The Burning Time

Chapter 4: Flame

She was high above him, on a pit laden with wood and twigs, looking down into his sorrowful face. His eyes were dark and glazed with pain, his black hair clinging to his face...and she could see, even from the distance she was at, that his face was...

....was streaked with...tears?


He was mouthing her name, his whole body straining with the effort of screaming, but it was silent to her ears.

A flash of light suddenly obstructed her view...and when it had faded, she saw an enormous pillar of smoke rising in front of her, high into the air, forming the shape of a horned ram's head...

Robin awoke with a start, gasping and sitting straight up in bed, her naked form covered by the sheet.

It was just another dream, she reassured herself, panting.

So why did she feel such a sense of pervasive foreboding?

She was hesitant to analyze the dream as she had her previous one...again there was the presence of Amon, and an animal with horns. In both dreams, the prospect of what the association of the two might have meant, disturbed her conscience deeply.

She sat, blinking, for minutes, before getting out of bed.


Amon rose to the sounds of Jana in the kitchen once again, as he had awoken the day before. It seemed as though she insisted upon cooking every meal for them herself, without any assistance and without any thought of sampling some of the numerous small cafes from the village. It mystified him how she could be so doting on them, when she had only just met both himself and Robin a couple of days earlier.

He recalled Robin's visit to Nagira's office, after he had taken her back into his custody and before their raid on Factory, and her delivery of drinks and soba noodles that she had insisted upon making...perhaps the mothering instinct ran strong in her family.

He dressed and made his way out of his room, sweeping his eyes across the hall to notice Robin's bedroom door was ajar.

Amon approached cautiously. If she was still asleep...images came to his mind, unbidden, and faster than he could push them back into his subconscious.

He nudged the door open further, allowing his eyes access, and saw that the room was empty, the bed neatly made, the pillows arranged. It looked as though she had been up for some time.

He stood for a moment in the doorway, and then headed for the kitchen.

Jana was humming to herself, happily scrambling eggs and sausage on the stovetop, and looked up as he entered. "Ah, buon giorno, Amon," she greeted him happily, smiling at him. "Sit, eat."

He resisted the urge to greet her with "Ohayo" and instead settled for returning the phrase in Italian, immediately glancing at the empty kitchen table.

Where was she?

Before he could speak, Jana was already answering for him, having noticed his glance. "Robin, she went into town early today," she explained, removing the skillet from the fire and moving to the table, to dish up the food. She shook her head. "I tell her to eat something, but she have this bag of figs that she bought yesterday---"

"I thought," he began, interrupting her chatter, "that we were going to Siena today."

Jana looked up at him and looked surprised. "Oh, don't worry, she said she come back in afternoon, she remember about your trip." She shook her head again, this time fondly. "That bambina, she's so responsible for her age, she never forget a thing..."

Amon relaxed slightly, and Jana caught it out of the corner of her eye. Her eyes crinkled with merriment as she served him hot food, and he sat down obediently across from her at his place setting.

He briefly considered going out after her, to make sure nothing happened to her; but he recalled her emotions from the previous day they'd spent in the village, and he decided against it....perhaps she'd rather be alone for a while.

Jana sat down across from him, serving her own food and placing the skillet on the table. She watched him carefully as he began eating, his dark brow reflecting deep thought.

"I'm sure she'll be fine on her own for a few hours," she said gently, as though to ease his mind.

Amon looked up from between bites, giving a singular affirmative. "Mm." Inside, he knew so also, but he was still surprised she had gone on without him. He would have accompanied her again to the village, if she had asked him to.

Jana folded her arms on the table, still watching him with interest. "You and I, haven't talked much, have we?" she asked, a hint of teasing in her voice.

Amon regarded her with a raised eyebrow as he ate, but he said nothing more.

"What I mean is," she began, "I've not been completely honest with you."

He put down his fork, straightening in his seat. He knew what was coming.

"But it doesn't matter, non ha importanza, si?" she asked, with a smile. "You already know."

