The Burning Time

Chapter 15: Pyre

Restless eye across a weary room,
A glazed look, and I was on the road to ruin…

Then, drowned in desire, our souls on fire,
I led the way to the funeral pyre
And without a thought of consequence,
Gave in to my decadence.

...There’ll be no sleep in here tonight.
---pink floyd, “one slip”

I give in...again and again.
---depeche mode, “strangelove”

He had entered her room in stealth, and now Amon hung back in the darkened shadows, observing her somewhat fitful sleep. Periodic lightning flashed briefly outside, illuminating his form in her room.

Robin had left her first-story window unlatched and slightly open. He knew it was her habit to do so, even when the weather was less than desirable; he’d remembered how she craved the fresh air, the smell of the woods outside, the salty tang of the ocean breeze. Even the scent of rain appealed to her.

It had been the one thing he’d counted on to enable him to enter her room undetected.

Now he watched her in darkness, as he had for nearly the past thirty minutes while she’d slept, listening to her quiet breathing against the backdrop of distant, rumbling thunder outside. It had given him plenty of time to reflect.

He was much calmer than he’d been earlier, his anger and frustration having dissolved almost immediately upon seeing her asleep in her bed. She appeared to have already taken her nightly bath, before he’d entered her room; her chestnut-blonde hair, now fanned out against her pillow, had appeared damp when he’d first seen it. He’d caught a glimpse of her naked shoulder as she had turned over during sleep, suggesting she was unclothed, as was her nightly custom. There was no evidence that anyone besides Bast had been in the room with her since she had returned from the Hunt, not Seth nor Sela; everything in the room was in its right place.

Her countenance was calm, she appeared safe and secure…and incongruously the word perfect sprang to his mind. He could even make out the delicate porcelain tone of her skin, the play of shadows in the room against her pale flesh, once his eyes had adjusted to the dark.

His thoughts, disobedient as they were, entertained themselves with the notion of silently stealing up to the pristine, white four-poster bed…standing over it, gazing at her while she slumbered, tracing the curves of her body underneath the sheet with his eyes...furtively reaching his hand out to touch her hair. He remembered that it had felt like silk to his touch, recalled the feeling of his lips against the crown of her head; he could still feel the strands of it through his fingers, from his dream memory, as he had reached down...

Whispers of the dream returned to eyes flashing at him in the dim light; the softness and fragrance of her skin as she slid herself upwards along the length of the bed, pressing against him...

He felt his body tightening involuntarily in response to the memory, narrowing his eyes in the darkness as his nostrils flared. They’re just thoughts...only thoughts.

He stiffened even further as she sighed again, a soft flutter of breath against white linen, and turned over once more in sleep. Momentarily he held his breath, waiting for her to awaken and discover him watching her, coveting her...releasing it, unhurriedly, when her movements stilled.

Guilt still gnawed at him from his earlier outburst. She hadn’t deserved the vitriol he’d unleashed against her was beyond him what had possessed him to react in such a way, especially when she’d never given him any indication that she’d do something such as lock herself in her room with Seth. He ultimately knew how ridiculous the idea was, and yet he’d let his insane jealousy rule him into thinking otherwise.

And now, here he was, hiding in her room like a common thief, watching her sleep. Amon felt his self-regard sinking to new lows.

And yet...he couldn’t bring himself to leave. Not yet. Not yet....just a few more minutes; then you’ll go back through the window and she won’t ever have known you were here. The voice in his head was just insistent enough for him to obey it.

Robin moved again on the bed before him, and once more he calmed his breathing. A soft rustling of the sheets was heard; he waited, patiently. His clenched fists relaxed as the rustling stopped.

Suddenly she bolted upright in bed---miraculously managing somehow to keep her upper body covered by the sheet---and looked directly at him, with startlingly clear emerald eyes.

Amon’s heart nearly leapt through his throat in surprise. His first thought was, kuso. His second thought was, iie...not possible that her eyes could have adjusted to the dark that fast.

“Amon?” she called out, her voice trembling and uncertain in the darkness, and he watched as her eyes scanned the room slowly. So, she hadn’t seen him....but it seemed as if she had sensed him, somehow.

She clutched the fabric of the blanket around her nude form almost nervously, still searching the pitch-dark room as she did. He felt his blood thrumming as he watched her, his nerves and senses alerted...he saw the quickened rising and falling of her chest beneath the sheet, her gold-spun chestnut hair surrounding her naked shoulders, her hesitantly parted lips.

Amon,” she said again, as though she knew he was there, her voice no longer uncertain but nearly whisper-soft---a lover’s caress. The tenderness in her voice lured him out, drew him towards her, as it always did.

He felt his body moving as though by remote control, stepping forward from the shadows that hid him. He stopped, standing in plain view in the dim room, his hands clenched in gloved fists; and he watched as her eyes, finally adjusting to the scant light, fixed on him and widened imperceptibly. She seemed somehow almost relieved at first, but her countenance became once again hesitant as she observed his cold, stoic expression.

Amon knew his features were intimidating, but he kept them as neutral as possible. If he were to find out the reason she had refused to let him in, if there was anything that she’d been hiding from him, he would have to remain firm and resolute, even in the face of her tears. He took three slow and measured steps forward, towards the loft-raised bed.

Robin held the sheet even closer to her body, and seemed to shrink back against the pillows supporting her. He saw the delicate muscles of her white throat as she swallowed. What I said at her door must have affected her more than I realized, he thought.

Naze?” he asked, his voice low and soft, as if her reaction towards him had been a verbal statement. He took two more steps towards the loft and stopped a few feet before it, cocking his dark head. “Are you afraid of me, Robin?”

She shook hers slowly, green eyes still wide in the dark. “What are you doing here?” she asked, after another moment.

“Why didn’t you open your door?” The question held a trace of severity to it, and he tried to ignore the look in her eyes as he waited for her response.

