hieros gamos: (Greek, ιερός γάμος) sacred marriage
Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. (Matthew 19:14)
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife shall cumber all the parts of Italy,
All pity chok'd with custom of fell deeds:
And the spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice,
Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war.
—"Julius Caesar", William Shakespeare
One world, it's a battleground
One world, and we will smash it down
— "dogs of war", pink floyd
)O(Let them come to me.
Four days after the incident in Siena, video footage of the events that transpired in il Campo was released—by an unknown source—into the limitless void of cyberspace. Witches from all over the world were witness to the auto de fe ritual, the failed execution attempt, and the subsequent and explosive release of power at the stake. They heard her message, her normally soft-spoken voice ringing through the night air with the clarity of conviction; they heard her promise that she would not allow the hunting to continue. They saw her demonstrate lethal and destructive force, following her proclamation. The towering wall of flame that turned everything in its path to ash convinced them.
By boat, by air, and by land they crossed the borders of European nations to come to her. They made plans to enter Italy incognito under SOLOMON's radar to find her, each with different agendas of their own. Some came to seek answers from the Eve, some to assist her; some to see what she could teach them. Some came to simply find out if she truly existed after all.
Interesting. He was definitely on the right trail.
His fingers flying over the keyboard at his desk, Michael Lee paused only briefly in his typing to adjust the amber-tinted spectacles on his nose before resuming his work. He'd gotten a quick but fleeting glimpse of something terribly intriguing the other day on the web, and he was retracing his leads and steps to track it down once more, for further analysis. If his suspicions were correct…
Karasuma appeared over his left shoulder, brandishing a cup of steaming coffee. "Want some, Michael?" she offered amiably, but he shook his head.
"Not right now." The keys clicked furiously, and she became entranced at the windows popping up all over his screen.
"You'll see in a moment." He partly resented the intrusion upon his work—always leaning over his shoulder to gawk, these analog humans—but the pride he felt as a result of his online sleuthing far outweighed his annoyance at the moment, and he allowed Karasuma to watch. "I think I'm on the right track this time."
As expected, now Sakaki became interested from across the room. "Oi, what's going on over there?" Michael resisted the urge to give a rueful grin at the young man's predictability. Anytime Karasuma's curiosity was piqued, Sakaki's wasn't far behind. It was almost as though he were shadowing her, waiting to see what would spark her interest.
"Just-one-second, ku-da-saiii," Michael responded in a singsong voice, still typing as he exhaled loudly through the side of his mouth.
"Why don't you just tell us what it is?" Karasuma asked, slightly suspicious. He huffed in response.
"You can't even wait a few minutes to find out?"
"Michael, you haven't been this excited about anything, for over a month now," she noted half-teasingly, as Sakaki came up to stand at the hacker's opposite shoulder and peered at the monitor. "You can't expect us not to wonder what it is that you're so worked up abou—"
Michael tapped a final key, triumphant. "HA!" His video player flashed up onto the screen and began to play.
At first there was static. A picture appeared, out of focus and grainy; it looked as though the person behind it was adjusting the settings as the video recorder was pointed at the ground. The viewpoint finally righted itself, but the handheld recording was shaky and choppy, and obviously not conducted by an experienced media representative. Sakaki gave a grunt of disapproval and Michael shushed him, attempting to listen to the voices on the recording.
The picture refocused, and the clarity improved as the person holding the video recorder finally found his optimal position. But it was the vision at the center of the screen that immediately silenced all three watching at the computer terminal.
In some sort of nighttime torch-lit ceremony, Robin—unconscious, her head bowed, but with her unmistakable pilgrim's shift and chestnut-blonde hair loose around her—was tied to a stake.
Realizing the nature of the ritual being shown to them, Karasuma's hand flew instantly to her mouth. "Oh my God," she whispered through it. Sakaki and Michael, faces fallen, stared in astonishment at the recording.
Sakaki leaned in close to the monitor to peer at it, disbelieving. "Robin?!" he asked incredulously; and Michael knew then that he'd believed the lie told them, that Robin and her stoic ward had perished in the Factory's collapse so many months ago.
