"Andiamo, amici. We must be off." He nodded to the men, whom he'd dressed in clothes very similar to those worn by the apothecary's son Ricardo. It had taken a good deal of time to get Shaun to take the clothes with him standing still as stone, drool pouring out of his mouth as he gasped, "Da--Da--Da--Da--Da--Signore da Vinci..."
Ricardo and Daniele had had to help Lex catch him before he could faint from the mere fact of the great polymath standing before him in the flesh."
"He's real," Shaun had babbled. "He's real, he's not a computer generated animatronic image from pixels and bytes. He's real, he's real..."
"What is this fool going on about?" Daniele muttered.
"Shaun, get a grip!" Lex snapped, shaking him. After Leonardo helped them raise Shaun up and Lex had clamped a hand over his mouth to prevent him pulling another pterodactyl-fanboy-scream, Shaun had finally wrestled his old clothes off and his new ones one, stuffing their old ones into his bag, which Lex noticed then had Bag of Holding stamped on the front.
Once clothed, the men exited the building and grabbed the crates that Leonardo had stacked against the outer wall, following the man down the street. It was slow going, the Brit hissing at every splinter gouging into his fingertips and muttering about the wonders of cardboard boxes, Ricardo reaching over every once in a while to steady Lex's load, which was taller than the Sparrow's head, or to keep him from stepping off into a canal.
Eventually, after one forced halt to allow some Cubs to speak with the polymath at the head of the line and to inspect the crates--Lex's trembling and heavy breathing amused them to no end, one of the Lion Cubs jesting, "Awwww, poor lamb. Too heavy for you, little boy? What's the matter, your big Spanish balls not dropped yet to get you some extra size and muscle?"--they reached the docks.
The two men from the future set down their burdens with the rest of Leonardo's belongings already piled in his spot on the dockyard, jaws dropping at the sight of so many crates and so many ships.
Crows flew by overhead, their intended purpose surely to keep a watch over the docks from the skies. This, however, had been thwarted by the local avians. The seagulls, heavier and bigger of beak, swarmed over the little clusters of murders that flew through their skies, pecking, pushing, screeching, white hemming in black and driving them to the docks. The crows screeched back, only these were sounds of pain. The archers and gunmen fired warning shots at the birds from the rooftops they strode upon, but couldn't do much else lest they hit a passing civilian.
So even these Ravenwatch blokes have their moments of stupidity, thought Shaun as he watched the gulls picking apart the crows. The crows struggled to escape valiantly, to be sure, but there were too many gulls for them to win. Looking up from the mess being made on the docks, he spied what they were heading toward.
A black ship with black sails was what he saw, though he spied no name on her side. If it was written in black paint as well, he'd simply chalk it up to another moment of stupid.
From the ship came gunmen, the rifles slung across their backs, each carrying a crate to a growing pile of black crates on the dock before them. Each one looked exactly the same, large enough to hold a giant of a man, though not at all comfortably, each painted black, each bearing the same tight lid as the next.
Which one is Jameel in? Lex wondered, eyes flicking from one to the next to the next. There're so many. How're we going to find him in all that mess? The Sparrow gagged as he was jerked back by four hands behind barrels of fish and casks of olives to crouch beside his fellows. A black wagon had turned the corner to the docks, a small sort of wagon drawn by a mangy-looking donkey. The wagon stopped before the Crows' crates, the men accompanying it taking a crate each in hand and loading up.
Once full, the wagon rolled off. The Assassins looked at one another. Leonardo nodded to them, standing and moving to his pile of crates, striding after the wagon's path, the others following. Glancing over his pile of crates, the artist slapped a hand to his forehead.
"Dio mio, what an old fool I'm becoming! We must away; I've forgotten some of my most precious pieces!" They set off from the docks, trailing after the cart. The Crows glanced over their shoulders at them, beaks sometimes catching on their feathered cloaks, but said nothing. One hummed, which startled Lex almost enough to jump when he heard it, his hand moving toward his bow, but his companion put a hand on his and gave a quick shake. The hand lowered.