N-non lo so.” She seemed to resume some of her former strength, and gathering the sheet from the bed around her, she moved her legs to the side of the bed and rose from it gracefully. If he wants me to be strong and prove that I don’t need a warden, than I will do so. She stood at the edge of the loft, the sheet wound around her lithe frame, fixing him with her gaze almost as a challenge.

“That’s not much of an answer.” He thought he could hear Nagira’s voice in his head in response: Sarcasm laced with idle threat. Way to make the naked sixteen-year-old wearing a sheet feel comfortable, buddy.

“You were so angry,” she explained in a quiet voice, “I thought that there was nothing I could have said to you at that moment that wouldn’t have made you angrier.”

It took the wind out of his sails somewhat. He realized that she was probably right in her assumption.

She went on, still looking into his eyes from where she stood on the loft beside the bed. “There was an accident during the Hunt today.” Her voice hushed as she dropped her eyes to the floor. “Sela is dead.”

A touch of dread had risen in Amon’s throat at the words accident during the Hunt...followed by a feeling that he sickeningly recognized as relief. He swallowed over it with difficulty as his eyes narrowed.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, I didn’t see it,” she continued, her words slow and quiet, almost in answer to his unspoken question. She barely noticed his stealthy approach, as she drew the blanket more tightly around her frame. “I was in the barrel cellar, I could hear a scuffle going on at the floor above me...but then I heard shots...I ran upstairs and...saw Seth holding her against his chest....”

Amon had furtively reached the edge of the loft and stood motionless, his eyes having never left her form. Lightning flashed again through the window, farther away this time as evident from the delayed and softened sound of thunder.

“Her chest was torn open by the wound,” she went on, her gaze still lowered. “I told Seth we needed to take her to the hospital, that it was her only chance...but it was too late...there was so much blood...” His eyes made out the involuntary shiver in the darkness. Her voice was very small. “I watched her take her last breaths.”

A fire was something that consumed almost instantaneously, that eliminated with purity and totality---at least her Craft’s flame did---not in drawn-out, agonizing breaths, not with this much blood. Even the attack on her coworkers at Raven’s Flat so many months ago had not traumatized her as this had.

She paused, shaking her head slowly, and when her eyes met his again, he could see they had become shimmering emerald pools of grief. “I don’t think I can do this, Amon.”

Nan da to?” he asked calmly. She seemed not to have reacted to his new proximity, and he dared to venture even further, taking one of the shallow wooden loft steps at a time.

“Sometimes I think this responsibility is too great, being the Eve of Witches, being the ‘hope’ that Maria wanted me to be,” she responded, her voice laden with distress. “I worry that I can’t save everyone. Sela didn’t deserve to die---she was protecting other Witches from SOLOMON---neither did Vincenzo...”

“Those situations were out of your control.” He halted again on the third step of the loft, standing still four steps below her, several feet away so that he still had to tilt his gaze up to hers. The consolation he drummed up sounded meager, even to himself. “You should only do as much as you’re---”

“I can’t conjure fire any longer, Amon.”

Her words stopped him in mid-sentence.

It’s just as Jana had warned... Amon felt suddenly and inexplicably unable to breathe, the enormity of what she had just said hanging heavily in the air between them.

“My powers are almost entirely useless now. I tried during the Hunt; I can barely call forth a spark, much less my Craft.” Fear, and something else that resembled despair, was alight in her eyes as she whispered, “I feel so can I be their ‘hope’ if I can’t save the ones who need to be saved?”

Something in him strengthened in certainty, and he felt it extend to his voice. “You are…because I know it to be true.” Because you are my hope...and I’d never had any before now.

“But how do you know? Maybe I wasn’t meant to have such powers for very long. Perhaps Toudou made a mistake; perhaps I’m not the perfect Witch after all….”

She tightened the blanket around herself. “Maybe God is punishing me.”

The thought made his insides twist in a combination of frustration and sympathy. It was just like her to take the blame of the loss of her Craft upon herself, as though she had done something wrong---that damned Catholic guilt. Always the assumption that one had sinned; that repentance was compulsory. He hadn’t seen her display such culpability since Juliano’s visit to Raven’s Flat.

Which angered him more, when he thought about it. She isn’t supposed to doubt herself. If she is what Toudou envisioned her to be---if she is what Jana and Gennaro and the other Sovanan townsfolk believe she is---

“I doubt He would dare attempt such a thing,” he said softly.

She looked back at him then, with a gaze that suggested she was partly shocked---and yet secretly somewhat pleased---by his blasphemy, hints of desire and yearning etched in her young face.

Her eyes fell upon the steps and distance that still separated them both, before fearlessly meeting his own once more. “Maybe it is you who are afraid of me, Amon,” she said, whisper-soft, innately twisting his earlier question.

He was silent and still at this, contemplating---painfully aware of the futility of his prior actions that had led up to this moment. It was, in a sense, strangely liberating.

After another moment, he stepped forward.

Robin stood her ground, watching him slowly and purposefully ascend the remaining steps of the loft. He saw what he thought might have been a slight tremor course through her as he ominously removed his black leather gloves one by one, discarding them onto the floor as though it were an afterthought.

He closed the space between them, coming to stand directly in front of her, a faint inclination of his head to allow their gazes to remain locked; she was tall for her age, but still came up only to his chin---slightly lower without her boots. Up this close, he could see the deep green of her eyes, the small gold flecks that defined them---much like the color of Bast’s, he remembered suddenly---near the center. He recalled the Belfire in Sovana, the bright flame rolling and swelling, signifying divinity; he recalled it again, leaping into her eyes as she called forth her Craft…heat and light, the essence of the sun.

Amon was aware of his mind suddenly racing, churning overtime, to compete with the increased tempo of his heart. “Do you truly believe that?” he asked, straining to keep the calm in his voice.