On video, a blond man in his early twenties stepped into the picture beside the unconscious girl and began to sweep up the long lengths of her hair in his hands. He bound it loosely on either side of her head.
"What's he doing?" Michael wondered aloud, squinting through his frames at the screen. He snuck a glance at Karasuma, still with her hand over her mouth but soundless, her eyes riveted to the picture before them.
Sakaki was still reeling from the sudden revelation. "Do you guys know what this means?! It means they're alive! They escaped the Factory! If Robin's alive, that must mean that Amon is too, and—"
"It's the Testament," Karasuma said simply and sharply, to answer Michael's question; and all fell silent.
The audio finally came through on the recording just as the blond man on the video roughly plucked Robin's necklace from her limp body. He walked off-screen, and the single voice that had been speaking before—most likely a priest—slowly became a chorus of chanted Latin phrases, followed by the low rumbling of an unknown language.
Eyes glued to the monitor once more, the group was silent for several more moments before Sakaki worked up the courage to quietly ask the obvious. "Testament of what?"
The camera at last panned away from Robin at the stake, slowly revealing hundreds of armed SOLOMON paratroopers, priests, and clergy alike surrounding the pyre. On the outskirts of the darkened square could be seen the hulking shadows of military tanks.
"The Testament of Solomon," Karasuma whispered. The others felt their blood momentarily running cold.
They were quiet as the remainder of the recording played out on Michael's media viewer. The ritual was long, and involved complicated chanting and symbolic gesturing from whom was most likely the Archbishop; but the viewer returned every time to reveal Robin once more, bound and helpless. She did not just look unconscious—she looked to be already dead.
Sakaki began fidgeting over Michael's shoulder, as the darkening screen showed candles being snuffed by robed priests. "Are you…sure you guys want to watch this?" he asked uncertainly; and suddenly as Michael saw the flash of torches spark into life around the girl tied to the stake, he was not so certain that he wanted to, either.
Karasuma audibly sucked in her breath as the priests lowered their flaming torches to the woodpile. Michael saw her turn her head slightly, as if she were trying to force herself not to watch.
The camera jolted slightly. When it focused again on Robin and the stake, the fire was approaching her; but something was different. Karasuma pointed at the screen. "Look—look at her—her chest is moving."
A violent wind had sprung up within the square. The cameraman began swinging the viewfinder to the tune of the worried and frightened shouts of the Cabal, in their attempt to find the source of the power making itself known. Michael felt himself growing dizzy, as the point of view swayed and shook wildly; finally the camera focused again on the blond male Witch as he struggled to hold his dark blue hood over his head. He pointed at the sky. "Guarda!"
The view lurched in the direction he pointed, to the Duomo, in time to see four paratroopers sailing out of the top floor's window onto the roof below. This time the cameraman himself spoke, in a shocked expletive. "Cazzo!"
Il Campo was in complete bedlam. Paratroopers were shouting, arming themselves, aiming their weapons at the tower; others continued to turn their guns toward Robin in the center of the burning pyre. The wind became even stronger, and scattered the firewood out from under her.
Then, there was a light—this time so blinding and brilliant that the cameraman himself yelped, swinging the camera away from the source. The entire square reverberated with the frenzied and panicked cries of SOLOMON agents. The viewfinder righted itself in time to witness paratroopers, in full riot gear and holding semi-automatic weaponry, falling to the ground; some unconscious, some holding their heads and writhing as though in pain. Over the noise, the cameraman cursed once more before uttering an awed and hushed prayer.
"Madre di Dio."
The light was moving. The camera followed it, on its trail through the night sky—although Michael doubted as he watched that the agent behind the videocam was continuing to look through it, as it was brighter than looking upon the sun itself.
It alighted on the platform over the unlit pyre, where Robin had awakened, shrugging herself out of the bindings as she opened her eyes. She was free of the confines of the stake, and she was openly weeping, pressing her hands to her mouth in a futile effort to stifle her sobs. She threw her arms around the figure encased in light as it embraced her.