"That you are a Witch."

"Si." She nodded slowly, and looked at him as though to assess his intentions. "How does il cacciatore feel about that?" She knew he recognized the phrase she had greeted him with two days before.

He blinked. "I am not going to Hunt you."

"Why not?" Her curious smile was daring.

It seemed as though he struggled with his answer, finally settling for what seemed the easiest to admit. "Because you are important to are her family."

Her dark green eyes glinted with amusement, before shadows slowly began to appear in them, and her graceful smile faded from her lips. Amon felt a chill suddenly sweep through his entire being, but he kept his expression neutral as he looked at Jana.

"There will come a time, Amon," she began in a grave tone, all previous jestering aside, "when your convictions will need to be stronger than that."

His eyes narrowed, almost threateningly. "What do you mean?"

"When that time comes," she spoke ominously, "you must not be afraid."

"Afraid?" he asked, transfixed. Suddenly he no longer felt in control of the conversation.

Jana blinked, and just as suddenly, it was as if the shadows lurking in the green depths of her eyes had disappeared. She glanced down at his empty coffee cup.

"Oh...scusi," she said, her previous humor returned, "I should get you some more coffee." She gave him another benevolent smile, to his surprise, and slowly stood to go to the stove.

Amon stared after her, his dark eyes searching.


Robin made her way into the heart of Sovana's township, passing underneath the stone archway into the via de Mezzo. She felt a momentary hesitation as she entered onto the main street. She had been so startled by last night's dream that she had instantly wanted to distance herself from the source of her concern...but at the same time, she felt a twinge of regret for not informing him before taking her leave. Her mind held jumbled thoughts.

The distant and aloof partner....having been given direct orders from SOLOMON to execute her, he had instead become her savior and chaperone...

Amon. Sounding his name in her thoughts had almost the same effect on her as when she said his name aloud.

What did it mean? Why did she keep having dreams depicting Amon as a demon?

Despite SOLOMON's and the Church's betrayals, Robin had held tight to her belief that God had not abandoned her. But her dream made her consider the unthinkable.

Is this a message from Him?

She had a brief flash of memory of the convent...of Father Juliano...of kneeling at the altar, practicing her faith.

The devil desired to deceive Man....

The ominous edict of the Church's core belief lingered in her mind.

Am I not to trust Amon?....

Again, a vision of her partner, turning away from her, his head angled so that his hair just barely hid his eyes from her view...

...Will he end up turning away from me as SOLOMON did?...

The last thought was almost too much for her already heavy heart to bear, and she shook her head, trying to rid it of the negativity that had ensnared her.

She was lost in thought as she wandered through the mainstream of the village, her head down in her focus, and did not see the woman in front of her, nearly colliding with her as a result.

"Oh!" she gasped in surprise, as the old woman's face leaned up close to hers. "...Scusi."

The old woman, with snow-white hair covered by a dark shawl, was smiling up into her face. "Ahh, sono lei." She cast a knowing look at the girl, and for a moment Robin was confused.

She looked at the woman with curiosity. "Ci conosciamo già?" she asked softly. She didn't recall meeting a woman of her age the other day--the woman looked at least to be in her seventies, about twenty or so years older than Jana. But apparently she had recognized Robin.

"Non," the woman responded, and left it that, serving to confuse Robin further. To her surprise, the woman began speaking broken English, heavily laced with an Italian accent. "But I know who you are."

"Come?" Robin whispered, her eyes wide. Had she really been too careless the other day?

"You are relative of Jana Luciano," the woman stated firmly, her brown eyes burning into Robin's. "Si?"

"Si," the young witch responded, too curious to preserve her anonymity now. "Sai come?"

The woman chuckled, her withered hand clutching Robin's arm affectionately. "I know many thing. When you are old, you know many thing."

