looking for whoever held the key to the warehouse. It wasn’t long till he found him, following the Frenchman to a more isolated area before jumping onto him and knocking him unconscious. Shay looted the key, then dragged the body into the nearest bush and made sure he wouldn’t be found till they were a long way away. For the two guards in front of the entrance he pulled out his air rifle and planted sleeping darts in their necks, causing them to drop off to the ground almost immediately.
When he got there, Master Kenway already popped out from behind the warehouse, making sure one of the guards was already fast asleep before dropping him into the bush as well, with the second being taken care of by the hunter before continuing the mission.
“Good. Now if we can just pick the-” the Grand Master found himself reaching for his lock picking tools, only for the younger Templar to completely ignore him and stick a large key into the lock, pushing the doors apart before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. “… or just use a key. That’s alright too.”
With a disappointed shrug, Haytham followed the former Assassin into the warehouse, quickly closing the doors behind him. Shay pointed toward the unopened crates in the background with an unobtrusive and simplistic Templar symbol painted on their sides. “Is that what you’re lookin’ for?”
Approaching them further, the older Templar pulled out his dagger and forced one of the crates open, staring into the supposed contents with a nod. “Pretty much.”
“I’ll clear the way and have my men brin’ it aboard.”
“No need actually.”
“What?” the younger man widened his eyes as he approached the crates, wanting to know why he’d want to leave the shipment behind if he came all this way to find it. Examining the contents himself, Shay found it full of dry stalks and beneath them, a couple of heavy rocks to give the crates an illusion of weight. He reached inside, a handful of straw in his hand as he glared incredulously at the Grand Master. “Is this…”
Haytham put his hands behind his back, a smirk forming in the corner of his mouth as he faced the hunter. “Looks like we’ve been had, Captain.”
“No… you knew about this,” the Assassin Hunter dropped the straw back in the crate, pointing his finger at the older man in front of him. “And you had me do it anyway.”
“Alright, you got me. I just wanted to see how you work,” Master Kenway shrugged lightly and explained clearly, covering up the crate and using his fist to seal it up again to leave it undisturbed as best as he could. “Ever since our shipments and supplies started going missing, we’ve been secretly loading up fake transports with useless cargo.”
Everything started to make more sense now. “As a diversion?”
“Sure. But mostly to pull their legs,” the older man nodded.
The younger Templar sighed out. “And they say you lads have no sense o’ humor,”
The Englishman snorted faintly under his breath, putting a hand on the Irishman’s shoulder. “Now, will you accompany me to Boston? Someone desperately craves a bullet to the back of their head.”
Being a Captain, his father was a stern figure at the helm, someone he could look up to; someone who knew the labors of hard work better than anyone. As such, when Shay joined his father on the merchant ship, he put him to work immediately scrubbing the deck. Painful, dirty and laborious job but it did instill a work ethic in his mind. If he wanted to achieve anything in life, he’d have to work for it. His manners might’ve deteriorated to new lows, as much as they could aboard a ship of simple, superstitious and half-drunk sailors who still managed to do a good job despite the work conditions being absolutely terrible.
Being stuck on a wooden creaky vessel in the middle of the ocean that could start leaking at any moment was not fun at all, particularly in bad weather conditions which were frequent and unpredictable on the open seas. However, it made men out of boys, kept him on his toes and was surprisingly enlightening just how much he took the solid ground beneath his feet for granted.
Which is why being stuck reading about something was nowhere near as appealing. He liked the idea of reading, not so much the action by itself.
“I don’t see the point in this,” a couple of days later, Shay was sitting back at his desk in Fort Arsenal studying the new naval charts he and Gist had ‘borrowed’ from the latest conquered French fort when the Grand Master appeared out of nowhere and dropped a large stack of heavy books in front of him, some of them probably decades old as the dust lifted up in the air and the hunter started coughing in response.
Haytham merely rested his elbow on top of the stack, furrowing his eyebrows. “Because if you’re going to be a Templar, you might as well act like one. Whatever you do, it reflects on all of us.”
“But this is a secret clubhouse,” the former Assassin noted sarcastically as he waved away the dust. What did it matter how he acts when both the Order and the Brotherhood have been underground for centuries at this point? As if his attitude could potentially even scream Templar to any average person. “Who needs to know?”
The older man explained succinctly. “Others of our kind.”
Translation: don’t make an arse out of the Rite.
If it was so important to uphold the impeccable and pristine reputation of the Order, why wasn’t his fellow Irishman getting the same treatment? With all due respects, that man was even worse in every possible way of how he conducted himself in public, such as stumbling around drunk as a horse in broad daylight, getting himself thrown in jail for using fake money and pissing in chimneys.
Or was this some sort of revenge for laughing at Haytham’s inability to climb trees? He couldn’t really tell. “Does that mean Hickey gets to join in on this too?”
“Christ’s sake, no,” Master Kenway sounded outright appalled at the mere suggestion, picking up one of the books as he started to list through it before he focused his eyes back on the hunter. “Unlike him, there actually is some potential for advancement here.”
If he was searching for improvements for the Colonial Rite, he had a couple of suggestions he could make. “Since you’re already at it, Lee could really use some pointers about washin’ regularly. It’s becomin’ a real distraction. I’m surprised the Assassins haven’t sniffed him out yet.”
Haytham frowned at him albeit that didn’t stop the Irishman from continuing.
“And his dogs… don’t get me wrong, I like dogs an’ all, but they’re even worse,” he gritted his teeth awkwardly as he wondered how those cute little orange fluff balls could be such devils in disguise, but he really shouldn’t be surprised when he looked at the owner. “One o’ ‘em pissed on Ben’s coat, intentionally too. I could see it in that mutt’s eyes. Although, that was kinda funny to be honest.”
The Grand Master pinched the bridge of his nose. “Shay…”
“I’m just sayin’,” the younger Templar shrugged lightly as the Englishman shook his head, more in disbelief than anything else. “You’re full o’ contradictions, boss.”
“It’s ‘sir’, not ‘boss’,” Haytham lifted his finger, clearly indicating this was going to be his first lesson. “Remember that.”
“Sure thin’, boss,” he must’ve had the biggest sheepish grin on his face because that wasn’t intentional at all, he just literally misspoke. Not that the older man knew any better as he exhaled again, lightly tapping the book against his forehead, clearly already having a wonderful time at Fort Arsenal.
In the end, he merely exhaled. “Good thing I came by early.”
And besides, it's not like Ubisoft's doing anything with them.
Chapter 2: Faciens Misericordiam
I'll try to get these updated every end of the month, preferably Friday as well, unless I slip up and hit a particularly bad writer's block or if the heatwave doesn't kill me first, but so far it's going well.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Returning to New York should’ve been better than this. He heard what happened but he couldn’t even imagine what it was really like. Having grown up and memorized every nook and cranny of what it had to offer, Shay could admit some very harsh truths about his hometown; it wasn’t the most beautiful city in the world by far and he’s seen many as a sailor and a traveler. It wasn’t the most orderly or clean either, having lived his early childhood in the most rundown and poor area filled with the wretched and the forsaken… hardly an example any city should follow in its development.
However, it was the only place in the world he could call home.
Which is why seeing it return to ruin after the Great Fire was especially difficult to see. It hasn’t even been a year since the accident but it still appeared as if it could’ve happened just yesterday. A chunk of the city was leveled to the ground, leaving behind only dried charred husks and foundations of neighboring houses, swimming upon ashes of wood and anyone unlucky to have been stuck inside; with the homeless, the sick and the drunk making it their home regardless of how desolate it was.
All he’s ever done for the city washed away in one night.
The revolution made sure the madness spread here as well. People were becoming restless and disillusioned, neighbors turned against each other for their support of the Continental Army vs. the British Crown, men and women taking it upon themselves to announce their displeasure against the Redcoats by yelling or spitting at them or Loyalists leaving en masse before any harm could befall them. New York was divided far more than any time before.
In his travels, he’s seen the conditions some of these people, including his own parents, have escaped from to get to the colonies and ensure a better future for themselves and their families. Serfdom, slavery, oppression… lands where the highest of the high huddled in their ivory towers, never once considering the hard work their fellow man had to endure to earn a living or put food on the table, only to take away more and more and give little in return. Turn a blind eye to the suffering and starving populaces in harsh winters, bad crops or enemy attacks, stuffing their faces with extravagantly decorated meals and wearing the most expensively tailored dresses, far away from the dirt and sweat that could potentially sully their pristine lives.
“Shay?” a deep voice interrupted his reverie. Gist shook his shoulder, looking somewhat worried. “You alright?”
They were near the location where the old Trinity Church used to stand, now utterly destroyed and merely a husk of its former self. The younger Templar took one last hard look at the devastation before shaking his head and forcing his legs to take him toward their intended destination further into the city. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry,” the older Templar didn’t sound convinced as the Captain didn’t make any solid attempt at sounding as such anyway. “I know you were born here. Must be tough seeing it like this.”
“S’pose so,” the hunter snorted glumly. “The Colonel must be rollin’ in his grave.”
“Nonsense, Shay…” Christopher very nearly stopped in his track, his loud voice noticeably softening. “He would be proud of you. Besides, regardless of what really happened, even you don’t have the power to avert a natural disaster.”
Nobody knew who or what exactly caused the fire but it’s unlikely the mystery will ever be solved. Of course most people, especially in this tense and explosive climate, wanted to blame somebody even if it was just an unfortunate accident nobody could’ve foreseen coming, accusing everyone from the Redcoats to Washington himself.
However, nature was cruel and uncaring enough to display no regard for human life, hardly needing any reason to start typhoons, storms and fires at the slightest of provocation. People faced enough problems as it is, only for others to continue pile them on continuously just for the sake of conflict.
Regardless, if there was a way for disasters like Lisbon to be averted, he’ll continue finding them. He’s been working at it for at least twenty years at this point. Maybe nature couldn’t be stopped from laying waste to cities and humans alike, but people messing with powers beyond their comprehension could. It became his purpose in life and the hunter would stand against Assassins and Templars alike when it came to abuse of Precursor artifacts.
After a moment of silence, the frontiersman asked about something he’d been wondering for a while now. “Say, did you talk to Master Kenway about that lil’… you know?”
“Well?” the older man tilted his head towards him, eager to hear about it.
“He’s gonna try and talk sense into the lad,” Shay left out a noticeable sigh, having not been comfortable with these orders and it pained him to find himself in such position. “I don’t think it’s gonna work, but he hardly listens to me.”
Gist brushed at his chin, suddenly turning worrisome as his doubts finally had a basis in reality. “I thought it might be something like that. Can’t say I agree either.”
“Aye, but what are we supposed to do?”
Sure, he could push the issue further but this wasn’t like any other time where he could make a perfectly logical decision based on facts and his own moral standing. There were situations where he could persuade Haytham to take a different approach, especially if it was a more practical solution that drew less attention and even fewer casualties, but here he was completely out of his depth. Regardless of the events preceding, he still advocated to a father to kill his son.
He doubted their Templar leader would appreciate further interference. “Like you could go against a Grand Master, no matter how disagreeable his decisions may be.”
“Well, hypothetically…” the older man raised his fingers in air quotes, looking around sheepishly as if anyone around him could read his thoughts. They slowed down the pace when Gist once again closed the distance between them, nearly shoulder to shoulder as he started whispering cautiously. “Here’s one thing we could try. A report to say… uh, London.”
The hunter narrowed his eyes at him. “How’s that goin’ to help?”
“This is purely hypothetical, I assure you. Let’s just say we get another Grand Master to agree with us,” Christopher explained further, even quieter this time around. “Our Rite is an extension of the British Rite, so we have some history with them. And perhaps-”
“Are you suggestin’ a Templar mutiny?” Shay was rather shocked at his proposition, only for the older man to shush at him as he grabbed his arm, the hunter finally quieting down. “Haytham would skin us alive if he found out.”
“Hypothetically, of course,” the frontiersman was giving him that innocently suggestive look again, the one where he indicated he was only half serious about the whole matter as he continued with a shrug. “But if there’s enough proof the Grand Master is not doing his job…”
“Problem is there’s just two o’ us.”
Even if it was a valid strategy, though not one he was willing to try anytime soon, them alone isn’t going to suffice as proof and trying to convince others to their side might as well be suicide. They were already under attack, so causing additional distress in the Rite will only serve to alienate them more and cause further tension they couldn’t afford. “Ben’s gone, Charles is a loyal git and I don’t think any o’ those low level goons would be up for goin’ against Master Kenway.”
“I know and you’re right,” the older Templar removed himself from Cormac’s personal space, sighing heavily in rather deep frustration as they picked up the pace again. “It’s disheartening to just wait around ‘til somebody else gets shanked while the Grand Master wants to play tea party with his murdering lil’ twerp.”
He had to admit, seeing Gist in turmoil over his agreement with the orders given was a surprising change of pace. There was no doubt in his mind the frontiersman was loyal to the ideals of the Orders, but even he could see garbage where the flies were. Lee might have been their favorite whipping boy, but eventually all other Templars ended up on their menu and that included their esteemed British leader, albeit not to the same extent as they still had to answer to the same guy at the end of the day. Shay’s sceptic attitude must’ve rubbed off on the older Templar throughout the years they’ve sailed the seas together.
The older man pointed at himself with widened eyes. “Who knows, maybe it’ll be me next time.”
“I wouldn’t be too worried about that, Gist,” the Irishman assured him. “If my gut is correct, you and I won’t be targets.”
“What makes you think that?”
He had a hunch about it, albeit Shay was unsure wherever or not Achilles’ hit list included him as well in addition to what he considered to be the high rollers. “Johnson, Pitcairn, Hickey… they were all public figures heavily involved in the revolution and their machinations ran deep within the colonies,” as he wasn’t around to actually see what their current parts were in the war up until their deaths at the hands of an Assassin, the hunter had to quickly familiarize himself with some of the adjustments the Rite has made over the years.
“On the other hand, we work behind the scenes and out o’ everyone’s view. Hardly anyone knows our names or that we even exist,” the Assassin hunter explained clearly.
The French Assassins didn’t appear to know his name or face, so it was possible he was still a well-protected secret to be used against other Brotherhoods whenever necessary. Even informants or spies would have to dig deeper to get the entire membership list straight. It was also a rather stereotypical view in that most well-known and powerful Templars tended to be aristocrats, so nobody suspected a frontiersman or an Irish sailor of being one. “Besides, it’s the Assassin way. Cut the heads o’ the Hydra, not its feet.”
“Makes sense. But I trust you more than anyone when it comes to how they operate,” Christopher nodded, though it didn’t make the situation any better. “Still, the Assassin going after us is a significant setback.”
“I know, but we’ve rebound from worse if I’ve learned anythin’ from our history,” as a young man, he had no idea how closely intertwined throughout history the Assassins and the Templars were. Even when he was in the Brotherhood, he hardly took their goals seriously, thinking them to be overly paranoid and delusional. It was only later he was suddenly thrust into this whole new world of intrigue and complex machinations that would drive most men to drink… which incidentally did almost happen.
By the time he managed to piece it all together into some sort of coherent idea, the Assassin Hunter was already in too deep and leaving it behind would not be an option. He still secretly dreamt of simpler times where the most he had to worry about was where to sleep the next night or where to get his next coin. Now he had the influence, the wealth and the prestige of those he used to work for and only dream of even shaking hands with, but all of it paled in comparison. He was a cog in a much bigger plot than he ever wanted to be; this was his life now and he had to deal with it as best as he could.
“Let’s give the Grand Master his shot,” Cormac suggested despite it leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. “If anythin’, he can at least keep his son occupied with somethin’ other than a Templar purge while we continue our work. We’ll know if he doesn’t succeed.”
The other man chuckled sheepishly. “Besides, it is family business. I don’t want to get involved in that. Hell, I’d rather not be involved in treason either, but here I go suggesting it anyway.”
“Let’s not talk about this anymore, at least not in public,” the younger Templar added cautiously. “I’d rather not be accused o’ anythin’ ‘til this war is over.”
They were going to continue onwards in relative silence when Shay heard a familiar sound on a rooftop above him, leading him to stop dead in his track immediately. He quickly put a hand on the older Templar’s shoulder, causing the bearded man to do the same as they looked upwards. The hunter could just barely catch him with a corner of his eye, white coattails with blue accents fluttering behind him as he jumped off a high chimney onto the neighboring house. This was the first time he’d seen the boy responsible for ruining his work and he didn’t know how to feel about it.
“Hah!” Gist must’ve spotted him too if his reaction was anything to go by. “Good ear, Captain. This is why you should’ve been here. Most of us haven’t even heard him, much less saw him. Should we follow or…”
Immediately, the former Assassin shook his head with a snort. “He’s not our problem, remember?”
“We could at least go see what he’s doing,” the frontiersman suggested with a shrug, only to wince in slight displeasure as he rubbed the inside of his thighs when his eyes locked with a particularly high building. “Though you’ll have to go without me. I’m just not built for climbing buildings.”
He ended up nodding as it wasn’t a bad idea, spying a narrow alleyway nearby through which he could move undetected for a while. “Tell your contact I’ll be back soon.”
The older Templar tilted his hat in response, watching as Shay disappeared from his sight completely before casually drifting off into a crowd of people with his hands in his pockets.
The Assassin Hunter quickly made it up on a balcony and from there onto the roof shingles, just in time to see the boy jump off into a distant alleyway. He quickly followed him on higher ground, being especially careful not to be seen as he made it through the crowds of people on the street, seemingly searching for somebody. If it was him, he gave no indication to it but Cormac has yet to find anybody who had been gifted with a similar sixth sense like him, to sense an incoming danger on his life which never failed him once. Occasionally he wondered just what gave birth to it; was it paranoia from being surrounded by Templars and Assassins alike? Trauma from his near-death experience? It wasn’t particularly that strong before.
Regardless, he wanted to know what kind of person this new Assassin was. He had an idea where to find information about him; the hunter just didn’t expect to meet him so soon despite the Grand Master’s orders to stay his blade. He changed his outfit into something inconspicuous again upon returning to the colonies, keeping a low profile ever since as it would be mildly inconvenient to get shanked the minute the Templar got home.
The Kenway lad had met up with a plainly regular person, dropped off a package of what it seemed to be everyday items and was off on his merry way someplace else, eventually finding a piece of paper stuck in one of the trees and even stopping to pet a stray dog, right after beating up a few random Redcoats that happened to be harassing a Patriot affiliated couple. As it turned out, tailing him was an absolute bore. Shay would do all of those things and more, but watching somebody else doing them was painfully dull.
Eventually he gave up and dropped off the roof in a remote area, heading off back in search of Gist and his contact. Really, the only thing he’d learn about him was that he runs around like an errand boy, but just so happens to be really good at tracking down and killing people.
There were other simpler ways to conduct research.
The Davenport Homestead.
If anyone told him in twenty years’ time he’d be stepping back on the land that once tried to claim his life, he’d call them a liar. The last time he gazed upon it, it was a deserted unkind land lorded over by a harmless mentor without disciples and he was the one who made it possible for the Templars to kill or drive off any who still remained. Seeing it prosper again with fresh blood and a new pair of hands didn’t inspire any sort of feelings inside him, apart from bringing back some of the more pleasant memories he acquired here during his stay.
Regardless of how he really felt, the land would surely be rather prosperous. The forest was mostly untouched, the soil was rich and natural materials were abundant; with hunters, farmers and artisans taking advantage of whatever it had to offer to make their lives easier, sailors passing through from the docks and travelers taking shelter at the tavern. And then there was the heart of it all, the Davenport Mansion, recovering its past glory.
The complete opposite of what he saw in New York.
As absurd of an idea it sounded at first, he actually could walk up right to the front door and let himself in. Despite the spike in activity, there was no real security other than the Assassins but nobody paid him much mind apart from greeting him on the road. Most of the folks around here appeared to be simple and hard-working types who had better things to do than look after some stranger who ventured into their domain. Having a dock in the back meant there was probably a lot of shady characters who would pass through on a daily basis, so they were probably used to it even if he didn’t really stand out from the norm.
Nobody appeared to be home, oddly enough. The last time he did so, sneaking into the mansion, he was caught red-handed in a rather reckless attempt at redeeming his soul. The building didn’t radiate anything other than discord and pain for him, despite the pleasant smell coming from the kitchen and the homely feel the sunlight passing through the windows gave this place. Normally it would be quaint, but his troubled encounter of this place would not give him pause.
Shay listened for a moment, finding it entirely empty after all. Deciding not to dawdle or explore, he headed over to the fake candlestick on the wall he usually wasn’t allowed to touch, but really, when did he ever listen?
He pulled on it, revealing the secret entrance that required some thorough maintenance back in his day as the thing continuously liked to jam, but it appeared to work fine now. Stepping carefully inside and checking the nearby wall for the hidden indoor switch in case he needed to bail quickly, Cormac closed the door behind him and headed off down the stairs. The basement was a minor training ground and a storage facility for weapons and arms. Which is why it didn’t really surprise him when he finally found the hit list.
Or in this case, a wall.
Seven assassination targets, each with their own portrait. Johnson’s, Pitcairn’s and Hickey’s were already crossed out, only leaving the top of the food chain; Benjamin Church, currently on the run from both the Templars and the Assassins, Nicholas Biddle, whom he’d never met but knew him to be a fellow captain, Charles Lee, though he hardly considered him on top of any chain and Haytham Kenway.
No portrait of Shay Cormac anywhere… he wasn’t really relieved, just kind of disappointed.
The Assassin Hunter stood there for a moment, leaning against the wall with his arms folded and staring at the hit list of his fellow Templars, finding it a bit disconcerting they were almost halfway done with them. If anything, the Brotherhood was always very efficient in its business and this time it was no exception.
After a while he heard the secret door open, two distinct footsteps coming down and the heavier of the two stopping on top of the staircase as he witnessed an argument taking place.
“I do not see how this is relevant, old man,” said the younger voice with a bit of condescension.
“Just take care of it,” the older raspy voice demanded with urgency as he continued down the stairs slowly due to a rather obvious limp in his walk. “They have to be delivered on time. There’ve been enough delays already and we can’t afford any more.”
The louder footsteps belonging to the youngster took a couple more steps downwards, stopping again. “Can I at least get an explanation? I could be doing something more important than delivering letters.”
“Important? What can be more important than-”
The old man was nearly at the bottom of the staircase when he noticed an unexpected guest in the basement, completely petrified in place for a good moment or two to comprehend the rather shocking situation. The Mentor then quickly turned around and scuttled up the stairs as fast as he could, preventing the boy an access downstairs. “Connor, I’ll tell you later. Right now it’s imperative you get those letters delivered. It is a matter of life and death.”
The Assassin sighed and presumably rolled his eyes. “Fine. I just hope you do not make excuses anymore.”
“I won’t,” the older man nodded, adding something else with a raised hand before he left. “Before you go, could you ask the woodsmen for some timber wood? There’s a shack in the back that needs repairing.”
“Of course, of course,” the boy replied sarcastically, snorting lightly as he started making it up the stairs. “I will ask Warren for milk as well. And Myriam for beaver pelts. And Father Timothy for a blessing.”
The Mentor rubbed his forehead with a sigh. “Connor…”
“I am going…” the Assassin assured him, closing the secret door behind him with a thud.
When he was sure the native boy exited the mansion as evidenced by the back door being slammed shut, he made his way downstairs again and stopped at the foot of the staircase, locking eyes with the intruder who remained still and passive to the appearance of his old teacher. The younger Templar couldn’t tell what the Mentor was thinking, the shadows in that particular part of the room obscuring his features.
Eventually, the older man exhaled heavily, slowly approaching the portrait wall and into the light. “I see you haven’t lost your touch for audacity, Shay. Or your penchant for breaking into other people’s houses.”
As he straightened himself but left his arms folded, the Assassin Hunter realized this was probably the first time they’ve seen each other ever since he prevented the Grand Master from taking the old man’s life in the Arctic. Not that he came off it lightly either way, if his very prominent limp had any say in it. Regardless if he had been rendered completely harmless by that point, Haytham more or less ensured his free running days were over and that he was to spend the rest of his life in solitude.
“It’s been a long time,” the Mentor walked in front of him as he checked the younger man from top to bottom, his voice slightly astonished. “Christ, aren’t we all grown up.”
Shay merely shrugged. “Not as much as I’d hoped to,” they both turned to the portrait wall, standing in silence for a moment as they appeared to contemplate their current position. It wasn’t long till one of them spoke again, the hunter tilting his head slightly to the side. “You know, I feel left out.”
Davenport snorted and lightly tapped his walking cane against the ground, looking away. “There’s no point in killing you. You were right and I was wrong. Simple as that…”
He wondered if that truly was the entire reason. The hunter’s hands were stained with the blood of many Assassins, far more than any other Templar could admit to, including his top recruits with whom he personally worked with. It used to disturb him just how easy it was to kill another human being, particularly when he’d already crossed a line that shattered his own moral convictions. Nowadays, killing was just a mere extension of his own abilities and he made good use of it, becoming a nightmare for anyone daring to cross him. At this point in time he was arguably far more dangerous than before and it would be to Assassins’ advantage if they got rid of him first.
The older man continued, inhaling through his nose. “Have you come back to finish what you started?”
“No,” immediately, the Assassin Hunter shook his head. “If I was, we wouldn’t be havin’ this conversation.”
“If you’re here, it’s for a reason. Although you’re pretty late all things considered,” the Mentor’s head motioned toward the portrait wall, their list nearly halfway done and not so subtly rubbing salt into the open wound. “Like it or not, the Colonial Rite is crumbling.”
“It’ll be rebuilt. Isn’t that the whole point? When one crumbles, the other blossoms. When one blossoms, the other rises from the ashes. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum,” before his longtime membership with the Order, he never believed two secret factions would be perpetuating a struggle for centuries to no end. It just seemed like a pointless endeavor designed to waste time, regardless of ideals and purpose behind it. The extensive history taught him otherwise and it just left him completely cold to the idea of union, still wondering what anyone ever gained from it if they all kept beating each other down for reasons beyond differing ideologies or hunt for ancient artifacts.
The younger Templar sighed heavily. “There’s no end to this pointless war.”
“I agree,” Achilles replied with a nod, his eyes still fixed on the wall.
“Then why not reconcile?” it was a question he asked himself and others many times, nearly always leading to the same answer over and over again; that peace was not an option, that it was the way to suicide or merely an idiotic thing to think a conversation could somehow end centuries of animosity and bloodshed.
But it had to start somewhere, didn’t it?
The Mentor tilted his head at him. “Why don’t you?”
Cormac just shrugged. “It’s not that simple.”
“Aye, I know…” the hunter stopped fooling himself ages ago he could somehow be the arbiter of change in this conflict, his notoriety causing problems on both sides of the spectrum. He simply grew tired of reasoning with people who wouldn’t listen. “I’m not the person to do it. No Brotherhood will ever trust me and no Rite will believe me.”
He challenged him on that. “And you still believe in the Templar way?”
“I can agree to disagree on some things,” if there was one thing he thought the Templars and the Assassins had in common was the wide interpretation of their ideals. He found that no Rite was the same and its members just as colorful and unique in their beliefs as any other regular person on the street. From the simpleminded folk to the well-intentioned and finally to the extremists. Like in many other organizations, this too led to inner conflicts which often caused more problems than any outside elements.
“It’s no different than how it was with the Creed.”
“Maybe you haven’t changed as much as I thought,” the older man snorted, slowly turning around as he wandered off into the center of the room, gazing upon the training dummy. “Yet the Order still treasures you.”
“I’m the best at what I do,” Shay answered truthfully as he walked behind him, being completely aware of the fact he got away with so many things others wouldn’t be able to because of his high competence and reliability to get the job done, even particularly so when he had an influential Grand Master such as Haytham Kenway vouching for him if his naval fleet or reputation in the Order somehow wasn’t convincing or intimidating enough.
Achilles scoffed, having been on the receiving end of the hunter’s ever growing abilities.
Enough about him though. Cormac changed the subject to the real reason why he came back here after such a long time and it was in search of answers in regards to the newly formed Brotherhood. “I hear you have a new apprentice hackin’ up the Rite. I’ll assume that was just him right now. Stubborn lad, isn’t he?”
“Before you jump to conclusions, he was the one who sought me out,” Achilles turned around swiftly, his walking cane pointed at him so he wouldn’t get any funny ideas about it. “If he wasn’t so damn bullheaded, I wouldn’t have given him the light of day.”
The Assassin Hunter wasn’t completely convinced as he folded his arms. “It’s also pretty convenient the lad just so happens to be Haytham’s bastard son.”
“Call it what you want, it was mere coincidence,” the Mentor waved him off, looking to the side. “I might’ve known his mother but I’ve never met him before.”
Shay still didn’t buy it. Coincidence or not, it was a very fortunate one, especially for someone in his rather pathetic situation where he lost everything dear to him. His association with the local village of Kanien’kehá:ka was the biggest offender. “Why did he come to you then? You can’t tell me he just popped out o’ the sky.”
“He said a spirit showed him our symbol,” Davenport motioned toward the recognizable Assassin insignia painted on the wall, bringing his hands back together onto his cane. “And sure enough, he knew exactly what it looked like. Wherever you believe it or not, it told him how he can save his people.”
While he himself had very little faith left in any higher being out there, he could respect those that did. It wasn’t so much about losing his faith as it was about being skeptical as much as his fervently Catholic aunt tried to persuade him otherwise. It still felt suspicious to him. “By becoming an Assassin and aligning with the Patriots?”
“He wanted to be trained, I fulfilled his wish and I gave him a goal he already wanted to begin with,” Achilles answered succinctly as possible.
“Right…” the hunter snorted under his breath, somewhat seeing the bigger picture now albeit still missing the details. If the native boy really was wholesomely dedicated to protecting his people from the colonists or the Templars, he would’ve had nothing to do with the Patriots. Then again, he doubted the Mentor would’ve cared to mention the rather underhanded things they were capable of.
