Robin packed her small travel bag quietly, her keen hearing attuned to the room across the hallway from hers, where she knew Amon was busily doing the same.
Jana was in the kitchen, seated alone at the table, silent.
The young Witch stopped to stare forlornly at her open door, realizing how hard this was for her grandmother to bear. Jana had sworn to protect them from SOLOMON, had assured them over and over that they were not in danger, as long as her powers could shield their location....
But they were in danger...and not just them alone anymore. After having witnessed the terrifying and violent end to Vincenzo’s life the previous day, Robin could not bear to dwell on what would happen if SOLOMON’s Hunters found Jana. She had powers, but they were not of attack, nor defense....she would surely suffer at their hands. The very thought of her nonna’s death made Robin shudder with despair.
Why did Juliano send us to her?, she could not help but ask herself, as she continued to pack her belongings. Didn’t he realize that SOLOMON would utilize magick to find us? That it would put her in danger?....How could he not have realized that, being a Priest within the organization? The idea that Juliano could have knowingly put Jana’s life at risk served to unsettle her already distracted mind further.
She finished packing her bag and carried it before her out of the room, depositing it by the front door before entering the kitchen. Jana looked up as she walked in.
The old woman’s dark green eyes were sad, limpid pools of grief as they looked upon her. Robin felt her heart begin to ache.
As much as she knew it was the right thing to do, it pained her as much as it did Jana to leave.
“Nonna,” she whispered, going to her and putting her arms around her grandmother’s shoulders, as she had done the day before upon bearing the news. She knelt by Jana’s chair, burying her face in her grandmother’s neck.
“Shhh,” Jana said softly, encircling Robin in her arms. “Don’t cry, bambina. I will be all right---it’s you and sua consorte who must be careful, now.” She held the girl back by her shoulders, brushing the young Witch’s tears aside with the back of her fingers.
“Mi perdoni,” Robin whispered, sniffling, and Jana made a soothing sound in her throat as she brushed long chestnut wisps out of her granddaughter’s eyes.
“Bambina, there is nothing to forgive.” The older woman’s smile was sad. She suddenly lifted her eyes away from Robin, and Robin realized Amon had entered the foyer, looking into the kitchen. She brushed her tears away impatiently from her eyes.
He stopped at the sight before him, her tears weakening his resolve. Perhaps this is a mistake. She feels it, too.
Before he could say anything after setting his bag down at the door, Jana spoke up. “Are you bringing la gatta along with you?” As if on cue, Bast appeared at his feet, curling herself lazily around his boot.
“Si,” he responded quickly, and Robin turned to him in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to develop an attachment to any animal, no matter how furry or cute. Amon continued to surprise her.
Jana sighed, standing, as did Robin. “It is best that you are off, then,” she said, going to the kitchen counter. “I fixed a basket of food that you should bring with you, in case you are hungry later.” She brought the basket to Robin and handed it to her. To the young Witch’s amazement, it was stuffed full of fruits and breads; figs, apples, and citrus fruits, as well as sweetbreads.
Jana went to Amon, who stood by both bags, his eyes belying his stoic facial features. She saw the hint of sadness in the gray depths as she stood before him, as well as uncertainty.
The older Witch put her arms around him, and after a moment’s hesitation, he returned the embrace.
“Watch over her,” Jana whispered against him. “Remember that you have a choice to make.” She stepped back from the embrace, looking into his eyes again.
“Do not be afraid.”
Still unsure of her meaning, Amon nevertheless gave her an imperceptible nod.
He picked up the bags as Jana returned to her granddaughter, whose eyes were shining again with unshed tears.
“We will come back to visit, as soon as we can,” the young Witch started, and her breath hitched again uncontrollably.
“Hush, bambina,” Jana whispered, and embraced Robin again fiercely. “Buon viaggio.”
The chestnut-haired girl nodded over her grandmother’s shoulder, and then went to the door, scooping the cat up in her free arm, the basket in the other.
With one last look into Jana’s home, Robin and Amon departed.
It was easy for them to find the township of Grosseto. It was a similar in some ways to Sovana, in that the roads were dirt or gravel, unpaved; and the buildings and architecture looked older than that of the bustling inland town of Siena. But Sovana paled in size compared to the area they saw before them.
It was a large province, with small towns sprawled out along the coast and across the countryside, all framed on the southern inland side by hills and mountains. There was ample farmland, as it was only slightly less inland from the coast of the Mare Mediterraneo than Sovana, and therefore just as green. Olive groves and vineyards dotted the landscape, and off to the far right of the thriving city there was a large river, which Robin knew from having studied maps to be the Ombrone. Jana had said that the fertile river was responsible for having made Grosseto into a successful agricultural town in previous centuries.
