Chapter 8: Beacon
Robin's head ached. It felt as though someone had driven a hot stake into the side of her brain and lodged it there, turning it painfully every few moments.
She hadn't opened her eyes yet, but she knew she was on her stomach in bed, her face half-buried in a pillow, and...she was still fully clothed? This was becoming a strange habit, falling asleep with the previous night's clothes on. As she stirred, moving her arms to attempt to shrug herself out of the dress, she stopped when she realized she had been clutching something tightly in her sleep, and opened her eyes to look down at it.... an arm?
She slowly turned her eyes to look at the body attached to it....and froze.
Amon was fast asleep beside her, still in the clothes he'd been wearing the night before.
Her mouth gaped open in astonishment, her heart beginning to hammer excitedly in her chest, causing a fresh ache in her skull...what had happened last night? Why was he in her bed? She surreptitiously attempted to pull her hands away from around his wrist, having presumably held it the entire time they had slept....but then stopped herself. He was still asleep...and he had obviously not made a move to extricate his wrist, judging by his sleeping position.
He was on his side, facing her, in what didn't exactly look like a comfortable arrangement. His shoulder was turned awkwardly to allow her access to his hand and wrist, his other arm curled against his chest in slumber. She looked down and saw that his feet, still in his boots from last night, hung off the edge of the bed. It looked as though he had sacrificed some of his own comfort to ensure that he wouldn't tear his arm away from her grasp in his sleep.
Slowly she relaxed, as recollections of the festival began to come back to her fully awakening mind. The roaring belfire...the dancing...the wine....
She realized with shame that she'd had too much to drink. She hadn't known how much it would affect her...the effect had been so gradual throughout the day that she couldn't have foreseen it. It had not helped that Jana and all of the other villagers had seemed to encourage it. She was surprised Amon hadn't said something to her at some point in the evening.
She recalled looking up into his face after the dancers had broken the circle around the Maypole, having landed in his arms as though she'd almost flown through the air. Despite her mind's fuzziness of most of the evening's details, she remembered the look on his face quite clearly, as it was only the second time---the first having been the night by the ocean weeks ago---that she had ever seen him display so much emotion. He had stared into her face, his close to hers, with eyes that were normally cool and observant having turned into dark pools of liquid silver, shifting and changing as though something heated them beneath the surface.
Robin shifted imperceptibly as she remembered the look. It was hunger...raw need. It had looked so out of place on him.
With an embarrassed flush, she instantly recalled the dessert game, and feeding each other in the circle before the fire...and her fingers in his mouth as she had fed him the custard. Her actions had been innocent and playful, motivated by good humor...but when he had drawn on her fingers with his mouth, grazing them with his teeth and his tongue, she had realized it was no longer a game. She felt, not without being aware of the irony of her thoughts, that she had been playing with fire.
Robin had been rendered shocked and immobile by the feelings he had stirred within her...curious, excited, and a bit frightened ...but the reaction of hers that had surprised her the most was that she had wanted him to do it again.
Her face felt hot with a self-conscious burn. It was almost the same as when she had seen him barefoot and shirtless earlier that morning....a similar feeling had come over her. Surely this wasn't normal....or at least wasn't a normal way to think of someone who was your protector, your partner.
She felt slightly defenseless. Amon was ten years older than her. He probably knew how inexperienced and naive she was....particularly of the intricacies involved between men and women....and he seemed to have known exactly what he was doing---and the reaction he would get---when they had been at the festival.
And yet...here he was, lying beside her, allowing her to cling to his arm in sleep. She had rendered herself more vulnerable than she'd ever been before....he could have, she realized, done anything to her that he wished, and she would not have known. Instead, he had probably carried her the rest of the way home, placed her in bed, and given in to her childish request not to leave her, to stay with her. He had stayed with her all night.
She looked up into his sleeping face again upon this awareness, her feelings of vulnerability dissolving. She knew then that he hadn't undressed her the previous night, as she had feared. She had no reason to be wary of him; he hadn't betrayed her trust. He would never do so. She had already known this, deep down, but to see proof of it before her very own eyes made her heart feel as though it were about to burst in her ribcage.
Robin studied him as he slept; a rare opportunity. In sleep he seemed to lose the hardened expression, the cool mask of indifference, that he normally wore throughout the day. Completely relaxed, with his eyes closed and his dark hair falling across his face, he looked peaceful and gentle....even content.
A small smile played on her lips, as she slowly fell back into sleep, watching him.
When she opened her eyes again an hour later, he was gone, the indentation of the pillow next to hers the only indication that he had been there. She started fully awake, having felt as though she had only closed her eyes for a moment, and in that fleeting blink he had disappeared---but she knew from the feeling of grogginess that she had probably slept on for at least another hour. At least her headache was gone. She moved slowly to sit up in bed, and as she did, she felt something on her wrist, clasped around it. It was smooth and felt like cool metal, and she lifted her arm slightly to look at it.