“And when were you goin’ to tell him the truth?”
The old man turned his head toward him. “About what?”
“Like you said, Connor’s doin’ this cuz he thinks it’ll save his tribe.”
He could see why the Colonial Brotherhood chose to ally themselves with the Patriots. Initially, the Templar Order in the New World claimed the lands for the British Empire, the traitor himself allowing for much of the French territories to fall into their hands and making the Royal Navy once again a force to be reckoned with in the North Atlantic, though some of his fellow Templars had no real loyalty to the crown, only using it as means to an end. Now in the revolution, the Patriots considered the Redcoats to be a hindrance in their goal of making the colonies independent, only one side remaining to them if they wanted the Order out. And if it required some sacrifices to be made in the way, well then, that was just business as usual.
“The Patriots don’t care about the natives,” Shay circled around, his back to his former teacher. “They’ll use ‘em to fight their battles and then discard ‘em when it’s all over.”
“And you think the Templars would protect them instead?” he continued arguing. “For how long exactly? Not even the Order has those kinds of resources, even if it was done with good intentions.”
“With Johnson gone, we haven’t been doin’ that good o’ a job now, have we?” with his death, all of his connections and alliances amounted to nothing and it was a way paved to the worst possible conclusion there was. Not that some people weren’t making it even harder for them to maintain some sort of control over the lands. “And not with the Continental Army out there razin' villages to the ground.”
“Connor seems to think it was Charles Lee who burned down his village.”
“Lee’s a slimy arsehole, but even he’s not that stupid,” the fact that Lee’s continuously idiotic and braindead antics set the native Assassin on some sort of revenge quest didn’t particularly spell a good future either, at least for those portrayed on the wall and especially for Charles. He should’ve suggested to Haytham to keep him on a shorter leash, but doubted he’d be successful considering how much of a professional bootlicker the man was, being used to getting away with worse crap than this.
What did the Grand Master see in him anyway? George Washington may have been incompetent and misguided, but seeing Lee in charge of the Continental Army would be a terrifying concept, particularly because of his gigantic ego and short temper. If Charles promised Shay he’d kill him if the Assassin didn’t, perhaps he should’ve done the same and damn what Master Kenway had to say about it. The hunter would love to drag the bastard down to hell with him.
“That was all on good ol’ Washington,” the hunter continued, looking from behind the dummy with a stern glare. “But that’d be inconvenient when you already have a good reason to set him up against us.”
The Mentor stared back even more fiercely. “What I’m giving him is exactly what he wants. I’m not going to jeopardize the future of this nation because of one boy.”
“So you are willingly withholdin' information from him,” the Assassin Hunter widened his eyes and smirked. He had to admit, Achilles was far more devious than he ever gave him credit for. “Good to know you haven’t changed either.”
Immediately, the old man rushed from behind the training dummy, very nearly ending up in Cormac's face as he pointed accusingly. “Don’t even dare put yourself on a moral high ground, boy. How much blood is on your hands right now? Don’t think I don’t know about your escapades in Europe either. How many more Assassins have to die before you’re finally satisfied?”
“You mean those idiots who threw themselves in my way o’ their own volition?”
If he was talking about the people who continuously tried to impede his progress in search for the Precursor Box and were outright clamoring for a challenge from the traitor, he couldn’t have used a worse example. If anything, he actively avoided them like the plague and they still thought he’d be an easy target. If they weren’t up to the task of eliminating him from this world, then they should’ve rethought their strategy a long time ago. “If you’re tryin’ to make me feel sorry for ‘em, you’re not doin’ a good job.”
“I retract my previous statement. You have changed and not for the better,” the old man turned around on his heels, seemingly disappointed with that answer. “I hoped that regardless of everything that’s happened, you’d at least retain some compassion towards your former brothers and sisters.”
“I reserve my compassion for people who don’t fight a losin’ battle,” he’s gone through this numerous times already. There was a reason the Templar Order kept rising from the dead even after being beaten down to a pulp. They offered solutions instead of vague ideas about freedom and inherent goodness of man when there was evidence to the contrary. Their goal was clearer and they actively tried to change things, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. By this point, his optimism was eroded completely as he saw people struggle for an unattainable goal and think they could make everything better despite having no idea what consequences it will bring.
“And you. You only exchanged one ambition for the next,” a hint of condescension crossed his tongue. Some part of him must’ve been enjoying seeing the Rite getting ripped to shreds, using the Grand Master’s own son against him for an added insult to injury. “Cuz I fail to see what you’re doin’ as anythin’ less than revenge.”
Achilles immediately responded to him, his raspy voice emphasizing his every word. “What I’m doing is what I should’ve done a long time ago. It’s my fault the Templars reign supreme over the colonies. Now I have an opportunity to repair that and we’re already well on our way.”
Shay questioned further, his hands outstretched before him. “And then what? Raise your glass in victory ‘til the next Rite strikes?” he hated that about the Brotherhood. No real direction and no real solutions, just pilling bodies upon bodies of their enemies and somehow hoping that’ll be enough until the next batch of Templars start to cause trouble in the area.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think I will live that long. This just might be the final thing I do in this world,” Davenport made it back to the portrait wall, stumbling slightly as he coughed rather harshly. The hunter hurried over instinctively, helping him find support against the table as he cleared his throat, one of his hands ending up on Cormac’s shoulder and his walking cane now abandoned by the wall.
The older man sighed heavily, swallowing hard as he looked his former pupil right in the eyes. “You’re right, Shay. It’s a never-ending war and I don’t think either of us will see it end. As new generations take over, they too will perpetuate it.”
“So that’s it?” the Templar snorted, still finding it absurd. “We leave this garbage for our children to solve.”
“If it hasn’t been solved over the last few centuries, what makes you think it’ll be now?” he had a point there, even if the Assassin Hunter wanted to believe there was a better way out of this perpetual mess their predecessors ended up concocting. “Believe me, Shay, I too am tired but I will do my duty ‘til my last breath. As long as there are Templars, I’ll fight against them.”
In the end, it hardly mattered. “Then I’ll continue to do the same.”
Cormac leaned against the table next to the Mentor, exhaling heavily. If there was a solution to this, it wasn’t here for them to find it. Perhaps not even in the next century. Growing older and realizing the pointlessness of it all… he hoped this wasn’t what life was all about. He found himself thinking far too much about it, focusing on things that happened and things that may or may not happen in the distant future. It was no wonder he became the person that he was; struggling to comprehend his role on a larger scale and trying to reason the eternal battle, only to find that he couldn’t.
He doubted anyone could.
Fortunately, the hunter still had a purpose beyond these frivolities. Shay needed to go back to work, forget about the larger plan and focus on the present where he could still do what he did best. All this free time gave him nothing to do but contemplate his own insecurities and other various demons still haunting him, when he could be doing better things instead. Give back to the people, investigate the possibilities and find himself back in the place he was most suited for; in the shadows providing support, intelligence and an occasional blade to the neck.
He wasn’t sure how long they sat like this in complete silence, only the natural ambience disturbing the relatively peaceful moment they managed to afford. In a way, it resembled the good old times before the tension, before the tragedies and all those incidents that made them into the men they were now.
“I’m…” after a while, the older man finally interrupted the silence, cutting himself off as he cleared his throat. Even without looking at him the Templar could sense hesitance on his side. It took Davenport a good minute to find the right words he intended to use. “I’m proud of you… somewhat. You stuck to your ideals, even if that brought nothing but pain.”
Shay snorted lightly, finding himself curiously relaxed for the first time in weeks. “You’re right, Achilles. I always was a pain in the arse.”
“And I can admire that,” the Mentor added, turning grim as fast as it previously turned lighter. “However… deep in my soul, I know I can never forgive you for what you’ve done.”
He didn’t object to that at all, shaking his head in response. “I don’t expect you to.”
“At least something we can agree on.”
Possibly the only thing they’ll ever agree on which was probably for the best. The Assassin Hunter didn’t expect he was going to spend so much time back here, but for once, it actually ended on a relatively pleasant note, despite the heated argument they shared just a few moments ago. Despite the unpleasant past tying them both down, they could at least have a civilized conversation without drawing weapons on each other, the old man being possibly the only Assassin who was willing to talk to him rather than attack him on sight.
“So… Connor,” for his last topic he chose the native boy, he who was to bring them all a swift death. “What’s he like?”
Achilles held out his walking cane but he remained seated on the table next to the Templar, merely fumbling with it as he stated with lifted eyebrows. “He reminds me of you actually.”
“Oh, no,” Shay chuckled under his breath as he rubbed his forehead. “Really?”
“Oh, yes,” the older man turned half sarcastically, half condescending as he rubbed it in mercilessly. “Stubborn, hotheaded and completely disrespectful. Well, at least he’s not lazy.”
“Oi,” the hunter tilted his head at him, slightly annoyed. “I was a lot o’ things, but never lazy.”
The Mentor nodded mockingly. “Keep tellin’ yourself that, boy,” tapping his cane against the ground for good measure.
His demeanor changed when he exhaled heavily, thinking about his new pupil. Even if they were to some degree similar to each other, the native Assassin was far from the rebellious undisciplined sceptic he once accepted into his ranks, unwittingly setting himself up and his Brotherhood for a disastrous downfall. “However, he has unrealistic expectations of the world. For him it’s all black and white.”
It wasn’t intentional, but Cormac did just blurt it out anyway. “Makes it easier though.”
He might’ve given him a dirty look, but the younger man didn’t bother to check. The last thing he wanted was another argument and the hunter kicked himself mentally for letting his mouth speak before his brain. Regardless, the older man appeared to ignore his tasteless remark. “But with him, the Brotherhood might actually have a new beginning here in the colonies. He can do right by it.”
“You think he’ll be a worthy successor?” the Templar asked. “A just Mentor?”
“Possibly…” the old man took a deep breath, slowly standing up from the table with cane in hand. “But there are things he’ll need to learn the hard way. That sometimes you do more harm than good when you rush ahead, trying to do the right thing instead of thinking about it.”
The hunter wasn’t sure if he was talking about himself or the boy. He wasn’t even sure if this is what he really wants to do for the rest of his life, especially if and when Connor comes face to face with the uncomfortable truth that his actions will bring nothing good for his intended goals. He wondered aloud as he lifted his chin. “How do you know he’ll still want to be an Assassin after all this?”
“I don’t. I’m taking a leap of faith. He’s the best hope we have and if even that isn’t enough…” Achilles sighed quietly, his eyes facing downwards. “… then perhaps we have no place here in the New World.”
Thinking of the Mentor’s last words, the Templar closed the front door behind him as he left the mansion and back into the sunny outdoors, leaning on them for a moment. Despite it being an enlightening conversation, nothing was truly achieved and it will probably continue as such. It was starting to become sort of a theme at this point, people taking his words with a grain of salt as he had a penchant for speaking his mind far too often, even when it wasn’t appropriate.
Achilles’ belief into the Creed remained unbreakable at the expense of a young impressionable naïf and perhaps an entire group of people. Haytham listened but dismissed his concerns and was adamant about finishing this by himself despite their significant loses and putting all of their lives up in the air in the meantime.
Cormac was at a loss about what to do next. The Grand Master assured him that everything will be alright and he was willing to give him a shot, but he had such a bad feeling about it. At least when he was in Europe, he didn’t have to worry about it because he was such a long way away and it could be weeks, even months till anything new would come out of the colonies that would be considered newsworthy. The Assassin Hunter was suddenly afraid of the future all of these decisions were bringing, especially when it used to be so much easier to predict.
The future of the Rite was currently on an edge of a very steep slope and only time will tell if it tumbles down.
He really should get back to New York as soon as possible. The Hunter wasted enough time on memories and wishful thinking. He should do what he should’ve done to begin with and focus on the present. Work was just about the only thing that could make him take his mind off such things.
Shay was so deep in thought he didn’t notice the two older men pass by him with a cart full of wooden planks, only when the wheel of a small cart accidentally slipped into a nearly unnoticeable mud hole, sending one of those planks at his feet and just barely missing him as he stopped on a dime instinctively.
One of them, a large bearded man raised his arms in the air with an exasperated sigh, growling at the thinner man beside him. “Would ye be more careful!? Ye nearly clobbered the lad!”
“Not my fault! Yer the one gettin’ in the way!” the other man yelled back as he circled around the cart with a finger pointed at his boisterous friend before turning to the visitor. “Sorry about that, mate.”
The Assassin Hunter forced a smile on his face, bending down to pick up the plank as he handed it over to the shorter man. “It’s fine. No harm done.”
“Dae ye hear that, Terry?” the larger man put his hand over his ear, smirking slightly. “Me thinks it’s an Irishman.”
“As long as it’s not a Brit, it’s all good,” he turned back to the hunter and accepted the wooden plank with a courteous nod, placing it back into the cart and quickly rearranging the others.
“I gotta confess I’ve never actually been to Ireland,” despite having spent years in Europe, his journey unfortunately never led him anywhere near his parents’ homeland. He hoped that maybe one day he could spare some time for a short visit even with his line of work. “Born and raised in New York.”
“Oh, that’s a damn shame,” the larger man sighed out as the lumberjacks started lifting the cart’s wheel out of the hole, the Templar wordlessly giving them a hand when he continued with a bated breath. “Ya know, I dinnae think anyone should forget where they came from. I left Scotland with a heavy heart, aye I did.”
The thinner man snorted as they placed the wooden contraption on solid ground. “And I couldn’t get out o’ there fast enough!”
As the two men rested themselves on the cart’s railings, the larger one pointed at him with disgust in his voice. “Oi, have some respect for thy homeland, ya mangy twit!”
Before any sort of argument could ensue between them, a much younger voice intervened right behind the Irishman, freezing him in place as he recognized him very clearly. “You are not going to start this again, are you?”
“Oh, Connor!” the larger man waved at him as he made it front of the cart with the intention of pulling it onward. “Nah, I actually got work to do. Terry can go drown for all I care.”
The other man took offense to that, grabbing hold of the other side of the cart and shooting daggers into his fellow lumberjack the entire time. “Oi! Jus’ admit it, you’d miss me a whole lot!”
“Aye, whatever,” was his only reply to him as they started dragging it further down the road, turning around to say goodbye to the stranger. “Good day, laddie. And thanks for yer help!”
Shay waved back with gritted teeth, still wondering if he should face the younger man behind him.
Turns out he didn’t have to as the Assassin walked in front of him himself with a heavy exhale. “I am sorry about that. They are good people if a little strange…”
The Templar was enormously relieved he changed his clothes and got rid of any incriminating evidence on him that could outright state he was with the Order, as he figured this meeting would’ve been a lot shorter and bloodier otherwise. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he just nodded slightly, sneaking a peak at the boy’s face. There were certain features on him he could ascribe to his Grand Master, particularly his nose and jaw but his eyes were completely different; far more relaxed and less intimidating. While the Assassin was certainly his own person, he could see a bit of Haytham in him, if only on a closer look.
The native boy tilted his head as he took a moment to size up the older Irishman. “I do not think I have seen you here before.”
Connor didn’t seem to suspect him from what he could observe in the short time. He appeared to be more curious than anything else which eased his mind for the moment. Shay thanked his lucky stars because the boy, as young as he looked, appeared to be built like a bear and could probably hit like one too. He’s fought bears before; they were not to be trifled with as he had scars to prove it. The rather curiously shaped axe hanging by his side didn’t escape his notice either and that was just one way he wished he’d never leave this world; with a tomahawk lodged in his face.
“Just passin’ through, visitin’ some ol’ friends,” Shay acted casual, having no reason to believe Connor knew anything about him but just in case, diverted attention from himself as the Templar stepped to the side and exhaled heavily, his hands behind his back. “I’ll say. I’m impressed with the operation you’ve got goin’ here.”
The young man behind him seemed to fumble a bit. He probably wasn’t used to compliments, something he could relate to. “Uh… thank you,” the Mohawk Assassin stood to his side by the fence, looking over the homestead that had been bursting with activity for the first time in many years. “Everyone here… well, they are here because they have nowhere else to go. I think this is the safest place there is during the war.”
“Sounds like it too.”
Seeing the land he’d once left decrepit for nature to reclaim was like stepping back in time, almost uncomfortably so. He could almost hear Hope hounding his arse, sarcastically encouraging him to do better next time at stabbing a training dummy in the gut like it was the most normal thing in the world. Or Liam trying to bolster up his spirits by chasing him throughout the woods and landing awkwardly in a bush when he’d accidentally misstep. They’d laugh about it and then he’d show how to do it properly by having Kesegowaase blatantly show off his skills to the new guy like a peacock, even though he’d never admit to it. Shay even had a camping spot somewhere further up north, where he could be alone with his thoughts on his more miserable days.
He was wondering if it was still there.
Noticing he had gone silent for a bit longer than expected, Shay stretched his limbs and coughed awkwardly. “If I weren’t a busy man, even I could find some peace and quiet here.”
Connor leaned on the fence and asked rather straightforward. “What do you do exactly?”
“I’ve done a lot o’ things in my life,” that wasn’t a pure exaggeration on his part. “But overall, I’m a hunter o’ sorts.”
The young man looked up at Shay with a nod. “Like Myriam?”
“The lassie in ‘em trees over there?” the Irishman shot a look toward the approximate location where he noticed a young woman with a rifle skulking about earlier, carefully circling her prey from above. In his younger days, he could’ve easily mistaken her for an Assassin. “S’pose you could say that, aye.”
It only now dawned upon him how easily the Assassin Hunter could've ended this. Connor was relaxed and completely oblivious to his allegiance, looking in front of him and hardly suspecting a thing. He would only need to step behind him and driving the hidden blade through his neck would be as simple as child’s play. Nobody would notice until it was too late. He could win the American Revolution for the Templars right here.
Shay fumbled with his fingers, lightly touching the inside of his cuffs where his secret weapons resided. While it took some extensive tailoring and a lot of experimentation, the hunter did manage to customize them in such a way the blades could easily hide away inside his cuffs rather than cut away at the underside which left them a bit more exposed. It provided an unprecedented advantage, even if it took a bit longer to prepare.
As much as he knew he would be doing the right thing in the name of the Order, Shay ended up mentally arguing against it. He might’ve doubted Haytham over his decision, but he’d rather not face the wrath of an angry father, even a negligent one. If Connor can be convinced to drop his mission, it should work in their favor despite the loss of important members, but if what Achilles said about the boy is true, then whatever the Grand Master decides to do will have very little impact and in that case, he'll have no choice but to kill him himself.
It’s basically why he came here to learn; figure out what kind of person Connor was and see if he could be convinced of dropping his futile quest. He was already doubtful to begin with and the conversation with his former Mentor didn’t exactly toss them out the window either as he appeared to have complete conviction in exterminating them all out. He wondered if that was going to be Haytham’s plan; destroy his son’s belief in the Brotherhood or the Patriot’s cause.
He probably had enough ammunition to sway Connor’s judgment, considering how confident he was about it.
The Assassin perched himself on the fence, turning his head toward the Irishman. “You do seem like a man who has seen much,” it took a moment for him to realize the boy was staring at the scar over his eye.
“Oh, this lil’ thing?” the Templar chuckled, more at himself than anything else as he traced his fingers over the scarred tissue on his forehead. He could really only speculate about the scar as much of the night he escaped from the Davenport Homestead with the Brotherhood hot on his tail remained a blur to him. Perhaps for the best considering the kind of pathetic state he was in, wracked with guilt and despair over what he’d done to Lisbon and its people, leading him to nearly kill himself in a desperate attempt at redemption.
“I wish I could say I got it from battlin’ an elk or somethin’, but I honest to God just fell o’ a cliff like an idiot,” the Irishman chuckled lightly and shrugged. “Silly accident really.”
“I see,” Connor nodded, lifting his eyebrows. “Not all scars have meaningful stories to tell.”
He agreed. “They don’t, no.”
After a moment of silence, Shay decided he’s had enough of this place. Bringing back old memories, good or bad, didn’t amount to anything and his penchant for gathering information about their current situation only more or less confirmed what he already suspected. He just hoped he was wrong.
“Anyway, I should be goin’,” the Templar said, moving backwards with his arms outstretched. “New York’s a long way from here.”
The native Assassin straightened himself up, looking after him. “Perhaps we will meet again.”
“Perhaps…” Cormac waved at him as he turned around, making it back toward Mile’s End where he left his horse.
Connor observed the stranger until he could no longer see him. Rather intrigued, he decided to head back to the mansion and question the Mentor some more despite it being near impossible to gain any sort of answers to much of his questions. He eventually found him near the stables, tending to the horses in his care as he brushed a big brown stallion.
“Connor?” the old man widened his eyes, his voice slightly annoyed. “I thought you already left.”
“I saw somebody come from here,” the Mohawk boy was certain the stranger he talked to earlier couldn’t have gotten from anywhere else but the mansion or at least somewhere near it, figuring it could’ve been just one of Achilles’ old friends or compatriots from way back. Many people traveled through the homestead on a daily basis, though the ones the old Assassin conversed with in private tended to stand out more.
Regardless, he wanted to hear it from him if it turned out to be important. “A man in a long coat and a strange accent.”
Davenport shrugged nonchalantly. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
Considering there were many things the Mentor still kept from him, Connor didn’t exactly believe him. “You were acting rather strange earlier. Did it have anything to do with him?”
He was beginning to feel irritated by questions like that. “I already told you, nobody was here,” the old man insisted as he continued brushing the horse, tilting his head at the boy in annoyance. “Now, can you please get on with your work? You’re already late as it is.”
Hesitating for a moment, the native boy merely scoffed and left him to his own devices.
Why was it so difficult to get anything out of him?
At the time, the Davenport Homestead was crawling with activity from would be Assassins, the gangs of New York and other allies they managed to befriend over the years, gathering at a rather secluded yet picturesque location away from prying eyes and potential enemies. From the way everyone was preparing and training one would think these people were preparing for a war, which wasn’t all that far from the truth. On the surface, the French and Indian War was only a couple of years away from breaking out in the colonies and there was another, a much secretive and ominous battle taking place, a never-ending and persistent war only a select few knew about.
Even after his first year at the homestead, Shay wasn’t completely sure what he got himself into. Sure, he’s heard about the Templars and the Precursors and other absurd stories from beyond this world even his Bible thumping aunt would take with a grain of salt. Every question answered just ended with more questions on his mind and hardly ever getting a satisfying conclusion to any of them.
Despite his skepticism, he wanted to believe his old friend who trusted him enough to share this secret with him. Wanted to believe there was still a chance to do something good in the world he never had a very good opinion of. Work was a good way to keep his mind off dreadful events in his life and made him feel he was still useful to someone out there. In the end, he accepted Liam’s offer to be shown what their so called Brotherhood was all about.
Of course it wasn’t all roses and daisies, as Chevalier and his pompously long name graced them with his presence and that of his ship, the Gerfaut, having come to pick up a bundle of crates that had arrived at the homestead a couple of days ago. Unmarked and tightly sealed, the Irishman could only speculate what was really inside as Liam took him away from his duties of chopping firewood to carry them aboard the Frenchman's ship.
The strong smell didn’t really help as Shay tried to position himself downwind when he carried the crates to the docks below. “What’s in these? Smells like somethin’ crawled in and died.”
“Dunno, but Chevalier wants it on his ship,” O’Brien replied.
The younger man snorted. “It’s about time he got somethin’ more befittin’ his character.”
The Mentor was also at the docks, standing in charge as always and ensuring everyone was doing their assigned job, this time currently engaged in a conversation with a woman who appeared to be from a nearby native tribe. Both of them got mildly distracted when the two Irishmen put down the crates right next to the already large pile, the newest member of the Brotherhood managing to drop it with just the right amount of noise to somehow voice his displeasure. His childhood friend simply crossed his arms, exhaling heavily as the younger one just shrugged innocently.
“A new recruit?” the native woman looked at Achilles quizzically, not recognizing him as she raised her eyebrows. “He does not look like someone you would take on as a student.”
“Who, Shay? He’s Liam’s friend. He has no family and no place to go, so I took pity on him,” Davenport explained, raising his hand up in the air as he remembered to add quickly. “Don’t mention it to him though, he hates hearing about it. And don’t mention luck either, he’ll talk your ear off. He’s undisciplined but he’s mostly harmless.”
“If I have to listen to that frog anymore, I’m gonna have to kick his arse myself,” Cormac announced loudly, kicking the sand beneath his feet with just the right amount of disdain. “Straight to Davy Jones!”
The woman’s lips faintly turned into a short-lived smirk as she tilted her head at the Mentor. “I see.”
Sighing loudly, Achilles rubbed his forehead. “Excuse me, I need to go and scold the children.”
Shay continued with his diatribe, the older Irishman just barely listening to him as he rechecked the shipment, becoming completely used to the animosity between his friend and the French Assassin who had just about the same amount of respect for him. “If Chevalier thinks he can boss me around-”
“He can and he will,” the Mentor came up from behind and interrupted his sentence, hands on his hips as he assumed an unamused expression before him. “Shay, you’re still a greenhorn. Everyone around here is your superior and you’d do well to learn from them.”
“Oh, I know how it really is,” Shay crossed his arms. “Get the new lad to do all the work. Jus’ like on a ship.”
“Will you get back to work?”
“I’ll get on it, alright,” he walked away rather suddenly, back to the pile of crates he was assigned to move and waving back with a condescending snort. “But as long as Chevalier draws breath, I’ll never not complain.”
Sighing heavily, the homestead proprietor pinched the bridge of his nose and was about to say something, only to be interrupted by the older Irishman to his side. “Don’t worry, Mentor, I can keep him in line.”
“I know you can,” Achilles nodded. “I’m more worried about him eating everyone’s nerves by the end of the year.”
As they returned back to work, Shay was joined by another one of his superiors, Hope Jensen, to give him and Liam a hand but he was pretty sure in her language that meant ‘stand around and criticize the newbie’. Just about everyone in the Brotherhood had to earn the trust and respect of their fellow Assassins and the younger Irishman just couldn’t bother with it, partly because he considered it a waste of time and he wasn’t entirely sure what their deal was, unless it was some elaborate ruse for illegal activities which honestly wouldn’t have bothered him all that much in retrospect.
Being raised primarily by the poor streets of New York and growing up among the lower dregs of society, including drunkards, thieves and whores, there was very little that could surprise Shay. He had a chance to earn honest money by working a solid job rather than instigating a brawl after a card game gone wrong or wander opportunistically from place to place. His father made a great deal of effort teaching him necessary skills aboard a ship, including handling swords and guns in case of an enemy attack and for general protection.
It was a good life. It was nothing glamorous by any chance, but it was a living.
In the meantime, the younger Irishman did what he did best and what everyone around this place knew him for, work while talking smack about his superiors on the side. “It was like arguin’ with a wall. And I’ve argued with actual walls before. Won debates too.”
“The only time you’re able to win anything of value,” Jensen snorted. “Especially when piss drunk.”
“Oi,” he took offense to that, his eyes widening. “You’re not givin’ me enough credit, Hope.”
The female Assassin didn’t take any of it as she walked in front of him. “Oh, I’ve seen you work. I was not impressed.”
Being his teacher, she more or less taught him (or at least tried to) how to kill more effectively, though the whole idea of murdering people without anyone noticing was rather foreign to him initially. Of course, trying to get used to a hidden blade strapped to his wrist wasn’t exactly an easy feat as he rather quickly found out on his first real try, nearly slashing his fingers apart instead. Considering they were Assassins, learning how to take a life was definitely on top of their list, albeit it didn’t appear to be the entire point from what he could gather.
“C’mon, this is all new to me,” Shay argued sheepishly, knowing very well why the Brotherhood existed in their own words but he himself didn’t particularly buy into their vague explanations. “I still don’t know what you guys really do.”
Jensen subtly looked back to him over her shoulder, her tone dead serious. “Because the more we tell you, the less you take it seriously.”
He scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, am I the one babblin’ about an ancient peoples leavin’ magic shite for us to find? Or some rich arseholes tryin’ to take over the world? Gimme a break, I’m too ol’ for fairytales.”
“See?” she sighed as she turned around, her arms slightly outstretched. “This is why nobody likes you.”
“That’s a shame, cuz otherwise I’m one big happy ball o’ sunshine,” Shay grinned widely, moving past her to the docks where the older Irishman was waiting. There were times he had great difficulty taking the Brotherhood seriously and this was one of them. He could get behind all the training and killing and even being an Assassin, but all of these stories about Templars and the Precursors just got pushed to absurd lengths and he has yet to see any proof of it.
She caught up with the two, her gaze focused on O’Brien as she lightly touched his shoulder. “Liam, where did you find this guy? In a gutter?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “More o’ less.”
“Not you too, Liam,” the newest member of the Brotherhood exhaled heavily as he straightened himself up after dropping off another crate, an exasperated look on his face as he glared at his old friend.
“What do you want me to say?” Liam shrugged again. “That you were all roses an’ rainbows when I found you?”
Whatever life he could’ve had as a relatively normal member of society, it wasn’t meant to last. The vicious storm that took his father’s life wrecked him emotionally and he dealt with it the only way he knew; by drinking himself into oblivion in just about every drinking establishment in New York. The next couple of months blurred in with each other, most of it spent in a drunken haze or getting punched in the face by whoever he managed to piss off next. At least he thought so, as he could hardly remember anything the next day.
“No, but you don’t have to be so honest about it.”
“C’mon, we need to load up the rest o’ these aboard Gerfaut,” O’Brien motioned toward the ship with his head, preferring to finish the job they were given first. “Or do you want Achilles or Chevalier to jump on your tail again?”
He only waved in response. “Fine, fine…”
There was no end to his drunken escapades until his childhood friend appeared out of nowhere, having not seen him regularly in the last ten or so years as he spent most of his time at sea. Liam O’Brien looked just the opposite of him; clean and sober, well-dressed for someone of his social status and the conspicuous hood leaving him a bit suspicious at to what he was really doing to have become so… unlike himself.
