The Burning Time

Chapter 9: Lare

None of the three spoke for a long period of time during the remainder of the day.

The late afternoon found Robin and her grandmother in the kitchen, Jana having made them coffee to give herself something to do; and the two women sat at the kitchen table, talking softly, their heads bowed. Amon had retreated outside, to the privacy of the backyard, wandering amongst the oak and rowan trees and trying to collect his thoughts. He had kept his anger and frustration in check as best he could, given the circumstances.

They were being Hunted.

It seemed to him that it was only a question of time before SOLOMON would track them to Sovana, especially since they had detected Robin's powers so quickly in Siena, within moments of her having lit the tabletop candle at the small cafe. They had obviously been in Siena already for a while, and had been waiting for some sort of signal.

Robin's powers had been the beacon that had alerted the Hunter to their presence.

And yet...he found that he could not be angry with her, even though she had given away their location.

Neither of them had had any idea that SOLOMON had been able to track the use of the Craft in such a way. He had thought the database was the single source by which the organization uncovered Craft-users...the genetic link between ancestors and descendants that labeled people as either Seeds, or Witches. Apparently they had other methods, such as supernatural powers, as well.

The one thing that had confused him about the attack, that had seemed to not make much sense to him, was the Hunter's astonishment at witnessing Robin's Craft. It was as if Robin's power had completely caught him by surprise. Hadn't he been expecting her to be that powerful, knowing what she was....?

Amon glanced back reluctantly towards the farmhouse. They weren't safe here....he was convinced that Jana overestimated her own powers, that she couldn't protect them from what was to come. But it was also clear to him that Robin's intent was not to leave, either, at this point. Whether it was because of her obstinacy---something he'd seen in her before---or something else, he didn't know. Perhaps she feared leading SOLOMON to Sovana, and leaving her grandmother, whose powers were obviously not as formidable, unguarded.

What disturbed him the most was the knowledge that he would not be able to help her---or Jana---at all. Against humans, he was competent....

He clenched his fists in frustration. Against Witches and Hunters...he was powerless.


Robin stared forlornly into her coffee as she sat across the table from her grandmother.

She was tormented. She had betrayed their location to SOLOMON, and now the Hunt would truly begin. There was nowhere to go---they could not run, and leave Jana behind to face the Hunters alone. And her grandmother would not leave Sovana---she was sure of it.

Jana's eyes softened sadly, as she regarded her granddaughter. " Bambina.... you have to stop thinking that this is your fault. You did not know they would be Hunting you this way."

Robin's eyes remained downcast. "But if I had not used my Craft..." she replied softly.

" No, " Jana said sternly, and Robin's head jerked up, surprised by her grandmother's forceful tone. "You should never think that way, Robin," the older woman reproached her gently. "Your powers were given to you for a reason...and you must not ignore that reason."

Robin blinked slowly in confusion as she regarded her grandmother. Eve of Witches. That was what Toudou had called her in the recorded video data unearthed by Zaizen in Factory. But what did it really mean? How was she to 'restore the legacy of Witches', if she would be continually Hunted by SOLOMON?

"My power is to carry on the legacy....that is what Toudou said," she said hesitantly, but again Jana was shaking her head.

"Your Craft was given to you for more than just that, bambina, " her grandmother said, still with the stern glint in her dark green eyes. "And you cannot achieve your full potential if you do not use your powers to their utmost extent."

" Full potential? " Robin repeated, her expression quizzical. " Che cos'è quello? "

Jana's eyes grew even more serious, as though she were about to explain something of dire importance; when they were both distracted by Amon re-entering the house.

He entered through the back door into the kitchen, hesitating briefly before passing the two women at the table, his face grim and his eyes dark. Robin watched solemnly as he walked past, his boots clattering on the tiled floor of the kitchen as he headed to his bedroom. Her eyes followed him until his form had disappeared from the room.

Jana saw that Robin was no longer involved in the conversation, her attention having shifted completely to her partner, and the older woman nodded to herself imperceptibly. The answer to Robin's question would wait.

The young chestnut-haired witch turned to face her grandmother, standing slowly out of her chair. "Nonna.... scusi ..." she whispered softly, her eyes returning again to the empty hallway. She left the table and headed towards the hallway, presumably following her reticent partner.

Her grandmother looked on after, her dark green eyes saddened.


Robin brushed her knuckles cautiously against the partially-open door to his bedroom, her hand pushing the door open slightly wider. "Amon?" she asked softly, hesitant to enter.

He was seated at the desk, already booting up his laptop computer. His eyes flicked upwards at the sound of his name, to see her standing in the open door, but quickly returned to the screen. " Nani, " he responded neutrally.

Robin felt her heart sinking. There was a familiar edge to his voice; one that reminded her of the way he had been during the first couple of days in Sovana. The gentle attempts at speaking Italian had given way to the abrupt, staccato Japanese that she had previously been used to hearing from him. It was suddenly as though the last few weeks had never happened; he was once more emotionally remote and in control of his expressions. The mask was in place.

