A/N: I really don’t like this once-a-month update thing that I’ve been doing lately…but real life has interfered most heinously in my writing schedule (moving and starting a new job; not to mention a Blonde Moment where I forgot my Windows 2000 password ^^;). But never fear: Chapter 13 is already half-written, and should be available very soon.
I’ve just recently become aware of the benefits of laptops, having been given a temporary one from work. I really need to get one of these things, not just because I have limited computer time now; it just makes so much more sense as a writer to have a portable method of being able to jot your thoughts down. I’m saving the cash to buy myself one soon. I can just see myself now at Starbucks or B&N, typing away, simultaneously increasing my caffeine intake. Wouldn’t Robin be proud! ^^
Disclaimer: I do not own Witch Hunter Robin. I had thought it was obvious that I didn’t, being that this is fanfiction.net, but it’s apparent I needed to say this after all. However, the fictional characters of Jana Luciano, Bast, Seth, Sela, and the other Coven members, as well as the plot, are all my own original ideas. Please don’t steal them. Thank you. ^^ Enjoy!
Amon matched his steps to Seth's quick exit from the parking garage.
His stern baritone rang out in the dim lot, empty now save for themselves and the sleek, stylish cars parked there. Seth halted in his steps, turning his face slightly at the sound of his name.
Amon stopped a short distance off from where the blond man stood, clenching his gloved fists at his side.
Seth turned all the way around to face him. "Si?" he asked, his voice clipped with impatience.
"What happened back there?" Amon demanded icily. "Why were we not briefed about the Hunt beforehand?"
Seth huffed and spread his arms wide. "You saw what happened---he ran! We had to chase him while we could still track him; time was of the essence. We didn't have time for any blasted meetings." He frowned now at the dark hunter. "You, of all people, should understand that, having been a Hunter for years. Our prey was in danger of escaping."
"It is not wise to go into a Hunt without knowing the information behind the Target," Amon warned. "It endangers not only the mission itself, but the team members performing it....especially if the Target had an unknown Craft."
"I'd hardly call his Craft anything remotely threatening," Seth sneered, before calming his features again. "At any rate, Amon, the danger is passed. We got our man." He smiled somewhat sardonically. "You made the shot yourself. You should be proud of your skills; I think Leor was shown up." Seth turned again as if to make his way out of the garage.
"I will be briefed prior to our next Hunt," Amon said, the chill in his voice unrelenting. "Or neither Robin nor I will attend."
This caused Seth to stop and turn around again, his good humor gone. "I do not take kindly to anyone else's orders, Amon," he warned sullenly. He lifted his brows. "And you don't control her."
Before Amon could respond, his fury rising, Seth interjected again, bowing his head in a brief graceful gesture. "I think you're forgetting something, miei amico...and that is, our goals are the same; yours, mine, and everyone's here." He raised his head to meet Amon's eyes directly, ice blue to slate gray. "We disapprove of SOLOMON's methods, and we are here to Hunt them. And in order to do that, and be efficient, we need to obey orders---” he jerked his thumb in his own direction to emphasize, “---my orders." He paused afterwards to let the finality of his words sink in, before spreading his hands in supplication. "Do you not agree? It is us against them, miei amico…I suggest you choose sides now." His words were met with Amon's dark silence.
Seth turned again towards the entrance into the castle, throwing his next words over his shoulder. "We will meet beforehand for the next Hunt. And Robin will participate...as will you and I. There will be no further discussion of it." He stalked off purposefully, leaving Amon behind in the dimly lit garage.
The dark hunter bowed his head in momentary thought. It is us against them. I suggest you choose sides now.
Choose sides. It sounded very similar to what Jana had been telling him over and over again in Sovana.
SOLOMON had attempted to take that choice from him when they had tried to make him into what they had planned, and desired...a Hunter, a killer, someone so loyal to the organization that they wouldn't be able to tell right from wrong. They had tainted his genetic code to make him into their servant---at the same time taking away the purity of his humanity. It wasn’t his parents that had bequeathed him the genes he had loathed and feared for so long…it was science, and SOLOMON, who were responsible. He could no longer blame his father for choosing a Witch for his wife, or vice-versa. His heritable background had been irrelevant.
He clenched his gloved fists at his sides again in stymied fury. He was a genetic creation, a laboratory experiment….someone without a natural past, someone whose future was meant to be manipulated.
He now partially understood how Robin felt.
He entered his upstairs suite, his footfalls heavy with weariness and his thoughts in turmoil. Through the open window in his suite a cool night breeze from the coast wafted in, smelling of forest and sea salt. He went to the window briefly and looked out at the coastline, seeing the dark ocean tide rising and swelling…much like his own tormented emotions.
Robin was most likely in her own suite downstairs, having entered the castle before he’d confronted Seth in the parking garage. He imagined she was, at that moment, going about preparing her nightly bath; running the water---scalding hot, as he’d known from having seen the steam pouring out from beneath the closed bathroom door often enough---and filling the tub, adding bath oils, lighting candles….
Having realized too late where this train of thought was leading him, he quickly dismissed the vision from his mind. The thought alone of her undressing by candlelight in the stone and marble bathroom and stepping slowly into the heated water, however fleeting, had filled him with adequate guilt; to say nothing of the unsettling awareness that his imagination probably hadn’t even done the scene justice.
He went immediately across the room to his open travel bag, still on the sofa, and fished out his slim laptop and power cord. He placed it on a nearby desk, plugging the machine into the wall and booting it up. A note to Nagira informing him of their new situation would take his mind off other things that were distracting him. He waited for it to power up, sitting down to type.
An update to let you know what’s happened to us in the last 96 hours.
We were attacked in a neighboring town….went into hiding for two days to allow the situation to cool off. But in lieu of drastic change in location, we opted to instead join a local group whose background I’m still a bit unsure of. I need you to do some reconnaissance for me.
Look for any information you can find regarding these facts: a coven in Italy sponsored by combined US/UK financial backing; the names Seth, Sela, Leor, Hedya, and Gideon connected with such a group; and I will provide you as soon as I can with the name of a deceased member of that organization you and I know so well. I need any information you can come up with as soon as possible.
Seth is particularly troubling. I’m not sure what it is, but he seems somehow…familiar to me. I’m at a loss to explain it.
I will contact you again soon with another name. As always, maintain your own safety while acquiring this information.
He sat back in the chair after sending the hurried note, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as his eyes stared off into the laptop screen. He felt the trace of whiskers along his jawline and realized that he would need a shave soon.
He was aware that he hadn’t mentioned the research involving his mother to Nagira for him to look into, knowing fully well why he hadn’t. Despite the limited amount of time Nagira had been exposed to Matoko when they were younger, Amon knew his brother’s memories of her were fond ones. Nagira had even gone so far as to defend the eruption of her powers, even though he himself had not been present that fateful day when they had awakened so destructively. How he could be so certain that she hadn’t been corrupted was beyond Amon; but he knew his half-brother’s obstinacy, and was aware of the futility of arguing the point with him.
An unbidden image came to him of his mother. It was a momentary glimpse, but he could clearly make out the details of her hair, her hands, and her kind brown eyes as she looked at him lovingly. He could still, after so many years, hear her gentle whisper to him.
Shisoku...waga hitorimusuko. Taisetsu yo.
Restlessly, he rose from his chair again and went back to his bag on the sofa, fishing through it until he came upon the item that he had been searching for….Vincenzo’s file of Mario Benedetto’s work.