Iie.” He felt her breath on his face as she spoke; hers seemed as though it had begun to come faster. “But sometimes I question it.”

He reached out to her, needing the contact, brushing her bare shoulder with the back of his fingers, almost hesitantly...looking at the delicate skin there all the while, as though it were something complex and fascinating. She lowered her eyes, seeming to concentrate on his touch.

“I don’t want you to question it,” he said, quietly. She held her breath as his hand moved from her shoulder to cup her face, near her ear, forcing her to meet his gaze again. “Robin...I don’t want you to question yourself.”

He was taken aback by what he saw in the brilliant green eyes, brighter than usual in the darkened room. “Nani?” he asked with gentleness. His hand tightened slightly in her hair.

“I want to touch you,” she whispered finally, and he felt the last of his armor falling down in a pile at his feet, “so badly...but I’m afraid that you won’t allow me to...”

With that he withdrew his hand from her face, took hold of the hand not holding her sheet against her body, and gently pressed her open palm against his dark shirtfront. Through his open overcoat, he was certain she could feel the steady pounding of his heart, hammering beneath his skin. She looked into his eyes again---hers having widened appreciatively at his actions---and he began to move her hand leisurely upwards, as if to encourage her.

Robin took his lead and moved her hand of her own accord, past his collarbone under his shirt, brushing over his neck...allowing it to finally rest against his jaw line, which she cupped lovingly in the palm of her hand, returning his earlier action. Her fingers continued to move along his face; he watched her expression, open and rapturous, as she learned his features by touch. He felt her brush lightly over his lips, and on playful instinct he parted them, halfheartedly attempting to trap a slender finger.

She gasped, a soft startled sound, and Amon took advantage of the moment to pull Robin gently into his embrace. He pressed her against him, all light and sweetness and quiet melancholy of her, at the same time intuitively mindful to keep the sheet surrounding her in place.

He felt her sigh heavily against his neck; by the sound of it, he was certain that if he had looked, that her eyes would be glistening. “Why don’t you trust me?” he heard her whisper, a shaken, choked sound. “I just want to be close to you.”

Therein lies the problem... He swallowed over something in his throat. “You don’t want me to be your warden,” he offered lowly against her hair, rubbing his cheek against the chestnut silk.

“I didn’t entirely mean that,” Robin whispered reluctantly. “But is this so terrible, to be something else?” Her free hand embedded itself in the lapel of his overcoat, and she moved against his neck again, her lips grazing his skin as she inhaled his scent.

“Not terrible...dangerous,” he corrected, his voice soft and somewhat uncertain. He tried his best not to shudder with sheer, unadulterated pleasure at the touch of her lips.

“Nothing is dangerous, when I’m with you like this,” she breathed. His arms tightened around her in response. “Nothing touches us, nothing separates us...” she paused. “...Except you.”

He closed his eyes; knew she spoke the truth.

“And when you allow that to occur, I feel more alone than I ever have before---as if I’d always been with you; I don’t understand it,” she whispered again. “But I know that I can’t do this alone, Amon.”

He pulled her head back, looked into her eyes as he cupped her face in his hands. “You’re not alone,” he said firmly. As if to prove his point, he leaned in and pressed his lips against her forehead. “I’m with you now,” he whispered as he pulled away, following it with another kiss to her brow, lingering a second longer than the first. “And I’m not going anywhere.”

She tilted her head up to him as he paused, then placed another kiss at the bridge of her nose; and yet another even lower, just below her right eye. She angled her head up further, and the next caught the corner of her lips---he quickly chased it three more times with full-lipped kisses, gradually slowing as his mouth realized it had found hers.

His hands tightened in her hair as they cradled her head, holding her closer to him, allowing him complete access to her mouth. Robin attempted to keep her breathing as normal as possible, but found it more difficult as she felt the parting of Amon’s lips against hers; she gasped as his teeth gently tugged at her bottom lip, encouraging hers to do the same. His mouth was sliding against her own now, his tongue probing slowly inside, hot and sweet; she felt the warmth of breath exchanged between them through the nose, felt one of his arms encircling around her back, his other hand entangling itself in her hair, cradling her neck. She felt as though her entire body was dissolving.

She responded the only way she knew how---with the eagerness and rapturous enthusiasm that came with being so close to him. She kissed him back as best she could with equal fervor, taking care not to accidentally bump against his nose or crack her teeth against his in the process.

Feeling her response, Amon renewed his efforts, strengthening the demands of his kisses...blissfully absorbed in the moment he allowed himself.

...not thinking clearly... The reminder was an insistent whisper in his head. He was completely disregarding his earlier concern: letting her too close to him physically, knowing the fortress around his emotions had already been breached…dreading it, he’d lingered, expecting the torment he’d felt the day before and believing his passion for her had been the cause of it.

But instead of feeling the biting tension coiled inside of him coming to a fever pitch, he felt it easing off, abating. Instead, all he felt now was the pure spiraling of desire that had manifested the instant he’d stepped into her room…no, long before that, he admitted to himself, as an aside.

Perhaps this wasn’t going to do what he’d feared after all, he considered, reflecting briefly on the effect of intense emotions on the Craft. All along you’ve been denying yourself, thinking that it would be the same for you as it was with her…that the person you yearned for most was the key to unlocking it…

Wasted time, Amon thought. And then he thought no more about it.

He began to slowly ease up on the ferocity of his embrace, realizing he was nearly crushing her to him, almost to the point of smothering her---although she hadn’t protested. She was still breathlessly responsive, the emerald-green eyes glazed. He drew back slightly, delivering lighter kisses in an effort to withdraw his mouth from hers; her lips followed, unwilling to break the contact.

Reluctantly, he pulled back completely and rested his forehead against hers, his breathing fast and warm, their breaths mingling. His hand moved again in her hair, twining.

