Also I added a little bit more to the end of Chapter 12, which I felt had lacked a little bit of description; and there is a long, long, loooong Q n’ A session at the very end of this chapter, for those interested.
Disclaimer: I do not own Witch Hunter Robin. However, my own original characters---Jana Luciano, Bast, Seth, Sela, and the others---are mine, as is the plot of this story. Please respect peoples’ original ideas. Thank you!
Sela’s high-heeled boots tapped hastily along marble tile, as she strode with firm purpose down the long hallway in the upstairs wing of il Castello di Vicarello, towards Amon’s suite.
She knew that Seth and some of the others were gathered there with Amon and Robin, including the medical team hastily summoned to the castle after the last Hunt by the Ombrone. The Coven had rallied---quite surprisingly, in her opinion, for they rarely did things as a group other than the required rituals---when they’d learned from Seth of Amon’s injury at the river, and several of them had rushed to the scene to help, assisting with loading the breathless and bruised Amon into the backseat of his BMW. Sela had watched as Robin hovered protectively over him during the task, even riding in the backseat with him as Hedya drove, her emerald eyes never wavering from his form as he lay prone beside her. She noted, somewhat approvingly, that the young fire Witch could be quite tenacious when the situation called for it.
As she came up to Amon’s suite cautiously, she could hear Seth speaking in calm tones to the medical physician on hand, asking in quiet Italian about Amon’s healing time. Sela peered in through the door to witness Seth talking to the doctor, Hedya and Gideon arranging extra blankets and pillows in the room for later need, and Robin at Amon’s bedside, sitting close beside him---close enough so that she could take his hand, or he hers, if they wished. He lay propped up among pillows; shirtless, bandaged and clean, but with his dark brow furrowed.
Robin was watching the activity going on around her intently, her green gaze shifting across the room from one group to another; and Sela took the opportunity to glance again at the injured one on the bed, catching the fleeting look Amon bestowed on the chestnut-haired girl seated next to him.
It was almost as if, for a few seconds, the clouds in his stormy expression had parted and allowed a ray of momentary warmth to shine through. To Sela, it appeared as though Robin was the only one in the room...so intent was the look in his eyes that she witnessed. She felt her face turning slightly warm, as though she’d seen something private between them; something not meant to be revealed.
The look in the dark gray eyes changed like quicksilver as Robin turned back to face him, and Sela decided then to make her entrance. She came into the room, putting on her brightest smile. “Grazie al cielo,” she said sincerely, approaching the two figures on the bed.
Robin returned a tentative smile, as she’d expected; Amon’s face slid predictably into his neutral mask.
“I am so glad you were not hurt worse,” Sela went on in earnest, undaunted. “Did the doctor tell you how long it will take to heal?”
He shook his head in sullen response, and Robin spoke up. “The doctor doesn’t think there was any internal damage...his ribs are likely bruised, not broken.” She looked directly at Sela in unspoken defiance, her hands entwined demurely in her lap. “ Ciò nonostante,” she continued softly, “I would have felt better if we’d taken him to a hospital.”
Sela gazed at her sympathetically as Seth approached, having eavesdropped on their conversation. “We can’t do that, tesoro...” he said, his tone gently reproachful. “I already explained to you that SOLOMON checks for medical records. They are all over this area; they would swoop down upon us in minutes if they found out where we were.” He came to stand beside her as she remained on Amon’s bed, looking down at her and meeting her eyes with an iced-blue fondness. His lips turned slightly upwards at the sight of her concern. “Amon will be all right, tesoro...don’t worry. Il Dottor Tiero will make sure that he’s properly taken care of while he’s visiting us here.”
Robin cast her eyes downwards, away from his view; Seth saw that Amon’s steely gaze remained on him, fixing him with a look that was surely meant to intimidate.
The look on Amon’s face dissipated as Robin turned to him again. “You won’t be able to go on Hunts after this.” What he saw in the emerald eyes made his chest feel as though it were about to seize up.
“Dottor Tiero does not think it’s wise,” Seth cautioned, again addressing his comments specifically to Robin. “He suggested that Amon be confined to bedrest, with minimal movement for at least two weeks---”
“Two weeks is too long,” Amon grumbled. “I won’t need that long to heal, it should only take a few da---” he made an attempt to sit up further, but winced sharply, stopping his movement and grasping his bandaged ribcage. Robin moved instantly in response, pressing him gently back against the pillows, and to his own surprise he made no move to resist her. Her proximity was intoxicating, making him slightly heady with the awareness that she was so close; the soft ends of her hair had fallen on his skin, and the scent of her alone had almost completely sapped his reserve strength. He averted his gaze as she removed her hands from his bare arms.
The doctor, a tall and wiry Italian man, had approached the group. “Give it a week and see how you feel, signore,” Seth cautioned to Amon. “Don’t overdo it.” With that he turned back to walk over and converse with the doctor, Sela joining in on their discussion.
Robin looked forlornly at her partner as he sulked. “It’s just for a week, then,” she said quietly, although she knew the words were little solace. “Daijoubu.”
Despite the comfort he gleaned from her presence and her soft-spoken words, Amon nevertheless let out a frustrated nasal sigh---a gust of impatience---as he leaned his head back against the pillows. “Aa.” He hated this; hated feeling helpless, powerless. More than anything he wanted to make certain that he was with her on the Hunts, protecting her, even if it was from a distance with a sniper rifle laden with rune-marked bullets. At least it would be better than leaving her completely in Seth’s hands the entire time. Not only that, he was convinced that Seth had grossly overestimated his needed recovery time. He’d known from the attack on Raven’s Flat---as well as from childhood experiences and more recently, his injury at Factory---that his body’s healing and regenerative abilities were far above average. He wondered now, absently, whom exactly he should thank for that; nature or scientific manipulation.
Robin had started to say something else to him, to mollify what she saw as his emerging temper; when she was distracted by Sela’s moderately raised voice from across the room.
Sela was facing off with Seth alone, the doctor having walked away from the conversation moments earlier. Her body appeared rigid with anger, her eyes blazing and her brows knit together in consternation as she confronted him.
“Non è giusto,” Robin heard her whisper fiercely, as she tried to keep her voice lowered while at the same time demonstrating her disapproval. “You can’t just use---“ She said something else, but Robin could not clearly make out the words.
Seth quieted her almost forcefully, grasping her forearms and speaking to her in hushed Italian, his blond and boyish features turned stern and disciplinary. Sela looked as though she were wounded by the anger he displayed. Robin thought his expression at that moment wasn’t unlike Amon’s critical glare---with which she had become quite familiar over time---and she watched their interaction, fascinated, while Amon brooded on the bed next to her.
There was obviously more between Seth and Sela than initially met the eye.
Finally they parted, Seth throwing back one last glance at Amon and Robin on the bed before stalking purposefully out of the room, presumably to plan the group’s next Hunt. Sela remained in the center of the room, her arms at her sides, clenching her fists in frustration before glancing in Robin’s direction. Upon meeting the young Witch’s concerned eyes, she slightly relaxed her posture, calming herself, and made her way back to the bedside.
“Ti va bene?” Robin asked gently, upon her approach.
Sela looked momentarily surprised by the question. “Sì...” she said, uncertainly, her features softening before they broke into a kind smile. “Grazie.” She looked over again at Amon, who had been watching her the moment she had appeared next to Robin. “Are you going to be all right by yourself for a little while, Amon?”
He glanced between the two women, caught off guard. “Sì,” he answered hesitantly.
“The briefing for tomorrow’s Hunt is to begin soon,” Sela explained. “Robin will most likely be participating in it.” The dark hunter’s eyes narrowed in displeasure, and Sela felt her composure wavering. She realized she now understood what Seth had described he’d felt when confronting him; it was rather unnerving to be on the receiving end of Amon’s discontent.
Robin had turned back to her partner on the bed. Her luminous green eyes, having taken on a soft glow in the room’s fading afternoon light, fixed on him; and she laid her fingers on his bare arm, just a whisper of a touch. “Io presto torno,” she said quietly.
He nodded, still displeased, but her touch on his arm allowed some of the frustration within him to leach from his skin. The intimate contact of touching someone had always been foreign to him, for reasons beyond his traditional Japanese upbringing...however, the instance of it now wasn’t causing him the discomfort he thought it should have.
Instead, he realized, he was silently mourning its loss as Robin stood to accompany Sela out of the room.
Robin hastened her steps to catch up to Sela, as they proceeded down the hallway from Amon’s suite, leading to the stairs. “Sela?” she asked softly, concerned. She saw the brunette-haired Witch pause and straighten her spine, as though she were steeling herself for something.
“We shouldn’t keep him waiting,” Sela answered in a clipped tone, and Robin could detect a trace of sadness underneath the cool, impatient exterior.
“Sì,” Robin responded quietly, more to herself, as Sela had walked on ahead of her.
