Amon awoke, rather unsettled, from a dream he was certain was induced by the activity of the night before.
He dressed and made his way to the door of his bedroom, opening it and allowing Bast to run through, past his ankles, before he proceeded. He looked across the hallway as he did, spying Robin’s door ajar and her room empty.
He stared at the adjacent door, his expression morose. Flashes of what had occurred the night before entered his mind against his will. Listening to the poignant song of the Sovanan villagers as they’d surrounded the farmhouse....watching her in the gloom of the darkened kitchen as she had openly wept, her form barely illuminated by the candles that glowed outside....holding her in his arms, tightly....unable to let her go. He, with his iron-clad sense of control---which had obviously been on the decline since Tana’s Day---had been unable to stop what had happened next.
A child. She’s a child, and you were kissing her as though she were....as though you were....
Part of him realized his own thoughts were erroneous. Robin wasn’t really a child, even by legal standards. With her unusual upbringing, she had probably never even been one emotionally---and because of her maturity, in several instances he’d found the need to actually remind himself that she was, in fact, only sixteen. But the uncanny wisdom she possessed for someone her age did not acquit him, he felt, of guilt from his recent behavior. She was still young....too young for what he had done, both the previous night and several nights before, during the festival....and yet he still found her difficult to resist.
Not even Touko---whom he had known for years---had plagued him the way Robin had begun to.
Touko had cared about him deeply, perhaps even loved him; but she had also known him well enough not to push him, physically or otherwise, into something he hadn’t pursued himself. She had unequivocally accepted that he kept her at arms’ distance, despite her own wants and needs. She had played his game well.
But Robin had not been content with such a ruse. Robin, the docile, even-tempered and well-mannered young girl....with a quietly tenacious and indomitable will that he had yet to see demonstrated by women ten years older than herself. Iron fist in a velvet glove...that was how he envisioned her. Outwardly soft and gentle, pleasing to the touch....but strong enough to refuse to bend under the most severe, crushing weight.
She was quite dissimilar from Touko, in ways that went far beyond differences in age. Touko was transparent to him; he had always seen through to her ulterior motives, her desires. Robin, however, remained a mystery. She seemed simultaneously naive and self-assured; enigmatic, and yet she was completely unguarded around him. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly that she wanted from him---he doubted sometimes whether or not she knew it for herself---but her openness, her inability to hide anything from him, had enabled him to trust her almost implicitly. It had been a long time since he had been able to do so, with anyone....he vaguely wondered if this was the first instance of it in his entire adult life, since he’d been a child.
Even so, he feared the repercussions of it, nonetheless.
You have nothing to give, he told himself. You never keep your promises. He couldn’t, to anyone...not if it meant permanence, being faithful to that person---needing that person. He couldn’t, if it meant caring strongly enough for someone to awaken what he knew was deep inside of him, simmering underneath the surface of his skin....biding its time before it took him over completely and turned him into what he feared most.
He walked into the hallway, restraining himself from glancing back again at her open door.
You chose this life for yourself, a long time ago....and it’s too late to turn around now.
So why did he dare to think now that anything would be different?
Robin sat on the beach in her dark pilgrim’s dress and watched the tide flow effortlessly in onto the shore. She had taken her boots off and removed her socks, burying her pale toes in the clean, white sand, savoring the feel of it. The air was cool around her, the sun comforting and warm; she watched the waves roll in peacefully, her arms clasped loosely around her dark-skirted knees, wisps of her unbound hair tickling her face every now and then. She knew he would come looking for her soon, upon discovering she wasn’t in the farmhouse....so for the moment, she relished the quiet solitude, and the serenity it offered.
She had made her decision, already, about what was to be done....but she knew he would not approve.
The young Witch sighed softly as she rested her chin on her knees, still looking out at the churning ocean ahead of her. She closed her eyes and felt again the familiar stirring of her blood, the rush of it to her face, as she recalled what had happened in the dark kitchen.
It had felt wonderful---his lips were indeed as soft as she’d felt them that night, at the festival---and the taste of his mouth, combined with the heady, masculine scent that had emanated from his skin, had almost caused her to go into sensory overload. She was surprised she had been able to stand on her own two feet the entire time. The experience had made her feel as though she were awakened, alive....as she had been the instant he’d roused the same feelings in her as he had on Tana’s Day.