Neither was an innocent soul, both of them having had run-ins with the authorities since young age and have more than once saw the inside of a jail cell.
His older friend was exasperated at the sight of him, for a good reason. Shay was pissing his life away in more ways than one and even if he protested to any sort of help, Liam stood by him for what it appeared to be months before he was well enough again to stand on his own two feet. He knew he was a pain with a bigger mouth than his brain which never ended well for him. How Liam managed it was anyone’s guess but in the end, he couldn’t have been anymore grateful that anyone at all still cared about him in this world.
As he continued lugging the last crate around, Shay thought it would be prudent for once to listen what they had to say even if he really thought all of their stories were a bunch of childish nonsense. It probably wouldn’t change his mind, but he could at least try and not be a complete arsehole to everyone around him when he didn’t have the facts straight.
“These Templars or whatever they are…” the younger man walked behind his friend, genuinely curious. “What do they want anyway?”
Liam was quick to answer. “Order, I s’pose.”
“What’s so bad about that?”
“Nothin’ wrong with a lil’ order here an’ there, Shay,” the older Irishman put down the crate with a grunt, straightening himself up as he waited for his friend to do the same before they drifted off the ship together to continue their conversation. “But what they really want is to control everythin’. How we live our lives and how we think. They think the worst o’ us, that we’re just mindless sheep waitin’ for a shepherd to guide us. That we do nothin’ but harm to ourselves.”
Cormac shrugged, thinking of the rather chaotic world they were brought up in. “Considerin’ how we grew up, don’t they have a point there?”
“Aye. But I don’t agree with their methods,” they walked side by side, O’Brien’s tone becoming more and more somber as he continued with folded arms. “Forcin’ everyone to give up their freedom ain’t the answer here. For there to be peace, we have to choose it than have it imposed on us.”
“So what can Assassins do then?”
The older Irishman suddenly grew a bit more uplifting, dropping his arms by his sides as they stopped entirely halfway up the path back to the Davenport Mansion. “We make sure they don’t grow in power or interfere with the natural order o’ things… which is more difficult than it sounds. They tend to micromanage everythin’ from trade to politics. Templars can get anywhere and everywhere they want, like rats.”
“No wonder,” if he understood correctly, the Brotherhood and the Order have supposedly been at each other’s throats for centuries at this point. He didn’t really know how they haven’t already obliterated each other during those years and how was it they continued to survive for such a long time. “How do you reckon this is gonna end?”
“Honestly?” Liam crossed his arms again, giving a sincere answer. “With one o’ us under the rubble.”
“I still don’t see why you gotta fight.”
“If it was just us, then it’d be fine,” O’Brien gazed at the ground, exhaling heavily as he drew an imperfect circle with the tip of his foot right into the dirt. “But then you have Pieces of Eden out there, artifacts o’ enormous power that can mean all the difference in the world when it comes to power and control.”
It was one of those days after his recovery Liam started talking about his new job, vaguely at first as if he really was involved in something illegal again. But he claimed he was helping people and opposing those who would harm them. That was just about the most Shay could actually comprehend initially, something he could get behind himself. His stories became stranger as time went on, talking about a secret organization dedicated to preserving freedom at any cost and pitted against those who would impose order and rule with an iron fist.
The young Irishman just went along with it with a shrug and a smile, albeit Liam could tell his friend thought he was talking out of his arse.
“Ah, right. The magic shite,” the younger Irishman nodded in mock acceptance. “Does it change water into wine too?”
Liam didn’t look particularly annoyed or anything of the sort, knowing full well his childhood friend wasn’t the kind of person who listened and believed just about any old story you told him about. He might have been a smartarse, but he kept his feet firmly grounded and he could appreciate that in a person. “I know you don’t believe it, Shay. It took me a while to get the hang o’ it.”
“It’s not that I don’t wanna believe you, but you gotta admit,” Shay shrugged, not wanting to come off as condescending as he stated. “Sayin’ stuff like that just makes you sound like a loon.”
“I s’pose it does,” O’Brien often forgot most normal people would think the same thing as his friend did right now. Being so deep in what was essentially a covered up history, it was easy to get swept away with the current and see a completely different world from anyone else, where even an innocent gesture of a passing pedestrian could be a secret sign for something a lot more malevolent. He already knew convincing Cormac wouldn’t be an easy task, which is why he had other tricks up his sleeve.
The older Irishman thought for a moment before drawing his eyes back to his friend. “Achilles said he might have a mission for me soon... specifically, huntin’ down a Templar. If you can’t brin’ yourself to believe our words, maybe a more overt demonstration will do the trick. What do you say? I’d only need to convince him to let you tag along.”
“Now we’re talkin’! Was that so hard, Liam?” Shay widened his smile, lifting up his arms in the air as he found himself pointing his finger at his childhood friend. “Just no more stories, for God’s sake.”
This chapter was written completely out of order.
Chapter 3: Regnans in Caelis
I suppose you can get this update one day earlier. This is a bit of a weird chapter, but it was already beginning to get really long and I had to cut some things out for use in the next chapter. Perhaps having a set amount of word count each chapter is a bit too restrictive, but for some reason I have always wrote like that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After the New Year passed without many further issues, Shay was still hard at work fixing whatever he could to minimize the damage done to the Rite and fill in the void his fellow Templars left in lieu of their assassination. It was easier said than done, considering they all occupied important positions with the sheer amount of influence and contacts they held, building them up throughout the years. Trying to replace them was a daunting task because no matter what, no substitute will be good enough and it might take years to get back to where they started.
On the other hand, the Grand Master also tended to be away, sometimes for days to no end. Not terribly uncommon, but usually he’d leave with someone in tow or tell somebody in case of trouble. These were desperate times that required desperate measures and for him to get involved, it was a big deal, though admittedly they were rather understaffed at the moment because of one particular nuisance. The hunter already knew what he was doing, running off to get himself some belated reunion time with a son he had no idea even existed for the last twenty years or so.
Then came the news he struck some kind of temporary alliance with the boy in their common goal of tracking down the fleeing surgeon, which was good for them… at least he won’t be killing them in the meantime and the rest can do their job without looking over their shoulder every five minutes. That said, it still didn’t seem to alleviate the discomfort and tension among other Templars and contacts, still on high alert from Hickey’s assassination months prior and the boy’s continuing interference in their affairs.
It took him a couple of days but Haytham did eventually inform him he wanted to meet him at the New York harbor, just at the right time as he managed to track down Church’s planned escape route out of the colonies. At least the day wasn’t a complete waste of time and he actually had something new to report.
The Assassin Hunter bumped into Gist on his way there, running errands on his own. He assured him he would talk to him later, making a straight beeline for the docks and already picking out the older man near a warehouse.
“Ah, Shay…” the Grand Master noticed him approaching as he quickly checked his pocket watch, nodding proudly. “Right on time too.”
The hunter wondered what that had to do with anything. “When was I ever late?”
“Well, since you’re asking,” it was a purely unintentional conversation topic as the younger Templar tended to be even worse at drifting off topic, but the Brit must’ve gotten used to it to the point of doing it himself. “There was that one time you left Charles in pouring rain for over an hour under the pretense of feeding him information.”
“That wasn’t me bein’ late,” Cormac shrugged. “I was just bein’ an arsehole.”
Haytham didn’t even blink. “At least you’re honest about it.”
Not really interested in banter or small talk at the moment, the former Assassin handed him a document with Church’s rather careless signature, surely something he was going to interested in it. He did spend a lot of time going through his network of contacts and snitches among the merchant marines and the navy, so this better be useful to him. “I found Ben. He’s sailin’ for Martinique on a tradin’ ship called the Welcome and he-”
“Yes, I know,” the Grand Master offered it right back, his head tilted slightly as he noticed Shay’s exasperated expression since he was interrupted rather blatantly. “Apologies, but it looks like I got the information on my own just fine. I suppose I’m not as out of practice as I thought I was.”
“I’m sure you’re all giddy on the inside, sir,” the hunter snorted as he took the paper and folded it over.
“I don’t get giddy, Shay,” the older man emphasized before giving him a fierce look. “And don’t get sarcastic with me.”
That was unusually pointed as he raised one of his eyebrows in question. Haytham must’ve been hanging around his Assassin son a bit too much; the stubbornness probably runs in the family. Having been young once, the Irishman knew exactly how difficult youngsters can be and what a pain in the arse he was. If by some chance he met himself from twenty or more years ago, he’d probably get on his own nerves as well. He didn’t think the Grand Master was ever that young to fully appreciate it though, even with his troubled upbringing.
Exhaling through his nose, the younger Templar tried to one up him just in case, pretending he was leaving with his hands behind his back. “I s’pose if you know that, you must also know he’s plannin’ to ditch the Welcome and hop on another ship halfway through.”
It was the little things, but the Englishman went completely stiff, the corner of his lips twitched slightly and lastly his eyes started wandering off, even if it was in a straightforward line of sight, giving him a bit of self-indulgent satisfaction in the end anyway. Let it not be said the Captain of the Morrigan was completely worthless when it came to gathering information, especially when it was one of his best assets to use.
On the other hand, the Grand Master tilted his tricorne when he met his eyes again. “I see why you don’t share your contacts.”
“They don’t trust landlubbers,” Shay merely shrugged, coming up with a reasonable excuse that happened to be true for the most part. He wasn’t just chatting with the Royal Navy for information, when unsuspecting working-class sailors could do a better job at reconnaissance in places where they didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Having been raised for a better part of his life on a ship, he knew damn well how to mingle and ensure a good standing among them, especially if it involved drinking a couple of battle hardened and seaworthy captains under the table for good measure.
The older Templar propped his hands against his hips, his tone slightly wary. “So you’ve told me…”
Scoffing lightly, the Assassin Hunter crossed his arms with a hand on his chin as he wondered aloud. “And what was it you once told me? Oh, aye… never reveal your contacts to anyone, includin’ other Templars. Don’t ever give away the thin’ that makes you useful or risk becomin’ obsolete.”
Haytham leaned against the wooden wall with raised eyebrows, the sounds of gulls over their heads. “I’m impressed. I wasn’t sure you were even paying attention.”
“Like I said… you were the best teacher,” the Irishman added. “Ready to take advantage o’ any situation.”
Snorting and shaking his head, the Englishman turned his gaze to the nearby transport ship, just slightly bobbing on the still seas. As much as his personal issues with the Grand Master created bouts of tension between them, Shay did respect the man even if he didn’t completely trust him at this time. Haytham was the king of repressed emotions and even if he was just using the boy’s familial connection to his own end, he could see this being taken too far. Connor proved himself to be as dangerous as any other Assassin and they all felt the consequences.
“I may have something for you.”
Shay didn’t notice it until just now but the Grand Master was holding some sort of makeshift file by his side. He opened it and quickly pulled out what it appeared to be a rough map of an oceanic area populated by many small islands including two bigger ones, not anything the hunter was able to recognize by sight alone at first. He handed him the file with the map front and center as he explained succinctly. “Potentially undiscovered Precursor sites in Polynesia.”
If he was going to chase after these again, he needed to be certain he wasn’t going to be sent off on a wild goose chase. “How credible is this information?”
“For now, just rumors. But contact with the native tribes has yielded some interesting information; abandoned sites with descriptions matching the Observatory and the Temples, sketches of holy objects capable of immense power,” the older Templar continued, tapping the file in his hands. “All of which you can examine in here.”
He questioned further. “I thought you were done chasin’ the artifacts.”
“I’d rather have it checked than leave it be without supervision,” Master Kenway explained. “If there is something there, I’d prefer you find it before anyone else does.”
“It’s still a big place,” Cormac didn’t particularly enjoy the idea of sailing around Pacific Ocean which was basically a giant tub of water with a couple of tropical islands strewn over for some variety. Even more so since the area was just beginning to be explored in its entirety. “There’s gotta be hundreds o’ islands out there.”
“I didn’t say it’d be easy. Then again…” Haytham tilted his head, his hand on his chin. “I said the same thing about the Precursor Box, but you managed to find it anyway.”
The younger Templar snorted sarcastically. “Sure, it only took about a decade.”
In the years following the complete dismantlement of the Colonial Brotherhood, there was actually very little follow up on the Box, leading him to run the few credible clues he did find into the ground. He ended up busying himself with maintaining Templar control over the seas and trade instead, having very little choice in the matter anyway. He didn't think it would take this long, but it actually did take years for the artifact to pop back into existence somewhere in in the Old World after seemingly vanishing into thin air. It was only then he felt certain and confident enough to leave the colonies, knowing he was on the right track to retrieve it.
However in this case, he wasn’t sure where or what to search for at all. Holding their position in America was by far the more important issue right now, something even the older Templar had to admit should be a priority. Returning home after so many years and finding much of his work on a high road to collapse was bad enough to begin with, not keen to leave this mess for others to sort out.
He mentioned as much when he got another word in. “I’d be better to talk about this after the Brotherhood’s been taken care o’.”
Haytham didn’t seem to agree. “Actually, I want you to leave now.”
“At a time like this?” the hunter’s voice rose slightly as he chuckled awkwardly. “You can’t be serious.”
“There is no one else I trust more when it comes to Precursor technology,” the Grand Master was completely serious, his hands tucked behind his back and his expression devoid of anything other than thorough professionalism as he closed in on the younger man. “Anyone else would most likely cock it up.”
“That’s not the point,” Shay argued with an exasperated tone, still not believing what he was hearing. “You need me here.”
“I need you elsewhere,” shaking his head, the Englishman didn’t hesitate even slightly with his answer. “Regardless of your doubts, I am perfectly capable of salvaging this situation. But first, Church needs to be taught a lesson.”
“Even I could’ve dealt with Ben. The Morrigan is old, but she still floats,” it’s not like this was the first time he’d be killing his own kind. Traitors in general, but especially in the Order or the Creed, didn’t live long in this world if they could help it. “I could send him to Davy Jones faster than you can say ‘make it so’.”
Haytham shot him down. “Not this time. I need to deal with him myself.”
Sighing heavily, the Irishman was at a loss for words and wasn’t sure what else to say. He knew there was no way anything he was about to retort with will have any effect on Kenway’s predetermined path he was about to embark on and he had a very good idea who it was with. “I know how it is, sir. It’s a family trip, ain’t it?”
“Shay…” there he went with that voice again as he folded his arms and tilted his head, exhaling lightly. He could think of no one else who could establish their authority simply with the tone of their voice.
The older man already knew what he was implying and he was most likely sick of it, but then again, the Assassin Hunter was just as tired of repeating it. “I don’t need to remind you what I think o’ it.”
“You’ve made your point clear several times already,” the Englishman nodded. “Your objections have been noted.”
Even when he said it out loud, the hunter didn’t believe it.
“Master Kenway, if I may interject…”
They were suddenly interrupted by the world-weary frontiersman who just happened to come across them, steeping forward with his arms outstretched. The former Assassin wasn’t sure if he only just got here or if he actually heard some of the conversation between them, though it wouldn’t really surprise him if he did. Though he had little hope Gist would be able to persuade the Englishman any more than he could, he was willing to give him a shot, particularly if he had any new information concerning the Rite’s current condition as he tended to know about such things before anyone else.
“Everyone’s been on edge since the last assassination,” the older man continued, stroking his beard. “Too many people wondering if they’re going to be next on the chopping block. It’s been a drain on morale, sir.”
Shay knew other Templars and their allies were beginning to feel bouts of uncertainty and even slight panic once the assassinations started. He worked to prevent such things from festering further and keep the Rite strong in the face of sudden adversary. He wondered if they have perhaps become far too relaxed and complacent in the last decade or so, since nobody was able to stand against them for such a long period of time.
It aggravated him even more because he could’ve ended this immediately, his short expedition to the homestead proving he was just as capable of walking right into enemy territory without any suspicion just as much as the boy was. Anonymity had its advantages after all.
“I’ve already bought us time, didn’t I?” the Grand Master mentioned but that was assuming the alliance will hold for any length of time it was needed for them to recover completely.
“Well, yes, but they’re wary of it. This temporary… unity, I suppose,” the frontiersman shrugged cautiously, shifting uncomfortably in his place as he tried to make a point. “Historically, Assassin-Templar alliances never worked out well. Others are becoming restless and thinking that-”
“Thinking what? That I’m growing soft?” Haytham interrupted him, raising his voice all of a sudden which took both of them by surprise as he glared specifically into the older man and took a step toward him. “I wonder who could’ve given them that idea.”
Widening his eyes, Christopher threw his hands into the air to defend himself immediately. “Sir, I swear to God, I didn’t tell anyone about your son. Hell, even I didn’t know ‘til recently. I’m just repeating what I’m hearing, honest.”
It was a small lie since he did in fact tell Shay about the native Assassin being his child, but he was sure even his big mouth wouldn’t go around announcing that fact to just about anyone on the street. It was more likely most people would figure it out on their own anyway, considering how atypical the Englishman was acting as of late and rumors were already abundant enough without anyone perpetuating them.
“What Gist means to say that in the end, only one o’ you will be left standin’,” the Assassin Hunter intervened, stepping between his first mate and his Grand Master. “We’re all prepared for the worst. We’re just not sure if you are.”
Haytham said nothing at first, his eyes darting from the frontiersman to the hunter in quick succession before he let out an uncomfortable low chuckle. “Alright. I see how it is,” the Templar leader finally replied, unusually chipper with a hint of distaste in his tone as he turned his eyes back onto the older man. “Master Gist, why don’t you accompany Captain Cormac to his next mission? Some away time might benefit you after all.”
As he turned his back on them, the younger Templar wasn’t about to drop it as he caught up with him, angry disbelief in his voice apparent. “Sir, if you think this is just goin’ to blow over, you-“
“Do what I say! Have I not made myself clear!?”
The Grand Master outright yelled at him as he stopped in his track instantly, glaring at the hunter who flinched in response. Quickly, Master Kenway found himself fixing his expression as he swallowed hard and exhaled through his nose, attempting to transition back to his more manageable stiff upper lip by fixing his coat. “You have your assignment, gentlemen. Now stop wasting time and get to it.”
With a swish of his cape, Haytham left his two subordinates behind in a bitter silence, the only company being the sounds of waves beating themselves against the docks and creaking wooden vessels on the seas. Neither was sure what to say when the Irishman turned toward his friend, looking as lost and distressed as he did. After what it seemed like an eternity, the older Templar trudged over to the hunter’s side, awkwardly gritting his teeth.
“… what the hell just happened?”
Shay scoffed and shook his head, his arms hitting his sides as he exhaled heavily. “Forget it, Gist. I’m tired o’ dealin’ with it. Let’s just go.”
He turned on his heels and walked off unexpectedly, with the frontiersman following right behind him upon noticing. He sighed heavily, feeling slightly out of breath. “Maybe… maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Cormac reassured him. “We both know he wouldn’t have relented either way.”
“But I did piss him off real good,” Christopher replied. “That’s the one thing I never thought I’d ever experience.”
The Assassin Hunter merely snorted. “He was pissed at me more than you,” he was pretty determined when it came to their current situation, albeit he was surprised it took Haytham this long to completely snap at him. Shay was certain he had it coming one of these days anyway because of his constant undermining of his authority which grew far more vicious and personal than any other time before.
“Where are we supposed to go anyway?” the older Templar asked, just now realizing the man had no real idea what he got himself into.
Not entirely sure how he would react to the news, the Irishman just let it out bluntly. “Polynesia.”
Gist went silent for a moment, fumbling with his fingers as he chuckled awkwardly and started lagging behind. “Is… is this a bad time to mention I’m not a fan of tropics?”
Grinning lightly, the hunter turned around. “Better leave your overcoat at home, Gist.”
He instead let out a short burst of laughter. “You wish! If I die of heatstroke, you better bury me in this coat!”
“And your hat?”
“Find the largest palm tree you can and nail it to the top,” the older man announced as he fixed his wide brimmed hat before mumbling to himself cautiously. “I really should rewrite my will. I don’t even know how to get to Polynesia.”
“We do have an ol’ friend who just sailed the Pacific Ocean,” Shay just remembered as he got an idea. “He might be able to give some pointers if we can find him.”
“Of course. To Captain Cook then!”
Finding himself in a complicated position between his own objective and an opportunity to mend the situation, the native Assassin tried to clear his thoughts by doing the most menial of tasks, such as cleaning up and rearranging the furniture in his room at the Davenport Mansion because even training wasn’t enough to get his mind off certain things and he hardly needed the Mentor to badger him about sprucing up the place now that the mansion was reclaiming its former glory. After meeting his long lost father for the first time and wondering if there was a possibility at any sort of reconcilement between the Brotherhood and the Order, he found that he didn’t know much about them beyond what he was told about the secret organizations.
Achilles wasn’t any help, dismissing any discussion of this nature and reiterating continuously that all Templars needed to die in order to ensure a better future for everyone in this land. Connor didn’t really understand the old man; he repeated his words but gave little explanations to them beyond the basic courtesy. He was unwilling to speak of the past events that turned the homestead into the dilapidated land he witnessed when he first traveled here and his rather charged animosity toward the Templar Grand Master which grew more prominent as months went by.
If it was Haytham who was responsible for the destruction of the Colonial Brotherhood, he should just come out and say so. Nothing was said outright, leading him to think there was probably more to it. As far as he knew, a majority of active Assassins during that time were killed, although Achilles was spared for some reason and forced into exile.
“Connor?” the older man stood at the entrance of his room, his eyes slightly widened. “Didn’t think I’d find you here.”
“I needed some room,” a good enough explanation for wanting some time to mull over the past couple of days. The furniture was strewn all over the place in an unequal fashion, managing to find a couple of things he didn’t even know were here, pointing toward the presumably locked and forgotten trunks. “I do not think there is any use for these chests.”
The Davenport proprietor shrugged as he stepped further into the room, slightly annoyed at the mess the boy made in the process. “If you have to put them somewhere, put them in the living room or the basement. You never know when you’ll need them.”
In the meantime, the native boy started moving the chests, putting them up on the other by the door when he noticed the older man’s disgruntled expression. The third trunk seemed a bit heavier than the rest, but that wasn’t the only thing about it that suddenly caught his eye. He only just now noticed it, but it employed a peculiar lock or a lack of it. In its place was an indentation of a round object that could potentially fit in there instead of a key, appearing to be an image of a tree which puzzled him for a moment.
“This symbol…” Connor ran his fingers around it, mesmerized by it.
The Mentor looked over his shoulder, only vaguely interested in what he discovered as he explained succinctly. “That’s the Yggdrasil, boy. The World Tree. A very common myth.”
“It looks familiar,” he stated and continued to stare at it, trying to remember what it reminded him of.
“You’ve probably seen it in a book or something,” Achilles exhaled heavily as he slinked out of the room, leaving the Mohawk Assassin behind.
“No…” he mumbled, more to himself than anything else since the boy didn’t even notice the old man left the quarters and was nowhere to be found on this floor of the mansion. His eyes remained transfixed on the indentation as he continued to card through his mind, thinking hard about why it bothered him so much.
It wasn’t from a book; he would’ve absolutely remembered if it was. It was round, silver and big enough to fit in one’s hand, so clearly something anybody could carry around without much trouble. The tree itself represented something important to someone, just as the chest had to belong to that same person. It just didn’t seem like a random decoration just anyone would’ve chosen to make into a lock when a simple key would’ve sufficed. It would’ve been too easy to open for just about anyone otherwise.
Connor quickly recalled who he met recently, the strange accented man in a long coat whom he saw leaving the homestead. It wouldn’t have been important, if he didn't remember something very distinct about him, specifically a mildly noticeable glistening round silver brooch on his belt.
He shot up straight in his place as it immediately dawned upon him, only now noticing the younger Assassin was alone and quickly left to find the old man downstairs in the living room. He believed the man was somebody from Achilles’ past, though he had no evidence to indicate such a thing and he denied knowing him, but now he had something to go by.
The Mentor was looking out the window when he confronted him about it. “That man,” the Mohawk boy started, already used to being left out of his business and being given only partial information about what was going on. “He had a brooch similar to that symbol. No, it was identical, I am sure of it.”
Achilles moved away, putting some distance between them as he sighed in annoyance. “Connor…”
However, the native boy wasn’t letting him dodge his questions this time around as he questioned bluntly. “Why else would it be here? What exactly is his relation to this place?” it couldn’t have been a mere coincidence an exact symbol was found in two completely different yet unique places.
When the old man added nothing to the conversation, Connor slowly approached him as he tried to pull it all in the open, speculating as he went along. “You know him. He lived here, did he not? Back in those days, he was-”
“Connor, please!” the Mentor turned to him, raising his voice as he harshly tapped his cane against the floor. “All you’re doing is disturbing the past. Let it rest in peace.”
The younger Assassin wasn’t satisfied with that answer as he continued to push, believing he was on the right track to finally getting some answers. “What are you so afraid of, old man? You have been hiding things from me since the moment we met.”
“You don’t need to know,” he insisted with a lowered tone, shaking his head. “It’s my burden to bear, not yours.”
Sighing heavily, Connor shifted in his stance and turned his back on the Mentor, crossing his arms over his chest. There were things he still didn’t understand, such as what exactly happened to the Brotherhood and his own personal history with the Templars. He could feel the tension surrounding him every time he talked about anything to do with the Order, but he knew nothing of his life or the lives of those who used to inhabit the homestead before him. Just what happened such a long time ago the old man was willing to condemn all those lost lives to obscurity?
And now the strange man popped out of nowhere and appeared to have a connection to this place but the more he wanted to know, the more Achilles would crawl back into his personal bubble.
The boy’s hand rested on his forehead, exhaling through his nose as he interrupted the silence. “That man… he’s an Assassin, correct?"
The Davenport proprietor continued to remain silent, only stepping away to sit down in his chair and refusing to look at his pupil, his hat halfway down his eyes. Granted, Connor hasn’t seen the strange man ever since that one time on the homestead, but there had to be something more to him, especially since the old man didn’t want to talk. What was it about him that bothered Achilles so much he would not divulge anything?
Unless… a thought came to him all of a sudden, something he didn’t really consider at first as it sounded far too absurd. Was it possible the strange man did something horrible? Could an Assassin have been the cause of all of this? Instead of the Colonial Rite overwhelming the Brotherhood on their own over time, they had help from someone who knew exactly how they think and fight?
Or even worse… an Assassin who was now a Templar.
Somehow, he couldn’t really reconcile that in his mind.
For now he just wanted to voice his suspicions as directly as possible and hope he would get a reaction out of the older man. “He was the one who did this. He was responsible for the Brotherhood’s collapse.”
Just as he expected, Achilles said nothing nor did he object to any of those words. Even if the native boy took his silence as confirmation, he didn’t understand as to why he would keep silent about a betrayal of such magnitude, thinking a person like that would be a primary target for assassination. “He is a traitor, is he not? But that does not make any sense. Why would you protect somebody like that?”
“Because taking his life would mean nothing. It would only prove him right,” it was then the Mentor finally spoke with a flat tone, unmoving otherwise. “He was always right.”
Finally getting his attention and standing right beside the man’s chair, Connor questioned further while he still had a chance to learn something new, softening his voice. “What happened?”
“We…” Achilles corrected himself quickly, inhaling through his nose. “I didn’t listen. I was so consumed by my own suffering, I didn’t acknowledge his. In the end, I drove him into the hands of our enemies.”
Widening his eyes, he didn’t expect to hear anything like that from the Mentor at all; a tone of remorse for somebody who may have had a hand in destroying the Brotherhood and leaving him crippled. At least he had an idea with whom he could potentially be dealing with if they ever came to blows with one another, a rogue Assassin on the Templar side. On the other hand, the Mohawk Assassin still didn’t know the entire story. “I do not understand.”
Davenport shook his head, putting his hands in his lap. “An old man’s failings are not your concern, Connor. At a time like this, we can only look forward and focus on our goal.”
The native boy very nearly rolled his eyes, suppressing the need to sigh as he stepped away. Just when it got interesting and the old man was actually sharing his story, he would suddenly just clam up again and say nothing more. Regardless of the history between the two, he couldn’t really imagine the Mentor, who up until now was very persistent in eliminating Templars from the face of this earth, would want to leave the one who ruined him personally alive for any reason.
“Stay away from that man,” Achilles suddenly spoke again, his eyes meeting the young Assassin who was leaning against the doorway. “He tends to bring misfortune wherever he goes.”
He refused to elaborate any further.
Onboard the Aquila, Connor’s mind drifted off again, thinking of the recent revelations regarding the Order and the Creed. His initial intention to keep his people safe from harm appeared to have spiraled into a sort of revolution, one in which he didn’t particularly see a place for himself, doing only what others told him it would be the right thing to do. Regardless of wherever or not he wanted to involve himself in the struggles of the colonists or the Patriots, much of the situation already forced his hand. It wasn’t that he believed his father all of a sudden because everyone he met pushed their own convictions regarding the situation.
Even further, the idea of a Templar walking right up to him without setting off any suspicion seemed rather ludicrous if he didn’t actually experience it, considering Achilles was unsettled by just about any trespassing on his territory. It only dawned upon him much later the strange man was in a perfect position to kill him if he wanted to. The native boy met him well before he even ran into his own father and even he employed hostility the first time around. On the other hand, that man was quite comfortable trespassing on enemy territory, confident nobody knew who he was. Even if he wasn’t an Assassin anymore, he knew how to apply those abilities on a larger scale.
There was a sense of unease knowing an Assassin was among the Templars but it didn’t seem to cross the Mentor’s mind. Or it was more likely that it did, but the old man didn’t want to kill him.
He wondered why he seemed to pity the traitor instead, wishing he’d know more about what caused him to flee to the Brotherhood’s mortal enemies. The old man appeared to blame himself, drawing even more suspicion as to what truly happened all those years ago. He wondered who betrayed who in this case.
