Hey you...did you ever realise what you'd become
And did you see that it wasn't only me you were running from
Did you know all the time but it never bothered you anyway
Leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes
---pink floyd, "poles apart"
He's standing on the threshold
Caught in fiery anger
And hurled into the furnace he'll
...curse the place
He's torn in all directions
And the screen is still flickering
Waiting for the flames to break
---pink floyd, "wearing the inside out"
Robin walked slowly among the trees surrounding the castle, her hands loosely laced together in front of her black smocked pilgrim’s dress.
It was overcast on this particular day, despite the fact that it was now late morning, approaching afternoon; the air had a strange heaviness to it that had not been present for the past week. The clouds above gathered lazily, swollen and pregnant with moisture, and an unusual stillness pervaded the landscape surrounding the castle. The trees were still with the absence of wind; the birds nested within them were silent. It seemed to Robin, in her romantic frame of mind, as though the earth and heavens were waiting for something, the world around her holding its collective breath in anticipation.
She had decided to put her hair up this morning in her old, accustomed fashion---ribbons twisted around the reddish-gold lengths on either side of her head---and part of her realized that she only reverted to wearing it this way when she knew he was not around. When he was around, she found that more often than not she wore it down, loose around her shoulders; she had an instinctive notion that he might prefer it that way, that it pleased him. It was something she thought she could somehow detect in his gaze, when he looked at her---specifically when his eyes had settled on her for too long, and had taken on that mercurial quality, like liquid silver…
She halted her whimsical thoughts, nearly chastising herself. Even when you’re not in his presence, you are thinking of Amon constantly. It unnerved her to realize it; she had thought herself more levelheaded than that. But like an unrelenting tide, her thoughts were nevertheless drawn to him once more.
His actions perplexed her. He obviously desired the intimacy that had been developing between them, but it seemed that he vacillated between not wanting her to leave his side, and shutting himself up alone in his suite for hours; between being obviously frustrated with her, and conversely having more concern for her safety than even his own; between holding her apart from him at arms’ distance...and pulling her fervently into his embrace, bringing his lips to hers.
Though it was not cold outside, Robin shivered in spite of herself, hugging her arms as she walked. As much as she tried, she couldn’t dismiss the feelings that welled up within her when she recalled the kiss; how he had cradled her in his arms while still in the bath, one of his hands slipping around to encircle her back in the water, the other still cupping her cheek as his mouth moved hungrily against hers. Between the heat and urgency of his kisses, his demanding lips, and the probing warmth of his tongue, she hadn’t been sure if he was trying to draw the very breath from her, or devour her whole...
She moaned softly, a quiet sound of anguish, pressing the palms of her hands against her suddenly flushed cheeks. The fleeting thought of Amon devouring her with his kiss---as much as she knew it was not his intent---sent her body into a frenzy of tingling. Surely such a thing wasn’t even possible, devouring someone in such a way...but, reflecting on the experience at length, she decided she should very much like to know the answer to such a hypothetical question.
Robin knew that there was something else that followed such activities, something as equally wondrous and exciting, or even more so, than what Amon had been slowly introducing her to. Her education, growing up in the convent, had been more strict than most; Juliano had effectively seen to that. Instruction regarding behavior between men and women had been limited to ambiguous, sterile descriptions within the Scriptures: coveting...fornication...Jacob lay with Leah, and she begot him a son. She had initially suspected there was more to it; and later on, through rumored whispers, she realized that they had probably been doing much more than simply ‘lying down’ with one another.
Men and women’s bodies had been made to fit together, according to God’s plan; and if the earlier ritual she’d partly observed the Coven performing---before Amon had dragged her out by the arm---had been any indication, it seemed as though it could be something ethereal and beautiful, even between those who were not husband and wife; simply lovers.
Is it truly sinful, as the Church suggested, for people to participate in such activities if they were not married? Robin wondered to herself. If love was supposedly the basis of marriage between two people, and those two people had love, but not a marriage---was it still a sin?
She realized she was thinking of herself and Amon, when considering people in love. Was she in love with Amon, as Sela had asserted at the water spa?
As much as she knew that she couldn’t possibly know what being in romantic love was like, only having known love for God and the Church....Robin thought it must have been very similar to what she felt now for Amon. There were still the troubling issues of Benedetto’s research, and the pictures associated with the Devil, as well as her own visions of the ram. However, all of the concerns seemed to melt away in his presence, in the exchanges of comfort they shared...not only during the moments she had deemed sacred between them, such as at the spa, and in Jana’s kitchen; but other instances as well. The security she felt when around him, as he shielded her from harm...the warmth in his features, hints of smiles, that she had begun to detect as they had strolled among the villagers on warm Sovanan afternoons...the feeling of her heart nearly bursting upon waking up and finding him in her bed, asleep beside her, guarding her even in slumber. The look in his eyes by the ocean cliffs, and before the Belfire....the knowledge that he would die for her, if she would allow such a thing to happen---he had already attempted it, once. The joy flooding through her veins at his touch, and the sensation of completeness, of wholeness, while in his arms as he dried her tears.
Is that what romantic love is about, Robin realized, as she continued to walk alongside the castle grounds, focus? Is it the stripping away of the world around you, the narrowing down of all emotion and all thought and feeling, into this one singular core of happiness...making you feel as though you are one with each other?
She didn’t know the answer for certain, but she decided it must be something like that.
Going back to her previous thoughts, regardless of whether the Scriptures approved of it or not---this something else that followed naturally in the progression of what they had been doing---Robin found herself overcome by a willful curiosity. Amon had warned her in Sovana, with a tone of certainty, that the kiss would not happen again, but it had; and she found herself wondering if it might occur yet again, and what the ramification would be if they were not interrupted, as they had been with Hedya’s entrance. Despite his cool demeanor after the kiss in Chianciano, she was ardently looking forward to the next similar incident.
How wonderful, to be that close to him again, she reflected, her nerves singing and skin tingling in anticipation. To feel his arms around me again, inhaling the scent of his skin…tasting his mouth as it presses against mine. She could barely keep from allowing her lips to form a secret smile, and she tried hiding it beneath her hands as she continued walking.
“Lei fredda é, tesoro?” an accented male voice asked nearby, and she nearly jumped, startled. Seth. He had seen her cupping her hands over her mouth and nose, and perhaps thought she had been blowing hot breath on them.
She quickly replaced her arms at her sides. “Non,” she said hurriedly, her cheeks glowing a faint pink; and she subsequently willed away the giddy smile from a moment earlier. “Come va?” she asked demurely, facing him again as he walked up to join her on the path.
“Bene.” He grinned at her as he reached her side, his voice lightly amused. “Out on your usual walk?”
“ Sì,” she answered, nodding briefly. “I was just about to turn back.”
“I see,” he remarked in a casual tone, facing forward along the path but ducking a glance at her from the corner of his blue eyes. “I’ve caught you in good spirits today, apparently,” he said, pointedly. When she looked at him in surprise, he responded, “You looked as though you were vastly enthralled by some idea, just a moment ago.”
Robin fought to keep the blush from being evident on her face. “I don’t know what you mean,” she protested softly.
Seth laughed. “Come now, I think you do,” he chastised. “It was something so pleasurable a thought, that you were nearly raggiante.” His eyes were suggestive with meaning, roving over her form.
Her protest turned defensive. “I am unhappy so frequently, wear a frown so often, that the slightest change is so obvious?” She felt slightly distrustful of his attention to her moods; but when she saw his smile and heard his amused laughter, she realized he had no ulterior motive.
“No, no....tesoro, I was just teasing you,” he chortled, and she relaxed slightly. “It is good to see you so content. When I see you otherwise, I feel concerned.”
Robin eyed him with caution as they walked side by side. “Do you?” she asked softly, curiously; and he turned to face her, both of them halting in their steps.
“ Sì,” he responded, staring down into her green eyes. “I am concerned about all of the members of my Coven,” he asserted, his gaze never leaving hers. “It is my responsibility to make certain that the people who Hunt for me are well, and taken care of.”
There was a silent pause as Robin digested his words, still watching his face. Finally, she spoke up quietly, a hesitance in her voice. “But according to Amon, I am not your responsibility…I am his.”
“No,” he corrected, just as gently as she had spoken. The reassuring smile was gone. “You are mine.”
The certainty in his tone was slightly unnerving; she wanted to disagree with him, but was silenced by his intense and confident gaze. Her confused feelings immobilized her...what he had said seemed, on the surface, to be a sincere expression of concern.
But was it?...
Without warning, an ominous rumble of thunder sounded overhead; both Witches looked up in surprise at the sky above them, which had suddenly grown very dark with dense clouds. Robin gasped, a startled sound of bewilderment, as heavy drops of rain began to fall.
She looked at Seth, almost with reproach. “Are you doing this?” she asked, at which he responded with a boyish grin and hearty laugh. The uncomfortable silence between them had dissipated.
“Non, tesoro,” he chortled, shaking his head at her, amused. He tilted his head in the direction of the castello. “Avanti, best to get inside before we are completely drenched.” He set off at a half-jog towards the driveway leading up to the castle, pulling his gray sport coat over his head to protect his hair from the steadily-increasing rain as he did; he stopped before having reached the paved road, turning to glance back at her.