He went back to the desk, sat and opened up a small notepad in the envelope file, and began to read.
...from SOLOMON’s deciphered parts of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as other ancient Judaic and Kabbalistic writings, we were initially under the impression that the Arcanum of the Craft was to be located in ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’, and subsequently from this description we assumed the references meant Anatolia (the Asiatic part of Turkey), whose name originates from those words. However, upon studying the documents further, we realized the reference was not to the land that is now known as Turkey, but to the new ‘Land of the Rising Sun’....i.e. Japan....
...The prophecy of Daniel from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests that a man will rise up and proclaim himself ‘Jupiter Olympus’, claiming that he is the supreme God, when in actuality he is the ‘son of Perdition’. This prophecy also contains a reference to the ‘Rising Sun’ motif...There will be a ‘renewed Covenant’, as well as a confrontation between the ‘Children of Light’, who have been endowed with the Spirit of God, and the ‘Children of Darkness’, also known as the ‘Children of Belial’, or ‘Ba’al’ as it is written....
...Yahweh, the Judean God (translated in the Authorized Version of the Christian Bible as ‘Jehovah’), was originally a sky god. He was associated with mountains and was called by the enemies of Israel a ‘god of the hills’. His manifestation was often as fire, as it were on Mount Sinai...other biblical verses in metaphorical language speak of Israel being led in safety through the Sinai wilderness by their God, who is likened to a ‘powerful horned ox’...
…quite understandably, we focused on the Latin Vulgate's 'erroneous' translation of the word qaran in Exodus 34:29 and 35: ‘And when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord.’ ‘And they saw that the face of Moses when he came out was horned, but he covered his face again, if at any time he spoke to them.’… ....Clues provided to us in writings led us to begin detailed excavations in Egypt, led by our SOLOMON-funded research teams, specifically in what was once the ancient city of Thebes. Extraction of DNA from mummified sources was performed....we identified and recovered---by hand-held high-throughput PCR---3,000 year-old DNA from the source, or ‘pi’....DNA hybridization and nucleotide sequencing of the fragments revealed that there were little to no modifications post-mortem, and that the fragments were subsequently cloned into a plasmid vector, ready for further vector construction...
Once again, Amon realized that skipping around, as he did in the scientific journals placed in his care, did little to actually elucidate the meanings of the entries written in them. He sat back and rubbed his eyes. At least this will put you to sleep, he mused.
It would take days, maybe weeks, of reading thoroughly to understand what Benedetto was trying to do experimentally, he thought; not to mention to figure out what Vincenzo had been hinting at when he had mentioned the ‘help’ that Benedetto---and later, Toudou---had meant to provide to Witches. Let us say...that both of them were determined not to let SOLOMON have the final say in everything. He wondered what it had to do with the experiments performed on Matoko.
Against his will, his thoughts fled again to her; jumbled images from his childhood memories that he’d tried unsuccessfully to suppress.
…the man’s hand wrapping securely around his thin forearm, a grip so tight it was like a vise…
“Yamenasai!” His mother’s voice, a shrieking plea, ringing in his ears…turning his head to look up at the man grabbing his arm---
---and finding a seven-year-old voice to scream in horror, as the man’s face melted before his very eyes, flesh falling sickeningly from the bone...
He tensed at the memory as he rubbed his chin. The dark gray eyes were far away in recollection.
If it had been up to SOLOMON, Amon realized, he would have awakened a long time ago---tapped into the power that he now knew for certain that lived inside him. Vincenzo had even admitted it…attempts were made to induce his awakening, all the way up until the child was six or seven years old....but to no avail. He had barely felt the evidence of his awakening Craft in Factory, but he suspected nevertheless that it was responsible for both the super-human jump he’d performed that had saved Robin’s life, as well as having protected him from Zaizen’s Orbo.
But something had held him in check; something had prevented his Craft---whatever it was meant to be---from fully awakening and spinning completely out of control, as his mother’s had done. What was it?
His line of sight fell upon Jana’s basket of food, which had been left in his room upon their arrival the previous day. At the top of the pile of fruit lay a golden ripe fig, similar to the one Robin had given him to taste the first day they had set foot in Sovana. He reached for it absently, picking it up and turning it over in his hand, feeling its soft yet grainy texture.
Just because it hasn’t fully manifested itself yet doesn’t mean it’s not inevitable, he reminded himself. She awoke for her husband, the person who haunted her waking thoughts and dreams...and if you’re not careful, the same will happen to you. Again he flashed back to the end of that horrifying moment, and the SOLOMON agent’s words as they dragged him away from the spectacle of Matoko’s bullet-ridden body.
See? See, what your mother has become? That will happen to you....unless you come with us, right now....
He stood and went to the small stone-hedged fireplace at the other end of his room, opening the vent and arranging the wood on the iron beams. It took only moments to light the flame that sprang to life, and he crouched near enough to the flames to feel the searing heat before stepping back and going to his bed, stripping himself of his overcoat, shirt and boots along the way. He positioned himself on his stomach, resting his chin on his hands and watching the fire.
You may not trust Seth, but he is the only means you have right now to vindicate your own existence, he told himself, by going after the organization that created you...and absolving yourself of the guilt she left you with.
He became drowsy as he watched the flames. Hazily he recalled the last fire he’d sat before…and the comfort of a soft, chestnut-haired head on his shoulder, still slightly damp from her bath and smelling of lilac and rain from her shampoo. He felt again the sudden awareness that had come over him when he’d realized that the warmth coursing through him was not as much from the fire he had watched, but more from the intoxicating body heat of the girl who’d fallen asleep against his arm.
In his hand he still held the golden fig, warmed by the touch of his skin; and he bit into it, the sensuous feeling flooding through his veins at the taste of it. It was warm, fragrant, and sweet---not unlike the taste of her mouth, he suddenly realized---and the sensation radiated pleasantly throughout his whole body.
It was the taste of the fruit, and the remembrance of the warmth he’d previously experienced by fireside that enabled him to finally close his eyes, blanking his overactive mind of unwanted memories and allowing him to drift off to sleep.
The next morning, Robin woke late, unable to rouse herself early from the luxurious sleep she’d had in her new bed. Her bedroom window had been open all night and she had awakened to the ocean air and the gentle sound of waves from the distant shore. She sat up in bed, holding the white sheet to her chest, her hair tousled by the incoming breeze; her sleepy countenance turned towards the open window which faced the greenery outside.
The previous night, having become exhausted from the Hunt, she had prepared a quick bath upon entering her room; and before the drowsiness of the hot tub had completely consumed her, she had crawled into bed and almost immediately fallen into a deep sleep. She had slept so deeply that she had nearly forgotten the unsettling feeling that had possessed her after the Hunt of the doomed SOLOMON agent.
Robin reflected briefly on the rushed events that had occurred the night before. It had happened so quickly, so abruptly---Seth and Sela hadn’t hesitated in their own attacks on the Hunter, the frightened, trembling man whom Robin had chased out of the warehouse only to meet his gruesome end courtesy of Amon’s sniper rifle. He was a SOLOMON Hunter, had killed Witches under the organization’s orders….so why had she felt such a pervading sense of dread at having contributed to his death?
She rose from her bed and dressed, lost in silent thought as she fashioned her hair into its usual twists in the large marble and stone bathroom.