It was a bracelet, dangling from her pale wrist....embedded in the silver setting were the azure and emerald-intertwined gemstones she'd seen weeks ago at one of the vendor's carts in Sovana.
She gazed in appreciative wonder at the delicate jewelry, touching the stones reverently with her fingertips, her green eyes suddenly glistening like iridescent emeralds themselves. Despite the unshed tears, she was smiling.
It was only the second birthday present she'd ever received.
Amon turned to his laptop, re-connecting to the internet, as he heard the sound of Robin's door opening and closing again from inside his bedroom. She was presumably awake...and despite his efforts to remain indifferent, his ears listened for every sound related to her movements.
He decided to check his email to see if Nagira had responded to his most recent message, sent earlier the same morning after he'd woken up in Robin's room. Upon learning two days ago of the Hunter who had been sent back to SOLOMON from STN-J, Amon himself had become wary, despite his efforts to dissuade Robin that she was the target. Nagira had assured him that the Hunter hadn't been searching for either of them, but there was the possibility that he was mistaken. Perhaps there was some piece of evidence, some subtle nuance, that his half-brother had missed in gathering information. After all, why would the Hunter suddenly return after only two weeks on the job? He felt there was something amiss.
He logged in, once connected, and brought up his email. Nagira had indeed written him back.
I don't know why I have to repeat myself to you, but it seems I must. I told you, the Walled contacts had assured me that the 'bad man' was not after you or your little friend.
Amon did not gather much comfort from Nagira's hasty dismissal of the subject...he would have to approach it a bit more directly next time so as to get his point across.
Incidentally, tell her happy belated birthday from Nagira-san. I'm sure she's anxious to know how Mika and I are getting along without her, and the truth is....we miss her and her soba noodles.
Speaking of which, it appears now that she's legal, isn't she? But then again, I would have expected that to have already crossed your mind, otouto of mine.
Now he scowled at the laptop screen. He regretted having made any mention at all to Nagira about Robin's birthday...he should have known that it would come back to haunt him at some point.
In any case...do not worry about your situation. I have been keeping my eyes and ears open---when Mika allows me to actually leave this damn place---and I will continue to do so for your benefit.
Take it easy, and try to relax, will you?
Amon sat back in his chair, briefly thinking, before replying.
I suggest expanding your horizons and thinking about getting additional contacts to verify your information. Two weeks before returning does not sit well with me. Make sure that you don't disclose any interest in the goings-on of the organization to Yurika while you're at it....yes, Nii-san, I do know you, better than you think I do. She may be a nice girl, but she's not to be trusted with sensitive information.
One more thing. I want you to start looking into my mother's background for any clues that she may have spent time in any part of Europe, or outside of Japan for that matter, before my birth. I don't care how far you have to look; I need to find some answers to a question I encountered.
Will contact you again later.
Robin went into the kitchen after having dressed in her pilgrim's dress, but did not see Jana there, which was unusual. A pot of coffee was on the stove, and she poured herself a mug before going to the window facing the back of the house.
Jana was outside, on her knees in the dirt, pruning the vegetables. Robin carried her mug outside with her through the backdoor, and as she stepped away from the house and headed out towards her grandmother into the garden, she could hear Jana singing softly to herself. Surprisingly, it was in English, and Robin listened attentively from where she stood as she picked up words in the song.
" ...While though the tempest loudly roars....I hear the truth, it liveth...And though the darkness 'round me close....songs in the night it giveth...
"No storm can shake my inmost calm...while to that rock I'm clinging....since love is lord of heaven and earth.....how can I keep...from singing?.... "
Jana sat back on her heels, the knees of her workpants in the dirt, and breathed a sigh of completion as she surveyed her work. She suddenly was aware of Robin standing behind her a ways off in the distance, and she turned to her granddaughter, smiling.
" Buon giorno, bambina, " she called out to Robin, waving her over. The young witch approached her, still holding the coffee, a half-smile gracing her lips.
"Nonna, what were you singing just now?" she asked softly. "It was beautiful."
"A very old canto popolare , bambina...one that I was taught in my childhood," she explained, turning back to the plants momentarily. "An old, traditional song of endurance...of finding joy in the midst of hardship....having faith when things are crumbling and falling apart around you." Robin thought her voice had become very soft and wistful, and she looked down at Jana curiously.
The older woman suddenly turned back and smiled up at her granddaughter, shading her eyes in the bright morning light as she looked her over. "You recovered from last night, vedo ."
Robin ducked her head, slightly discomfited. " Mi scusi, " she offered softly. "I hope I didn't embarrass you---"
"It was not me who was embarrassed, bambina ," Jana retorted smartly, and Robin's already pink blush deepened. "But there was certainly no harm done." She smiled up at the young woman, at the same time displaying a thoughtful expression. "I do think he enjoyed himself." Robin digested her grandmother's comments, her facial color returning to its normal hue.