Robin, with the gray cat sitting patiently on her lap, was busy looking at the surrounding land and architecture. They drove through the main square of Grosseto, where the Palazzo della Provincia stood, a red-and-cream stone building that looked to have been built in the thirteenth century. It looked more like a fortified castle, framed by the soft green hills, than a legislative building, she thought.
“I’m not seeing the street,” Amon said, a hint of irritation evident in his voice. “The street we’re supposed to turn onto is not anywhere around here.”
Robin quickly put Bast down on the floor of the truck, to the cat’s protest. She unfolded the map and scoured it, belatedly realizing she had shirked her duty as navigator; and looked up at the street and back down at the map again carefully, before furrowing her delicate brow in confusion.
“Amon, it says the street is right past the Palazzo,” she said, looking at him over the unfolded paper. “We must have driven past it.”
He prudently stifled the urge to mutter an obscenity, instead calmly pulling into an empty driveway and turning the truck around. They headed back the way they’d came, but found no street signs or markings of any kind near the Palazzo.
“You’re sure it’s there?” he asked, his own eyes searching aimlessly.
Robin pointed at a narrow, unpaved road flanking the side of the red and cream building. “That must be it.”
They took the steep, narrow road upwards into the hills, past the square of the township, the truck sounding as though it was straining to make it up the dirt path. Amon switched gears roughly and downshifted, trying to gain more momentum. The jerking motion of the truck going into lower gear surprised Robin, and with a gasp she dropped the unfolded map, falling backwards into her seat, her startled eyes glancing over at the driver. Bast gave a similarly startled yelp.
Robin thought she detected a faint smirk amidst the chiseled features. “Hold on,” he warned.
They finally broke through the cover of trees to see the remainder of the dirt road ahead of them, and where it ended. At the crest of the hill stood a beautiful stone castle.
Robin sucked in her breath. It looked to be as old as the white cathedral in Siena---from the thirteenth century---surrounded by an enclave of pristine greenery. It appeared to be at least four stories high, of dark gray stone, composed of a large main building with two other smaller buildings adjacent to it.
She stared up at it, openmouthed, as Amon pulled the truck up to a vacant driveway off to the side of the building. He looked up at the stone building himself, then over at her, noting her distraction. “Doushita?” he asked, concerned.
She turned back to face him, shaking her head. “Nandemonai,” she said softly, to reassure him, before looking again back up at the castle before her. The familiarity of the stones and architecture sparked an old memory within her.
Amon took hold of their bags as they exited the truck, and Robin scooped Bast up into her arms. The gray cat was docile in her embrace, cradled against the chest of her pilgrim’s smock. They cautiously approached the building’s entrance.
Seth met them at the door as they made it up the shallow steps toward him, a wide smile gracing his face and his blue eyes sparkling. He was smartly dressed, in gray tweed slacks and a high-collared, long-sleeved shirt. He looked to Amon as though he were about to attend a business meeting of some sort.
“Mi amici,” Seth greeted them, his hands enthusiastically spread wide. “You’ve come. I knew that you would.” He reached to take one of the bags that Amon held, and after a moment’s hesitation, Amon surrendered it to him.
“Sela,” the blond man turned to a woman standing behind him, “please take our guests’ bags to the room we’ve provided---”
Before he could finish, Amon had already cut him off. “We will require separate rooms,” he said stoically, and Robin ducked her head slightly from where she stood off to his side. The delicate movement did not go unnoticed by Seth.
The blond Witch looked from her to him, and smiled in a manner that slightly unnerved Amon. “Of course you do.” He turned again to the brunette by his side. “Sela, camera singola per ciasuna, per favore.”
The young woman with short brunette hair and soft brown eyes, dressed in dark pants and a sleek, sleeveless earth-toned top, stepped forward to introduce herself. “Mi chiamo Sela,” she said, a friendly light in her eyes, extending her hand towards Robin. Something in her hair and eyes reminded Robin of Miho, and the chestnut-haired Witch instantly warmed to Sela.
“Robin Sena,” she returned, shifting Bast up against her shoulder to return the gesture.
Amon discreetly stole a glance at Seth at the mention of Robin’s name, to ascertain any recognition in the other Witch’s eyes; but saw none. Seth turned to face him. “And you, signore?”
“Amon,” he replied simply. Seth made a move to extend his hand in a gesture of goodwill, but when he saw Amon had no intention of taking it, he stopped himself and nodded at the dark hunter curtly.