The wagon continued on into the square in front of Leonardo's home. Just when the Assassins wondered if it would keep lumbering on, the mule let out a loud bray and balked, favoring one leg. One of the Crows swore quite fluently, another surprise. Then a whistle sounded, a stone flew, and the Assassins were upon them.
The Crows didn't have time to draw their arrows, to prime their guns. Rawney stuck one in the throat with a rapier, Nico parrying a dagger and poking out one of the eyes of the men she was fighting. The Crow reeled back, clutching his face, before Ricardo and Daniele laid him low. A cry rang out from Leonardo as another of the Beaks in Black came up behind Nico, only to be felled by a cast iron skillet; Maria smashed the heavy weapon down atop his skull again for good measure, bone and brain squelching sickeningly.
Lex glanced to his left. Leonardo was dancing around the stabbing blade of a Crow, his rapier still sheathed. Backed up against his home's wall, he held up his hands and said, "Please, I am not a violent man! Signore, look at me! My bones are brittle, hair is silver, and teeth are gray!" This gave the Crow pause, head cocked to one side.
"I am a young man, however, red of hair, white of teeth, and full of calcium." The Crow whipped his head around, only to have it snapped backwards as the historian drove his fist into it. The Crow crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Lex jerked his own head around as he heard the humming again. The Crow was before him now, light gray eyes staring at him through the mask. Strangely, a cluster of white feathers adorned the enemy's chest.
The two stared at one another, the Crow's head moving from side to side, the Sparrow's tilting as well, though his feet remained rooted in place while the other drew inexhorably closer. He blinked as a black gloved hand reached out, tapping his nose. He blinked, the staring contest ended. Then the white-chested Crow was gone, hopping over the roofs. What the absolute ******** was that?
He almost screamed as a hand touched his shoulder. Shaun's hand. The Brit looked at the crates and the two quickly set to work with the others. In a matter of moments, the apothecary's family and the time travelers uncovered the sight that made Lex's stomach knot.
The Red Owl was red as his title said as well as black and blue and purple and yellow. Cuts and bruises, both fading and fresh, half-healed lacerations that looked to be made by an axe, and a broken leg marred his appearance. Hauling him out of the crate, the Assassins carried him into the apothecary's shop. Maria and Nico set to work immediately once he was set on the table with help from Lex, who'd managed to bring himself out of his stunned daze enough to fall into medic mode.
Shaun winced as he heard the scraping and crackling of bone being shoved about, the gasps and grunts from the man who was coming around and passing out again even as the others worked on him. Once the more serious wounds had been treated enough to make travel possible, the Red Owl was clothed in a spare set of pants from Daniele, though on Jameel they didn't reach his ankles, the other leg ripped off to make way for his splint.
His entire chest and back were bound in bandages, the latter slathered in disinfecting herbs where his skin had been flayed.
Amir appeared at the doorway, panting.
"Everything's been set up, Babbo!" he said to Leonardo.
"Bene. Let's get him up." The bigger men lifted Jameel up between them and headed outside. Using the mule, they brought him to the building that housed the Thieves Guild in Venice. Hauling Jameel up from man to man, they reached the roof and scurried over to where the gliders awaited them. "Strap these onto your backs," Leonardo commanded, breathless. The conscious men slid the parachutes on, Lex helped by Amir to strap Jameel both to one of the glider's and Shaun's chest.
"Why do I have to buddy up with your boyfriend?" the Brit questioned.
"Drop him and I'll kill you," was all Lex replied as he slipped beneath his own glider.
"Would this be a bad time to say I've never done this before?" Shaun gasped as he neared the edge.
"Fly, fly, fly! Wheee!" Amir cried as he leaped from the tallest point of the building, the others falling behind him. Shaun steeled himself, though he couldn't supress the whine that escaped through his gritted teeth as he fell and was caught by the wind, his stomach lurching forward and backward between his mouth and abdomen.