Then the kiss had ended abruptly, his expression slightly angry as he had pulled away from her, causing her to deem her brash act a mistake. But for a fleeting moment, she had sensed a response, a shiver of an unspoken answer in him to the sensation that had coursed through her own body. It was only a hint of what went on behind the guarded, slate-gray eyes, but nevertheless she had seen it, felt it---and it was enough to fill her heart with hope. His wall was not impenetrable.
Amon....you are not so detached as you would like others to believe.
She opened her eyes, staring back out again at the water, her emerald eyes stern and serious. She had to force herself to focus her thoughts. Now was no longer the time to reflect on such things, not when they were both being Hunted. She knew what had to be done; and as much as she dreaded it, she would not turn away, not shirk her responsibility.
She had put the two people she cared most about in danger, and now it was up to her to face it head-on, without fear.
Robin heard him approach, the sound of his boots soft and muffled in the sand; he came to stand next to where she sat, still looking out at the ocean. She did not turn her head to look at him, even as he sat down on the sand beside her.
Amon seated himself beside her, noting her calm countenance, her distant gaze. He too looked out to the water, to the waves that were breaking along the tranquil, sandy shore.
“Jana told me where to find you.” His voice came to her low and quiet, and he paused uncertainly, as if he were unsure how to articulate his thoughts further.
She gave a faint nod, distracted. Her emerald eyes narrowed as she continued to look out at the ocean, as if she were steeling herself for what she was about to say next.
“Robin,” he began softly, and she detected a trace of solemnity. She cut him off before he could complete his thought.
“What was in the journal, Amon?” she asked, her voice hushed and gentle.
He looked at her next to him in surprise, before schooling his features again to disguise it.
“Tell me.” Her request was quietly earnest.
He lowered his gaze to the white sand, waiting several beats before he spoke.
“My mother’s name,” he said slowly, “was in Benedetto’s writing. Nagira has confirmed that she spent time in Europe before I was born.” He looked pointedly at her, and Robin turned her head to look at him.
“She was his test subject.”
Robin nodded to herself, looking back towards the water. “And you wished to go after the address given to us by Padre Nicola, in the hopes that you could locate someone to tell you of his research.”
“Hai.” His somber response came to her ears.
She waited, delaying the statement she knew she would have to make. Finally she turned her head to meet his eyes again.
“Then we are to go back to Siena, to find that information. Before SOLOMON prevents us from ever knowing the truth.”
His head snapped up, his eyes lit with a spark of disbelief as they met hers again. “Nani?” he said roughly, his voice having taken the familiar threatening edge. “Do you want to get yourself killed? They will be combing Siena looking for us.”
“Sì, lo so,” she answered calmly, unshaken by his stern glare. “But we can’t just run away and hide in the corner, hoping they won’t find us...”
He was shaking his head firmly, side to side, as he looked at her. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Amon, it is the only way to know exactly why you are being Hunted.”
She could see his entire body go rigid at her words. He knew, unconsciously or not, that what she had said was true. It wasn’t Robin that the Hunter had gone after that day in the alley---it was himself.
Even so, he already had formulated an answer. “The logical answer is that they Hunt me because I am no longer with them.”
“I am certain they do not have so many resources as to chase every Hunter who has gone astray,” Robin argued. “There has to be a reason why they believe you are so threatening.”
“If I am such a threat, why was I allowed to become a Hunter?” he countered. “Regardless of that---your survival is more important than finding out why they are Hunting me. I told you I would ensure that you survived. Do you not remember?”
Robin could see he was not going to surrender to her argument so easily. She turned back to the ocean. “I do remember,” she answered, quietly but firmly. “But I have already made up my mind. If you do not go with me, I will go alone to find the Benedetto contact.”
She knew how to get underneath his skin. Stubborn child.
Nevertheless he found himself looking at her, almost curiously. “You’re not afraid,” he noted, more of an observation than a question.
“I was frightened, before,” she admitted, turning her solemn green eyes back to face him. “But I’m not, any longer.” She met his eyes, not challenging, but reassuring him.
What Amon saw in the green depths made him more anxious inside than the thought of facing down SOLOMON’s Hunters in Siena. You have to tell her.
“Robin,” he began again sternly, as he had earlier. “What happened last night....” He saw her eyes changing, shifting in the sunlight, and he strengthened his resolve. “It won’t happen again,” he stated, his voice firm.