“Somethin’ on your mind, Captain?” his first mate noticed he wandered off a bit too much, only slightly changing his present course but noticeable enough for an experienced sailor such as Robert Faulkner to comment on it. The Captain of the Aquila fixed his position as he turned the helm, tilting his head toward the older man who tended to be a bit more open with him than the Davenport proprietor ever was.
“I was just thinking…” the native boy mentioned, realizing he didn’t know much about the ship. Well, he knew her history and her decks well enough to be able to walk through them wearing a blindfold, but there was a particular time of hers he never questioned much. “I do not believe I have ever asked you what exactly happened to the Aquila.”
“You mean how it got to be in that squalid condition when you first laid your eyes on her?” Robert replied with a slightly distasteful voice, still remembering the half drowned piece of wood rotting in the bay behind the homestead.
Connor nodded bluntly. “Yes.”
“I’ll admit, I never told anyone,” the older man shifted in his stance awkwardly, clearing out his throat. “S’pose I was embarrassed, havin’ fallen for the simplest trick in the book.”
It didn’t surprise him, considering what kind of condition he was found in.
Faulkner crossed his arms as he inhaled heavily, ready to tell his side of the story. “The year was 1768. For years, the Aquila was infamous as the Ghost of the North Seas and rightly so. Even if the Colonial Assassins were decimated, I wasn’t about to let the Templars have the last laugh!”
There was a light chuckle from his side before turning grim again. “We were cornered by three Royal Navy vessels in the North Atlantic. We thought we could outwit ‘em by sailin’ into the fog and disappear like we used to. But really, I should’ve been expectin’ it... cuz she came up from it like the Grim Reaper himself.”
“She?” he figured he was talking about another ship.
“It was the Phantom Queen, boy… the Morrigan. Once you see her red sails, you’ll know it’s her,” the boy was sure he had never heard of her before but didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought. “We gave it our best, but it wasn’t enough. She was too quick and well-prepared for our ambush. She targeted us specifically to incapacitate us. We lost our Captain that day too, the poor sod. A cannonball took his head clean off.”
Connor swallowed quietly, turning the helm starboard as he tried not to think about a gruesome sight like that. “What happened next?”
“We limped back to the homestead,” he continued with a bitter taste in his mouth, his eyes peering over the deck. “From the damage she took, it would’ve been easier to just build another ship. I s’pose they thought we were dealt a big enough blow since they didn’t finish us off.”
“What of this Morrigan?” the Captain asked further, eager to learn as much as he could. “It was a Templar ship, correct?”
“Aye,” Robert nodded immediately. “Merely a sloop-of-war against our brig, but she’s a crafty lil’ witch, that one. Worthy of her namesake. It’s a shame really… it used to be our ship.”
The young Assassin raised his eyebrows as he looked at him incredulously, the realization dawning upon his first mate’s face when he gritted his teeth and dropped his arms by his sides, coughing awkwardly. “I’ve said too much, didn’t I?”
As he focused his eyes back onto the horizon in front of him, Connor exhaled heavily as he clicked his tongue, still wondering why everyone avoided even the slightest mention of anything that could even potentially uncover the history of the local Brotherhood and its failure against the Templars. “It appears neither you nor Achilles want to talk about what really happened to the Colonial Assassins.”
“It’s not so much we don’t want to talk…” Faulkner replied as he scratched the back of his head before settling on the wooden railing. “Achilles’s a stubborn ol’ man but he feels great shame for lettin’ the Brotherhood down.”
“I know…” the native boy remembered. “He has implied it before.”
“Then you already know it’s hard for him to talk about it,” the older man straightened himself out again, fixing his overcoat slightly as he glanced over to the Captain. “Even I don’t know the whole story.”
It was a long shot but he asked anyway. “I have already deduced an Assassin was responsible. Who was he?”
Shrugging lightly, the first mate was just as informed as anyone else. “I didn’t know the boy personally, I’m afraid. What I do know is that Achilles didn’t think much of him either, though I’m told he was a good sailor. He stole somethin’ from the Brotherhood and fell off a cliff to his death ‘til he reappeared with the Order a few years later at Fort William Henry.”
“What did he do exactly?”
“I don’t know. Even back then Achilles tended to be stingy with information,” Robert admitted, shuffling awkwardly in place. “But alas, he killed many of our Master Assassins singlehandedly. That’s when the moniker grabbed hold of him; the Assassin Hunter. Quite easy to create a monster with a name like that.”
All the pieces were starting to fall into place, alongside too many correlations and similar accounts; the silver Yggdrasil brooch on his belt was strikingly similar to the chest’s key indentation in his room, the man’s familiarity with the homestead and the audacity to approach him. Even the previously unrelated story about falling off a cliff made some sense now and the vague description of his profession. Perhaps the Morrigan belonged to him as well, if he took Faulkner’s comments into consideration.
Unless this was just a huge coincidence, he was now absolutely sure the older man on the homestead was most likely a former Colonial Assassin, now an agent of the Templars. Though in the end, he figured that even if he did confront Achilles with this evidence, the old man would just close himself further.
“What could possibly drive a man to commit such a betrayal?” the Captain mused rhetorically, not really expecting to get an answer as neither of them knew what exactly transpired between the strange man and the Mentor.
“Who knows?” Faulkner speculated on his own. “Power? Money? The Templar Order always attracted people with big ambitions and even bigger egos.”
“I do not think it is that simple,” Connor shook his head immediately, believing there to be a more complex reason to the whole story. “If it were, the old man would not be so hesitant to speak about it.”
Robert nodded. “You have a point there, Captain.”
Nearly four years of chasing after the Precursor sites in the Pacific Ocean came to a sudden stop, Shay’s worst fears coming to fruition once the first bad news started trickling out of the colonies; news of the Assassin-Templar alliance falling apart, leaving the Rite again in a vulnerable state. Being so far away from the actual events, stumbling through the mountains of New Zealand or sandy beaches of Hervey Islands, it was difficult to ascertain what exactly went on with the war in America as the informant system in this part of the world was still largely undeveloped, taking a very dedicated and fast Templar to pass the news as quickly as possible.
It only went downhill from that moment on, as the attack on Fort George headed by the French Navy and the Assassins proved it. The most distressing was the account of the Grand Master’s death at the hands of his own son, leaving the title to Charles Lee of all people. He and Gist would talk, even argue vehemently, over abandoning their mission and returning to the colonies despite knowing the journey home would take too long and it would make no difference whatsoever.
Despite the awful news, the hunter had to appreciate the irony. Everything he helped set up for the Order, everything he ever worked for, ruined in just a handful of years. It was bad enough they failed to save Captain James Cook from his grisly fate years prior, in this case not even getting a chance. In the end, they both agreed having the artifacts was pointless without a Rite to keep them safe. All they could do was secure the few interesting finds as best as they could before heading back to their homeland.
After spending the last couple of years away from recognizable civilization, the previously harsh tension in the air of New York was lifted, replaced by a joyous and hopeful atmosphere. It was evident the British were on a swift trail to defeat, particularly with the French siding with the colonies which was rather surprising to say the least, considering they lost the French and Indian war decades prior.
What he found upon returning was a mess; the American Rite was disjointed, Charles was missing and the Templars, at least the ones that didn’t panic and ran off God knows where, stood their ground and tried to make sense of their situation as calmly as possible. If they were to survive, they needed a new plan to accommodate for their recent failures, starting by accepting the war was lost for them at the moment.
While the rest still searched for Lee, last seeing him being chased by a large man in a white uniform, Shay was more or less certain his life was forfeit. He didn’t have much sympathy for his situation, not because of his own strained relationship with the man, but because the General brought most of his problems on by himself anyway.
Instead, the hunter went straight for what became Haytham Kenway’s last resting place. The gravestone was simple and unobtrusive, hardly a monument to the supreme influence and power the Englishman wielded in life. They didn’t part on good terms and that bothered him more than anything, even if he did have it coming. Having worked under the man for so long, Shay couldn't believe he was just suddenly gone from his life, even his grave hardly convincing him of this fact.
He shouldn't have left… why was it nothing good ever happened when it came to doing his job? It began crumbling in Lisbon, repeating it again with France and Polynesia spiriting him away from conflict, unable to fix anything that happened in his absence. He felt as if the Precursors themselves were mocking him.
It truly was a hellish cycle of triumph and collapse.
Eventually he heard two running footsteps behind him, one of which he recognized immediately as the older man stopped in his track, trying to catch his breath between shallow and heavy exhales. “Captain,” Gist said, his hands landing on his knees. “They found Lee in a tavern. He’s dead.”
Standing up from his crouched position at the Grand Master’s grave, the hunter already knew the outcome as he turned on his heels with a stone cold expression. “The Assassin?”
“Aye, sir,” the other Templar who arrived beside Gist was well-dressed, young and spry, trying to make a good impression as he stood stiffly like a soldier with his eyes widened and serious expression, despite the complete nervousness painted in his body language. He couldn’t have been any older than he was at the time when he joined the Brotherhood. “The Rite is in near disarray without effective leadership.”
Poor lad, he tried so hard, but he had to give him credit for at least pretending to be cool under pressure. Afterwards, the frontiersman nudged the boy’s shoulder, causing him to jump slightly in place which earned him a snort. “Go on. Show the Captain what you showed me.”
Nodding nervously, the younger Templar reached into his coat, pulling out a slightly worn-out envelope and holding it up into the air. “Master Cormac… I was ordered to give you this letter upon your arrival, courtesy of Grand Master Kenway, should anything happen to him.”
Shay must’ve stared at it for a good minute or so before he unconsciously reached for it, recognizing the now deceased man’s handwriting of his name on the front. He nodded, glancing over at the boy who looked like he was about to burst from the inside. “Thank you, uh…”
“Williams, sir,” he stood even straighter, nodding repeatedly. “Jonathan Williams.”
“Thank you, Master Williams,” the Irishman repeated despite never feeling right to address others in such a formal way. “You’re dismissed.”
The boy relaxed slightly with a tilt to his head. “Thank you, sir,” before running off with a heavy exhale leaving his mouth.
Fixing his eyes back on the envelope, the older man egged him on with his posture and facial expression to open and read the damn thing already, only removing himself from the Assassin Hunter’s personal space when he glared at him with narrowed eyes. Cormac turned his back on him and steeped away from Haytham’s grave, opening the envelope which bore the official wax seal of the Templar Order.
He unfolded the letter with unknown expectations.
if you are reading this, then I am no longer of this world. There is a very good chance the Rite is severely crippled and our influence over America will be significantly setback by this occasion. Let me preface with this first; I do not regret the path I have chosen. If the worst comes to pass, then I am singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of every dream, blood and sweat we put in the colonies over the years.
You were right about me. I was not strong enough to do what had to be done and for that I apologize.
I have no right to ask anything of you, but if there is anyone to whom I can entrust the American Rite, I would feel easier at mind giving you this responsibility. If you wish to reestablish the Rite, go ahead. If you want to exact revenge, that is your choice. If you decide to pack up whatever remains of our Order here and leave for someplace else, it is within your rights to do so. What I do ask of you is that you do not abandon the principles we as Templars stand for. You have shown a better understanding of it than anyone else I have ever known, even if your interpretations were sometimes completely unorthodox or outright lacking in courtesy. You stood up for what you believed in even against me and I can respect that regardless of my own virtues.
You are among the best the Order can offer to the world. Even with my passing, I am sure it will be left in capable hands so that one day perhaps, we will achieve our dream of seeing a united world. Regardless of what you may think of me at this time, I am proud of you. You were born to be a Templar in every sense of the word despite your checkered past and you exceeded all expectations any of us ever had. Even if the world does forget who you were, your accomplishments have and will shape the future for the better of mankind.
I know I can call upon you to continue where I have failed and preserve our duty for generations to come.
May the Father of Understanding guide you.
Your Former Grand Master,
Blinking, Shay let his arm fall, the scribbled piece of paper hanging by his side. It took him a moment to fully comprehend the contents of the letter, his Grand Master’s final wish for what to do now that the Rite was in a severely compromised position. The hunter took another long and hard glare at the handwritten words before he unexpectedly began chuckling under his breath, earning him an odd look from his first mate.
“That son o’ a bitch!” the Irishman finally exclaimed amidst his awkward laughter, shaking his head and breathing heavily as he caught himself on his knees. “How dare he?”
In the end, the Rite’s responsibilities fell on the Assassin Hunter entirely, having been named as his next successor, despite knowing this isn’t something he ever wanted or strived towards.
When he calmed himself down a bit and lifted his head again, he noticed the frontiersman was joined by another man, this time an old informant of Gist he’s dealt with before. He stepped up to Cormac, inquiring honestly without much meaningless meandering. “Sir… since we’re experiencing a shortage in qualified Templars, does that make you the new Grand Master?”
“Tch,” the hunter clicked his tongue sardonically, putting on his best posh Brit impression. “Perish the thought.”
“With Master Lee’s death, you are the highest ranking Master Templar left here,” the informant stated bluntly. “We need someone to give orders.”
Christopher walked over to the younger man’s side, his arms folded as he tried to explain the situation without sounding as if he were pushing him. “He’s got a point, Shay. We gotta reestablish the chain of command before it gets out of control.”
Shay shook his head, a desperate look in his eyes as he faced Gist. “Look here, I’m not-”
Cutting himself off, the Irishman swallowed hard, turning away from his friend. He wasn’t trained for something like this. He didn’t even know where to start. How was the hunter supposed to save a Templar Rite that was on a high road to ruin anyway? Just what was Haytham thinking, putting him in charge like this with no prior warning? First he sends him off to the Pacific Ocean chasing ghosts and now he expected him to pick up the pieces from where he so unfortunately left off. Master Kenway couldn’t have been in the right state of mind when he made the choice.
But then again, Lee also ended up as a Grand Master, so…
“Shay,” he felt a hand on his shoulder, hearing the older man’s distinct tone. “Right now we only need a leader. I’ve worked under you for a long time. Hell, I trust you more than I trust myself.”
“O’ course you would say that,” the hunter looked at him, scoffing. “You can barely find your arse in the mornin’.”
“Only cuz it’s true,” the frontiersman smiled faintly, his eyes crinkling with a twinkle only he was capable of producing.
While Cormac doubted he was exactly what the Rite needed to prosper, he did agree they required a leader much more than anything else. As a Captain, he was in charge of many responsibilities on a smaller scale, hoping he could translate his experiences as a sailor into leadership abilities needed to lead the Templars out of the hole they dug themselves into.
Inhaling heavily, the Assassin Hunter lifted his chin and cleared his throat, stepping in front of the informant with as much confidence as he could muster at a time like this. “Inform everyone the Rite is under new management. Whoever wants to stay in America should make sure to keep a low profile ‘til further notice. If anyone wishes to return to London, do so now. Reinforce the Order where it is at its strongest.”
Bowing his head, the man obeyed. “Right away, sir.”
When he disappeared out of their sight, Gist stepped to the younger man’s side with hands on his hips. “Alright. Once the Templars find out about this, they should centralize again. And stop running around like headless chickens every time we lose a Grand Master.”
The younger Templar only sighed in response.
Shay was exhausted, holding his head upright at a desk as his mind drifted off while Haytham droned on about something; he couldn’t really tell what anymore, probably economics. Back at Fort Arsenal, the Irishman found himself badly out of commission following his encounter with Hope, wherein he ended her life, one of the hardest things he had to do. Though the poison did a number on him, the antidote was even worse, leaving him bedridden and delusional… not even his worst drunken episodes completely incapacitated him to such degrees.
“Shay?” the Grand Master bent over the bed, waving his hand and snapping his fingers in front of the younger man’s face. He shook his head when the hunter’s half-opened eyes continued staring at the ceiling, giving no reaction. “It doesn’t look like he’s even here.”
“He probably isn’t aware of us or anything else in this room,” Church’s voice followed, fiddling with the small samples of blood and other unknown substances as he continued storing his instruments in his bag.
Standing over the motionless Templar, the Englishman crossed his arms. “Will he live?”
“What you are seeing here is the antidote’s reaction to the poison. It’s stimulating the system to purge the unwanted harmful substance from his body, though the catatonic state does appear to be a side-effect. It’s a very potent poison. Hard to obtain and even harder to manufacture. Probably from the West Indies but I’d have to check my sources,” the surgeon explained quite clinically. “It is quite fascinating how much of our modern medicine is designed to harm us in order to heal us. Like surgery where you cut off a diseased limb and cripple a man for life.”
“I was asking if he’ll live, not your bloody college dissertation,” Haytham narrowed his eyes at the Templar, exhaling heavily as he had better things to do than listen to him prattle on about surgery.
He’ll live,” Church very nearly rolled his eyes but thought better of it, getting to the point. “Recovery tends to vary from person to person, but I’ll give him about a week since he’s in good physical condition. Though I can’t say anything for his mental state.”
He spent that time in feverish nightmares and throbbing pain, even seeing Hope a couple of times. He couldn’t tell if she was mocking him or pitying him from beyond the grave, feeling like he was trapped in a hell of his own making. He was wondering what Liam would think upon discovering her body. He’s seen the Assassins together sometimes, smiling and laughing at each other, noticing a certain spark between them. The hunter never asked as he didn’t think it was his business, but now… his childhood friend will be furious regardless.
Though still loopy at the end of the week, he needed some fresh air and fill his head with actual work rather than wonder what could’ve been.
In the meantime, the Grand Master continued with their appointments as if nothing had really happened. Perhaps not for the older Templar, but with every kill he committed, Cormac felt like he was eliminating a part of himself, changing his own history as if it never truly existed. Yet he will continue to do so, destroying everything the Colonial Brotherhood built up over the years to ensure they know how much grief they have caused.
“Shay, are you listening?”
He was woken up from his thoughts by the Englishman’s exasperated voice, finding him half sitting, half leaning on the desk on the opposite side of him with an open book in his hand. “This is important. If I wake you up at 3 o’clock in the morning with a marching band patrolling down the hallway, you better know the answer to this.”
The former Assassin tried to pretend he was paying attention if nothing else, although that was hardly any better.
Exhaling through his nose, the older man was just about to call it a day as he glanced at his pocket watch. “If you can’t concentrate today, you should just say so instead of wasting time.”
“No, I…” the younger Templar protested immediately, not wanting to be left alone with his thoughts. “I can do this.”
“What page are we on currently?” he asked simply, closing his book with a loud thud when Shay started fumbling with his words and fingers, choosing to remain silent instead as he very clearly didn’t know. The Grand Master didn’t suffer idiots, slackers, but especially not liars. He probably should have said something but he would rather be buried in work at a time like this than be forced to confront his demons.
He stood up with a sigh. “That’s what I thought…”
As Master Kenway took a seat to the side, the Irishman leaned back in his chair, not really in the mood to argue with him about it. “I’ll do better next time, sir.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Haytham replied as he crossed his legs and neatly laid his book and hands in his lap. “Though I would appreciate some forthrightness once in a while. I imagine you could have already learned something from your time with the Assassins.”
“Considerin’ how much they love to go on as ambiguously as possible, I don’t really see it,” the hunter stood up from his seat as he tiredly brushed at his eyes, stretching his legs and suppressing a particularly tempting yawn. The Colonial Brotherhood was about as forthcoming with information as a blind man could see. To think they could’ve taught him anything apart from sowing more seeds of distrust in his head was laughable.
“Alright… I’ll bite,” sensing an entertaining topic, the older Templar shifted in his seat. “I’m always interested in what the Brotherhood has to say about us.”
“The usual, I s’pose. Bunch o’ rich ol’ folks fancyin' themselves rulers o’ the world,” Shay ended up shrugging as he leaned against the table, his arms folded. “They stopped explainin’ it to me after a while anyway. Told me I wasn’t takin’ ‘em seriously.”
The Grand Master lifted his eyebrows. “Were you?”
“O’ course not!” the former Assassin hissed loudly, a surge of anger suddenly spouting out of him. “I was a kid from the streets. What the hell did I give a crap about some ancient peoples or some pointless war runnin’ in the background while the world just shrugs at it? What a crock o’ shite.”
“You don’t have to get upset, I believe you,” Master Kenway outstretched his arms and pitched his voice, rather surprised at his rant. “Even I tend to forget most people don’t live in the constant knowledge.”
Exhaling heavily, the Irishman shook his head as he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to calm himself down after the sudden volatile outburst. He’s lived his whole life oblivious at the greater conspiracy, refusing to believe it even when confronted with it at the Brotherhood, thinking it to be a bunch of fairytale garbage. Now that he’s seen the other side of the conflict, it just became a lot more real and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Haytham went silent for a moment, his hands repositioning themselves on his knee. “Let me ask you this first. Why did you join the Brotherhood?”
“Honestly? Cuz I had nothin’ better to do,” the Captain answered bluntly. “It was either that or spend the rest o’ my days lookin’ down a bottle.”
“No personal aspirations, wanting to be famous or respected?” the Grand Master wasn’t entirely convinced that was the whole reason. Shay just shook his head quietly, the older man being visibly taken aback as he employed a rather stunned tone. “Really?”
This time the younger Templar nodded with utter sincerity, leading Master Kenway to look at him incredulously. “Shay, you are simultaneously the most simple and most difficult person I’ve ever met.”
Knowing those answers aren’t going to suffice either way, the hunter had to think of his own experiences within the secret organization. While it was true he had no ambition to be anything other than what he already was as he didn’t really see a way out of the circumstances of his birthright, the former Assassin wanted to believe their cause was a noble and just one. Liam especially went to great lengths to convince him of all the great things he could do in their service.
Shay scoffed at himself, shaking his head. He still couldn’t believe his childhood friend would shoot him in the back and leave him for dead. He thought he’d at least try to understand what he went through for the sake of their friendship, only to turn a blind eye to him as well.
But what did he really expect? For all intents and purposes, he remained an outsider even in their little circle for his insubordination and stubborn refusal for taking them at face value.
“They… they really made me feel like I could make all the difference in the world. And then…”
Awkwardly, the former Assassin fumbled with his fingers when his voice nearly cracked. No matter how hard he’d throw himself to work, most of his nights remained sleepless. Every night was the same, each subsequent nightmare becoming more detailed and more violent than he previously remembered. He could feel the heat of the fire, the ground giving up under his feet, buildings crashing all around him and the screams…
He ran away like a coward, saving his own skin and ignored everyone else in the way. There was nothing he could’ve done for them, but that didn’t make him feel any better considering he caused the disaster in the first place. The one decent thing he could’ve done was die right there and then perhaps he wouldn’t have to deal with this guilt.
The Irishman felt sick to his stomach just thinking about it. He breathed heavily as he circled back around the desk and reached for his chair, only now noticing he was shaking terribly and his vision went blurry. With no word out of his mouth, the hunter unceremoniously dropped down in his seat. It was bad enough he was still being affected by it but now he was losing it in front of the Grand Master himself.
He really was a pathetic sack of a man.
“Wallowing in self-pity has done no one any favors,” he heard Haytham say, though not as overly harsh as he’d usually expect him to. “If you need to say something, I’d advise you to say it now. No point holding it all inside.”
He wondered if he was speaking from experience. Regardless, the older Templar was correct. Many a night was spent wanting to reach for the bottle or instigate a fight in some throwaway pub, despite trying desperately not to be that kind of person anymore and finding very few comforts left in life that genuinely excited him. Who could possibly understand what he went through? How was he supposed to make amends for all those lives he condemned to ruin; by taking more of them in the process? If there was a better way, he didn’t know any. Ignoring the problem would be even worse at this point.
“I… I loved Lisbon,” the hunter stammered, his fingers tangled in his hair and misty eyes shut tight as he hid his face. No way in hell was he going to face anyone like this, not in this vulnerable state. “It was one o’ the first cities I saw outside the colonies. There was just somethin’ about it… it was like goin’ to a completely different world. Just seemed so much bigger and older than anythin’ I’ve seen before. Everythin’ about it; the people, the sights, the mood…”
It was hard not to just burst into tears, knowing damn well it wasn’t going to change anything. If there was any place out there he wouldn’t have minded living for the rest of his life, Lisbon would be his first choice. To think he used to be so excited about returning there, to relieve the days he first stepped down in the harbor with widened eyes as he stared in awe of the city; meeting new people, exploring the newfound foods and objects on the bustling markets, sneaking up on Torre de São Vicente to enjoy the fantastic view and running away from the guards who were just about the same anywhere in the world.
… but he can never go back again. Even if it’s rebuilt in its entirety, all he’s going to see in front of his eyes are falling debris, burning buildings and all the bloody carnage that followed afterwards. He was sure it will continue haunting him for the rest of his life, never letting him forget what he left behind.
“I ruined everythin’.”
He dropped his head onto the table, resting it on his crossed arms as he tried to muffle a particularly loud whimper leaving his throat. The Irishman didn’t know what the older man was thinking, only hearing him stand up and take a few steps closer, his fingers trailing across the hardwood table. He didn’t want anything right now, especially not pity. He just wished he could sink into the ground where nobody could see him.
“You’ve probably heard this before, but it wasn’t your fault,” Haytham eventually broke the silence, keeping his voice steady. “It was bound to happen eventually in our line of work.”
The younger Templar exhaled heavily. “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“It’s not supposed to,” the Grand Master replied honestly, shifting in his place as he appeared to lean against the table near his chair. “Try to look at it from a different perspective. If it was anybody else, you wouldn’t be here and my Rite would be poorer for it. Perhaps by the time anyone figured it out at all, it would’ve been too late. I can think of a number of different outcomes that are potentially worse than this. I have to believe there is a reason for your situation as well.”
Tilting his head slightly at the suggestion, Shay hadn’t thought about it that way. Was there a reason for his survival? He remembered all that talk from his fellow Assassins about how the Precursor artifacts were going to help them prevail over their enemies and ensure freedom for all mankind. How can they say that when there’s so much they don’t know? When they can be used to enslave people’s minds or level entire cities? Nobody should have that kind of power regardless of alignment. Hell, he wouldn’t even trust himself with it.
They’d sooner destroy the world than save it.
The hunter lifted his head, only now realizing his face was completely wet and his nose stuffed to the brim. He wasn’t nearly as strong as others seemed to think when he could break apart this easily and the only thing that kept him going was the promise of a better world and a chance at redemption. He avoided the Grand Master’s gaze, even though he must’ve noticed he was shaking and sniveling all over the place, not being able to contain his tears anymore. He must’ve looked like a complete mess.
Eventually there was slight movement from his side, the table creaking noticeably when a hand holding a pristine white handkerchief with colorful embroidery appeared in front of his eyes.
“Go on, clean yourself up,” the Englishman urged lightly. “You look like hell.”
He really didn’t deserve any of this. Cormac hesitantly reached for his handkerchief, hiccupping harshly as he tried to lighten the mood with a choked chortle. “I hear hell’s pretty nice this time o’ year.”
His hand rested on the hunter’s shoulder as he wiped his face, not really expecting him to say anything because he didn’t need to. Haytham was far from a touchy-feely person and he kept himself properly entrenched in his British stoicism, only showing what was necessary. The Irishman's eyes remained reddish and his nose stuffy, but at least he got it out of his system as best as he could, awkwardly fumbling with the now moist handkerchief and breathing heavily to get his shaky breath back under control.
“You know, I didn’t agree with Monro on many things, including your situation,” Haytham replied suddenly with a tap on his shoulder, his tone strangely mild. “But I trusted his judgments, even if they came from a viewpoint I personally had a difficult time identifying with.”
George Monro was an admirable figure. He couldn’t think of anyone else who inspired him to make something out of himself, even if it was initially in the name of redemption. Despite not saying anything, Shay knew very clearly what he was. Spending time with the Brotherhood made him very observant to the world at large and the Colonel’s allegiance was out there for everyone to see, even if the majority didn’t realize it. To even think he’d come to trust anyone after all that’s happened to him, including a Templar.
It was a troubling place to find himself in. He just barely managed to escape from the Assassins on the edge of death, only to find himself on the Templar doorstep. His intention to keep a low profile failed miserably as he risked outing himself to aid Monro but in the end, he couldn’t save him either and it weighed heavily on his soul.
The Irishman’s voice turned solemn. “He was a good man.”
“Better than most,” the Grand Master added. “He was a soldier before a Templar. It was in his blood to serve and protect.”
He knew Monro’s philosophy well, his great conviction to ensure a better life for the colonists and common people. He was determined to keep up his good work in New York, despite knowing he could never replace him entirely as many people liked and trusted him, even if they had nothing but contempt for the rest of the Redcoats. Many owed much of their livelihoods to him, particularly in New York.
“Sir…” Shay said after a moment of silence, getting his attention immediately. “How do you deal with it?”
Both the Order and the Creed had different people giving different explanations for their inclusion in this secret world, particularly because everyone used their influence and the opportunity to further their own agendas. He knew very well not everyone believed or even cared about the common good. He’d lie if he said he didn’t take advantage of his good standing in the Rite either, opening doors to places he never thought he’d ever lay eyes on. He wanted to know what the Englishman saw in the Order that made him want to uphold it even more.
Upon seeing a slightly confused look on the older man’s face, he elaborated. “Justify the Templar cause?”
Master Kenway lifted his eyebrows as he thought for a moment and unfolded his arms, straightening his cuffs. “What we do and what our opponents do is far greater than any of us could even begin to comprehend. First of all, don't concern yourself with simple ideas such as good and evil. There are no such distinctions in this world or the next.”
That much was obvious. Many things in life were far more complex than that.
“We strive for peace just as the Brotherhood supposedly does,” Haytham’s tone turned mocking for a second, no love lost between him and the Assassins. He wasn’t sure if it was personal distaste or just the ideas he couldn’t get behind. “They may not like our methods, but it’s quite obvious we may share a common goal. We are just prepared to do what is necessary to get there.”
The Assassin Hunter tilted his head. “Even if it means imposin’ it?”