“Things are going to get very interesting, if we continue this,” he breathed softly, his eyes open, attempting to judge her reaction despite their closeness. “I thought I should warn you.”

That stubborn resolve was in her eyes again. “If you are not ready to stop, than neither am I,” she whispered, as breathless as he.

A smirk threatened the corners of his lips. “I’m not the one who’s naked underneath this sheet.”

Robin’s eyes grew wide, her already pink cheeks flushing a deeper rose. She’d momentarily forgotten just what predicament she was in, and on impulse she glanced down at her blanketed form---but upon meeting his eyes again, she recognized the look that suggested he was resisting the urge to smile, and she valiantly fought off her own modesty and embarrassment.

Amon was teasing her. She felt a flush of happiness radiating through the craving and momentary discomfort; it had been so long since he’d done so, she’d almost forgotten he could. The realization served to bolster her, as did the hint of warmth in his expression; and she leaned up again on tiptoe to gently engage their lips once more.

His resistance in ruins, Amon didn’t even hesitate this time in pressing her to him, angling her head to his desire as he kissed her deeply. He felt all of her slight weight suddenly leaning into him in reply, and realizing she was unsteady on her feet---and with ulterior motives in mind---he began to guide their general movement towards the bed. Robin seemed not to notice their advance, even as he made a concerted effort not to step on the sheet that was still wound around her, until she felt the down comforter against the back of her thighs.

She looked up into his face in moderate surprise as her legs gave way beneath her, sitting on the shallow edge of the bed; lips swollen and eyes bright, still holding the sheet across her chest with a slim arm. Amon deftly shed his overcoat onto the floor, bracing himself with his hands on either side of her as he ducked his head to resume the kiss.

An inner refrain that sounded suspiciously like she’s too young started up in his head...he tuned it out, but pulled back slightly to look at her.

She was hesitating as she sat on the edge of the bed, almost immobile in her naïveté, her breath coming in soft, bewildered pants.

Amon.” The whispered sound of his name on her lips was a question, a statement...a plea.

You know that if you do this, that you cannot undo it...that there is no going back. His mind was made up then as he watched her; he was internally resolute.

Just a taste.

He curled one arm behind her, the other steadying her waist, as he slid her free arm around his neck; then with one knee on the edge he leaned her backwards, pulling her with him towards the center of the canopied bed. Amazingly, the sheet she was covered in stayed in place; it would for now, remaining as a security for her, a last vestige of innocence that he would ultimately undo.

Amon was patient. To say he had had practiced the art of restraint for a long time was an understatement. Until now, he rationalized.

She arranged her head in a comfortable position on her pillow as they settled themselves on the bed, her gaze never leaving him. He lay beside and partially over her, his arm underneath and propped up on his elbow, his other hand stroking her face.

Robin’s heart was pounding where his arm rested against her chest. They stilled, suspended in the moment...eyes searching, speaking more in volumes to each other than their words ever could.

Amon leaned down, his face close to hers, and she parted her lips in anticipation; instead, he slowly turned and brushed her cheek with his own, rubbing as a cat might. Breathing softly against her neck, feeling her slight shiver, he turned his face to do the same to her other cheek; she sighed deeply in response, closing her eyes. He brought his face back to hers, his nose brushing against her skin along the way, inhaling her scent; rubbing the tip of his nose back and forth against her own, eliciting a small giggle and half-smile---one he felt rather than saw---and his own lips curved slightly upwards in satisfaction.

The lightning outside had subsided, the thunder yielding soft growls from a distance away; the only truly audible sound from her window now was the gentle rain, falling in hushed whispers as though to mimic the activity inside the room.

More kisses---gentle, progressively deeper, and back again---were exchanged; Amon varied the interaction, stopping entirely to pull back, then leisurely nibbling on her lips, one and then the other, studying her reactions. Her upper lip was most sensitive; a touch from his tongue caused her to part her lips wider, breathless in expectation. His hands stroked the length of her body through the sheet, slowly down her sides and around her back; he moved his mouth to her neck, kissing below her ear, tasting the skin there.

Not caring about the boots that were still on his feet, Amon angled his body against hers on the bed, shifting himself so that he straddled a slim leg underneath her sheet...careful to maintain minimal contact with her lower body using his own, although she seemed to welcome his weight on her, stretching her limbs under the sheet and aligning them with his appreciatively. Robin’s body seemed to crave every bit of contact that he could give her; her hands no longer focused on holding the sheet to her, one stole up around his sinewy neck and curled into his thick hair, as his lips explored the skin beneath her jaw.

He cradled her head with his hand, kissing her mouth again softly, as he introduced his other hand into her line of sight and began stroking her ribcage with his fingertips, traveling upwards at a gentle, unhurried pace. Through the thin sheet he traced the underside of her breast, curving around it in inward spiraling motions until he came to the peak, rubbing over the nipple lightly. It hardened with his touch and she arched her back at the sensation, gasping against his mouth; he repeated the action, this time cupping her small, well-formed breast in his hand and rubbing his thumb firmly along the peak, eliciting a soft involuntary moan.

The sound she made caused the part of him that was already hard and wanting to want more, and he shifted against her in subtle frustration. Slowly. There was no way he was going to rush her into it, this exploration of the senses, if he could help it.

He moved his strategically placed knee inbetween her legs still encased in the sheet, separating them gently, allowing him to move his lower body to rest between them. Still bearing his weight on his arm that was underneath her, he used the tension in his fingers circling her breast to pull slightly at the sheet covering it, a fraction of an inch at a time.

Robin noticed the sheet was slipping from her chest. She pulled away from his kiss briefly, hesitation written on her face, and looked down to where his hand was so ardently pursuing her naked skin. She made a soft noise of arousal mixed with uncertainty, watching as the nipple was bared---again the sound shot straight from his ear to his groin.