But to his inner amazement, she had seemed to have prepared herself for his words. Even before he had finished speaking, she was shaking her head gently, her eyes downcast.
“Daijoubu,” she said, and he was quickly reminded of the darkened kitchen, and her hushed consolation. “Even if it does or does not happen again....it’s all right.” She looked back up at him and half-smiled then, mysteriously.
Resolve seemed suddenly useless to him, when confronted with the purity of her convictions. Iron in velvet, he thought.
She stood then, brushing the sand from her long skirt, and hooking her boots with her fingers. She extended her free hand towards him, as an invitation to help him up.
“Andiamo,” she said with her characteristic softness, and he accepted, taking her hand in his.
She would not tell him, as they walked back to Jana’s house, that his response to her in the kitchen---his instinctive answer to her unspoken need to comfort and be comforted---was what had enabled her to gather her courage.
I can have hope, she thought....enough for both of us.
She didn’t understand the importance of it, but Amon seemed convinced.
“We need our own vehicle,” he asserted firmly. “We need to be able to leave suddenly of our own accord...we cannot depend on someone to wait for us. Besides, whomever accompanies us will be similarly at risk from Hunters as we will be.” He looked meaningfully at the young chestnut-haired Witch beside him, who ducked her head under his gaze.
Jana nodded, from where she stood facing the two of them. “There may be someone in town who will be willing to rent, or even sell to you.” Amon nodded quickly in response. Despite her worry, Jana had realized that Robin’s decision to return to Siena was firm, as was Amon’s resolve to protect her. She did not attempt to stand in their way.
Before they left, Amon retreated to his bedroom and returned with a handful of bronze-cased ammunition, which he began to manually load one-by-one into his 45-caliber pistol.
Robin saw markings on one of the small bullets. “Che cos'è quelli?” she asked, watching with fascination as he loaded the magazine. It began to dawn on her what the markings on the sides of the metal objects were.
“This is obviously not a sniper rifle,” he said quietly, loading a second clip, “but it is the only weapon I have.” He looked at her, his expression stoic.
She looked at the rune markings on the casings....Witch Hunting bullets.
Their eyes met and locked briefly over the recognition of the nature of the ammunition, and when it had last been used. His own dark eyes held guilt; but Robin’s hand, gentle on his forearm as they left Jana’s farmhouse, told him silently that she knew why he had them in his possession....and that he had already been forgiven.
They walked purposefully into the via de Mezzo, immediately meeting up with a couple of the villagers at the edge of the township. Robin facilitated the necessary dialogue, and within moments they were being led to an old pickup truck available for purchase.
Amon inspected the vehicle thoroughly. “It will run well enough?” he asked, and Robin translated to the owner of the truck.
“He says it runs perfectly,” she told him in earnest. “He will even throw in two tanks of gasoline for us to use when we need it.” She saw his approving nod.
They got in and Amon started it up, pausing to pay the man the bargained-down amount before pulling out of the via de Mezzo and heading out onto the main road.
It was an old manual speed truck, and Amon cursed softly to himself as he switched gears and heard an unexpected grinding. He hadn’t driven manually in a while; his custom Audi, leased through STN-J, had been automatic. He distinctly missed driving the dark, sleek vehicle that had served him well on multiple car chases.
“Teach me how to drive, Amon,” Robin asked suddenly from the seat next to him, as they swayed back and forth gently with the motion of the truck’s tires on the dirt road.
He scoffed, his vision remaining straight ahead. “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t the same thing as a Vespa.”
“Lo so. But I’m sixteen now; it’s not ridiculous,” she rebuked gently. “Besides, I may need to know sometime, especially if you are injured and we need to escape.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She did have a point, whether he wanted to admit it or not. After all, he was far more vulnerable to injury than she was....wasn’t he?
“On the ride back, I will show you,” he offered, to placate her. But his thoughts were uneasy.
If we make it back.
After having parked in a secluded area of il Campo and having procured street maps, they set about finding the address that Padre Nicola had provided them with. Both had donned their sunglasses, not sure of what good it did them for disguise purposes, but using them nevertheless. Robin had kept her hair loose, but was dressed in her pilgrim’s attire; she had reasoned that her powers were still detectable regardless of what she wore, and Amon had found himself agreeing with her deduction.
