The Burning Time
Chapter 1: Nonna
Jana : Italian goddess of the Moon
--- Ways of the Strega, Raven Grimassi
Robin awoke to the sound of the flight's captain over the intercom.
" Scusi. We will be landing shortly at Firenze International Airport. Please make sure all of your items are secure for landing; and please be careful upon opening of the storage bins once we have docked at the gate, for items may have shifted during flight. Benvenuti in Italia ."
She blinked her eyes slowly, adjusting to the fading sunlight coming in through the plane windows. She gazed out at the land they were slowly descending to. Amon made a sidelong glance at her as she observed the landscape of Tuscany, her face registering peaceful calm, and a smile that rarely appeared had graced her lips. The sight took him by surprise, and he looked at her curiously.
" Italia, " she whispered, her eyes shining in the afternoon sun. She turned to look at her partner in the seat next to her, and was a bit startled to see that he was watching her so intently. "Oh...Amon," she stammered.
He looked down at the text message still in his cell phone. Father Juliano Colegui had messaged them a day ago, defying his SOLOMON ties, and had given them the name and address of a contact to stay with in Tuscany, specifically in the village of Sovana. Amon had tried to call him to confirm, but Juliano's cellular number had been disconnected shortly after the arrival of the message. Despite his misgivings about trusting anyone other than himself and his partner, Amon knew they needed a location to hide out in for the time being while they formulated plans and made other contacts. Robin seemed particularly confident that her grandfather was to be trusted, and so Amon for the moment put his fragile faith in her care.
Robin followed his eyes to the text message still displayed on his phone. "Whom do you think he is sending us to, Amon?" she asked softly.
"I don't know," he said, his dark eyes wary. "It's not likely someone from the Church," he postulated, "so hopefully we can maintain a low profile, despite being close to SOLOMON Headquarters." She could see he felt uneasy about their situation, especially about leaving Japan.
"They will be combing Japan," she reasoned, and he nodded. Her instincts were correct on this one. Even though Zaizen was dead and Factory had all but been destroyed, SOLOMON would want to completely clean house in Japan, and tie up any loose ends. He and Robin were definitely loose ends.
"In fact," she said thoughtfully, adopting a thinker's pose, "a small Italian village in the region of their Headquarters might be the last place they would look." Her green eyes took on a slightly impish gleam.
Amon responded to his fifteen-year-old partner with a snort that suggested he doubted her words.
Florence International Airport was bustling. They had packed lightly, just a small bag for each of them, and they made their way quickly and unobtrusively to the end of the terminal, hailing for taxis as they stepped out onto the arrival parking zone. The weather was mild, sunny with a cool breeze, and within minutes they had flagged down a ride.
Robin imagined they looked as though they would fit in more now that they were in Italy, with her high-necked, conservative dress and Amon's penchant for black; she had always felt as though she dressed as an outsider in Japan, where fashion, especially among teenagers, was definitely more trendy. She entered the taxi, Amon coming in right behind her, after he quickly scoured the area to take note of people nearby. His meticulous nature---part of what had made him such a thorough Hunter---made him at all times aware of his surroundings, and for that she was glad. Even if they didn't look conspicuous by dress, it was always possible for someone hunting them to recognize them, if they let their guard down.
She leaned forward to talk to the driver of the taxi. " Mi scusi...Sovana, per favore, " she instructed. The driver nodded and complied.
The taxi ride took them two hours. The first half of the ride was on paved freeway and roads; once out of Siena, the drive continued on dirt and gravel, as the rural countryside sprung up around them. The landscape was amazing, not just to Amon, but also to Robin, who had grown up in the giant metropolis that was Rome. They initially passed towns with streets, palaces, churches and squares that looked to be of fifteenth century architecture; this scenery gave way to wineries and vineyards that seemed to stretch on, neverending. Finally their view became nothing but gently rolling hillsides, forests of oak trees, and in the far distance near the end of their trip, they could see the unspoiled coastline, with broad, sandy beaches and what looked to be quiet coves.
It was breathtaking.