Jana suddenly noticed the bracelet that the young woman was wearing, hanging gracefully over the edge of the long sleeve of her pilgrim's smock. She took Robin's hand and held it closer so that she could see its detail. "Robin," she whispered, awed, and looked up into her granddaughter's eyes again. She was still smiling; this time with a knowing glint in her dark green eyes. " E' bella . A present?"
Robin nodded, smiling. " Si ."
Jana's eyes were smug, at least to Robin's observation. " Sa giudicare, " she whispered softly. The young witch looked at her curiously.
"Do you know what stone this is, bambina? " Jana asked, and Robin explained to her the name given by the vendor in the town square.
" Gemma di la serpe, " Jana confirmed, nodding. "These are actually fossilized remains of an ancient sea creature, who lived millions of years ago...is the oldest known gemstone in existence." Jana went on, undaunted by the stunned expression on the young witch's face. "It is believed that because it is such an old stone, it has absorbed energy from universal forces over time." She traced the fossilized spiral markings in the center of one of the stones delicately. "See how it curves inward in a spiral, vedi? Not unlike the horns of a ram, no? " She took her hand away from her granddaughter's to study her reaction.
A flash of recognition went through Robin's mind like lightning.
"I think Amon will want to go into Siena today," Jana said, switching the subjects abruptly and averting the focus from the stones. She turned briefly back to the plants again before her, patting the earth around them to make sure they were well planted. "Perhaps you will get a chance to visit la cattedrale , this afternoon."
" Veramente? " Robin asked, somewhat excitedly. "You know this, Nonna?"
" Si, " she answered, squinting back up at the girl in the sunlight. "You should try to find out what you can about it in relation to the story of Aradia."
Robin nodded dutifully. She would have to hurry and bathe soon then, since she was not able to do so the previous night, and she knew from habit that it didn't take Amon long to get ready to leave.
"I should get ready then," she began, and had already turned back towards the direction of the house, when Jana reached out for her, taking her arm with gentleness.
" Bambina, " she said imploringly, and the look in her eyes stopped Robin dead in her tracks, despite her grandmother's gentle smile.
" Fare attenzione. "
The concern she saw in the older woman's eyes seemed out of place...but nevertheless, Robin nodded.
Robin reentered the house, making her way down the hallway and past Amon's closed door. She glanced at it, hesitating ever so slightly, as she passed.
She walked on, entering the bathroom and closing the door behind her. But instead of immediately starting to run her bathwater, she pressed herself up against the closed door, listening.
In a moment, she heard his door open, and a still, lengthy pause before his footsteps sounded going down the hall.
She stayed against the door for a moment longer before allowing the escape of a near-silent sigh, and leaning to turn the faucet on the bathtub.
Amon found Jana back inside the house, having dusted the dirt from the garden off of her workpants as she went tidying up the kitchen. Breakfast had been minimal today; instead of cooking as she usually did, Jana had brought home one of the sweet Beltaine cakes from the previous night's festival, and had sliced it and placed it out on the kitchen table.
Amon helped himself to a slice of the cake, as his eyes shifted to look over to Jana at the stove.
" Buon giorno, Amon," she said jovially. "Let me fix you a cup of coffee."
He watched her carefully as she went about it. " Grazie. " He knew that she had witnessed some of his interaction with Robin the previous night, particularly at moments that he had considered himself to have acted without discretion, and he wondered what she thought of what she had seen. Surely she was protective of Robin, and didn't approve.
Then again...this was the woman whom upon their arrival had been expecting he and her fifteen-year-old granddaughter to share a bedroom, with a single bed.
"You enjoyed yourself last night," she said nonchalantly, appearing as though her concentration was on the task before her; but he knew she was watching his reactions out of the corner of her eye. He realized it wasn't a question....more of an observation.
His face and his voice both remained neutral as he tore a piece from the slice in his hand and ate it, still standing near the table as if sitting down might be too confining. "You believe so," he said.
" Si, " she responded. She brought the cup of coffee over and handed it to him, just as he had finished the slice of cake he'd been eating. She stood back as he accepted it, still with her hint of a smile. "It was quite obvious."
He narrowed his eyes slightly in displeasure at her words, which seemed to cause her even more mirth.
He turned to look out the window adjacent to them, sipping his coffee before he spoke. "That was a bizarre festival."
"Ah...Tana's Day," Jana nodded, as she stood next to him. "I'm afraid you were inducted into it before you knew much about it."
He nodded, still facing out the window. It wasn't as if he'd had much choice in the matter.
But you didn't resist very much, did you, his conscience reminded him.
"Beltaine is not only about spring turning to summer; but it is a celebration of fertility, of union....of the Goddess and her Consorte ." She put a strange emphasis on the word. "The Maypole dance itself represents that also....the ribbons being wrapped around the pole symbolizing the act of their physical union...the dancing around forms a conduit of magickal energy."