Robin was still on the beaten dirt path, calmly looking up at the sky, her face tilted up to welcome the rainfall. Heavy drops of water landed on her face and hair, the chestnut-blonde wisps that had escaped her pigtails weighted down by them; she seemed completely at ease in the falling rain, as though she would not have chosen to be anywhere else.
She closed her eyes, relishing the feel as the warm drops splashed on her skin. The air was heavy with both the scent of rain and the perfume of the surrounding forest, and she took it all in, inhaling deeply---even the rumbling thunder in the sky above failed to mar her dreamlike expression. In Japan, the falling rain had an icy-cold bitterness to it...this warm summer shower that bathed her now could only be found in her native land, and she delighted in the rare moment nature afforded her.
Seth watched her calm, serene expression with curiosity. Shaking his head in wonder, and chuckling to himself with the absurdity of it, he covered his head again and ran back to her side.
“Tesoro,” he scolded good-naturedly, “come inside. You’ll get soaked!” He held his jacket over her head, in a futile attempt to shelter them both.
“I don’t mind the rain,” she asserted in her quiet manner, blinking as the drops fell on her eyelashes; but Seth, insisting she return to the castle with him, would not hear of it. She finally acquiesced and ran with him, allowing him to shield her with his jacket as they jogged up the driveway towards the castle. By the time they reached the entrance, they were both giggling like schoolchildren, their laughter spurred on by the amusement of trying to keep the sport coat over their heads while running. In his haste, Seth had nearly tripped and fallen in the grass on the way to shelter.
They both entered through the heavy door of the main entryway, Seth chuckling amusedly and Robin still smiling, shaking themselves of the excess water that clung to their clothes. After shutting the door, both finally raised their eyes in the gloom of the dark stone-paneled foyer to see who silently awaited their return.
Robin’s face fell at once, her smile withering under his dark scowl. She busied herself with attempting to shake the droplets of water from her dark, heavy pilgrim’s dress, her eyes averted from her partner; Seth, on the other hand, met Amon’s eyes directly, defiantly. The blond Witch cleared his throat as he smoothed his now-damp sport coat.
Amon turned his stern gaze from Seth to Robin. “I need to speak with you.” His voice was low and neutral, but there was no disguising the edge present. “In my suite.”
She nodded meekly, feeling inexplicably nervous. “I should...change first.” She headed towards the hallway, ducking her head as she passed Amon, her wet pilgrim’s dress leaving a watery trail on the hallway tile behind her.
Amon’s eyes remained on Seth as Robin passed him; he thought he could detect the faintest smirk on the male Witch’s face, laughter still present in the ice-blue eyes. For a moment, a silent battle of wills ensued...finally broken at length by Amon, as he turned to follow Robin down the hallway in the wake of her departure. He took the stairs at the end of the hall back up to his suite, two at a time.
Seth watched him leave, the smirk on his face widening into a curling smile as he heard the slam of a door upstairs.
Robin tried her best to calm her racing heart as she made her way upstairs to Amon’s room. She had hung her pilgrim’s attire in her bathroom to dry, and with her other conservative dresses being laundered, she opted to clothe herself in the black spandex bike outfit that Nagira had provided her while she had been in hiding at his law office. While a subconscious part of her realized how tightly it fit, she was comforted by the notion that it covered her skin well enough from neck to ankle, which was her main concern. She held a small hand towel, rubbing her loose, damp hair furiously with it as she climbed the stairs, something akin to an anxious flutter in her belly. Amon had seemed angry with her.
Perhaps he had just been irritated by her foray outside in such weather---it hadn’t been raining when she had first went out on her walk, but now there was a steady downpour. She should have paid more attention to the signs that the weather was about to change, she thought penitently.
Robin stopped before the door to his suite, the towel draped around her shoulders, her chestnut-gold hair hanging around her face in wispy, damp strings; and hesitated, uncertainly. The door suddenly opened and she found herself face to face with Amon, his face set in grim lines. He stepped back mechanically to allow her to enter. “Entrari.”
She came into his room slowly, her eyes focused on his movements, as he shut the door behind her and stalked purposefully to the middle of the room, his fists clenched. His mood had made her apprehensive, and she watched him carefully from where she stood.
He turned back towards her, finally looking her spandex-clad form over completely; she saw his eyes first register a perplexed sort of interest, then narrow in disapproval. She vaguely realized that this was the first time he’d seen her in her biking outfit, without the bulky red trenchcoat she had worn in Japan.
He visibly strengthened his resolve, channeling it into his stern voice. “You appeared to have a lot to talk about, outside of the castle.”
Robin blinked. “Nani?” she asked, earnestly.
“With him.” Amon’s arms were folded across the chest of his overcoat.
“Seth?” She looked at him, a quizzical expression in her eyes. “We didn’t talk for very long…”
“Seemed as though it were very amusing, whatever the topic of discussion was.”
Robin’s face crumpled in a bewildered frown. This conversation was definitely not going in the direction she had hoped. She had actually anticipated coming to his room, despite his chilly exterior in the foyer; part of her had thrilled to the idea that he wanted to be alone with her again, so soon, and the same part of her had secretly hoped that they would get another chance---preferably sooner, rather than later---to resume the activity from the bath in Chianciano...
It didn’t appear that such a thing was on Amon’s mind at all, at the moment.
“Iie,” she said quietly, her soft voice measured, a trace of sorrow showing through. “It wasn’t.”
He watched her silently, his expression unflinching. A slight dimple formed in his narrow cheek, betraying the clench of his jaw; Robin thought she could hear the enamel of his teeth cracking behind his closed lips, with the effort he made of grinding them together. She kept her gaze calm and neutral, even as she refused to look away under his own.
“I don’t want...” he began, looking into her eyes, his voice at the same time stern, but faltering; he started again, slowly. “I don’t want you getting too close to him.” His reassertion of authority seemed to strengthen his conviction, and he went on, the tempo of his speech increasing. “He’s not to be trusted. You know this, already---I don’t know why I have to remind you again, Robin.”
The young Witch refrained from wincing at the paternal tone with which his words had taken. Instead, she straightened her spine and lifted her chin---as she had become practiced at doing around him---and stood her ground, her voice like steel sheathed in velvet. “I was out walking, by myself, Amon. Seth joined me. I have no control over what he does.”
Amon was unwilling to let it go. “You know yourself, that something is wrong. You’ve felt it, when you’ve gone on Hunts.” He unfolded his arms and took a step forward, as if to further prove his point. “It’s not the Hunts, Robin---it’s him.”
“He has been nothing but kind to me,” she protested, confused. What did Amon have against him? She wouldn’t deny that she felt unease when hunting, but she hadn’t equated the negative feelings with Seth, himself. “Even as I’ve had problems controlling my Craft, he has been patient and understanding. He is not a bad person, Amon...”
“Stay away from him,” Amon warned, the threatening scowl back in full force.
“You can’t command me,” she whispered defiantly, still shocked, but her words holding their own edge. He will really forbid me to even be in the same room as Seth?
There was a slight pause before Amon answered her. “Yes. I can.” He took another couple of steps in her direction, his eyes dark and brimming---not with anger, but with something else she didn’t comprehend.
“I’m your warden,” he reminded her sternly, still moving toward her, “and it’s about time I started to act like one.”
I’m your warden. With those few words, he had said everything all at once; had lain out the painful truth that she hadn’t wanted to hear, bare before her. Her warden...not her comrade, not her partner...and most definitely not her lover. A warden would not dare kiss his ward, after all, she realized; fitting them both neatly back into those categories would conveniently relieve him of having to deal with what had already occurred on numerous occasions between them.
She steeled herself again, her heart pounding; her response tumbled from her lips before she could even stop it. “Because it is easier to tell me what or who I should believe in, when you aren’t showing me affection, Amon?” she asked.
Amon halted in his tracks, five feet in front of her. Had he advanced further, she wondered what would have happened---but for now, he allowed her space. His eyes were dark and unreadable.
“You say that I should stay away from Seth, but he has done nothing to make him unworthy of our trust,” she continued, watching him cagily as she spoke in her calm, whispered voice that belied the strength underneath it. “I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe everyone deserves at least that much from me.”
He was shaking his head, slowly, from side to side. “That’s where you’re wrong. They don’t deserve anything from you. That will be your undoing.”
Robin had a strange impression that they were no longer speaking of Seth. “It sounds naive,” she admitted sagely. “But I believe trusting in people will benefit us more than hiding ourselves away from everyone, never to be found. How can we hope to combat SOLOMON if we never make alliances?”
When he didn’t answer, she went on, nearly pleading. “I want to trust him.”
“It’s too dangerous.” Amon clenched his fists at his sides again in frustration, his voice now almost an anguished whisper.
“That is for both of us to decide,” she responded, just as softly. “Not you only.” She turned back to the door of the suite, opening it, and glanced back in his direction momentarily. He was stock-still, in the middle of the room, watching her depart---the look in his eyes tore at her very being.
“I’m not a child. I don’t need a warden, Amon.” It was a quiet plea, and it left almost everything else she wanted to say unsaid. I need an equal. I need a partner.
I just need you.
She walked through the door, aware that his eyes were still on her, and closed it in her wake.