Nodding lightly, the older man continued as he leaned backwards. “People crave strong leadership. Most don’t really want the responsibility or the absolute freedom to do whatever they want, even if they think they do. Order is essential to a prosperous society, while chaos only destroys and leads to ruin. They can preach all they want about needing to figure it out for themselves. Conflict is an inherent human quality and all people are slaves to it.”
Shay shifted uncomfortably in seat, clearing his throat. “That’s pretty cynical,” despite the common goal, Master Kenway and the Colonel could not be any different from one another.
Haytham looked down upon him, though it didn’t feel like he was in charge of the conversation anymore. “But I’m not wrong, am I? When you see the world for what it truly is, it’s quite evident. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of human depravity in your lifetime.”
That was easier to say in his case. “Aye. But there’s gotta be a better way than usin’ Pieces of Eden.”
“We gave up the search years ago,” he scoffed, always giving the impression he wasn’t exactly fond of chasing after Precursor ghosts. “We’ll go about it the old-fashioned way, through politics.”
He wasn’t sure other Rites are going to see it the same way. “Other Templars ain’t gonna be like you, sir.”
“Obsessive search for those damned things is what got us in this mess to start with,” there was a lot more resentment in his tone than he expected at first. “They’ve become far too reliant on magic tricks to save them.”
It almost felt like the Irishman unintentionally touched a nerve he didn’t even know existed.
“After this is over, we are done with the Precursors,” he added with an exasperated tone, moving back around the table and picking up his book from the chair where he left it, carding through it as if he wanted to think about something else rather than the topic at hand.
As far as the younger Templar could tell, the Colonial Rite had no real Pieces of Eden in their possession apart from the strange pendant Haytham wore at all times. Regardless if it was something the Precursors left behind, the small object was fairly useless without an actual place to use it in, coming up with nothing but dead ends and more questions than answers. Considering that pendant was one of the reasons he traveled to the New World in the first place only to end up emptyhanded, he could see him becoming disenchanted with the search.
“I feel like I’m missin’ somethin’,” standing up from his seat and approaching slowly, the Assassin Hunter questioned the older man’s sudden bitterness, feeling like there was an entire story behind it he didn’t know about. “Or am I readin’ too much into it?”
Fumbling with the book in his hands, the Grand Master’s mind wandered off for a moment before he sighed heavily, his side to the Irishman. “No… you are quite right.”
“I mean, I talk a lot but…” it was the least he could say since he wasn’t the only one with grievances in life.
Eventually, Haytham turned to him with a calmed tone but a rather melancholy expression. “… thank you for the offer. But at the moment, I think you have enough of your own issues to deal with.”
Perhaps. He just figured it’d be nice for a change someone else gets to bemoan their problems instead of him.
It was then Shay realized he was still fiddling with the Grand Master’s handkerchief in his hands, not exactly sure what to do with it as he awkwardly raised it in the air.
“Keep it,” the Englishman shook his head lightly. “You certainly need it more than me.”
“Oh… thanks,” the hunter looked down at it, folding it over as best as he could despite it being completely crumpled because of his undignified show of vulnerability. That didn’t mean he was going to be like this every time he had to talk about his issues as he narrowed his eyes. “Just so you know, sir. I’m not a crybaby.”
The older Templar nodded sarcastically, lifting his eyebrows.
Haytham tilted his head at him, hands on hips.
Shay rolled his eyes, turning his back on him with a sigh. “Forget it.”
“You brought it up, not me.”
I came up with the rough draft of Haytham's letter first and then the fic expanded from it as it went on.
Chapter 4: Vox in Excelso
This took me forever. I really need to brush up on the fighting scenes, I've gotten really rusty at them which is why this took me way too long. Again, I didn't really intend to write myself into oblivion, but I totally did that again. Oh well, at least it's finally written, right?
Happy school day, kiddies. Well, the joke's on me, I gotta go to work instead.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the months following his return to the colonies, Shay ended up managing what was left of the Rite. His sudden promotion to Grand Master, though not a title he was comfortable using but everyone kept calling him anyway, helped establish a new hierarchy. Settling himself in Kenway’s old office, he needed to bring the Templars up to speed, trying to ascertain just how many of them they have lost to assassinations or the revolution. Some who made their presence known decided to return to their homelands, while the rest, particularly those with families and businesses here, remained.
Grand Master de la Serre of the Parisian Rite offered his condolences and even an apology on behalf of the French Navy for making things difficult for them. It only affirmed his decision to continue influencing the court on his own terms, wanting to avoid a violent and bloody revolution on his own turf. Cormac could only wish him well, though he was cautiously optimistic. Nowadays it seemed for any drastic change blood flowed freely and corpses littered the streets.
First and foremost, the remaining members were put back to work. Despite the shortages, they could still rely on their sympathizers and allies in the up and coming American government. Washington will most likely be a serious candidate for the presidential seat, having captured the hearts and minds of the colonists. However, the country was young and untamed; it was susceptible to change much more than the old, debauched and inbred monarchies of Europe. Even with their defeat at the hands of the Brotherhood, their influence was here to stay.
His responsibilities included everything from forming new alliances to putting correct people in essential positions, which was far more aggravating than it seemed at first. Just one weak link in the chain could potentially screw all of them over. In a way, he wasn’t really fixing the Rite; he was rebuilding it from the ground up. He was hardly anyone’s first choice when it came to appointing a Grand Master, but his good publicity and exploits from the last twenty years managed to garner enough interest and respect.
He wondered how Master Kenway dealt with it… the man appeared to have been born and bred to lead.
To make himself feel better, at least the hunter wasn’t succeeding the Englishman. He was technically succeeding Charles Lee, who wasn’t on top for long enough to do any serious damage. It was somewhat childish to continue using the man’s long cold corpse to get his kicks, but he honestly didn’t give a damn anymore. It was a good thing he recused himself from attending Lee’s funeral, because if he was forced to give a speech about the man, there was no way Shay could stand there with a straight face and say anything that wasn’t spitting in the General’s freshly dug grave. His professionalism had its limits and he had better things to do anyway.
The Irishman wasn’t sure how long he’s been awake this week. For every problem solved, two new ones seemed to pop up, making an already difficult situation a nerve-wracking experience. Though he was discouraged from taking on field missions by himself, as they couldn’t afford to lose another Grand Master, there were things he needed to do himself as nobody else was qualified. If someone had to be dealt with silently and quickly, that was his best asset to use. He wasn’t Haytham, but he could use everything the man had taught him and combine it with his own knowledge.
He started nodding off in his chair at some point, poised over a map of Massachusetts. Eventually, it was a hand on his shoulder that startled him awake, realizing he was still in process of setting up additional supply convoys in the area.
Behind him, Gist sighed heavily with a concerned tone. “Shay, I don’t think you’ve slept for the last three days. You really won’t be of any use to anyone if you’re dead.”
“You sound like Haytham,” the hunter drawled with a mocking scoff, hiding his face in his hands to recompose himself. His voice returned to normal as he exhaled apologetically. “I tried, Gist. There’s too much to do.”
He worked days and nights, something he got used to in his younger days when he couldn’t sleep at all because of his frequent nightmares. He was an absolute emotional wreck after the Brotherhood was demolished, driving him back to the bottle since that was the preferable option to blowing his brains out. Even the Grand Master had to personally tell him to get his shite together, remaining insistent in his studies as he continued pushing the hunter’s nose into books, which may have saved his life in the end.
Cormac leaned back in his chair, a flat tone leaving his mouth. “I can’t lead the Rite.”
“You don’t want to be a Grand Master?” the frontiersman asked, already knowing the only reason his younger friend even accepted the position was because somebody needed to salvage the situation and not because he genuinely wanted to be in charge.
“God, no. I’m not the best fit for it,” he groaned, hitting the back of the chair with his head. He preferred work on the field, actual reconnaissance over sitting behind a desk and telling everyone else what to do. It also appeared to have changed the power dynamics between himself and the others, as he effectively became everyone’s boss overnight and they all looked up to him for orders and advice, regardless if they were a street rat or a wealthy governor. It was a far cry from how he started off, on the lower end of the social ladder.
“I dunno about that,” the older man didn’t change his attitude at all. He was just as talkative and nonchalant as always which he was infinitively grateful for, having someone with whom he could have an honest conversation without judging him or putting him on a pedestal. “You’re a pretty good Cap’n.”
Shay stared at him, slightly exasperated. “Captainin’ a ship and leadin’ the Rite ain’t the same thin’, Gist.”
“You haven’t screwed up yet if that’s any comfort,” Christopher shrugged lightly, folding his arms across his chest. “As long as we keep working as inconspicuously as possible, we should be fine.”
The Irishman nodded as he stood up from his seat, staggering groggily on his unresponsive legs, having spent a good portion of the day just sitting here and looking over the reports. The older man caught him around his waist, but Cormac waved him off when he propped himself against the table. He was pretty sure he was starting to see red in front of his eyes as well. His first mate was right that he needed sleep, but he was stubborn enough he could probably go on for another day before he’d collapse from fatigue.
As he inhaled deeply, the hunter brushed at his eyes. “At this point, the Rite will have to go underground anyway. We don’t really have a choice, not with the Brotherhood back.”
Shrugging, Gist asked further. “What’s the long-term plan then, Captain?”
“I don’t really have one. As long as the Rite has resources and manpower, it can survive on its own,” providing the Templars with provision was more important than any large scale operation at this point. They couldn’t really rely on the British Empire or the Royal Navy anymore, especially in light of the independence. “The Assassins may have won the battle, but the war ain’t over yet.”
“Speaking of which, we still aren’t sure how big the Assassins have gotten, considering their leaders are an old man and a boy,” the frontiersman mentioned, though fully aware of the fact nobody was going anywhere near the Davenport Homestead to investigate any time soon as they had enough problems on their hands.
Thus, Cormac didn’t spend much time worrying about the Brotherhood’s condition. He remembered the hit list in the hidden basement of the manor, knowing all of the crucial men on the portraits were dead. The Assassin campaign against them ceased for now and they could finally repair the damage. Since he found himself on a very high position in the Rite, it might only be a matter of time before anyone finds out who he really is, particularly if they manage to thrive and present a credible threat again.
Many people may be displeased to see a former Assassin as a Templar Grand Master.
In hindsight, he had a stupid idea in his mind, wanting to meet the Kenway lad again. Not to kill him, even though he most definitely should, but just talk with him as a fellow man. Considering that’s exactly what the Grand Master did and paid for it with his life, he definitely wasn’t thinking straight.
“You know, Gist… the lad’s probably experiencin’ the weight o’ his decisions too,” lifting his head up, he wasn’t sure what prompted those words at all. He was speculating Connor must be realizing the consequences of his work, especially what he initially set out to do and noting it didn’t bring the desired goal. Perhaps he could decide on his own that Assassin life just wasn’t worth it after all and remove himself from the battlefield altogether. “Who knows what’s goin’ through his mind right now…”
“Shay, no. I know that look in your eyes,” the frontiersman stared diligently at the hunter from across the table. “Don’t make the same mistake as Master Kenway.”
“I wasn’t plannin’ to, I was just thinkin’…” he shook his head, a rather awkward grin on his lips as he chuckled under his breath. He was probably lying but then again the map was also starting to spin in front of his eyes.
The older man put his hand on the table with a heavy exhale, his expression completely serious this time as the other settled on his hip. “You’ve always done things your own way, so I can’t really stop you. But remember that you chastised him yourself for these things.”
He snorted in response. “Back then I wasn’t in charge.”
“I doubt you’ll be much longer if you work yourself to death,” Gist continued to bugger him about it, pointing his finger at him. “Get some sleep, will you? We’ll be fine.”
Nodding lightly, the hunter decided he’ll take his advice for now and get some rest, as he could barely stand after all and the slight dizziness when trying to lift his head wasn’t helping. Besides, the frontiersman was right that he needed to clear his mind and it’s not like the Rite will cease to exist just because he happened to take a nap. Perhaps things will seem much clearer in the morning and he’ll have a better chance of forming a new plan of action.
“Just wake me up if somethin’ happens.”
Gist very nearly rolled his eyes as he escorted him to his room.
“Half sail! Get her from behind!”
Shay wasn’t sure if it was just his luck that was rotten these last couple of days, but he could do with something better than get ambushed at sea by none other than the refurbished Ghost of the North Seas herself while personally overseeing an escort mission. Luckily, the Assassin vessel didn’t seem interested in their companion as they managed to get away, leading him to believe they were definitely being followed for a very specific reason. After sparing the Aquila many years prior, he really should’ve expected to engage her again.
Just before the attack on the Templar ship commenced, Connor questioned his first mate. “Are you sure, Faulkner?”
He wasn’t seeing the iconic red sails with emblazoned wolf designs so many people recognized her by and trembled before her if they ever came across her on the open seas. For him, this was the first time he caught a glimpse of the dreaded Phantom Queen, the Templar ship Morrigan, having been contacted by the older man with a request to check out the recent sightings of the familiar sloop-of-war.
“It’s her, alright! She can change her sails, her colors or broadsides, but there’ll sooner be winter in hell before I forget her entirely!” the seasoned sailor confirmed enthusiastically, taking another glance through the spyglass before turning back to the native boy. “Your orders, Captain? She hasn’t spotted us yet. We can get the preemptive on her.”
The Captain of the Aquila kept a respectable distance, not making their presence known just yet but since the oceans were calm and the sky was clear, he had to make his decision quickly. “Do you want to take revenge on her?”
“… maybe a lil’,” Robert shrugged lightly before making his point further. “But if the ship still belongs to that man… it would only benefit us in the long run.”
Nodding silently, the native Assassin knew what he meant, having discussed it with him numerous times in the event they ever encountered her. If the Morrigan was sacked and with it the turncoat, they could finish off another dangerous Templar that could cause potential trouble in the future. But he had his doubts, particularly because Achilles took nearly all of his secrets to his grave, only advising him not to engage but never fully explaining why. He still didn’t know what the entire story was behind his betrayal.
Connor himself learned the harsh truths about the world by not listening and understanding why things worked the way they did, blundering straight ahead without thinking of the consequences his actions would have in the future. And now he was alone, left in charge of something he never truly understood and without the Mentor around, he needed to find his own path forward. He wanted to make sure he had his facts straight from now on and stop letting himself be pulled around by his nose.
The Templar didn’t kill him that day on the homestead. Perhaps it was ridiculous to keep thinking about it, but it still bothered him how close he was to actually ending his crusade against the Colonial Rite without his knowledge. He thought perhaps he could extend the same courtesy despite knowing the strangely accented man could potentially react with hostility due to having assassinated so many of his fellow Templars and leaving the Rite on its last legs.
He only stated simply. “I want to meet that man again.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” the first mate asked again, keeping a close eye on the Morrigan. “He’s been a Templar for a long time. Who knows what he’s become.”
Connor nodded, glancing over at him with a deep inhale. “I know. But you said it yourself… he let the Aquila go back then. And he let me live despite being in perfect position to end my life.”
“That’s assumin’ he still has his noble sensibilities in check after you took out his friends,” Faulkner noted with a lifted head, not optimistic enough to think they were going to get anything out of him but violence.
“Perhaps he can be reasoned with regardless of what has transpired,” the Mohawk Assassin speculated aloud, gripping the helm with determination, looking out at the unaware ship on the horizon as he turned the vessel toward her present course. “However, we need to best him in battle first.”
A slight smirk twitched in the corner of Robert’s mouth. “That I can work with. At least we can blow it full of holes,” they instructed everyone to take their positions, preparing the first volley of cannonballs to be fired upon the Templar vessel as soon as it was possible to take them by surprise and engage in conflict.
“Ambush, Captain!” the frontiersman cried out as the deafening sounds of cannonballs hit the water surface and blitzed right past them with no warning whatsoever, leaving them momentarily stunned.
“Check her, Gist!” Shay glanced at the ship attacking them from afar, having a very good idea who it might have been even if he couldn’t see her properly. “Is that who I think it is?”
Christopher quickly looked through the spyglass, moving behind the wooden railing for cover. “No doubt about it! It’s the Aquila and she’s heading straight for us!”
“Gimme full sail now!” the Captain of the Morrigan ordered loudly, trying to get out of her range as quickly as possible to buy himself some time for his own arrangement. “Prepare for battle stations!”
He led his vessel away from the Ghost of the North Seas to avoid any more premature damage, the opening volley hitting them in the stern. In a way, it was appropriate for the past to keep coming back to destroy everything he’s ever achieved in his life just to rub it in even further. Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to lie down and let it happen. He was always willing to fight even if it was in the face of hopelessness.
They beat the Aquila before and they can do it again.
Shay observed the Assassin ship in her new image, now faster and more durable than the last time they fought like this, with the Morrigan leading the ambush in the foggy morning. Being a stickler for information, he knew she wasn’t the same ship anymore. It was as simple as finding out the amount of material being shipped off to the Davenport Homestead, new cannons and sails ordered to be implemented in the existing design. His past tactic won’t work here anymore, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have anything new to add to the table. They’ll have to step up their game if they wanted to beat him on his preferred turf.
The native boy might have been behind the helm this time around, but he was nowhere near as experienced as he was. That was something he was completely sure of even if there was nothing else he knew about him. He had a big tough ship and a seasoned first mate in charge, but he doubted he spent the better part of his life working his arse off, living and breathing a sailor’s life till the taste of salt seemed preferable to sugar. Compared to the brig, the Morrigan could still outrun her and that was a significant advantage he favored to firepower.
The Irishman turned the Phantom Queen parallel the approaching vessel, pelting her with cannonballs and avoiding the return volley. Because of the ambush, his intention shifted to tiring the Aquila out before landing one final hit to kill her speed entirely. Afterwards, he can have a nice little conversation with the Kenway lad about his disastrous meddling in Templar business.
In the meantime, the ships continued to chase each other in a wide circle for what it seemed like hours, firing cannons at one another at an almost monotonous pace, giving each other no time to recover from the sudden whiplash or dodging an instant attack. The Morrigan was beginning to show signs of fatigue and wear, but so was the Aquila and neither of the ships seemed keen on giving up even for a second.
After an arduous and drawn out battle which the Phantom Queen perpetuated, the two vessels eventually came to a complete stop, aiming at one another from a distance.
The damage done to the Morrigan was extensive, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. With a couple of hours of work, they could move it to the nearest settlement or fort for some much needed reconstruction, but they might not have any time to spare if the ship across the ocean decided to fire at any moment, though the brig didn’t look any livelier than the sloop-of-war. Shay still sent everyone back to work to summarize the damage and fix whatever they could in the meantime.
“We’re sitting ducks, Captain,” the frontiersman pointed out the obvious, cringing at the cannonball sized holes in the ship.
The hunter nudged his head at the completely unmoving Aquila in the distance. “It appears so are they.”
If they weren’t, they would’ve finished them off already unless it was some kind of bluff. They remained in a tense stand-off, only waiting which ship would make their next move. Either none of them dared to move or they literally couldn’t, making this a stalemate.
“What now, Shay?” his first mate walked over to his side across a bunch of shattered planks of wood, his wide brimmed hat resting in his hands as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Even if we repair the Morrigan, they might not give us a chance to get out of their range quickly enough. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Leaning against the railing and staring at the Ghost of the North Seas, Cormac was already trying to think of a way to get out of this situation alive and preferably with few casualties. His crew was a good, loyal and hardworking lot but even they would eventually start to tire out. It could cause a massive decrease in morale if he decided for a new offensive, only to find out the ship across from them is actually capable of far more than she gave the impression. The humid air and the cloudless sky aren’t going to do them any favors either after a while.
He decided to assume both vessels were in the same situation of having been damaged to the point both of them needed repairs. In that case, he would rather settle for a more peaceful option due to a higher percentage of survivability, having slightly underestimated the newly redesigned Aquila. Otherwise they’d just start killing each other until their supplies ran out completely and their ships were nothing more but floating wooden coffins ready to fall apart.
Shay did eventually get a sudden solution in his mind, looking at the ocean and the nearby land he knew very well, though it was a risky decision to make. He could potentially save the ship and the crew, but in order to do that, he would have to do something drastic which might not sit well with everyone.
However, the hunter didn’t really hesitate bringing it up. “I might have an idea,” he turned to Gist. “But it involves sendin’ a message to the Aquila.”
“A message?” the older Templar tilted his head, wondering what on Earth he was planning. “Are you gonna bargain?”
“Somethin’ like that,” the Irishman answered, not explaining his plan just yet and instead told him to gather up the crew on deck for a quick consultation and overview of their current situation.
He didn’t clarify in detail what exactly he was offering to the enemy ship in order to get them to bow out of the battle, just what he needed to get there first. “I need someone to row to the Aquila and deliver the Captain a letter. I’m not sendin’ anyone out there unless it’s a volunteer. For all we know, they could blow the boat right out o’ the water and we’ll be none the wiser than how we started.”
A senior sailor with a thick German accent asked. “What’s the other option, Captain?”
He didn’t beat around the bush. “We stay here, repair what we can and go back to battle. Then repeat it ‘til the wood on the Morrigan rots away at the bottom o’ the ocean.”
The raggedy crew shifted uncomfortably in their places, mumbling amongst each other about the options presented here. Not that any of them were good considering their luck could go either way depending on the other ship’s general mood and their willingness to prolong the battle that might be too much for either of them. If anything, his terms should be the most sensible idea to take and Connor may just be the kind of person to agree.
Inhaling through his nose, the Assassin Hunter continued. “It’s a risk, but perhaps the Captain will share my sympathies. Think about it while I prepare my letter.”
Disappearing into his cabin for a moment, it didn’t take him long to write it down, having a very clear idea about what he wanted to convey to the native Assassin before once again standing at the head of the crew with the sealed envelope in his hands.
The confused frontiersman trudged over to him. “I still don’t know what you’re trying to pull.”
It was now he decided to explain everything very clearly, not wavering for a second. “I’m askin’ him to take on my terms alone. This crew has no quarrel with the Captain o’ the Aquila. I, on the other hand, do. There’s an abandoned fort just west o’ here that’ll serve as our backdrop. He and I will disembark and deal with our grievances there. If that comes to pass, you don’t engage in battle. The ships should make what necessary repairs they can and leave for the nearest settlement. Is that understood?”
Complete dead silence encroached on the deck, everyone looking at the younger Templar with a loss for words. Whoever delivers the message successfully might as well put their Captain in an early grave. Even the older man glanced at him with widened eyes, outright worry written all over him as he swallowed hard. “Shay…”
He was determined to get on with it, lifting the letter up in the air. “Any takers?”
After much meandering and whispering, a burly Scottish man with a hat and a bushy beard stepped to the front, hands on hips. “I’ll do it, Cap’n.”
“You understand the risks, McKenzie?” Cormac called him by his name, lifting his chin. The old man worked on this ship for a very long time, including during his absence in Europe, having proven himself to be a hard worker and a reliable sailor to have by his side.
“Sure thin’, Cap’n. And if they try anythin’, I’ll take on a couple o’ ‘em in yer name,” he started laughing loudly, immediately lightening up the mood as the entire crew joined in and crowded around the bearded man, patting him on the back before he went on to accept his mission.
“Good luck,” he wished him with the slightest of smiles.
McKenzie snorted loudly, shaking the younger man’s hand. “You make it enough for all o’ us, Cap’n.”
As the Scotsman climbed down the ladder to the rowboat the rest of the crew prepared for him after some simple words of encouragement and lighthearted farewells with promises of booty and good old-fashioned fisticuffs, the frontiersman grabbed the hunter’s arm and pulled him away from the crowd of sailors, back up toward the helm to converse in private. He looked positively downhearted now that he got a chance to look at him properly, clearly showing he didn’t like any of this.
“You’re not really doing this, are you?” Shay’s expression didn’t change, leading him to sigh harshly. “That boy killed his own father. He’s shown very clearly what he thinks of us.”
Captain Cormac shook his head, his hands clasped behind his back. “I have a much better chance o’ survivin’ there than all o’ us do here. Besides, it’s only appropriate I confront him about it. I don’t believe he thinks that anythin’ he’s caused so far has done him any favors.”
“That’s not what I meant. We can’t afford to lose you,” the frontiersman thought of this as suicide and for good reasons. Usually he wasn’t so pointed about the hunter going off on his own to confront Assassins because it was more or less his primary job in the Order, but this lad harmed them severely, already killing two Grand Masters and just about everyone else who elevated the Rite to a high esteem of functionality. “And here you are, running right into the lion’s den.”
“What would you have me do instead, Gist?” the Irishman exhaled heavily, his arms hitting his sides again. What he was doing was something he felt would be in best interest to both parties and he was always willing to put his own life on the line if it kept other people safe. “If we stay here, we’ll kill each other. And if we get to bargain, I’d rather do it on my own terms than his.”
With a hand on his forehead, Christopher had to admit he had no ideas of his own. “I just… there’s gotta be a better way.”
“C’mon, Gist,” the younger Templar lowered his tone, asking him to trust him about this. “I’m not goin’ to die that easily.”
“You better not, Shay!” the older man raised his voice and pointed a finger at the current Grand Master, narrowing his eyes. He immediately regretted it as he cleared his throat awkwardly, stepping to the side with his arms tightly around his chest and refusing to look at him. It wasn’t characteristic of Gist to get this upset about it, even when they disagreed with one another about certain things in the past. He understood how important he was to the Rite, but putting himself in a situation like this was far up his alley.
“You have permission to kick my arse if I don’t show up,” Cormac attempted to lighten the mood, following it up with a common request. “And just in case...”
Gist raised his hand in front of his face. “I don’t wanna hear it. Just get back in one piece.”
“Alright,” Shay snorted lightly, his hand resting on the older man’s shoulder. “Take care o’ Morrigan.”
The Assassin Hunter left toward his cabin to prepare for whatever the Aquila’s answer was going to be. After he disappeared from the deck, the frontiersman ended up propping himself against the railing and exhaling heavily, more at himself than anything else as he tiredly brushed at his face.
“… I will, Shay.”
In the meantime, the Ghost of the North Seas dealt with her own problems.
Faulkner started swearing crudely under his breath, running up and down the deck as he narrowed his eyes at the noticeable holes in her stern and broadsides, the foremast just barely holding itself upright. He hauled the sailors off to work on patching up the significant parts of the ship before making his report to the younger man on the helm. “They hit us right where it matters the most. Good thing we reinforced her, otherwise this would’ve ended the same way as fourteen years ago.”
The Captain of the Aquila observed the Morrigan from afar, noticing it rather deathly still as well. “It looks like we might have dealt them the same blow.”
“Could be pretense… could be just waitin’ for a chance to blow us out of the water if we even dare to move,” the older man speculated as he looked across the ocean alongside the Assassin, watching the waves wobble under the Phantom Queen and lightly bobbing up and down the relatively calm seas.
Connor nodded. “Perhaps. The answer could be much simpler as well.”
His first mate wasn’t exactly surprised anymore, not really trying to convince him otherwise. “Still wanna talk to him?”
“If I get the chance,” the native man admitted without much pause, even with the Aquila’s maneuvering system damaged and their chances at trying to board the Templar ship severely lowered as the Morrigan wasn’t about to yield before them without a proper fight. She gave it her all and didn’t even think about letting them have the upper hand for long. Despite ending the Rite’s machinations for now, the remaining Templars still fought to the death. There was a reason why they proved so difficult to exterminate entirely and this man was a primary example of it.
After a while they both noticed a small boat rowing away from the general direction of the Phantom Queen, heading straight for them.
“Well, would you look at that?” Robert whistled lightly, turning his head over to his Captain. “You might be in luck. Maybe he also wants to talk. Or we don’t take the chance and blow ‘em up regardless. Your choice, boy.”
The Mohawk Assassin didn’t hesitate at all with his answer. “Let them come aboard.”
What they ended up picking up from the rowboat was a large Scotsman with a crooked hat and the bushiest beard known to man as he put most of them aboard to shame. His hands lay calmly on his hips and he wore an amusingly nonchalant expression on his face even when half a dozen of the Aquila’s crew pointed their swords and guns at him.
“What is this?” Faulkner asked with an unamused tone as he and the younger man arrived on deck, the first mate seemingly taking charge first.
“Sorry, ol’ tosspot,” the Scotsman brushed off the senior sailor with a snort, spitting overboard as he crossed his arms. “I was told to only talk to the Cap’n.”
Robert narrowed his eyes at the man with the bushy beard who looked just as old, if not older than him, scoffing heavily at him. “Who’re you to call me old with that kinda face? The nerve of some people…”
Connor eventually approached the burly man from the Phantom Queen and he immediately turned to him, ignoring the fuming elder sailor. “I brin’ a message from the Morrigan, with regards from the Cap’n.”
He produced an envelope from his coat, quietly offering it to the Captain of the Aquila. The younger man didn’t waste any time and quickly opened it, taking note of the infamous wolf emblem adorning the wax seal. He read it immediately but carefully enough so that he understood completely what this was going to be all about. He only needed a second to come up with an answer, folding over the letter again. “Agreed. Tell him I will meet him there.”
The Scotsman widened his eyes as he tilted his hat over his line of sight. “Uhh… alright, I s’pose…” he shrugged, seemingly disappointed how easy this turned out in the end as he made it back again toward the ladder and the rowboat, the Aquila’s men just as baffled as they begrudgingly sheathed their weapons, having expected at least some sort of fight to come out of this situation.
“Wait, what?” his first mate’s voice caught itself in his throat, right on his Captain’s heels as he headed back to the helm. “What the hell did you just agree to?”
Connor leaned against the railing, summarizing the situation. “It appears the Morrigan is in the same position as the Aquila, if his terms are anything to go by. We will disembark at that abandoned fort we passed earlier to deal with this on our own. The ships are free to leave this conflict to lick their wounds.”
Faulkner widened his eyes, scoffing. “And you just believe him?”