The description of the Maypole as a conduit of energy did not entirely surprise him. He distinctly remembered the primitive, primal feelings that had accompanied the watching of the ritual, the strange memory it had stirred inside of him....as well as how watching Robin dancing had stirred other things.
The act of their physical union. The words seemed to have a more lascivious connotation in his disobedient mind.
He blinked as an attempt to snap himself out of the reverie. "Why did they feel the need to dress us in such costumes?"
"They believe in the Beltaine tradition of Regina di Maggio , Queen of the May...who wears a crown of fresh flowers, and is chosen at the start of the festival along with the May King," Jana explained. "The basis of this is the wedding of the Goddess and her Consort, the joining of the moon and sun in blessing the earth....the Goddess is known by many names, the God by such names as Cernunnos, the Green Man, the God of the Hunt..."
"God of the Hunt?" Amon's mind flashed back instantaneously to the festival, and the eccentric Sovanan villagers who had begun to chant similar words after he'd bested the men at the archery competition. Something nagged at the edges of his awareness.
Jana watched him for a moment longer before speaking again. She smirked as she said, "You're right....is a silly festival....strange traditions, si? " She turned back to go to the sink and began to wash dishes, facing away from him. "I thought you might be going into Siena today."
He looked at her, slightly startled. "You know that I don't believe it's safe for Robin to---"
"You might find what you are looking for there," she said with a certainty to her voice that reminded him of her ominous message delivered weeks ago.
His curiosity was piqued. "Find what?"
She turned back to glance at him briefly. "Someone who might be able to help you with the contents of the journal." She turned casually back to the sink.
"Someone in Siena?" he asked, unbelieving, and she nodded. "Who?" he demanded.
"The place that you designated as being sacred to SOLOMON....there will be a person there who will be willing to share their secrets."
"The cathedral," he whispered, almost to himself. There had been almost no relevant information online about Mario Benedetto, and attempts at disclosing relatives of the scientist had proved unsuccessful. If the cathedral was their best hope, he was willing to look into it.
" Si. " She looked at him again as she stood poised over the sink. "You should not delay, however...I am not aware of how much longer the place may be secure from SOLOMON. They are also looking for it."
He knew she meant the journal. For some strange reason he found himself believing in her words to the fullest extent, as though she were the recipient of some important message that he would otherwise not be able to hear. "How long do we have?"
Her voice was more hushed. " Giorni. "
He nodded his dark head, resolute. "We will leave today then."
Robin had again changed her appearance for the trip, wearing her hair loose once more about her shoulders; and she was again wearing an outfit that was not from her wardrobe, one of Maria's pale peach-colored cardigan sweaters. She met his eyes and nodded, as an assent to being ready to leave. She knew that she would probably be able to elucidate the purpose of their trip later on.
Amon noticed with some uneasiness that the skirt she wore was shorter than before, this time only reaching to the end of her knees, baring her delicate calves to his view. It was getting progressively harder to ignore his physical responses to her...but he observed, with a strange sense of satisfaction, the bracelet on her wrist.
As they left, bidding goodbye to Jana at the door, Bast appeared and began to uncharacteristically meow, as if she protested their leaving.
Robin knelt to pet the cat, in an attempt to soothe her, but Bast seemed inconsolable. She made an attempt to run past her and Amon, and out the door; but Amon blocked her path with his boot.
" Non, Bast, " Robin soothed, picking up the silver cat and placing her in Jana's arms. " Fermarsi. " It occurred to her that perhaps an Italian cat only obeyed orders in Italian.
Bast squirmed in Jana's arms, as Robin and Amon bid Jana their goodbyes for the day and headed out the door.
Once the door was closed, the distressed cat jumped free and leapt onto the kitchen table, to gain access to the window and watch her departing master and mistress. She began to howl, her paws up on the glass; a wailing sound that made Jana's heart ache.
Jana sighed, turning from the window.
Amon and Robin had no problem catching a ride from Sovana to Siena; it seemed even as they approached the via di Mezzo that there were people from the village waiting for them, as though they had anticipated their arrival. In no time they had procured a ride, the driver telling them that he would gladly wait for them in il Campo while they attended to the business they had in Siena, to allow them a ride back. They gratefully accepted.
The drive was uneventful as usual, and as a result Robin found herself attempting to draw him into conversation. " Grazie, " she told him quietly, as they rode in the back of the truck of the driver who had been kind enough to be their chauffeur.
" Come? " he asked, caught off guard.
She lifted her wrist slightly to display the bracelet in response, with a degree of shyness. " E' bella. "
As a blatant attempt to change the subject, he looked away and said, "Jana told me we may be able to find some things out about the journal from someone in Siena."
Robin quickly disguised the flash of hurt she felt at his evasiveness. It didn't seem that he needed to hide from her still, but his discomfort was obvious. Perhaps he is resentful for having kept him in my room all night, she thought with guilt.