Amon stared at the closed door, fixated.
His thoughts were such a jumbled mess that he couldn’t have sorted them out if he’d tried. Infuriation, infused with compassion, and mixed with a pervading sense of helplessness; she had inspired all of those within him with her actions and words. Above all, her very presence in the room---once he’d fully devoted his attention to her---had only served to distract him. He wondered how in the hell was it possible that she had the nerve to show up to his suite in something that hugged her every subtle curve...as if he needed something else to fuel his recent nighttime fantasies.
He reflected on their exchange as he stood in the center of the room, his gaze falling to the floor before him. Though her words had cut him, he realized that part of him had been silently cheering her on as she had stood up to him, up until he’d pulled out his Warden Trump Card. Her visible reaction to such a statement had felt like the plastic bullets tearing into his chest again...it would have been preferable to the wounded sadness he’d seen in the emerald depths.
Of course she’s sad, he cursed himself mentally. You maul her with kisses, smother her with them so that she can’t breathe; and then you completely close yourself off from her. She had every right to be angry and upset with him after his behavior---it was to be expected. To her credit, she had refused to demean herself by an emotional scene; she had held her stance unwaveringly before him, simultaneously authoritative and ingenuous, like the stubborn child he knew so well.
She’s not a child. He frowned at the unsolicited reminder in his head. And you know that isn’t why you hold yourself back.
The first time they had kissed, in Jana’s kitchen, he had stopped them of his own volition; but during the second encounter, that will was nowhere to be found. He would have continued, if Hedya had not interrupted. The prospect of what could have occurred in the spa---or on the hard tile of the cement by the bath, or perhaps one of the comfortable lounge chairs by the poolside---unnerved him.
He absently recalled Seth’s words from days ago in the empty parking garage: you don’t control her. It seemed each day that had passed during their refuge brought more truth to the assertion. Amon felt his power over her slipping, reversing...unable to return.
Did he ever have any power over her, to begin with? He wasn’t certain of anything anymore.
You don’t control her....hell, you don’t even control yourself. As much as he detested to admit, his dislike of Seth felt at times to be more rooted in envy of his attention to Robin, than real suspicion; Nagira would have had quite a laugh if he could see his younger brother throwing a covetous fit over a sixteen-year-old girl.
He grimaced, his head on the door, as he realized, this must be what losing control is like.
A wave of nausea suddenly rolled over him, and he bent over, gasping, clutching the door as it took him. His stomach roiled with it. Behind his eyes, he was assailed with the vision of the broken and bloody form of his mother, her lifeless eyes staring out at him, as he trembled in the grip of the dark-coated agents. Flashes of memory beset him without mercy; flesh and skin melting from faces, the screams, bullets and gunfire...the cold dark isolation room he was kept in afterwards, for nights on end, with nothing but darkness and silence to accompany him.
He was trembling, panting, by the time it finished. Sweat had beaded on his forehead; the hackles on the back of his neck were raised, and he felt as though goose bumps covered his entire body.
It’s happening...it’s awakening. Traumatic emotions exacerbate the Craft. It was something that had been obvious as part of SOLOMON, observing the transformation of Seeds to Witches. It happened to her, and it’s going to happen to me.
Jesus, am I going insane?
Her pilgrim’s dress having been suitably laundered and dried late that afternoon, Robin changed out of the biking outfit, back into the clothes that provided her more comfort. She was restless, though, not wanting to be left alone with her thoughts after her confrontation with Amon. Unable to go outside and walk to clear her mind due to the stormy weather, and with still time left before dinner was to be served, she opted to go and find companionship within the castle.
She didn’t go purposely in search of Seth, to spite her guardian...but, she rationalized, if she did indeed run into him, Amon would probably be better off not knowing.
But, ironically, she had chosen to leave her hair unbound...almost as an unspoken message to him.
The pounding rain outside beat drum-like against the darkened windows as she headed upstairs, her dark skirts trailing behind her; and as she climbed the steps carefully, she heard the pitter-patter of padded feet. She turned to look over her shoulder, seeing Bast trotting just a step behind.
“Buonasera,” she whispered softly, a gentle smile gracing her features. “You’ve come to keep me company, picolina?” The gray cat paused long enough to tilt her head upward at her mistress and chirp pleasantly, before continuing to the next step. A faint scent caught her attention as Robin reached the top of the stairs---something floral---and she headed curiously down an adjacent hallway to find the source. Bast followed, slinking alongside the wall, ears pointed and alert, prowling low to the ground as though she were in stealth mode.
Robin came upon an open doorway, just ajar enough to allow faint light to shine into the hall; the floral scent was emanating even stronger than before. Cautiously she approached and peeked through, inadvertently nudging the door open even wider; a soft creaking of the door on its hinges punctuated the silence.
Sela was on her bed at the far end of the room, sitting upright, facing away from the doorway. Her legs crossed, forearms resting on her thighs as in the lotus position, she appeared to be in deep meditation---the sound Robin had made had not visibly roused her. Beside her on a wooden bedside table was a burning stick of incense.
Robin hesitated at the doorway, not certain if the open door was a welcome of any sort; she was about to speak, when Sela’s calm and somewhat amused voice startled her. “Avanti, Robin...mettersi comodi.”
The young chestnut-haired Witch straightened, realizing she’d been caught. “Scusi,” she whispered softly to Sela’s back, “I did not mean to interrupt...”
Sela twisted around to face her, her legs still crossed before her. She bestowed a good-natured grin on the younger Craft-user. “Sciocchezza. You’re doing nothing of the sort. Come in.” She shifted to face her guest.
Robin entered, leaving Bast to peer into the doorway, and she glanced briefly at the decor in the room before approaching Sela, who was still sitting with her legs crossed on her bed. The brunette Witch leaned over to the bedside table where the incense burned, and waved the thin wisps of smoke towards her face. When she looked up, she saw Robin’s curious gaze on her. “Mimosa,” Sela explained, inhaling deeply as she waved the tendrils in the air towards her. “Bella, sì? It’s a calming flower, the scent is very therapeutic.” When Robin nodded in affirmation, taking her own tentative breath of the incense herself, Sela patted the bed across from her. “Come, sit.”
Robin sat obediently, opposite Sela. Before her, on the bedspread, were a deck of cards, the majority of them faced down. “Che cos'è quelli?” Robin asked.
Sela’s grin returned. “Tarot,” she answered simply, picking the cards back up and reshuffling them in her hands. “Do you know anything about it?”
Robin shook her head. “I am familiar with runes and rune-casting techniques, as well as with circle magick...but I have never studied the cards.” She had been inclined to distrust the cards, based on her SOLOMON training, which had dismissed them as folly; but her inquisitive nature won out over any skepticism, and she leaned forward with interest.
“Actually, runes and Tarot are supposedly complementary of each other,” Sela noted, as she shuffled. “But I have to confess, I haven’t been doing this for very long, so I don’t know how much of that is really true. But I can do a short reading for you---just one or two cards---before dinner, if you’d like.” She grinned again at the young Witch, her coffee-colored eyes friendly and warm.
Robin nodded, her own half-smile dawning. “Sì, per favore.”
Sela stopped shuffling and spread the cards face down before her on the bed, between herself and Robin. “First, think of a question that you would like an answer to. It can be anything, involving yourself or someone else; it does not have to be a ‘yes or no’ question. Try to keep your question simple and clear in your mind.” Sela smiled gently at the young Witch again. “Then, when you’re ready, choose a card.”
Robin ducked her head in affirmation, and to Sela’s amusement, closed her eyes momentarily to concentrate on her question. She did not have to deliberate for long; it was the same question she had asked Jana not too long ago---during their first morning in the Sovanan farmhouse---upon learning that her grandmother was of Witches’ blood. It was a question that had gone unanswered; which on some level, she realized, disturbed her. She opened her eyes and chose a card from the spread, turning it over in her hand.
The emerald eyes widened in surprise and a hint of fear. “Morte?” she whispered. This….this is what is in store for myself and Amon?…
Sela leaned forward curiously, her expression enlivened as she verified the skeletal horseman depicted on the card. “Sì, the Death card.” She looked up then, and seeing the consternation on the young Witch’s face, sought to reassure her. “Non, it’s not necessarily a bad result, Robin. It does not reflect a physical death, as such…this is a very misunderstood card.”
“What does it reflect, then?” Robin asked, her voice betraying her concern.
“Death signifies a change in the seeker’s life…something powerful that will initiate great change, which cannot be controlled or curbed,” Sela responded. “It symbolizes endings, life transition, moves of all kinds...the leaving behind of sorrow, and regrets.” She smiled again, gently. “It’s sort of like a reminder, to focus on what is important...to ‘get down to business’, as the Americans would say.”
Robin looked slightly more placated; she still was uncertain, but the fear in her eyes had lifted.
“This question you asked…it was about Amon, sì? You worry too much about each other, both of you,” Sela said quietly, a fondness in her eyes as she looked at the chestnut-haired girl before her. Poor girl, you don’t need Tarot to know what’s gnawing at her heart...it’s written all over her face for all to see.