He was the Hunter, again....cold and distant.

Nevertheless, she straightened her spine and entered the room, refusing to allow him to intimidate her. She approached the desk slowly, standing off to his side and behind him, lacing her fingers together in front of her by force of habit.

"Amon," she asked again, softly but with resolve and an underlying hurt, "are you angry with me?"

He turned his head slowly from the screen, revealing his profile to her.

" Iiya, " he said finally, and she briefly thought she could detect sadness in the single word. He turned back to the computer.

Robin watched him curiously. Her mind began to form a was like the last time.

The attack on Raven's Flat.

She recalled the moment she had heard the SOLOMON officers break through the building, the sound loud enough to jar her and cause her to drop the coffee pot she'd been pouring from. The sound of bullets....her comrades, going down in bursts of gunfire....she remembered being cornered at gunpoint, shivering and frightened, cowering on the floor.

Then, the piercing, blinding light....someone taking her arm, lifting her up, out of the shadows of the miserable corner she'd been attempting to disappear into.


It had happened over five months ago....but the memory was still as fresh in her mind as the day it had occurred.

I was told by Zaizen to overlook your hunt....but I just couldn't do it.

She had heard the words he wasn't able to speak. I believe in you.

After she had escaped---with the horrible belief that he'd been killed---he had confronted her again, several months later, at Nagira's hideout. She recalled seeing his face upon the opening of the door she'd always kept unlocked, his orbo gun trained on her....and his stern, cold expression. The face of the Hunter.

Which had been exactly what she'd thought he had come there for, once she had seen his gun and his stern, distant Hunt her. But it was a deception; his gun hadn't even been loaded. It had been a ploy all along, in order for him to see that which he felt he needed to see, what had driven him to seek her out again after all that time.

The evidence of her trust in him.

Do you believe in me?

And now, after another attack on their lives, he was distant and wary again. Perhaps that is what he needs to see now. The evidence that I still trust him....that I still believe in him. That neither of us will let the other down.

She longed to reach out to him, to comfort him with that reassurance....but he seemed so remote, so emotionally far away. It was only one night ago that they had been in downtown Sovana, celebrating Tana's Day, enjoying the company of the villagers, as well as each had only been earlier that morning since she had awoken to find that he had slept next to her all night, and had put the gemstone bracelet he'd bought on her wrist....

And yet it seemed now as though it had been ages ago.

She saw him glancing again at her out of the corner of his eye, and she belatedly realized she'd been staring at the back of his head the entire time. She fidgeted with the bracelet on her wrist awkwardly.


"Robin, I want to be alone for a while," he said, his words quiet but unyielding, as he continued to stare straight ahead at the laptop monitor before him.

She felt her body crumpling in defeat. He did not even want to be around her. Her mere presence was a distraction to him....she bowed her head in shame.

" Gomenasai, " she whispered quickly, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Amon sighed heavily after the door closed, folding his arms across his chest as he leaned back in the desk chair, his glance falling downward. His mind was a turmoil of mixed feelings, most of which he didn't want to give her any alert to. He hadn't meant to turn her away so abruptly, but he still felt a great deal of helpless frustration at the predicament they had found themselves in.

Beyond that, he was consumed with unease at what he had just discovered upon reading Nagira's emailed response. He looked up again at the message on the screen.

According to some of her extended family, Matoko did indeed spend a significant amount of time in Europe, right up until you were born. How did you know this, Otouto-san? You developing psychic powers or something? If so, I have some lottery numbers I'd like you to look over....


There was something comforting, to Robin at least, about the familiar routines they had established at Jana's house.

After she and her grandmother had prepared dinner, they cleared dishes again as they were used to---without Amon, who had silently returned to his bedroom---and washed and dried them, talking nonchalantly the entire time as though nothing were different; as though the attack in Siena had not even happened. Jana told her a happy story of when Maria had first met Toudou, and had confessed to her mother afterwards how enamored she instantly was of him; and Robin's heart felt momentarily lightened. Even if Maria had lived a short life---the later part of it filled with sadness at her family's breakup, and fear of the discovery of her identity as a Witch---at least she had had moments of happiness, even if they had been few and far between.

It was those brief instances of joy, Jana told her, seized amidst the tumult that was her young life, that had allowed her to cling to her hope.

Robin prepared a bath later that evening. Even though she had bathed earlier that morning, she felt she needed her nightly ritual now more than ever. Almost unwillingly, her mind turned to the events in Siena as she soaked herself in the heated water.

Lighting the candle with her flame...hurrying to follow Amon's quickened footsteps along the sidewalk....her foot falling out from under her, ankle twisting painfully.....looking up at him from the ground, and her surprise at seeing the momentary gentleness coming into his dark gray eyes....

Then the bullet firing, as if out of nowhere....narrowly missing his head.

The bullet....

...the bullet was meant for Amon!