They made it downstairs to the meeting room just before the briefing began, entering and unobtrusively taking their seats among the other Coven members seated at the conference table. Seth was again at the head, the laptop computer projecting its image on the screen at the opposite end of the table. He waited patiently, drumming his fingers on the table in front of him, for everyone to seat themselves before he began.
“As many of you know, we are now minus an excellent sniper for the next two weeks,” he said, his voice controlled and authoritative. “As a result, we will have to compensate for his absence. We must not let our sponsors think that we are weakened in any way. For the next three days, we are to conduct three subsequent Hunts.”
Murmurs went up around the table. It was obviously not common practice to conduct Hunts every twenty-four hours, but Seth seemed intent on setting a new agenda.
Robin pensively fingered her ammonite bracelet, garnering a semblance of security from the gemstones on her wrist. Looking over to Sela who was seated further up the table, she saw that the brunette Witch was looking down at her lap, her expression remote.
“Robin,” Seth said, snapping her back to attention, “you, Gal and I will conduct tomorrow’s hunt in Arcidosso tomorrow afternoon. The Hunter is this man,” he said, bringing up the picture of a dark-haired man via projector, “Armand Zulueta, a Spaniard. His Craft is phase-shifting, which is a little different from the Crafts we’ve experienced before. He can shift objects and himself in and out of solid state, which gives him advantages in escape and agility; but I have every confidence that our combined Crafts will be able to handle his powers.” He closed the file down, looking around the room. “ E’ chiaro?” When there were no questions asked, Seth went on to describe the plan further.
The Coven was unusually quiet as plans for future Hunts were then laid out before them.
Dinner had been catered in from Grosseto, and Robin had declined the invitation to dine with the rest of the Coven, using Amon as an excuse. She balanced the plates of food and drink carefully as she made her way up the winding marble staircase to his suite.
Amon had managed to pull his arms through the sleeves of a dark buttoned-down shirt that Robin had left on the bed for him; although, it looked as though the effort of buttoning it had proved to be momentarily too much for him. He had been waiting for her to come---she could tell that, from the position he was sitting in against the frame of the bed---but his face wore a dark scowl.
“Amon? Doushita?” she asked innocently as she entered, pushing the door closed behind her with her slight frame before she brought the plates to the small table in his room.
His expression softened slightly as he observed the food she’d brought in, but the scowl remained in his dark gray eyes. “Nandemonai.”
She arranged his plate as it rested on the table before bringing it to his bedside, leaving hers for the moment. “Honto ni?” she asked with gentleness, setting the plate on his lap and handing him utensils He looked down at the meal---pan-fried scallops in red pepper sauce and risotto---as she stepped back and spoke to him again, a knowing tone in her unruffled voice.
“I think I know what is wrong, Amon.” Robin folded her hands demurely in front of her black smocked dress. “You don’t want me to go on the Hunt tomorrow.”
Her words made him tense. “I don’t want you going by yourself,” he ground out quietly, looking away as he said it.
Even though she instinctively knew what he meant, she protested in a soft tone, “I won’t be alone....Seth and Gal---”
“I don’t want you going without me.” His voice had taken on a firm edge, and now he met her eyes again and held them with his own.
She did not bend under his heavy gaze, but he could see that part of her resented his comment. Even so, she sought to reassure him. “Nothing will happen to me....I can protect myself, Amon.”
“Not from everything, you can’t.” He was being deliberately ambiguous, and aware that she knew of it. When she looked patiently at him, he went on.
“You are a powerful Witch, Robin,” he said methodically, slowly; “but you are still young.”
Again the stubbornness was in her eyes, that steel frame underneath her delicate skin strengthening as he watched; he gazed at her, fascinated, as she spoke just as demurely as she had a moment earlier. “I am old enough to know that there was more to the two Hunters we killed today than we realized,” she told him calmly.
“Nani?” Now she had piqued his interest.
“They were in love,” she explained, her voice quiet.
It gave him pause, but he was skeptical. “And how, exactly, do you know that?”
She looked at him for a long moment, before ducking her head to glance down at her hands, laced together before her. “I could just tell.” She fingered the delicate jewelry on her wrist, before speaking again. “The woman’s Craft only became extremely life-threatening when she realized her partner was in danger....I wonder if she had really meant to hurt us, had we not harmed him first.”
He could tell it had bothered her, the fact that the two Hunters had cared about one another so much; and in his compassion for her feelings, he decided to switch the subject, allowing them to carry on with their dinner in peace.
During the night, though, her words as well as her discomfort weighed heavily on his mind.
The next day found Amon on his own in his suite by the early afternoon, as the Hunt in Arcidosso had commenced. Robin had visited him briefly in the morning, inquiring about his sleep and bringing him fresh clothes to dress in, as well as coffee and breakfast; then she had been off, for another briefing with the Coven. Seth was preparing them in advance for the subsequent Hunt, which was scheduled to take place the following day. It seemed Seth was making certain that Robin was intimately involved in each one of what Amon considered were the Coven’s more questionable activities, drawing her further and further in to their stead, meeting by meeting...Hunt by Hunt. And with his injuries, there was no way he was going to be able to judge if Seth was trying to manipulate her or her powers in any way.
His feelings of doubt settled into a nagging core in his gut, as he tried unsuccessfully to ignore the insistent sense of negativity burgeoning in his head.
She’s slipping away from you.
He opted to distract himself by opening his laptop, which Robin had generously brought to him earlier and plugged in for him to use at the bed. Upon rebooting it up and opening his email, he found Nagira’s response to his earlier message sent that morning.
I thought I taught you better than this. Getting yourself injured like that---what the hell’s the matter with you? You’re going to let her run off and play all day with that Seth guy? Somebody has to look out for her, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be some greasy-smooth Italian bastard who’s probably just waiting for a chance to get her alone, so he can introduce her to his rigatoni---
Amon rolled his eyes in annoyance and continued reading. Nagira was so exasperating sometimes.
...you know how those slick European guys are, eh? Well, fortunately for you, we know she’s a nice girl and still has enough of the convent in her. But, still.....pretty fucking stupid, Otouto.
I looked more into those two you mentioned, the Italian guy and the French broad. Little tidbit that might interest you...or not....but I thought you might like to know that they were married to each other. It wasn’t sanctioned by the organization, or the Church; it was in secret. Anyway, they were pretty highly ranked among the hunter-type people, from what I could find out, so I thought the fact they’d gone and done something behind the organization’s back was kind of intriguing. Don’t you think?
More on this later. Gotta run; Yuri-chan and I are going shopping and she’s planning on modeling some stuff for me, if you catch my meaning. Then again, you probably didn’t want to know that about your former co-worker. Heh heh.
The remainder of his half-brother’s email aside, Amon had found it indeed interesting that Marcello Assante and Elsa Darveau had disobeyed SOLOMON, even in such a seemingly trivial matter as love and marriage.
Not so trivial, his conscience reminded him, but of course you’d never willingly admit that...especially to yourself.
Inherent in his understanding, after growing up under the all-encompassing umbrella of SOLOMON’s training, was that personal relationships---particularly between a Hunter and another Hunter---were discouraged, and even made punishable. Witches and Hunters were generally solitary people by nature; even those who were Seeds and knew of their identities as such usually shunned intimate relationships with others. It seemed the only sensible behavior, when issues such as trust and liability were on the line...however, Amon wondered if it was really such a conscious choice on the part of the Hunters and Craft-users, and not forced on them by the nature of the organization.
After all, it would certainly be easier to control Hunters, both Craft-wise and psychologically, if they felt alone and abandoned. Fear, he knew, was a powerful motivator.
Obviously, the desire to control the breeding of Seeds was one thing. The fewer Witches that were born, the safer SOLOMON deemed the world. But was there another reason for their policy regarding relationships between Hunters? It was not as easy to believe that it would not be acceptable for two high-ranking Hunters, people who had been loyal for so many years to the organization and having served SOLOMON by capturing or killing thousands of Witches, to find solace in each other. Was there something else that obligated such severe rules?
More than that, Amon wondered if the Hunters’ marriage had been discovered by SOLOMON, and if perhaps they had cast them out onto the fringes of the organization, driven them out of the flock, to fall prey to Seth and his Coven. If Nagira had managed to drum up the information, surely the organization had found it out as well; they had spies and moles of their own, of which Robin had been one herself. The control and influence they exercised was far-reaching, he knew....
More than he liked to remember.
He recalled his mother’s lovelorn face, gazing out of the window of their home as she pined for the father he’d never known. He had been aware of her sadness even at such a tender young age, having been highly tuned to her emotions. He’d even remembered that she’d taken her maiden name, reluctantly, in order to protect her husband who was on the run; the less SOLOMON knew about his weaknesses, the better.