Robin knew that she resembled a younger version of Jana; but for the woman to have put it together in her head without seeing both of them at the same time, astounded her. She was curious to know how well known her grandmother was in Sovana. " E' mi nonna," Robin explained. "What do you know about her?"

But the woman did not seem to want to discuss her grandmother any more than had already been done. "You tell me your name---what is your name, bambina?" The woman had taken her arm now, and Robin was careful to match her steps slower at first to the old woman brandishing her walking stick---but she soon realized it wasn't necessary; the woman was keeping pace with her own.

"Robin," she answered. "E lei?"

"Giovanna." The old woman smiled up at her. "Where you from, Robin?" she pressed, leading her further into the main square of the village, and Robin recognized many of the familiar shops she and Amon had visited the previous day.

"Most recently...from Japan," she answered hesitantly. "However, I have lived in Roma for many years." She looked around curiously at some of the villagers who had begun to take notice of her walking with the old woman, and were now following her, whispering to each other. Ahead up the street, two men were chopping with axes at the base of a large oak tree that had grown over onto a shop's roof. People were still milling about in the street, but many of them had stopped to let her and Giovanna aside, as if the street traffic were parting for them.

"Japan, si?" The old woman smiled, and turned to face her to look up at her with interest. "What reason you go to Japan, so far away?"

"I was sent there, by the Church....un missione," Robin responded. It wasn't a lie...but she had no intention of divulging further details of what her 'mission' had been.

"Missione," Giovanna repeated, her eyes glinting mysteriously in the morning sun. "That is where you met sua consorte, si?"

"Mi consorte?" Robin blinked. Perhaps the woman had seen her shopping with Amon yesterday. She supposed Amon's clothing did in fact look Asian in origin. ""

Something distracted her thoughts. ...chop...chop...chop...

She briefly wondered why the woman was smiling so often at her, and looked up suddenly. She realized they had stopped in front of a cafe.

It was where she had lit the shop owner's grill.

The old woman turned to face her. "Here is where I saw it."

Robin froze.

"Light the grill," Giovanna instructed her.

"C-come?" the young witch asked, stammering. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. The old woman was telling her to use her Craft!

"You can do it, bambina," she encouraged, smiling again. "Light the grill with your flame."

Robin calmed herself. There was no other way out of it---she would simply convince the woman that she had imagined what it was that she had seen the other day. She felt a pang of regret at having to lie, but she remembered Amon's words...and his face as it had registered disappointment. She would not give away their secret so easily.

She shook her head gently, closing her eyes. "Scusi...I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about." The village onlookers, who had gathered behind her and the old woman, chattered amongst themselves animatedly at her denial.

...chop....chop....chop.... She heard the hacking sound as though it were ringing in her own ears. She looked back out towards the source of the noise again.

Giovanna was attempting to get her attention. "Si, do know." The woman's voice had become more firm. "Use your power."

In the midst of the murmuring coming from the throng of people behind them, someone called out, "Figlia di Diana!"

Robin's discomfort was steadily growing...but it was not coming from where she had expected it. Instead of being concerned about the horde of onlookers who seemed intent on viewing a display of her Craft, her attention was elsewhere.

"Robin," the old woman implored, her brown eyes burning into the young witch's.


Robin's head snapped up at the splintering sound, her vision narrowing precisely at the tree on the opposite side of the had been cut through and was swaying with intent....

...a young child running, her dark hair streaming out behind her....straight into the path....

"Attento!" The panicked men yelled for her attention. A mother screamed.

The tree fell towards the road---

---and promptly disappeared, incinerated mid-fall in a sudden flash of flame and heat.

The child cried out in surprise, having fallen to the street in the confusion. She began to cry, but Robin could see she was unhurt. The mother rushed up to her fallen daughter, openly weeping.

The old woman and several others in the crowd had turned to the sound of the men shouting, and the woman's scream; they had seen the tree spontaneously ignite. Their murmuring and chattering had ceased, giving way to dead silence. They returned their collective gazes to the ginger-haired girl in the pilgrim's dress, standing before them, as the bright flame that had lit her green eyes slowly died out.