The realization of the fact confused her. It was her Craft they had detected...why were they shooting at Amon? She hadn't realized it at the time, too concerned with controlling her Craft to fight the Hunter....but he had seemed hell-bent on harming Amon, and had appeared surprised when she had shown up to defend him so forcefully.

She struggled to sleep that night.


Robin found herself in a wide open field, standing in the low grass, while the children of the Sovanan villagers ran and scampered all around her. They were picking wildflowers and chasing each other, laughing and rejoicing in the spring day.

She smiled to herself as she watched them, her long chestnut-blonde hair billowing around her shoulders in the breeze, which suddenly picked up with a force.

Heavy storm clouds darkened the sky, almost instantaneously, and it began to rain, cold and wet. Robin heard the low, distant rumble of thunder. The children ran from the field, covering their heads and shrieking; only Robin stayed, the cold blasts of air and water hitting her forcefully as the sky darkened, and she shielded her face from the onslaught.

" Che cos'è questo? " she asked, more to herself, and ominously she heard Jana's voice speaking to her in the dream.

" E' Dio di Tempesta, " her grandmother's voice replied, and as Robin watched the sky overhead, she saw lightning flash. Between the brilliant flashes of light, she could vaguely make out a face, with icy blue eyes...

She awoke from her dream, sitting up in bed, panting.

Slowly she calmed her racing heart, catching her breath as she recalled the dream. It had actually been long and involved, but she could only remember the first few, vivid moments in detail.

She glanced at the clock next to her bed. Ten-thirty. She had slept in later than she had planned, a result of her restlessness the night before. Not even the full moon visible from her window in the sky, reminding her of Diana, had been able to calm her sleepless tossing and turning.

She sighed, resigned, and began to get dressed.


" Buon giorno, " Jana's voice gaily greeted her from the stove, and Robin smiled in reply as she entered the kitchen. Her grandmother's spirits had seemed down the previous day, but had apparently been rejuvenated overnight.

" Buon giorno, Nonna, " she responded, taking a seat at the table, where fresh coffee awaited her. Even if they did not venture into Sovana today, she decided she would do her best to help keep her grandmother's spirit uplifted.

" Hai fatto una bella dormita? " Jana asked. Robin was about to shake her head in a negative response, taking her first sip of coffee, before there was a pounding at the front door. Robin hesitated, her cup mid-way to her lips; but her grandmother seemed to have expected it.

" Un attimo! " Jana called out, removing her apron after extinguishing the fire under the stove, and headed towards the door.

Amon appeared in the kitchen, cleaning his boots on the floor mat in front of the door to the backyard. Robin met his eyes shyly but curiously, and he nodded to her in greeting. He turned his attention to the foyer, where Jana was welcoming a guest.

" Avanti, avanti! Per favore, " she was saying, and to Robin's surprise, Giovanna entered the kitchen behind Jana, who was now carrying a large basket full of bread and baked goods.

" Buon giorno, Pellegrina, " Giovanna greeted her, smiling at the young Witch, and Robin stood to go to the older woman and embrace her.

" Buon giorno. " Robin smiled, hugging her and watching as Giovanna then turned her eyes on Amon, and nodded in his direction. "Giovanna, perchè stai qui? "

Giovanna shrugged lightly as she bestowed a benevolent smile. "I just come by to give you a gift." She gestured to the basket that Jana now held.

" Molto grazie, " Jana sang happily, taking the basket further into the kitchen and placing it on the countertop. She began rummaging through it as there was another knock at the door. Amon and Robin met each other's gaze this time in confusion.

" Bambina? " Jana asked, and Robin instantly understood, going to the door to answer. She pulled open the door to greet not only Gennaro, the fruit merchant, but also his wife and his three children.

"Gennaro! Buon....giorno.... " Robin gave them a bewildered greeting, as they entered the house bearing a basket of fruit, and the children followed quickly behind. Andria, the smallest one, pounced on the young Witch, clinging to her legs and chanting, "Pellega!" Robin attempted to close the door behind them, but was stopped by another couple, another vendor and his wife from the village. They too were bearing gifts of food, greeting her joyously.

Amon turned to Jana as people began to file unceremoniously into the house. " Cosa succede? " he asked, and she smiled at him to dispel his apprehension.

"Just some visitors for the afternoon," Jana said mysteriously, as more villagers began to enter the kitchen, bringing in baskets and containers of food and drink.

Gennaro spoke up from where he stood next to them. "Since you cannot go out into Sovana...." he gestured broadly to the baskets of food lining up on the counter, "...Sovana come to you." Amon understood then that somehow Jana had made it known to the villagers that they were in hiding.

He looked around. But for them to have done all this....

Robin came forward, having scooped Andria up into her arms. Despite the child being almost four years old, she was small; and even with her own slight frame, Robin could support her. "But Gennaro...are you sure that the townsfolk can afford this? ... è così tanto.... "

" Si, si. " He waved her concern away, showing her one of the bags of fruit that had been brought in. " Guarda qua! I bring figs, four different kinds, since you like them so much." His eyes radiated happiness, and Robin could do nothing but smile in return, beyond words at his and the others' generosity.