They walked the short distance to the residential area, and finally came upon the home that had been designated as belonging to relatives of Mario Benedetto. It appeared to be a modest home; but upon closer inspection of it, they saw that it was decrepit, old and worn-down, as though the house had not been taken care of in a while. A couple of the outside windows were boarded.
Robin looked into one of the uncovered windows curiously at the front of the house, as Amon went to the door and knocked firmly. Receiving no response, he knocked again with added force, practically banging his fist on the door, and finally causing the shade and window of a neighboring house to open.
An old woman peered out of the window, glaring daggers at Amon. “Smettila di far rumore!” she scolded.
“Scusi,” Robin addressed the woman politely, having joined her partner on the porch leading to the front door. “Noi Mario Benedetto cerchiamo.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Perché?” she asked suspiciously.
As Amon watched, Robin explained their fictitious relation to him and their desire to speak to him or to colleagues of his.
The old woman hesitated, sizing the two of them up with her aged eyes, before disappearing into the house. She resurfaced at the window moments later with a slip of paper, on which were hastily scrawled words. “Qui,” she said abruptly, and Robin came towards the window to accept it.
She looked back up at the older woman’s face, and saw a glimmer of trust despite the skeptical frown. “Molto grazie,” Robin whispered in gratitude.
Amon was getting visibly frustrated. It was taking too long to find the person they needed to, he felt....it was only a question of time before they would be spotted and end up being confronted by a SOLOMON agent.
They had found the home that the neighbor had directed them to, and it had indeed been the family’s home; but to their dismay, the only person available had been Benedetto’s widow, an older woman in her late fifties who had known absolutely nothing of her late husband’s research. After careful consideration, she had passed along the address and location of one of Benedetto’s colleagues whom she had just been in contact with weeks before.
It had confirmed in Amon’s mind all along what he had suspected, if Benedetto’s research had been half as important as Toudou’s. He was already long since dead. SOLOMON had made certain of that.
They walked on towards the next address, having left the truck along a side street, and turned a corner to head up another road. The neighborhood they were in now was not as nice as the ones before it, and Robin studied the street map carefully to assess their location.
“Turn left up here,” she said, motioning to another corner. “It is the fifth house on the right.” She set about folding the map with her delicate hands.
Amon walked on rigidly, keeping a moderate distance between them. All afternoon he had been acutely aware---too acutely, at times---of her presence next to him; her soft hand accidentally brushing against his as they walked, the scent of her skin and her unbound hair as they pored over the map, the gentle light in her eyes when she looked at him to tell him something. Of course she did everything unintentionally, without a single calculating bone in her entire body; and knowing this served only to fascinate him further.
He watched from out of the corner of his eye as she tended to the map, handling it as though it were a precious artifact, carefully running her fingers along the seams. It was further proof of the inadvertent elegance that she possessed, the grace with which she handled everything and everyone around her.
She was not what the general public would consider strikingly beautiful---although his own opinion on that matter had begun to change, even before she began consistently leaving her hair unbound---nor was she curvaceous, albeit he suspected what svelte curves she did have were hidden underneath her camouflaging pilgrim’s dress. Robin was none of those things, outwardly, that normally brought women to the attention of the opposite sex; and yet men---of all ages and social groups---could not seem to keep their eyes off of her. He had never noticed, as her partner in Japan, how often men on the street leered in her direction; but Japan was much different culturally than Italy, and Italian men seemed to have no problem making their intentions visible for all to see. As a result he’d found himself studying her, as discreetly as possible, to figure out what it was about her that was so distracting...at least, that was his excuse.
And what he had deduced, after careful observation, was that every single one of her everyday, mundane movements and actions were all directed by the same refined elegance, the same complex and subtle sensuality, that she displayed now in folding the paper that she held in her hands.
Jesus, she’s folding a damn map and it’s turning you on.
He blinked forcefully to clear his head, as he concurrently realized they were standing before the front door of the designated house. Robin was standing patiently at his side, her head slightly turned towards him. He lifted his hand and knocked firmly against the door with his fist.
An older man hesitantly answered the door, looking at them both on his doorstep. “Chi è?” he asked, uncertainly.
“Vincenzo Matteo?” Amon asked in stern tones, and the man nodded, somewhat fearful.
