“Why hello there!” Marco called out cheerfully, spinning away from Paolo and adopting a friendly grin as he waved to a shadowy figure slowly making its way down the shallow hill towards us, weaving between the tombstones carefully.
Paolo just lit the lantern as the figure came close enough to be seen, a young woman with kinky black hair down to her waist and a slim figure. Her face was dark and heavily shadowed due to her hooded cloak, but her hands glittered with golden rings, her wrists jingled with dozens of bracelets and charms. She walked with a short cane made of Linden wood, with intricate Celtic symbols carved along the canes length. Stopping at just the edge of the light, she stood there silently, dark eyes darting between us before finally resting on Carmela and her bow.
“Come to the island for some hunting, have we?” She asked with a sultry tone, cocking her hip for a place to rest a well-manicured hand. “Afraid we don’t allow that on Poveglia, seeing as this is a restricted zone. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
The sand shifted around them as a cold wind blew, whipping their cloaks about as she stared them down. Marco merely laughed before fishing into his coat, pulling free a tightly wrapped was of bills, the colorful Euro bank notes dancing in the shadows.
“I’m sure we can come to an understanding Miss…?” Marco asked with a kind smile on his handsome features.
The woman remained silent as she stared at the money, easily a thousand Euros wrapped in one tight little wad.
“Veresa… Jenn Veresa. I serve as the caretaker of the island and, sadly, cannot allow anyone to stay. Even those willing to pay me handsomely for their time here.”
Paolo, standing there holding the lantern-mounted staff, smiled as he saw Marco moving his palmed dagger back, ready for a deadly throw towards the woman. It was a shame when civilians had to die during their missions, but Paolo had been assured that God would take them by his side in exchange for their sacrifice.
Fast as a serpent’s strike, Marco flipped his hand outward, flipping the colored money into the air like a cloud of confetti one would see during Carnevale, before flicking his wrist and sending the five inches of sharpened silver rocketing towards the young woman. Paolo sent a quick prayer to Him, asking forgiveness and to watch over her soul.
The prayer was unnecessary.
Bursting from the sand between her and Marco was the bloated corpse of a dead man, arms and legs blue with black veins tracing up the body like spider webs, its face an eyeless lump with sand pouring from its mouth and nose like streaming water. Letting loose a low and guttural groan as the dagger sank into its chest, the dead man lunged forward towards Marco, colorful bills sticking to the creature’s sand encrusted hide as it tackled Marco in the midsection.
Carmela moved to help, only to find herself under assault as well as the sand beneath her feet erupted with fleshless hands, bony forearms grasping at her exposed ankles and calves, tearing into her soft flesh with jagged claws. Screaming, she fired her arrow into the soft sand below her just as it began to swirl like a whirlpool, knocking her off her balance and sending her bow clattering out of her reach. Paolo could only stare as within moments the grasping limbs had dug into her and, with the aid of the swirling sand, had drug her beneath the beach with only her screams to show for it.
Marco had pulled a knife from the back of his belt and was repeatedly stabbing the dead man in the back, aiming for the spine, but the creature kept wriggling and moving to try and pin him to the soft earth below them. Hands burst forth from the sand around them, moving to grapple Marco’s arms, pulling the knife from his white knuckled grasp as the sand-covered man leaned forward close to Marco’s head.
With a piteous groan, the creature opened its maw wide and sank its blackened teeth into Marco’s neck, pulling back sharply to tear away a long strip of muscle and sinew, severing a major artery that resulted in a great spray of crimson blood, sparkling in the weak light of the lantern like morning dew on a flower. Jenn stood by impassively as her guardian began to tear chunks away from Marco’s gurgling torso, with Carmela’s muffled shrieks of pain and fear coming from below. The grasping hands all seemed to want a piece of Marco, gripping him by his blood-soaked clothes and beginning to pull him beneath the sand as the had Carmela.
All the remained was Paolo.
The Witch, a fact that was only confirmed when she waved her sand-coated defender away, walking slowly up to Paolo with an unreadable look upon her striking features. Stopping just short of arms reach, she stared into Paolo’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity before speaking.
“The woman bore arms as if ready to fight, while the man lied to me. You boy, what will your decision be?” She asked, eyebrow arched with a hint of a smile upon her lips. “Will you seek revenge if I let you live?”
“N-N-No! I’ll… I’ll never come back here for as long as I live!” Paolo stuttered, his arms all but shaking at the thought of what he’d just witnessed happening to him.
“Oh, I never said you were leaving. I just wanted to know if you would become subject to delusions of grandeur at one point and try to avenge your fallen allies.” She chuckled, shaking her head slowly. “You came to Poveglia for a reason boy; to kill Witches. But as I live and breathe the spirits of Poveglia whisper in my ear that you are more valuable alive than dead… or undead.”
“I am?” Paolo seemed surprised.
So, did she. Shrugging, she turned and began walking back up the hill. “Stay close to me and none of my babies will try and hurt you. I’m bringing you to someone who can sort this all out.”
Paolo rushed to her side, weaving around a cracked tombstone and a skeletal arm resting beside it, half buried beneath the grainy earth that the beach turned into as the moved further inland.
“Who are you bringing me to?” Paolo asked, almost too terrified to ask.
Jenn looked at him sidelong with a smile. “Why Death of course! Who else decides the fate of those on Poveglia Island?”