Seth leaned over in Robin’s direction to get a look at Bast. “ Che cos'è questo?” he asked, smiling. “Una gatta bella.” He moved his hand in to pet her at Robin’s shoulder; but the cat’s ears flew back and she struck out suddenly with a clawed paw.
Robin made a startled noise as the cat suddenly leapt from her arms, landing on the marble of the foyer, and trotted off down a hallway. Seth looked on after Bast, rubbing his hand that she had swiped at, the smile that had once graced his face nowhere in sight.
“Playful kitty!” Sela remarked in an amused voice, but Robin bowed her head in consternation.
“Scusi,” she whispered. “She does not usually do that.” She frowned minutely to herself.
Sela laughed it off and, holding the bags, gestured for Robin to follow her. “Avanti,” she said, smiling. “I’ll show you to your rooms.” She walked off in the direction Bast had run, and Robin, after another glance at her partner, followed her.
Amon moved to follow the two women, but Seth stopped him with his arm. “Amon, I would like to discuss the details of your stay with us in my office, per favore.” He moved to indicate the direction, and Amon followed him down the hallway, glancing once more at Robin’s retreating form as he did.
He followed Seth into a dark office at the end of the hallway, stylishly done in dark mahogany wood, in contrast to the ancient feel of the outer shell of the castle.
“Close it, per favore,” Seth said, turning on lights and motioning towards the door as he moved on to the end of the room. He seated himself in a comfortable desk chair, immediately selecting a cigar from a box on the corner of the desk, and raising it in offering to Amon, who still stood near the entrance of the room like a fixed statue. “Gradisce un sigaro?” he asked politely.
Amon shook his head, fighting the urge to clasp his hands behind his back as he had so often in Zaizen’s presence. Even though it was obvious that Seth was in charge of this operation, he did not want to grant any semblance of authority to the male Witch yet. He could not know precisely, but Seth had to be at least a couple of years younger than himself, perhaps only twenty-four or so. His face had a youthful, boyish look; but his eyes seemed older, belied some hidden awareness. Amon supposed it was a trait inherent in all Witches who were aware of what they were; the knowledge of that alone would age someone beyond their years.
Even so, he was not quick to trust. He walked to stand rigidly in the middle of the room, his hands at his sides.
The blond man lit the cigar, taking a long puff on it before exhaling and speaking again. “Welcome to il Castello di Vicarello,” he said, with a relaxed smile. “Please, Amon, have a seat.” He motioned to a chair in front of the desk.
Amon shrugged. “I will stand.”
Seth inhaled on his cigar again, watching him closely. “I see that you are wary of me, which is perfectly understandable. We hardly know each other.” He exhaled as he spoke, the breath producing long waves of smoke that curled into the air. “But if we are to work together, that will change, with time.” He sat up straight in his desk chair. “I would like to go over with you what you can expect from working with us....as well as what we expect from you and the signorina.”
Amon gave a brief nod, as he watched Seth rest the cigar on a glass tray. The blond man folded his hands together on the desk before him.
“You have come here, because you have nowhere else to go; and as Hunted Witches, it is too dangerous for you both to be by yourselves. Si?” Seth paused for an answer.
“Si.” It was best not to make any mention of Jana, Amon thought to himself.
“We can provide you with safe, anonymous harbor; weapons, at your disposal, should you need them; transportation; funds to cover cost of living expenses.” He held Amon’s stern gaze. “That is, provided you perform a service for us.”
“To Hunt SOLOMON agents,” Amon finished, and the blond man nodded. “Where do you get the funding to perform such activities? How can you afford---” his eyes briefly swept around the office, which was lavishly decorated, “---all this?”
Seth chuckled and picked up his cigar again. “Already the questions start, Amon.” He puffed on the cigar, exhaling before he spoke. “To begin with, I told you yesterday that we had funding from very high places. We are privately sponsored by some very important people, both in Italia, and internationally.”
“Internationally,” Amon repeated, curious.
“If you must know, our largest sponsors are in the United States and Britain,” Seth continued, exhaling smoke again. “Some very rich people are there, who don’t want SOLOMON’s sustained influence to grow, particularly in those countries where there are different attitudes towards people of our kind. Surely you know by now, that the best Hunters, those with the strongest Crafts, are trained right here in Italy?”
“I had an idea, yes,” Amon responded neutrally.
“So it is in their interests to provide financial assistance to a group such as ourselves, who are dedicated to eliminating SOLOMON’s most elite Hunters, one by one.”
Most of what he said seemed to make sense to Amon. But something nagged at him. “So how did these international sponsors find you---a band of rogue Witches?”
