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Hellhounds

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“Shay, come and help me with this.” The voice came from somewhere to Shay’s right.

“Not now, Liam,” he groaned, trying to focus on the mountain of documents in front of him, all covered in small, tightly-spaced letters. “Can’t you water your damn plants on your own at least one night?”

“No!” The answer was as immediate as it sounded petulant. “You need to hold the ladder or I’ll break my neck!”

“Then break your damn neck, I’m trying to work here!” Shay yelled back.

“Shay!”

“Liam!”

“SHAY!”

There was a thump on the wall that interrupted their shouting, just as Shay considered raising his voice even more. They couldn’t understand the words coming from the next door apartment, but the tone was clear. Shay cursed.

“Hope is going to kill us if we’re going to keep this up,” a voice said behind him. He turned to see Liam standing in the doorway, looking somewhat dishevelled and annoyingly smug. “Just hold the ladder for me for one moment, will you? You can go back to your boring reading right after, I promise.”

“It’s not boring, it’s work,” Shay grumbled.

“Work that’ll still be there in five minutes,” Liam shot back. “What is it they’re sending you out for, anyway?”

“They’re asking me to get close to this one Templar bigshot, get some intelligence, try to find out where he’s vulnerable. Maybe assassinate him, I’m not sure yet.” Shay sighed and rubbed his face. Trying to get away from Liam was fighting a losing battle, so he decided to get it over with and help him. Liam’s smug grin was so wide that Shay almost turned back around the moment he stepped into the room.

“And who is it?” Liam asked as he clambered back up the ladder with Shay holding on to the bottom end to stabilise his friend’s precarious perch.

“You know I’m not allowed to tell you,” Shay told him. Liam bent over to water the row of plants near the top of the elaborate green window, making the ladder wobble dangerously.

“And you know that I’d find out sooner or later anyway,” Liam retorted. Shay shook the ladder, just a little. It caused Liam to yell a string of expletives that Achilles would’ve had their hides for. He held on, deliberately spilling some of his water so it landed on Shay’s head.

“Haytham Kenway,” Shay said, glaring at the drops of water falling onto his nose. Liam was right; he would’ve found out either way. There was silence in reply from above, for so long that Shay finally looked up to see whether Liam was still there.

The Haytham Kenway?” Liam finally asked as he clambered down again.

“I wasn’t aware there was more than one,” Shay grumbled in response. “Of course it’s the Haytham Kenway. Head of Kenway Industries, successful businessman, no currently known partner, father of one Connor Kenway, and, as it happens, Grand Master of the Templar Order.”

“Sounds about right,” Liam mumbled, more to himself than to Shay. “And they’re sending you on shadowing such an important man? Really?”

“Why, you think I’m not good enough for such a mission yet?” It came out slightly sharper than Shay had intended.

Liam raised his hands.

“Sorry to hurt your pride, didn’t mean it like that. Did they tell you why they wanted you in particular for this? Or did they actually ask for volunteers?”

“You meant it exactly like that,” Shay said under his breath before he continued. “No, they wanted me in particular. Kenway is only six years older than me and they thought I’d be a good fit for working as his new personal assistant, apparently.”

“Personal assistant?” Liam whistled. “How did they manage that? I thought everyone close to him would be a Templar for sure. Or at least associated with them.”

“No idea,” Shay shrugged. “But I certainly won’t let this opportunity go to waste.” A thought sprang into his mind, suddenly worrying him. “You don’t think it’s a trap, do you?”

“This much effort to catch a, no offense, still quite low-ranking assassin?” Liam shook his head. “I think they’d be a lot more direct about that. Just make sure you’re not accidentally dropping any secrets…”

“As if I would.” Shay said and rolled his eyes. “Now let me get back to the files, I have to memorise my fictional CV and everything I can about Kenway Industries until Monday.”

“Sure thing.” Liam slapped him on the backside, perhaps a bit more firmly than strictly necessary. Shay resisted the urge to get pulled into a scuffle and made his way back to his papers. This was one mission he truly didn’t want to screw up; especially since it seemed as if they might finally begin considering him for Master Assassin if he was successful. And successful was what he would be; surely, shadowing one arrogant and self-obsessed CEO couldn’t be that hard.

Could it?

*

Shay was a lot more nervous than he’d ever have admitted. He kept tugging at his new suit, wondering if it really made him look as sharp as the tailor had promised, or if he was looking as ridiculous as he felt.