Her eyes met his in silent question, her chest rising and falling with each labored breath, and he asked in a whisper, “Nani?

When she didn’t answer, he asked, just as softly, “Do you want me to kiss it?”

She bit her lip---something new that he decided he liked immensely---and nodded in a quick motion.

Amon bent his dark head with intent, placing a slow, soft kiss at the peak of her breast. “Like this?” he asked breathily, glancing teasingly back up at her face; when he felt her arch herself against his mouth, he increased the pressure and nuzzled it with his lips. He listened to her gasps and quiet moans as he lavished the tight bud with his warm tongue, nearly closing his eyes at the effort it took to maintain his control.

The wet tracing with his tongue gave way to suckling, and a harsh, strangled sound erupted from Robin’s throat. His fingers traced the same routes over her other breast through the sheet, and soon it too was bared, to suffer the same onslaught as its twin. The noises she made were now almost pleasurably unbearable, as was the light tugging at his hair caused by her trembling hands fisting in it.

Her hips began to shift against him---to both his enjoyment and chagrin---with shallow movements in time to the attention given her breasts; he moved his body off from hers slightly to the side, continuing his ministrations. Stealthily the hand that had been supporting her back slipped down, finding its way into the tangle of sheets that covered the lower half of her body.

Robin nearly jumped as she felt his smooth, warm hand on the inside of her knee, giving a breathy startled sound; he instantly sought to gentle her, as if she were a skittish mare. “Shhii,” he whispered against her chest, “’s just my hand…I’m just going to touch you, like this.” He caressed her leg gently with his open palm, and she relaxed to some extent under his soft command, bending her knees slightly to allow him more access; but he could feel the excited hammering of her heart against her breast.

To distract her from the goings-on underneath, he used his other hand to tug gently at the top of the sheet, exposing more of her creamy-white skin to his view. She glanced somewhat uncertainly down at her pale, flat stomach coming into sight, and he brought his mouth from her breast back up to her lips.

“Is there anywhere else you’d like me to kiss you, Robin?” he asked, breathily between kisses, running his hand slowly and soothingly up and down the inside of her leg, around and behind her knee. He pulled back, watching her, and had to concentrate to conceal his amusement at her expression.

Amon was beginning to think that he was finding some sort of perverse enjoyment in verbalizing what he was about to do to her. Not at all like him, he knew; being talkative in such a situation was definitely not his usual modus operandi. He’d never felt the desire to do so before with anyone; it had always felt too intimate, laid too much of himself bare for someone to see.

A first for everything, he supposed, hazily.

In the midst of her flushed, blissful state, something slightly akin to consternation graced Robin’s delicate features. She hadn’t realized that she was allowed to make requests of him. “Anywhere?” she echoed, breathless, and his hand slipped upwards to caress her bared belly. Without hesitating, she nodded her assent.

Amon settled between her legs again, lower than before, nuzzling the skin of her stomach and rubbing his slightly whiskered cheek against the downy peach fuzz covering her there. Listening to her soft sigh, his hands continued their gentle exploration of her inner thighs, slowly covering the slope of skin from knee upwards, feeling the muscles in her legs relaxing as he did. Good. God help him, he wanted so badly to take hold of her roughly and thrust up into her, make her writhe beneath him---but it had to be done first gently and with reverence, or not at all.

He allowed his hand to move underneath the sheet, stroking steadily up the inside of her thigh so that she anticipated it, kissing her lower belly and feeling the muscles there trembling beneath his lips. At the same time his tongue touched the dip of her belly button, his middle finger found the apex between her legs and stroked the length of her opening carefully, parting the heated lips, all the way up to the bundle of nerves at the tip.

A jolt went through him as she shuddered reflexively at his touch, attempting to close her legs against his hand and letting loose a keening moan---she was undeniably aroused, her flesh soaked to the core. Christ...

Amon couldn’t stop an answering groan from escaping him as he pressed his face into her lower stomach. He hadn’t thought it was possible for him to harden any further than he already was, but...“Jesus, Robin...I didn’t think you’d be this wet.” He moved back up the length of her body to kiss her, his hand still between her legs, two fingers stroking lazily against her slick entrance. The will to control his desire was eroding.

Just a taste, he reminded himself. You only promised yourself a taste, and that’s all...

Robin returned his kiss longingly, arching almost helplessly against his hand; her eyes bore childlike wonder, as well as something a bit darker lurking below the surface of the green stillness. She whispered his name as his mouth pulled away, with a trace of hesitation. “ it all right?”

His other hand was cupping her face again. “It is only if you say it is; if not, I will stop,” he answered quietly, affording her one last exit. “Tell me what you you want me to continue?” he asked, his own breath coming in soft gasps; he stilled both his breath and the movement of his fingers, as he searched her face for an answer. She nodded wordlessly, and he whispered, “I want to hear you say it, Robin.”

She gazed up into his eyes; he felt her tremble beneath him. “I want...” she swallowed suddenly, “...want you to continue.”

Amon descended for another kiss, tilting her chin in his hand up to meet him; her lips parted accordingly. Gently he resumed exploring her mouth with his tongue, massaging, synchronizing the kiss with the wet stroking of his fingers just at the entrance of her core; he felt her gasp as she slowly opened to him, legs falling apart luxuriously on either side of him as if they were petals.

He slid back down her form, kissing as his lips passed her breasts and stomach...smoothly removing the remainder of the sheet that covered her lower half, and his eyes roved over the length of her exposed body, sitting back slightly to take in the sight.

It physically hurt him to look upon her this way. She was heartbreakingly beautiful, with her luminous green eyes, her porcelain skin gleaming in the dim room, the slender fragility of her body...between her white thighs lay a curling chestnut-blonde thatch of hair that remarkably matched the long mane on her head. He removed his fingers and she tightened her legs together again, trying to curl her body inwards, as though attempting to cover herself.