She looked at Giovanna, who was gazing at her with a certainty and triumph in her wizened eyes.

"It is you....bambina di Diana...." the old woman said excitedly, advancing on the girl. She held out a crooked finger to point directly into Robin's face, as she solemnly proclaimed,


Robin tensed, holding up her chin defiantly. She had no idea if the mob was going to attack her, or---

Giovanna threw her arms around the chestnut-haired slip of a girl, laughing, and dropped her walking stick. Robin gasped in surprise as the crowd of people advanced on her, not to harm her but to praise her, some reaching out to touch wisps of her hair.

The old woman stopped laughing long enough to tell her, "We have been waiting a long time for you to come home...bella pellegrina."


Amon was at his laptop, which he had set up on a desk in the dark bedroom that he occupied.

He searched meticulously, browsing through news reports and websites that Michael had long ago taught him were covered-up news briefs of STN-J and Witchhunting activity. Amon no longer trusted his ability to access Michael's databases directly, as he had been used to doing; he was convinced now that any move he made, even in cyberspace, would be picked up immediately by SOLOMON. He had no idea if he was being hunted along with Robin, but he wasn't about to give his position away before he'd found out.

His acute sense of hearing picked up the sounds of Jana in the kitchen. She was watering plants, repotting others, and humming softly to herself.

Strange woman.

Her bizarre episode in the kitchen had startled him, though he would never have admitted it to anyone. Such a jovial, lighthearted person....and yet, she had suddenly delivered an ominous message, one that seemed as though it were meant to instill dread in him....

Almost as if she were doing it against her own will.

He blinked, his fingers pausing on the keys....and then resumed typing.

After he had scanned the recent briefs and articles, finding no references or clues he was looking for, he sat back in the desk chair, his dark head bowed in thought.

He sat back up, opened an email dialogue, and began typing again.

It was time to contact Nagira.


The crowd was dispersing; some of the villagers had managed to get a close look at the "strega di fuoco", and were content. Others had insisted upon coming up close to her and touching her clothing or her hair. Robin had fought the urge to flee, realizing they meant her no harm; yet she was still shaken by the entire event, and not entirely comfortable with the idea of half of the town's villagers aware of her identity.

More than anything, she was afraid of her partner's wrath. Amon is not going to like this.

She looked at the old woman again, as a passing woman touched the sleeve of her pilgrim's smock. "Giovanna," she implored. "You must not speak of who I am to anyone else, outside of Sovana." She gazed meaningfully into the old woman's eyes. "Per favore... è tanto importante."

Giovanna laughed softly. "Bambina, we not have means to tell anyone outside of our village," she explained. She patted Robin's shoulder affectionately. "Besides, you are safe here...sana e salva."

Robin was about to disagree, thinking of SOLOMON's Headquarters in Rome; but before she could, she was interrupted by loud purring. She looked down in surprise at her feet, to see a small, silver-gray cat rubbing up against the legs of her dress.

"That gatta never comes up to anyone, per amor di Dea," Giovanna exclaimed in wonder, slowly reaching down to pet its soft fur. The fey creature jumped up to meet her caressing hand, rubbing its head along her fingers, and she laughed.

A man was running up to them, and Robin recognized the vendor who had sold her the figs when she had been with Amon the previous day. He had obviously been a part of the crowd who had witnessed the spectacle. He approached them with rushed steps, carrying a bag.

"S-signorina," he stammered, thrusting the bag into her arms. "Per favore...accept this gift." He clasped his hands together, barely able to contain himself.

Robin peeked into the paper bag. There was a multitude of fruit; figs, olives, pears...

She handed the bag back. "Scusi...non accetto," she said softly.

"Per favore," he begged, his eyes pleading.

Robin was afraid to look too deeply into his eyes and see what she perceived to be his fear of her...but when she did look, she saw no fear; only contrition, humility ...and adoration.