Not that it had mattered, in the end. She had become a Witch for him, his father....despite the fact that he had never come back, had never returned to claim his wife and son. She had still believed in him the entire time...and for that she had awakened, tempted and corrupted by the power that lay dormant within her....
He shook his head, attempting to clear it. His memories of Matoko were coming to him more frequently than before, despite the fact that he was trying harder than ever to suppress them; undoubtedly, it was because of the recurrent mention of her in Benedetto’s experiments.
That had to be what it was.
The dark Jaguar raced along the freeway towards Grosseto. Seth was at the wheel, a faint frown darkening his blond features; Robin sat passively in the front passenger seat, staring at her hands. Gal was following closely behind them in his own vehicle.
The Hunt had not turned out as planned; in fact, it had nearly become a deadly disaster for all Hunters involved.
Armand Zulueta, the SOLOMON agent they’d been ordered to kill, had possessed a Craft that none of them had been prepared to fight against. Seth hadn’t been completely accurate, Robin reflected, in his description of the SOLOMON Hunter’s powers; Zulueta hadn’t simply had the ability to shift himself physically in and out of solid state, he was also able to disrupt electrical impulses, severely limiting the efficacy of Seth’s Craft. Gal’s powers, that of water control, were similarly useless against the Hunter.
Robin mentally revisited the fight that had taken place in a forest area near Arcidosso. With dismay, she recalled stepping forward to engage the Hunter, her hands buried deep in her trench coat pockets, her green eyes lit with fire---
---only to see her flame completely miss the target, instead lighting a nearby woodpile.
Seth and Gal turned to her in surprise. Seth, particularly, looked stunned by her misfire. “Tesoro?” he’d asked, concerned.
She had gathered her wits, her own confusion having registered in her delicate features, before attempting to throw her flame again; this time, several trees near the Hunter caught aflame, allowing him to escape further into the forest. Several also caught fire near Gal, who shrieked as he jumped from the sparks that leapt out at him.
Seth was not pleased. “Robin,” he said sternly, “your glasses. Use them.”
As they chased their prey without further hesitation, she took the half-moon spectacles from her pocket and perched them above her nose, willing her flame forth from behind the glasses. Even so, she was unable to touch Zulueta, who had taken advantage of the inability and confusion of the Hunters attacking him to make his own move.
The resulting attack was quick and dangerous. Zulueta rushed at Gal, moving faster than anyone thought possible, dodging the African man’s water Craft effortlessly as he phased his body out of solid state and allowing the forceful jets of water to stream right through him. Gal swung at the nearby Hunter with his fists, attempting a physical blow; but the Spaniard’s body again shifted out of phase, Gal’s hands flying haphazardly in thin air.
“Tesoro!” Seth cried, alarmed, as Zulueta had solidified himself long enough to grasp Gal by the throat. Sensing Seth’s panic, Robin tried again to destroy the Hunter; yet, even with her glasses, she was unable to aim it correctly.
Why? she agonized to herself, before finally managing to disrupt Zulueta’s activity with a burst of fire. He let go of Gal, who had sputtered and choked on the ground, and made for Robin.
Why can I not incinerate him as I have the others so easily?
It was only as he came at her, his dark eyes lit with fury and his body phasing in and out of solidity as he dodged the lightning bolts of Seth’s Craft, that she was able to destroy him...by inadvertently torching the entire grove of trees surrounding them. Armand Zulueta screamed as his body burned, the landscape around him enveloped in flames.
Gal had gotten to his feet and was using his water Craft to douse the raging inferno, as Seth, breathing heavily from exertion, had approached Robin. She was able to see the disappointment in his ice-blue eyes from where she stood, and she looked back once more, sorrowfully, at the charred remains of the Hunter on the forest floor....
Seth broke into her reverie as they continued towards Grosseto in his car. “What are you thinking about, tesoro?” he asked her, his voice gentle above the quiet purr of the Jaguar’s engine.
Robin shook her head slowly. “Niente,” she responded.
The blond man chuckled, his features relaxing into a smirk as he stared at the road ahead of them. “I doubt that somehow. You were reflecting on the Hunt, sì?” he asked her.
A pause. “Sì,” she answered softly, finally looking up at him in the driver’s seat beside her. “I was unable to aim my Craft correctly today.” She lowered her eyes in uncomfortable thought. “Even with my glasses....it was as though my will was not strong enough....as though something held me back.”
“That doesn’t make much sense, tesoro,” Seth reasoned, as though to comfort her; even so, the troubled expression on his face belied his casually spoken words. Just as quickly, his features relaxed again, his voice still calm. “At any rate, it was just once that this happened, Robin....everyone is allowed a mistake or two. Sì?” He bestowed a benevolent smile upon her before turning back to the road. “It won’t happen again, I’m sure of it.”
Robin ducked her head penitently. She appreciated the restraint in his temper that he displayed, as well as his understanding. “Grazie, Seth.”
As she turned her countenance to face the front of the vehicle, she did not see him level an ice-blue gaze at her from the corner of his eye.
A soft knock later that evening, and Amon looked up, his dark gray eyes questioning.
“Avanti,” he said softly.
She entered, again bearing food; her chestnut locks down around her shoulders in preparation for her nightly bath. It was another ritual both of them were quickly becoming familiar with; she cared for his needs without request and without complaint, as he accepted her generosity without brooding...at least reserving it for when she was no longer in his presence.
Robin set his plate before him; he barely looked at his food. Instead, his eyes were focused on her, as she unobtrusively set her own plate before her on the small endtable at his bedside, arranging a chair so that she could sit beside him as she ate.
He was anything but unobservant. “Doushita?” he asked her, and when she looked up at him, he went on. “What happened on the Hunt today?”
Hesitantly she described the afternoon’s activity to him, giving him adequate details about the Hunter and his particular Craft, the motions of the fight. She paused when she came to the description of her direct contact with the Hunter, glossing over the moments the Hunt hadn’t gone exactly as planned. Amon nodded thoughtfully as she spoke; his eyes appeared far away, though she knew he hadn’t missed a word.
She attempted a blatant change in conversation as they had begun eating. “Did Hedya bring your lunch to you as I asked her to, this afternoon?” she asked quietly.
He nodded as he chewed his food, waving it off as unimportant; looking carefully at her while she ate, he swallowed before speaking his subsequent thoughts. “Nagira verified the names of the agents we Hunted yesterday...they checked out as being legitimately employed by SOLOMON. But there was something else he found interesting. You were right,” he told her, his voice quieting as he fixed his gaze on her. “They were married.”
Robin’s eyes widened for an instant, then lowered in sadness and regret. “Sou ka,” she said, softly. She looked back up after a moment into the dark gray depths that were still fixed on her, and saw the somberness there. He’d read her emotions like a book.
“You shouldn’t regret it.” His voice was gentle, not in the least scolding. “Elsa would have killed you, eventually. You should never hesitate to defend yourself, Robin.” A sudden image came to him; Robin, closing her eyes and tilting her young head back to expose her delicate white chin, as he trained his orbo gun on her heart.
It was not a memory he enjoyed recalling.
“But she was protecting him,” she whispered, frowning into her lap. The new knowledge of Marcello and Elsa disturbed her, even after everything had been done...she knew exactly why, but was unable to articulate her reasons to Amon.
“They were attacking us with full force,” he reminded her. When she did not look back up at him, his voice turned stern. “Robin.”
She raised her head and allowed her mournful green gaze to meet with his.
“Don’t doubt your instincts. Protect yourself….at all costs.” His voice was strangely quiet and firm, and as she looked at him, his eyes seemed to convey an understanding. She felt herself relaxing under the certainty of his trust in her.
They continued eating for a few moments in silence, until Amon reached for the papers lying next to him. “I was looking through more of Benedetto’s writing,” he said. “And I found this. It appears frequently throughout his entries; there’s several references to it, but it’s in another language that I don’t understand; not Italian or English. Have you ever seen this symbol before?” He held the drawing out so that she could view it.
Robin leaned in and peered at it closely. It was a drawing of a snake; but instead of a lengthened body slithering in the grass, it was curled upon itself with its tail in its mouth, forming a serpentine circle. The drawing was ornately detailed, with fine markings and artistry; but that was not what had caught her attention. She felt the blood draining from her face.
The serpent, eating its own tail. Temptation, and evil.
Amon was watching her with focused intensity. He saw her pale and swallow, and before she could meet his eyes again, he was anxiously leaning forward.
“You’ve seen it,” he affirmed, his interest piqued. “You know what it is.”
She could not lie, even though she knew he would not like the answer. “I am familiar with it, sì.”
He saw the look in her eyes, and it made him suddenly hesitant. “Nani?” he asked, more quietly.