Iie,” he said softly, reverently. “Let me look at you.” She complied, her skin shivering, almost jumping beneath him. He stroked the insides of her thighs again as he gazed upon her, felt her slowly falling into relaxation again under his touch. When he thought she was sufficiently calmed, he slid a long index finger once more between her legs, stirring the wetness there, eliciting a soft moan; he made sure she saw him then lift the finger to his mouth to taste it. Her eyes widened astronomically.

Her head slightly propped up against the pillow, watching him, it dawned on her what he was about to do as he lowered himself once again between her legs, his lips kissing her lower stomach and starting to trail further down. “You’re guh---you’re going to kiss me...down there, as well?” she asked, panting the words.

“Do you not want me to?” he whispered, as he felt the first pricklings of her pubic hair against his lips. He refrained from kissing her directly between the legs, instead moving his mouth off to a less volatile area for the moment, kissing her inner thigh.

He felt her squirm and gasp, even at such a remote touch. It was better, he decided, that he approached it with as much delicacy as he could---he could smell her heated sex, the scent permeating straight to his brain, bypassing all other functions. He was as much teasing himself as he was her.

Amon let his cheek rest against the hot center of her as he kissed the crevice between that and her thigh, making lazy designs on it with the tip of his tongue, listening contentedly to the breathy noises she made. He turned his head and brushed his lips lightly over her sex, looking up and meeting her eyes as he did so---her mouth opened and he felt her arch against him. He continued to the other thigh, moving off and kissing it as well, shifting her legs so that they rested over his shoulders as he continued his ministrations.

By now she was tilting her pelvis up toward his cheek, her panting breaths having taken on eager, anticipatory sounds; and Amon, finally deciding he’d had enough of teasing her, brought his lips again to her center and introduced his tongue softly, jaw relaxed---lapping slowly from her moist core up to her clitoris.

Robin gave a soft shriek, subsequently clapping her hand against her mouth, her face flushed a lovely deep red. Without interrupting his activity, Amon reached up and took hold of her forearm, pulling her hand gently away from her face, sliding her fingers down to entwine with his as their hands rested against her hip.

He savored her taste---a heady combination of both sweet and pungent---as he explored her with his tongue, kissing her between her legs as he would her mouth, alternating between gentle flicks and probing strokes that went a bit deeper. He felt her fingernails digging into his hand; the sounds she made had settled from the yelp she’d made a moment earlier to a soft cooing that came from somewhere in the back of her throat. Amon found himself so aroused by the scent and sounds of her, that he belatedly realized he was grinding his hips subconsciously into the comforter beneath them.

His attentions returned to the small, swollen flesh of her clitoris, softly running his tongue against it and feeling her responses briefly spark into overdrive, as though it were an electric conduit. He gently guided her other hand to his thick dark hair, and her eager fingers twined into it tightly.

Amon began to feel as though something in the room around them had changed, with this new activity; without looking up he could sense that the room had grown somehow brighter, as though light were beginning to seep in from some location...the moon must be out, he thought absently.

He went back to kissing her slightly lower, knowing from her sounds and movements that she was reaching a new plateau of excitement; he moved down, making gentle but insistent circles with his tongue, then pushing steadily deeper into her. He closed his entire mouth down around her sex, covering all of it, pressing firmly against her; then moved his entire head in long, drawn-out circles, before finding the tight bundle of nerves again at the top with his tongue, and starting to lick at it with renewed resolve.

Her lips parted wide, gasping and watching him intently, Robin arched her hips against his mouth, her fingers tightening even more powerfully in his hair. He began to hear a single word coming from her lips that vaguely resembled his name---she was chanting it, fervently, like a harsh prayer; and suddenly Amon was very aware of a strange feeling of transference, of something changing, flowing from himself into her, and back again...a feedback loop of something so intoxicating, he was momentarily unable to breathe.

For still seconds, he was nearly paralyzed, yielding completely to what had taken hold of him...then it took shape, becoming sound, becoming vibration, raw energy---he heard it ringing in his ears, inhaled it into his lungs, saw it, piercing and blinding, before his eyes. He gasped, uncomprehending.

A split-second afterwards, Robin’s orgasm washed over her, her body convulsing wildly against his mouth, where he realized he’d still been in contact with her the entire time. He heard her strangled cry, as she called out her pleasure in the form of a keening wail; he lifted himself away, replacing tongue with fingers at her clitoris, to continue the motion as she rolled through her climax.

But when he lifted his head to look at her face, he was shocked to find the room filled with an unearthly light.

Surrounding their forms, as Robin writhed underneath him, was an immense cone-shaped pillar of light, bright and silver-blue, nearly blinding---reaching infinitely upwards through the ceiling of the room. Robin’s eyes were shut tightly as she rode out the waves of her pleasure, and slowly it sank into his thoughts that this was not her doing...not completely.

Again he felt the strange paralysis, the feeling vaguely reminding him of what he had experienced as he’d observed the Maypole dance during Beltaine---something raw, something invariably ancient, yet recognizable and familiar, washing through him, flooding his veins. He looked down into Robin’s face, and saw that her features had become blurred; he strained his eyes to look harder, believing they were playing tricks on him.

Instead, he saw flashes of images, as if it were a sped-up film; Robin, her head bowed, her chestnut hair loose and surrounding her, the neck of her pilgrim smock torn---dark, flowing robes---a stone tower---a tall, soaring flame, rising high above her head---not hers.

He saw the fire rise up, devouring her, singeing her hair, melting her flesh...heard her screaming, a high-pitched, psychic wailing...followed by his name.

AMON! His eyes widened in uncontrollable horror.

A strong gust of wind blew the windows in her room completely open, stirring curtains, sheets and paper within, the resulting clatter shocking him out of his bizarre reverie---he turned towards them, panting in fear and astonishment, but just as suddenly the blast of air had fallen away, died out.