Andria looked skeptically up at Amon from where she sat in Robin's arms, and upon meeting the dark hunter's eyes she hurriedly hid her face away, burrowing it into Robin's neck. Slyly she peeked at him from the corner of one eye, to see if he was still watching her.

Gennaro's wife laughed heartily at seeing her daughter's reaction to Robin's tall, stern protector. "Look at Andria, how she flirts with il cacciatore! " she chuckled, and Gennaro and Jana both returned her smiles. "She will be such a breaker of hearts."

"She a little young for him, no? " Gennaro laughed, and Robin, still holding the shy girl in her arms, glanced at Amon. She felt a faint blush coming on as she realized he had been watching her the entire time.

"Ah, but amore è amore, " Jana responded knowingly, watching the two, observing the meaningful glances. Gennaro and his wife laughed, as Jana smiled to herself, turning her attention back to the kitchen and preparing food to feed her guests.


After a hearty lunch---not even having put a dent into the supply of food that had been given---everyone had gathered in the living room. Most of them were seated on the floor, as Giovanna spun tales and stories from where she sat in a large, comfortable chair. Robin held Andria on her lap, two other young girls flanking her on either side, holding onto her arms.

One of the villagers was asking Giovanna to describe to the group the history of la vecchia religione, the Old Religion. The room grew hushed and quieted as she launched into her description:

" La vecchia religione , the old religion of Italy, first began to form around the beliefs of early, pre-Etruscan Italians. No one knows where the pre-Etruscans came from...but given their fixations with magick, burial of their dead, and the afterworld; some historians think that their origins might have been as far south as from Egypt. Which made a certain degree of sense; at that time in history, around 1500-1200 BC, Egypt had undergone drastic changes in their culture from polytheism to monotheism....the structure of their religious belief system was in uproar.

"The mystery teachings and magickal practices begun by the pre-Etruscans were further developed and refined by the Etruscans, who settled Italy around 1000 BC, establishing the Great Etruscan Empire. They were widely known for their great magickal and mystical knowledge, as well in their beliefs in their gods; most of which significantly influenced the appearance of the first Romans hundreds of years later.

"Etruscans cared a great deal more about the afterworld that about life on this earth...and they built magnificent tombs which they decorated with paintings and stocked with goods and items to benefit the dead on their journey. They believed the pleasures of life on earth would continue on after death, and felt it essential that the living gain the goodwill of the gods in order to enjoy their afterlife."

Amon spoke up, and Robin looked over at him with interest from where she sat with the children. "So Witches---or 'gods'---lived among the Etruscans?" he asked.

Giovanna nodded. "One of the Etruscan ideas of deity was the notion of 'manus', or power, which they believed to underlie all of creation and which manifested itself to humans as the gods. Manus became concentrated in certain places, and eventually in certain families; and could be harnessed to assist humans. Those who could discern the motions of this power, who could tap into it, would be in touch with the divine and would be favored in their lives. Consciousness of the power was not enough; one had to possess the wisdom to become a conduit for it.

"The origins of the practices of the Streghe grew from this. Stregheria is Italian word for Witchcraft; strega and stregone for female and male Witches, respectively.

"In Stregheria there are certain guardian spirits. There are the Grigori ...the 'Watchers', spirits who are the guardians of the portals of the Astral plane, who can recognize works of streghe magick and can allow access to the portals of otherworldly realms of existence. They do not judge the actions of a Witch, but they can interfere with magickal powers within that realm that they control.

"Then, there are those called the Lare , who are both protectors and preservers. They represent not only ancient family ties, but the spirits who protect and preserve la vecchia religione and its followers. They are the spirits of beings who have already lived as Witches and are now moving up to become demi-gods...they are viewed as the "collective consciousness" of former Streghe . The Streghe families kept this belief in the Lare alive, gaining strength and aid from staying linked with the Witches that had gone before. Generation after generation has remembered and honored the previous ones; this is why we can trace our heritage back, and recall the family lines. It is our culture and our heritage which binds us together...which we should all honor and appreciate." Giovanna seemed to look meaningfully at Amon, who averted his eyes and ducked his head in thought.

....our heritage that binds us together.

Yet, he did not even know if his parents' true heritage was in fact his own.

Another villager was asking about the Roman Empire. Giovanna nodded patiently and spoke again.

"The Romans evolved as a people from the Etruscans, and in the 5th century BC they rejected the Etruscan king and formed their own republic. But the Romans had adopted the Etruscan gods and goddesses as their own; and many Etruscan deities lived on in Roman Pagan worship.

"Witches were well accepted for hundreds of years in Italy, as the worship flourished, and they lived peacefully among humans until the emergence of Christianity as a new form of Judaism. Whereas Judaism had not been tolerated by the Romans, Christianity took hold tenaciously, and within a few hundred years after the birth of Christ, after a thousand years of domination, the Empire had fallen, and the Church began to gain power and control over the land."