" Veramente? " she asked neutrally in response. "What are you looking to find about the journal?"
He realized he hadn't shared his uncertain finding yet. "I'm not sure, but there was a reference to someone's name...in the journal. I want to find if there was any connection or if it was just coincidence." He looked out at the landscape quickly passing them by, his eyes growing distant.
She waited a beat. "Amon." He glanced back at her again upon the soft sound of his name, and he could see in her eyes that she was trying as gently as she could to get to the source of what lay between them.
" Si? " he asked quietly, unable to resist.
" Mi scusi. " Her eyes were sad, and a bit serious. "For making you stay with me the entire night."
He shook his head quickly, his response curt. " Va bene. "
"You looked very uncomfortable..." she argued, refusing to believe that he hadn't suffered slightly.
" Non. " It was a simple negative statement; but while it was gentle, his steel gray eyes told her that there would be no further argument on the subject.
She ducked her chestnut-gold head delicately. " Inoltre...grazie, " she said again. "For taking care of me."
He heard the soft shame in her voice and knew that she was referring to having been inebriated...he inwardly cringed as he remembered his hesitation the previous night.
He stared at the floor of the truck, his dark hair falling against his face. "You don't need to thank me for that."
Robin watched him out of the corners of her eyes.
I had thought I didn't....but sometimes I'm still not sure, Amon.
After their arrival at il Campo , they left the driver and headed out in the direction of the cathedral. Robin had not asked him if that was their destination, but somehow she had assumed it; and as she saw the majestic domes of the gothic church come into view, she felt her pulse quicken with excitement and energy.
Secrets regarding her heritage and her powers were buried here....of that she was certain. It was only a question of how they would obtain those secrets.
"Stay close to me," Amon commanded softly, as they approached the steps leading into the cathedral. "If you see or feel anything out of place, or remotely suspicious...I want you to run; do not try to fight. Omae wakaru no? "
" Demo... " she began, but his stern gaze silenced her. " Wakatta, " she finished, her eyes downcast.
They entered the lobby of the cathedral, the light fading into darkness as they made their way inside. Robin was instantly overwhelmed with the familiar smells of old wood and marble, the scents stirring her perception and memory...
... ...wandering between Christian shrines....sought the old places of power....
She snapped back into reality, as she realized someone was coming towards them. A priest, dressed in long robes, approached them; his aged, concerned face looking at both of them in a mixture of benevolence and curiosity.
Despite his hesitance at seeing one of the Church's clergymen, Amon stepped forward to intercept the man. " Buon giorno, " he began, and the priest bowed his head in response.
" Benevento, " the priest answered, looking from one to the other, and his eyes settled for a longer moment on Robin. Amon detected a flicker of recognition in his eyes, before the priest composed his features and addressed them both again. " Sono Padre Nicola. Posso esserle utile? "
Robin bowed her head in deference, but she did not kneel before the priest, Amon noticed, as he knew she had done with Juliano. Then again, Juliano was more than just a teacher and a priest to her.
" Per favore, Padre, " she began in her soft voice, "we have some questions to ask of you."
"Is there somewhere we may talk?" Amon asked him politely, and the priest nodded in surprise, gesturing them to a small room at the side of the lobby.
Once in private, having closed the door behind him, Father Nicola turned to them with interest. " Si? " he asked patiently.
"My younger sister and I," began Amon, and Robin glanced at him quickly in surprise at his choice of words, "are looking for information relating to a man named Mario Benedetto, a scientist," he said. "We are distant relatives of his, and wish to know where we may get in contact with either he or people who were associated with him."
The priest's eyes were alight with recognition, but also with another emotion which Amon found particularly interesting---fear.
" Perche? " Father Nicola whispered, looking from one to the other of them. "You are with....that organization?"
Both Robin and Amon reacted to his words, as they both simultaneously grasped the priest's meaning. He was speaking of SOLOMON.
Amon considered his answer for a long moment, aware of the gun holstered in his jacket. He would not hesitate to make use of it...even if it meant murdering a priest in the house of God.
He was willing to go that far.
" No, " he answered, "I don't know what you mean." He was taking a risky plunge, and Robin looked at him with trepidation.
Father Nicola seemed to imperceptibly relax, and spoke again.
" Scusi ...I am overly cautious sometimes where certain things are concerned." He produced a slip of paper, and leaned towards a desk, grabbing a pen and beginning to write. Amon and Robin exchanged glances, slightly relieved but at the same time still wary.
"I know the Benedetto family for a long time," Father Nicola said. "They came here to pray often. This was their last known address." He finished writing and gave the slip of paper to Amon, who looked at it briefly before folding it and tucking it in his pocket.
"Do come back and let me know how he is doing?" Father Nicola asked, his expression concerned. "I have not seen him for years."
"When was the last time you'd seen him?" Amon inquired.
Father Nicola bowed his head momentarily in thought before he responded. "I believe it has been fifteen or sixteen years."