Robin smiled gently in an attempt to calm the older man. “Noi domandarti riguardo a Mario Benedetto vogliamo,” she said in her calm, soothing voice. “Per favore?”
The man seemed to relax under Robin’s hopeful green gaze. He bowed his head, opening the door further. “Avanti,” he said to them softly, bidding them to enter.
Robin and Amon drank from their offered cups of coffee, seated in Vincenzo’s living room, as the man spoke while seated directly across from them.
“Mario and I worked together for a long time,” he told them. “We initially founded FZ Genetics together, and gained notoriety for being the best Witch Genome scientists in the industry.” His eyes shifted downwards momentarily. “That was how SOLOMON found us, and acquired our company.
“At first we were very excited. SOLOMON had agreed to fund our projects for at least ten years, and we envisioned together all of these magnificent experiments that would be tied into the research, based on our years of study of the origins of the genes; all to benefit mankind in various ways. It was our intention to utilize our knowledge of the Witch genome to improve humanity, to make ourselves better through genetic engineering.
“But like anything else in life, the motivations became warped. As we discovered more and more about SOLOMON’s true purposes, what they were after---we realized there was no way we could do the kind of experiments we wanted to. Not when we figured out how much they actually despised Witches, even though they employed them; and how they wanted to rid the earth of every one of them.”
“How did that affect your research?” Amon asked.
“SOLOMON wanted us to do something that we thought was very dangerous,” Vincenzo told him. “Instead of projects involving small and moderate genetic alterations of human genes, they wanted to fully create their own Witches---completely engineered and designed to be all-powerful---to use as Hunters. They knew that not many Witches would voluntarily become Hunters for their organization....and they were in desperate need of powerful Craft-Users for that purpose.”
“An army of genetically engineered Craft-Users?” Robin asked, stunned.
“Si,” Vincenzo responded. “With the powers given to them by God, or so they commanded everyone to believe....that was always at the forefront; they wanted to resurrect God Himself.”
Robin was disbelieving. Resurrect God?
“SOLOMON had many such lofty goals. They wanted to create a Hunter army to eliminate the population of rogue Witches that were not under their control.” He scoffed, lowering his eyes as he shook his head, disapprovingly. “They thought they could train these people like dogs....induce a traumatic event early on in their young lives to make them hate their own kind, and stay loyal to the organization.”
Amon felt his blood running cold at the spoken words. It was not so different than SOLOMON’s usual methods of acquiring Hunters....but the words stung him bitterly with their impact on his own young memories. Traumatic event....make them hate their own kind.
He sat forward, a look of determination on his face. “Was Syunji Matoko one of the participants in these experiments?” Robin turned to look at her partner, suddenly realizing the cause of his outburst, before she returned her attention to Vincenzo.
“Matoko Syunji,” Vincenzo whispered, recollecting the name. “Japanese woman. Si. She was one of the first.” He looked back up at the two guests before him. “Did you know her?”
Robin swung an inconspicuous glance at the dark-haired hunter beside her, watching his mask slide into place....knowing that underneath, he was in pain.
“Si,” Amon responded softly, narrowing his eyes.
“She was a very beautiful woman,” Vincenzo said thoughtfully, not realizing Amon was discreetly hanging onto every word. “She was very sad, though. She was a Seed, her identity having been uncovered by SOLOMON when she was young; and she had fallen in love with---and married---a powerful Witch whom SOLOMON was tracking, and trying to Hunt.” He stopped, to shake his head briefly. “They could not Hunt her, as her powers had not awoken yet; but as collateral, they used her and her husband’s unborn child....they modified her child’s genetic makeup to be of the design of the Hunter that they so badly wanted. They figured, if they could not have the father Witch, at least they could ensure that they had the son.”
Robin’s mouth was agape by this point, and she slowly set her coffee cup down on the table before her, trying to disguise her unsteady, shaking hands. She dared not glance at her partner next to her now.
Oh....Amon. This had to be more painful than even he could bear.
Vincenzo went on, apparently oblivious to the reactions of his guests. “Despite the cruelty of the organization, we had high hopes for the first experimental project. The first genetically-engineered Witch, in existence....it was a scientific feat we did not think achievable. But strangely, when the child was born, he did not exhibit any powers. Attempts were made to induce his awakening, all the way up until the child was six or seven years old....but to no avail. Mario’s group had started on several more such projects, before the work was suddenly terminated. SOLOMON spent years afterwards attempting to cover up the experiments they had done, to avoid any information leaking to the global society at large....they had violated so many laws, it was beyond unforgivable.” He looked up suddenly at Amon, as though he recognized something, and his aged eyes narrowed in thought.