At Robin’s look of surprise, she went on, nodding her head, answering the unspoken question in the green eyes. “Sì, certamente...he worries about you, too.” Sela gestured in the air animatedly with her hands. “All the time, with the questions. ‘Dov’è Robin? What is she doing? Who is with her?’ He always wants to make sure you are safe.”
Part of her had intuitively known that Amon was that way when it came to her safety---it was hard for Robin to imagine him as anything other than focused and protective---but there was something about Sela’s description that brought it home more vividly for her. Imagining Amon asking where she was, worrying about her, overwhelmed her heart with guilt and remorse; for hadn’t she just told him, earlier that day, that she didn’t need a warden? To Amon, perhaps that was the equivalent of telling him she didn’t need him at all…the very thought pained her.
It seemed as though it were only yesterday that she had given him the title, in the middle of the chaos of the Factory...had I realized then what I feel now, I would not have asked him to take on that role. Ducking her head, Robin gave a heavy sigh.
Sela tsk’d affectionately. “Vedi, now you’re worrying again,” she chastised, and Robin looked back up at her as the brunette Witch began reshuffling the cards.
“I was angry with him this morning, thinking that he was trying to control me,” Robin said, a regretful note in her voice and downcast eyes.
“He does seem to have issues with control, doesn’t he,” Sela observed after a moment, with a wry smirk; the implication of her inside joke---the comment she had wrestled from Amon at the Spa the previous day---obviously lost on the chestnut-haired Witch. “But perhaps, Robin, his concern is less about control over you...and more about his own control.”
Robin cocked her head, not certain she fully understood. “Come?”
Sela shook her head, smiling gently. “Niente.” She cut the deck and set the cards aside for the moment, reaching next to her to the bedside table for a sip of tea. Robin watched her silently, green eyes searching.
“Sela,” she finally asked softly, “what is between you and Seth?”
The brunette Witch almost choked on her tea at the innocent question, before regaining her composure and masking her surprise with humor. “What makes you ask that?” she demanded jokingly, to which Robin responded with a delicate shrug of her shoulders and a questioning look.
For lack of something to do with her hands, Sela set down her tea and picked up the cards again, laying them face down on the bed before her. Her expression lost its humorous facade, and became momentarily serious as her defenses were lowered.
“I can’t tell you what’s between Seth and I,” she responded quietly, and her voice became tinged with a hint of despair. “I would if I knew it myself. But as it is, unfortunately, I am very good at assessing other people’s relationships and their problems....” she smiled to herself sadly, “...and terrible at analyzing my own.”
She sighed as she placed down the last card, her hands on her cross-legged knees, and her brow puckered slightly as she contemplated the spread before her. “Let’s ask the cards,” she said, looking up at Robin determinedly, and the young girl nodded in agreement. “What is between myself and Seth?”
She paused before taking a card from the lower portion of the spread, and turned it over in her hand, looking at it for a long moment, seemingly engrossed. “Che cos'è?” Robin finally asked.
“La luna,” Sela responded thoughtfully, showing her the card; a moon’s face in the sky, looking down on a river flanked by two pillars. “This is the card of illusions; it would suggest that I am confused, but that the situation will resolve itself in time, and I must not try to force issues that I may not fully understand yet.”
She gave a sarcastic smile and set the card down, with a snort and a dramatic roll of her eyes. “Well, I didn’t need a card to tell me that. Sometimes I wonder why I play with these things,” she laughed self-effacingly. “It’s just a card after all, sì?”
Robin did not smile; Sela’s words reminded her that the cards were foolishness, but she still could not shake the disturbing image of the skeletal horseman bearing the banner of death.
At that moment, both women heard the sound of cars entering the castle grounds through the heavy rain, headed into garage; the catered dinner they’d been waiting for had arrived. Sela extinguished the incense burning on her bedside table---looking grateful for the distraction---and jumped to her feet, encouraging Robin to do the same. “Let’s go; the boys are home, and they won’t wait for us to eat.”
Robin exited the room, Sela at her heels, slipping on her shoes; the brunette Witch took a last look at the cards spread out on her bed, before flipping off the light.
“Maybe things will make more sense to me later on,” she said softly to herself.
Dinner was already being served downstairs by the time Robin and Sela arrived, and nearly everyone in the Coven was present. Seth was directing the caterers, dripping wet from the rainstorm outside, to distribute the food and drink; Hedya, Gideon and Ethan were helping to set the large oak dining table, around which people were congregating, chattering animatedly. Someone had lit a fire in the fireplace in the corner of the dining room, and the warmth from the hearth added to the already cozy atmosphere, making the scents wafting from the delivered food all the more appetizing. Robin felt her stomach growl in appreciation, belatedly realizing she hadn’t had lunch. She chose a chair near Sela, gracefully seating herself as the rest of the table had begun to do.
Coven members were already pouring themselves wine and grappa, and Gal, seated on her other side, offered to pour her a glass of chianti. “Non, grazie,” she responded politely.
“But you must, signorina,” he insisted, smiling, and poured anyway despite her protests.
The spread was amazing, even compared to the usual evenings at il Castello. The appetizers included mixed cold cuts, salami and prosciutto, as well as crostini---a Tuscan classic that Robin had missed during her absence from her home country---thin slices of lightly toasted pane casalingo, unsalted Tuscan bread, with a variety of toppings; liver pate, grilled eggplant, and olives. The main dishes were similarly impressive: bisi all'anatra, hand-rolled pasta in duck sauce; roasted rabbit, stuffed with pancetta, ground meat, and hard-boiled eggs; ravioli di melanzane, eggplant ravioli; roast pigeon, stuffed with minced duck breast laced with truffles and foie-gras; and vegetable side-dishes with Belgian endive, zucchini, and baked artichoke hearts. Dessert was a spread of pecorno cheeses, aged and dabbed with crystallized honey; followed by a delicate cream cake topped with fresh berries. To drink, there were numerous bottles of chianti, as well as grappa,; the popular brandy-like liquor this time having arrived in exquisite blown-glass bottles.
Amidst the bustle of dinner being served---Coven members walking around the table, sampling the food and getting more wine---Robin observed Amon unobtrusively enter the dining room. He had changed his clothes from the morning into a loose long-sleeved black shirt and black pants, his raven-black hair still damp, most likely from a shower; she vaguely wondered if he’d braved the pouring rain outside the castle. Nibbling daintily on crostini with olives, Robin stole glances at the open collar of his dark shirt, as he helped himself to sampling the catered food...she refused to admit to herself that she was surreptitiously trying to catch a glimpse of his neck and collarbone. She didn’t know if he made an effort or not, but it seemed as though he studiously ignored her eyes on him.
Sela nudged her, startling the chestnut-haired Witch out of her trance. “You should talk to him, tonight,” she admonished quietly, nodding in the dark-haired hunter’s direction. Robin’s eyes dropped to the floor.
The clinking of fork against glass punctuated the background noise of the dining room, as Seth held up his glass for the usual evening toast, and the chattering ceased. He grinned charmingly as he addressed the group.
“Miei amici,” he started, “tonight’s the first time in a week that we’ve had nearly everyone together, save Noa and Leor, who are on assignment in Pisa. To celebrate this, I’ve taken great pains---” At this, the Coven members, with the exception of Amon and Robin, groaned dramatically.
Seth laughed, feigning offense. “---Che, sono serio!...taken great pains, to ensure that the dinner tonight was special....così ingrato.” His growled comment elucidated hearty laughs from the group, and he chuckled, shaking his head, before holding up his glass of liquor. “As an extra treat, I’ve ordered this grappa straight from il Distillerie Bonollo, one of the premier distilleries in the region...180 proof, fresh-fruit-and-berry bouquet. There are several bottles, so per favore, enjoy yourselves. Salute.” He sat back down in his chair at the head of the table, to chimes of “Salute!” and other enthusiastic comments from the Coven. Robin glanced at Sela, seated next to her, and saw the brunette’s dark eyes rove sadly over Seth’s form.
The dining room resumed its former noise level of chatter. Between bites of roasted rabbit and pancetta while fielding questions from Gal and Ethan, Robin found her attention wandering to the far opposite end of the table, where her partner was finishing his meal, his dark gray eyes looking as though they were far away in thought. Hedya was attempting conversation with him, but he appeared disinterested; he had already drained his small glass of grappa, as well as a full glass of chianti. As she gazed at him for a long moment, she saw him suddenly push his seat back, rising from his chair, his eyes still lowered. He strode from the table, fading into the backdrop of the dining room scene; hardly any of the Coven members appeared to notice his departure, save Seth, whom she noticed was observing Amon’s exit with lowered blue eyes.
Amon proceeded to the door of the dining hall, pausing just briefly at a display table. As she watched, in one smooth motion he had wrapped his hand around the neck of one of the blown-glass bottles on the table and disappeared through the door with it, out into the hallway…presumably returning to his suite.
Robin blinked, eyes wide, not sure whether or not to believe what she had just witnessed. Amon, sneaking off to his room, with a bottle of grappa? She had scarcely seen him drink alcohol since he had become her guardian, with the exception of the occasional glass of wine at Jana’s; he seemed to always keep it in check, particularly as he had at Beltaine, when Robin had drank enough for the both of them.