The heat of the baking tiles beneath them sent them high over the Serene Republic until a thermal caught their wings and tossed them higher, the men moving out toward the plains and hills in the distance.
The Assassins' stomachs lurched each time they drifted out of one thermal and into another. Sweat clung to the inside of Shaun's fingerless gloves. Lex's knuckles were white. Only Jameel and Amir seemed to be enjoying themselves; the one blissfully unaware of the situation, the other giggling and squealing. The wind grew rougher as they made their way toward the mountains, sometimes giving out altogether so that they plummeted, screaming, only to be buffeted up again.
Lex gritted his teeth, shifting his weight and turning the glider to avoid being blown into an outcrop of rock. Shaun was loosing a swear every five minutes, kicking his legs a little in the air as if this would help him stay aloft.
As they reached the halfway point in their journey, Lex marking it by the old bridge and tower he could spot through the rocks, the trouble began. Gunmen spotted them, a murder of black birds winging their way toward them. The shafts and bullets missed their feet by a good few feet, though the birds took to their air above their heads, circling.
Shaun hissed as one of the birds broke away--ravens, bigger than their crow cousins--and dove at his face.
"Ruddy buzzard!" He slammed his fist into its head, sending it tumbling downward. "My glasses are not yours!" He moved closer to Amir as Lex spiraled upward, calling back to them, "Fly hard!"
"What the sodding hell are you doing?" the Brit shouted. He soon got his answer. Turning the glider, Lex pointed the machine downward and dove at the black mass of feathers. Releasing his hold on the bar, he stabbed two of the birds with throwing knives and quickly grabbed the glider again, catching the breeze to fly back up to his companions.
The ravens flew after them as the gunmen faded into the distance, flapping around the gliders' canvas wings and pecking and ripping at them, trying to sink in their talons. One of the birds landed on the bar, landing a peck in at Jameel before Shaun could grab it by its face and toss it away. Roused by the sudden stab of pain, Jameel gave a shrill whistle that almost made Shaun let go of the bar to cover his ears.
The next moment a blur of large, white and brown feathers fell upon the crows. They were owls, Shaun saw when one came in close to snatch a crow from in front of him. About a dozen of them. The report of a gun sounded, Lex yelping as his leg was grazed. Down below, a group of black-clad riders was on their heels; they had flown too low to try and avoid the pecking menace in the sky.
Rising up again on the next thermal, Lex shouted over the wind, "Amir! Fire in the hole!" Amir unclipped two bombs from his belt, lit, and dropped them. He even whistled for added effect. A satisfying boom was heard from below as they moved on in a close V formation.
Amir took his turn to swear as he saw some of the archers coming on below them as they moved out into the plains, the shafts grazing the toes of his boots. He kicked one off that stubbornly clung by one of its serrated edges. Another archer loosed a shaft, catching the wing of Lex's glider before the horsemen were stopped by a wall of throwing knives and arrows, the weapons falling upon them from their flanks.
The men, clad in red robes, dispersed as quickly as they'd appeared, falling back into the trees that lined the roadside, only to reappear again. The last of the black horsemen fell, an arrow through him as the red men vanished once more.
San Gimignano, Italy
The blind man stood as he heard the monks rushing by, following the sounds of their frantic voices. He joined them in the circle where they stood, listening to the cries of "Look, look!" and "Miraculous!" and "No, some devilry!" They all cried out and took a step back as one of the gliders crashed to the ground.
Shaun let loose a good few swears as he parachuted down to land in front of the monks. The holy men stared at him and he stared back in return; he opened his mouth to say hello, but was interrupted as Amir landed, screaming laughter, in a nearby haystack, his parachute unopened.
"Again! Again!" the boy cried.