The sinking feeling in her heart told her it was no longer a coincidence, these signs she was seeing now. She had hid the references of the horned beast, the visions of the ram she’d seen, from him; but she could not hide everything. This was no obscure reference to a “Devil’s Child”, as she’d uncovered in Toudou’s video testimony, attempting to expose the secrets of her own origins---this was a real, true, link to the time-tested indoctrination that she had grown up with. It couldn’t be ignored; it was time to come to terms with the knowledge laid bare before them.
She willed herself to answer him honestly. “It is the symbol...of the Devil, himself.”
The remainder of their shared dinner in Amon’s suite had been excruciatingly uncomfortable. His reaction to her words, after hearing that the symbol was Satanic, had been completely silent and sullen. She couldn’t discern whether his response was rooted in discomfiture, or irritation.
She hugged her arms as she stood now in her own suite, downstairs from his; she could hear him walking unsteadily around his room through her ceiling, which was his floor. He was able to get up, but still not healed yet enough to participate in the Hunts that had been scheduled for the subsequent days.
Amon is not like you, she reminded herself, in a somewhat chastising manner. He does not believe in Heaven, or Hell. He does not even believe that the Devil exists---he probably thinks such belief is foolhardy. You should not have told him where you’d seen it.
But another part of her was insistent, the part of her that had been programmed since she was a child….you must uncover the truth….if Amon is in any way linked to il demonio, you must know…because, if he is…. She raised her eyes slowly to the ceiling. ….If he is….
She shook her head, in an attempt to clear it. Reluctantly, she sighed, and went about preparing her bath.
An hour later, she lay curled underneath the soft coverlet of her canopied bed, naked; her thoughts still in turmoil over the day’s events and what he had uncovered in Benedetto’s journal. The soak in the hot bath had not eased her mind as she had hoped it would. She lay awake, framed by the moonlight through her window, mournfully contemplating her half-moon glasses that sat across the room on top of the rustic dresser.
Akuma no ko. The gasps of the dying SOLOMON researcher whom STN-J had tried to save, months ago, came to her.
If he is...she thought, finishing her thought from earlier….then perhaps I have been doing the Devil’s work after all….
Two more days passed, in much the same manner.
Robin accompanied Seth on both of the subsequent Hunts, assisted by Noa and Gideon. Both times, she felt her power waning when she attempted to subdue the Hunter with her flame; again, she could not control it or aim it correctly. She felt Seth’s disapproval radiate from him each time; she knew he was not pleased with her recent inability to focus.
She came to Amon’s room the third night, as she had been doing every night since his injury. That afternoon, she and a few of the Coven members had slain a Hunter whose Craft had been something akin to life-draining, reminiscent to Robin of the Witch Kazuma they’d hunted after she had just started at the STN-J. The Hunter had managed to grab hold of Gideon long enough to physically drain him sufficiently, before Robin and Seth’s combined attacks had distracted him. It was Seth who had finally disposed of the Hunter, after Robin’s attempts had failed.
She entered hesitantly after knocking, startled to find Amon with his bandages gone, pacing the room in front of his window. He had been able to get out of bed on his own the past couple of nights, but had still been in pain; now he was pacing about as though the injuries no longer bothered him. She wondered briefly how much of it was actually wounds healed, and how much of what he displayed now was stubborn bravado.
Even so, he still managed to stop her in her tracks. The long-sleeved black shirt he wore was unbuttoned, the ends hanging loosely over the black pants he wore; and despite having folded his arms across his torso, she could see the pale, smooth skin of his chest and stomach, the bruises present a few days ago barely visible. The sight of him standing by the poorly-lit window---darkness looking out upon darkness---sent a momentary ache radiating throughout the core of her body, followed by a brief sense of bewilderment of her own feelings.
He turned and leveled a stern glance in her direction as she stepped into his suite, his dark eyes punishing. “You’re late. Where were you?”
“Gomen,” she said softly, as she entered. It was true; she’d expected to be back an hour earlier, but some of the Coven had taken a brief trip into Grosseto after the Hunt, to gather supplies and also pick up dinner. Seth had initiated a lengthy discussion with the restaurant’s owner, which had held up the entire group.
However, her obvious weariness and disconsolation did not go unnoticed, and his features softened as he saw it. He instantly regretted his abrupt statement from a moment earlier. “Che cos'hai?” he asked, concerned. She looked tired and dejected, and he suspected correctly that it had less to do with their conversation two nights past, about the artifact he’d found in Benedetto’s journal; and more to do with the Hunts she had participated in the past couple of days.
She sighed, a soft sound, as she placed his plate of food on the bedside endtable. “Niente,” she responded, although she knew she sounded less than convincing. She looked back up at him as he approached the bed. “How do you feel?”
He shrugged, watching her closely out of the corner of his eye, sitting back down on the bed across from her as she pulled a chair up beside it. “Better,” he answered simply. He allowed her to fuss over his plate as she usually did each night, arranging it and uncovering the entree and soup that accompanied it. An amusing idea flashed through his mind that perhaps he should indulge her by allowing her to feed him; he hurriedly stifled the thought when he envisioned her resorting to going without utensils, as she had with the custard on Tana’s Day.
Once she had finished, she took her own plate and raised her fork as if she were to begin eating; when she saw him motionless, watching her, she stopped and looked up at him expectantly.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” he asked quietly. He waited.
She bowed her head, seemingly ashamed. “I didn’t want to tell you,” she said after a moment’s pause, her voice hushed.
Warning bells went off in Amon’s head. “Is it something regarding Seth?” His previously calm voice held a trace of anxiety now...If he....if he even dared...
She looked at him, momentarily confused, shaking her chestnut-blonde head. “Iie.” She cast her gaze back down at her lap. “But...I have had problems controlling my Craft, as of late. Even with my glasses...I can’t seem to focus. It’s as if I had never had them….as though I were back in the convent, with Padre Juliano,” she whispered, concerned.
He was equally troubled, though his motivations for it were different than hers. “Problems…controlling…?”
“I feel it is weakening,” she went on, her voice suddenly remorseful and small. “I don’t know whether it is of my own will…but something is wrong, Amon.” She pressed her hand against the breast of her pilgrim’s smock and looked into his eyes, as he quickly averted his from her hand’s path. “I can’t explain it, but I feel it. In my heart.”
As much as he had experienced a momentary flash of relief that her Craft was not spinning out of control, he felt a tremendous wave of guilt. The only reason you feel reassured is because she feels her powers are weakening…and therefore you feel less threatened….less afraid. The thought settled sickeningly in his gut, even as it prompted another one.
Do you wish her to be less powerful? Unable to defend herself?
Ignoring the nagging thoughts for the moment, Amon nodded his own agreement to her unease; apart from the effects on her Craft, the Hunts had bothered him also, particularly the last one he had been on. He’d blinded himself by the desire for revenge against the organization that had used him---and others---as a mere instrument; but he realized now, with a firm resolve, that the revenge could wait.
It was less important to him than she was.
He regarded her calmly. “We don’t have to stay here, Robin,” he reminded her. “We can leave. We can go back to Sovana.”
Her eyes were briefly alight with hope, but it was fleeting; pragmatism won. “We’ll be on our own once more, against the Hunters…Jana will be in danger.” When he didn’t respond, she whispered solemnly, “We can’t do that to her.”
“Then we’ll leave Italy,” he countered aggressively. There was absolutely no reason why they hadn’t done that at the first sign of danger, he rationalized; but again, she was shaking her head.
“Juliano sent us here,” she responded. “Surely there was some reason, some purpose, for him to do so.” He did his best to stifle his frustration as she went on. “I don’t believe it would be wise to leave Italia...not until we know why he guided us here.”
Amon scowled, folding his arms across his unbuttoned shirt again. He leveled a mildly irritated glance in her direction, delivering his words slowly. “I’m not so sure anymore if we should trust Juliano.”
She ducked her head. She had a troublesome suspicion that what Amon said held merit, but it was not something on which she wanted to reflect. “There are so few we can trust.” The growing silence stretched out between them for a moment.
He watched her as she wrestled with some inner turmoil, trying to come to a decision about something...he hated seeing her this way, he realized. Taking the burden all on her own shoulders, when she knew all along that he was there, to shoulder it along with her....
“Tomorrow,” he began abruptly, “we are going back to Sovana.” He held up a hand as she looked up, alarmed, mouth open in protest. “Not to stay permanently...to visit. It has been a week since we’ve left Jana’s....it would be good to go back and see her, even if it’s just for the day, sì?”
Although his voice was low and neutral, he allowed himself a small, negligible smile at the end of his words; and as he observed her reaction---the luxuriously slow illumination of her face, like a blooming flower---he knew he had done the right thing.
Her eyes were smiling at him. “Sì,” she said, softly.
They skipped out on the morning patio breakfast---despite the fact that Amon was finally healed enough to actually make an appearance with the other Coven members---and headed to the garage that morning, only to be stopped in their path by Seth and Sela, who were heading outside.