It’s not so strange, she reasoned to herself. Amon has always gone to Harry’s after work hours for a drink…it’s most likely how he relaxes, sometimes. It didn’t appear as though anyone else in the Coven had noticed his maneuver, and she watched the door through which he’d departed for a few long moments, before sighing into her plate to resume eating.
It was another hour before the dinner party finally wound down. Some of the Coven members seemed to have lost track of the amounts of chianti and grappa consumed---Gal, Chanan, and Hedya in particular---and they were behaving completely erratically, stumbling over each other and the other Witches at the table. Sela varied between laughing at her drunk comrades, being a little more tipsy herself than she usually was at dinner, and watching Seth at the end of the table; the latter activity serving to sober her, when she did.
Robin stood gracefully from the table. “I’d better go check on Amon,” she offered to Sela, who gave her a sloppy grin and nodded.
She climbed the long staircase, the sounds of the dining room antics dying below her as she ascended; the constant rain that poured outside no longer pounding against the castle windows, but now falling in a hushed whisper from the darkened sky.
She came upon the door to his suite, and straightened her spine before lifting her small fist to knock.
A rough, low voice answered her. “Nani?!” he demanded, from inside the suite. Robin blinked, uncomprehending, at the tone of his voice.
“Amon?” she called hesitantly, pressing her hands against the heavy oak door. “E’ mi.” She was hoping her voice alone would encourage him to answer to her; instead, it seemed as though it were working against her, as several moments passed without any indication that the door was to be opened.
“Amon,” she whispered again sadly, her voice dropping off as she realized he was not going to answer. Heaviness filled her heart…he is still angry with me from this morning. He was shutting her out again, turning himself away from her.
With a final somber glance at the closed door, she turned back to the hallway, slowly following it back to the winding staircase.
By the time she had reached the dining room again, Robin heard voices wafting through the open door; some innate sense of caution held her back from making her presence known. Finding herself once more in the role of spy---something she thought Amon would approve of, if he could witness it---she indulged her curiosity, and listened in from where she stood.
The other members of the Coven had dispersed, most of them drunk and pleasantly satiated with food, and the hall was now empty save for two people---Seth and Sela. The latter stood rigidly with her back to him, facing the dining table, her arms crossed and features stern; Robin’s eyes widened as she saw Seth come up behind the brunette Witch. He brushed the tendrils of dark hair aside from the nape of her neck with his hand, and in one smooth motion almost casually replaced it with his lips, as he held her by the shoulders.
The sight nearly caused Robin to gasp in a mixture of wonder and surprise; she hadn’t expected them to be so intimate with each other.
Sela, however, looked less entranced. She brushed him away with her hands, stepping out of his path. “Smettila,” she hissed; Seth appeared impervious to her reaction.
“Che diavolo, Sela?” he asked, almost irritably.
“You know exactly what’s wrong,” she quipped dangerously, and when he gave a perverse shrug in response, she advanced on him, scoffing.
“You think I’m stupid or something, don’t you?” she demanded angrily, “But you’re like glass, Seth; I see right through you. ‘Noa’s not here, so maybe I will go to Sela instead,’” she mocked.
“Are you saying you’d prefer I not touch you at all?” he drawled lazily, smirking in response as he folded his arms across his chest. He nodded, as if to himself. “Interessante. I don’t recall you acting that way four nights ago.” He met her eyes again, his ice-blue ones issuing a challenge.
“I’m saying, I don’t prefer to be secondo to Noa!” she shouted with vehemence, tears in her eyes. She knew his words had meant to rile her---nevertheless, Sela found herself taking the bait.
Robin watched curiously from the doorway, as Seth’s features became vaguely softened. “You’re not second to her,” he said quietly, but with a stern undertone. “You’ve always been first.”
“Stronzata!” she bit out defiantly, her voice nearly cracking on the word. She impatiently brushed away the moisture gathered at her eyes.
At that, Seth lost the patient, almost humorous calm he’d displayed until that point, and started to appear angry. “We’ve had this discussion before, Sela,” he reminded her, his voice slow and stern. Sela turned her head away, fighting back fresh tears.
He went on, his voice rising. “You knew what you were getting into when we started this; I have always been up front with you, sì? Haven’t I?” He waited for her response, and she nodded penitently, her eyes lowered. “So…what do you expect me to do about it now?”
When she didn’t answer, he spread his arms out before her in a gesture of impatience, his voice lowering slightly. “What do you want from me, Sela?”
She paused, sniffling, as she collected her thoughts rationally, leaning against the heavy oak table as though it were too much to bear for her to stand on her own.
“I want you to love me the way he loves her,” she whispered, looking up at his face, her words sounding as though they were agonizing to speak.
Robin blinked. He? Her? Who was Sela referring to?
Seth’s eyes underwent a change, but the expression in them was unreadable.
“I want you to look at me, the way he looks at her,” she whispered, tears freely flowing down her face, “like nothing else on earth matters to him but her, neanche paradiso o inferno...neither place holds importance for him.” Her pained look held defiance. “And the way that she watches him, when she thinks he’s not looking…” She shook her head, her eyes lowered sorrowfully. “She doesn’t think he sees it, but he does---I know he does.”
Something was burgeoning in Robin’s mind, as she listened to Sela’s anguished and hushed sentiments; and her skin tingled as the full force of what was said fell down upon her. It weighed like bricks on her soul, pulling her down into the depths of uncertainty…Amon....Amon might...feel the same way as I?
Seth was rolling his eyes impatiently. “You’re not making one bit of sense---”
“You asked me what I want from you,” she said sadly, her hands folded limply in front of her. “That is what I want.”
“I can’t give you that, Sela.” Seth’s voice was as hard as unforgiving stone.
“Perché?” Her voice pleading, broken.
“Because...I cannot. I’ve already told you, it’s not possible for me.” He turned away from her, dismissively, as though he’d already made up his mind how things would end between them. “And it’s not professional,” he added.
Sela’s features hardened, into what Robin could only think to describe to herself as a shell.
“Then I shall go and tell them that you are disobeying their orders, regarding her.”
Seth turned around slowly, to face her. His features were cold. From where she hid behind the door, Robin’s breath stilled.
“It’s not right, what you’re doing,” she told him, her voice again falling to a pleading whisper; the shell was already breaking. “You realize that....I know you do...it’s not right, to either of them---she’s just a child, per amor di Dio....”
“So you will stand in my way, Sela?” he asked, bitingly, as he walked slowly towards her again. “Is that what you will do? I must know.” The edge in his voice was an undisguised challenge, and she bit her lip, her eyes sorrowful.
He stood in front of her, face-to-face, almost forcing her to look at him; Robin feared he would move to strike her. His voice went up another decibel. “Will you stand in my way? Because if you do, I will not be able to forgive you, Sela, so help me.” He gave an abrupt shake of his head to emphasize his words, glaring at the trembling brunette before him.
Sela’s composure and will held for one more moment, before both broke simultaneously in a flood of tears and suffering. Her entire body crumpled in defeat. “No,” she managed, before she was completely engulfed by the convulsive sobs that took over her body. She sobbed brokenly, burying her face in her hands before him.
Seth turned on his heel and made for the exit on the opposite end of the room from Robin’s hiding place.
“I can’t,” Sela managed as she wept, “because I’m in love with you.”
He stopped, for a fraction of an instant, before stalking out quickly, his back rigid. Sela sank to her knees on the floor, consumed by her sadness; the sounds of her wailing echoed in the now-empty dining room.
Not wishing to be discovered by Seth, should he round the corner, Robin gathered her long skirts so that she would not trip, and ran up the staircase towards Amon’s suite.
The crystal-clear liquid swirled in the glass tumbler, as he twisted it in his hand; he could make out its shimmering form, the glycerol-induced tears of the drink coating the sides of the glass, even in the near-pitch darkness of his room. Aptly named, ‘tears’, he thought, fuzzily; as if the alcohol is a substitute for that which some of us cannot shed. He lifted the tumbler to his lips again to drink, tipping his dark head back slightly to down the liquor in a single gulp.
Amon leaned back in his chair, facing the rain pelting his window. He held the empty tumbler back up, the streaks of tears still present on the edges of the glass, looking at it wonderingly as thunder rumbled low and menacing outside. A somnolent sigh escaped his lips.
This grappa was indeed a wonderful thing. It wasn’t sake, but it did the trick nicely. If it could make him numb, like this; if it could make him momentarily forget who he was and why he was there…as well as what he wanted…it was well worth it to indulge in such a vice.
Nothing like 180-proof, for blocking unwanted memories and deadening emotional desires…two birds with one stone, all wrapped up in a delicate little bottle. He managed to produce something resembling a sardonic half-smile at the thought, and reached again for the near-empty bottle.
He poured, and was surprised to find there was only enough remaining to fill his glass halfway. Amon blinked, owl-like, in the darkness. Zannen desu ne, he realized drunkenly, guess I should have taken more than one bottle. He reached to put the empty bottle back on the desk beside him, and missed the table entirely, the glass shattering on the stone tile floor. …Oops.
He contemplated picking up the broken glass, to spare himself the effort of doing it when he woke up the next morning; but he was startled out of his thoughts by someone pounding urgently with their fists on the door of his suite.
“Amon!” It was a delicate voice, hovering between a shout and a whisper. He frowned; it was undeniably Robin who was knocking as though her life depended on it, pleading with him to open the door, again.