The elevator arrived on the top floor of the large office building, its doors sliding apart to reveal a sparsely but functionally furnished reception room. There were two assistants working behind the large reception desk and Shay wondered instantly whether they were Templars, and if yes, just how highly they ranked within the organisation.

“Uhm-“ He was about to step closer and introduce himself, as well as asking for directions to Kenway’s office, when the door next to him flew open and almost hit him in the face.

“Father, please!”

“I said no, Ratonhnhaké:ton.”

Two men exited the office, and Shay could only think that of all the ways he thought he’d meet Haytham Kenway in the flesh for the first time, this certainly wasn’t one he’d imagined. True to his reputation, Kenway was dressed in an immaculately fitted suit, his hair bound back neatly. In contrast, his son – Shay had recognised the name from his files – was wearing jeans and a simple t-shirt that sported the faded logo of a nearby animal rescue.

Ratonhnhaké:ton turned on his heels to face his father, eyes blazing with all the righteous indignation that only teenagers could produce. It reminded Shay vividly of a younger version of himself.

“But Dickie needs a home! I know how to train him, how to take care of him-“

“I said no.” Kenway crossed his arms, meeting his son’s gaze with a long-suffering sigh. “I know you’d adopt every single dog in that shelter, if you could. But between the cats, my schedule, your schedule and that of your mother and everything else, I don’t think the dog would be happy. Especially not a puppy.”

“I’ve done all the research, I know what I’m getting myself into,” Ratonhnhaké:ton said defensively. “And I’ve already talked to Ma.”

“Have you, now?” The hint of a smile played around Kenway’s lips. “I’m fairly sure she said the same thing I did, didn’t she?”

His son mumbled something unintelligible before turning his flaming gaze at Kenway again.

“I know how to care for a puppy, Da. And Dickie is so scared of all the other dogs at the shelter-“

“We’ll talk about it again next weekend,” Kenway sighed. Clearly this was an argument they’d had before. “Surely nobody will adopt him until then.”

“You don’t know! Someone might!” Ratonhnhaké:ton sounded desperate. His father made a motion as if he wanted to step forward and put a hand on his shoulder but aborted it halfway through.

“In that case, I am sure that Dickie will go to a good and loving home. You can’t save them all. And in this case, you might not actually have to, Ratonhnhaké:ton.”

His son only glared at him before storming off without another word. Instead of waiting for the elevator (and thus ruining his chance for a dramatic exit), he left through the door of the emergency stairway. It fell closed with a rather loud bang. Kenway stared at it for a good moment before he expelled a breath and turned around to face both his assistants and Shay, who quickly tried to school his expression into something akin to professional.

“I assume you’re Shay Cormac,” Kenway said, mustering Shay quickly from head to toe. As Shay nodded in reply, he wasn’t sure whether he passed some kind of invisible test or not, but, after a moment, Kenway offered him his hand. His grip was firm, but not painful.

“Welcome to Kenway Industries, Mister Cormac.”

“Thank you, sir.” Shay returned Kenway’s grip with the same strength. “I hope I didn’t come at a bad time?”

“No, absolutely not.” Kenway indicated the way to what Shay presumed was his office. “Only a minor disagreement with my son.”

“Ah.” Shay was sure that he should have given a lot more intelligent and elaborate answer, but he couldn’t think of any. In fact, his entire surroundings seemed to render him quite speechless – it was everything he had imagined, and yet so different. Haytham Kenway’s office was as clean and functional as might be expected, the only personal touches a picture on his desk and a painting on the wall depicting a forest clearing. To Shay’s surprise, it bore the signature of one Kaniehtí:io. Nothing that obviously connected him to the Templars, as far as Shay could see. But then, it was probably not an association one would want to flaunt so openly.

“I trust that you’ve received most of the relevant information already? We pride ourselves on a rather efficient admin team here.” Kenway gestured for them both to sit down at his desk as he spoke.

“Yes, I’ve had no problems so far. Getting the security pass and everything. Caroline from HR sent me up here, saying that my office would be next to yours?”

“Quite right. I did hire you as personal assistant, after all.” There was no hint of humour or irony in Kenway’s voice, making it hard for Shay to discern the mood behind his statement.