SOLOMON must have emerged at that time, Robin thought to herself.

"With the overthrow of Paganism at the hand of the Christians, magickal practices and Dianic cults such as that of the King of the Woods at Nemi were outlawed. Priestesses of Diana took refuge in isolated villages near Lake Nemi, and the temple of Diana fell into ruins. Christianized Romans looked down upon the country dwellers, whom they viewed as simpletons. Yet it was here in these rural villages that la vecchia religione was maintained and survived, separate and independent of Christianity and the rise of the Church."

Jana, seated in a chair opposite Giovanna, nodded her head sadly, her eyes downcast. "Then came the beginning of il Tempo Bruciato ."

"The Scorched Time?" Robin translated, furrowing her brow in confusion.

" Si, " Giovanna responded. "The Burning Time."


The children had been sent outside to play in the backyard among the oak and rowan, and the elders, namely Giovanna, Jana, and a few others, continued to tell their stories to the adult villagers, as well as Amon and Robin.

"The persecution of Witches in Italy began soon after the fall of Rome; but did not become extremely violent until the late twelfth century," Giovanna said. "Before then, the Church struck out mainly against organized groups. Solitary village Witches were generally tolerated, continuing the roles of village healer, herbalist, midwife, and counselor; thus Stregheria remained relatively intact throughout the Middle Ages. Paganism was driven into dark corners, and age by age the Church fought against it. The women in particular clung to their Diana, unwilling to give up their beloved goddess to believe in the cold Christian advice to pray to Mary.

"But when the persecutions increased, there was no place that was safe. Christianity had spread throughout Europe, and for hundreds of years, men and women, strega and stregone , were arrested and tortured, hanged and burnt.

"It was not the desire to rid the earth of every Pagan individual. It was fear, of those with powers---for with the return of the Goddess in the human form, the powers of Witches grew....fear of how powerful they could become....those who were deemed Hunters destroyed entire families, for fear that the genetic traits of Stregheria would, women, and children. And, it was jealousy." She looked up to meet Robin's eyes.

Robin was instantly reminded of her talk with Methusalah, months ago, in the Walled City. Her mind became jumbled with fragments of the conversation she'd had with the old woman that day. Nine million....the ones who committed the atrocities who shared the same blood as the fallen gods, labeling them 'Witch', too, died like that....

....the first god.

"Those who had aligned themselves with the Church, with the most powerful entity, had chosen to hunt down others like them, labeling them Witches, and eliminating them.

"They tortured those poor people....without mercy....drove meaningless confessions out of them, only to then subject them to more tortures. They drugged or strangled the Witch, blindfolded them and bound their hands so that they could not act their magick upon their torturers. The final act was to burn the Witch alive, thereby 'purifying' the soul of the one the Hunters had labeled in league with the Devil."

Robin bowed her head, her memories of Methusalah's descriptions of Witch Hunts flooding her mind. It was difficult not to recollect those Witches she'd burnt, in the name of the Church....

But things are different now. You aren't as you were back then. Your eyes have been opened. She was relieved for it, despite the pain it caused her to reflect on the deaths that had she known otherwise, she would not have participated in.

"The Burning Time continues, even now," Giovanna continued sadly. "Those with the genetic information on every individual, as well as with the knowledge of the power to detect magick through the Grigori ---the Watchers---continue to Hunt the children of Darkness, to end their lineages, and to erase all existence of Witches from the earth."

The room was silent for several moments, each digesting the words said. Robin looked up with interest, though, when she heard Amon speak, the soft baritones of his voice breaking the silence.

"What about the God and Goddess?" He was looking at Giovanna earnestly, but with a barely discernable curiosity. Robin thought that if she hadn't looked hard enough at him, she would have missed the fleeting look she'd seen on his face.

Giovanna smiled a strange smile, possibly relieved at the change of topic, as she set about answering his question.

""Dianus and Diana are the most common names found associated with la vecchia religione, references in history dating back to the sixth century, BC. But his origins are much, much older than are hers.

"Dianus is the nature god, associated with woods, herds, and fertility....he was present at the rites of Diana at the sacred grove of Nemi. The oak trees are sacred to him. He is also another name for the god Janus, the two-faced god of doorways and portals, and beginnings. The 'double face' of Janus refers to the stage of a God who is between his base earth aspect, and higher Divine aspect. Dianus is visualized as a stag god, or a man with antlers. He is the consorte of Diana even in Her chaste aspect, as the Maiden---in this aspect they are like brother and sister. As She is Temptress, He is her lover."

Stag with antlers.

Robin's mind flashed again to Methusalah's description, and the cave drawing she had witnessed. The first god.

"The Goddess is the Life Force, in as much as She is the fertility in all things. It is through her activity that we are born, and that seeds push up through the earth, and grow into plants. She moves the God to create through His desire for Her. The Goddess is the joy of life, She is the passion to live. Compassion, love, gentleness, and kindness are the essence of her spirit. All women carry the Goddess within, in various aspects and degrees.