“Amon, please open up,” she implored, her soft voice muffled through the heavy oak wood of the door. What in the hell was going on? She sounded just frantic enough to cause him a moderate amount of concern, as inebriated as he was; and he got up from his chair and made it to the doorway without stumbling, to his amazement. He braced himself against the heavy wood with his forearms.
“Amon, onegaishimasu,” he heard through the door, and it compelled him to unlock and open it, just slightly, enough to see her face-to-face.
The instant he’d done it, Amon regretted opening the door to her. While the grappa had made him somewhat psychologically numb, it had spuriously led him to believe that it had deadened other desires coiling inside of him....but as he looked at her standing in the hallway, her cheeks flushed and chestnut hair tousled, eyes bright and breathing heavily as though she had run all the way up the stairs---he felt it all come instantly flooding back.
Fuck. The word thought aloud in his mind made him think of the innuendo associated with it, causing him further discomfort.
“Amon,” she breathed, “there was an argument...Sela and Seth were fighting, and I spied on them and listened at the door, and---” She stopped suddenly, looking at him for a long moment. “Daijoubu?”
A pause. “Nani?” Despite his calm exterior, he was having trouble focusing on something, anything...Robin’s voice seemed to fade in and out, like someone was playing with the volume control. He pulled his head back self-consciously, thinking she could smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Are you ill? You’re sweating,” she whispered, concerned; she looked as though wanted to reach out to touch him, but she probably knew such a move would not be well received.
“I’m fine.” A blatant lie, he knew. He considered ending the conversation there.
She stepped closer, trying to edge her way through the door. “Amon...can I come in?”
What the--- “No,” he answered, but it sounded half-hearted, even to him; her face was very close to his now, and it was more than distracting. He found himself focusing on her parted lips instead of her eyes.
“Onegai,” she whispered, and this time she reached to touch him. “Amon, I was wrong, this morning, I didn’t---”
He didn’t let her finish, instead ducking from her hand and shaking his head. “Robin, it’s not a good time...” he warned darkly.
“Doushite?” she asked, her features registering hurt; she leaned even closer to him, so that he could feel her warm, quickened breath on his own lips…the feeling was nearly unbearable, even more intoxicating than what he’d already put himself through. “Amon...”
His vision narrowed, and for a moment everything around them faded into darkness; he felt as though he were back in Jana’s dark kitchen, seduced just as much by the glowing candlelight outside as by the shivering, ethereal girl in his arms.
The temptation was taking over him, like a slow, surreptitious haze, whispering in his head...and he felt himself yielding to it, as he’d wanted to do, for so long...for such a long time...
It’s been ages, since I’ve waited for this...hasn’t it?
The errant thought actually startled him, rousing him from his trance; Robin was leaning into his form in a similar fashion as though she were pulled by gravity.
“Iie, Robin,” he asserted angrily, pushing her back as gently as he could manage; his control was re-established for the moment. “Go back to your room.”
“Demo---” She was unable to finish her thought, as he unceremoniously shut the door in front of her.
He stood leaning on the heavy oak door, his breathing labored from his reverie a minute earlier...he listened, for long moments, his head pressed against the sturdy wood. He heard the sound of her own breaths slowing on the other side of the door, then a soft hiccup, as though her breath had suddenly hitched in her throat.
Guilt sliced through the drunken haze of his mind; he shut his eyes against it. You fucking bastard.
Amon remained at the door for as long as he could, momentarily sobered and cursing himself more with each passing second, as the quiet, hiccupping breaths continued outside. He found he could not stop trembling, even when he could hear the sound of the hesitant footsteps in the hallway and on the stairs.
It would pass, he knew, as he closed his eyes in defeat; the fear and desire always did, leaving him with the familiar ache, the empty void inside of him...the sinking knowledge that despite whomever he traveled with, he was still, and always would be, alone.
Robin traversed the castle, taking the stairs to the opposite wing of the upstairs suites, and wandered through the long hallway. Exploring, she figured, would relieve her of the persistent sense of anguish that threatened to creep up through her ribcage and into her throat.
Perhaps he really is unwell, she considered, recalling his perspiration and unfocussed eyes. It wasn’t like him to be so rude to her, and she thought she had detected alcohol on his breath; maybe the grappa hadn’t agreed with him. Surely drinking would have improved his mood, and not worsened it.
She came upon the door she knew to be Sela’s suite…seeing it closed and most likely locked, she pressed her ear against the door to listen. The hushed sounds of quiet weeping drifted to her ears. Though she felt sorrow for the brunette Witch, Robin thought it best to leave her alone with her grief, for now.
As she stood with her ear against the wood, her keen hearing picked up another sound; a faint lifting of voices against orchestral music, coming from the opposite end of the hallway. She followed it, her curiosity piqued.
The hallway ended in a cul-de-sac of sorts, with the large entrance of a room slightly ajar; it was presumably the master bedroom of the castle, given its size. The music wafted through the open door; a woman’s voice, sweet and lilting, singing in Italian.
Con te partirò
su navi per mari
che, io lo so,
no, no, non esistono più...
Robin pushed against the door ever so slightly, allowing herself to see inside. To her surprise, Seth sat in a plush leather chair at the end of the room, facing a glowing hearth, appearing lost in thought; playing on a table next to him was an old instrument that Robin had never before seen---on top of a box spun a large black disc, turning endlessly, with some sort of wand touching the disk. Attached to the entire thing was something like a cornucopia-shaped speaker, through which the sound floated into the room.
As though he had sensed her presence, Seth turned his profile to the door. “Ah, Robin...entrari.”
Realizing there was nowhere to go now that she was discovered, the chestnut-haired Witch came through the door cautiously. She paused just inside the room, her expression uncertain.
Seth smiled, benevolent and kind. “Avanti.” He motioned to her with his hand, and Robin approached his chair.
He reached over to the table beside him, lifting the strange wand, abruptly stopping the music. Robin felt her heart lurch unexpectedly at the loss of the song.
“I trust you enjoyed the meal, tonight?” he inquired nonchalantly, as he turned to face her; she nodded in agreement. He blinked, his expression suddenly curious. “What brings you to walk around il castello so late? Shouldn’t you be preparing to sleep, soon?”
She ducked her head, not sure of how to answer; he went on to ask, with a sly gleam in his cerulean eyes, “Did something Amon said, bother you?”
The blunt question made her slightly discomfited. “Non,” she lied, deciding it was a white lie, and therefore very insignificant. With hesitation, she continued. “I overheard you and Sela arguing.”
His features became that of moderate interest. “You heard what we talked about?”
She nodded. “ Sì.”
Seth bowed his blond head, somewhat modestly, she thought. “Mi perdoni. I am sorry that you had to witness that. Sela and I have not seen eye to eye on things, lately.” He looked back into her eyes with earnest. “I hope you were not offended, tesoro.”
Robin was momentarily silent, feeling as though he was glossing over what she had seen in the dining room. “Sela objected to something strongly, concerning Amon and I...she said that it was not right,” she said in her quiet tone, looking at him pointedly. “What was she referring to?”
He sighed and sat back in his comfortable leather chair. “Sela insists that I should not bring either of you on the Hunts,” he explained, his eyes lowered. “She thinks it is wrong of me, that you are too young. But I know better; you are powerful, and your fire can be used to punish those who have done injustices to our kind.” Seth was looking up at her as she stood before him, his blond hair illuminated by the firelight. He spoke again, softly. “We need you, Robin.”
His answer somewhat mollified her, although it was hard for her to think of Sela disapproving her involvements with the Hunts simply because of her age...but she still had lingering questions. “The ‘them’ she spoke of...who---?”
Seth waved her comment off dismissively. “Our sponsors, tesoro.” He reached to the table near him, opening a humidor box and taking out a cigar. He clipped the end and held it to his mouth, lighting it, before taking a long puff on it. Robin watched him silently as he exhaled the smoke, looking back into the burning fire before him.
“For five years I have been hunting SOLOMON agents,” he sighed wearily, “without failure. I have never lost a confrontation, nor a comrade. But Sela does not trust me,” he said, thoughtful, as though he were just coming to the realization himself. “After all of this time, she does not trust me.”
Robin said nothing, looking where he did into the glowing flames. She dared not speak her thoughts. But she loves him....how can he say that she does not trust him?
“Sela has only been doing this for two years,” he went on, “so I suspect such activities are still new to her, in some ways...when I first met her, in Siena, I was so captivated by her strength, her willfulness, her energy.” He was far away in recollection. “I thought she would have the fortitude to stick through this until it ended.” He paused, thinking.
Feeling as though the conversation was taking a perturbing turn, Robin looked at the strange disc box. “What was that music that you were playing, when I came in?” she asked him hesitantly.
He seemed to snap out of his daze, looking up at her. “Music?” He glanced at the strange box on the table. “Ah, you mean the record. This is a record player; it’s become totally obsolete by musical standards, but it is a classic way to play music.” He replaced the wand on the spinning record again, and once more the music started up, the ethereal female voice calling out softly.
“Bella piece...‘Time to Say Goodbye’. A famous Italian tenor, and some woman as his accompaniment; backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The lyrics are what I like most, I believe,” he said, and turned up the volume of the player.