“Buon giorno,” Seth said with interest, as the ice-blue eyes flicked from Robin to Amon, and back again. “You’re feeling better, I see, Amon?” He looked at Robin again. “Dove vai andando?”
“Errands,” Amon spoke curtly, and left it at that.
“Since there were no Hunts planned for today, we decided to go out for a while,” Robin explained gently, and she saw Sela’s eyes full of knowing and mischief. “We will return later this afternoon, se necessario.”
But Seth waved her comment off, good-naturedly. “Don’t worry, tesoro. Take your time. You deserve some time off, sì?” He smiled, benevolent. “Enjoy yourselves.”
“Grazie,” Amon said, in a rare display of courtesy as he guided Robin towards the garage with his hand against her back. They disappeared, Seth and Sela looking on after them. The brunette Witch smiled to herself mysteriously.
After they had pulled the BMW out of the castle’s garage and sped out onto the dirt path leading down the hill from the castello, Amon stopped at the end of the road, just before the main street began. Throwing the car quickly into reverse, he maneuvered them backwards into a side path, hidden behind the trees, and put it into park. He killed the ignition and sat back slightly in the comfortable leather of the seat.
Robin looked over at her partner questioningly, wondering why they had stopped; but she was hesitant to ask upon seeing the wary determination on his face. After another moment, she finally realized what he was doing.
When ten minutes had gone by in silence, without the appearance of another car heading down the dirt path and following them, Amon restarted the BMW and the car roared to life, heading out into Grosseto.
It was not until they had made it out of Grosseto, and were headed on the lonely country road that led back towards the Sovanan township, that both Amon and Robin began to relax. The expansive green land opened up before them, as the towns became smaller and the architecture older. Robin gazed happily out the passenger-side windows as the orchards and vineyards rushed by, her upturned face reflecting the late morning sunlight. Amon, too, felt his mood lightening....his shoulders felt as though they were less burdened. It was as if merely entering the area surrounding Sovana lent them both comfort.
He pulled the car off of the main road, veering as if by instinct towards the via de Mezzo. The road sloped gently upwards, and at the crest of it was the stone arch, the entrance into the downtown Sovanan village. Robin propped her chin on her hands against the windowpane, watching the stone monument as they passed. She saw one of the villagers passing beneath the arch, headed out into the via, and she recognized the woman as being the mother of Lucia, the child whose fever she had cured weeks ago. Robin waved excitedly through the shadowed window of the car, but the woman did not see her.
“The glass is tinted,” Amon reminded her gently; but seeing her half-smile despite the unreciprocated wave, he saw that nothing could curb her enthusiasm. He smirked to himself faintly as he continued driving.
They arrived at Jana’s farmhouse a short distance later, having reached the end of the downward slope of the hill, and Amon pulled the car into the dirt and gravelled driveway. Before he had turned off the motor, Robin was hopping out of the front passenger seat, closing the door carefully behind her before sprinting for the front of the house. His eyes followed her to the front porch, where Jana had already swung the door wide open, a priceless look of happiness---mixed with knowing---on her lovely, weathered face.
“Nonna!” Robin’s steps were quick and light, as she bounded up the porch stones and hurtled herself into her grandmother’s waiting arms.
Jana was laughing. “I knew you come today,” she told the young Witch, clutching her tightly in her embrace, surrounded by the long, loose flame of chestnut hair. “Somehow, I knew.” She pulled Robin’s head back from the shelter of her neck, cupping the girl’s face in her hands, and smoothing the locks away. “Mi bambina,” she whispered affectionately. The undisguised joy she saw in Robin’s eyes caused her to take the girl into a fierce hug once more.
Amon approached the steps to the porch slowly, his dark jacket billowing around him, hesitating to interrupt the reunion before him. Jana regarded him over her granddaughter’s shoulder, her dark green eyes shining.
She nodded to him with a smile.
Once inside, Amon and Robin could smell the delicious meal that had been unknowingly prepared on their behalf for lunch. Robin translated the name of it, which seemed too complex for him to decipher, even with his increased knowledge of Italian; scallopine di vitello con carciofi, veal scallopine with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. They sat down at Jana’s insistence, despite the fact that it was still relatively early---but Jana tolerated no argument. The meal was balanced with a lovely Chianti, and they sat and began to converse as they ate. Robin sat opposite from Amon next to her grandmother, occasionally holding onto the older woman’s hand, as though she could not bear to be any farther away.
Jana was interested in Robin’s description of the castello, but particularly of the Coven and its charismatic leader. “What kind of business he run, this ‘Seth’?” she asked, between sips of Chianti.
“Hunting,” Amon offered, and shook his head when the older woman’s eyes grew wide. “Not Witches. He claims to be a member of an organization that counters SOLOMON’s actions.”
“Hard to believe such organization exists,” Jana mused thoughtfully, “isn’t it?” Robin looked towards her partner again, who was already prepared to validate the claim.
“I’ve cross-checked their targets against a reliable source with SOLOMON contacts,” Amon offered, fingering his wineglass. “The agents we encountered were all legitimate members of SOLOMON.” He looked down at his half-empty glass, conceding, “But, yes...it is hard to believe.”
Jana looked sympathetically at him, watching him carefully as he looked for a moment to be deep in thought. “It is hard, to know who to trust, no?” she said with softness, and he looked back up at her, questioning.
They chatted for another half-hour, Robin relaying interesting facts about the Coven members to Jana, who varied between listening to her granddaughter intently and glancing at the reticent hunter. Amon seemed to have an unusual preoccupation with his wineglass.
Finally, at a lull in conversation, Jana turned to face him directly. “Have you been reading il diario, Amon?” she asked.
Amon visibly stiffened. “Sì,” he responded, after a moment’s pause.
“And the mention of the person’s name you had interest in? Did you confirm it?” she went on, seemingly oblivious to his reaction---although he detected something in her tone of voice to suggest that she was, in fact, very much attuned to it.
He looked up to meet her eyes this time, leveling a stern glance in her direction. “Sì.”
Robin felt a growing discomfort at the change in subjects, and looked down at her near-empty plate before her. Perhaps she should....
She stood, suddenly, at the table. “Nonna....I would like to go into the via to see Giovanna, if it is all right with you.” She glanced at Amon, who had looked up with surprise at her gesture.
“Certo, bambina,” Jana replied gently, smiling. “Come back soon, I’ll have il dolce ready....cream torte with walnut torrone.” She nodded to the young girl.
“Lo farò,” Robin responded, and pushing her chair in at the table, headed unobtrusively to the front door.
The dark gray eyes followed her as she went, and Jana could see the concern in them as clear as day. Concern....wariness....doubt....and guilt---a cacophony of negative emotions, displayed in a single, mournful look. He has not told her yet....he has not embraced her, Jana realized. Her posture tensed.
Soon, he will run out of time.
Amon turned his face away from where Robin had disappeared, back to face the older woman. He looked mildly surprised that she was eyeing him so closely, as though she were coming to some answer that she had been asking herself since he and Robin had stepped inside her home.
“Ecco perché, Amon,” she said with calculation, as his dark eyes narrowed, “you have come to see me.”
Robin gladly headed up the hill towards the entrance of the via de Mezzo, her spirits light with the hope of meeting Giovanna and the other villagers. The summer air was warm on her face, the sun bright above her; it was a beautiful day to be outside, anyhow. She knew she would have more time to talk with Jana later, and she was hopeful that Amon would speak with her grandmother at length. Perhaps, even though he was loath to discuss certain things about the specifics of the journal with her---particularly concerning his mother---he could discuss them with Jana.
Maybe, also, she thought, I can speak to Giovanna about what I have seen.
It wasn’t long before she came upon Gennaro’s fruit stand, not far after the stone arch entrance into the village; and upon seeing her, he laughed, running out from behind his vendor’s cart to greet her in a warm hug.
“Signorina,” he gushed happily, holding her back from his embrace to look at her. “We have missed you. What brings you here?”
“I am just here to visit,” she replied, smiling warmly up at him, and gave a short gasp of surprise when he shoved four ripe figs into her hands.
“Omaggio,” he winked, grinning, and chortled at her response. He stepped back as several more townspeople had begun to approach, recognizing the pellegrina and coming up to her to embrace her and welcome her---but in the multitude, Robin caught sight of a lone woman, frail in appearance, a dark shawl covering her snow-white hair.
The young Witch’s face lit up in recognition. “Giovanna,” Robin breathed happily.
“Bentornata, Pellegrina,” the old woman said, with a smile.
Jana poured coffee, calmly and patiently, for Amon at the table. “So. Tell me what it is, that you wish to ask.”
In spite of the fact that she’d effectively put him on the spot, Amon appreciated her straightforward approach. He countered with his own move, launching right into it.
“Juliano,” he said, watching her carefully. “How can we know he is trustworthy?”