"Yet, there is a duality in all things, and the Goddess can manifest as vengeance, and destruction. She is the Soul and the Wrath of Nature.

"The Goddess rules the night, and the Moon is her sacred symbol. All women are linked to her through the Moon, which influences the flow of blood. The night is the essence of mystery that all women possess. This is the elusive quality which all women bear, but can never be known, or touched upon. The desire of men for women, is the desire of God for Goddess. It is the attraction of the Life Force.

"The Goddess is known as the Queen of Heaven, clothed in stars, and wearing the Moon as a crown. She is the Earth Mother, clothed in green, pregnant with the Child of Life, which she bears every year. She is the Virgin Maiden, naked and beautiful. She is youth and the lust for life. She is the Enchantress, and the Temptress. She is all women.

"The Goddess is Queen of all Witches, who She calls Her hidden children. We who worship Her are her servants...She teaches us the ways of nature, and spirit. She reveals all mysteries, and gives light to the darkness. And to the wise, she imparts Her sacred name.

"The God is known as the stern and demanding aspect of divinity...yet this is only one aspect of his nature. He is perceived as the Death Force, which transforms. He is Lord of the Afterworld, who restores and renews the soul, to prepare it for a new life. This is performed through the union of the God and Goddess.

"Yet, again, there is a duality in all things, and the God is also vitality and strength. He is the Sun, the Lord of Light. The God is the desire to create, and through the attraction of the Goddess, he is moved to create.

"He is Lord of the Heavens, clothed in the Sun, and bearing a golden rod. He is Lord of the Earth, horned like a stag, and powerful. He is Lord of the Afterworld, dark and lonely, stern and just. For His are the two faces of Janus. Through Him is order established and discipline mastered. He is the inner strength of the individual. He is the essence of strength and defense.

"Yet, he is also the warrior, and the destroyer. He is power and will. All men bear his essence, in various degrees. He is all men. There is a side of the God which can be seen by those who desire to love is a gentleness, a compassion, and an understanding. This comes from His awareness of His strength and power. His compassion is born of His understanding of justice.

"The God is sexual desire and virility within the male. He is attraction, sensuality, and sexuality. In death, He is the comforter, and the renewer. He is the Great Initiator, and Teacher. He rules the Afterworld, and dispels the darkness with His presence. He is the Illuminator, and reveals all that is hidden. He scatters all falsehoods, and establishes truth."

"He sounds very busy," Gennaro quipped from the floor, and the entire room burst into laughter, dispelling the awed, silent mood from a moment before.

Jana was laughing. "Indeed, he is," she smiled, rising from her chair.


The townspeople began to leave close to the end of the afternoon, and Robin helped Jana clean the kitchen, as well as organize the leftover food that remained.

They ate a quiet dinner hours later, by candlelight after the fall of dusk; and following that, Jana retreated to her room, appearing tired. Robin cleaned the dishes at the sink, her usual nightly chore; and although Amon was nowhere to be found, she nevertheless enjoyed the simple task.

She had just finished at the sink, and had blown out the candle that burned next to her, when she began to hear soft singing from the open window, the faint sound of male and female voices being lifted in song. She strained to look out the window that faced the side of the house, and what she saw made her gasp in astonishment.

The townspeople of Sovana were returning, each adult holding a lit candle, singing softly and surrounding the farmhouse. Robin went to the other window at the kitchen that faced the front of the yard, and saw that they were indeed surrounding that portion of the house also. She watched in stunned fascination, as the villagers walked slowly, calmly, along the grass on each side of the farmhouse.

Jana appeared in the kitchen, and Robin turned to her, confused. "What are they doing?" she asked her grandmother softly, her eyes returning to the sight outside.

"They are calling the Ancient Ones, the Lare, bambina," Jana responded just as quiet, her dark green eyes sad but with a gentle light. "They are calling them to protect both of you."

Without another word, Jana walked to the door leading to the backyard and stepped outside, calmly following the footsteps of the townspeople who had gathered around the house. Robin watched, speechless.

The full moon overhead lit well enough to see, and she could tell now, even in the darkness, that the villagers had formed a five-pointed star surrounding the farmhouse, which was at the direct center of it. Their candles flickering gently in the dark breeze, they continued to sing in a strange language, not Italian, but vaguely similar:

Éist le mo chroí,
Go brónach a choích
Tá mé caillte gan t
's do bhean chéile.

It was so hauntingly beautiful, that Robin felt tears coming to her eyes from the sound alone that carried on the breeze, coming in through the windows.

They do this to protect myself and Amon, she realized, watching them sing, their bodies swaying as if in an ethereal dance with the trees and the wind. They have protected Jana and other Witches in her family here, preserving these ancient traditions and ways of life, for tens, hundreds of years. She recalled Giovanna's description of the spirits who served as familial guides.