Shaun unstrapped Jameel from himself and lowered him to the ground as Badr moved from the press of brown robed men and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Where is my brother?" Shaun forced him to duck with him, his pulse beating an erratic tattoo as their heads brushed together, as the glider shot over their heads. Lex managed to hop once in a vain attempt to slow down before he caught the lip of the wing on a fence post and was tossed a** over head until he came to rest halfway down the hill.
"Oh, bugger me!"
"Not right now," Badr snapped as he made his way to the fence with Asad's aid, the Englishman left to stammer and follow after him as Bourkan ran between Badr and Lex, barking madly.
"Shut up!" the two men snapped as they drew nearer to the younger man, who lay on his back, gasping and clutching his chest.
"I can't breef," the Sparrow wheezed. "Chest hurts...can't breef..." Shaun knelt beside him as Badr looked toward the two monks climbing down the hill to meet them.
One of the monks, a man with a round belly, panted out as he saw Lex gasping and wheezing on the ground, limbs jerking, "We will have to exorcise him! He has been taken hold of by some demon!"
"No!" shouted Badr, Shaun, Amir, and, surprisingly, the tallest monk of the three that had come running. He was huge, probably nearly as tall as Jameel, though the Red Owl wasn't around for Shaun to get a good height comparison and this was probably only an illusion as the Brit was kneeling and downhill from him, a shaggy growth of brown beard making up for the hair missing on his male-pattern-baldness tonsured head. The monk continued, "Ignacio, go to the garden and get me some foxglove!" The third monk, a thin, mousy one with curly black hair that looked utterly stupid to Shaun in its tonsured state, sped off as fast as his twiggy legs would carry him.
He came pelting back faster than Shaun would've ever believed possible as the balding monk pulled a wineskin off his belt. Ignacio handed him a small, wooden cup and some flowers. The man rubbed the cup down with the flowers, poured the wine in, and sat Lex up, making him drink. The Sparrow choked as the strong, burning liquid went down, but managed to keep it in his stomach.
The monk nodded to the smaller young man, rubbing his back. "How are you feeling?"
"I suspected as much." He stood, corked his wineskin after taking a swig, and belted it back to his side before he smacked the round bellied man upside the head. "What's the matter with you, stronzo? Exorcise him? Buon Dio, vivo con un branco di idioti santi!" Ignacio gulped at the elder monk's words and crossed himself.
"Forgive him, signores," the younger man whispered, Shaun guessing his age to be a little younger than himself, the other monk probably in his thirties or forties. "Uberto is not the most pious of men, God save him." He crossed himself again before reaching down to help him and Lex to their feet, nudging a jumping Bourkan away with his knee. Shaun helped Badr to stand, the blind man smirking as he felt the Brit's blistered palm.
"You've hurt yourself, novice. Doing what, I wonder? Gripping yourself a little too tightly?" The blind man chuckled, almost as if he could see how brightly the Englishman's face was burning. He reached up, patting him on the cheek. "You silence speaks more than your words."
"And you read too much into things, you bloody nosey parker," Shaun snapped, pulling away his face away, trying to keep his breathing under control. "I could've been doing any other sort of thing!" The man was too close for his comfort, right up against him. Somehow his hand got back to his face, clenching his chin in place as his thumb grazed his stubbled cheek.
"You could have been, true, but you weren't, I suspect."
"You're off your bloody nut, you are." Badr laughed again.
"Say what you will of me, signore, but all this resistance must make you weary. Come." He took the Brit's hand again, following after Asad and Ignacio, who was letting Lex lean on him a little as they made their way into the monastery. "We may find some safety and peace in this place they call a sanctuary."
"What do you call it?"
"With these closed spaces all around me? A prison. Give me a tent big enough to fit my horse in, land to survive in, open skies, and I will be more than happy." Shaun frowned at the words.
"Wot, you don't have someone to share your bed with on that list? I'm surprised."
"I'm surprised as well. Was that an offer you've just made to me? And in one of your holy places no less." Badr laughed again, the sound echoing off the walls as he nudged Shaun into one of the rooms the monks had prepared for their guests.