Jana blinked, startled, but her face calmly relaxed into a smile again. She gave a small chuckle. “That one, I did not expect you to ask,” she admitted, seating herself across from him at the table once again. “But, as far as Juliano goes...I believe his actions speak for themselves.”
Amon lifted his eyebrows in moderate surprise at her response, his arms folded across his chest. “He ordered me to Hunt Robin. Are you referring to that particular action?”
Jana’s dark green eyes grew serious at his veiled threatening tone, and she bowed her head briefly in affirmation. “That, he did. I recall, he ordered several Hunters after her....at least three. You were the last.” Amon nodded to her statement.
“Juliano, in his lifetime, has been a man of strong morals,” she went on. “Occasionally, he has acted cowardly....but nevertheless, he always acted on what he thought was right, in the eyes of both Man and God.” She regarded him with a knowing look. “You know why he sent you after her, don’t you? He knew you would not kill her.”
Amon looked up again, his gray eyes alert. He couldn’t have known that. “What are you saying?”
Robin’s words to him from their long-ago confession entered his mind. Juliano knew of your background.
“You’re forgetting that he changed his mind again....he rescinded order to Hunt Robin, even before the collapse of Factory in Japan,” Jana told him.
“You have, over the years, kept in very close contact with him, then.” Amon made his voice deliberately observational.
The older woman smiled, bittersweet, and bowed her eyes from his view. “Not that close....at least, not as close as I would have liked.” She looked up at him again. “But the ties that bind you to the ones you love can never truly be severed....sì?” Amon was quiet, as she went on. “Such as those between you and sua madre.”
Amon’s head snapped up at her last words. “How did you---”
“Why don’t you tell me about her?” Jana asked, rising to fetch the stove coffeepot as the dark hunter at the table stared, gawking slightly at her retreating form.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Robin was saying to Giovanna, as they made their way amongst the throng of people in downtown Sovana, the townsfolk having resumed their daily activities around them. People milled in and out of vendor shops; energetic youngsters chased each other, running past the young girl and the old woman as they strolled casually through the street. “I have a very negative feeling, as though something is restraining me...causing me to doubt myself, and my powers. But I cannot pinpoint what it is.”
Giovanna clutched her arm affectionately as they walked. “These Hunts bother you, Pellegrina...and for good reason, sì?” she asked. “Is not easy to Hunt, anymore...regardless of whether you attack Witch, or Hunter....it is still attack, not defense.”
“Amon does not seem to think so,” Robin noted softly, ducking her head as she walked.
“And you think he has good reason?” Giovanna asked pertinently, her wizened brown eyes glinting in the sun.
“Non lo so.” She sighed heavily. “Perhaps he does.” The young Witch seemed so lost, misplaced....Giovanna’s heart was pained at the sight of her unease.
But underneath, she detected something else.
“Pellegrina,” she said with gentleness, “something trouble you about il cacciatore?”
Robin’s eyes widened in surprise at not only the phrase---which she had not heard used to describe Amon in over a week’s time---but also in the old woman’s acumen. Hesitantly she answered, “Un po’.” At Giovanna’s patient look, she continued.
“I have seen some strange things associated with him....images that I am familiar with, but that worry me,” she said, her voice low and confidential.
“Such as?” Giovanna pressed.
“A horned ram,” Robin confessed. “And a snake, coiled upon itself, eating its own tail.” She shuddered slightly, the images too clear in her mind to dismiss them. “Il Demonio,” she whispered.
To her surprise, Giovanna began to smile slowly. “Not everything as obvious on the outside, Pellegrina,” she said, simply. Robin looked at her in confusion, but was silent as they continued to walk. “The snake, long ago, held as potent symbol of energy, of transformation. Because it sheds its skin---rejuvenates itself---it associated with new life, spontaneous creation....” She glanced back up at the chestnut-haired girl beside her. “Immortality.”
Unrevealed to the young girl, the old woman’s thoughts blossomed into a joyous refrain. Her heart leapt, even as her aged body protested weakly against the excitement, the thrumming of her blood pounding so that she could almost hear it in her ears.
It is a sign. He is coming.
“She awoke for your father, you believe,” Jana asserted, her hands folded underneath her chin, looking at Amon in interest as he had finished describing the details of that fateful day to her.
“She wanted to be with him, to become a Witch for him,” he ground out, clenching his fist on the table before him in obvious frustration. He didn’t understand how he was able to discuss what had happened to Matoko with Jana, having known her for such a short time...but he felt the floodgates opened, and his words now poured forth as though they could not stop.
“It was her hunger for power like his that led to her corruption....her power was born from that...” His voice, firm in anger, became an anguished whisper. “It was why they had to do what they did....to her.”
Blood...the blood had been everywhere.... He forcibly suppressed the memory.
“You are so sure she was corrupted by it?” Jana asked. “You were so young, Amon. To witness such a terrible thing...it made such an impact on you. But there is so much not obvious to the eye....you could have missed something.” He sat silently, as if he were refusing to debate her words.
“As you are missing something right now. Her powers are weakening,” Jana stated, deadpan as she instantly switched topics. “And you are not as concerned about it as you should be.”
Now he looked at her, and she could see the naked fury---as well as surprise---in his eyes at her insinuation, brimming in the dark silver depths. The evidence of his anger mildly reassured her.
“We will speak no more of it,” Jana said, shaking her head gently in an attempt to calm him. She regarded him then again after a moment, carefully. “But when you wish to know more, Amon....you must come back here, again. There will be something---many things---you will need to know.” She paused as she looked out the front window, seeing Robin coming up the steps towards the front of the house.
“Come back when you are ready to confront them.” She went to the door, a brilliant smile re-lighting her face as she embraced her granddaughter again.
Her words rang in his ears, later that afternoon, as they sped back to Grosseto.
As they entered the castle, they were once again accosted by Seth and Sela; this time, the two were accompanied by several other Coven members, all looking as though they were heading out.
Robin’s heart sank. Another Hunt.
“Ah, Amon! Robin...tesoro...” Seth crooned happily, “excellent timing. We are headed out for an evening of enjoyment. Come---join us.”
“Dove?” Robin asked, and Sela spoke up beside her companion.
“We are going to the Water Spas in Chianciano,” she said, bubbling with enthusiasm. “You must go! It’s an exhilarating experience, to say the least.” She grinned, looking from Amon to the young chestnut-haired Witch, and winking at Robin playfully.
It appealed to Robin in the most basic sense, as she loved baths, and she looked up at Amon almost anxiously. He debated for nearly a moment before realizing that he really had no choice in the matter, but to capitulate to the pleading, luminous green eyes before him.
They took few cars between them---Amon and Robin accompanying Seth and Sela in the Jaguar---and headed out into the direction of Chinciano.
Chianciano was a small town roughly in the area of Siena, a good hour’s drive from Grosseto; by the time they reached the Spa, it was late in the afternoon and dusk was quickly approaching.
The entrance of the Spa facility was ornate with statues and relics from Etruscan times. The patron of the Spa, an older woman appearing to be in her early forties, led them on a brief tour of the facility before their appointments.
“Numerous legends concerning both the waters of Chianciano and the origin of the town itself have been passed down through the ages since the time of the early Etruscans,” she said, guiding the group along a passageway replete with works of art and stone and bronze statues. “In the early days, Etruria---modern-day Tuscany---was a medicinal center, the medicines and remedies specifically coming from the waters of Chianciano. Here, we have a statue of Apollo, with Diana Sillene; this is a relic from the 7th century BC,” she said, pointing to a beautiful bronze sculpture of the scantily-clothed figures. The rest of the Coven passed by it almost obliviously; both Amon and Robin paused momentarily to gaze at it before moving on.
“The three waters which you will be experiencing tonight are as follows: Acqua Santa is a warm mud bath, its minerals being high in bicarbonate, sulphate, and calcium, purifying the body’s organs as it warms at a temperature of 33°C. Acqua Fucoli is a cold spring water---16.5°C---and is drank, 400-800 grams, to aid digestion and serve as a natural diuretic. Acqua Sillene---named for Diana herself---is a hot bath, drawn at 38.5°C; a therapeutic and invigorating water bath to reactivate the circulation and purify one’s overall well-being.”
Each guest was given a brand-new bathing suit, towel, and sandals, and given instructions on appointment schedules. Amon glanced nervously about, having realized Robin had moved on to another area of the spa under his radar; but he was shooed by Seth off to an area designated for mudbaths.
It was going to be an interesting evening.
Robin was face-down on a long cushioned massage bench, a long white towel draped over her from lower back to upper thigh, resting her cheek on her hands. A female masseuse kneaded her back muscles firmly and rhythmically; and the young Witch, having loved all her life to be touched, but had it mostly denied her, was nearly drowning in the ecstasy of the tactile sensations.