They are the real Lare, these people, not some mythical spirits or beings...the love and belief they hold in their hearts....they are the true protectors of the Streghe.

She began to cry silently, tears escaping her emerald eyes as she fought against the sobs that threatened to wrack her small frame. Her tears ran down her face freely as she gave in to her grief and fear; the fear of what was to come, the fear of being Hunted....her feelings of sadness for Witches who had gone before, and suffered, and not known this display of love that she witnessed now before her very eyes. Her body wavered, slightly unsteady on her feet as she stood in the middle of the dark kitchen.

She did not see Amon in the shadows of the darkened kitchen, standing off behind her, watching her.

He knew she was crying, despite her back being turned to him...he could hear the minute but harsh intakes of breath, saw her slight form shudder with the sobs she fought to control. The sight alone made his heart ache as though it were in pain...and yet, he could not bring himself to approach her. He yearned to comfort her, but he did not know how. He was too used to being on the outside, looking in; he was too practiced at being the cool, aloof observer.

He had seen the townspeople surrounding the house, chanting their soft song, illuminating the darkness with their lights; and their actions had profoundly affected him. He knew then, that moment, that what Robin had suggested the day before, what Toudou had insinuated in his research, was true....that the gods had been loved, deeply loved, by the humans that had worshipped them. The villagers' actions were proof of this, in his eyes.

You have always questioned whether Witches' existences were justified, he reminded himself. Here is your answer, right before you.

Suddenly Robin turned, hesitant, and faced him as he hid in the shadows. He had not thought out his actions past that moment, had not anticipated she would notice him there; and he remained where he was, immobile.

Something in his eyes spoke to her, and she crossed the room in a few quick steps towards him. He stepped forward to meet her, and they met halfway. She pressed herself against him, wrapping her arms around his back, her face against his coat; and he instinctively encircled her with his own. She cried, still silently, against the front of his coat, shuddering with sobs.

Amon wished he could say something, tell her words that would soothe her...something that showed he understood, that he felt the same grief that she did. But his words seemed to him as though they would be inferior---that nothing he said would possibly convey what he thought---and he remained silent.

Her arms snaked around his back and up to his shoulder blades, in an effort to draw herself further into his embrace. In response to her unspoken need, Amon tightened his arms around her lithe frame, only stopping when he heard her give an audible squeak.

He felt her sadness eventually recede, as she nestled her face against the sturdy material of the shoulder of his overcoat....knowing without looking into her eyes, that her tears were already beginning to dry. She sniffled once or twice, and he stroked her back gently as if in response.

He heard her whisper as her breathing returned to normal, as she held onto him firmly, as though she would never let go.

" Daijoubou, Amon," she mumbled into his coat, her voice soft and calm. " Daijoubou. "

Amon closed his eyes as he felt the breath choking in his lungs. She was consoling him---she, the sixteen-year-old girl, the young Witch, was telling him everything would be all right. The realization floored him where he stood, and he held on to her, bowing his face into her loose ginger hair. He was the older of the two, he was the protector... he was the one who was supposed to comfort her, not the other way around.

Nevertheless, he held on tightly---his heart beating erratically in his chest, his face still in her hair---and pressed his lips gently but firmly against the side of her head. Not content with the single display of affection, he moved his cheek along the crown of her chestnut-haired head, pressing his lips into her hair again as he went, inhaling her sweet scent. He felt her tense briefly in his arms, before her body relaxed and melted again against his own.

It felt incredibly good to hold her like this...he could do so without regret, without worrying whether he was overstepping boundaries that should not be crossed. It would not be as it had been on Tana's Day, where he had almost lost his control. His affection for her now, he thought, was pure; that of a watchful, caring guardian.

From where her own cheek had been tucked into the shelter between his shoulder and collarbone, Robin turned her face so that her lips pressed against the warm skin of his neck, barely concealed by his hair. Emboldened by the affection he lavished on her, she kissed his neck gently, arching her body unconsciously against his to reach higher, up near his ear.

Amon's eyes flew open. He froze, still as a statue, his face hidden by his own dark locks.

This wasn't what he'd had in mind....but as she began kissing her way along his neck to the edge of his jaw, he found himself powerless to stop it. With dismay, he felt his disobedient body begin to respond to her chaste caresses.

Robin continued to press gentle kisses against his skin within her reach, each one steadily moving farther away from his ear, and closer to his face. She had no idea what had possessed her to keep doing it; other than the fact that Amon had made no move to stop her, and that by his inaction, he had allowed her to demonstrate how deeply she cared for him. Perhaps even though she could not comfort him in words, he would understand how important he was to she would not, ever, let him down. She felt that she needed this contact with him, to demonstrate these things, as well as to reaffirm them for herself in her own mind.