Walking down the long hallway, her dark skirts trailing softly behind her on the marble tile, she followed the sounds and smells of conversation and breakfast to a corridor that led to the back of the building. It ended in a well-lit patio, open to face the expanse of the greenery behind the castle. The tables and furniture were modern and done in white, giving it a light, airy feel; and the other Coven members seated around the patio table looked up with interest at her arrival.
“Buon giorno, Robin,” Seth trilled, his smooth and melodic voice welcoming her as he stood from his chair and approached her to take her hand. “Una bella dormita?”
“Si, grazie,” Robin replied softly, startled by his hand covering hers, but allowing it. “The bed was very comfortable.” A few of the other Coven members---mostly male---snickered at her response, and she glanced at them curiously, uncomprehending.
“Certo,” Seth responded, grinning. “We would provide nothing less for you, tesoro.” He gestured to a chair near him. “Per favore. Sit and eat with us. We have treats this morning; fresh croissants, fruit, and espresso.” Robin nodded graciously, bowing her head slightly in her adopted Japanese fashion, and took a seat at the table near his.
Sela was on the other side of Seth, smiling warmly at the young chestnut-haired Witch. “Robin, you have not met the others in our group,” she said, motioning to four additional people seated at the table whom Robin had not met the previous day. “This is Noa,” she said, pointing to an olive-skinned woman with medium-length black hair, and went on to point to three more men at the table, “Gal, Chanan, and Evan. The men are from Africa, Spain, and France, respectively; Noa is from the Middle East.” They all nodded and smiled at Robin in accordance.
Sela smiled at Robin as she daintily buttered a croissant for herself. “Robin is a very powerful Craft-user…I think she will be a real asset to this team,” she said, casually addressing her remark to the group as a whole. “You will all be amazed when you see what she’s capable of during a Hunt.”
Robin ducked her head, slightly modest. “I didn’t help very much last night,” she admitted, and was surprised to hear the self-deprecating remark from her own mouth. Am I that eager to please them?
The dark-haired Noa spoke up, in a thick eastern accent. “That’s right; I heard that partner of yours, Amon, made the shot last night.” She regarded Robin with what seemed a smug air, seated back in her chair with her legs crossed, a cigarette dangling between her fingertips. She eyed the young Witch up and down. “Just how did a young girl like you hook up with that guy, anyway?”
Robin wasn’t completely sure of the comment’s meaning. She almost felt the need to defend Amon, but she did not know from what. “Ah…I met him, in Japan. SOLOMON sent me to work with him at STN-J.”
“SOLOMON did?” Noa asked now with interest, and Robin caught Seth’s glance out of the corner of her eye.
She nodded. “Si. The priest---” she made a quick decision not to reveal his name, “---who raised me and trained me did.”
Seth seemed curious now, also. He had put down his fork and turned towards her. “Robin, did SOLOMON ask anything else of you while you were in Japan?”
She lowered her eyes as she took a sip of espresso, before responding. “Si…they wanted me to find the Arcanum of the Craft. That was my undercover mission.”
“And…did you find it?” Noa asked persistently. “The Arcanum?”
“I…” Robin paused, uncertainly. “I’m not sure.” It wasn’t Methusalah’s stick, she had come to realize, that was the Arcanum….Sastre had shown her exactly how useless the ‘Piece of Wisdom’ really was that fateful day she had encountered him in the Walled City. The powers spoken to have been associated with the Piece of Wisdom / Ultimate Technique were actually hers all along. But was that what the Arcanum of the Craft really was---the ability to see the elements, the gift which Toudou had bequeathed to her? Or was it something more...
A low baritone interrupted the conversation, drawing the interested gazes at the table. “No. She did not find it.” Robin looked up in astonishment to see Amon standing before the group, fully dressed, his expression remote.
Seth remained seated, beckoning to him. “Amon. Benvenuto, have a seat.”
To Seth’s and the rest of the table’s surprise---they had expected him to decline---Amon joined them, seating himself next to Robin. She glanced at his face to judge his mood, but quickly looked away when he turned his stern gray eyes in her direction. She thought she could detect displeasure radiating from him as he sat motionless beside her.
“We were just discussing the Arcanum of the Craft,” Seth said conversationally, as he sat back in his chair. “You wouldn’t happen to be familiar with that aspect of SOLOMON lore, would you, Amon?” he finished, with a hint of a smile.
Amon seemed to immediately engross himself in drinking from his offered cup of espresso. “Not particularly.”
“Vedo. I can tell you what I know…and that is, that SOLOMON has been searching for this Arcanum of the Craft for centuries…even millennia. As long as the organization has been functioning, that is how long they have been looking for it. Supposedly, not only is it proclaimed to harbor the ‘ultimate technique’ of Witchcraft, but it is also supposed to reveal the location of someone rather…important.” His sly smile told them he was holding something back.
“Someone important?” Robin inquired, her curiosity now piqued. This hadn’t been something that Father Juliano had revealed to her. “Chi è?”
Seth smiled benevolently. “Someone evil, tesoro.” His blue eyes flashed with something akin to mischief. “Il demonio.”
“Demonio?” she asked in an incredulous whisper, and she felt her blood momentarily run cold.
“Like many other things we’ve heard, it is a myth,” Amon said sternly, turning his eyes on her as if to admonish her for her naiveté.
Something tugged at the edges of her perception, and Robin turned back to Seth, her soft voice laced with interest. “This person….il demonio…was to be found in Japan?” she asked, hesitantly.
He shrugged as he finished the last of his breakfast, sitting back in his chair. “That is what the Prophecy says. But as your friend Amon says, it is a myth, no?” He smiled at her again.
“You know quite a decent amount of SOLOMON mythology,” Amon commented dryly, meeting Seth’s eyes almost in challenge, and prompting a couple of heated glares from the other Coven members at the breakfast table.
“Know thy enemy,” Seth shot back. He stood from his chair, looking at Robin with affection. “We shall speak later, tesoro.” Robin nodded, a bit shyly; she did not catch Amon’s furtive glance in her direction as she did.
Noa was smirking around her cigarette, holding it in an elegant pose between her fingers as she leaned forward with her elbows on the table to regard Amon. “So….the new sniper,” she remarked coolly, exhaling as she did. “They said your skill exceeds Leor’s. That’s difficult to do.” She took another pensive drag on the cigarette, watching him.
Amon did not bother to look up at her from his meal of fruit and croissants. “Apparently not as difficult as some of you believed.” Robin’s eyes widened imperceptibly at his comment to Noa.
The look on the dark-haired woman’s face turned suddenly frosty. “Leor is one of the best any of us have seen….that was a compliment, to even place you in the same category with him.” The hand holding her cigarette trembled, betraying her anger.
This time, Amon looked up, his gray eyes as hard as ice. “Then I should feel flattered,” he said, without missing a beat. “Grazie.”
Noa angrily ground out the remainder of her cigarette, glaring at Amon, and rose from the table. Hedya, the blonde Witch, and a couple of the others followed her.
Robin looked at her partner in confusion. It wasn’t like him to intentionally incite someone to anger in such a childish manner; even with provocation, he usually ignored such comments. None of the Coven members had reacted too kindly to his attitude either, except for Sela, who was smiling to herself as though she were in on what Robin felt must have been an inside joke.
“Not making very many friends, are you, Amon,” Sela chided in Italian-accented English, glancing over at him. Amon’s features relaxed slightly before he spoke again.