Si lo so che non c'è luce
in una stanza quando manca il sole,
se non ci sei tu con me, con me.
“‘Yes, I know, there is no light in a room where there is no sun’,” he translated dreamily, “‘and there is no sun if you're not here with me, with me...’ That is the woman, speaking to the man, calling him her sun.”
Robin nodded, not quite comprehending, but hesitant to break his concentration. The song played on until it came to the male vocals, and again he translated. Robin began to wonder if he’d forgotten she spoke Italian.
Quando sei lontana
e mancan le parole,
e io si lo so
che sei con me, con me,
tu mia luna tu sei qui con me,
mio solo tu sei qui con me,
con me, con me, con me.
“‘When you are far away, I dream of the horizon, and words fail me...’” he sang softly, “‘and, yes, I know that you are with me; you, my moon, are here with me, my only one, you are here with me.’ He calls her his moon,” Seth relayed, gazing somewhat sadly into the fireplace.
It was a poignant song; Robin felt herself pulled in by the beautiful melody and gentle lyrics. The references to the sun and moon made her think of the Sovanan villagers and their Beltaine myths, and of Jana’s story, the lady as white as the Moon, and the man as red as the Sun.
Seth finally looked back up at her, as she stood over him, the music still playing in the background. “Scusi,” he said, tiredly, “I have been rude, keeping you here, when you’d probably rather sleep. Buonanotte,” he said, touching her arm with gentleness. “A domani.”
“Buonanotte,” she whispered in response. She turned to leave, making it to the door before looking back at him curiously. He was still in front of the fire, a forlorn expression on his face, and she heard the music dying away as she shut the door behind her.
Amon awoke slowly, his head feeling as though it were spontaneously combusting.
He groaned and turned over in his bed, fighting a roiling wave of nausea; the only comfort was that he knew it was alcohol-related. Squinting at the sunlight that poured through his window, he guessed it was somewhere around noon or an hour past. Good God, he thought. That was the last time he was getting himself drunk to stupidity on grappa---it had been several years since he’d allowed himself to acquire a hangover of such magnitude. He realized, as he sat up in bed, that his entire body was shaking.
Food first...then shower. Something was needed to calm his stomach, and soak up the alcohol that was probably still present...food and re-hydration were essential, if he was to be at all functional that day. He didn’t know the Coven’s plans, but he intended to inform Seth as soon as possible that he was healed enough to resume participation in the Hunts.
After dressing very slowly he was able to make it downstairs to the dining room, where he found a spread of pastries and coffee. Hedya was reading a local newspaper, and she looked up and smiled slyly upon his entrance. “Buon giorno,” she welcomed him.
Somehow the same, simple words sounded more appealing coming from Robin. “Buon giorno,” he returned. He bit into a pastry and asked, “Where are the others?”
“Oh, you were asleep, weren’t you,” the blonde Witch mused, smirking. “There was a Hunt announced this morning...very last-minute. Sela and Robin accompanied Seth to Arezzo.”
The pastry halted mid-way back to his mouth. “A Hunt?” His eyes narrowed. “Why wasn’t I informed?” he demanded.
“I believe someone tried to rouse you,” she chuckled. “It must have been a long night for you, Amon.”
He ignored her comment, suddenly distracted. “I’ll go find them myself,” he asserted, finishing off the pastry and moving as though he were going to the garage. I’ll be damned if I miss yet another one of these.
Hedya snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. Even if you get to Arezzo, you have no idea where they are.”
Amon clenched his fists in frustration, realizing she was right. He could do nothing but wait. The remainder of his food forgotten, he stalked out of the room.
The blonde Witch looked on after him, amusement gleaming in her blue eyes.
The drive to Arezzo had taken two hours, despite Seth having broken all of the speed limits for the local highways; and by the time they reached their destination, Robin was already car-weary, realizing there would be another two-hour drive on the way back from the Hunt.
The drive had been cheery, though, with Sela chattering to her from the passenger seat of Seth’s Jaguar, teasing her about whether she had spoken to Amon and what condition she’d found him in last night. Seth drove, silently looking straight ahead.
Seth had woken Robin that morning with frantic knocking on the door of her suite, calling her to an impromptu meeting at half past nine. The meeting had been brief and concise---their target was a Hunter in Arezzo, and both she and Sela would accompany Seth to intercept him. His Craft was thought to be something benign---scrying, the same as Karasuma’s---but the mole hadn’t been entirely certain that was his only power, and it was also suspected he was heavily armed. With that in mind, both Seth and Sela had brought along handguns.
Both of them now loaded the magazines of the nine-millimeter Berettas as they exited the Jaguar, Robin on their heels. She looked up at the old, dilapidated distillery which they were about to enter.
Seth handed her a flashlight, as well as Sela’s cell phone. “I want you to check out the barrel cellar, tesoro,” he said sternly. “Sela and I will take the main floor. If you encounter him, page us immediately. We don’t know if he’s hiding, or on the attack; you may not be able to incinerate him, given that your Craft has not been completely functional lately, but you should be able to hold off his bullets with your fire shield until we can get to your side....è chiaro?” Robin nodded.
Sela looked at her affectionately. “Fare attenzione, Robin,” she said, pushing a lock of chestnut-blonde hair, a stray from the girl’s strange up-do, aside from her green eyes.
Robin half-smiled in response, touching Sela’s shoulder. “Lo farò,” she assured the brunette Witch. “I know you are worried about me, because I am young...but I promise, I will be all right.” She turned away and headed through the entrance of the distillery, missing Sela’s confused reaction.
She headed down the corridor and into a darkened stairwell, casting one last glance at Seth and Sela departing in the opposite direction.
“I want you to know,” Sela breathed quietly, as they made their way stealthily down a hallway, “that even though I may sometimes have doubts, I do trust you, Seth...and that I will do my best to prove it to you, here, on this Hunt.” Her eyes shone, determined. “I will prove that you can be proud of me.”
He nodded, distracted; he raised a hand in a halting gesture as they approached the end of the hallway. A slight scuffle of noise could be heard; the wine-tasting room was up ahead, and it was more well-lit than the rest of the distillery, with large bay windows that let in the afternoon sunlight.
He turned to Sela, who had remained a few feet behind him. They communicated by eyes, giving each other signals and directions with simple glances. The tasting room was conveniently decorated in stone, decorative boulders lining many of the racks of wine and spirits. Seth motioned with two fingers, pointing off to the left, and Sela nodded, drawing her pistol.
She charged out to the left, to catch the Hunter by surprise; almost immediately she heard a gunshot, and her own pistol went flying across the room, clattering on the hard cement floor. She gasped as she retracted her hands; the bullet had grazed her skin, but not gone through.
In another second she had looked up, at the Hunter whose gun was trained on her; her eyes widened and trembled, and suddenly a large rock from one of the display racks broke loose, flying in his direction at lightning speed. It hit his hands dead-on, and he cried out in agony as he dropped his gun. He could no longer use it---the bones in his hands had been crushed.
Sela moved again, her eyes directing the movement of stone and rock, gracefully orchestrating their kinetic bombardment as though it were a musical overture. The boulders pummeled him from all directions, the Hunter falling to his knees on the cement, groaning.
A large sharp-edged rock came at the direction of his head; he was too dazed and injured to even raise his arms to protect himself. The impact struck his skull, nearly splitting it, and he slumped boneless to the floor.
Sela was panting from the mental effort as she approached the fallen Hunter to get a close look at him. She heard footsteps behind her, and she turned to beam a triumphant grin at Seth, who had picked up the Hunter’s discarded weapon and was approaching them.
“I did it,” she breathed, “grazie a Dio. I was worried that he would get more shots in, but I...” Her voice trailed off as she watched Seth calmly bend over the dead Hunter, placing his gun back in his hand, and closing the crushed fingers around it.
Sela looked confused. “Ciò che stai facendo?”
Seth turned to face her, deliberately drawing his own gun from inside his trench coat.
Her eyes widened impossibly in shock as she heard the cocking of the semiautomatic pistol. Slowly her expression changed, to become one of sadness.
The gunshot could be heard in the barrel cellar, and Robin quickened her steps. She had already begun to turn back towards the stairs, upon hearing the noises and scuffling from the tasting room above her; now she broke into a run as she scrambled upstairs.
A man’s anguished wail came to her ears. “No! Sela!” Two more gunshots followed. Robin hurried to get to the top of the stairs as fast as she could, tearing down the hallway toward the sounds. She rounded the corner to find a male body lying face down on the cement, his body riddled with gunshots and injuries; nearby, Seth was kneeling on the ground, rocking back and forth as he cradled a bloodied form in his arms.
Sela. Horrified, Robin felt her stomach drop.
“Sela,” Robin whispered, running to them and falling to her own knees beside Seth. “Cosa avvenuto?” she cried, looking down at the mortally wounded Witch.
Sela was still alive, twitching and gasping for breath, even as a large hole had been blown open in her chest; her hands, red with her own blood, clutched at the lapels of Seth’s jacket. He was nearly hysterical with grief, tears running down his face in rivulets. “He shot her...before I had a chance to stop him, he...” He broke off, convulsed in a wailing sob, and pulled her dying body against him as he chanted her name fervently.
