Reginald stood, dressed, at the centre of his chamber. Just like him, always such a stickler for etiquette—he had dressed to meet his killers. Suddenly there was a shadow on the wall, cast by a figure hidden behind the door and, rather than wait for the trap to be sprung, I rammed the sword through the wood, heard a scream of pain from the other side then stepped through and let the door swing closed with the body of the final guard pinned to it, staring at the sword through his chest with wide, disbelieving eyes as his feet scrabbled on the wooden floor.

“Haytham,” said Reginald coolly.

iv

“Was he the last of the guards?” I asked, shoulders heaving as I caught my breath. Behind me, the feet of the dying man still scuffed the wood, and I could hear Jenny and Holden on the other side of the door, struggling to open it with his writhing body in the way. At last, with a final cough, he died, his body dropped from the blade, and Holden and Jenny burst in.

“Yes.” Reginald nodded. “Just me now.”

“Monica and Lucio—are they safe?”

“In their quarters, yes, along the hall.”

“Holden, would you do me a favour?” I asked over my shoulder. “Would you go and see that Monica and Lucio are unharmed? Their condition may well help determine how much pain we put Mr. Birch through.”

Holden pulled the body of the guard away from the door, said, “Yes, sir,” and left, shutting the door behind him, with a certain finality about the way he did it that wasn’t lost on Reginald.

Reginald smiled. A long, slow, sad smile. “I did what I did for the good of the Order, Haytham. For the good of all humanity.”

“At the expense of my father’s life. You destroyed our family. Did you think I’d never find out?”

He shook his head sadly. “My dear boy, as Grand Master, you have to make difficult decisions. Did I not teach you that? I promoted you to Grand Master of the Colonial Rite, knowing that you, too, would have to make similar decisions and having faith in your ability to make them, Haytham. Decisions made in the pursuit of a greater good. In pursuit of ideals you share, remember? You ask, did I think you’d ever find out? And of course the answer is yes. You are resourceful and tenacious. I trained you to be that way. I had to consider the possibility that, one day, you’d learn the truth, but I hoped that when that day arrived you’d take a more philosophical view.” His smile was strained. “Given the body count, I’m to assume disappointment in that regard, am I?”

I gave a dry laugh. “Indeed, Reginald. Indeed you are. What you did is a corruption of everything I believe, and do you know why? You did it not with the application of our ideals but with deceit. How can we inspire belief when what we have in our heart is lies?”

He shook his head disgustedly. “Oh, come on, that’s naïve rubbish. I’d have expected it of you as a young adept, but now? During a war, you do what you can to secure victory. It’s what you do with that victory that counts.”

“No. We must practise what we preach. Otherwise, our words are hollow.”

“There speaks the Assassin in you,” he said, his eyebrows arched.

I shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of my roots. I’ve had years to reconcile my Assassin blood with my Templar beliefs, and I have done so.”

I could hear Jenny breathing by my side, wet, ragged breaths that even now were quickening.

“Ah, so this is it,” scoffed Reginald, “You consider yourself a mediator, do you?”

I said nothing.

“And you think you can change things?” he asked with a curled lip.

But the next person to speak was Jenny. “No, Reginald,” she said. “Killing you is to take revenge for what you have done to us.”

He turned his attention to her, acknowledging her presence for the first time. “And how are you, Jenny?” he asked her, raising his chin slightly then adding, disingenuously, “Time has not withered you, I see.”

She was making a low, growling sound now. From the corner of my eye I saw the hand holding the knife come forward threateningly. So did he.

“And your life as a concubine,” he went on, “was it a rewarding time for you? I should imagine you got to see so much of the world, so many different people and varied cultures . . .”

He was trying to goad her, and it worked. With a howl of rage born of years of subjugation she lunged at him as though to slash him with the knife.

“No, Jenny . . . !” I shouted, but too late, because of course he was ready for her. She was doing exactly what he’d hoped she’d do and, as she came within striking distance, he snatched out his own dagger—it must have been tucked into the back of his belt—and avoided her knife swipe with ease. Then she was howling in pain and indignation as he snatched and twisted her wrist, her knife dropped to the wood and his arm locked around her neck with his blade held to her throat.

Over her shoulder, he looked at me, and his eyes twinkled. I was on the balls of my feet, ready to spring forward, but he pushed the blade to her throat and she whimpered, both of her arms at his forearm trying to dislodge his grip.

“Uh-uh,” he warned, and already he was edging around, keeping the knife to her throat, pulling her back towards the door, the expression on his face changing, though, from triumph to irritation, as she began to struggle.

“Keep still,” he told her through gritted teeth.

“Do as he says, Jenny,” I urged, but she was thrashing in his grip, perspiration-soaked hair plastered to her face, as though she were so revolted by being held by him that she would rather be cut than spend another second in such close proximity. And cut she was, blood flowing down her neck.

“Will you hold still, woman!” he snapped, beginning to lose his composure. “For the love of God, do you want to die here?”

“Better that and my brother put you to death than allow you to escape,” she hissed, and continued to strain against him. I saw her eyes flick to the floor. Not far away from where they struggled was the body of the guard, and I realized what she was doing a second before it happened: Reginald stumbled against an outstretched leg of the corpse and lost his footing. Just a little. But enough. Enough so that when Jenny, with a yell of effort, thrust backwards, he tripped over the corpse and lost his balance, thumping heavily against the door—where my sword was still stuck fast through the wood.

His mouth opened in a silent shout of shock and pain. He still held Jenny, but his grip relaxed and she dropped forward, leaving Reginald pinned to the door and looking from me to his chest where the point of the sword protruded from it. When he pulled a pained face there was blood on his teeth. And then, slowly, he slid from the sword and joined the first guard on the floor, his hands at the hole in his chest, blood soaking his clothes and already beginning to pool on the floor.

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