“Yes, sir.” Was it only his imagination or did Shay see the hint of a smile flicker across Kenway’s lips?

“In that case, it seems prudent that we begin with talking through your tasks for this week…”

*

“…and this should cover your work until Friday. Any questions?” Kenway stared at him in a way that reminded Shay of the piercing glare his old French teacher had always liked to employ. For a moment he felt the overwhelming urge to begin reciting vocabulary.

“Uh. No, sir, I don’t think so.” He looked down at the two pages of notes he had taken – Haytham Kenway was more than just keen on getting even the smallest details correct. One small point caught his attention. “Except…”

“Yes?” Haytham raised an eyebrow. “You should never feel shy about asking for clarification, Mister Cormac. This is why we will have these sessions in person every Monday morning, after all. There are no stupid questions. Well, except for the truly stupid ones.”

“Yes, sir.” Shay swallowed. He had an inkling that Kenway didn’t look kindly upon the truly stupid questions. “For the gala on Friday. In which…function do you wish me to attend? And what will the dress code be?”

For a split second, Kenway looked slightly taken aback.

“’Which dress code’—ah, of course, I forgot to mention. It will be a white tie gala and you will attend fulfilling the exact job which we hired you for: as my assistant. I will pass minor organisatory details over to you; in addition, I expect you to keep track of who says what and the promises that are being made. And…try and remain as sober as possible.”

“And here I thought it was the British who were being known for getting smashed at the most inopportune moments,” Shay couldn’t help but say, cursing his loose tongue immediately after. Kenway frowned and anger flickered across his face for just a moment, the first real emotion Shay had seen from him. Then he relaxed.

“If my time at university was anything to go by, this stereotype has some truth to it, yes.” It was probably the closest he could come to an apology. “But either way. This gala will be part of your job; you will be paid overtime of course.”

“Thank you, sir. Do we have a guest list? So that I can familiarise myself with the attendees ahead of time?”

“Of course. I’ll have one send to you over the course of today.” Kenway nodded and made a little note. “Anything else?”

Shay shook his head.

“Then I’ll expect you to get on with your work, Mister Cormac.” Kenway made a small gesture towards the door of what would evidently be Shay’s office. It wasn’t until Shay had risen from his seat and walked halfway to the door that Kenway spoke again.

“You came with great references, Mister Cormac.” Shay turned to see Kenway looking down at his table, sorting through a few papers. His next words came after he looked up, letting Shay feel the full weight of his gaze once more. “I expect you will not disappoint.”

“I don’t plan to, sir,” Shay couldn’t help but say. Kenway only gave him a quick nod before turning his attention back to his desk again.

*

Shay’s first workday passed without any major incidences. Sure, there were minor errors – the overturned glass of water on his desk, for example, or the fact that he had stood helplessly in front of the complicated looking coffee machine for fifteen minutes before he finally caved in and asked for help on how to use it.

In fact, everything else that happened was so ordinary that it was almost suspicious. He didn’t quite know what he had expected, but he knew Kenway Industries was completely in Templar hands; perhaps some more menace or more obviously dark machinations. Instead, he spent most of his day looking through payment records, organising meetings, and getting to know the various members of the company surrounding Haytham Kenway. And even when he used his work computer to dig a little more deeply into the company files there was hardly anything extraordinary to be found.

The people he met seemed just as friendly for the most part – and once again, almost suspiciously so. He almost felt as if he was part of a carefully rehearsed stage performance. The first person he had met after Caroline from HR was Charles Lee, Haytham’s personal secretary and the only exception to the ‘overly friendly’ rule that seemed to run in the company.

“So you’re Shay Cormac.” There was something in Lee’s gaze that made Shay draw back a little. Despite being unfailingly polite towards him, there seemed to be something hidden behind Lee’s eyes that was far more dangerous.

“Indeed I am.” Shay put on his most winning smile as he shook Lee’s hand. “Thank you for your help with setting everything up in the new office.”

“Of course. Haytham requested it.” Haytham. Shay could have sworn that Lee normally referred to Kenway much more formally, especially when the man himself was around. “He also told me to be available, should you need anything else.”

“Thank you.” Shay took a deep breath when he stepped into the elevator and out of Lee’s sight. The other people that he met were far friendlier – one or two of them he actually recognised from the Templar files the Assassins had managed to get access to.