He detected a slight flicker of impatience in the clear blue eyes. “We were recruited,” Seth said, evenly. “Do you not think that there are other Covens, elsewhere in the world, like ours? They decided to form an Italian team to take charge of the issue here.” He puffed again on the cigar.
“I find it interesting that I never knew of any such organized Covens of Witches in Europe or elsewhere in the world,” Amon ventured, his voice betraying hints of ice, “being that I was employed by the very organization you struggle against.”
Seth’s eyes flashed with moderate surprise, before he schooled his features. “What country are you from? You speak English, but your accent is unusual.”
“Japan,” Amon replied stiffly.
The blond man smirked as he inhaled from his cigar once more. “Well, signore, that explains it, then. We have no such group functioning in Japan.”
“I had extremely high security clearance.”
“Tell me, Amon,” Seth began, and Amon could again detect signs of impatience. “What would make me believe that a former SOLOMON Hunter such as yourself should be trusted? Why should we believe that you will not betray us and return to them?”
Amon was silent for a long moment, long enough for Seth to realize something.
“It’s her, isn’t it,” the blond Witch said lowly, almost in a whisper. “La signorina. You gave up your position with SOLOMON for her.” He smiled then, his blue eyes flashing, and again Amon found himself unnerved by it. The smile had hardly seemed benevolent.
Seth’s eyebrow was raised. “Che romantico!” His voice was decidedly teasing, and Amon was quick to correct him.
“It is more complicated than that,” the dark hunter asserted, almost as if to convince himself. “You have misunderstood.”
“It would seem so,” Seth noted slowly, eyeing him with detached curiosity, before flicking the ash on his cigar into the glass tray. His expression then changed back to his previous relaxed, nonchalant air. “Really, signore, I would have thought you would be more interested in the pertinent questions, such as what type of stipend you might receive for your participation in the Hunts, what kind of transportation we will be able to provide for you...”
“Those are of no real importance to myself or my partner.” Amon’s demeanor was stoic.
“You say that now,” Seth said knowingly, grounding out the remainder of his cigar in the glass tray. “But you have not seen anything yet.”
After showing Amon his suite in an upstairs wing---which had been rustic, but lavishly decorated, with stone floors and walls reflecting the outside architecture of the castle, complete with a wood-burning fireplace, separate bedroom, and a view of the Mediterranean coastline---Seth brought him back downstairs to view Robin’s accommodations. She and Sela were wandering about inside the suite, which on the lower level was done in the same stone architecture as Amon’s. On a raised hardwood loft, coming nowhere near the high vaulted ceiling, was a beautiful four-poster bed, done in white with a white gossamer canopy. Amon found himself momentarily distracted, unable to tear his eyes from the pristine white comforters and down-stuffed pillows.
“Amon,” Robin beseeched him, interrupting his not-so-pristine thoughts, “avanti, come look at the bath.” She led him by the hand, he strangely allowing her, to another room. Again, the architecture of the room was the same rustic, earthy stone---save for the enormous porcelain and marble tub with spigots of polished bronze, candles and bath soaps surrounding it on all sides.
Robin was positively aglow. “Che bella!” she whispered excitedly, clasping her hands together in front of her.
Amon felt stifled just looking at it. It seemed everywhere he turned in her room, there was something else to distract him.
Sela was in the doorway of the bathroom, leaning against the wall. “Bella, si?” she asked Robin, smiling. “Will be nice to take a long, hot bath and relax in later, si?” With that, Amon stalked out of the room, his posture rigid.
He re-entered the living room, where Seth was waiting for them. Robin and Sela followed close behind. “Accommodations to your liking, tesoro?” Seth asked, and Robin bowed her head in appreciation.
“Si, grazie. I still have not found our cat, though,” she said softly, and Sela moved to reassure her.
“We will find la gatta, don’t worry,” she told the chestnut-haired Witch gently. “She is somewhere in the building, she can’t have gone anywhere far.” Robin nodded gratefully.
Seth turned again to Amon. “There’s one more thing you haven’t seen, that I believe will seal your fate here with us,” he intoned, a smirk hinting at his lips and his blue eyes dancing. “Come this way.”
Robin and Amon glanced at each other.
In the underground parking garage, Seth led them towards a row of vehicles, taking a key out of his pocket and deactivating an alarm. A chirping sound reverberated through the dimly-lit garage, and the taillights of a dark car flashed on and off.
“This is your transportation,” Seth grinned, holding his hand out to display the car, as Amon stopped in his tracks. Robin approached the car cautiously. “This year’s new model BMW 760Li sedan, V12, six-liter engine, 450 horsepower, complete with navigation system, all-leather interior, and manual transmission.” His grin widened further. “Our sponsors were feeling generous this year.”