Sela turned her head to regard her, resting her face on her hands, much like Robin. “Bene, sì?” she asked, grinning. Robin could only manage a blissful nod. “This is a special treat, for us,” Sela went on, her voice dreamy as the masseuse worked on her shoulders. “Seth usually doesn’t like to spend money too frivolously....so the fact that he did this for us means he really cares about our well-being, even if he does make us Hunt so much.”
Robin nodded, but something in her eyes had caught the older girl’s attention. “What is it, Robin?” Sela asked softly, encouraging. “You’ve looked for a couple of days now as if something disturbs you.”
Reluctantly, the chestnut-haired girl debated how much information to share. “The two Hunters we killed three days ago....Marcello, and Elsa,” she said in a quiet tone. “Something bothered me about the two of them.”
Robin shifted on the massage bench. “I believe they were in love with each other,” she whispered. She saw Sela’s eyes widen slightly at her words.
“You think so?” Sela asked, curiously.
“Sì,” Robin responded. “I could tell by their mannerisms....and behavior. Elsa only really became violent and lethal when Marcello was in danger.” Her eyes became far away. “It bothers me....perhaps because it is hard for me to imagine them as killers, and Hunters, when they are both Witches who love each other.”
Sela’s eyes underwent a change as Robin spoke, the dark brown eyes softening with something that resembled sadness. Just as quickly, the hurt was disguised.
“I suppose it takes someone who is already in love, to recognize the signs of it in other people, sì?” Sela asked her, her smile becoming playful once again as she saw Robin’s face duck back into the massage bench, shyly.
Sela’s own eyes were wistful as she regarded the young Witch...and a plan began to take shape behind the coffee-colored eyes.
An hour later, Amon, clad in a soft robe, entered a room with a singular large, deep bath---some areas of it requiring stairs made of stone---in the center of it. The water was steaming, it was so hot; and he actually anticipated getting into it. It looked extremely inviting.
It was only after he’d immersed himself in the water, inch by soothing inch, wearing the snug-fitting but comfortable swim trunks given to him by the Spa, that he leaned back slightly and began to relax in the heat of the water.
He had recently come from the mud bath appointment---very strange, sitting in a tub full of warm mud. It had been somewhat soothing, but something he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make a habit of---it seemed to be very slimy. A hot water bath was just as soothing, without the grime.
He had just closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the warm tile, immersed up to his shoulders in the hot water---when he felt a tap on his head. He nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Scusi, scusi,” Sela laughed. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you might like some sake?” She was leaning over him, standing beside the bath edge clad in a soft terry-cloth robe, and in her hands she held a small columned sake container, and two small cups. “It’s chilled, so it should feel very pleasant with the bath, sì?” she asked, placing the container on the ledge where she stood, close to his head, and pouring a cup for him.
Hiyazake, he thought. He picked up the cup, sniffing it briefly, then took a small sip. Yanca. It was a good brand, not the best he’d had, but it would do nicely. Probably the best available in an area such as rural Italy, he reasoned to himself.
Sela grinned as she watched him. “Does that mean you approve?”
Amon nodded his head, still stunned by the gesture. “Grazie,” he was aware enough to say. He looked back up at her, his dark eyes laced with moderate concern. “Dovè Robin?” he asked quietly, before sipping again at the rice wine.
“She’s finishing in the mudbaths,” Sela reassured him. “Don’t worry; I had Noa accompany her to make sure she stayed safe.” She crouched down to his head’s level, folding her arms against her knees as she saw him nod, vaguely distracted. She cocked her head in a curious pose as she regarded him thoughtfully. “I’ve never seen anyone so protective of someone, as you are of her,” she said, a teasing hint of a smile on her face.
He leaned back again, his head against the tile, and sighed almost silently as the water enveloped his shoulders. “Robin is special,” he said. He decided it didn’t warrant further explanation.
“Mmm.” Sela sounded a singular affirmative. “She is a very unusual girl, that is true.” Her smile was back, her eyes narrowing in mirth. “E tanta bella.”
A pause. “I hadn’t noticed.” Getting better at lying to yourself, aren’t you? he thought sarcastically. Maybe you should jump in and announce that ‘all Witches must be hunted’ again while you’re at it and see where that gets you.
The brunette Witch nodded dramatically in mock agreement, grinning. “Of course not.” She grew somewhat serious as she next asked, “So, tell me, Amon....why do you deny yourself that which you desire most?”
He opened one eye after a pause, and shot her an annoyed glance. “Why do you pry for information that is none of your business?” He had started to feel a bit sleepy from the combination of the bath and the sake, but somehow it was tempering his irritation.
“Are you worried about her age?” Sela went on to ask, lowering her voice into a conspiring whisper. “She is so young---you think that you won’t make her happy?”
Amon opened both eyes and leveled a glare in her direction; but when he looked closely at her face, he saw yearning and curiosity...mixed with something that suggested she needed to know his reasons, for her own sense of understanding.
She poured him another cup of sake as he watched her, offering it to him; he took it almost reluctantly, forming his thoughts.
“It’s not either of those,” he responded quietly, “not completely.” He looked down into the water. “It has to do more with....issues of control.” While he felt it was acceptable to answer her questions, he wasn’t going to explain to her his dilemma with his dormant Craft.
“Control,” she said, thoughtfully, before she smirked again. “That word does not apply much to love, no?” She nodded, as if to herself. “It is hard to control something that is inherently uncontrollable.”
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the ledge again, as if ignoring her words.
She rose to full height and turned as though to leave the bathing area. “At any rate....enjoy yourself, Amon. I’ll leave you to your bath, now.” Turning back to face the room before she left, she smiled again and disappeared.
His eyes opened as he heard the closing of the door behind her, and he meditated on her words for a moment, reaching again for the sake decanter. Just as he was about to take a sip, the door opened again, this time hesitantly.
Robin came halfway through the door, in a white towel that barely covered her to mid-thigh, and froze at the sight before her. “A-Amon?”
He sat up....making a particular effort not to stare too long at her long, graceful, and very naked legs beneath the white towel. “Nani?” he asked shortly, and nearly slapped himself for his stupidity. Nothing’s wrong, bakayarou---she just walked in on you in the bath, that’s all. Somehow he instinctively knew that Sela had timed it just right, and played them both into this situation.
“Gomen,” Robin was already saying softly, her face taking on a slightly pink hue---he wondered if it was from the warmth of the bathing room, or something else. “I did not know you were using the bath...” She began to retreat back through the doorway, mumbling something about how she would make use of it later.
Shit. “Iie....daijoubu,” he said, before he had completely registered the thought in his mind. Are you inviting her to join you?
She stopped, turning her face towards him, almost unbelievingly.
He made up his mind. It wasn’t indecent; she was wearing a bathing suit underneath the towel, as obvious from the shoulder straps visible. “Daijoubu,” he said, nodding towards her. “That is, if you don’t mind.”
The smile that appeared was faltering and hesitant as she stepped into the room. Upon reaching the hot bath, she leaned over the edge and dipped her toe in, testing the temperature. “It’s very warm,” she observed, half-smiling gently into his eyes as he watched her. She loosened the hairband that had kept her long locks out of the way of the massage and mudbath, and the tresses fell about her shoulders.
“It’s actually cooled off a bit,” he commented, distracted. The sake he’d drank was buzzing pleasantly through his body, the warmth spreading through his veins....but he suspected his sudden feeling of intoxication had more to do with the young chestnut-haired girl removing the white towel that covered her, revealing an aqua-colored bikini and pale, smooth flesh, like unblemished marble.
She stepped slowly into the heated water, a few feet away from him, and settled down in it up to her neck, sighing softly. Her hair billowed gently around her in the water, and as she closed her eyes, he thought she must have resembled some sort of mythological sea nymph.
Screw Toudou’s theory about Eve of Witches, his idle thoughts dictated. She probably rode the ocean waves in to shore on a giant clam.
They talked quietly, making brief, polite conversation. Amon continued to debate his actions---allowing her to bathe with him---internally against his better judgment.
“....Sela says we will not have to Hunt tomorrow,” Robin was telling him, and he snapped to attention, focusing on her words.
“When did she tell you that?” he asked.
“During the massage, earlier,” she answered, watching his expression.
“Massage?” This is quite the royal treatment we’re getting tonight, he mused silently. He saw Robin nodding enthusiastically, the enigmatic smile returning.
“Sì, it was wonderful,” she sighed happily. “Have you ever had a massage before, Amon?” He shook his head. “It felt like...every negative thought, and feeling, was just melting away underneath the person’s hands,” she related, dreamily. Her emerald eyes were hazy and unfocussed as she spoke. “It felt as though I were being cared for; it felt like...comfort.”
She opened her eyes again, having leaned her chestnut head back against the ledge of the bath pool, and saw his dark, sake-laden gaze fixed on her. Her courage was bolstered.