“We’re not here to make friends,” he said, and his tone became serious again as he looked directly at Sela. “We are here because we have no other choice.” Robin bowed her chestnut head in the direction of her lap at his words, feeling as though they were mostly directed at her.
Sela nodded sagely. “Capisco.” She smiled again, with a knowing look. “But I hope that eventually, we will earn your trust.”
“That remains to be seen,” Amon asserted, finishing his espresso. He set his cup down, looking at it thoughtfully before directing his next words to the brunette Witch. “It would be advisable to keep me informed of background details on subsequent Hunts, if you and Seth desire to earn mine.”
She bowed her head obediently. “I will speak to him about it.”
Amon shook his head as he rose from the table. “I have already informed him.”
Robin stood at the same time as her partner, her hopeful emerald gaze fixed on him. “Amon,” she said softly, and his movement faltered. Her voice, with its tenderness and faintest trace of yearning, had apparently retained its ability to stop him in his tracks, he noted to his dismay.
He had wondered before this if the change of scenery they were in would allow him to be able to resist her. Away from the almost magical, mystical aura of Sovana, with its charm and beauty, he had thought that perhaps he could squelch the desire he’d felt for her while they were there. A part of him visibly surrendered to the realization that it was not dependent upon location, that it was not going to go away…and that he would ultimately end up giving in to it, after all, despite his best efforts.
“Hai?” he answered her, his voice softening almost unwillingly.
“I was going to take a walk around the castle grounds,” she began, hesitant. “I was wondering if…you would like to…”
Silently he nodded, avoiding her eyes, and from where Sela remained seated, she could see the change in his demeanor. Whereas a moment earlier he had been prepared to leave the patio area without her, his very presence turned away and closed off; he was now turned to face her, his dark eyes fixed on her form as she turned away, the posture of his body open and receptive…completely focused on her. Sela discreetly studied him, fascinated.
“Scusi,” Robin offered, leaving her position at the table, heading in the opposite direction of her partner, out into the courtyard and into the greenery beyond the castle.
Amon nodded to the few remaining Coven members politely before pushing in his chair and leaving the patio area, following the young chestnut-haired Witch.
They walked silently along the trimmed grass, staying on the border of foliage surrounding the castle grounds; below them in the distance they could see the green expanse of land, stretching on, nearly never-ending.
“There’s a swimming pool there,” Robin noted softly, pointing at an angle slightly down the hill; and just past the stone walkway jutting out from the grass, Amon could see a pool of brilliantly blue water, surrounded by soft greenery and overlooking the valley.
She turned to face him, childish excitement bubbling in the emerald eyes. “I’m going to go swimming later tonight.”
“It gets cold in the evening,” he warned, his expression stern but his voice gentle. “Perhaps you should wait until tomorrow.”
Her excitement faltered for a moment, during which he internally chastised himself for discouraging her. Then she turned her eyes back to him again, the happiness restored in them.
“You’re right,” she said with a half-smile. “I forgot how cold it gets at night. Arigatou...for reminding me of it.”
Instead of replying, he walked on, facing straight ahead. He was aware out of the corner of his eye that she was still watching him interestedly.
“Amon,” she began, still with her gentle softness, “it’s been a while since we’ve been alone like this together, hasn’t it?” She mirrored his actions and kept her gaze neutral and faced straight ahead.
His posture stiffened. Just how loaded is this question?
“I mean, alone taking walks, together,” she offered.
A pause. “Hai.” It had, in fact, been several days since they’d had a chance to walk outside together, as they’d made a daily habit of doing in Sovana before the trip to Siena and the Hunter’s attack. He was not surprised to realize that he had come to depend on the amount of time they spent in each other’s company; not for Hunting, or looking for information....just simply, being.
“This place is so large, it’s strange...I suppose it’s because I’m used to the security of Jana’s house....of having everyone so close,” she went on, perhaps to break the uneasy silence between them. “Knowing that you and Jana were close by...I miss that feeling, that reassurance.”
He felt himself pulled, again, to assuage her concerns. “My room isn’t far from yours....it’s just upstairs.” He nearly bit his lip after saying it, aware of an unintentional innuendo he’d made up in his own head.
“Lo so.” She seemed to have not caught any undertones in his meaning, and he secretly relaxed. “But it isn’t the same, you have to admit.” She looked up at him again. “I’m not as comfortable here as I thought I would be,” she admitted, slightly discomfited. “Perhaps because of the Hunt from last night.”
Amon found himself in the place he’d been the previous night....torn between the desires to leave and stay. As much as he felt himself echoing Robin’s statements of unease and wanting to alleviate her fears, at the same time he remembered Seth’s words, and his own vow against SOLOMON. It is us against them. They had made him what he was now...and he would not forgive them for it. If staying with Seth and his Coven allowed him some revenge, all the better.
So, he said nothing.
As if she read his thoughts, she spoke up again. “Did you read Vincenzo’s notes?”
“I was reading some of them, yes.” He walked on. “It’s not an easy read.”
“Did you find more mention of the experiments involving your mother in the writing?”
He hesitated, remembering the strange entries he’d read. He didn’t want to share them with her yet. “Not very much.”
She was vastly curious. “But you did find something.”
“Nothing worth disclosing.” Amon was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with her probing questions.
She could sense he was closing himself off again, and she sought to prevent it, turning to face him and putting a gentle hand on his arm. She felt him jump in response to her touch, but it didn’t prevent her from speaking the words that she felt he needed to hear.
“Amon, it’s not her fault,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper; but she recoiled slightly when she saw the anger brimming in his eyes as he suddenly looked at her.
She could not stop the words, no matter how gently delivered, flowing from her mouth. “You don’t know for a fact that her powers corrupted her....it’s SOLOMON who---”
He stopped walking, leveling his dark gaze at her, his voice laced heavy with warning. “I am not discussing this with you right now.” Or ever again.
She ducked her head. “Gomenasai. I was only trying to help you.”
“I don’t need your help.” He stood back, distancing himself physically. “This conversation is over.”
“Amon,” she pleaded softly, moving towards him despite the wounds his cold words had inflicted. She wished now that she had stayed quiet, but he had already turned away, stalking off in the direction of the castle. She watched him go, her hands laced together in front of her, her countenance heavy with sadness.
We are constant companions to our demons, she thought. You have yours, Amon....and perhaps my tendency to cause you pain and discomfort is mine.
Amon stormed into his suite, slamming the door behind him in a fluid rush. Straight to the desk he marched, until he stood before Benedetto’s notes and files, strewn out across the tabletop from last night’s efforts to decipher them. He scowled darkly at the paperwork in front of him.
With a furious arm, he swept it off the face of the desk until nothing remained, the loose papers and files fluttering gently to the floor. He braced his arms on the desktop, trying to control his anger. His entire body trembled with the force of his emotions that had finally bubbled up to the surface, after he’d fought so hard the night before to suppress them.
It was her fault...she had lost complete control...she had turned herself into a monster....
He didn’t want to meditate on it anymore. There was no point to it. What was the use?
Damn it all to hell.
A tentative knock was at the door of his suite. “Amon?”
For a horrifying moment he thought it was Robin, but he realized the feminine voice was just slightly deeper than hers, less whispery. “Si?” he managed, forcing himself to calm down.
Sela pushed open his door, her brown eyes expressing a modicum of surprise at the paperwork strewn all over the floor near the desk. “Scusi for...interrupting...” she began hesitantly, and he realized his eyes must have still unwittingly been reflecting his anger from a moment before. “But I have the name of the SOLOMON Hunter whom we disposed of last night; I thought you would find the information on him useful.”