Despite his neutral outward appearance, Amon could hardly believe his eyes. This was nearly unreal. He stood as if rooted to the earth, staring at the vehicle, as Robin peered into the dark glass windows.
“Amon, it has a sunroof, just as your old car,” she said softly, with child-like wonderment. “It’s beautiful.”
Seth held up the key, dangling from the alarm remote, and handed it to Amon, who received it without expression. “It’s yours,” he said, his blue eyes again displaying benevolent humor. “Wait until you try it out on the open road....you won’t believe what it can do.”
Amon looked down at the key in his hand, his thoughts coiling helplessly upon themselves. Part of him wanted to believe the good luck they had just stumbled upon, believe that they were now somewhat safer than before....but another part of him wanted to jump into the car with Robin and drive as fast as they could away from this place. He didn’t think of himself nearly as intuitive as Robin; and yet he had a persistent, nagging feeling that tugged at the edges of his awareness, as though something was amiss.
“Dinner is at otto de sera,” Seth said to them both casually. “We get food catered in from town. After that will be a brief meeting where we will discuss the evening’s agenda.” He headed back towards the stairway leading back into the castle, Sela following him, and threw the last comment over his shoulder.
“Prepare yourselves. We Hunt tonight.”
“We are going to stay here, then?” Robin asked softly, as she followed a slight step behind Amon, back to her suite. She was looking up at him earnestly, her hands folded in front of her.
She believed that they had made the right choice, despite her reluctance to leave Jana. SOLOMON would not be able to trace them back to Sovana now, and perhaps Seth and his Coven would offer them additional protection, in the face of any danger posed by Hunters....even if they were forced to Hunt down SOLOMON members themselves, they wouldn’t be doing it alone. As Seth had said, safety in numbers.
They reached the door of her suite, and Amon paused. She noticed the troubled light in his eyes.
“Wakaranai,” he offered softly, uncertainty in his voice. “I don’t want to make a decision either way just yet. We shall wait and see...”
“After the Hunt?” Robin asked quietly, and he nodded his affirmation.
“I’m going to unpack my things,” she said, moving into the room, leaving him at the door. “Seth said there were laundry facilities near the back entrance, and I need to launder some of my garments. Do you....” she looked back up at him, hesitantly. “Would you like me to wash anything of yours....for you?”
“Iiya.” He shook his head hurriedly, turning away from the door.
“Amon,” she said, moving back towards the door, but he was already walking away.
She stood in the center of the room, watching the open doorway.
Sela had been more than friendly enough to her, having shown her to her suite and chatted with her in Italian for a bit. She was twenty years old, and had worked for Seth and his Coven for two years; she was shocked to learn that Robin was only sixteen. Seth had also seemed benevolent and accommodating; Robin supposed the uneasiness she felt now was a result of being away from her grandmother, after having been in her presence for nearly a month.
Yes, she told herself. That was probably it.
Sela came at eight to show her to dinner.
They headed down a long marble hallway, Sela chatting away casually. “A few of us are away at the moment, on assignment elsewhere in Italy,” Sela explained. “But you will meet most of the other Coven members tonight, and again at the meeting before the Hunt. I’m sure they’ll get to know you soon enough; running around during Hunts tends to familiarize people very quickly with each other.” She smiled at the young Witch.
“So you are a Craft-User like myself,” Robin gushed, and Sela nodded. “What is your power?”
The brunette young woman smiled mysteriously. “You will see for yourself tonight, at the Hunt.”
She opened a set of doors at the end of the hallway, and displayed the dining room. “Eccoci!”
An enormous dining table, laden with extravagant food and copious amounts of drink, were spread before the group members; one other woman and four other men, including Seth.
“Robin,” Seth called, standing and pulling out a chair next to him. “Avanti. Join us.”
She looked around the table. “Dov’è Amon?” she asked.
Seth shrugged. “He did not feel like eating, so we began without him.” He smiled to reassure her. “Come on, sit down. We don’t bite.”
She hesitantly approached the table, and was introduced to the other members by Seth. There were three other men, Ethan, Leor, and Gideon, all of whom appeared to be of European descent; then another female, Hedya, a Nordic woman with long, pale-blonde hair. All looked to be in their early to mid-twenties in age range, similar to Sela and Seth; and all regarded her with a friendly yet cool air, heavy with curiosity.