Amon's eyes narrowed. Approximately the same time Toudou disappeared.
Robin spoke up at Amon's side. " Padre ...we would also like to ask you about la cattedrale ." She leaned forward as she saw that Amon was going to allow her to ask her questions, and she continued, "What do you know about the history behind it?"
The priest turned his eyes on her again, and once more Amon noted some spark of recollection in his dark brown eyes.
"Ah....well, is very old....dating back to mid thirteenth century," Father Nicola offered, looking at her more closely. "What is it exactly you want to know?"
"Was there...any evidence that it was destroyed...at some point around that time?" Robin asked, and Amon realized what she was after.
"Now that you mention it," the priest said, "I do recall a story of how both the church and the tower were destroyed, only one hundred years after construction....something about a terrible windstorm." He shook his head fondly. "Some people wonder if it was a myth...but there is still part of the tower that is missing, that was never completed, even though it has been over seven hundred years since rebuilding."
Robin looked as though she wanted to ask more questions, but Amon's uneasiness was increasing. Despite the friendliness of the priest, he sensed somehow that it was not wise to linger in the cathedral.
" Molto grazie, " he said to Father Nicola, putting an encouraging hand on Robin's back to steer her out of the room, even as she made a slight noise of protest. "You've been very helpful."
Father Nicola leaned out the door as they departed, calling after them, " Buona fortuna. " He watched their departing forms, for several moments.
They headed back to il Campo , presumably to find directions to the address given to Amon by the priest. Robin was slightly chagrined at having been interrupted in her dialogue with the priest, but Amon had seemed immensely relieved when they had left the cathedral, which relaxed her. Surprisingly, he'd even acquiesced to stopping by an outdoor cafe to eat, before heading out to find information on Benedetto. It had been several hours since the small breakfast they'd eaten, and Robin was glad for the temporary change in his demeanor.
They sat outside, in the cool spring air, drinking espresso after their lunch of salad and pasta. The food had been good, but not as flavorful as the meals Jana prepared. Robin hoped that when she returned to her grandmother's that her appetite would automatically be resuscitated---she didn't want to have to admit to Jana that they'd eaten anything other than her excellent cooking.
"Amon?" she asked, setting down her espresso, and he looked up at her over his own cup.
"Were you surprised that a priest such as Father Nicola was afraid of SOLOMON?" she asked.
He lowered his cup, his eyes thoughtful. " Si. " Especially in a region so close to SOLOMON headquarters, he had thought it very strange that the priest had reacted that way at the mention of "the organization".
"Perhaps," Robin suggested, "he is like Toudou---a sympathizer."
Amon supposed it was true. There were certainly enough people in Tuscany that he'd met already to convince him that Witches were not looked upon the same way in every part of the world.
She was lost in thought as she played with her espresso cup, running her finger along the edge as she spoke. "I find myself wondering what the similarities are between the gods that Toudou mentioned, that were worshipped so long ago...and Witches," she said, quietly. "How did the gods rule people? Were they able to live side-by-side with humans who worshipped them?" She paused again, before she added softly, "Did the people fear them....or love them?"
She looked back up at him. "I know you said that you still don't know if you accept the existence of Witches, Amon," she said solemnly, and he held her gaze, mesmerized by the emerald eyes that fixed him. "But I wonder, if SOLOMON had never existed...would it be possible for Witches and humans to live among each other?"
He frowned to himself as he digested his answer to her.
"I don't know the answer to that yet," he responded quietly. "But I believe it would depend on the hearts of each....Witches and humans."
"Which are not so different from each other, honto ni, " she reminded him.
Amon found himself reluctant to agree with her statement, but reluctant to dispute it. After all....where does your own lie?
He watched as she played distractedly with her bracelet, running her fingers over the smooth stones without conscious thought. "Why did you not mention your birthday?" he asked quietly, and she looked surprised at his direct comment.
A strange sadness came into her eyes. "Growing up in the monastery....Juliano made me aware of when it was, when I was young...but it was never something he encouraged to celebrate."
"Because you were Toudou's....creation." He hated the word 'experiment' now.
She nodded. "I did not realize until that night he came to Raven's Flat, why he was so distant with me...yet he cared enough to spare my life."
"Jana knew this also," Amon noted, his voice as quiet as hers. "It may be possible that she played a role in protecting you, after your birth, somehow."
The thought had not occurred to her, and she sat as he paid the bill, thinking.
They left the small cafe, after having left money on the table for their meals, and headed out into the street. The table sat empty, the chairs askew, with a single candle on the table lit in the afternoon light.
" Dove? " she asked, quickening her steps to keep time with his along the street, and watched as he extracted the slip of paper from his pocket.
"We need to find some street maps, that will enable us to track down the address," he said, mentally cursing the fact that he hadn't brought his portable laptop with them. It would have been cumbersome to carry it with them, though---
Robin's shrill shriek made the blood run in his veins like ice.
