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On a clear night in Venice, commoners crowded the many maze-like streets of the beautiful city. What made this night so different from any other was that everybody bore elegant and finely made masks as well as colorful robes, in celebration of the Carnevale; a time to wash away the pains and worries of everyday life by putting on a mask and becoming anonymous like everyone else. But for a young Miss Terra Moretti, this was a time for work. At this very moment, she was pushing her way through the crowds of people, with her two most trusted companions flanking her on either side: Emilio Cabano and Leo Rotolo. The three of them were all properly dressed for the occasion, and so, they attracted very little attention amongst the sea of porcelain faces. Emilio and Leo both wore robes that were worn and torn, but were still dressed decent enough for the celebrations. Emilio’s mask was adorned with green speckles along the edges, but aside from that, both gentlemen had very simple white masks. Oddly enough, Terra wasn’t wearing a fancy dress like most ladies traditionally would. Instead, she was dressed in scraggily knee-length shorts, and a white blouse that grew baggy at the sleeves, but was tightened by a black leather bodice from chest to waist, revealing her slim figure flawlessly. Her short blond boy-cut hair was shaded by a dark feathery hat lined with silver threading. The feathers were all different shades of gray, but the shining moonlight set them mysteriously aglow, and her mask was the same color as the threading of her hat. Her crystal blue gaze was alert and ready for anything as she made her way down the streets, and her comrades were just as tense.
With a subtle hand motion behind her back, Terra dismissed her friends, and they all parted ways. They either vanished into the crowds of civilians, or into another street or alley. Terra had reached a courtyard filled with street performers and their entertained audiences when she stopped and plucked one of the grey feathers from her hat. As she twirled it between her fingers, she slowly dragged her gaze across every masked face within her view.
“Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen!” A voice bellowed from the other end of the courtyard.
A portly man stood on a high balcony overlooking the celebrations below, “It has just come to my attention that the murderer wandering our midst…” he paused for emphasis, “…has been arrested!”
The courtyard roared with applause and joyous yelps as Terra tipped her hat lower over her face, and began pushing her way through the crowds, only to stop short at the sound of a whistle amongst all the loud cries of the townsfolk. She looked up towards the building rooftops to see a silhouette vanish from sight. Unalarmed, she scanned the remaining rooftops and could count three, no, four gunmen at their posts.
The man on the balcony raised his hand, and the crowds were silenced once more. “Now, do enjoy the rest of your night!” He laughed good-naturedly as a servant boy came out onto the balcony with a serving of wine, and he was lured back into the party inside along with the young servant.
As the festivities resumed in the courtyard, Terra found her way into the nearest alleyway, and she started twirling the feather in her hand once again. Emilio emerged from the shadows and stood before Terra as he gave his report, “The gunmen are all positioned too closely together; it will be challenging to dispose of them without reaching detection.”
“How heavily armed?”
“Aside from the crossbows, at least one of them carried an iron mace on his belt.”
Terra sighed as she peered out into the courtyard once again, “It complicates things, but we’ll still go through with the plan. Go to the docks and-” But she stopped as a scream abruptly sent the courtyard into chaos. Emilio and Terra both grew tense as they peered back into the mess of scrambling commoners, but remained in the shadows of the alleyway. It was difficult to determine what was going on through the clusters of people, but guards were running towards the center of the courtyard from all sides. As the commoners began to clear out, Emilio and Terra could see the guards trying to subdue a blond-haired muscular man wearing a plain white mask: Leo.
Terra cursed under her breath before turning on Emilio, “Did I not tell him this was a stealth mission?!”
Emilio hardly reacted at all to her sudden outburst, and instead, kept an observant watch on the fight in the courtyard. Though Leo had been beyond reckless, he would never give up in a struggle, no matter how badly outnumbered he was.
“So what’s our next move?” Emilio spoke calmly.
Terra took a deep long breath as she paced back and forth, twirling the feather furiously in her hands as she rapidly began calculating the best way to go about all of this. Emilio made no attempt to rush her, since he always trusted her clever thinking and plotting skills, just as much as she trusted his patience and calm composure. Their teamwork was a big reason most of their missions came out as a success, but unfortunately, Leo was still new in the business, and had not yet achieved that level of trust. The man was too proud, and became violent far too easily, but his valiant combat skills kept him in the game, figuratively speaking.
“We can’t let those gunmen shoot our idiot.” Terra finally answered, and without further explanation, she ran up the nearest wall and began scaling the building, aiming for the rooftops.
Emilio did not need any explanation, so he was already climbing up right beside her. In fact, he was much more quick and nimble than she; he was a natural climber. By the time she had reached the top, he was already there to help her up. No words were exchanged as the two leaped from rooftop to rooftop. They may very well have been the best pair of thieves in all of Venice; they both complemented each other, strengthening their weaknesses through flawless teamwork.
Within moments, the two had reached their destination. Terra jumped down out of sight, while Emilio ran straight at the first gunman, blade drawn, and ended his life before any retaliation could occur. It was as clean as any kill could get, but Emilio could never promise a painless death.