There was a delicious seafood soup, as well as a couple different kinds of pastas; meats, mostly sausages, and something that Robin hadn’t had before in central Italy, but had tried in another form while abroad---octopus. It was a cold, marinated dish, and tasted wonderful; very different from the takoyaki she’d had in Japan. To drink there was a strong liquor called grappa, which from what she understood was a brandy made from grape byproducts of winemaking; skins, stems, and seeds. She had tried a sip and found it to be flavorful, but much too strong for her own tastes.
Having finished her own meal and attempted to participate in polite conversation, Robin fashioned an extra plate of food and bowl of soup, covering it with one of the lids from the containers the food had arrived in, and excused herself from the table.
“Robin?” Seth asked, looking curiously at the food she held. “Where are you going with that?”
“It’s for Amon,” she said softly, not noticing the strange gleam in Seth’s blue eyes. “I thought he might be hungry.”
“Molto gentile of you, to do that for him,” the blond Witch commented, his lips forming a half-smile, “especially when he has not asked.”
“Mi scusi,” she said politely to the group, and left carrying the plate, as well as a cup of the grappa.
“A presto,” Seth called after her as she left the dining room, a teasing lilt in his voice.
“Seth, you shouldn’t give the poor girl such a hard time,” Sela reprimanded him lightly. “She is just looking out for her partner. That’s what we women have to do, you know.” She winked at him playfully.
“Si,” he said, bemused, still staring off at the door before helping himself to more of the grappa.
Robin carried the plate and cup upstairs carefully, balancing the food and drink as best as she could, mindful not to trip on her long skirts on the stairs. As she neared the end of the hallway, Sela having directed her to Amon’s suite, she heard a familiar padding of steps behind her.
A soft furry body brushed against her ankles through the skirt, and a purring chirp could be heard. “Bast,” Robin whispered, smiling softly. “Where have you been, gatta cattiva? Amon has been worried about you.” Despite her soft scolding, she was relieved to see the cat.
Apparently Amon had heard her talking outside of his door, presumably to herself; and as a result, he opened it before she’d had to try to figure out how to knock.
He was slightly startled to see her bearing the plate full of food, but he disguised it quickly and stepped aside from the door. “Robin. Avanti.” He watched as she carried in the food and drink, and a flicker of amusement crossed his features at seeing Bast trotting dutifully behind her.
Robin set the food and drink down on a nearby table. “I thought you might be hungry, Amon,” she explained softly, as he shut the door.
“Not really,” he confessed, rubbing his temple as he approached the table; but nevertheless he found himself sifting through her gifts. “Nan desu ka?” he asked, lifting the lid on the soup.
“Cacciucco alla livornese,” she answered. “Fisherman’s soup. It has lots of seafood in it; calamari, crawfish, shrimp, eel---” She stopped as he held up a hand. “Lots of seafood,” she finished, quieter, and watched as he held the bowl to his mouth, tasting the broth. She then watched him go to his opened bag, resting on a sofa, and fish out a pair of chopsticks. He then returned to the table, seated himself in a chair and began slurping the soup noisily, directing the larger chunks of seafood and vegetables with the chopsticks.
Robin looked momentarily shocked by his actions, never having seen him eat so noisily while at Jana’s; but she remembered Nagira and his soba noodles, and how in Japan it was customary---a culture shock that she had never quite gotten used to---to slurp, particularly noodles and soup, as a way to show appreciation of the food. The sight and sound of it caused a half-smile to form on her lips.
Amon saw the smile out of the corner of his eye, and paused in his eating long enough to cause her to avert her amused stare, before he resumed.
“The octopus is good, also,” she suggested. “Il polpo.” She sat in the opposite chair, watching as Bast curled affectionately around her legs. She stole a piece of leftover fish from the plate of food, holding it out to the cat, who nibbled on it daintily.
Amon had finished his soup. “What time is the Hunt to begin?” he asked, setting the bowl aside and wiping his mouth.
“Eleven,” she replied, continuing to feed Bast. “I think there is going to be a meeting beforehand, to discuss the Hunt.” She looked back up at Amon, who had begun trying the marinated octopus, tasting a few bites and finding it tender and flavorful, and digging in for more.
“I met some of the other Coven members,” she offered for conversation, “three other men and a woman. They seemed very nice.”
Amon looked down at his plate of food. “You sound as though you trust them already,” he said, in a lightly scolding tone. He motioned towards the cup she had brought him. “What is that?”
“I don’t know if I trust them or not,” she responded softly, not sure of his meaning. She vaguely wondered if it had been better to leave him alone before the Hunt. “Grappa....it’s a drink. Like a brandy, I was told.” She watched as he brought the cup to his nose and sniffed it, then took a small sip. The strength of the drink caused his eyebrows to lift.