Robin shed her trench coat, trying to press the material to Sela’s chest, to staunch the flow of blood. “We have to get her to a hospital, imediatamente, or else she’ll---”
In a moment of lucidity, Seth’s face became almost devoid of grief. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s too late, for her.” His face crumpled again and he lowered his head.
Robin looked back to Sela, her own tears of helplessness welling up. Sela’s panicked eyes flickered to hers, and in the midst of her last throes, her lips moved wordlessly---she was trying desperately to talk, to say something to the chestnut-haired Witch, but her lungs had been decimated by gunfire.
Robin shut her eyes, fighting down the bile rising in her throat; when she opened them again seconds later, Sela was lifeless in Seth’s arms.
Seth sobbed quietly, holding her again to his chest; seemingly unfazed by the volume of blood he had been drenched in. His shoulders shook with the effort.
Robin bowed her head, her tears cascading down her cheeks.
She was in a daze on the return drive to the castle.
Seth had insisted they bring Sela’s body back with them. He had wrapped her in blankets and put her in the trunk, saying he would give her a proper burial at the castello, where she belonged.
“Shouldn’t her family be notified?” Robin had asked, as he had closed the trunk of the Jaguar with finality.
“She has no family,” he had solemnly replied, gazing out into the Arezzo landscape. “We were her family.” His features had taken on that of grim acceptance, his ice-blue eyes appearing deadened, like a frozen lake in winter.
Upon their arrival back in Grosseto, she watched by the car as Seth lifted the bleeding form in the trunk from the swath of blankets, into his arms; her dark head tipped backwards, eyes open and unseeing. He reached up to her face and closed them, gently, with his fingertips.
“I will be back in a while.” He strode out of the garage, looking down at her face as he carried her, bridal-style, out into the backyard. Dusk was quickly approaching. Robin held her bloodied trench coat in her arms, swaying a bit on her feet uncertainly, like a thin tree caught in wind.
She made it into the castle, inside her suite, and mindlessly dropped her trench coat at the foot of the door as she headed towards the bathroom. Bast trotted into the room after her, sitting down on her haunches in the doorway of the bath, watching her mistress with interested green eyes.
Robin mechanically took down her pigtails, slowly unwrapping the ribbons around the lengths of chestnut-blonde hair, looking at her reflection in the wide mirror as she did so. Even after she had finished, she stared into the glass for long moments afterward.
She crawled into her white canopied bed, still fully clothed...pulling the covers all around her as she did, burying herself in them. Tears rolled hotly down her cheeks onto the soft linen bedding.
Perhaps if she covered her ears well enough, she reasoned, she would not even hear the sounds of her own sobs.
Amon had heard the car pull into the garage, and he waited for Robin to come to him, as she usually had after the Hunts. When she didn’t come, after half an hour, he became concerned. It’s not like her.
He strode downstairs, happening to pass by the dining room on the way to her suite, and entered through the doors. Members of the Coven were seated around the table, busily chatting and helping themselves to the leftovers from the lavish dinner the night before. Amon cleared his throat, and they looked in his direction, their expressions lacking interest. Leor, at the head of the table, gestured for Amon to speak. “ Sì?” he asked, impatiently.
“Dov’è Robin?” he asked, his tone clipped, and several of the Coven at the table smirked. Amon fixed his stern gaze on Leor, ignoring the remainder, particularly Hedya.
“Non lo so,” Leor shrugged. “She came back with Seth from the Hunt, and we haven’t seen either of them. They might be in her room...together, perhaps.” Noa and Gideon, beside him, snickered.
“Sì, they’ve been very close, lately,” Chanan piped up next to them, and more chuckling ensued. Amon’s features hardened even further, before he turned on his heel and left the room.
“Wait---don’t you want to try some foie-gras?” Leor called out after him, barely containing his own laughter, and the Coven members broke into amused cackles in his wake.
He stormed down the hall to the suites at the end of the wing, and stopped at Robin’s door. He knocked three times, forcefully, before trying the handle. It was locked.
“Robin, open this door,” he called sternly, his fists clenched at his sides, jaw working in agitation. He knocked again, four more times, to no avail. “Robin,” he called again.
“Goddammit, open this door. Right now.” His voice was rising; he had never shouted at her before, but nothing seemed to stem the tide of his anger. “Do you have someone in there with you? Is Seth in there with you?” The moment he called it out, he wanted to retract it; but her silence egged him on.
“Kotaero!” He pounded on the door heavily with his fist, his features livid. “Don’t ignore me! Answer me! Do you hear me?! Robin!”
Inside her room, under her covers, Robin shivered as she put her hands over her ears. She was already weary and upset; hearing Amon yelling through her door made her feel even worse. She felt threatened by the anger in his voice, as well as sadness that he trusted her so little to be by herself in her own room.
She pulled the covers even higher over her head, stuffing them in her ears, squeezing her eyes shut as tightly as she could.
He thought about kicking it open, while he was striking the door with his fist, as though the door were the source of his problems; as though all of the doors that had been closed all throughout his life, were being represented by this one door that refused to let him in. All he wanted to do was get inside.
Let me in.
He vaguely became aware of how it felt being on the opposite side. This is what she feels when you shut her out. The realization of what he had done to her, and how she must have felt as he had done it, calmed him and weakened his anger.
The pounding of his fists dwindled to halfhearted tapping, and he braced himself against the doorframe, his dark head bowed, breathing heavily. Need had made a monster of him...he felt suddenly shamed, humbled.
“Robin,” he whispered. He wished he could hear some sound of hers, some note of her voice, to alleviate his concern; to stop the near-painful twisting in his gut, to allow him to release the pent-up emotions that made him feel as though he were brimming at the surface.
He heard the low rumble of thunder in the sky outside.
An hour later, in the darkness of Robin’s room, a lone figure on the white canopied bed turned over, sighing gently in sleep. Her chestnut-blonde hair fanned out across the white pillows, briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning from the window outside.
The window was unlatched.
Another flash of lightning revealed a figure crouched in a darkened corner, skulking in the shadows; black obsidian and dark gray steel, watching, listening to her gentle intakes of breath, her soft sighs, the swish of her bare feet underneath linen.
Sacred communion...Raging pyre...One final attempt. The Hunter searches for answers as darkness enshrouds the solitary moon. Chapter 15.
Lei fredda é, tesoro?: are you cold, darling?
Come va?: how are you?
nani: [Japanese] what
iie: [Japanese] no
buonasera : good evening
picolina: little one
avanti: come on
mettersi comodi: make yourself at home
scusi: sorry, excuse me
sciocchezza: silly thing
bella, si?: beautiful, yes?
Che cos'è quelli?: what are those?
per favore: please
si certamente: yes indeed
Dov’è: where is
vedi: you see
come: how so?
che cos'è: what is it?
la luna: the moon
miei amici: my friends
che, sono serio!: what, I’m serious!
così ingrato: so unappreciative
E’ mi: it’s me
smettila: stop it
che diavolo: what the hell
neanche paradiso o inferno: not even heaven or hell
per amor di Dio: for God’s sake
zannen desu ne: [Japanese] how unfortunate
ch’kuso: [Japanese] shit
onegaishimasu: [Japanese] I beg of you
daijoubu: [Japanese] you ok?
nani: [Japanese] what
doushite: [Japanese] why?
demo: [Japanese] but
entrari: come in, enter
mi perdoni: forgive me
tesoro: darling, treasure
buonanotte: good night
A domani: see you tomorrow
è chiaro?: is that clear?
fare attenzione: be careful
Lo farò: I will
grazie a Dio: thank God
ciò che stai facendo?: what are you doing?
cosa avvenuto: what happened?
non lo so: I don’t know
kotaero!: [Japanese] answer me!
This might have seemed to be a strange place to end the chapter; I had originally intended on including the following scene, but that scene in particular is going to be long...and this chapter was already long enough. So this scene will appear in the soon-to-be-coming chapter 15, when it was originally intended to be in this one.
The song “Time to Say Goodbye” is originally by Italian opera tenor Andrea Bocelli, although this version I refer to in the story is the 1997 duet he does with Sarah Brightman. Of course the reference to Witch Hunter Robin is obvious, as it is the title of the infamous Episode 15. (Incidentally, nearly all episodes in WHR are named after songs---whose lyrics remarkably fit the episodes, when you read them---but I digress. ^^;)
Those of you who are able to should listen to this song, as well as the song on the WHR Original Soundtrack 2, “Decision”. The only time “Decision” is played in the entire series is during the scene in Ep 15, where Amon leads Robin downstairs, escaping SOLOMON paratroopers, to the well where she will escape. Now, listen to “TTSG” first, and then the WHR song....similar, aren’t they? The tempo of “Decision”, with its marching-like snare drum beats, sounds exactly like the “Time to say goodbye/Con te partirò” chorus of the Italian song. Even the flute-like melody in the very beginning of “Decision” is eerily reminiscent of TTSG, mimicking the first words of both Andrea and Sarah’s vocals. I honestly think the creators of WHR had this very song---and possibly the lyrics, with the “sun and moon” references---in mind when they wrote Ep 15. For the Italian and English translated lyrics of the song, check out my blog. ^.~