Nothing in Lucy Stillman’s demeanour would have told you that, as far as the Assassins knew, she was the second-in-command behind Haytham Kenway. Her smile towards Shay when they met over coffee was warm and friendly and it took them only a few moments to reach the familiarity of using each other’s first names. Within minutes she had him wrapped up in an anecdote that seemed to feature half of the company’s leading figures and an apparently rather embarrassing incident involving a bar fight and a frozen lake.

“…and then William and Charles decided they would go out icefishing even though they’d never done it before. Of course, the ice was too thin and, well, you can imagine what happened…if it weren’t for Haytham and Ziio, they might have drowned in that lake!”

Shay laughed. It reminded him a little of the shenanigans he and Liam would get into when they had been younger and had been able to steal away from the grind of both home-schooling and Assassin drills.

“Me and L-, a friend of mine used to get into trouble very much like this during our school days,” he said with a smile. “See who could climb and then jump from tree to tree the fastest, for example. Get drunk and try the whole thing again, but this time falling out of said tree. It’s quite a miracle we’re both still in one piece, to be honest…”

“Sounds remarkably like certain people at this corporation.” Lucy joined in with his laughter. “Seems like you’ll fit in well here, all in all. And don’t be bothered if Charles comes across a bit morose sometimes; he’ll warm up to you eventually, I promise.”

She was about to say something else when the door to the little break room opened, and another woman walked in. Shay had to put considerable effort into not letting his surprise show: it was none other than Maria Thorpe who had just stepped through the doorway. The Assassins knew almost nothing about her; she seemed an enigma to even the most senior members of their ranks. Shay had once heard Ezio refer to her as ‘the biggest mystery about the Templars in our time’, although with Ezio you could never be quite sure when or if he was joking.

“Ah, Maria!” Lucy seemed to be happily surprised to see her. After a quick hug she steered her over to Shay. “You’re coming just in time to meet Haytham’s new assistant.”

“Shay Cormac, pleased to meet you.” Shay smiled. He felt the strange urge to flourish a little bow in her direction, which he didn’t give in to.

“The pleasure’s all mine.” Maria Thorpe’s smile was dazzling as they shook hands, her dark brown eyes sparkling. Shay took a few moments to recover his wits. “Now, if I could kidnap Lucy from your charming presence for just a moment…” She had already taken Lucy’s arm and was leading her towards the door. “We’ll be back in a second.”

“Uh, sure…” Shay said, right when the door to the neighbouring room closed in his face. He felt like someone had just steamrolled over him. He had, of course, done his research into the known Templars of the company, but hadn’t expected to meet so many of them today. Especially not high-ranking ones. And Maria Thorpe’s presence had come as a complete surprise – none of the sparse intel they had suggested that she was involved with Kenway Industries in any way.

Shay was unsure whether he should wait for Lucy and Maria to return or make his way back to his own office. The decision was made for him when he was just finishing up his cup of coffee; the door through which the two Templars had disappeared opened, and Lucy stepped back through.

“Apologies for the sudden interruption,” she said with a smile. “Maria doesn’t like to be left waiting, as you saw.”

“Yeah, looked like it.” Shay chose to play over the moment of embarrassment by going to the sink to wash out his coffee cup. As Lucy has explained to him, Kenway Industries had banned all plastic cups a year ago in an effort to be ‘greener’. Staring at the brown crust inside his cup that even copious scrubbing couldn’t remove, Shay resolved to buy his own mug for coffee and tea first thing after work today. “Does she work here as well, or…?”

“Oh no, she isn’t one of our regular employees. Just an old friend of mine who swings by from time to time to check how things are going.” Lucy’s smile was as non-committal as that of a sales clerk. Shay suppressed a sigh. Well, it had been worth a try.

“Is there anything else you want me to show you?” Lucy asked him after a moment of silence had passed between them.  

“No, I think I’ll be fine. Should probably get back to the office to get started on my work. Thank you for showing me around and introducing me to everyone.”

“My pleasure.” Lucy gave him a little nod. “If you need anything, just ask.”

“Thank you. Good to know that there’s always someone I can turn to for help, I might feel a little lost otherwise.” Shay laughed self-consciously and scratched his head. He still felt horrendously out of place in these posh offices.

“No worries. You can trust me.” And with that, Lucy returned to her own office, leaving Shay to wonder whether there had been more behind her last statement than it seemed.