Too strong to drink right now. Better save that for later....when you’re alone, he thought.
Robin rose from her chair, done with her feeding of Bast, and began to walk around the living area of his suite, studying the furniture and the architecture which was much like her own room. He had no idea whether she was aware of his eyes on her as she did so; but if she was, she didn’t let on. Dark gray eyes followed her slow, graceful movements across the room, lingering on her form as she stopped to look at a chair, a vase, a painting on the wall.
She was drawn to the brick wood-burning fireplace on the opposite side of the room---which in his amused mind, was not at all surprising---and she examined it closely before turning back to face him, again with the half-smile he was accustomed to seeing. Together, the lethal combination of the halting smile and the magnetic green eyes caused a familiar reaction to slowly swell within him, coiling in his gut, making it slightly difficult for him to breathe.
“Would you like me to light it?” she asked innocently.
He was unable to tear his eyes away. “Not right now.”
Both of them stared, fixated, for a long moment. The moment stretched out into another. He knew it was wrong to hold her gaze directly like this for so long, but he was also aware that she was not going to back down. It became a battle of wills, neither willing to succumb. He absently saw the smile dissipate under the gravity of the look they exchanged, and part of him realized that her refusal to submit to his dominating stare was what fed his own, what made him unable to see anything else but her at that moment. He felt a distinct impression of deja vu...the moment they passed each other in the hallway of Harry’s bar, gazes fixed, unable to look away.
She took a step towards him, then two. He belatedly realized that his breath had begun to come faster.
A raucous pounding on the door to his suite jarred them both from their trance, and the door suddenly opened. It was Sela.
“Robin,” she said breathlessly, as if she had just run up the stairs. “We’ve got to go; the Target is on the run.”
Seth and Leor were already waiting in Seth’s car, a slightly older Jaguar model, in the parking garage. The blond Witch blared the car horn impatiently as he saw the three running towards the other parked vehicles.
“Andiamo!” he hollered through the open window, his formerly boyish features livid with impatience. “He’s running for Siena, if we get him now we can catch him before he gets to Roccastrada!” He pointed at Amon. “You were not specified to go on this Hunt!”
“I’m going,” Amon asserted, deactivating the alarm on the BMW and unlocking it, Sela and Robin close behind him. “I can snipe, if you have the weapons.”
Seth smirked in spite of himself. “It just so happens we have more than one; Leor is a sniper also. We’ll see how you do against his enhanced vision.” He barked at Sela, “Keep in phone contact. We’ll meet you there!” The Jaguar’s tires pealed out as the car took off.
Amon slid into the driver’s seat, starting the motor even as the women were still entering the car. He saw a momentary struggle in their eyes for the front seat.
“Robin sits up front,” he said, his voice like cold steel, and Sela concealed a smile as she opened the rear passenger door.
Robin buckled herself into the front seat, the memory of car chases in Amon’s Audi giving her slight panic.
“Hold on,” he said gruffly, throwing the car into reverse, then into forward gear as the car lurched forward, speeding out of the garage at breakneck speed.
Sela directed him down the narrow, winding road, which they took at what Robin guessed to be 50mph faster than was probably recommended. The car nearly fishtailed twice, the tires unable to get adequate purchase on the dirt road.
“You’re going to get us killed!” Sela cried into his ear from the backseat. “Wait until we’re on pavement to floor it!”
Soon enough they were out of Grosseto, and the road headed towards Roccastrada was paved. Amon flattened the gas pedal, the car’s speed pushing past 120, 130mph. For several miles he was able to keep the Jaguar within sight on the road ahead.
Sela was on the phone with Seth, talking in rapid bursts of Italian, and finally she tapped Amon’s arm impatiently. “Get off---get off here!” They quickly pulled off the main highway, the roads still paved, and followed Sela’s directions, finally entering a small township.
“To the right, the right,” Sela chanted, pointing at a warehouse structure, and Amon and Robin saw the empty Jaguar parked near it. Amon pulled up next to the Jaguar and stopped the car, getting out cautiously, gun drawn.
Sela was still on her phone, but her voice had lowered in the night’s stillness. “Leor has taken position at the outer left door, he has the sniping rifles,” she told Amon, and he and Robin exchanged a quick glance before he nodded and headed off in Leor’s direction. “Robin, come with me,” Sela said lowly, shutting off her cellular, and headed towards the warehouse entrance.
They entered cautiously, senses alert, and made their way into the darkened warehouse. It took several seconds for their visions to adjust, and they crawled along the darkened boxes and supply shelves silently, towards the sounds of a scuffle. Finally they rounded a corner to see Seth, directly confronting the SOLOMON agent out in the open.