He turned back to her, still stunned; the light was gone, there was no vision---there was only Robin, her eyes still closed, hands on her breast, breathing heavily as she had just come down from the physical heights he’d taken her to. She opened her eyes then, the familiar green luminous lights looking at him, filled with rapture and contentment...slowly changing into concern. “Amon?” she whispered, gazing at his face as he still hovered above her on the bed.

He looked over at the open windows once more, his chest still rising and falling, breath labored from the horrific vision he’d encountered... he turned to face her again, his normally impassive features registering confusion and dread.

Oh, God. I was wrong. I was so wrong...

“Amon?” she asked again, more concerned this time, and she made a move to sit up against the bedframe, to reach out to him.

He leaned back, away from her touch; slowly he backed away from her on the bed, sliding off on his knees to the other side, onto the loft floor. He stood back, his eyes wild with fear, still breathing heavily.

She tried to move after him. “Nani?” she asked quickly, panic beginning to creep into her voice at the sight of the naked emotion in his eyes.

He held up a hand, motioning her to stay put. “Yamero.” It was a firm command.

“Why, Amon?” Robin looked as though she were near tears. “...What did I do?” she whispered. He could only shake his head in confused response, not knowing how to respond.

Oshiete,” she begged softly, “tell me what I did, and I won’t do it anymore...” Just please, don’t leave. Don’t leave me...

He could not give her an answer, instead bending to pick up his discarded overcoat from the floor next to her bed. He turned and started quickly down the steps of the loft.

Amon!” Her whisper-shout stopped him again, and despite his desire to resist, he turned, almost painfully, back to face her once more.

She was sitting up in the canopied bed, still naked, her chestnut hair tousled...amidst the white sheets and comforters she looked ethereal; an otherworldly, rumpled temptress. A goddess.

Every bit the Eve, tempting him with the fruit she possessed.

“Deadbolt your door behind me,” he ordered sternly, his expression dark. He strode towards the door of her suite, and threw one last comment over his shoulder. “And lock your windows.”

He left, not looking back. The door to her suite slammed shut in his wake, and she fell back against the headboard of the bed, her eyes empty; whispering his name once more to the now still room.




Having made it upstairs to his room without detection---despite the fact that there was still ambient noise in the Coven’s dining area---Amon entered his suite, throwing his overcoat on the floor, shutting and locking his door behind him. He sank against it, his breathing labored, sweat having appeared on his brow.

Stupid. So fucking stupid. You thought you could get away with doing that, to her...? In a pang of desperation, he ran his hands through his dark hair; only belatedly realizing that the fingers of his right hand still smelled of sex---of her---as did his face, when he touched it. She was all around him---she had permeated his skin with her very essence.

And he was still as hard as a rock. There was no escape from it.

He headed for his shower, intending to relieve himself...and to wash away her scent, thoroughly.

As he passed his desk, he neglected to notice the blinking mail icon on his laptop monitor.




Nearly an hour later, there was a knock at the door of his suite. “Amon,” a male voice asked, whom he recognized as one of the male Coven members, “lei sveglio è?

Amon was redressed, his hair still damp. “Sì.” He answered the door to find Gideon standing before him, clad in a dark blue robe...similar to what the Coven had worn in the first ritual he and Robin had witnessed, a week earlier.

He felt dread creep back into his chest.

Gideon gave a short bow of his head, and spoke quietly. “Is for Sela...rito de lugubre,” he explained solemnly, meeting Amon’s concerned gaze. “You have heard?”

He nodded, his eyes becoming serious. “Sì.

Gideon motioned for him to come along. “Avanti.

Amon followed him somewhat reluctantly downstairs, down the hallway, towards the meeting room where the Coven had gathered. Gideon slowly opened the doors, revealing the pitch darkness that was indicative of the Witches’ ritual being performed. He guided Amon inside.

After his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the Coven standing at the opposite end of the room, all dressed in the appropriate dark blue robes. All were present, excluding Noa and Leor, who were still away, and Sela, obviously---but to his surprise, Robin stood amidst the Coven members, in her high-necked pilgrim’s dress, her long hair down about her shoulders...still looking sufficiently rumpled... He ignored the brief spike of lust at seeing her again so soon after... fuck.

She was looking at him, her expression forcibly neutral, but with a hint of sadness. He looked away at another section of the room, making a concerted effort not to meet her eyes.

Seth stepped forward, carrying in his hand a sifting device full of a grainy white substance. “È tempo,” he said, his voice low and hushed. He traversed the room in a circle, walking deosil, using the sifter to spread fine white sugar on the ground, effectively casting the circle. After three rounds, he stopped and stood inside the ring. “Entrari,” he said quietly.

The Coven members came, two at a time, consecrating themselves with the water provided. Amon watched surreptitiously as Gal and Robin blessed each other and entered the circle. He was paired with Hedya.

After all had joined the circle, Seth began to speak. “As Witches, we seek to strengthen our bodies, minds, and souls. Our souls are ageless, sexless, non-physical; possessed of the divine spark of the Goddess and God. After the body dies, the soul lives on. We journey to the Summerlands, the Land of Eternal Summer, to review our past lives and wait for loved ones, and to await Rebirth. Once it is time, the soul is reincarnated on Earth, and life begins again.”

He spoke at length of Sela, of her background, and how she had come to join the Coven. Amon noticed that several of the members looked solemn during the speech; a few of them shed tears. The acceptance of Sela’s death was difficult.

When it seemed as though the rite was finally winding down, and Amon was preparing for its closing---having successfully evaded Robin’s despondent glances---Seth turned to the young chestnut-haired Witch, motioning to her. “Tesoro...avanti.

Robin rose gracefully from where she had been seated, and went to the center of the circle. Ice solidified down the length of his spine---Amon felt the tension in his body mounting, suspecting the worst; a repeat performance of the first ritual they’d witnessed between Seth and Noa.