“That boy....Matoko’s child....he would be perhaps around your age, by now,” he mused distractedly, not noticing how Amon’s posture stiffened at his words.
Robin found the strength to speak up, in a subtle effort to change the immediate topic. “That was when Mario Benedetto disappeared, si?”
“Si,” Vincenzo’s eyes saddened. “Many of my former colleagues, who were directly working on the projects with Mario, disappeared mysteriously.” He looked down. “Mario was a good man. Even though the organization demanded that he do these terrible things to innocent people, he always felt remorse....and he tried to make things better for them, in some ways. That was what his protégé, Hiroshi Toudou, attempted to do, as well. ”
Robin visibly straightened, fascinated by the sudden mention of Toudou. “How did he try to make things better?”
Vincenzo gave a strange smile. “Let us say...that both of them were determined not to let SOLOMON have the final say in everything.” Robin looked at him curiously.
Suddenly the older man’s eyes flickered, as though he were remembering something, and he rose from his chair. “I show you something. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” He walked slowly off into an adjacent room.
Robin turned to look hesitantly at Amon beside her. The dark hunter was lost in thought, his gaze lowered to the floor, as he fought to control what she was sure were painful and unpleasant emotions. His arms were rigid, his hands clutching the dark fabric of his pants at the knees.
Gently, she reached out to him as he sat next to her, and covered one of his larger hands with her own.
Instead of pushing her hand away or ignoring her gesture---as she half expected him to do in response, knowing that he would not repeat the affection he’d shown her the previous night---she felt his hand slowly turn, opening to hers, and his fingers entwine with her own. A warm flush, beginning in her chest, radiated pleasantly throughout her whole body at the contact. She looked back up at his face, thinking perhaps she had imagined it, the softening of his features....but she couldn’t be sure.
Vincenzo came back into the room, barely taking notice of their joined hands as he carried a file of papers in with him. Such a nice-looking couple, despite an age difference, he noted to himself distractedly, before sitting back down in his chair.
“I have told you much already about the aims and goals of Mario’s research,” he told them, holding the file. “But here are the details, the specifics of the experiments they were trying to do. It may be a little easier to understand what is written here...the terminology is a little less, how shall we say, scientific.” He handed the file to Amon, who reached across the table to accept it from him.
“Vincenzo,” Robin asked with genuine concern, still holding onto Amon’s hand, “aren’t you afraid of what SOLOMON will do if they know you are passing on this information?”
Vincenzo smiled again sadly, and shook his head at the young chestnut-haired Witch. “Nothing frightens me anymore, signorina. I am too old to worry about SOLOMON coming after me now....but if they do, they do.”
A short while later, Robin and Amon stood to take their leave. They walked to the door, Vincenzo following them to bid them goodbye. Dusk was beginning to fall outside, the air having grown cooler; and the trio parted on the porch of Vincenzo’s home.
“Molto grazie,” Robin whispered, and Amon, still overwhelmed with what had been laid out before him, silently nodded to express his vote of thanks.
Vincenzo smiled gently at them again. It felt so familiar, looking at the two of them; the dark, brooding man and the young slip of a girl in such religious attire....he felt vaguely as though he’d met them before, somehow. He shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts, and passed the errant thought off as evidence of his sentimental old age.
“Stammi bene,” he offered, giving a wave, as the two began to make their way down the steps of his front porch. Both of them looked back up to where he stood in the doorway, seeing them off.
Without warning, the ground began to lurch and shake violently underneath their feet. Amon held fast to the young Witch next to him, supporting her as she cried out in surprise, and at the same time he looked back up into the doorway of Vincenzo’s home....
....In time to see the man crushed to death by a pillar of rock that had pushed up out of the floor of his house, flattening his bloodied body against the sturdy frame of the door. Vincenzo did not even have time to scream.
Robin looked up in the direction Amon’s eyes had gone, and she cried out in whispered terror, her face grim with despair. “Vincenzo!”
Amon spun around to face the street before them, and saw them then.