“If he is a true man of the sea, he will not risk his crew,” the younger Assassin stared at the older man. “Is that not how you explained to me to measure a sea captain by?
The seasoned sailor shrugged, wincing slightly. “Aye but…”
He knew what he was going to say. How can he bring himself to trust a Templar and a traitor at that? In the past couple of years, the native Assassin too often put his trust in people he never really knew or who were simply taking advantage of him, following blindly down a path others have told him to rather than decide on his own way. It wasn’t that he trusted the man on that vessel… far from it. But he needed to decide for himself what people were worthy of his trust after being used so many times over.
Admittedly, it was strange to start with a person who belonged to his sworn enemies and had a hand in ruining his Mentor’s life and work, but the strange man was somewhat of an enigma, someone he found much out about but not enough to truly understand him.
In a way, this could be a chance of settling whatever animosity the Templar still has against the Assassins and perhaps he could finally figure out what was the horrible thing he did to the Brotherhood. Or, if the Mentor’s hesitance and shame was anything to go by, what the Brotherhood did to him.
“You know, this could be what he wants,” the first mate warned him. “To get you alone.”
The Kenway lad nodded. “Of course. I will be ready for him, even if he tries anything.”
He may have been more experienced, but he wasn’t young anymore and he could take advantage of that fact. It did occur to him neither of them had any real idea about the other’s abilities, weaknesses or strengths as they only met once and even that was a very brief meeting. This was a man who at his age managed to dispose of at least a handful of young and highly trained Master Assassins on his own, honing his skills even further during his prime.
This wasn’t a typical Templar he would be dealing with. This wasn’t just a middle-aged man with some passable knowledge of wielding a blade and a gun in accord. This was a Templar with all the capabilities of an Assassin, one with hidden weapons and knowledge of free running, knowing all the dirty tricks and cards up their sleeves they used in order to prevail over their enemies. The closest thing he got to a challenge in terms of open combat was his father, but the traitor could potentially turn out to be far more dangerous than Haytham ever was.
He just hoped he was willing to talk instead.
After bidding farewell to Gist and the crew, Shay took the rowboat to land across the bay, following right after he saw the Aquila drop their own into the ocean. Not wanting to upset the frontiersman any more, the hunter reiterated he was going to make it back to New York one way or another. He had no intention of dying anytime soon, especially against an Assassin. If he was really that starved for death, he could’ve let one of those reckless idiots in Europe do the job, but he had far too much pride to be killed that sloppily.
His six sense just wouldn’t allow that to happen.
Although other Templars have experienced his extraordinary ability to predict assassinations with rather striking accuracy, the hunter never mentioned it as he didn’t think anyone would believe him. Haytham noticed it, having advised him at least on one occasion to keep some secrets, especially his weaknesses and strengths, to himself to avoid exploitation.
Not a bad lesson to hear.
After rowing to a small inlet with the Aquila’s abandoned boat, the Irishman disembarked and pulled his own vessel on land after quickly summarizing the environment for any odd movements. He discerned there was nobody in the general vicinity, the Mohawk Assassin already having moved on from here toward the abandoned fort or the thick woods.
The fort stood on a cliff overlooking the nearby ocean, having been built by the French before being taken over by the British but was at some point abandoned after the end of the French and Indian War, deciding to move to a more strategically valuable position. It was still in a fairly good shape, with an odd downed tree having damaged the outer wall and one of the towers left to incompletion. Cormac followed the usual signs and sounds of human movement, climbing up the trees for a vantage point.
From there he could see the entire land before him, ruled over by the forest and the cliffs, rather difficult to discern any sort of pathway from above. The Templar returned to the tree line, sticking to the higher ground as he ran across the area, avoiding the typical assassination tactics he could expect from him. While a large majority of the Order’s members could be an easy prey for the Brotherhood, he refused to be one. Shay could counter their attempts, becoming as much of a predator against them as the Assassins themselves.
Eventually, he came across a small clearing not far from the fort, listening to the rustling of the bushes and nearby trees, hearing distinct but faint footsteps. He hid himself in the tree foliage, waiting until his patience paid off. The Kenway lad revealed himself quite obviously, his back to the older Templar and careful steps as he appeared to pay attention to the sounds around him. Apart from birds and insects, the forest was deathly silent.
The Assassin Hunter quietly approached him from above, settling himself in the fork of two branches and leaning against one of them as he observed further. So far he wasn’t aware of him… or perhaps he was but was acting ignorant to his presence in hopes of getting an upper hand.
It didn’t end up mattering because the native boy, now a full-blown man, turned around swiftly, throwing a rope dart in his general direction. Shay instantly dodged it, his back hitting the opposite branch as he instinctively pulled out his hidden blade and cut the rope just as the dart embedded itself into the hard wood. The Mohawk Assassin looked up at him, his eyes hidden under a hood but still feeling the intensity of his glare. Smirking, the Assassin Hunter leisurely propped himself against the branch and pulled the spike out with an effort.
“Nice shot, lad,” he commended him, lightly juggling the weapon with one hand.
“I was not aiming for you,” Connor replied bluntly with just the slightest sarcasm. “If I had, you would have known it.”
Shay nearly rolled his eyes. Were there any Assassins who didn’t sound like they were on a massive ego trip? It’s like they wanted to be put out of their misery.
The native man pointed at him, a simple accusation on his lips. “You lied to me.”
That meeting on the homestead was hardly a lie. It was hardly a meeting at all as he didn’t even intend to run into him after his conversation with Achilles. However, the Kenway lad has already figured out he was in fact a Templar, slightly wondering how he came upon this information. Even with the American Rite at its most weakened state, most information, letters and other papers even mentioning his existence tended to be destroyed or buried right after reading the contents in hopes of protecting his identity from Brotherhoods and occasionally other Rites. The Mentor also didn’t appear to have any desire to send his new recruit after him, unless something changed in the meantime.
“I didn’t lie, Connor,” the Irishman snorted heavily, having done no such thing. “What I told you about myself was all true. I just didn’t tell you everythin’.”
He supposed keeping the truth to himself could be construed as a form of a lie, but who was he to argue with semantics? Not that he was stupid enough to show his allegiance on his person anymore, especially at a time like this. He hoped the lad wasn’t expecting people to be that honest about themselves.
“Back then…” the younger Assassin straightened himself out, relaxing his muscles but still keeping on guard just in case as he continued with his question. “You had a chance to kill me and I would not have seen it coming. Why?”
He put his hands behind his back, leaning his head against the tree as he answered honestly. “Cuz Haytham asked me not to.”
Shay dropped off, landing on the ground before the younger man without much fanfare. He put his hands on his hips, leaving out a snort. “He always was a stubborn arse but I intend to honor the order… for now. Even if you're a pain in the arse.”
That might have been too kind of a word for what he truly was. If he didn’t know what to think of the lad before, he did now. Much of his resentment toward Connor wasn’t directed at him personally as much as his reckless actions, being the person who destroyed much of his work in the colonies and in having killed Master Kenway, also left him in charge of a sinking ship.
For now however, his tone turned slightly hostile, narrowed eyes glaring at the Assassin. “Make no mistake though. Unlike your father, I won’t hesitate to kill you if you get in my way. I’m a hunter after all.”
Perhaps that wasn’t the best thing to say at the moment, but he wasn’t going to give him any false expectations. They were enemies on the opposite sides of the conflict and maybe if things turned out differently, they could’ve been allies or even friends to some degree, but that would require too much of their pasts to change. Cormac was used to watching his back around people and this time it was no exception.
Connor took a cautious step toward him, blatantly replying. “Then it is you. The traitor.”
It wasn’t a question or even a conviction now that he thought about it. It was just a statement and a correct one at that. Swallowing nervously, the former Assassin shifted uncomfortably in his stance, thinking the Kenway lad only figured out his allegiance to the Order but not his actual history with the Brotherhood. It took him a moment to realize he said it on purpose, to gauge his reaction and verify his suspicions as he already knew it to be true but he needed confirmation from the source himself and his attitude alone was enough to validate it.
In that case, he didn’t really think it was worth hiding it anymore, preferring to act like he didn’t care. “And? What did Achilles tell you?”
“Not much of anything, to be honest,” the native man shook his head immediately, turning to the side as he put his hands together. “Whatever little I could gather I pieced together myself.”
Shay lifted his eyebrows, his mouth twitching into a smile. “Clever lad.”
He stepped forward again, an almost hopeful tone in his voice. “However, I still do not know your name.”
Scoffing loudly, the hunter narrowed his eyes just as his smile disappeared from his lips. “Just call me traitor. Every other Assassin does.”
He then turned on his heels and unexpectedly walked off, prompting the Mohawk Assassin to follow him undeterred. If he was really that interested in knowing his name, he might as well prove it first.
The Irishman broke into a sudden sprint in the direction of the wildlands, climbing upon the collapsed trees as he searched for a quick shortcut across a sudden creak that appeared before his eyes, landing on the opposite side just as the Kenway lad pursued him without so much as a lost breath. It was odd really, someone like him appearing as if he truly wanted to know his story rather than immediately try to stick a blade in his neck. He wondered if that was the reason he agreed to his terms.
Regardless, it seemed Achilles kept his mouth shut quite effectively.
He chased him for a good five or so minutes before the Assassin Hunter hauled himself up on a high cliff overlooking the untouched frontier of America, marred only by the sudden presence of a desolate fort and the mild wind blowing up from the north as white clouds started to appear on the clear blue sky, blocking the heating sun.
When the younger Assassin caught up to him on the precarious cliff, having climbed after him all this way, he focused entirely on him. He advanced carefully as if approaching a predator of the forest. “I want to know. Everything.”
No hesitation at all. He liked that.
“And if it’s somethin’ you don’t wanna hear?” even if he had any intention of telling him his life’s story, how would be react to it? The older Templar grew more and more apathetic as years went by and with it, his opinion of the Brotherhood diminished severely with repeated assassination attempts and other general nonsensical garbage they liked to badger him with. He was at the point in his life where he didn’t even see them as enemies anymore, just misguided obstacles who nauseatingly repeated the same words over and over again like broken records, giving no impression of knowing what they truly stood for apart from what they were told to believe in.
It sounded awful, but killing Assassins became busywork. It wasn’t something he ever enjoyed doing with any shred of dignity, but at some point he more or less expected to kill just because of how regular the attacks were becoming, silently hoping his identity wasn’t being compromised. It wasn’t really a surprise or a shock anymore to find himself in open combat with a former brother or sister who wanted to put him out of his misery for his crimes against the Creed.
Really, it was tedious now that he thought about it.
The native man shook his head with a bitter taste in his mouth. “Everything I have been told so far have been things I did not want to hear. More will not surprise me.”
He had a point there, wondering just how much did the lad get beaten down by the uncomfortable truths behind his supposed acts of righteousness and freedom. The Patriots had a good thing running, convincing everyone to take up arms against the British Empire and making a new civilization in these lands. But eventually the common people will just find themselves under a new regime with no actual promise of being any better than how it was before, so what was even the point?
With America’s independence settled, it could potentially allow their Rite to grow in ways unexpected. The British Empire was an old and tried idea. A young state such as this would be a prime opportunity to take advantage of, especially in early stages. Even if the revolution hadn’t happened, the Templar Order had no intention to leave the continent in British hands. They would take the New World to shape it in their own image.
The only problem was that anything new was always rather unpredictable.
For now, he indulged him as the Irishman put his hands behind his spine and backed himself onto the edge of the cliff, smiling faintly. “It’s Shay. Shay Cormac.”
With that introduction out of the way, the hunter went over the edge backwards just as the native man sprinted after him but couldn’t reach him in time. He landed in a pile of sticks and leaves a long way below and ran off further into the direction of the abandoned fort before the Kenway lad could catch up to him entirely.
This whole cat and mouse chase, it was rather amusing… even fun to some degree.
He couldn’t recall the last time he felt like this.
Perhaps it was with Liam, teaching him how to free run for longer periods of time without tiring too quickly. There was a trick to it, something to do with breathing correctly he once explained to him in great detail. The former Assassin never understood it at first, learning it only out of necessity to better counter the Brotherhood who didn’t let up in their chase. It was ironic in so many ways the only reason he became an exceptional Assassin was because he actually needed to hunt down actual Assassins.
Eventually, the older Templar stopped running, finding himself inside the fort that was beginning to be reclaimed by nature, appearing as if no humans have laid their feet here for a century. It surprised how much of a difference a few years could make when things were left to their own devices. He climbed up on the nearest building and leaned against the chimney, waiting for the native man who came around soon after.
“Shay?” Connor repeated his name when he pulled himself up on the roof. Not many people called him by his first name apart from Gist and Haytham, though the Englishman would revert to his surname when conducting official business with others present or whenever he was immensely frustrated with him. It was an effective indicator of judging Master Kenway’s mood, particularly by how exasperated his name sounded coming from him.
It became even more annoying now that he was the new leader of the Rite. Grand Master Cormac this, Grand Master Cormac that. Yes, sir; no, sir; can’t do that, sir; will do, sir. Perhaps it was just his nature and modest upbringing, but formality was never his strong suit, tolerating it for the sake of appearances.
When Shay nodded his head, Connor exhaled lightly, explaining his early suspicions about him. “I thought you might be just another one of Achilles’ associates. But he denied knowing you.”
He couldn’t blame the Mentor if he really didn’t want to talk about what happened twenty-seven years ago, but it would be prudent to teach aspiring Assassins what happens when you take things too far.
“When did you realize it then?” he asked, his arms tightly around his chest.
He was going to say something but appeared to change his mind at the last moment. The Mohawk Assassin instead lowered his gaze to the older man’s belt, specifically his most valuable possession which he almost never took off. The hunter quickly realized what he meant and reached for his Yggdrasil brooch, casually fumbling with it in his hand as he snorted lightly.
Who would’ve thought it would be his lineage that exposed him in the end?
“He kept my chest, didn’t he?” he didn’t catch wherever the Kenway lad gave a reply. His gaze remained upon the silver tree, a symbol that appeared to follow him all throughout his life as if it really was destiny tying them down together. For someone who didn’t want to talk about him, the Davenport proprietor sure was sentimental.
“How is he, by the way?”
The lad’s eyes wandered off, taking a step away from the older man.
“… he passed away.”
The Assassin Hunter went stiff nearly immediately, not entirely surprised as Achilles didn’t appear to be in good health when he last saw him. It looks like he was right after all; the Templar purge was the last action he ever ordered in this world and he did so successfully. His death also meant the Irishman’s last living connection to the Brotherhood was dead and buried. In just a couple of decades from now, nobody will know what really transpired here and his name will eventually be forgotten by history, retained only by the Templar archives.
“… I see. I s’pose that means the Brotherhood is yours now,” Shay speculated as he reattached the brooch to his belt, receiving a light nod in return. “It’s strange we find ourselves in similar predicaments. With your father’s death I get all o’ his responsibilities besides managin’ a half dead Rite.”
Widening his eyes slightly, the younger man only now realized he was looking at the new Templar Grand Master, once again replacing his last target. The lad exhaled harshly as he tiredly rubbed his forehead, taking a cautious step backwards. “First my father, then Lee and now you? Is there really no end to any of you?”
Personally he wouldn’t include Lee on that list, but semantics.
“That’s always been one o’ my problems with the Brotherhood. All that killin’ for nothin’…” why was this so surprising to anyone? When you kill the head of an organization, sure, you cause much distress and confusion. But that didn’t matter when they were always replacements out there, often becoming far worse or more dangerous than the previous administration. It was no wonder this was a never-ending battle. People will always step up to the cause to take charge and it was no different here.
“We are everywhere, even when you least expect us. You can continue cuttin’ o’ our heads, but we’ll keep comin’ back for more,” he circled around the younger Assassin. “It’s the only thin’ we can do with you runnin’ around.”
Connor scoffed at him. “You sound like my father.”
“I’m not Haytham,” the Irishman chortled at the comparison.
He was nowhere near as effective as a Grand Master, becoming one out of necessity. He was still learning how to run the Rite which was at least stable now, allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief. However, he still wasn’t sure if he had the experience to drive it back to its former strength, having worked by himself for many years with little back up. Taking care of himself was far easier than an entire organization of people who may not have had the ability to protect themselves against a foe he himself could stand with on equal footing. Even Haytham with his unfinished Assassin training got by through wit and strength alone.
“Perhaps in the end, he did find someone to follow in his footsteps.”
Shaking his head, Shay protested. “No, I…”
Met by a pointed expression from the Kenway lad, the hunter suddenly turned his back on him, a hand pinching the bridge of his nose as he suddenly jumped off the roof and moved further into the desolate fort.
This couldn’t have been what the Grand Master wanted for him as he never once mentioned it to him. And even if he did, he was sure Shay would just laugh in his face till he fell on his arse. Sure, he taught him a lot, helping his further integration into the Order and becoming a master at working the system in his favor, the most advantageous thing he ever got introduced to during his long involvement with the Templars. Others would call it corruption. He suspected Haytham would call it enrichment.
To even think the whole reason he sent him away was to make sure he’d come back and…
The Irishman cursed under his breath, more at himself than anything else. Replaying the last conversation in his mind with Master Kenway before his departure, he should’ve been more persistent about it. Did he have any hope of repairing the Rite back then? Was he even capable of dealing with Connor at all? Shay warned the Grand Master what would happen if he didn’t take action against his son, but he failed to do so. He started having doubts about it and he needed to ensure his legacy would live on without him.
Just like he stated in his letter.
He stopped near a guard tower, halted by a ruined wall and a downed tree trunk. Cormac turned around to leave someplace else but he was immediately cornered by the Mohawk Assassin who followed him up here. He could see it on his face he was sick of chasing after him and pressing the older man for information, feeling that leaving him no other routes would get him to be more cooperative as opposed to turning him into a cornered rabid animal.
“You are here right now,” Connor tilted his head, slightly bewildered at the reaction he had earlier. “You are continuing his work.”
“I do it cuz there’s no one else,” Shay hissed suddenly, resentment in his tone quite apparent. “Everyone else’s six feet under by your hands.”
“Just as you had buried the Brotherhood,” the native man replied forcefully, inhaling heavily as he came to stand near the wall. The hunter circled away from him cautiously, still not sure if he was going to be friendly about that. His narrowed eyes ended up searching for answers within the former Assassin. “Why did you betray them?”
“Why do you need to know?” he hadn’t met any Assassins who genuinely wanted to know about his defection. Most of them were either angry, wanting to fight him on their own terms or skipping the formalities entirely and going straight for the jugular. The majority didn’t particularly stand a chance against him, even lesser they surprised him, relying on old, tired and predictable techniques. Perhaps he should be glad anyone at all was willing to lend an ear but why did it matter after such a long time?
“I want to know what would drive someone like you to our enemies,” the younger man explained, clearly having no idea what actually happened. “Nobody wants to talk about you.”
Shay scoffed, crossing his arms across his chest. “O’ course they don’t. I’m their biggest mistake. Why would they brin’ up someone who has done nothin’ but harm to their cause?”
He was a permanent black stain on their operation and they knew it well. The Brotherhood wasn’t known for its efficient use of forgiveness either. Connor’s eyes remained pointed at him, the hunter finding it in himself to calm down a little. Other Assassins would rather see him dead than ask for a reason. But he didn’t think this interrogation was necessary. He was supposed to be the one to ask questions here.
“Though I appreciate the sentiment,” he lowered his tone further, swallowing hard.
The native man lifted his chin. “Then why continue doing this?”
“Cuz they don’t listen to reason, that’s why!” the older man raised his voice at him, inhaling deeply as years old resentments started pouring out of him. “Look, lad, I have spent the last twenty years dodgin’ blades and bullets to my face cuz your kind decided they were the only ones allowed to have any say about the world. All these years o’ preachin’ peace and freedom when all you do is destroy everyone else’s work.”
God, he felt frustrated.
He leaned against the opposite wall with a hand on his face, breathing heavily and tightly clenching his jaw. Months of dealing with Templar issues left him continuously tired, but he was the only one who could do it. He wasn’t sure if the Kenway lad was doing this on purpose but he sure was doing a great job of pushing his buttons.
“And how are you any different?”
Shay dropped his hand back to his side, sighing at himself. Was there really any difference between them? They both killed each other’s opposition, thought themselves to be righteous and having the best of interests in mind for humankind. The Brotherhood’s goals never made any sense to him apart from prolonging pandemonium and the Order’s goals, while excessive in many of its manifestations, seemed preferable to the unknown.
It wasn’t his intention to control or mess with powers beyond this world… it was to lead humanity toward a better future.
That was Colonel Monro’s wish and Haytham agreed it was the optimal solution, with no magic tricks involved. Too many Templars throughout the ages held the power of the Precursors, only to use it for selfish means. Liam was right all along. It would be much easier without such powers at their disposal, their war fought at ground level with only themselves to use. No point introducing anything more that could potentially destroy them further.
The hunter, finding an opening in front of his eyes, walked off slowly as he really had no intention of running anymore, putting his hands behind his back. “You have a point there, Connor. I’m not.”
“Shay…” he heard him say questionably behind his back, still not sure how he felt having a complete stranger, even a Grand Master’s son, use his name like this but it was a nice break from the formality. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to show his back to him, but he was sure their encounter will probably not grow violent from his side as long as he still had questions to ask him.
He turned to him with a question of his own. “Then… what is it that drives you to this end? What good did you do by killin’ a couple o’ old men? By stickin’ your blade in your father’s neck? Your tribe left, inequalities still persist and there’s only a matter o’ time before this country turns on itself. Is this what you fought for?”
Silence enveloped the younger Assassin, his eyes pointed to the ground. “… no. I realize that now. I was a stubborn fool. I did not think, I just wanted to act.”
The Irishman shrugged and crossed his arms. “That’s just life, lad. Try to do the right thin’ and everythin’ comes crashin’ down on your head.”
However, the Mohawk Assassin stood up straight again, quite confidently. “But I am more convinced now than any time before. Even if it is a flawed concept, I do believe in freedom,” he said with a lifted head, calmly pointing his eyes at the Templar. “And I will not hesitate to protect it, even from you.”
Blinking, the hunter smiled lightly. “I see Achilles was right to put his faith in you,” he supposed his resolve was much stronger than it appeared, having been fooled with and played by just about everyone from both sides. He could respect and relate to that, sticking by your beliefs even when it cut deep. “You’ve already fixed most o’ his mistakes.”
Though if he wanted to completely erase everything the old man did wrong, he still had a way to go.
Shay outstretched his arms, taking a couple of steps toward the younger man, a self-serving smirk on his lips. “But his biggest one still lives. How do you suggest we go about this issue?”
Connor steeped aside with a near sigh. “I did not come here to fight.”
“What?” Shay asked with a mocking tone. “You filled your Templar quota for the year, lad?”
“Is that all you can talk about?” the younger man scoffed, tired of his condescending attitude. “What I want for you is to answer the question. Why did you betray them?”
Rolling his eyes, the Assassin Hunter turned his back on him yet again.
Why should he justify himself to someone like him?
However, the Kenway lad knew how to rile him up even further as he followed after him. “He failed you, the old man. Why else would he not explain anything? When he talked about you, there was no hate in his voice. Just disappointment.”
“Don’t,” the Irishman turned on his heels, glaring at him with an accusing finger pointed at the native man. He didn’t need sympathy and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let some Assassin do that. “I don’t need anyone like you castin’ pity on me and I sure as hell didn’t come here to be lectured on it either.”
The hunter was all too prepared to leave, but the younger man wasn’t done with him yet.
“You are a coward.”
He spun around again, this time swiftly, his hands clenched in fists. “You care to repeat that, lad?”
The native Assassin took a step forward, unapologetically repeating his words as he glowered at him. “You are a coward. Just like the old man.”
Cormac glared with a cold expression, his hands trailing up on his hips and just about ready to draw his sword. “The more you run your mouth, the more I regret not killin’ you on the spot.”
“Was that your intention for arranging this meeting?” Connor asked. “To finish this by yourself?”
“Actually, I hoped you’d finally get some common sense into your thick head, but I see that time has passed,” it wasn’t his intention to convince him of anything. He wasn’t even expecting him to drop everything on the spot. But having seen what the Kenway lad could do, the Irishman couldn’t allow this to go on any further. If there was ever a more opportune time to kill him, it would be now. He doubted the Brotherhood could rebound from his death any quicker than the Rite’s current condition.
He also really wanted him to shut up.
The younger man cautiously strafed to the side, his grim look still peering at him. “And my father’s orders?”
“Considerin’ he’s kinda dead, they don't really apply anymore, do they?” Shay replied harshly, his mind still having a hard time processing that the lad in front of him was responsible for the death of Master Kenway. That alone should’ve been enough to guarantee his death by the Templar’s hands, though with the amount of damage he did long before he even met the man, it was just icing on the cake at this point.
Noticing his narrowed eyes, the Assassin Hunter scoffed. “Don’t worry, I’m not out for revenge for your father. He knew what he was gettin’ himself into.”
Or at least, that was something he wanted to believe.
“My job, however, is very specific.”
He noticed the native lad started sizing him up, looking at his hands and posture as he tried to determine if he was going to strike him down anytime soon. Connor may not have been in this business for as long as he did, but he was young and brutal. Raw strength was his best asset in an all-out combat. Regardless, the older Templar still had a few tricks up his sleeve to dispose of him effectively.
The Kenway lad contained himself rather well, lips pressed into a thin line as his hand hovered over his tomahawk. At this point, open combat was inevitable. Connor might’ve had a different agenda in wanting to meet him, but Shay wasn’t going to dwell on the past he tried to confront him with as if thinking that sort of thing could save him. All that mattered was what he could do now and killing the person who caused all of this grief to fall on his shoulder was by far the most sensible option. It wasn’t his intention to focus on the Brotherhood immediately after taking over the Rite, but the Aquila’s ambush on his ship forced them to come to blows far earlier than he assumed.
They stood on the opposite sites of the fort’s courtyard, an unbreakable eye contact shared between them and fingers twitching as they lay near their weapons, ready to draw them upon each other. Just as he unsheathed his sword, the younger man gripped his tomahawk, letting both of them hang by their sides as they slowly approached one another.
“I assume talking will not work anymore?”
“Oh, now you want to talk?” the Irishman laughed scornfully, wondering if he was mocking him as he took a sudden swing at him and the native man hooked it with his Assassin tomahawk just in time. “I don’t think you offered up that option to your father.”
For the first time in the entire conversation, Connor’s voice started evoking some sort of emotion, stuck somewhere between desperation and convincement as he widened his eyes. “He left me with no choice.”
“Load o’ shite. He gave you more than you deserve,” the hunter pulled away his sword, the younger man dodging an incoming swing to his torso.
They exchanged blows again, the Assassin Hunter coming at him from the side as he parried his attacks. He wasn’t so much blocking his swings, but redirecting them with his weapon, acting on the defensive all of a sudden. The older Templar was rather annoyed by that, feeling like the Kenway lad wasn’t giving it his best and just prolonging what would be the eventual resolution of this battle. If he was hoping to somehow salvage this situation, he was ultimately wrong; the time for any reasonable discussion has long since passed.
Instead he took advantage of that, forcing him into a situation where he couldn’t ignore his blows as simple swordplay and actively started to fight back, even if he did have to go to some extreme measures to get him to comply. The hunter countered his attempt at disarming him, twisting his occupied hand to the side and catching the other by his wrist.
“As much as I respected him, Haytham made mistakes,” the Irishman said as they struggled against one another, his mouth curling into a smug smirk. “The moment you were conceived was one o’ ‘em.”
The Assassin wasn’t the only one who could rile up people.
Besides, Shay was supposed to be in charge here.
Instead, the Kenway lad somehow managed to untangle from his grip, dropped his tomahawk and then punched him squarely in the face all in quick succession.
Shay stumbled backwards and nearly fell on his arse since he didn’t entirely expect that to happen, holding his hand to his aching jaw. Well, at least he was right about him throwing a punch like a bear. He widened his eyes at the younger Assassin who just about had enough of this pointless twaddle and was quite comfortable to go at him with nothing but his fists at this point. Admittedly, it’s been a while since he’s been in a proper bar fight, but he’s had enough of those to last him a lifetime of experience.
“If that’s how you wanna play…” the Irishman snorted under his breath and threw away his sword, cracking his knuckles.
He stepped up to him to take a fake out swing at him which the younger Assassin blocked, only to surprise him with a left hook. Connor recovered fairly quickly, punching into the Irishman’s exposed gut and then slamming it into his head hard enough for him to tumble backwards, although he managed to save face by rolling backwards and back on his feet.
The native man came at him again, grabbing his collar and harshly shoving him against the nearby wall. It appeared as if he was going to say something but the older Templar dissuaded him successfully with a swift kick to his nether regions, distracting him for long enough to loosen his grip on him. Shay twisted one of his arms behind his back, slamming him against the wall instead.
Just when he’d hoped he had the Kenway lad subdued momentarily and ready to end it all with a swift hidden blade to the neck, Connor suddenly spun around and hit the blade with his free arm, ripping open his sleeve and leaving a bleeding gash on his bicep. Slightly bewildered and tired of having him disengage from his grip at any given opportunity, the Assassin Hunter slashed at him, dodging his quick attempt at dealing damage as he managed to get a good amount of distance between them.
It was then the younger Assassin lunged up at him, using his entire body to body slam him.
Just when he thought he was prepared for the impact to get at least a cheap shot in, he felt the full blunt force hit him in the shoulder, knocking him completely off balance. The hunter’s head hit a rock beneath him, stunning him momentarily as he found himself far too focused on the sudden pain. After a moment of disorientation, he Irishman tried to lift himself up but his shoulder went numb and his vision blurry. He felt the entire world around him spin out of control.
He hit his head hard but against his better judgment, he still wanted to stand up and continue fighting.