She was on the pavement, holding her ankle, her footing having slipped out from under her. He had seen her fall out of the corner of his eye, but his reflexes had not been fast enough to grab her arm as he had last time.
He looked down at her on the sidewalk, as she grimaced, rubbing her ankle and pouting sullenly. It was a moment that reminded him that she was still sixteen years old, after a conversation that had sounded as though it had come from the lips of someone twice her age.
" Daijoubou? " he asked quickly, but when he saw her embarrassed face, he knew there was no serious injury.
Despite his efforts to appear sympathetic, a smirk threatened at the corner of his lips. "I knew that I should have gotten you new shoes instead," he said softly, as though he were chastising himself, and Robin looked up, stunned that he was indirectly referencing his birthday gift to her. He bent at the waist, extending his hand, prepared to kneel down and help her to her feet.
A shot rang out, the bullet slamming into the concrete wall to his right, at the height his head had been at before he had lowered it.
On instinct, Amon threw himself onto the ground, covering her body with his own.
People on the street and passersby screamed in fear, ducking their heads and running for cover, as a rain of bullets suddenly began to hail down on the sidewalk where they had been walking. Barely protected by planters and stone, Amon crawled along the pavement, still shielding Robin with his body and his arm over her head, until they reached the cover of a solid brick bench by the edge of the curb.
"Amon," she cried out, her words muffled, but he shushed her and reached back to remove his gun from his holster.
From around the corner of the bench, he could see in the direction from where the shots had come, across the street....
Suddenly someone was running, half a block ahead, darting into an alley along the side of a nearby building. His keen eyesight made out a gun in the suspect's hands.
Amon jumped to his feet. "Robin, tomaru! " he barked, loading the chamber in his pistol as he began to run after the shooter.
"Amon!" Her frightened voice rang out after him.
He charged down the street, the edges of his coat flying out behind him, and rounded the corner that he'd seen the man take. Further down the alley, which was a dead end, he confronted the shooter. It looked as though he had ditched his weapon, and was attempting to climb over a high wooden gate that led to another part of the alley.
Amon fired a warning shot near the man's leg, and the suspect froze in fear, turning to look back at his attacker.
"Climb down off the gate," Amon ordered, his voice rigid with barely restrained anger, his weapon aimed at the man's head. "Show me your hands."
The man began to obediently climb back down, looking back at Amon as he did, but halfway down his eyes widened and he stopped again.
Amon whirled around to see someone standing not thirty feet away behind him, closer to the entrance of the alley. He fired several shots from his pistol at the figure, a man clothed in a long, dark gray jacket---but the bullets bounced off, ineffectively.
A Witch. Or more precisely, a Hunter.
The man in the gray jacket inclined his head slightly, his eyes focused on Amon, and a blast of kinetic energy surged forth, hitting Amon square in the chest and knocking him against the opposite wall. His pistol clattered to the ground.
He realized as the energy pummeled his body once again.... without the Orbo I'm defenseless.
The Hunter slowly walked towards him, continuing to assault him with the waves of power that he unleashed upon his enemy. Amon struggled for breath as he was thrown back against the opposite wall, once again winded.
"You will have to make a choice, Amon," the Hunter spoke, his voice low and malicious.
"Ch-choice?" Amon sputtered, barely able to get the words out. It sounded eerily like the ultimatum that he had been presented with weeks ago by Jana.
The Hunter came close enough to stand within five feet of him, still not touching him, but winding him nevertheless. He inclined his head again, and Amon felt the breath being choked out of him, like something was crushing his lungs.
A burst of flame suddenly blocked the Hunter's blast of power, covering Amon like a fiery barrier.
Amon raised his head wearily from where he had slumped onto the ground against the wall, as the angry Hunter turned to the entrance of the alley. He looked stunned by the emergence of flame.
Robin stood in the alley, one hand leaning on the wall to support her sprained ankle.
" Don't touch him, " she warned softly, her eyes alight with the force of her Craft.
The Hunter's eyes became frenzied with anger, as he attempted to unleash his kinetic powers against her in full force, but again she repelled it with her fire. His eyes were disbelieving. " Come?! " he cried.
She focused on him, allowing her Craft to come to light, and her chestnut hair whipped in the air around her. Amon saw, with stunned amazement, that she was not wearing her glasses.
A spark of flame ignited on all sides around the SOLOMON agent, and he found himself surrounded by a circle of fire. He clenched his teeth in anger, trying again to direct his powers at her, but to no avail.
She walked towards him slowly, favoring her ankle. "How did you find us?"
With fury the Hunter realized he would not get anywhere attacking the girl, and he again turned his eyes on the weakened Amon, still leaning up against the wall.
Amon began to choke from the force constricting his throat. " Iiya! " Robin whispered harshly.
In a flash of flame and heat, the screaming Hunter suddenly disappeared.