She held the bag close to her chest again, and bestowed a gracious smile upon him. "Molto grazie." The man's face lit up with happiness.

She eventually parted ways with Giovanna and other villagers, promising to return in another day, and continued to shop for another hour along the street. Her heart was strangely lightened. The silver-gray cat followed, looking up at her from time to time and trotting alongside her steps.


She opened the door of Jana's house, which always remained unlocked until nightfall. "Eccomi qua," she announced, holding the bag of fruit, and stepped inside.

"Bentornata," Jana exclaimed happily. "You enjoy yourself, si?" she asked, and immediately looked down at Robin's feet, as the silver cat trotted into the house. "Oh..."

Robin put a hand to her mouth, embarrassed. " followed me home, I tried to tell it to go away, but---"

Jana was laughing. "Ohhhh, sì bella, what a beautiful gatta." She stroked the cat's fur, as the creature purred with delight. "Let me get some cream." She reached into the makeshift icebox and set about getting the cat's treat.

Robin set down her bag of fruit on the table. "Jana...I have something to tell you."

"Si?" her grandmother responded, and Robin began to tell her what had happened in the village.

Unseen by her new mistresses, the cat stealthily made its way from the kitchen into the hallway.


He had heard the sounds of the door, as well as her voice....he knew that Robin was home.

Amon continued browsing, his chin cupped in his hand, as he sat torn between listening to her conversation with her grandmother, and attempting to ignore it. He decided that he wouldn't get up and run to greet her....he would wait. She would approach him eventually.

As he sat, he felt something brush up against one of his legs. He turned away from the laptop momentarily, and looked down past his right shoulder.

Out of the left corner of his eye, he suddenly caught the sight of the cat, as the creature sprang up onto his desktop. He made a surprised noise, looking at her with interest. He was not used to being close to animals...he had never befriended any, nor owned any pets.

She sat in front of him and blinked slowly, gazing up into his face with calm serenity and wise green eyes.

Those look familiar.

The cat eyed him for a moment, then raised its paw, claws extended, as if to beckon him.

Curious, Amon moved closer. His face was almost eye to eye with the cat.

Without warning, she leapt up on hind legs and head-butted him affectionately, her purr as loud as a motor. Amon sputtered in surprise....he'd received a noseful of fur as a gift.

It was just then that Robin had hesitantly opened his ajar door further, her gentle knock too soft for him to hear....and witnessed the display of the cat's affection for him. Her eyes softened, and sparkled with amusement.

Amon looked to her at the door, the cat's tail curling around his face and past his nose as she paraded in front of him. He looked momentarily both lost and bewildered, before his features slipped into the cool facade they were accustomed to.

He wiped his nose and mouth of cat fur, and resumed staring at the screen in front of him. "Okaeri." His tone was sullen.

She nodded, hesitant to speak now that he had schooled his face. "When do you want to leave for Siena?" she asked softly.

"Give me a few moments," he responded, his eyes still scanning the screen. She bowed her head slightly, leaving him to his work, and disappeared from the door. The cat followed her out, trotting down the hallway after her long dark skirts.

Amon's eyes returned, against his will, to the empty doorway.


Next chapter:

A Prayer....Trust not misplaced....The children of Darkness learn the Path. Chapter 5.

More translations for ya!

sono lei: it is you
ci conosciamo già : have we already been acquainted?
Sai come?: how do you know?
E' mi nonna: She is my grandmother
e lei: and you
un missione: a mission
sua consorte: your consort
Figlia di Diana!: Daughter of Diana
---(doesn't that look like "fig of Diana"?? ^^ hehe)
Attento!: Look out!
strega di fuoco: Fire Witch
Per favore... è tanto importante: Please, it's very important
sana e salva: safe and sound
gatta: female cat
per amor di Dea: for the love of the Goddess
non accetto: I can't accept
Eccomi qua: I'm here
Bentornata: welcome back
okaeri [Japanese]: welcome back