He looked up to see the next gunman pointing a crossbow at a dangerously close range, but Terra was already there to assist, catching the man in a choke hold with her tight grip. The crossbow was fired, but the aim was sloppy, and easy for Emilio to dodge. Without a moment’s hesitation, Emilio rushed on ahead, onto the next gunman. Terra didn’t let go of her victim no matter how many times he elbowed and kicked her. It wasn’t until he grew limp that she let go and let him fall to the ground with a thud. She looked back to Emilio to see he had already taken down the remaining enemies. Only one out of four men would wake up in the morning as a survivor. Terra knew this was the smoothest way for her and Emilio to continue the mission, so she had to dismiss such pitiful thoughts.
“Where’s the idiot now?” Terra asked as she peered over the rooftop and down into the courtyard; everyone was gone including Leo and the guards.
“Looks like they already carried him off. Even someone like him couldn’t have defeated such odds.”
She simply nodded as her gaze drifted to the balcony where the speaker from earlier had once stood.
After a few moments, she spoke up again, “Go get Leo first. If you can cut them off before they reach a secure location, make your move, but otherwise, we’ll worry about it tomorrow. Just make sure you aren’t late for the rendezvous.”
He gave a curt nod, “Good luck.” He said right before jumping down into the nearest alley and out of sight.
Terra paced back and forth as she eyed the balcony. She knew she had a job to do, but the moment she took the next step in the plan, there wouldn’t be any second chances. She wouldn’t have hardly any time to rest or even think for that matter. The next part of the mission would require her to act on instinct alone. But Terra couldn’t contemplate this all night, she couldn’t spare even a moment. She dropped down onto the balcony, and swiftly ducked behind a tall decorative plant. The chatter amongst the party inside did not seem alarmed, so she casually walked inside, and once again, began twirling the gray feather in between her fingers.
She was now moving about a crowded hallway, but no one took much notice of her aside from the occasional sneers, mainly from fellow, yet more appropriately and divinely dressed, women who were appalled by her choice of garments. Terra could care less about the looks they gave her so long as they didn’t realize she did not belong among them. As she traveled downstairs to the foyer, she bumped into a man with broad shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention to his appearance, since he was just another nobody in the sea of masked faces.
“Pardon me.” She mumbled as she moved passed him and down onto the ground floor of the foyer.
His head jerked up at the sound of her voice, but she had already vanished into another crowd near the dining hall as he looked back in search of the woman. Her attention was now fixated upon a drunken glutton sitting in the dining hall, where several maidens were catering to his every whim, serving him more rounds of wine as well as dessert dishes. His servants didn’t seem threatening, and there was too much going on outside the dining hall for anyone to take too much notice of what was about to take place.
Terra slowly approached the pitiful glutton from behind and carefully placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, “Greetings, Enrico Borgia.” She said as a sly smile crossed her thin lips.
The man paused from his self indulgence and turned his head in her direction, only to feel sharp, cold metal brush up against his throat. The ladies serving him all gasped as they saw the dagger in Terra’s hand, and one of them even dropped a plate, which then shattered onto the floor.
“Please don’t make such a fuss ladies, this will only take a moment.” Terra said gently, but her sly smile wasn’t quite as reassuring as her tone.
The hefty man named Enrico carefully studied the eyes behind Terra’s mask, but was unable to identify her, “Just who do you think you are?”
“I’m no one important, don’t worry. Perhaps you could help me though. I’m looking for a dear friend of mine by the name of Cirocco Slavazza. You might know him as-“
“-The Silver Raven.” Enrico said steadily, “You rats are plotting his escape after all, eh?”
“But of course.” Terra answered smoothly, “Now you’re either going to tell me where he’s being held, or I’ll have to make a bit of a mess in this lovely dining hall of yours.” She put a slight amount of pressure on the dagger to his throat, not enough to draw blood, but certainly enough to make her point.
She watched as Enrico’s meaty hands balled up into fists, knowing he was struggling to make a decision. It was no surprise he valued his life far much more than his pride, and wouldn’t risk himself even for the sake of keeping a notorious criminal behind bars. Terra knew this well, and this was the reason why she had planned to confront this man from the very beginning. Not many other elites were such useful cowards.
“He’s being held at the Santa Maria Della Visitazione.” He answered solemnly.
“Which one?” Terra replied sharply; she knew Venice well enough by now to know there were two churches by that name in the city.
“Hey! You there!”
Terra looked back towards the door to the foyer to see the man she had bumped into earlier.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She muttered as she watched the man reach for his hidden sword.
“Please step away from him, or I will have to use force.” The man ordered.
Terra snorted, “What kind of threat is that? Most Borgia guards talk with their fists, not their mouths.” Though Terra was only taunting, it was true, but there was something familiar about the way the man hesitated at drawing his blade.
“Guards! Guards! She’s trying to kill me!” Enrico suddenly shouted, and the servant ladies took their chance to run out as Borgia guards started flooding in.
Terra cursed under her breath once again as she stepped away from Enrico, and her gaze darted around the room in search of a quick escape. The man who had arrived first was also the first to lunge at her with his blade, but she skirted out of his reach, only to have another guard catch her from behind and nail her in the side. Terra cried out as he left a wide slash across her side, but quickly spun around to block another swing with nothing but her wimpy little dagger. She was attacked by yet another guard, but she swiftly darted out of harm’s way.