Robin made her way, limping slightly, over to Amon. He was breathing heavily, recovering from the attack, stunned and at the same time, mortified.
I can't protect her.
She helped him to stand, allowing him to lean on her despite her tender ankle. They made their way wordlessly out of the alley and to where they could procure a ride out of Siena.
Their injuries were temporary, and by the time they got back to Jana's house, Amon had recovered enough to storm through the front door.
Jana watched with wide eyes, as he barged in, his eyes dark and wild. " Cosa succede? " she asked, panic coming to her voice.
"Nonna, we were attacked in Siena," Robin explained breathlessly, still favoring her ankle slightly, but there seemed to be no real damage to it. She followed Amon inside, as he stormed into his room and began rummaging through his things. Jana followed along behind her.
"We are leaving Italy. Right now. I am going to get us on the first plane out of here." There seemed to be no room for debate by the tone of his voice.
"Don't go," Jana whispered, her green eyes filled with sadness.
"Amon, we don't know how they found us---" Robin was starting to say, but he cut her off angrily.
"It was him, " Amon seethed, "the priest we met with. He deceived us....he was likely in league with SOLOMON all along."
"But Amon," Robin tried to reason, watching as he threw clothing into his travel bag hurriedly, "you saw his face---he was afraid . He would not have talked to us if he'd thought we were with them."
"Don't go," Jana was still whispering, her voice shaky and pleading.
Amon turned on Jana, nearly livid with anger. "You want us to stay here and be captured by SOLOMON? They won't spare you either," he warned, nearly spitting the words.
He almost regretted his words when he felt Robin's hand on his arm, both soothing and restraining; and softened his next comments to Jana. "You will not like what they do to Witches."
"You will not be harmed by SOLOMON while you are here, in my house," Jana whispered, her eyes glazed with sadness, but with a firm resolve.
"And why not?"
She looked at him defiantly, despite the tears in her eyes. "Because I will protect you."
Amon shook his head, his expression dark. "You do not have the power, Jana," he told her sternly, but to his surprise she scoffed.
"Haven't I?" she asked, sounding as though she were offended. "I have been protecting you both, shielding the use of your power, bambina, " she looked at Robin, "since you have arrived here."
Amon was strangely silent, as Robin asked, "Shielding?"
"Your powers are a signal, a beacon, to anyone who may be watching and who knows what to look for," Jana said firmly to her granddaughter. "I have been shielding your powers with my own protection, bambina, just as I protected Maria....but only as long as you are in Sovana. Apparently, my powers cannot extend beyond that boundary." Her eyes were sad again.
Robin covered her mouth with her hand. "The candle....at the cafe...." She looked fearfully at Amon, who looked torn between anger and grief.
" Per favore, " Jana pleaded, tears spilling from her eyes, "do not leave. I promise, no harm will come to you, while you are here."
Robin took her grandmother in her arms, holding her tightly in a comforting hug, while her eyes met Amon's pleadingly over Jana's shoulder.
He brooded as he realized the storm was coming....and she would have them remain there....in the eye of it.
Hiding in the darkness....Fiery legacy....An enduring song. The Ancient Ones obey the call. Chapter 9.
Okay. I said there were going to be fewer translations, didn't I? I lied. Please don't kill me. ^^;
Otouto: [Japanese] younger brother: this does not usually have the honorific title '-san' after it, but we all know what a brat Nagira-san can be. ^.~
Nii-san: [Japanese] older brother
Buon giorno, bambina: Good morning, child
canto popolare: folk song
vedo: I see
Mi scusi: I'm sorry, excuse me
E' bella: it is beautiful
Sa giudicare: he has good judgement
gemma di la serpe: serpent's gemstone
vedi: you see
Fare attenzione: Be careful
fermarsi: stay behind
Grazie: thank you
Va bene: It's all right
Omae wakaru no: [Japanese] Do you understand?
Demo: [Japanese] but
Wakatta: [Japanese] Understood
Sono Padre Nicola: I am Father Nicolas
posso esserle utile: can I be of any assistance
la cattedrale: the cathedral
buona fortuna: good luck!
honto ni: [Japanese] really, truly
tomaru: [Japanese] remain, stay in one place
cosa succede: what's going on?
"How Can I Keep From Singing?" is a traditional Shaker folk song. I have no idea exactly how old of a song it really is, or who originally wrote it....but if you'd like to listen to an incredibly ethereal version of it, you can find it on Enya's Shepherd Moons CD. Despite it being Shaker, I think this song applies beautifully to pagan religions as well. Thanks to Vitani Fyrewolf (yayyy! You updated! ^^) for pointing out something about Enya's music that I'd missed, even having been a fan all these years! ^^
Another huge thank you to Vitani for clarification of the "visibility" of the use of one's Craft. It's mentioned very vaguely in the series how Witches are found other than SOLOMON's database (i.e. the "watchers"), but Vit explained it much better for me. ^^ Thankees!!