In the end, he somehow managed to end up back on his feet, though somewhat unresponsive because as soon as he took another step toward the somewhat bruised and battle-ready Assassin, Shay stumbled back on his knees as he held his head, finding quite a lot of blood oozing out of his temple.
It’s been a while since the last time he bled.
Unfortunately, his persistence wasn’t being matched with what was going on in his mind, the younger man in front of his eyes going out of focus, but even then he could see he was being hesitant. Even if he could stand up, he’d probably not be able to even distinguish his surroundings anymore. He tried using his sixth sense, but he was far too unfocused to even see anything.
After yet another unsuccessful attempt at picking himself up and trying to smack the Kenway lad across the face at least one last time, the Irishman unceremoniously collapsed on his back, groaning in pain as he held his bleeding temple. He snorted, slightly befuddled at being bested by a rock in this situation. Though he couldn’t really tell how long this battle was going to last if he hadn’t cracked his skull against the ground. He supposed if he blacked out now, he probably won’t wake up ever again.
Shay opened his eyes, finding himself staring through the tree foliage and seeing the last few rays of sunlight shine down on him, wondering if this is really how everything was going to end. After everything he lived through, after everything he managed to survive and after everything he did to ensure his vision of the future could be achieved, this is how he gets die.
In the middle of nowhere, far away from anyone and anything familiar.
The last thing he thought of before his entire world went black was that he failed again.
And he wasn’t going to keep his promise after all.
Oh, a cliffhanger. And no flashback scene, what?
Then again, it's already long enough as it is.
Chapter 5: Ad Providam
I've been sitting on this chapter for the last three weeks at least, not being able to come up with a decent ending to it. It was pretty frustrating, but I eventually managed to make something out of it. I really need to go back to making notes again, because I didn't make them for this fic.
Much easier that way.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Have you gone mad!?”
The heavy door nearly flew off its hinges when an angry man barged into the office, disturbing the relatively levelheaded conversation between two other men. His palms loudly hit the table in front of him, ignoring the younger man sitting down in the chair right next to him but glaring viciously at the older one across the desk. He breathed heavily to regain his usual composure, but in lieu of failing miserably with that objective, he was perfectly content to try and dig his fingernails into the hardwood instead.
“Master Johnson,” the older man in a tricorne hat addressed him duly, nary a surprise on his face. “I don’t believe so, but I will require more context as to your sudden outburst during my private meeting.”
William scoffed harshly as he leaned forward, an unamused expression on his face. “You know damn well what I mean. Your affinity for picking up strays is admirable if a touch too charitable, but what in the world prompted you to bring an Assassin here!?”
The older man was about to calmly offer an explanation when he raised his eyebrows and put his hands on the table, only to be promptly interrupted as the negotiator continued with his diatribe. “Do you think because the Grand Master is away you can do as you please?”
Not even remotely thrown off his track, Colonel Monro merely shook his head, his voice hardly above his usual speaking tone. “I have already sent word to Master Kenway. I would not keep my intentions secret from him or anyone else for that matter. I do all my paperwork as is expected.”
“Good, because I also have a strongly worded letter going his way about you taking matters into your own hands,” Johnson hissed under his breath, shoving himself away from the desk. He ran a hand through his hair, still unable to comprehend why he was willing to take such a risk with someone who could potentially end them all. “He’s only going to cause trouble. You should’ve dumped him where you found him.”
Tapping his fingers against the table, the older man shared a knowing look with Weeks who wisely removed himself from Johnson’s warpath, having expected somebody to take issue with this. He eventually stood up from his seat with an inhale, making his way around the table to face the negotiator properly with one of his hands folded on his back. “I’m sorry to say I’m not in business of murdering dying young men regardless of their affiliation, especially when they pose no active threat. Even in times of war there are rules of conduct to follow.”
“There are no rules in this war, Colonel,” William nearly laughed at such a ridiculous prospect, turning on his heels as he continued glaring at the man. “There is nothing honorable about dying to an enemy who doesn’t even want to show his face. The Brotherhood would not extend you the same courtesy.”
“And we haven’t been as courteous as we could have been either,” he shook his head incredulously. Regardless of how the conflict was going to turn between their opposing factions, George stood by his convictions that have shaped his life up to this point. There was always a time and place for battle and meaningless slaughter, but he didn’t expect those were the only things that were going to help them succeed in their shared struggle. “I understand what you are saying, Master Johnson, but I have a feeling this is not such a situation.”
Johnson folded his arms. “And you’re willing to risk the safety of the Rite for it.”
The Colonel shook his head again, his free hand on the edge of the table. “Not the Rite, no. I’ve no intention to drag it into the forefront just yet. My intentions are far more oblique, shall we say.”
He wouldn’t be doing this unless he believed there was a strong possibility the half-drowned Assassin got himself mixed up in something he didn’t particularly want to. It was a risk but for now, Monro would only put himself on the line, having come up with the idea in the first place. In order to gain the boy’s trust, it wouldn’t be wise to pile everything on him at once, especially if it was the Brotherhood that caused him to end up the way he did. He might not be willing to trust anyone after being left to such fate.
He couldn’t predict what the Grand Master’s response would be to this rather touchy subject, but they could still rely on each other’s mutual respect even if they disagreed on so many other issues. He had no doubt if the Englishman was here, his reaction would probably not be so dissimilar from Johnson’s.
Regardless, he would like to see to this himself. Most of his associates wouldn’t be able to take on this task with a gentler approach that it so desperately needed. “I do believe he could be of use to us, even in an unofficial capacity.”
The other man didn’t seem convinced at all, downright apprehensive as he pinched the bridge of his nose. After regaining an ounce of his breath, Johnson once more gazed at the soldier, questioning further with a lowered tone. “You do know the boy in your care matches the description of an Assassin who was seen fleeing Mount Vernon after Washington’s death? Not to mention Smith and Wardrop as well?”
“Yes, I do,” Monro nodded honestly. He didn’t pretend to be oblivious about that fact. It was quite obvious who he had rescued from certain death, having seen sketches and heard descriptions himself over the past couple of months. While their deaths were detrimental to their cause, it would be an even bigger waste to just kill the supposed runaway and not look at the bigger picture. After all, he’s already helped them regain one particular piece of the puzzle.
“Then why the bloody hell do you think he’ll work for us now?” the negotiator once again raised his voice, albeit not to the same extent as before. “For all we know this could be a trick.”
It was a good point. Just because a turncoat flees the Order or the Brotherhood, that doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to join the enemy side for the sake of it. It was also true they didn’t know much about him apart from the basic information found on the street. While data on the Assassins currently operating in the area wasn’t hard to come by, they certainly couldn’t tell how many of them there were. For all they knew, the young man was just another one of those unfortunate New York souls nobody would give a second glance, having no other prospects in life but a turn to criminality.
However, the older soldier retained his suspicions, which is what he also told his fellow Templar. “Because I believe something happened between him and his brothers,” the Colonel returned behind his heavy desk, unlocking the drawer and pulling out a large book, showing it on display. “He had this on him.”
In that moment, William Johnson’s face went completely pale, gaping at the book that was thought to have been lost to them. “That’s the…”
“The Manuscript, yes,” Monro carded through the pages as to confirm it was in fact the genuine artifact while he continued to explain his reasoning for sparing the boy. “Not to mention he was found half-dead with a bullet hole in his back not far from where the Brotherhood is believed to have their headquarters. Additionally, his somniloquy was rather vulgar, cursing out the Assassins by individual name even. I have never known a dying man to lie, especially one with deep-seated regrets. And if it is some sort of ruse, then I must say, it is an incredibly elaborate and painstaking one.”
Regardless of how he ended up in the water, it was clear the young man had been through a violent and traumatic experience. His intense wounds, his rather crass and often agonizing sleep talking were proof of an immense fall out taking place. It was unlikely the Colonial Brotherhood would ever intentionally injure one of their own for a plan, especially to such an extent. Every member was a commodity neither of them could really afford to lose in troublesome times like these.
The negotiator absentmindedly reached for the book, only for the older man to close it with a thud and secure it back into the drawer. “Perhaps it would be best if I kept it under lock until I receive further orders from the Grand Master.”
Johnson only scoffed, clearly not content with him keeping the Manuscript but couldn’t do much of anything at the moment. For now, he could only wait and hope his strongly worded letter will have a better effect on Master Kenway than the Colonel’s. Even if he managed to be far too compassionate in situations like this, he would still have to follow orders just like the rest of them.
“God help you if this turns out to be a disaster, because there’s not a force out there that can mend your reputation afterwards,” William turned swiftly on his heels, storming out of the office just as he had entered and slammed the door behind him, leaving the two men behind in an uncomfortable silence.
Monro only dropped down in his seat, exhaling through his nose. He knew his actions were going to cost him a couple of angry comments and side eyeing Templars, but he wasn’t going to betray his own principles just because it was an easier route to take. It wasn’t the first time they thought him too noble for his own good. He believed they had to be better at dealing with issues like this if they wanted to secure a better world for their children’s children. He had his own reasons for doing what he did and unless he was strictly ordered to, nobody could take that away from him.
“I hate to agree with him but…” after a moment, the bespectacled man in the room returned to his seat as he leaned backwards with an equally exasperated sigh and tried to continue from where they left off before William Johnson interrupted them. “He does have a point, Colonel. We have no idea what’s he really like.”
“I know,” George nodded, putting his hands together. “But I have to believe there is something I can do for him.”
“Is that why you put him in the Finnegans’ care?”
The weary soldier raised his head, staring at him. Jack could sometimes see right through him with his tinted glasses, though he’d hardly ever admit that he was such an easy person to read. He’s known the Finnegans for a long time now. They were simple but reliable folks who didn’t ask too many demanding questions and were always a welcome crutch to lean on in less than pleasant times. Their son was bright and talented, having the potential to do great things in life, but his premature and sudden death ended all that.
“It’s not out of sense of guilt, if that is what you're implying,” the Colonel stood up from his chair, his hands tucked behind his back as he stepped over to the window. His regiment was out in the courtyard, marching in a firing line as a training exercise. Being a soldier, he was used to losing men to the most trivial of attacks and injuries, but it wasn’t something that got easier with time. He just learned there was always a time and place to show grief and that controlling his emotions in the heat of the moment was of the upmost importance.
Weeks blinked as he tilted his head and folded his arms, though the older man didn’t move or respond. If it was some sort of guilt that pushed him to save an Assassin from certain death rather than some conscious attempt at reaching out to a lost soul for which he was so often derided by his fellow Templars, would it really make any difference? He supposed since the boy was already on the edge of the death, he could’ve just put him out of his misery instead and save him from what was already a very difficult recovery. Even now it was too early to tell if he’ll ever pull through. Dealing mercy to the grievously wounded was something that happened far often then he’d dare to admit.
But he decided to spare him, an enemy with a confirmed hit list. Even an Assassin newcomer can be a quite dangerous affair. However, if he was right, then having him on his side would only benefit them. He knew the Order wasn’t in the business of picking up strays, but they offered a much better life in their service, especially to people with latent talents but no real opportunities.
“I’m not any more comfortable about this either,” Jack shifted in his seat, an exhale leaving his nose. “I was minutes away from Master Washington’s death.”
“I understand,” the Colonel nodded, his eyes meeting the bespectacled ones. Regardless of what is going to happen, the Order members will most likely remain skeptical of him, having already spilled Templar blood. Having an Assassin in their midst, even a former one, was bound to cause some turbulence. “I’m only asking for your trust in this.”
“You don’t have to ask,” Jack stood up from his chair. “You’ve always had it, sir. Just be careful.”
Monro bowed his head at those words and continued peering out the window just as Weeks excused himself and reached for the door handle. He stopped a short moment, his voice leveled. “We all miss him, Colonel.”
He left without another word out of his mouth, leaving the elder soldier alone with his thoughts.
In the months following his miraculous recovery from near-death circumstances caused by his former employers, Shay remained in his hometown of New York, keeping himself busy in the Colonel’s service of improving the city life. He’s become rather conscious of the fact he was almost a different person now, not just one with new clothes and a new haircut, but his understanding of things shifted slightly, as did his ability to see things in a fairly new light.
Occasionally, he would hang around on a tree in King’s Farm. Unfortunately, New York wasn’t known for having extensive and thick forests like the homestead did, so he’d have to make due. It helped to some degree… helped focus his mind, though there were still things he didn’t completely understand.
Looking over the walled land of farmhouses and numerous people going about their daily schedules, the Irishman closed his eyes and pressed his hands hard against his ears, hoping to drown out the everyday sounds around him and experiment with his newfound sense, observing the environment around him in ways he hadn’t thought of before.
He couldn’t hear anything at the moment.
It all began when he infiltrated the gang hideout for the first time, catching him off guard and making his head spin. It was a strange sensation coming over him from all possible sides, though he figured it was just a side-effect from being up earlier than he was supposed to. On the roof, in the haystack, around the corner, in plain sight… places he couldn’t see from his position with a naked eye but he knew something was there, endangering his life. The Assassin training sharpened his sixth sense greatly, but this never happened before.
Ever since the hunter started hearing whispers in his head, he’s become even more cautious. He hoped he wasn’t going crazy, although ending up in bedlam would probably be the least of his problems right now. At least it was an indicator of sorts rather than a full-blown mental error, outright useful when he was in territory filled with dense crowds where he couldn’t keep an eye out for everyone. There was never a moment where he didn’t hear them in the back of his mind and didn’t have someone jump at him with a knife at the same time.
Hopefully, it will stay confined to that.
A familiar voice interrupted him, causing Shay to quickly drop his hands back into his lap. He swallowed hard before turning to the older man standing below the tree, trying to look as undisturbed as possible. “Colonel. How did you find me?”
The soldier put his hands behind his back, shrugging lightly with the barest of snorts. “I might have asked around about a strange man lurking in a tree.”
“Oh,” the Irishman chuckled briefly, shaking his head. He did attract more attention in the city by doing these tricks and skills of athletic prowess. He must have gotten used to the remoteness of the Davenport Homestead in the last couple of years he’s been away.
“You haven’t seen Master Gist by any chance, have you?” Monro asked with a raised eyebrow.
He shrugged lightly. “He’s at his usual place, I think…” after the Morrigan docked back home from their expedition to River Valley, the frontiersman offered to take him to his favorite pub on the waterfront and buy him a beer for a job well done, but the hunter wasn’t in the mood to get drunk just yet. He’s made it his goal to stay sober during the day.
Besides, he was in rather deep shite at the moment and no amount of booze could fix that.
“I figured as much,” the Colonel shook his head with a slight exhale, already used to the man’s drinking habits that were truly on an entirely different level. Just by looking at the frontiersman, the younger man could very well say to himself that this was his future if he didn’t stop drinking himself to death (no offense to Gist, of course). It was far more effective than anything else when it came to keeping his world straight and clear.
In the meantime, the former Assassin dropped off the tree and dusted himself off, walking beside the soldier as the older man turned on his heels and started to move back toward Greenwich. “You seem troubled, if I may say so,” Monro took a long hard look at him. “I suppose my advice is not working.”
“I’m fine, Colonel,” Shay shook his head. “There are some things I need to sort out first.”
“Anything you want to share?”
Shay sighed heavily as his eyes started wandering, conflicted about telling his story to anyone at this point. Deep inside, he wished he could tell somebody about what really happened to him. Just blurt out everything on his mind like a madman and hope somebody out there would understand what he went through. But would he go about explaining all of that? About the Assassin Brotherhood, the Templar Order, the Precursors and his own dreadful deeds as an Assassin.
Though… he wasn’t really an Assassin anymore.
Not after that bullet to the back he isn’t. What a good friend Liam is. If the loyalty to the Brotherhood outweighed years of childhood memories, then he can keep them.
They can sod off for all he cared.
He gritted his teeth, trying to relax instead of fuming internally at the Assassins. “Not particularly.”
“Of course, there is nothing keeping you here at the moment,” the soldier replied with an evocative tone, stopping at the side of a road when a horse cart filled the street to let it pass by before moving on. “Perhaps you could visit your friends or family. That might help.”
Standing beside him, the Irishman folded his arms and stared awkwardly at the ground. “… I don’t have any, sir.”
“I see,” George replied softly after an extended silence. “I apologize for my presumption.”
As soon as the cart drove past them, the hunter resumed his walk but didn’t look at the older man in case his face held any expression of pity. He didn’t need to be reminded of his rather dismal situation in life.
In spite of everything that’s happened, he was relatively safe here for the time being.
Ironically, it was in the presence of Templars.
He wasn’t stupid. He could tell very clearly where Monro’s allegiances stood. Being with the Brotherhood granted him a new perspective with which to examine his surroundings and recognizing Templars among the crowds was one of them. But they both seemed to dance between words, implying something greater but never outright stating it. There had to be a reason as to why the older soldier said nothing and Shay acknowledged it. It killed him to wait, but he had little choice, not wanting to ruin everything all over again. He didn’t even care if he was being used. At this point, it’s all he was ever useful at, being made into a chump.
Fortunately, the Assassins must’ve still thought him dead. He doubted anyone could recognize him apart from the inner circle of the Brotherhood and he supposed his new look helped with that. As long as he kept a low profile, they’ll never even look for him. He could blend with the crowd just as well as they did.
However, it did left him wondering just how much he really knew about him and his actual history. He was just a nobody from the streets, but he’s already killed Templars in the service of the Brotherhood. He expected they’d be at least a little tiffed off at that.
But the Colonel seemed different from what he was told about the Templars … the man had given him a second chance at life and even helped him rebuild, regardless of wherever or not he was even aware of what he had done. In the end, would it really hurt him to see things from a different point of view? The Assassins have already toppled two cities and tried to kill him. How much worse can the Order really be at this point?
An icy cold shiver shook him by merely thinking about Lisbon, slowing him down considerably as he glowered at the over walked path beneath his feet. George noticed he wasn’t by his side anymore, turning around as he approached him with a tilted head.
“I’ve done terrible things,” Shay croaked out, unable to face the man.
“We all have,” Monro replied honestly, his hand on his chest. “You cannot point to a man and say he is without sin. We all carry regrets and that’s something we have to learn to live with in this world.”
He didn’t doubt that. But he doubted many men could measure with his sins… doubted many could say they were singlehandedly responsible for killing hundreds, if not thousands of people.
“And if other people get hurt cuz o’ ‘em?” he asked sullenly, moving away from the street and under a nearby tree.
“I have soldiers under my command,” Monro stepped to his side, hands resting on his back. “I have responsibilities that affect people’s lives every day. Many times do I have to send them off to battle, never knowing if any of them will return to me. It is an unpredictable situation where even the most skilled soldiers can be killed by a stray bullet or an unlucky position. Despite there being rules of conduct, on the actual battlefield it is always a different story. It is inevitable sometimes, to lose people.”
The older man was telling it the only way he could understand; through his work. He could understand a military general sending his troops to a most likely death, but it wasn’t the same. He figured most soldiers knew they could die at any moment, but they still did their job despite the danger associated with it. On the other hand, he got civilians involved in his transgression, people they were supposed to protect from this sort of thing.
In a way, there was one example that was a much better fit as he happened to learn over the past weeks.
He didn’t notice it immediately, but the Colonel went completely stiff at the mention of that particular name, his arms dangling by his sides. Maybe he shouldn’t been as surprised as he was. The young man was bound to make an investigation into the life and death of his predecessor sooner or later, especially after being acquainted with his parents for the better part of his stay. The Finnegans were also a most likely source of information, as they were remarkably proud of their boy, even if they didn’t completely understand what he was doing.
Shay leaned against the tree trunk. “He wasn’t a soldier.”
“He wasn’t, no…” Monro hung his head as he turned away from the Irishman, sitting down on a tree stump.
The former Assassin figured the Finnegan lad wasn’t told these things early on either. Perhaps he would’ve been once he’s been prepared enough to face the truth. He remembered how hesitant Liam was about even mentioning his new job, taking him months to even consider telling him what he was really doing. Though in his case, he kept disbelieving them even after being introduced to the Brotherhood.
“Sean is… was a vibrant young man,” the Colonel swallowed harshly and continued with his hands clasped together, eyes staring into a patch of grass. “When he set his heart on something, nobody could tell him otherwise. That might have been what ended his life in the end.”
Folding his arms, the younger man still wasn’t entirely sure how he died, apart from meeting an unlucky end from the wrong end of a gun barrel. It just seemed like the type of question that was too personal to ask. The Finnegans would tell stories about him, as would Gist occasionally, but even he would get melancholy about it towards the end which actually made him shut up for a change. Regardless, it still looked like he was replacing someone who was dearly missed by many people around him.
Something he couldn’t really say for himself.
Cormac scoffed… even in his head that sounded pathetic.
“But it was his choice to make,” George continued with a raised head. “To dedicate himself to the improvement of everyday life. A noble goal, especially for someone who knew the difficulties firsthand.”
“I never really thought o’ it before,” the Irishman confessed with a shrug. “Too busy lookin’ out for my own arse.”
George nodded. “But you’ve decided to take a different path nonetheless.”
“It wasn’t really a choice. My circumstances just changed,” he admitted further, fully realizing the hunter probably wouldn’t have given much of a damn about the world at large if this hadn’t happened to him. He would just stay content in his little bubble where all that mattered was money, food and women with a side of booze. Perhaps he needed it to come to terms with being involved with something that was so much bigger than himself.
But did the price of ignorance really have to be this disastrous?
Eventually, the older man stood and crossed his arms across his chest, his expression stern. “I’ll be honest, Master Cormac. I can tell when somebody has gotten into serious trouble.”
Shay just stared at him motionlessly. He knew something was up, but still mentioned nothing in any great detail. Despite knowing that keeping silent was a reasonable thing to do at this point, it was so aggravating he wanted to scream.
“You may feel like that has left you with no choice,” he continued as he stepped closer. “Of course, that is decidedly not true. With your skills, you could board a ship and disappear somewhere else completely. There is more to this world than this continent. Nobody would be able to find you half a world away.”
The Irishman never thought of that either, but the Colonel had a good point. He did have more choices on his hand than he previously believed, but he was so focused on wanting to do something in New York he just never really explored his opportunities thoroughly.
Maybe he could skip the colonies and leave his lousy excuse for a life behind him completely.
Where would he go? Exile himself somewhere in Europe where nobody knows who he is? Spend the rest of his life working on a ship and hardly ever step on land again? Switch location every couple of years because he actually had no idea where he could live in peace?
And yet, the idea left a bitter taste in his mouth. He’d be running away again. He’s already done so twice and it brought nothing but trouble in his life.
“Do I look like someone who needs to run away from their problems?”
Somehow that came out far more resentful than he intended, causing the Colonel to look at him wide-eyed. He really should’ve said he was sorry for that sudden outburst, but he never did. Instead, the soldier merely resumed his walk as he apologized instead. “You are correct, Master Cormac. I should not presume your situation so blasé.”
With a heavy sigh, the Irishman caught up to him. He was right anyway… but he’d like to try and at least repent for some of his mistakes, even if by all accounts they were probably too big to make anything out of them. Running away wasn’t going to make his problems to away; he’ll just be making things worse for himself.
When they passed a large farm on their way, he started hearing them again. Sometimes he swatted at invisible insects around his head because of how annoying the whispers ended up becoming, replacing his initial feelings of confusion and fear. He was sure he must’ve looked like a complete fool doing it too. They were unintelligible at first but they only grew stronger as he found himself slowing down with the intent of rooting out the cause. Somebody with a murderous intention was very close to deal him his death sentence… or the Colonel.
“Master Cormac?” Monro noticed his wandering stare and stiff posture, but he didn’t appear to acknowledge him, focusing entirely on the whispers. They passed a number of suspected hiding places but nothing happened. He had to look deeper; the answer wasn’t always the most obvious one when it came to these people. The Colonel was still peering at him and starting to look concerned.
They just managed to bypass a small shed, the door just slightly ajar when it happened. Silently, the assailant tried to jump him from behind, but Shay was way ahead of him. Before he even had the chance to stab him in the back, the hunter swirled around and kicked the man in the shin. He then immediately grabbed his throat and ran his hidden blade right through it, still gurgling blood as he slammed his attempted murderer into the nearby bush.
The older man, startled by the sudden appearance of an Assassin right behind them, stepped to the side with his eyes darting from the twitching body of a stalker to that of a young man who looked more awkward than anything else, despite the fact he just killed somebody in front of him.
“Sorry,” Shay eventually stammered, widening his eyes and trying to get the blood off his glove. “I should’ve warned you about this. I’m not the safest person to be around.”
Blinking, George said nothing as he spared another glance toward the fresh corpse in the bush and moved closer to confirm he was dead. If he was worried or even horrified, he didn’t show it overtly. As a soldier, he was probably more used to direct combat than espionage such as this, preferring to fight on equal terms. Though it disturbed even him just how precise he could be with his sixth sense. He never really thought about how other people would react to such a display.
Swallowing hard, the Colonel cleared his throat with a near croak. “Master Cormac, you are… full of surprises.”
Shay shook his head as he turned around, seeing the black smoke fill up the air in the distance. He had a feeling he’s been getting attacked a little too frequently since his return. “Looks like they’ve set up shop again. I leave for a week and they think they can get right back in.”
The gangs of New York were very persistent after all. If he withdrew his eyes off them for just a second, they’d find a new den to occupy in the city, continuing to cause trouble and decay.
Fixing his sleeves, the younger man was just about to go and ruin someone’s day when Monro stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure that is wise?”
“It’s what I’m good at, Colonel,” he answered with a faint smile on his lips. “And I can do it without the army bull rushin’ through and causin’ unnecessary casualties.”
With a hesitant nod, Monro stepped backwards, his hands returning at their rightful place behind his back. “Good luck, Shay,” the older man said, regretting it immediately when the hunter suddenly turned around, his index finger in the air as he sheepishly approached the soldier with a rather grim look on his face.
“You make your own luck, I know,” he quickly interrupted him, a snort leaving the young man’s throat as he very nearly rolled his eyes. He watched the former Assassin gain up on speed and climb up the side of a building with ridiculous ease, disappearing further into the city to take care of business. The Colonel wasn’t worried he would injure himself, at least not overtly so. He could handle himself just fine which was quite remarkable after such a short time of recovery, taking in account his extensive injuries. But there was always a tiny seed of doubt in the back of his mind, knowing that unexpected things have always had a place in their line of work.
“Colonel,” the older soldier heard a familiar voice behind him, turning on his heels slowly as he came face to face with Jack whom he believed to be on a completely different errand in a completely different part of the city. On a closer inspection, the bespectacled man looked slightly unnerved as he leaned out of the corner of a nearby building.
He approached the man cautiously, seemingly acknowledging his distress. “Did you happen to see that?”
Weeks confirmed with a quick nod, fiddling with a coat button and his eyes turning just slightly to the side as if to peek into the bush with the dead assailant.
“What are you thinking?”
“Honestly, he frightens me,” he was completely clear about his opinion, looking behind him despite the fact the former Assassin was long gone and likely nowhere to be found. “It all happened really fast, so I’m not sure if you noticed, but he knew he was there. Like he was somehow one step before him. It was unreal.”
“It is believed some people are naturally gifted with strange abilities inherited from our predecessors,” the Colonel explained. Whatever the sight really was, it was something they will probably never understand completely. “Though I can’t say I have ever seen anything like that before.”
Folding his arms around him, the bespectacled man leaned against the nearby wall with a shrug. “I still don’t know what to make of him.”
“He’s a troubled young man, but hardly the emotionless killer we like to imagine the Assassins to be,” George said with no hesitation. Despite having learned little about him, Shay was an easy person to read, someone who wore his emotions on his sleeve and questioned himself and others often. He wondered why someone like him even ended up in the Brotherhood. He didn’t seem the type of person for it, especially with his rather obvious dislike of authority.
“You should meet him and see for yourself,” the Colonel suggested, seeing the raised eyebrow on Jack’s forehead. “I don’t believe he is a bad person, just directionless and purposeless. Many of his stature tend to be.”
“Gist’s been trying to introduce me as well,” the younger man snorted as he pushed his glasses up his nose. “I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad sign.”
George nodded with a smile. “Master Gist may not be the best judge of character, but he is honest. Who knows, perhaps even Master Johnson will come around.”
“That I’d like to see,” Jack chuckled under his breath. “I’ll think about it.”
He couldn’t blame him for being cautious, having witnessed firsthand just how dangerous Assassins could be and he preferred to stay in the background where he didn’t pose much of a threat. Working behind the scenes was far more preferable in this position when the Brotherhood aimed for the more prominent members of the Order.
When Weeks was about to take his leave, Monro remained for a moment and gazed back upon the unfortunate stalker who tried to ambush the Irishman, his lips pressed into a thin line. The bespectacled man looked back at him, already knowing what he was going to say.
“We should inform the undertaker,” he said, unmoving from his position. “At the very least give him a proper grave.”
When Shay opened his eyes, he had absolutely no idea where he was.
He stared motionlessly into the blurry and mildly thick tree foliage above him, breathing calmly as he tried to discern the sky through the branches. What he could see of it from his rather odd position, its color was turning red with the commencing sunset.
It will be dark soon.
The hunter was lying on his back, his head supported by something hard and a bloodied piece of cloth wrapped around his forehead. He removed it begrudgingly with one of his hands, feeling the large but at the moment dry wound on his temple which might have been the cause of his current situation.
Nonetheless, the splitting headache gnawing at his brain was still the primary source of discomfort. When he tried to move to a better position, his shoulder started aching immensely and he found it difficult to get a good grip on it. Despite feeling like he was ran over by a dozen artilleries and a pack of wild horses for good measure, the Irishman gritted his teeth and raised himself up against the tree trunk, not really questioning what he was even doing in a place like this.
It took him a long minute to even take in account his current surroundings, his blurry vision managing to fix itself for the time being even with his head ringing like a cold hangover. He took notice of the wilderness around him and the crackling fire right beside him warming his face, just now realizing why it wasn’t completely dark just yet despite the fact he was in the middle of the forest. It will be useful for the incoming night as Connor diligently stoked the campfire with a long tree branch.