“Robin!” He shouted, drawing his gun. He managed to fire two shots at the male Hunters, both of them effectively dodging the bullets, before he felt the rock beneath him pushing up under his feet. The force of it threw him backwards onto the pavement.
“Amon,” she had time to whisper, and instantly threw a barrier of fire around him, blocking further attacks on him as he lay sprawled out on the ground. He curled his body inwards to protect himself from the flames.
She directed the full force of her Craft at the two Hunters before her, the fire behind her eyes sparking into life; but was surprised to see both of them moving in unison, creating a strange kind of shield with their combined Crafts of earth and water. To her surprise, the barrier repelled her flame.
“Come?” she asked herself, incredulously, and attacked again, throwing her fire against them with all of her will.
Once again, the Hunters repelled it. It can’t be, she thought with panic, as she felt her energy ebbing. Am I powerless against two Hunters with such Crafts?
Amon had recovered, and was aiming through the barrier of flames surrounding him at the two Craft-users. “Robin! You have to disrupt their shield!” He fired again at the Hunters, the rune-covered bullets unable to pierce the barrier they had created around themselves.
Perhaps when they strike again, they will need to lower their shield to do so, he thought desperately. He saw that Robin had begun to pant for breath, probably from the combination of both fear and exertion, and he realized that if they both started to panic, they were done for.
Both were so preoccupied with their plight, they failed to notice the storm clouds slowly gathering in the formerly clear and cloudless sky above them.
Robin directed her flame again, watching in helpless frustration as it broke harmlessly against the barrier in front of the Hunters; and a split second later, their shield dissolved and one of them aimed their Craft.
Amon had no time to even call out her name as he saw the jagged edges of rock hurtling towards her. She had lost concentration momentarily, and now she was defenseless. He leapt forward, out of the barrier of flame, in a futile effort to shield her himself.
Before he could reach her, he saw what he could only think to describe as a bolt of lightning, flashing directly in the path of the rock that had been aimed at her. The jagged earth crumbled from the force, falling to the ground.
Robin recovered, and realizing the Hunters were distracted, threw her fire in full force against the earth Craft-user. His screams echoed in the night air as his body disintegrated in the flames. The water Craft-user realized he was suddenly fighting solo, and turned to flee.
The young Fire Witch moved to finish him, flames alight in her eyes, but she was stopped by a low voice speaking behind her.
“Don’t waste any more energy on him, tesoro,” the thick Italian accent chided.
Both she and Amon turned to face a man standing casually in the middle of the street, the lapels of his long navy blue coat and wisps of his short blond hair fluttering gently in the breeze surrounding him.
Amon aimed his pistol menacingly.
“Per favore, put it away, signore,” he said, a flicker of humor evident in his features. “Didn’t I help you just now?”
Robin looked into his ice-blue eyes as he turned them on her, their intense gaze feeling as though it were embedding itself in her mind. She instantly recalled the eyes she had seen in her dream, and the significance of the bolt of lightning they had witnessed a moment ago.
Dio di Tempesta.
“My name is Seth,” he said, walking towards them slowly, his hands still buried in the pockets of his coat. He removed them, spreading his arms wide as if to placate Amon, who still had his gun trained on the man. “I promise you, I will not harm you. I only wished to assist you in your fight against SOLOMON.”
Amon did not lower his weapon. “How do you know we are not with SOLOMON?” he challenged, his arms rigid.
Seth laughed, a low, rich sound; and Robin felt her guard being slowly lowered against the strange man.
“What reason would SOLOMON Hunters have to attack their own?” he asked reasonably. “I and my comrades had been tracking those two Hunters all day today, and finally chased them here. We had no idea that they had actually been Hunting someone.” As he spoke, two people---a man and a woman---exited from a dark car parked two houses further down the length of the street. Both were similarly dressed as Seth, in dark coats, with a polished, professional look to their attire.
“Who are you?” Robin asked, her gaze still fixed on the blond man as he approached them further.
“We,” he responded, as the man and woman from the car came up to join him, “are members of a local Coven, tesoro.” She was again slightly startled by the affectionate moniker he had called her. “You could say we do to SOLOMON what they have been doing to our kind for centuries....” His blue eyes flashed, almost mischievously. “We Hunt them.”
“I don’t believe you,” Amon growled, not relinquishing his hold on the pistol he still had pointed at Seth. “No one has the resources to stand alone against the organization.”