By the time they had finally cornered her, she had already disarmed one man, and several others lay unconscious on the floor, but alas, she had nowhere to run now. Not until one of the more muscular guards was reckless enough to send a dining chair straight through a glass window. Without pausing for any witty banter, Terra launched herself through the broken window and back into the streets, back under the moonlight. The ice cold prickling from the glass was no worse than a wood splinter compared to the danger that waited if she lingered too long. Once she rolled back onto her feet, she tore down the street, having only one destination at this point. The first guard jumped out just as easily as Terra had done, and he quickly looked to his comrades as they followed his lead one at a time.
“Head east and cut her off before she reaches the canal! Hurry!” He said before turning and chasing after the pesky woman.
Terra tore down the road at full speed, darting around crowds and skirting passed vendors. She could only spot one guard following far behind her, but he was catching up quickly. After a few abrupt turns here and there, Terra finally reached a less populated area. In fact, there was no one here at all. She was about to break into another run, but the wound in her side proved too much for her to handle. She winced and backed into a wall as she watched the guard run up and stop at a safe distance.
“You’re a good runner. I don’t know too many people who can actually outrun me.” She spat between gasps of breath, and her chest was heaving from the strain of the run.
“Quit now and I won’t have to hurt you.” He said so coldly that it wiped the smirk off Terra’s face.
“Right then.” She said as she straightened up and moved her hand away from her bloody wound, “Since I have no intention of backing down so easily, why don’t we just skip the pleasantries?”
“Very well.” The man said before rushing forward and swinging his sword down near her legs.
She quickly blocked with her stolen blade and pushed him away, managing to land a counterattack before he could regain his balance. The nonstop sounds of metal clashing back and forth rang out through the streets, and Terra knew it would only attract more guards, so she didn’t have much time. But she had let her guard down just long enough to get thrown into the wall. She hardly slipped a whimper as he pointed his blade to her throat. Even with blood trickling down her arms, and soaking her leather bodice, she remained proud and unyielding as she held his gaze determinedly. Not even as he claimed her mask did she even bat an eyelash. Her challenging gaze remained true as he threw the mask to the ground and it shattered into a million pieces.
“Miss Terra Moretti.” He said quietly, his face only inches from hers.
“So a Borgia pig actually knows my name! I should feel honored!” She spat sarcastically, unable to contain her rage any longer; the things she had seen these filthy Borgia guards do, the damage they had left, was too much to forgive.
But he didn’t seem offended, or even challenged. He calmly tore Terra’s sword from her grip and dropped it with a clatter beside the remains of her broken mask. There was a sort of longing in those dark eyes of his, and she could feel the blade at her throat beginning to shake.
Before she could think any more of it though, he shoved her into the middle of the street and ordered, “Get out of my sight.”
She easily regained her balance, but then looked back at the man suspiciously. It had to be a nasty trick of some sort; why else would he just let her go? Just who was he?
“I said go, before I change my mind.”
She took one step back, watching him carefully, but he didn’t move an inch. Never had she seen mercy from any guards. To change that pattern now seemed… bazaar. But she couldn’t fret over it now. She had a dear friend of hers in need of rescuing. After a few moments of silence, Terra turned and ran off down the street. He stood there, listening to her fading footsteps, and then finally, a distant splash. With a faint sigh, he bent down and picked up something she had left behind, and he assumed it had been dropped by accident. His fellow Borgia guards soon arrived, and naturally, they questioned him about the woman’s whereabouts.
“Where’d she go?”
“Did you see where she went?”
“She got away.” The man said, revealing a gray feather that glowed silver in the moonlight.
By now, Terra had found her way to the rendezvous where Emilio and Leo waited with a gondola. As soon as she broke the surface of the water, she grasped the side of the boat and gasped for air, “Go! Come on!”
Emilio immediately started rowing at the back of the gondola, while an alarmed Leo pulled Terra up out of the water with ease. She gasped as his hand ran across her flesh wound, and she pushed Leo away once she was safely on the vessel.
“You’re… hurt?” Leo asked, as he looked down at the red now tainting his fingertips; since when did Terra let someone even touch her?
“So are you.” She snorted, but it wasn’t much of an argument; he only had a few scratches, and she had a deep side wound. She was also cold and dripping wet, but she wasn’t one to complain.
She didn’t have much else to say, all she could do was shamefully cringe as she sloppily tried to hide the pain. Emilio’s gaze fell upon his valuable partner, and even though her back was turned, she shuddered and lowered her head. He saw a lot of blood during these sorts of missions, but the sight of Terra’s blood was the worst outcome he could endure. Especially since it didn’t matter how much he cared for her, she was only concerned for the sake of others, there wasn’t any time for her to take care of herself.
“How’d you do?” Emilio spoke softly, changing the subject; he would tend to her properly back at the hideout.
Terra looked back passed Emilio to see her feathery hat floating along the canal a little ways back, “We have enough information to go off of. We’ll find him.”