Robin continued along the path that wound around the castle, heading down the hill into the trees below. She had almost reached the barrier of the trees at the edge of the drive, when she heard a familiar voice calling out behind her, and footsteps running.
“Tesoro...far rallentare.” She turned in mild surprise, to see Seth running up behind her on the walkway.
He stopped before her, panting, as she regarded him with a curious expression on her face. “Were you going to walk all the way to town by yourself, tesoro?” he asked her, breathing heavily from his run.
“Non,” she said, shaking her head with a slightly bemused look. “I was simply walking to the edge of the trees, and then coming back.”
“Well, then, allow me to escort you back,” he responded, offering his arm gallantly, as a gentleman would. “Per favore.”
She half-smiled and shyly took his arm, folding her small hand into the crook of his elbow, and they began walking back up to the castle.
“You take walks like this every day, do you?” he asked conversationally, and she shook her head.
“Not every day. But I have tried to do it as often as I could.” She shrugged her shoulders in a single graceful movement. “Even while growing up in the monastery, I would walk to nearby towns; we did not use cars often. In Japan, almost everyone drives, or takes the train....but walking is ingrained in me, by habit, I guess.”
“A nun’s habit,” he remarked, his boyish features forming a sly grin. His smile grew wider as she shook her head insistently.
“I’m not a nun,” she asserted in seriousness. “I was never trained to be a bride of Christ...only to hunt Witches, according to SOLOMON’s doctrines.”
“But you do believe in God, si?” he inquired, and she found herself nodding uncertainly. “You don’t seem to be completely confident of that, tesoro.”
“I have always believed in God, and prayed to Him....I had even felt certain when I was younger that He was listening to me,” she said softly, her gaze straight ahead as she bowed her chestnut head in thought. “I have grown up living by the Church’s standards…even going so far as to believe that my powers as a Witch were given to me by Him.” She glanced up at him as they continued to walk, looking into his blue eyes. “But now I realize that isn’t the truth.”
Seth nodded, his eyes downcast briefly. “I have never been able to believe in him…knowing what I was from a young age, it was hard for me to believe that the Judean judgmental God could tolerate a Witch.” He looked up at the sky above them, white clouds swirling in an expanse of blue. “‘Thou shall not suffer a Witch to live’…Exodus, 22:18.” He turned to face her, and smiled again with a boyish grin. “And I was right.”
His insinuation did not sit well with Robin. She instantly recalled Amon’s words to Zaizen during their confrontation in Factory…God does not abandon anyone.
“SOLOMON has always prided itself on doing God’s work,” she said slowly, to emphasize her words, “but no one except God can support their claims. I don’t believe God hates Witches…we are also his children.”
Seth nodded. “Interessante. Do you really believe that…even in the face of the notion that he has forsaken us, and that Witches are the children of the Goddess, Diana?”
“I have heard of that, yes.” She smiled back up into his eyes. “It would seem many Witches believe in the Goddess.”
Seth cocked his head to the side as he looked her over more carefully. “You are familiar with rituals, then?”
“Non,” she explained. “Just with some mythology.”
“We will be enacting a ritual later on today,” he said pointedly. “I would very much like to see you be a part of it.” She nodded in acquiescence. “Perhaps when you’ve seen it enacted, you will be more inclined to accept the belief in Diana as your own, as well.”
She ducked her head. “I do not disbelieve that Diana exists,” she admitted, and his eyebrows rose interestedly. “Nevertheless, I cannot deny what my heart tells me...that the God I have placed my faith in has not abandoned me.”
“Vedo,” he smiled, as they neared the castle’s entrance, and he lowered his arm to allow her to step inside the door before him, his hand lightly guiding her at her back. “I admire your strength of belief, tesoro.” He stepped before her after they’d entered, and began leading her down the hallway. “Avanti---our meeting starts in a half hour. We are to be briefed on our next assignment.”
As they entered the castle, neither took notice of a dark-clothed figure in a window above, having watched them as they had walked up the entire length of the drive.
Nearly all the Coven members had assembled in a large conference room, seated in high-backed chairs around a mahogany desk. A laptop computer was hooked up to a digital projector on the table, facing the end of the room, which was covered by a large blank screen.
The other members looked up as Robin entered the room, Seth close behind her. She chose a seat as Seth addressed the group.
“Should we wait for Amon?” he inquired, to which a few of the Coven, namely Noa and Hedya, shook their heads. Before Robin could speak on his behalf, the door to the conference room opened again suddenly, and Amon strode in looking slightly disheveled, as though he’d ran to make it.
“Scusi.” He took a seat opposite the table from Robin, her gaze following him until he’d seated himself; at which she averted her eyes once she caught his stare.
“Bene! Let us begin.” Seth tapped keys on the laptop and brought up a file displayed on the projector screen. Robin’s eyes widened as she viewed the face of the man they’d Hunted the night before.
“Those of us who participated in last night’s Hunt recall this man,” Seth began, “Paolo Contini...thirty years old; a member of SOLOMON for approximately ten years. In his career with the organization, he had Hunted a total of five hundred and thirty-two Witches.”
Robin nearly gasped to herself in shock. He had seemed so lost, so helpless...it was hard to believe the man they’d attacked the night previous had killed so many.
Seth clicked on another key, changing the profile on the screen. “Our new Target for today is not just one Hunter---it’s two.” The image revealed a man and a woman, both appearing to be of Eurpoean descent. “Elsa Darveau, French; and Marcello Assante, Italian. Both have been with SOLOMON for thirteen years, and in that amount of time, working together as partners, they have eliminated over fifteen hundred Witches from Europe alone.” His hand on the mouse moved down to the information portion of the file.
“Assante is an illusionist; he can cause his victims to undergo sometimes violent hallucinations, to the point of not being able to tell illusion from reality. After that, he attacks; and he is quite skilled in basic hand-to-hand combat. The woman, Elsa, usually works in conjunction with him, and her Craft is Shadowcasting. She can manipulate the darkforce to both absorb and attack.
“It has come to our attention, via our internal spy, that they are currently in Grosseto today and tomorrow...so we aim to have this task completed by this afternoon. I will only be needing Hedya, Robin, and Amon to accompany me.” Robin discreetly noted Sela’s disheartened expression from further down the length of the table.
“With that said, everyone is free to go, except those whom I mentioned will be participating in the Hunt today. The rest of you, please head out to the dining area to enjoy the catered lunch provided, courtesy of Leone’s.” The Coven members began to shuffle out of the room slowly, save for Hedya, Amon and Robin. Seth turned to the three as he stood at the head of the table before them.
“Amon, I assume you realize we will need to make use once again of your sniping abilities for this attack,” he intoned, “especially considering with hallucination and shadow, direct attacks may prove difficult.”
Amon nodded solemnly, and Robin glanced surreptitiously at him from the corner of her eye.
“Robin and I will attack first with our combined Crafts; but because Elsa is a Shadowcaster, our powers may not be as effective as we hope; therefore Hedya will be our backup attack.”
“What method of attack will you use?” Robin asked, turning to the pale Nordic woman, and Hedya smiled at her in response.
“Sound waves,” she responded, smirking. “Even if light is absorbed by the Shadowcaster, I should be able to distract her enough for Amon to get in a clean shot.”