He turned to Seth, regarding the male Witch with stern suspicion. “Cosa succede?” he demanded, and Seth smiled benevolently.

“I have decided to utilize our powers within the Sacred Circle to benefit Robin tonight,” he said smoothly. “The loss of her Craft is a dire prospect---as you yourself know, being her warden,” he pointed out, putting a strangely perverse emphasis on the words he directed towards Amon, almost in a baiting tone . “If we can raise enough power within our Circle to strengthen her, all the better.”

Amon looked unbelievingly at Robin, who had seated herself in the middle of the circle; she met his eyes, feeling his upon her. “And you agreed to this?” he asked her, quietly.

She nodded slowly, fixing him with her gaze. “Sì.” She looked as though she wanted to say more to him, but she held herself back in the presence of the Coven.

“It is tradition that we normally perform such a power-raising ritual skyclad, in the nude, often with certain...stimulatory activities,” Seth went on, the corners of his lips forming a smirk as he observed Amon, “but seeing as some members such as yourselves are not comfortable with the idea of such ritualistic practices, we are more than happy to represent those activities symbolically instead of literally.”

While he spoke, Amon focused on Robin, holding her with his gaze. He saw the conflicted torment in her young eyes, the direct result of the pain he’d just inflicted on her...

God, he was a monster.

Why couldn’t you have just fucking left her alone? he asked himself. Because of hormones? Because of some misguided sense of affection? You are ultimately responsible for the inevitable loss of your control...she is nothing but an innocent, caught in the pathetic tangle of your lies and self-deceit.

He felt himself making the all-too-familiar painful break in his mind, as he slowly reconstructed the walls she’d torn down inside of him...hating himself the all the while as he did so.

“This is actually a perfect night for it,” Seth was saying. “There is a tangible power in the air; I can almost taste it...”

Amon stood. “I want out of the Circle.” He ignored the flash of hurt that he witnessed on her face, out of the corner of his eye.

Seth appeared to sigh reluctantly, before giving a faint nod in Gideon’s direction. Gideon walked Amon through the Circle-exiting ritual, walking widdershins around it, before he was allowed to exit; he felt Robin’s eyes following him the entire time in the counter-clockwise direction.

Upon leaving the ritual, he headed upstairs to his suite; he found Bast waiting for him, pacing before the door and meowing plaintively. He let her inside, closing and locking the door behind him.

He went to the desk, glancing at his laptop computer, on which an enveloped icon signifying an unread message blinked continuously.

Amon stared at it for long moments, before closing the laptop and shutting it down, unplugging it and putting it away, in his travel bag....his facial features set in grim lines of determination.


Robin closed her eyes.

She attempted to focus as Seth verbally set up the ritual, to aid the power-raising ceremony as best she could. After all, it is the only way I can salvage what is left of my power, the strength of my Craft.

She tried not to think about Amon, about what had transpired between them just an hour earlier, in her bed. She tried to keep her mind clear, free of negativity, free of the nagging and persisting of corporeal distractions.

But her body still thrummed pleasantly, warmth pooling from her very core; a direct result of the physical and psychological summit he had recently brought her to, with his mouth and fingers and touch.

It is difficult.

“Visualize the Cone in your minds,” Seth was instructing, his voice melodically hypnotizing in the dark room. Members of the Coven sat in the circle, their eyes closed in anticipation of beginning the ritual. “The Sacred Circle is the bottom of it. We, within the Circle, produce the power which rises to the Apex, which extends to Infinity.”

Their soft chanting began, slow and gentle in the beginning; gradually, incrementally, increasing in both volume and intensity.

Inbetween the softly-spoken words that she heard all around her, Robin detected the sounds of breathing patterns falling into sync, as the Coven built resonance with one another. She focused on that rather than the spoken verbalizations, listening raptly to the intakes and exhales of breath...the slowly escalating cycles of gasps...the slight breathing moans that accompanied the rhythmic chanting and breath exercises.

Losing herself in the rhythm of it, she let the memory take over her.

His cheek brushing against mine, slowly and purposefully...his breath on my neck...warmth and heat of it. Against the backdrop of chanting, she could almost feel his achingly gentle touch once again...could almost detect the spicy scent of his skin as she had an hour ago. Robin frowned lightly in concentration, expelling a soft sigh.

Now he is kissing me...he presses his lips against mine, opening them with his tongue, soft and wet....I don’t want to resist. His mouth tastes wonderful, dark wine and fine-ground espresso. Her lips parted, almost subconsciously.

Now he is touching me... Robin felt her breath’s tempo increase, subconsciously driven by the escalating intensity of the chanting around her. The Coven’s mantra had begun to reach a feverish tone, spiraling upward...but it was the memory of his lips and hands that drove her now towards passion.

The crescendo of voices deepened, soared, rising culminate in a single, shuddering, climactic peak. Robin opened her eyes at its pinnacle.

The altar at the end of the room burst into brilliant gold flame.

From his position in the Circle, Seth smiled enigmatically.

Next chapter:

Unveiling the Arcanum... The fall....One final attempt. The Hunter searches for answers as darkness enshrouds the solitary moon. Chapter 16.

Kuso: [Japanese] shit
Iie: [Japanese] no
Naze: [Japanese] Why?/Why are you doing that?
Non lo so: I don’t know
Nan da to: [Japanese] What do you mean by that?
Nani: [Japanese] What is it?
Shi: [Japanese] ‘shhh’, hush
Daijoubu: [Japanese] it’s all right
Yamero: [Japanese] stop
Oshiete: [Japanese] tell me
Lei sveglio è: are you awake?
Sì: yes
rito de lugubre: funereal rite
avanti: come along, come forward
è tempo: it is time
deosil: clockwise
entrari: enter
tesoro: treasure, “darling”
cosa succede: what’s going on?