The agent appeared to be using a Water Craft, and he was directing bursts of jet-streamed water at Seth, who calmly looked over in Sela’s direction.
To Robin’s surprise, rock pushed up from underneath the warehouse cement floor, effectively protecting Seth from the water blasts, which sprayed against the rock pillars harmlessly. She looked over at Sela standing next to her, deep in concentration.
She’s shielding him.
Seth, from the safety of the shield, inclined his head towards the SOLOMON Hunter, and a gust of cold air swept forth towards the agent. The Hunter’s Water Craft blocked the attack.
Seth turned back to Robin and Sela’s hiding place behind the shelves, and Sela gasped. “He can’t use his lightning in here---he has to be outside. Robin, you have to help him!”
Without further thought, Robin stepped out from behind the shelves, her glasses perched atop her nose, and blocked the instant attack from the SOLOMON agent against her with her fire.
Now she could see him clearly before her, and she was surprised to see that he was shaking and trembling with fear.
“Perche?” his wailing voice came to her ears, and she faltered momentarily. “Perche? Why do you do this to me?”
Seth had backed off, to protect himself against further attacks, and he was watching now with Sela, as Robin advanced on the Hunter with slow, even steps.
“You harm innocent Witches,” she answered. “Is that not reason enough for us to do this?”
“No,” the Hunter whispered, his face twisted in an agonizing grimace. “No!”
Robin’s flame leapt out at him, not burning him but driving him outside, to where she knew Leor and Amon waited.
“You have done things that can’t be forgiven,” she whispered softly, the flame behind her eyes lighting again to push him further, and he turned to run out the back entrance, forcing his way through with the fierce jets of his Water Craft, his voice wailing into the darkness.
Robin flinched as she heard three sharp shots ring out from behind the warehouse....crack.....crack....crack. The sounds were all too familiar, reminding her distinctly of the shots that had been fired on her, in an old abandoned warehouse, many miles and many months ago. She shivered at the memory.
Seth and Sela ran on ahead of her, out the back entrance, where they found the Hunter prone, lying in a pool of his own blood. Amon and Leor had leapt down from their positions flanking the warehouse from above, Leor shooting daggers with his glare at Amon.
“Who made the shot?” Seth asked, and Leor grudgingly looked over at Amon. “You did, Amon?” Seth asked, to which the dark hunter nodded succintly.
Robin walked out of the warehouse to join the group, and looked down at the fallen man before her. It was hardly her first SOLOMON kill....Sastre had been but one of a few of the powerful Hunters she had destroyed in Japan....but for some strange reason, she felt as though it were.
“Eccellente,” Seth remarked, giving Amon a nod of approval. “I underestimated you. Mi perdoni.”
After collecting evidence---the spent sniper shells---the group started to move back to their cars, Amon stopping when he realized Robin had hung back, still staring at the Hunter’s lifeless body.
“Robin,” he urged quietly; but instead of at him, she looked up at the moon, swollen and lit in the sky.
She wasn’t entirely sure....but she thought that she could hear moaning screams, whisper-thin, carried on the air as she stood in the moonlight, the silvery light falling on the pool of blood near her feet.
Unseen truth....Rising sun....Blessing the Divine Feminine. The ancient magick employed to Hunt rekindles the Flame. Chapter 12.
Lotsa Italian this time: ^^;
sua consorte: your consort
mi perdoni: forgive me
la gatta: the cat
buon viaggio: have a good trip
Mare Mediterraneo: Mediterranean Sea
doushita: [Japanese] what’s wrong?
nandemonai: [Japanese] nothing
Il convento: the convent
Mi amici: my friends
camera singola per ciasuna, per favore: single room for each, please
mi chiamo: my name is
Che cos'è questo: what is this?
Una gatta bella: a lovely cat
scusi: I’m sorry
gradisce un sigaro: would you like a cigar?
Castello di Vicarello: Castle of the Vicar (Priest)
signorina: miss, young woman
che romantico: how romantic
bella: lovely, beautiful
tesoro: treasure, darling
otto de sera: eight P.M.
wakaranai: [Japanese] I don’t know yet
iiya: [Japanese] no
eccoci: here we are
Dov’è: where is
takoyaki: fried octopus dumpling
molto gentile: very kind
mi scusi: excuse me
a presto: see you soon
gatta cattiva: naughty cat
nan desu ka: [Japanese] what is it?
andiamo: let’s go
And, that’s a wrap. Gomenasai if I’ve been too honest or forthcoming in some of these answers to you guys. I just thought everyone should know where I stand on things. ^^;