“It is settled, then,” Seth finished, spreading a map of the township before them on the table. “We will intercept them at four this afternoon, by the Ombrone. Robin, Hedya and I will attack from here,” he pointed to a spot on the shore of the river, “and Amon will maintain a position over here, for sniper attack....è chiaro?”
All three nodded, and the meeting was dispersed.
Hours later, Robin answered a soft knock at the door of her suite.
Upon opening it, she was startled to see a figure standing in the doorway in a long, dark blue hooded robe, its head bowed. The figure raised its head to reveal brown eyes and wisps of brunette hair.
“Sela?” Robin asked, surprised and curious; but Sela smiled, putting a finger to her own lips in the gesture of silence and taking the chestnut-haired Witch’s hand to lead her wordlessly out of the suite and down the hallway.
Robin stifled her urge to ask whispered questions in Italian....where were they going? Was this a Witches’ ritual? Was she dressed appropriately? She decided the questions didn’t matter after all, as she saw two of the other Coven members, Gideon and Ethan, leading Amon downstairs from his own suite. Both men were robed similarly to Sela, and holding candles.
Amon looked down to meet her eyes, his full of concern---she offered him a small half-smile to comfort him.
They were led by the robed figures to the doors of a conference room at the end of the hallway, and watched as the doors were opened to reveal a room of total darkness.
“Avanti,” Sela spoke, guiding them into the room, and Amon and Robin glanced at each other before stepping cautiously inside, he shielding her as they moved forward. Their robed guardians entered behind them, closing the doors and plunging the room again into darkness.
Candles were lit, revealing the other seven members of the Coven, seated in a circle on the floor, gazing up at their entrance. From where he sat in his dark blue robe, Seth motioned to both of them.
“Miei amici,....before you enter into our Circle, our Sanctuary, in perfect love and perfect trust....you shall be purified, a cleansing of the body and mind. With this purification you shall be ready to enter into the threshold of the Covenstead.”
“Remove your shoes,” Sela whispered, bringing forward a bowl of water before them. Both removed their boots as Seth continued to speak.
“Anoint yourselves with the water, from foot to wrist to forehead, and repeat these words: ‘I am of thee and thou art mine, I have nothing which is not of thee. In thy name, Diana, behold thy anointed servant. I should some day be great as thou art.’”
Amon, after hesitation, dipped his fingers into the bowl, preparing to touch his wet fingertips to his own wrist. Sela stopped him.
“You must anoint each other,” Seth spoke, a lilt of humor in his voice.
Robin swallowed nervously, as Amon stood motionless for a long moment. Perhaps he isn’t going to go through with it...
Before she could think further, he stepped forward; and to her shock, he knelt before her, touching his moistened fingers to her bare feet beneath her long skirt.
“I am of thee and thou art mine,” he said, his voice low and soft in the darkness, and Robin felt herself holding her breath. “I have nothing which is not of thee.” He stood again, dipping his fingers into the bowl and touching them this time to the insides of her wrists, his eyes lowered from hers. “In thy name, Diana, behold thy anointed servant.” He dipped his fingers once more, bringing his single index finger to touch her forehead. Robin watched his eyes, mesmerized by their gleam in the darkness, as she felt the cool moisture on her forehead. “I should some day be great as thou art,” he finished, his voice even softer then when he’d began.
Once Robin had regained proper breathing functions, she repeated his actions and words, the Coven watching in the glow of the candles.
“You may now enter the Circle,” Seth bade them, and they seated themselves among the other members in the circle.
Soft chanting began around the Circle, followed the rise of calm voices in song. The newly anointed ones sat silently in the dark circle, slightly confused. Robin stole glances at her partner in the darkness, the candlelight throwing contrasting light and dark planes across his face.
Finally they stopped singing, each hooded figure bowing their heads momentarily, before Seth spoke up again.
“There is no part of us which is not of the Gods,” he said to the group; and with those words, he stood, walking to the center of the circle. He removed his hood and waited.
To Robin and Amon’s mutual surprise, Noa stood, pulling the hood back from her raven-black hair, and walked to the center of the circle to join him. They stood facing each other.
“Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called Artemis, Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite, Diana, Brigid.....by many more names is she known,” Seth spoke. “Great Mother, I invoke thee...Bringer of all Fruitfulness, Beauty of the Green Earth, White Moon among the Stars, and Desire of the Heart of Man.”
Noa spoke. “I am entering the stillness before creation...I am entering the ground of the Goddess. May my body be still. May my mind be peaceful. May my heart be ready. May all that I realize today benefit all creation.” With completion of her words, Noa opened her robe at the neck, allowing it to slide down her bare shoulders to the floor. She was unclothed underneath.
Robin’s eyes went wide as saucers, and Amon nearly gasped in shock.
Before either of them could fully react, Seth had also dropped his robe, revealing his own nudity. He began to move towards Noa.
Amon leapt up, dragging Robin to her feet by her arm, and began to move towards the door of the room. Gideon and Ethan attempted to stop him. “Ehi! You can’t just leave the sacred Circle like that!”
“Get out of my way.” His voice had a lethal edge to it as he pulled a startled and wide-eyed Robin along behind him. Her eyes still glued to the Coven and the circle, she saw some of them watching their hasty retreat with amusement. She also saw a flash of sadness on Sela’s face as the brunette Witch gazed upon the naked forms of Seth and Noa.
He threw open the doors, pulling her outside along with him, before shutting them behind him again. He released her arm, but he turned away from her as though he were unable to face her. A moment passed, during which the only sound heard was that of his breathing, slowly calming as he replaced the boots on his feet.
“There was no need for you to see such a thing,” he said quietly; his voice no longer angry, instead sounding as though he were repentant.
Robin merely looked up at him, sensing his discomfort. While she had been surprised by the nudity she’d seen in the circle, strangely, she hadn’t been offended by it. But it had seemed to disturb Amon on a different level.
She was still somewhat wary of his anger, remembering earlier that morning how she had upset him; as a result, she unobtrusively bowed her head and began to walk in the direction of her suite.
His hand, much gentler than before, reached out to take her forearm. “Ikanaide.”
She looked up at his face in wonderment.
“Do you want to read an email from Nagira?” he asked her, feeling slightly awkward as he did, as though he were tempting her to his room with candy; but he did not want the Coven members to entice her back into the ritual. The half-smile he saw on her face in response to his words was enough to ease his mind.
“Si.” She followed him up the long staircase.
Robin went to look out the window in Amon’s suite, at the dark green forest and the sprawling coastline beyond it. The refreshing afternoon breeze came in, tousling wisps of chestnut hair around her face.
“It’s up,” he said to her from the desk, and she turned back to face him as he returned his gaze to the laptop computer booting up. She went and stood behind his shoulder to read, watching the screen as he pulled up his email. The message from Nagira appeared.
I checked and double-checked the name you gave me.... Paolo Contini...and what you were told about his connections with that organization appears to be right on. Ten years....and he’s killed over five hundred of them. I didn’t find any information to suggest otherwise; he was definitely a long-time member. I also checked on the names you gave me of the Coven members, but I couldn’t find anything big concerning any groups that were US/UK funded. Perhaps it’s to cover tracks so that the Organization doesn’t get to them? Keep that in mind as a possibility.
So, he took her arm while they were walking, eh? Sounds like a pretty smooth guy, if you ask me. It also sounds like he’s on the make; of course we both know she’s not the type of girl to fall prey to----
Goddammit, Nagira. Amon scowled darkly and attempted to close the message. Robin gave a soft noise of protest. “What was that? What was he talking about near the end?”