“Would you like me to show you? What a massage feels like?” she asked, softly. She ached to touch him, to allow him to experience what she had, even though she knew he would never---
“Aa.” His affirmative response was pliant, yearning.
She moved to sit up in the bathwater, motioning timidly. “Avanti.”
He glided through the water with ease, averting his eyes from her stare; she gently turned him around so that his back faced her. He sat at the edge of the stone seat, his body suddenly and inexplicably tense.
He felt her hands, soft and warm, glide like gentle birds across his shoulder blades. “Amon, relax,” she breathed quietly near his ear, and the sensation of that alone sent a slight shudder through him.
She moved her hands over his shoulders, centering them at the junction between his neck and collarbone, and massaged the muscles of his back the way she had felt the masseuse do earlier. Her hands moved outwards towards the ends of his shoulders, rubbing gently, and then back to his neck; one of her small hands attempted to massage the sinewy cords at the back of his neck, underneath his damp, dark hair.
Amon bowed his head, his eyes closed, allowing her ministrations to go where they pleased. Her hands were not strong, by any means; but they were steady, her touch simultaneously firm and caressing. When they moved downward from his neck towards his spine, he let loose a long sigh.
It did feel wonderful....not because of the imported sake, or the bath itself; on the contrary, he realized it was solely Robin who was making him feel this way, giving him comfort as she learned his body with her hands. As implausible as it was, the water seemed to grow warmer as she continued to knead his back gently; he could feel the tension seeping from his muscles, in combination with the heat and touch, and he sank back further into the water, unconsciously sliding back against Robin as he did so.
He relaxed his neck as he felt her fingers pressing into his shoulders through the heated water, and it took him a few moments to register that his head had fallen back onto her shoulder. He turned his face towards her, drowsy and inundated with pleasure, and he took in the sweet scent of her breath, hot on his cheek. His eyes closed; his mouth was parted, taking in breath and taste.
She was hesitant. “Amon...” she whispered uncertainly; but her soft voice was cut short by the nearness of his lips, his mouth close to hers. His lips reached for her own, almost teasingly, making one pass over them before drawing back and reaching for another. Her hands stilled on his shoulders. He kissed her again, deeper, and she let a soft moan escape her throat as their mouths parted.
That was the break in his already eroding restraint. His hands came up out of the water, cupping her cheeks on both sides; he turned his body towards her so that he had access to all of her as his mouth found hers again and again, each kiss becoming more demanding and heated. Her arms entwined around his neck, her hands buried in his wet hair; he found himself pressing her back against the ledge of the bath with the momentum of his kiss.
A shrill voice was heard in the room by the doorway. “Oh! I must have entered the wrong room by mistake!” The two in the bath broke apart almost immediately, breathless and disheveled, and looked up towards the door to see Hedya in a robe, carrying a magazine. She was smirking at the sight before her, hands on her hips.
Robin’s face was a bright red. “Scusi,” she mumbled, and before Amon could stop her, she scrambled out of the bath and onto the ledge, hurriedly covering her dripping body with the white towel.
Amon turned back to Hedya at the door; the blonde Witch was still observing the two of them with an amused expression on her face. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting,” she remarked coyly, to which Amon delivered a melting glare that nearly stopped her in her tracks.
Robin gathered her towel and robe and hurried from the room, past Hedya, who threw her a lively “Ciao!”.
The blonde woman leisurely made her way over to the water, her eyes never leaving the dark-haired Hunter who was still standing in the middle of the bath, level with his waist. “Mind if I join you?” she inquired innocently.
Amon stepped out of the water gracefully, not bothering to look at her as he grabbed his towel. “It’s all yours,” he said roughly, and made his way out. Hedya looked on after him, the smirk slowly fading.
It was late when they finally returned to the castle, Robin having ridden back in Noa’s car with Sela; and upon returning, she had gone directly to her suite. Bast was wandering the hall, waiting outside of her door. She scooped up the cat in her arms, going into her room as she heard other Coven members trudging upstairs to their own suites.
She stroked Bast’s fur, scratching the cat underneath its chin, as her mind was lost in thought. She hadn’t meant to kiss him again, to disobey the rule he had set down in Sovana; that affection of that kind would not be expressed again. She wasn’t sure which one of them had initiated it this time, but nevertheless she knew he was less than pleased with the outcome.
Despite that...her body still tingled from the experience she’d had an hour ago.
Bast meowed plaintively in her arms, and Robin cuddled the cat gently before leaving her suite and heading upstairs to Amon’s.
Once in front of his door, she set Bast down, running her hands over the cat’s soft head again. “You are so lucky,” she whispered, still petting her. “You can be as close as you’d like to him, and he doesn’t mind.” She gave a small, sad smile. “I wish I could trade places with you, for a night.”
Just then Amon’s door opened, and Robin straightened, a flush of embarrassment heating her cheeks as she wondered if he had heard her.
“Oyasuminasai,” she said softly, meeting his eyes; he held her gaze for an instant. Bast ran past his ankles into his suite.
“Oyasumi,” he responded, his voice quiet. Robin turned to go back to her room, and he shut the door.
Amon awoke in the middle of the night, feeling the light movement of the cat on the bed. Occasionally at night she got restless, and would prowl around as though she were guarding him in his sleep; and he reached down near his leg, half-awake, to stroke the soft fur and calm her back into slumber.
But his hand did not meet fur; on the contrary, he felt the silken strands of human hair running through his fingers.
Amon jumped into full alertness, sitting up on his elbows in bed. Curled up by his leg, where Bast usually slept, was Robin.
She stretched, languorously, smiling at him; her long chestnut hair spilled over her naked form in the moonlight. Very slowly she began to crawl slowly up the length of his body, as he lay in bed. He was immobile from disbelief---when had she gotten into his room? And what the hell was she doing in his bed, nak---
All rational thought fled as she settled to lay completely over him, their bodies separated by a thin sheet. He looked helplessly into the stark green eyes that hovered above him, as he was inundated by the scent of her skin, her hair, her body.... This isn’t right. It isn’t...
“Robin---” He attempted to say her name, but was stopped by the movement of her mouth against his, her parted lips pressed sweetly against his own, as her hands cradled his face.
He returned her kisses with equal fervor, his tongue exploring her mouth, tasting her; and his arms, of their own accord, found their way around her back. Sliding down the smooth lines of her body, his hands cupped the rounded slope of her bottom and pressed the core of her, through the sheet, against the part of him that was now achingly hard. Robin moaned, a soft, anguished sound; and as he opened his eyes to look at her, he could see the same look of surprised passion as he’d seen on her face at the festival, as his teeth and tongue had grazed her fingers...
Amon awoke, thrashing in his bed with the force of it; and subsequently sending Bast flying off the covers with a feline shriek of surprise. He sat up, panting heavily, sweat having broken out on his dark brow....slowly coming to his senses as he realized it was a dream. Bast, from the floor of his room, gave him a disgruntled look and set about cleaning herself with a paw.
He breathed raggedly, as he fell back into his bed. The lines between his dream world and reality were beginning to blur. Had what he’d dreamed about actually occurred? After his obvious lack of restraint at the Spa, and now the vivid dream, it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell exactly what was real and not.
He was still incredibly aroused, pulsing with unfulfilled need....and he was unable to deny himself his pleasure any longer.
As his body trembled near release, causing his teeth to clench, only one refrain resounded through the narrow focus of his pleasure-riddled mind.
Hidden conflict….The sublime secret….A lone shot in the darkness. The forbidden encounter restarts the stalled spinning wheel. Chapter 14.
Oh my. So much Italian/Japanese:
Grazie al cielo: thank heavens
ciò nonostante: even so
tesoro: treasure, darling
il dottor: the doctor
daijoubu: [Japanese] it’s all right
Aa: [Japanese] ‘yeah’, a short affirmative response
non è giusto: it’s not (morally) right
ti va bene?: are you okay?
grazie: thank you
io presto torno: I’ll return soon
è chiaro?: understood?
doushita: [Japanese] what’s wrong
nandemonai: [Japanese] it’s nothing
honto ni: [Japanese] really?
nani: [Japanese] what
otouto: [Japanese] younger brother
ja mata: [Japanese] see you/talk to you later
sou ka: [Japanese] I see, is that so
il demonio: the demon
akuma no ko: [Japanese] Devil’s child
gomen: [Japanese] sorry
che cos'hai?: what’s wrong?
iie: [Japanese] no
Dove vai andando?: where are you going?
Se necessario: if necessary
il diario: the diary (journal)
certo: of course
il dolce: the dessert
Lo farò: I will
ecco perché: so that is why
omaggio: free gift
bentornata: welcome back
sua madre: your mother
non lo so: I don’t know
il cacciatore: the hunter
un po’: a little bit
sai com'è: you know
hiyazake: cold sake
e tanta bella: and very beautiful
oyasuminasai: good night