The driver pulled up to an old road that led into a modest-looking village. He spoke to Robin in Italian, naming a figure, and she translated for Amon, who reached into his pocketbook to grasp Italian currency they'd exchanged for yen at the airport. The driver thanked them generously, with nods and bouts of grazie , and sped off the way he'd come after their exit.
Each holding their own bag, Robin and Amon made their way into the village, cautiously.
The home they were looking for was on the east end of the village, and they hiked on dirt and old stone paths for ten minutes before they found the home, nestled by itself away from the busier part of the village.
It was a rustic farmhouse, perhaps one hundred years old, perhaps older. The stones that made up the structure were readily visible, giving it an earthen, cozy feel. There was a long stone path leading up to the door, but the rest of the yard was lush with greenery, and surrounding the house on three sides were tall green oaks, offering shade and beauty.
Robin and Amon approached the steps to the door, double-checking the address, and paused at the entryway. They looked for a long moment at each other, both hesitant to initiate the meeting that was about to take place.
Instead, the door was opened for them before they even had a chance to knock at it.
An old woman faced them, her face tanned and creased from laughter and sunlight. Her hair, which curled around her ears and the nape of her neck, was a deep chestnut color, with barely any streaks of gray.
But most startlingly, she looked amazingly like Robin.
Seeing her guests, the old woman broke into a wavering smile, and her dark green eyes became watery with tears.
"Oh..." she whispered, putting a thin and weathered hand to her lips, and Amon saw she was looking at Robin. "Oh..." she said again, her voice cracking with emotion. "It's you..."
"... la bambina...di Maria... "
Robin's eyes widened in shock. She gasped. "Who..." she began, but her question was cut off by the old woman taking her into her fragile arms.
Tears trickled freely down the woman's face, as she held the confused Robin tightly in her arms. " Mi bambina, " the old woman whispered over and over, rocking the young witch back and forth, as if she were an infant in a cradle.
Despite his surprise, Amon felt a deep emotional stirring as he watched the spectacle before him. He fought to resume his stoic facial expression from a moment earlier.
The old woman finally looked up at Amon, and a flicker of recognition crossed her features. Amon noted the expression and quickly filed it away in his memory.
"Oh... scusi ," she said in a thick Italian accent, laughing lightly and wiping her eyes, and simultaneously releasing Robin. "Juliano told me you were coming, but I wasn't prepared for..." she trailed off as she looked again at Robin, "...what I see..." She collected her attention again. "I made sure I had everything ready; I spend the afternoon cooking, anticipating your arrival."
Robin and Amon noticed then that they could smell food wafting in from inside the house, some sort of delicious stew, and despite herself, Robin felt her stomach growl loudly. Embarrassed, she put a hand to her stomach, eyes wide, and Amon raised an eyebrow in her direction.
The old woman laughed heartily. "See? It is good I made for you...no?" She held Robin's arms away from her body by the hands. "You're too skinny, you know that?" She winked at the slip of a girl, and Robin's facial features softened into a small smile.
The woman turned her eyes on Amon. "So...you are il cacciatore ," she said, with a critical eye. She looked him over studiously, and Robin heard her say softly to herself, " ...molto bello... " Robin blushed faintly as she mentally translated.
After having analyzed Amon to her satisfaction, the old woman then took him in her arms as well. His expression of shock brought another rare smile to Robin's face, but he quickly recovered and schooled his features neutrally. He leaned down into the woman's embrace, accommodating her slender frame.
The woman finally released him, looking back up into his dark eyes with a knowing smile.
So, she found him.
" Per favore... welcome to my home..." she said, as she bade both of them entrance into her house.
"My name is Jana Luciano Colegui."
Amon's mouth dropped; the name given to him by Father Juliano had been only 'Jana Luciano'.
"You're..." he began, but she finished for him.
"I am Juliano Colegui's ex-wife...the mother of Maria Colegui," she answered, and gazed at Robin, who was also stunned into silence.
"I am your grandmother."
^_^ Hope you enjoyed this first chapter! Another one will soon be on the way. I've included some Italian translations so it's not too confusing:
scuzi: excuse me
Benvenuto in Italia: Welcome to Italy
per favore: please
la bambina di Maria: the child of Maria
Mi bambina: My child
il cacciatore: the hunter (huntsman)
molto bello: very handsome