Her lips traced his stern jawline, the skin soft even though it had always appeared as though set in stone, and she stopped before they had approached the corners of his mouth, pulling her head back to look into his face. Amon's arms were still wound tightly around her as he stared down into her eyes, his own having taken on the look she had seen nights ago, amidst the dancing and the flame of the Belfire. It didn't startle her, this time.

Her eyes skipped down to his lips, and an errant thought occurred to her. I wonder if his lips are really as soft as they felt that night. She recalled the sensation of his mouth on her fingers, the sweet feeling that had coursed through her body at the contact; and wondered if she could tell the same sensation on her own lips.

She moved, standing on tiptoe, and lightly, reverently, brushed his slightly parted lips with her own. Her heart was pounding so loudly in her chest that she thought he would surely hear it.

The gentle, almost timid action infused him at once with such a raw, sacred feeling that he nearly shuddered in response. He felt himself closing his eyes, his lips brushing against hers in response, unwilling to break contact as she had begun to withdraw. He tightened his arms around her again as he deepened the kiss, almost against his will, his mouth angling hungrily against hers. Her parted lips against his own were an invitation too tempting to resist, and his tongue moved gently to part them further, tasting her, eliciting a small gasp that died in her throat.

Robin was almost certain her feet were going to fall out from under her. She was helpless against the tide of feelings sweeping through her like a storm, powerful and unrelenting.....the only thing she knew for certain was that she could not let go of him, could not bear to have it end. She clung to him as if she were drowning.

Finally Amon pulled them roughly apart from each other, his hands firmly grasping each of her shoulders, staring incredulously into her face, as she looked similarly surprised by his sudden action. Both were panting for breath.


What the hell are you doing? She's only sixteen. She's still a child....and you're taking advantage of her. Get ahold of yourself. She's upset and needs to be comforted, not molested!

Again words failed him, and he stood before her, his lips working, but unable to make a sound. She looked up at him, her expression confused and slightly frightened---she looked worried, as though she'd done something wrong.

He turned his face away from her view as he released her from his hold, stepping off to the side.

" Gomenasai, " he whispered harshly, his back to her. He walked quickly out of the room, not daring to look back, for fear he wouldn't be able to leave if he saw her face.

Robin watched him leave, bewildered and tormented. She wondered what he possibly could have apologized for....since she had been the one to have obviously caused him distress.

She stood alone, in the darkened kitchen, as the soft singing outside slowly died away in the wind.


Next chapter:

Explosion of will that cannot be refused....The riddle deepens....The God of Storms. An uncertain departure leaves behind tumultuous feelings. Chapter 10.


Italian translations: (shorter this time? Maybe?)

Che cos'è quello?: What is that?
scusi: excuse me
nani: [Japanese] what
iiya: [Japanese] no
gomenasai: [Japanese] I'm sorry
Che cos'è questo?: what is this?
E' Dio di Tempesta: It is the God of Storms
Buon giorno: good morning
Hai fatto una bella dormita?: did you have a good sleep?
Un attimo!: wait a moment!
Avanti: come
Per favore: please
Pellegrina: pilgrim
perchè stai qui?: why are you here?
molto grazie: thank you very much
Cosa succede: what's going on?
è così tanto: it is so much
guarda qua!: see for yourself!
il cacciatore: the hunter
amore è amore: love is love
streghe: non-gender-specific term for Witches
Daijoubou: it's all right
Kuso: [Japanese] shit. Does this mean the pg-13 rating goes up? ^^;


And, lastly---more fun author's notes! Whooopee! ^^:

First off, for all those confused on the "beacon" reference...sorry about that. I explained the 'Watchers' concept a bit better in this chapter. It was indeed the usage of Robin's power, the lighting of the table candle, that enabled the Hunter to find them.

Much of my background information regarding the origins and belief of Stregheria , Italian Witchcraft, comes from researching the works of Raven Grimassi, specifically his essay On Hereditary Witchcraft . By no means have I made anything up, but I've tried to word some of his writing more in my own words.

My historical references to the Etruscan and Roman Empires are from various sources, all which can be located in history books or through the internet. No one knows where the Etruscans really came from, and it is my own inference that they may have originated from Egypt....however that is not fact, merely my interpretation. But there is some strong evidence for it!

The song that the townspeople are singing at the end is again another Enya song (I just love those, if you can't already tell ^^; ), again from Shepherd Moons , called "Smaointe", and it is a Celtic song. The English translation of the lyrics can be found here: http:// enya/ shepherd_moons /smaointe . Be sure to take out the spaces before copying into your browser.

Lastly, thanks to some of my helpful reviewers: Vitani, of course, for her words of Wiccan wisdom ^^; Gabriel Zed for pointing out another origin of the Enya song I mentioned in the last chapter; Laura Dunckel for pointing out another awesome Italian language site; Mikey for your *incredible* insight....I had to modify your post slightly, I hope you weren't offended ^^ .

I think I will attempt to respond to more reviews, when I have the time, by emailing people directly. It seems as though that's more personal, anyway. ^^ Thank you again, everyone, for reading this far and for leaving such great comments. ^^