Amon shut it down. “Niente.” He regained his neutral composure and scoffed lightly. “You know Nagira, always horsing around when he should be serious about things.” He looked up at her standing near his shoulder, folding his arms across his chest.
“So it seems he was a Hunter for SOLOMON,” Robin said thoughtfully. Her mind flashed back to the previous night. “He just seemed so frightened....so helpless.”
Amon sat back in the chair, his arms still folded, his gaze distant. “I did not observe his behavior much before he died....but he was, as you said, very afraid.” His eyes narrowed in thought.
“Perhaps he was remorseful, before he died,” she postulated, “for all of the deaths he had caused.” Five hundred...perhaps the ghosts of those he’d Hunted had come back to haunt him in what he knew would be his final moments.
“Possibly.” Amon did not sound convinced. Bast appeared, weaving herself between his legs as he sat at the desk, and he reached a distracted hand down to pet the cat.
She took advantage of the momentary lull to express the thoughts that had nagged her since the morning. “Amon...” He looked up at her again, drawn by the soft voice.
“Mi perdoni,” she whispered. “For what I said this morning.” She lowered her eyes. “I had no right to say anything about it.”
His discomfort had returned. “Nandemonai.” He looked away from her again.
The stillness between them grew, a moment stretching out into the next until Robin could no longer bear the weight of his silence. She was preparing to leave the room, when she suddenly glanced at the floor and noticed Benedetto’s paperwork carelessly strewn about, pushed aside to a corner.
“This is...?” she asked quietly, and bent to retrieve some of the loose files. She rifled through a couple of them, until she came to a picture that gave her pause....and made her gasp with shock and recognition.
It was a drawing of a man---presumably a God of some sort---with the head of a curved-horned ram.
Instantly she recalled the startling dreams she’d had of Amon with the head of the horned beast. It had been a ram’s head in my dream.
“What---” Her throat had seized up with surprise. “What is---”
Something in her alarmed voice had roused him from his self-imposed sulking, and he turned to look at what she held before her. “That’s from Benedetto’s file,” he explained quietly, looking back at her face, surprised to see the anxiety there.
“Doushita?” he asked, his voice soft again with concern for her.
Robin felt her mind spinning, her vision becoming cloudy, and forced herself to turn her eyes on him. When she did, she wished she hadn’t.
Again, before his face, she saw the head of the ram, with its red eyes and curved horns. The Devil’s face.
It was happening now even when she was awake.
Amon....why do I continue to see this image of you?....what does this mean?
...what are you?
Seth’s words came to her. ...it is also supposed to reveal the location of someone important....someone evil, tesoro....
The telephone in Amon’s suite rang with a high-pitched shrill, jolting them both out of the moment. Amon turned back to the desk and answered it with an abrupt tone, Robin looking forlornly on after him. “Si?”
He listened to the person on the other end, as Robin slowly gathered her wits. “Si,” he said again, before replacing the receiver in its cradle.
“It’s time,” he told her. “The Hunt begins now.”
Robin was strapped into the front seat of Amon’s BMW as they sped down the hill, approaching the township of Grosseto and headed towards the Ombrone River. Hedya rode in the backseat, directing them.
“You missed a nice ritual,” she said to both of them playfully halfway into the ride, gauging their reactions.
Amon’s eyes flicked for a second to the rearview mirror to meet hers. “I’m sure,” he said, not bothering to disguise the contempt in his voice. Hedya ignored it and turned to Robin.
“Drawing Down the Moon....it’s a ritual we perform to draw the power of the Goddess into one of the female Coven members,” she explained as Robin half-turned her head to listen to her. “It’s actually a very powerful and beautiful ceremony.”
“What is the purpose of being na---” Robin began, but was cut off by her partner.
“We’re here,” Amon asserted, stopping the car a distance off from the shore of the river. They spotted Seth’s Jaguar not far away, and the three of them exited Amon’s car.
Seth approached them from where he’d parked, holding the sniper rifle. He handed it to Amon, along with several packets of ammunition. “Go ahead and take your position; they’re not here yet, but we’ll see them soon enough.” Amon nodded, and with another glance at Robin, departed for his sniping position.
Seth turned to Robin and Hedya. “Now all we have to do is wait. Sela is a few miles ahead, in an observational spot---she will notify us when our Targets approach.”
Robin looked at the blond man for a long moment as he turned to watch the riverbank, recalling an hour ago when she had seen him completely unclothed in the candlelit ritual. She blushed faintly at her whimsical thought, and turned her face away.
As if on cue, Seth’s phone rang. He flipped open his cellular. “Sela,” he answered in anticipation, and paused momentarily to hear her words. “Grazie,” he responded, clicking it shut. He turned to Hedya and Robin.
“They’re on their way. They’re coming from the north.”
Amon positioned himself on a slope on the other side of the river, flattening himself against the ground to get adequate leverage with the rifle. He loaded the clip methodically with the rune-marked bullets. As he did, he heard words in his head from earlier, haunting him.
....It’s not her fault....
It’s SOLOMON who----
A hushed whisper. Mi perdoni. I had no right to say anything about it.
He struggled to rid his mind of the words, fought to focus his concentration on the task before him.
Clouds above them had darkened in the late afternoon, casting shadows over the landscape; dark gray and swirling, they hovered above the river’s shore where Seth and the two women waited for the SOLOMON Hunters.
A beep from his cellular alerted Seth to the fact that the Targets were close. “Hedya,” he said lowly, directing her behind the trees. He and Robin would approach first.
“Take my arm, as you did this morning, tesoro,” he urged Robin quietly. “We’ll make it look as though we’re lovers, taking a leisurely stroll by the riverbank.”
She ducked her head shyly and acquiesced, putting her small hand in the crook of his arm again, and they began walking. Her senses were awakened and alert, her small half-moon glasses perched atop her nose in anticipation.
Ahead of them not more than forty feet, another man and woman were walking together, their bodies turned slightly inward towards each other, their steps in unison. They were a handsome couple; the man with his short dark hair and chocolate eyes, and the woman with her soft, ash-blonde hair and porcelain complexion.
Seth and Robin walked on, their pace the same as the couple’s, the distance between the four shortening. Thirty....twenty.....ten.
Robin glanced up at the couple’s faces as they passed curiously. They were glancing nervously about, their eyes darting to take in the landscape around them; and as Robin and Seth had passed, the Hunters had eyed them skeptically....their gazes held a trace of fear.
Once again...they are unreasonably afraid, Robin realized.
It wasn’t until they were ten feet past the SOLOMON agents that Seth stopped her in her tracks, and turned to face them. Robin heard the distant rumble of thunder in the sky above.
The Hunters had heard it also, and seeing the unusual cloud formation above them, turned back to look fearfully at Robin and Seth. The woman, Elsa, gave a sharp cry of recognition.
“Eccoli!” she cried to her companion, and the man darted away, towards a pedestrian bridge that spanned the river. Elsa remained facing her enemies, her eyes narrowed and angry as she bought time for her companion to escape.
Seth’s eyes flashed as he unleashed his Craft against the female Hunter. The wind instantly picked up, and bolts of lightning flashed in the clouds above them.