Miho's eyes narrowed, as she struggled to make sense of the vision on the monitor. "Amon?" Sakaki simply looked on in mute astonishment, his mouth agape.
Michael was wordless as well, staring at the screen in shock. Amon had awakened to his Craft.
Robin was now gazing out at the sea of agents surrounding what was left of the smoking pile around the stake, addressing them directly in a clear voice. "Refuse their bidding and enter into a covenant with us," she instructed. "Refuse to hunt, all of you—and we will have no quarrel."
Someone in the crowd challenged her authority, and she responded: "Because I am she, whom you have been waiting for…and as long as you continue to hunt your own kind, I will not stand for it."
Again there was a shout, a cry of "Blasphemy!" from the gathering around them; and one of the members of the clergy—the Archbishop himself—raged at her, encouraging the Cabal to destroy her, and demanding that if she did not relinquish her will she should be wiped out.
Robin's voice was calm, cold steel. "My will is mine."
And then, there was fire; together with a scorching wind, it devoured the entire square in a devastatingly hellish storm. The SOLOMON agents and troopers who had taken up arms against them became nothing more than dust. The screams and cries were deafening.
The flames were finally extinguished by a whirling vortex of wind; the camera recorded every last second of it.
And then, there was static.
At STN-J, the three remained staring at the computer screen for several moments after the media player had flashed off. Finally Michael looked up at Sakaki and Miho hovering over him. They met his eyes with the same stunned look of surprise, awe, and confusion etched across their features.
A warning window flashed up on another of Michael's monitors nearby. He attended to it quickly, rolling his chair over to it at the other end of his desk. What he read made him gasp; Sakaki and Miho were quick to approach to once more read over his shoulder.
DIRECTIVE # 25280602
EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY (9PM GST JUNE 3RD), ALL STN-JAPAN BRANCH PERSONNEL ARE TO BE REASSIGNED
TO SOLOMON HQ IN ROME. HIGH-PRIORITY TARGETS CONFIRMED. DEBRIEFING WILL
COMMENCE UPON ARRIVAL IN ITALY.
AWAITING CONFIRMATION OF RECEIPT OF MESSAGE.
A figure strolled almost casually through the ranks of several armed men in an elaborately decorated hallway. His speech was nonchalant, affable, as though he were speaking to close friends over mimosas at brunch.
"You are reputed to now be SOLOMON's finest," he was saying, "a title given to you only recently. But regardless—because of this, I will be selecting some of you for an extremely important assignment."
Above them, on the flat-panel screens adorning the walls, two pictures flashed overhead; STN profiles. The first was a young European girl; chestnut-blonde hair, green eyes. The second one, a male of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent; obviously older, with long dark hair and grey eyes.
"Two very powerful Witches," the man went on as he browsed along the row of agents, "both with powers the likes of which most of our top Hunters have never seen; already they have disintegrated a legion of approximately 100 paratroopers and clergy members with apparent relative ease."
From his pocket, the man pulled out a fine Cuban cigar, which he toyed with in his hands as he walked. "They are unpredictable, and extremely dangerous. They are purposefully targeting SOLOMON agents, and are now highest priority on the target list. If selected, you will have all of the tools available to the organization readily at your disposal. We will hold nothing back.
"Remember first and foremost that you are bounty Hunters, and that the reward for successfully completing your mission will be tenfold what you are anticipating. But do not blind yourself to the situation at hand; these Witches are directly responsible for the deaths of many agents—most notably, my entire underground network of operatives that was functioning as a Coven."
He turned, and in profile the men could see the shock of blond hair, the ice-blue eyes; the slight burn mark along his right cheek.
"Now," he began, raising the cigar to his mouth to light it, and thus disguising his smirk. "Any volunteers?"
kudasai: (Japanese) please
guarda: (Italian) Look!
cazzo: (Italian) holy shit!
madre di Dio: (Italian) mother of God