The older Templar suddenly jerked awkwardly as every little thing came back to his mind, straining his shoulder even further and falling back on his arse as he wrapped his arms around himself in an attempt to stop the pain. He’d been on the Morrigan just a couple of hours ago, ambushed by the Aquila during an escort mission and he accepted the challenge despite wanting to steer clear of the Brotherhood for now. In lieu of the two vessels damaging each other enough to stop mid-battle in order to repair themselves, the Assassin Hunter instead decided to place himself and the native lad on land to settle their differences on their own.
It didn’t exactly work as he planned, his own recklessness and anger at the Kenway lad ended with him cracking his skull against the ground of all things. Shay also wasn’t expecting the young man to have actually figured out who he really was and he decided to play along anyway even though anyone knowing his name was an obvious threat.
He really hasn’t been thinking much of lately. And it’s not like he came here to die either, so why was he being this sloppy?
Immediately, the native Assassin acknowledged his grunt of pain and sudden wakefulness. He turned to him with an expressionless look on his face as he continued to stoke the campfire, throwing a couple more dry branches into it. “You should not move,” he said with a shaking head as if he were chiding him for it. “It could get worse.”
Clearing his throat due to a sudden lump in his neck, the Assassin Hunter just leaned backwards again as he glared at the young man across the fire with the corner of his eye. He noticed his sleeve was torn off where he’d slash him with his hidden blade, wrapping it around his wound to stop the bleeding. Apart from that, he didn’t inflict any serious injury to him. He was actually in a rather favorable position right now.
And yet, he didn’t finish him off despite having the opportunity and the means to do it. They were also in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not like anybody would ever find him, dead or alive.
He could’ve saved himself a lot more trouble in the future if he just did that and stopped hesitating like an indecisive fool. Just because his head was spinning and he felt like shite at the moment, he wasn’t any less dangerous for it. In having taken control of the American Rite, the Irishman was determined to keep it running for as long as he could. He couldn’t let all his work go to waste despite the Kenway lad having undone most of it already.
Then again, it was his own damn fault too. He was trying to provoke him into battle, not willing to talk it over and giving him even more reason as to why he should have killed him immediately. The Assassin Hunter lost control and he should have paid it with his life.
When he patted down his hips with his healthier arm, the Irishman also realized his guns were removed and his sword was gone, albeit he did kind of throw it away himself to commence fisticuffs instead during his short battle. He looked around quickly, noticing them propped against the tree behind him and just slightly out of reach. The hidden blades were still with him, obviously; the lad would have to remove his coat if he wanted to get to them.
The distance between them wasn’t major, but definitely large enough for the hunter to have trouble reaching over. His current injuries impeded his ability to do any serious damage and the native lad would most definitely overpower him if he tried anything of the sort. Knowing that, Connor didn’t appear worried, but then again he always found it difficult to read the natives’ general moods. The majority of them were very protective of their emotions.
At the moment, he had to admit he wasn’t much of a threat to him.
After sitting in complete silence with nothing but crickets and crackling fire for company, Cormac sighed heavily, his head falling against the tree trunk. Might as well get this over with already.
“Why let me live? I’m nothin’ but trouble.”
The young Assassin replied bluntly. “You have not answered my question.”
Shay narrowed his eyes at him. What a stubborn arse.
Just like his father.
Why was he still persistent on pursuing this? Did he think by learning about it everything will magically fix itself? That the world will somehow become a better place or that he’ll suddenly change his mind and admit all of his wrongdoings?
If that was the case, he was ultimately mistaken about it. Shay was responsible for Lisbon, the fall of the Colonial Brotherhood, the deaths of numerous other Assassins over the years, his own deep machinations inside the Order that allowed them to expand so much and that made him into the person he was today. All the things he did because he strongly believed he was ultimately doing the right thing and there was no place for regret in his heart anymore.
They too will remain on the opposite sides of the conflict, enemies at each other’s throat. Nothing was going to change and it was pointless bringing it up anymore.
The hunter looked away with a scoff, tightening his arms around him. “Why does it matter now? It’s ancient history.”
“Stop speaking like the old man,” Connor hissed in exasperation, sighing heavily as he must have contemplated rolling his eyes as well and hastily threw another branch into the fire. “Perhaps you were both fine with running away from your pasts. Or have you forgotten what set you off on this path in the first place? I do not think anybody can hold onto their grievances for such a long time and come out with a satisfactory conclusion to it. I know I did not.”
Cormac slowly shook his head. That’s not what this was about.
He wasn’t running away and he sure as hell didn’t forget about it either. How could he run away from something that followed him so persistently throughout his life, reminding him of every little grief and anguish he helped set aflame? Just because the nightmares stopped that didn’t mean everything else was somehow gone as well. After so many years, it still felt like a stabbing pain in his heart.
Perhaps that was the issue as an icy shiver shook his spine.
He never really got over it.
“I haven’t forgotten, Connor,” the hunter replied with a voice as steady as he could manage. “I could never forget.”
Shay exhaled through his nose, more interested in some dark spot in the forest than the native lad. He supposed he had a point to a degree… it’s been a long time since he could share his story with anyone.
What did he have to lose apart from his dignity?
“… do you know what’s it like to see a city burn?” the older Templar asked, swallowing hard as he felt a rush of coldness envelop him. “Seeing the earth open up and swallow it? Hearin’ people prayin’ and screamin’ for God’s help before debris crushes them under its weight?”
The Assassin Hunter snorted with a shaky breath, more at himself than anything else when he felt his eyes water up and pressed his lips together. He brought his legs up to his chest as close as his pain ridden body would allow him to lay his arms on his knees. No matter how long it’s passed since then, he still appeared to regress back to a time when he stood on the edge of a snowy cliff, ready to take his own life.
Scoffing harshly, the Irishman cursed out Achilles under his breath. Was he really still so full of shame he couldn’t explain everything to the lad himself? Now he’s the one who had to drag this all out in the present and compromise himself. It wasn’t even about rubbing the Brotherhood’s mistakes in their faces anymore. Maybe somebody else could derive some pleasure from it, but he couldn’t.
Not when he was in the center of it all.
“I did somethin’ I can never atone for,” at this point, his voice gave up on sounding respectable as his mouth went dry. His lips trembled and a lump formed in his throat when his forehead fell against his arm. “I’ve killed people. Not ten, not hundred… thousands o’ them. I laid waste to a city I held dear to my heart.”
This is why he didn’t talk about it.
He then suddenly raised his head, nearly hitting it against the tree trunk as he hissed harshly. “All cuz o’ those Precursor shites!” the hunter drew shallow breaths in the momentary outburst of anger, glaring at the native lad on the opposite side of the campfire and not really caring if there were tears streaming down his face. Connor didn’t seem to react apart from slightly opening his mouth, but appeared to be listening attentively regardless.
“Achilles and the others. They didn’t care… or believe me. All they gave me was a bullet to my back. So I killed ‘em all to stop the world from crumblin’. They just wouldn’t listen…” exhaling a quivering breath, Shay looked away again and hugged his legs close to his chest as he shook his head. “But Assassins and Templars all over the world… they still search for those damn things and misuse them for their own selfish means. It’s never enough.”
The careless obsession with the artifacts was an unhealthy fact; one that threatened to destroy many more lives and will continue to do so as long as there are people to perpetuate it. He’s seen it far too often in his travels. People bent on using any means against the other side, not caring of the consequences or the world around them. All that mattered was emerging victorious in the centuries old struggle.
The hunter was just as tired of it as he was of the Assassins. Too many Rites considered themselves above everyone else, their principles founded in self-gratification that any actual concern for the fellow man. They were all too happy to forcefully bind people’s minds to servitude like the Precursors did. But for the first time in decades he had an opportunity to do something different. The American Rite was weak, but the way forward didn’t have to be paved with the same intentions. As the current Grand Master, he could shape a new future for these lands in his own way without having to follow the examples of other Rites.
After straightening himself out with a painful grunt, Shay brushed at his face, finding it soaked in tears. It’s been years since he genuinely cried like this. The hunter reached in his coat for a handkerchief, wiping away at his eyes and nose. It really did feel like he was right back where he started off.
“Is that your goal then?” the younger man asked, shuffling closer to the fire. “To protect the world?”
“Call it what you want,” he scoffed at him, even though he was completely right. It just escalated to that level because of how dangerous they were. At least he got the Box back… but who knows what else the Precursors cooked up, humanity alone being nothing but their sheep to do with as they pleased. There was not enough time in the world to even scratch the surface of what they were capable of.
“I could care less if the Brotherhood and the Order slaughter each other ‘til there’s not one man standin’ atop a mountain o’ corpses,” the hunter admitted with a hoarse voice scratching at his throat, having no faith in ever ending the hostilities between their sides. If he couldn’t end the war, he could at least do his job. He never asked for this, but having caused the devastation with his own two hands, he couldn’t back off lest his conscience makes him his own worst enemy. “We brought this on ourselves. Nobody else should suffer.”
“Do you not believe in order, Shay?” he continued questioning, as if trying to discern what kind of man he was and if he was even on board with the whole thing. “The Templar vision?”
“The Templar vision? Is that what they’re callin’ it now?” the older man half chortled under his breath, hoping he didn’t think everyone felt the same about it, even among the members of the Order. “I’m old enough to have learned it’s not somethin’ taken for granted. Mine was ensurin’ people don’t step out o’ the line.”
The Kenway lad kept a firm voice on hand. “That is not what I meant.”
“Then what?” the hunter hissed, turning his stinging eyes over to him. He was probably imploring as to wherever or not he agreed with the authoritarian tendencies of the Order. “Do I think society needs order? Aye, to some degree. Does that answer your question?”
Connor looked at him through narrowed eyes, no doubt the same look he would have given to his fellow comrades before their untimely death, perhaps even asking them the same question. “And when does order become synonymous with control?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Shay sighed heavily, nearly rolling his eyes. It’s not like he hasn’t heard this argument before, in the same tone or even the same sentence structure. “At what point does freedom become a free for all? Do whatever you want and screw everyone else? Or is that somethin’ you’d like to see?”
Scoffing, the Mohawk Assassin shook his head. “That is not what I wish.”
“Then don’t say order is just another word for control.”
“And you should not mistake freedom for anarchy,” he threw that right back at him. “I can play this game as well.”
“It’s no wonder we keep goin’ in circles,” the hunter exhaled a tired breath. Not even this conversation was helping put any of these arguments to rest and he's heard far too many of them to even care anymore. But he supposed it was better than trying to kill each other over it or have another Assassin come at him by parroting ideas from their own overly self-righteous Mentors. He could only take so much of this hypocrisy after all these years. “We could argue for hours and not come to a conclusion.”
“What do you suggest?”
He shrugged, not really in the mood to argue as he proposed an honest outcome. “Only one thing; accept our ideals are flawed and open to interpretation.”
“That is two things.”
Shay actually left out a chuckle to his response, though it quickly devolved into harsh coughing. “Smartarse.”
At least he had potential for his father’s dry wit if nothing else.
The hunter could feel Connor’s eyes on him but he avoided his gaze. Instead, he focused on the soaked white piece of cloth, fiddling with it as he tried to get himself back under control from being such a sobbing mess. It was then he noticed the colorful embroidery on it, unfolding it further until he found the initials sewed into the tissue; H.E.K. Shay snorted lightly as his head fell forward… he forgot he even had it with him all this time. It took a couple of years, but he did end up needing it after all.
Noticing he was still staring at him, Cormac hid the handkerchief out of his sight and continued brushing at his reddish eyes with his hands. He wondered if the Mohawk Assassin was disappointed. He probably came here looking for a bloodthirsty killer, not an emotional wreck.
When silence fell between them, the young man continued maintaining the campfire and cutting up meat from his freshly hunted game to cook above fire. If he closed his eyes for a moment, it almost reminded him of his laidback days back on the Davenport Homestead; of staying up late into the night, exchanging stories with whoever decided to join him and sleeping under the blinking stars… a lot has changed since then. He wasn’t even sure if he was genuinely longing for those nights or just wanted to think about something else.
“What was my father to you?” the Kenway lad asked him right out of the blue.
He guessed it was only a matter of time before the conversation shifted over to Haytham, another person they had in common. Clearing his throat, the Irishman straightened his legs as best as he could, finding them half asleep. He really wanted to get up and walk it off, but he didn’t trust his body to support his weight just yet. He’ll deal with it later if he ever gets the chance to stand again.
“A boss, a teacher…” the hunter shrugged, not really sure what else to say at the moment.
“God, no,” Shay chuckled under his breath. “I had a father once… and I happen to have good memories o’ him.”
Now it was Connor’s turn to fall quiet, finding him staring into the campfire motionlessly as if he were lost in thought. He wasn’t sure how much time went by before the young man inhaled deeply and raised his chin, his eyes still staring into the incandescent flame. “I never knew him.”
The hunter responded absentmindedly. “I don’t think anyone really did.”
Even after working with him for decades, the Grand Master remained a mystery to some degree. He knew him enough to recognize any changes in his behavior, particularly his final actions that were questionable enough to stir doubts within the Irishman. Although unlike other people, he let him know his honest opinion about it because he knew very well these things tend to fester and boil before exploding disastrously in everyone’s faces.
Though his real father acted as an employer than an actual parent for most of the time as well, he didn’t think of Master Kenway as one all that overtly, even if he did act like an overbearing father sometimes when things got out of hand in the Rite. And he could even say that some of those times it wasn’t his fault at all. Who would’ve thought that a room full of ambitious, colorful and loud people with their own axes to grind could be so childish sometimes?
Haytham Kenway and his Colonial Kindergarten.
He nearly spat out in laughter.
Why did it take him so long to come up with that?
Just slightly sliding his eyes over to the Assassin, he noticed he looked quite downtrodden as far as he could tell. He wasn’t sure if he was actually regretting the entire ordeal or if he had something else on his mind. Even if they were enemies, the decision to kill his father couldn’t have been an easy one. Or Haytham realized he wasn’t going to buckle under constant pressure and finally decided to get rid of Connor which would’ve put the native lad on the defensive anyway. In the end, it really did come down to that final standoff.
Eventually, the stern young man came alive again, regulating the fire as he came up with another question right out of nowhere. “How would you describe him?”
“He was…” the Irishman thought for a moment, repositioning his aching arm to his chest. He wasn’t entirely sure the Englishman could be explained in simple terms, but the words that came to him in his mind were surprisingly clear and accurate enough. “Harsh but fair. I don’t think I would’ve lasted in the Order for as long as I did without his guidance.”
He then snorted, more at himself than anything else.
“But still a stuck-up rich Brit.”
Connor straightened himself against the tree. “Are there not privileged men behind the Templar Order?”
“Aye…” but money and influence weren’t enough to succeed even in such conditions. The Rites themselves were full of people with their own ambitions and backstabbing was just as prominent as anywhere else. “But we’re the backbone o’ it. A Grand Master without agents is about as useful as a Mentor without recruits.”
The Assassin continued looking at him strangely, as if somehow not getting the point.
“Why do you think I’m so difficult to track down?” the hunter exhaled heavily. “I wasn’t born o’ privilege. I was born in a crumblin’ shack on the edge o’ New York. I was told my entire life I’d never amount to anythin’ other than what my birthright dictated to me.”
Which basically amounted to working for pennies and just maybe having enough to scrape by towards the end of the week. Maybe if he was lucky, a command of his own ship somewhere down the line like his father and continue the merchant business till he died of old age or was swallowed by the very seas he loved so much. In the end, he’d probably prefer it if they just dropped his arse in the North Atlantic upon his death and forgo any funeral rites. He’s decided a long time ago he didn’t really want to be buried on land anyway.
“And now I’m…” he looked at himself, becoming virtually unrecognizable during his transition period. Even if he didn’t become the Grand Master, he accumulated enough wealth and resources over the years to retire and live in comfort for the rest of his life. Not that he had any intention of doing that anytime soon; the inaction itself might kill him in the end. He used to think he wouldn’t live past his thirties, much less his fifties but here he was…
… he should’ve been dead years ago.
“Well,” the hunter shrugged, turning his eyes upon the younger man again. “Not what I expected.”
“You rose above your station in life,” the Mohawk Assassin replied after a short thoughtful silence. “Perhaps you have found your own version of freedom.”
He snorted at the young man, almost believing him. Maybe the lad does have some wisdom inside him after all.
Afterwards, Connor offered him some roasted deer meat on a stick which he hesitantly accepted. Usually he’d be a little more careful about strangers offering him food, but he was a little deposed at the moment and not really able to do much of anything. If the lad wanted him dead, he could’ve done so earlier without much thought. He happened to accept his reason for why he didn’t want to fight and in his experience some people really were that simple.
Besides, he wasn’t prideful. At this point he’d rather be killed with hospitality than a punch to the face.
Shay held his jaw for a moment.
It still stung.
He really should stop taunting people with bear hands for fists.
The late night meal didn’t get to wallow in silence for too long as the Kenway lad brought up another question to the table, one he didn’t think he’d ever get to hear. “Shay… can you tell me about the Colonial Brotherhood?”
Blinking awkwardly, the Irishman stared at him and his odd request. The young man explained further. “Even if you despise them, they deserve this much.”
“I don’t hate ‘em, Connor,” he pulled away with a sigh, disappointed in himself for giving that kind of impression.
The hunter didn’t forget about them, but he did bury them deep inside his mind and hardly ever spoke of them after the fact. As much as their deaths weighted on his conscience, Lisbon outlasted them by a high margin. It’s probably why he was able to convince himself he did what had to be done, even if it meant contributing to the ever increasing mountain of corpses. There was nothing he’d done before or since that could compare to his careless and senseless waste of human life in Portugal.
“By the time I got there, they were already the best at what they did,” Cormac began, his sight dropping into the burning wood. If he’d known what he was getting himself into, he would’ve taken off for the hills and never looked back. At the time he just took them for some shady criminal gang with some very ridiculous stories and excuses to tell.
Well, that came back to haunt him badly.
“You met Achilles, the grumpy arse. He didn’t used to be like that… well, not overtly so anyway,” he said with a shrug as he propped his hand against his cheek. “When Abigail and Connor died, everythin’ changed on the homestead.”
Connor asked immediately. “When you returned there, was it to talk to him?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “But any reasonable discussion was thrown out the window long ago. Not that I blame him. Haytham made sure he’d never climb again.”
“My father crippled him?”
“He didn’t tell you?” the hunter turned to him, only to quickly roll his eyes. “What am I sayin’, o’ course he didn’t.”
Back on the homestead he accused the Davenport proprietor withholding information and using the Mohawk Assassin as his personal revenge tool. He didn’t make a good argument to lead him to think there was anything else to it, but he couldn’t speculate as to how their relationship developed. Achilles might as well have adopted Connor for all he knew, going so far to as to christen him with the name of his long dead son. Who knows; maybe the old man really did soften up over the years and he just couldn’t see it.
“You wanna know who I really hated?” the Irishman continued from his former Mentor to his next favorite Assassin. “Captain Louis-Joseph Gaultier, Chevalier de la Verendrye. Now that’s a guy who would walk all over you and revel in it. What a pompous frog. You’d think all Frenchmen were arseholes by lookin’ at him.”
The native lad added in with a shrug. “I do not believe Lafayette is like that.”
Cormac used to think that maybe, just maybe he’s had it all wrong about Chevalier. That maybe he’ll finally understand him better as he went up in age. Perhaps he had a point about some things to a degree.
He scoffed mockingly.
Nope… he was just a straight up arsehole. Throwing him overboard was about as good as it came. Spending his recollections on him was a waste of time.
“Then you had people like Kesegowaase, an Abenaki warrior. You wouldn’t be able to tell from his size, but he was both fast and strong,” he continued. That was probably the first time he’d ever seen a native up close, teaching him how to conquer trees and hunt wild animals. At the time, whatever expertise Shay had in free running and climbing was limited to buildings and ship masts. Regardless, the man was largely impassive and he could never tell what he was really thinking about. Apart from whenever he picked up his tomahawks and became a terrifying force to be reckoned with, especially since he grew to loathe his guts.
Shay didn’t think he hated him, even if he did allow for the Colonel’s death to occur.
“I hardly knew him but…” he proceeded down the list of people he assassinated in those days, no target more significant as the one that established how far he was willing to go for his beliefs. If he couldn’t back off before, he absolutely passed the point of no return when he faced off against the Experto Crede and her esteemed Captain. “Adéwalé wasn’t from the colonies, but he made a name for himself in the West Indies.”
Adéwalé called him a monster. He couldn’t argue with that.
He still didn’t.
The Assassin Hunter stopped for a moment, looking at the half eaten deer meat in his hand. He wasn’t really hungry anymore… or he just lost his appetite. Not that it mattered much to him anyway as he put it aside with a sigh.
Not wanting to talk about that, Shay moved on to the rest of the Colonial Assassins.
“And then there was Hope Jensen…” he smiled faintly as he remembered her. She always gave him a hard time with every task he set out to do, but it came from a good place behind her tough exterior. “She was one o’ those girls, you know.”
When the Kenway lad didn’t say anything in return, the older Templar turned to him with a grin on his face and hands slightly in the air. “You know, right?”
Connor looked more confused than anything else as he shook his head.
“No?” the Irishman lifted his eyebrows as the realization hit him. His head fell backwards against the tree trunk, an astonished snort leaving his throat. “God help me, I’m talkin’ to a virgin.”
The young man immediately narrowed his eyes at him.
“When I was your age, I was already- no. Forget it,” he stopped himself very quickly, chuckling under his breath. This wasn’t exactly the time or the place to talk about the birds and the bees or his exploits in bed over the years. Though taking a trip down to Havana always had a good impact on mind, soul and… other things.
“I’m not judgin’ though,” he added in after clearing his throat and seeing the rather disgruntled expression on Connor’s face. “You’re still young.”
Shay chortled again when he saw the native Assassin roll his eyes and looking quite flustered for the first time this entire conversation. He knew his type of person; they have no actual thoughts about it until much later in their lives because they’re not experienced enough, interested enough or they just shy away from the presence of the opposite sex. It usually takes only one person to completely turn their heads, hearts and nether regions upside down… and they still don’t get laid until after marriage.
“Tough lassie, that one. She was the one who taught me how to use these,” he raised one of his hands and flicked the hidden blade out of his sleeve and back in as seamlessly as he could. The hunter could still remember a time when he was utterly hopeless with this new gadget strapped to his wrist and now he was inseparable from it, using it on the very people who came up with it in the first place.
All of Hope’s hard work paid off in the end.
“Were you and her…” Connor asked hesitantly, as if wondering if that was even an acceptable thing to ask.
“Oh, no. Not at all,” the Irishman quickly shook his head. “I never stood a chance.”
“And now? Do you have a family?”
“I don’t, no…” he replied with a forlorn tone in his voice. “Maybe some lad or lassie is runnin’ around without a father from my irresponsible days, but I wouldn’t know.”
The hunter never gave it much thought beyond a casual remark. He just figured he’d never actually get a chance at settling down or having children because he’d either be too busy, in jail or dead. And as a Templar, there was no way he’d be able to keep this hidden from any of them, meaning he would have to raise his children in the ways of the Order just to keep them safe from would be Assassins.
But Cormac wasn’t sure he wanted to bring them into this life… they would have no choice but to grow up in a world of constant warfare and conspiracy. They would never know what’s it like to be a normal person with no responsibilities to the world at large, carrying a large secret with them wherever they went and keep looking over their shoulders in case of danger. They would never get to enjoy life for what it was despite its flaws. Maybe if he becomes selfish enough or if the loneliness becomes too much to bear at some point, he might just forgo all of that.
Though he’d have to figure out what a normal family even was in the first place.
Speaking of which…
“And last but not least,” the older man announced softly, his eyes evading again. “Liam… he was my best friend. He taught me how to fend for myself on the streets o’ New York when I was just a lad. We didn’t have much back then, but we had each other to rely on.”
All of his last words to him before O’Brien’s death were branded on his mind and he deserved all of them. Shay supposed he never really understood Liam afterwards… he was such a different person as an Assassin. It wasn’t even that his attitude had changed. It was something much subtler; that unquestionable loyalty to a cause that warranted a dismissal of his old friend. Neither of them had much love for authority or following orders, but Liam seemed to find one that suited him just fine much to his amazement.
“When I fell on hard times, he helped me get back on my feet. He was the one who introduced me to the Assassins,” he explained further, folding his arms around him. If he and Liam hadn’t met the moment they did, the present could've been so much different from how it was now. Shay would probably drink himself to death or end up incarcerated, but O’Brien and the rest would still be alive to do their business in the colonies.
The Assassin Hunter narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath. “But in the end, he still chose the Brotherhood over me.”
Even if he telling the truth by clarifying he wasn’t the one who shot him in the back that fateful night on the cliff, it didn’t change anything. It wasn’t even that he was mad about that anymore. He just felt betrayed by the one person who thought would at least give him the benefit of the doubt. He made no attempt to listen to him after they threw him out the mansion and still insisted Achilles knew best.
What did he know?
He wasn’t there when it happened. Not in Port-au-Prince or Lisbon. None of them were.
Bringing his legs up to his chest, Connor lowered his voice to a mere whisper. “I too have fought and lost a friend.”
“It never ends, does it?” the older Templar asked, not really expecting an answer from him.
Maybe they weren’t all that different from each other after all.
After another unspecified amount of time passed by without a spoken word, Shay needed to know how he intends to proceed from now on. He was still at a significant disadvantage, so the hunter could easily be his prisoner or hostage. He could even try and ransom him out to the Rite, although he couldn’t guarantee he’d get anything out of it. He happened to have a very strict policy about this sort of thing.
“So… what happens after this?”
Connor brought his hands together as he watched the flames. “In the morning we can go our separate ways.”
“Just like that?” the hunter shrugged with a snort, wondering if it was really that simple for him. “You know, there are people out there who would kill to have me in this position.”
Suddenly, the Kenway lad stood up on his feet, walking in front of the campfire as he crossed his arms and left out a heavy sigh. Eventually he faced him again, his voice unusually harsh. “If I killed you, would it make any sort of difference? Somewhere down the line a new Grand Master would surface and with him a new Rite. An idea does not end because of a death of a few old men.”
“You’re gettin’ it, alright,” the Irishman forced a smile on his lips. “Took me much longer to get to grips with that.”
Blinking, the native Assassin said nothing as he paced up and down.
“Though there’s no reason to go on our own,” the Irishman suggested with a shrug.
Stopping in his track, the Kenway lad stared at him. “Is it truce that you want?”
“Not really… just some company would be alright,” wincing awkwardly, the older man did kind of drop them in the middle of nowhere, so any help on the way back to civilization would be welcome, even from an Assassin. Not that’d he admit it, but reaching New York with a concussion could be slightly worrying and he wasn’t about to wait around for a couple of days before he felt better to move on.
Connor continued staring at him with apprehension, probably wanting some sort of guarantee he won’t stab him in the back when he wasn’t looking. Tired of sitting on the ground, Shay eventually forced himself on his feet with his back hard against the tree trunk in an event of his legs failing him. Regardless, the Templar leaned his largely numb body backwards, relieved he wasn’t completely useless.
He shook his head, fixing his coat in the meantime. “I wouldn’t get anythin’ out o’ killin’ you either. Maybe some satisfaction, but it would be fleetin’ anyway,” it wouldn’t bring anyone back from the dead and his work would still be set back to zero, that much he had to admit. He supposed the hit to the head helped vent out some of that anger as well. Besides, after having Assassins come at him from all directions with the intent to kill him, it was refreshing to find one that didn’t want to fight him.
Though he still needed to get back at him for the damage he did to the Morrigan. He can’t just blow holes in the Phantom Queen and expect to get out of it with a slap on his wrist.
It was an old ship, but it was his ship.
Inhaling lightly, the Kenway lad nodded. “We will see.”
Shay was fine with this, even if it was just the calm before the storm. The Brotherhood and the Rite aren’t going anywhere and they will continue to grow in the coming years. Eventually, they will come to blows again. To have them work together toward a better future wasn’t possible as a long term plan, even if he and Connor could make peace for the time being. When newer and younger people take over, they’ll have their own ideas about how to proceed onward. With all the internal problems going on among the Assassins and Templars, they could barely agree among themselves, much less their sworn enemies.
Unless they all come to an agreement together or in worst case scenario, one of them perishes completely, there will never be peace between them. It was difficult to accept, but it was the truth. Anything else was just wishful thinking.
When the Kenway lad sat back down, he realized just how dark it was already, only the light of the campfire having any effect on the encroaching shadows. The older Templar slid down the tree and propped himself against the trunk a bit more comfortably; might as well sleep on this and depart for New York tomorrow if the lad’s offer was genuine.
When the older man closed his eyes for a moment, there was something else he was interested in knowing as a thought literally dropped in his mind out of nowhere.
“Connor?” the Irishman asked, his eyes peering into the well-lit campfire. The Assassin turned his head toward him but said nothing, waiting for his question. “What’s your real name?”
The Kenway lad blinked, hesitating for a moment before clearing his throat. “Ratonhnhaké:ton.”
“Huh…” Shay mulled it over in his mind for a couple of seconds before repeating it. “Ratonhnhaké:ton.”
Widening his eyes slightly, the young man suddenly shifted towards him, prompting the hunter to snort faintly. He’s probably never met a colonist who could pronounce his name correctly or even attempted it. Even he needed a moment until it sounded good in his head.
“I’ve kept in touch with an Onyota’a:ka tribe,” the hunter explained. “Good people. The kind where you don’t have to pretend to be somethin’ you aren’t.”
He turned forward again, staring off into the distance. They’ve probably left too by now.
He is always going to end up alone, is he?
Just one more chapter, I swear.