57 - Shadowplay II

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September 14, 1485

Venice, Italy

It wasn't far to the Palazzo Antonio had claimed as his own, but the trek was arduous; each step felt like the weight of the world was on Catherine's shoulders—or rather, right in her pocket. She didn't feel true pain or ache, but she certainly did in her mind. Questions plagued her the entire way, and kept her in a solemn silence as she tried to make sense of things. Unfortunately, that tactic never worked. Rather, only new worries formed, and with a glance to her lover—his face set firmly as stone, lips creased thin—she knew he was considering them, too. Each time her Clock activated he took it as a personal failure; an inability to protect her. Truthfully, this was a different scenario—they had been in no danger—but he would consider it all the same. Without doubt there would be a lengthy discussion to try and figure it out.

Later, however.

Right now, the pope's life hung in the balance, and they were very short on time.

Rosa was lounging lazily in the open courtyard, half-eaten apple in hand when they arrived. She perked up at the sight of them, a grin on her face, but it faltered some as she took note of their expressions. A brow quirked as she stood up from her chair—spirited out of one of the rooms—and turned her apple in her hand thoughtfully.

"For a moment there, I thought you'd come here in a rush just to see me... but something is telling me otherwise," she mused, glancing between them.

"We need to speak with Antonio," Ezio replied at once, panting lightly.

Catherine nodded, "It's urgent—where is he?"

"Hold on, I'll call him," Rosa replied, turning to face the stairway balcony to their right. "Antonio! Ezio and Catherine are here! Hurry up—they say it's urgent!"

The man in question popped his head out not a moment later, an equally as perplexed look as the one on his pupil's face. He said a quick greeting and to wait a moment as he made a beeline down the stairs to them.

"My friends, is everything alright?" was his—rhetorical—question, and the two Assassins glanced at one another before the young man stepped forward.

"Carlo Grimaldi and the Barbarigo are in league with the one they call The Spaniard. They're to murder the Doge—and replace him with one of their own. They will have all of Venezia—her entire fleet—in their grasp."

Antonio scowled, throwing up his arm, "And they call me a criminal!"

"So you'll help us? 'Cause we could really use it," Catherine grimaced, and the leader of thieves nodded.

"Of course. After what you have done, I will gladly stand by your side. You have all the support of my men, as well."

"And women!" Rosa smirked, although there was a fierce determination flaring in her eyes.

The redhead grinned back, "Thank-you—."

"But," Antonio interrupted, a sullen look about him as he regarded them both carefully, "I must warn you both... It is not going to be like with Emilio. It will not be so easy to get in. Palazzo Ducale is the most heavily guarded building in Venezia."

"Nothing is impenetrable," Ezio was quick to reply, his tone sure and steady. Briefly, Catherine was envious. She was not nearly so confident.

Rosa chuckled, "This is why we like you two. Well, at least why we like Ezio. Catherine gives us far more to like."

The young man gave the lady-thief a "really" look, pouting somewhat. His redheaded companion managed to crack another grin before returning her focus to Antonio, whom motioned for them to follow.

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