Seth acknowledged his words with a nod. “Giusto,” he said. “It would be very difficult to acquire such resources....that is, unless your group had funding from some very high places...as well as had a mole within the organization itself, keeping you informed in advance of all of their moves.” His voice was smug.
Robin was hesitant to judge Seth as Amon did, upon hearing of their mole. SOLOMON is an organization completely divided into smaller factions, she realized. It would be so easy for an outside mole to slip in unnoticed.
Seth stopped where he stood, before Amon and Robin, his hands still spread harmlessly out to his sides. “You realize, that you have me at a disadvantage. You have still not explained to me who you are. Per favore, tell me your names.”
Both Amon and Robin were silent; he out of distrust, she out of respect for her partner’s distrust.
Seth chuckled to himself. “Vedo. I understand if this is too much to absorb at this moment. You have just fought, you are weary, and mistrustful. I do not blame you.” His expression relaxed to reveal something akin to sympathy, before he reached into his coat pocket. Amon retrained his gun.
Seth offered his other hand in supplication, revealing a small card in the hand that had gone into his pocket. “This is how you can get in contact with me. We are still a small group, looking for additional members to assist us; particularly those with formidable powers, such as yours.” He looked directly at Robin, and again she felt the ice-blue eyes piercing her with their gaze. “There is safety in numbers, tesoro,” he finished quietly.
He knelt gracefully, laying the card face-up on the pavement where he stood, before standing again with a slow ease.
“Consider it, mi amici.” He touched his forehead in a gentle salute. “Ciao.”
As Robin and Amon watched, he and the other two Witches headed back to the dark car parked alongside the street, disappearing behind the tinted windows. The car rumbled to life and turned, disappearing down the road.
It took several moments for both of them to finally relax their postures and breathe deeply.
Robin approached the card lying on the pavement, kneeling to pick it up. Amon approached her as she did, re-holstering his gun as he reached her side.
“Grosseto,” she read softly on the card.
“Nani?” he asked, and she looked up at him in response.
“It is a town nearby; it is about halfway between here and Sovana,” she said. Her eyes washed over him now as he stood before her, scraped and bruised, and she reached a slender hand up to touch his forehead. “Amon, you’re hurt....”
He shrugged lightly away from her touch, still shaken by the recent events that had unfolded. “Daijoubu,” he responded quickly, and she quickly disguised the wound she felt at his deflection.
She steeled herself again.
“Amon, I think we should consider our options,” she said softly, looking into his dark gray eyes and seeing the concern there.
He turned his eyes away from her view. “Don’t tell me you’re considering running off to join that man’s Coven,” his voice said, heavy with warning. “We don’t know anything about him. We can’t trust him.”
“We can’t do this by ourselves.” Her sad voice was gently insistent. “We can’t drag Jana any further into this. Look at what they did to Vincenzo, without a second thought.” Her green eyes began to well with emotion, and he found he could not tear his gaze away as the shifting emerald lights held him captive. “I could not bear it if they harmed her, Amon,” she whispered.
Once again, he was faced with an agonizing decision....and deep down, he realized it had already been made.
They entered the farmhouse, the atmosphere surrounding them heavy with shadows.
Jana noticed immediately. “Bambina?” she asked, curiously.
“Nonna, we have something to tell you.” She bolstered her courage as she faced her grandmother’s inquisitive gaze. She hated what she was about to do.
She folded her hands in front of her, lacing her fingers together. “We are going to leave Sovana.”
A painful departure....Shrouded in the safety of the Covenant.....Building the bridges of trust. The Hunted once again becomes the Hunter. Chapter 11.
Hai: [Japanese] yes
nani: [Japanese] what
Si, lo so: yes, I know
Daijoubu: [Japanese] it’s all right
Andiamo: let’s go
Che cos'è quelli?: what are those?
smettila di far rumore!: stop making that noise!
scusi: excuse me
Noi Mario Benedetto cerchiamo: we are looking for Mario Benedetto
molto grazie: thank you very much
chi è?: who is it?
noi domandarti riguardo a....vogliamo: we wish to ask you about...
stammi bene: take care
come? : what?
tesoro: treasure, “darling”
per favore: please
Dio di Tempesta: God of Storms
Giusto: good point
Vedo: I see
mi amici: my friends