Elsa held her arms in front of her, palms facing upwards, and focused as the lightning began to rain down all around her. Her eyes glowed eerily, and within seconds she had enveloped the area around her in pitch darkness. From her outstretched palms, she absorbed the bolts of pure light and energy that were fired upon her from the sky.
“It’s no good!” Seth yelled to Robin, over the roar of the storm he’d created. “She’s absorbed the light. Try your flame!”
Robin’s eyes lit with her fire, and directed it against the female Hunter---but her fire too was absorbed by the growing shadow that was surrounding them.
“Hedya!” Seth called out, panic starting to creep into his voice; and the Nordic woman appeared to face off with the SOLOMON agent. Seth pulled Robin aside and motioned for her to cover her ears as he did. Without hesitation, Hedya opened her mouth....and from the depths of her vocal chords, came a piercing, vibrating shriek, like nothing Robin had ever heard in her entire life.
The wailing and shrieking noise rose higher in the air, shattering glass from nearby lampposts; and for a moment, it appeared as though the Shadowcaster was becoming affected by it, attempting to cover her ears in a futile gesture.
But just as suddenly, the darkness increased; her palms were outstretched again, and Hedya’s incredible sonic blast was diluted and absorbed.
“No!” the Nordic woman cried in frustration, just as the shadow enveloped her completely. Seth and Robin could no longer see her, but could hear her muffled screams.
Across the river, Amon had seen that all hell had broken loose, and was focusing the crosshairs of his rifle on Elsa. He had a clean head shot. His finger depressed the trigger---
---but suddenly the female Hunter had been replaced with Robin. She turned to look at him, as though she could see him far away through the barrel of the rifle, and he gasped out loud, loosening the trigger.
Kuso. He had almost fired on her! The sight of her in the crosshairs made him almost immobile with fear.
He took his eye away from the lenspiece, double-checking his aim...and saw that the person in the same spot was, in fact, Elsa after all.
“Nani?!” he asked himself incredulously, just as his vision completely darkened over. His eyes were consumed in darkness.
He sat up, jumping to his feet, stumbling backwards and gasping as he threw his arms out around him. He couldn’t see at all---he was blind---
A heavily-booted foot collided with his midsection, causing him to double over in pain, at the same time an angry Italian male voice screamed into his ear. “Moriri!”
Robin and Seth were enveloped in the same darkness as Hedya had been.
It was like a tomb---black, silent, without sound or light. Robin could not even hear her own voice calling out to Seth and Hedya.
Suddenly she realized that Amon was still on the other side of the river....presumably attempting to shoot at the Hunters....but no shots had been fired before the shadow had completely covered her. What about the male Hunter? He must have gone across the river....perhaps he was attacking Amon at this very moment...
Amon... She struggled to see through the blackness, clawed at it with her fingers as though she could remove the dark shroud surrounding her if she pulled hard enough. Her glasses were still atop the bridge of her nose---a thought flashed through her mind that they were hindering her, and she tore them impatiently from her face.
Amon!... She felt the darkness attempting to choke her, shadows moving in on her as if to draw the very breath from her lungs. She fought it breathlessly, her mind narrowed to a singular focus. All that mattered now was him....all that she fought to overcome was for him....
“Amon!” She heard her own voice ringing out where there had been only silence before.
Her fire burst forth, clean and pure, searing a hole in the very fabric of the darkforce that had been surrounding her...tearing apart the blackness with the force of her light.
Elsa gasped as she witnessed the hole punched in her shadow barrier. She can’t---it is impossible!
Robin looked across the river in time to see Amon swinging blindly at his attacker, and Marcello delivering a severe kick to his ribs, felling the dark hunter. The flame in her eyes sparked to life.
Marcello’s body disintegrated in a fiery burst, before he even had time to scream.
Amon gasped as he tried to recover the breath that had been knocked out of him, his vision hazily returning to him. He grabbed desperately for the sniper rifle.
Elsa had seen her partner go up in flames, and a horrified expression came across her face. “Nooo!” she wailed, and directed her shadow Craft against the sniper across the river.
Robin realized her direct fire might not penetrate the Shadowcaster’s absorbent powers, and instead focused her Craft as she had with the child Lucia in Sovana, concentrating on heat. She directed the searing increase in temperature against the female Hunter.
Elsa felt her body burning inside out from the scorching heat of Robin’s Craft. She screamed, holding her head; buying just enough time for Amon to get her again in the crosshairs.
A sharp crack was heard, and what was left of Elsa’s head was splattered onto the grass. Robin turned her face away.
The shadow surrounding Seth and Hedya had disappeared, and they stood shaking their heads as if to clear their minds. “Robin?” Seth asked, but she was already running to cross the river.
She ran across the small pedestrian bridge, her skirts flying out behind her. Up the hill, Amon was lying in the grass, unable to move; his breathing labored due to his injuries.
“Amon!” she cried, running to his side, and fell to her knees beside him. A side of his face was bruised, and blood caked at one of the corners of his mouth. He took several ragged breaths.
“Are you hurt?” she whispered fervently, and with gentleness she moved to cradle his head in her lap. “Doko desu ka?”
“Ribs.” He winced as she moved him slightly to angle his head into her lap. “I couldn’t see him,” he gasped. “He had blinded me...” He looked up into the emerald eyes above him, shimmering with concern. “He tried to....make me think that....that I was going to shoot you---”
She shushed him as one would a child. “Daijoubu.” She held his face in her hands tenderly.
If I had been by his side....he would not have been injured...I would not have allowed it. She inwardly cursed herself for not providing more protection for him.
“You’re....all right?” he managed to ask, wheezing, and she shushed him again.
Stubbornly he persisted in trying to talk. “Sumanai,” he whispered in his gasping breath. She knew he was apologizing for his angry outburst earlier in the day, and she closed her eyes as she half-smiled in response, trying her best to keep from shedding tears.
From the other side of the riverbank, Seth looked on with extreme interest.
Despite the fact that one of them had been injured, and would probably require medical attention, it had been quite a successful hunt.
An Unexpected Visit....Healing Waters....Clouded Vision. A Gentle Reminder that should not be Overlooked. Chapter 13.
miei amico: my friend
shisoku: [Japanese] my son
waga hitorimusuko: [Japanese] my only son
taisetsu yo: [Japanese] you’re so precious to me
yamenasai!: [Japanese] Stop!
Buon giorno: good morning
Una bella dormita: a good sleep
grazie: thank you
certo: of course
tesoro: treasure, darling
Vedo: I see
chi è?: who is it?
il demonio: the demon
capisco: I understand
scusi: excuse me
arigatou: [Japanese] thank you
lo so: I know
gomenasai: [Japanese] I’m sorry
far rallentare: slow down
per favore: please
è chiaro?: understood?
Ikanaide: [Japanese] Don’t go
Otouto: [Japanese] younger brother
mi perdoni: forgive me
nandemonai: [Japanese] don’t worry about it
doushita: [Japanese] what is it?
eccoli!: it’s them!
kuso: [Japanese] shit
nani: [Japanese] what
doko desu ka: [Japanese] where is it
daijoubu: [Japanese] it’s all right
sumanai: [Japanese] I’m sorry
A/N: A quick note of thank you to angie232, who reminded me that it has officially been 1 year since I started writing on fanfiction.net. ^^ I hadn’t realized it had been that long!
I will save the remainder of review answers for next time. Thanks for the feedback, everyone---the reviews still blow me away with how flattering they are---and hope you enjoyed the chapter! ^.~