The Poveglia School of Sorcery was itself a sovereign nation, as it was owned by the Italian government, who’d barred all from sailing to it’s bone laden shores years ago. The Witches however had set up magical causeways through the Ether, the mystical world of energy beneath our own reality, from within Poveglia to numerous spots around the globe, essentially granting them autonomy within any nation they wished to enter.
Small groups, or Covens as we liked to call them, would form in cities and set up shops or stores, slowly building a stable enough area for more of their kind to come through the Ether, setting up small magical neighborhoods within cities. While this may all sound well and good, Witches were blasphemous heretics. Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.”
Pretty much sums up their role in life, as a Templar.
Paolo looked along the shadowed horizon, the slight silvery light granted by the slice of moon providing only enough illumination to see a few feet, nothing more. Looking to Marco, Paolo hesitates to ask.
Carmela seemed to be thinking along the same line. “We’ll need torches to see where we’re going Marco, unless you have a better idea.”
Marco sniffs before turning to give us a gimlet eye. “They know we’re here, but don’t know what we are. Light will reveal that in a heartbeat.”
“But I can’t shoot anything I can’t see!” Paolo argued, pulling a composite bow from the burlap sack, tossing it to Carmela. Paolo pulls another from the bag, pulling back on the bowstring to make certain it had been strung properly. Looking to Marco, he frowns. “Or are we supposed to fight hand to hand?”
Marco shakes his head and remains silent, turning back to stare into the darkness of the graveyard. Squinting, Paolo could just make out the silhouettes of great tombstones and gothic stone crosses, moss covered stonework that littered the Northern side of the island, the only one accessible by boat. The rest of the island rose high above the waterline, sheer cliffs leading to rocky outcroppings below, home to families of Monk Seals and screeching gulls.
Carmela moved up beside Paolo, her arrow notched and held low to the ground, her violet eyes scanning for any possible threats that Marco could be referring to.
“Someone’s coming.” Marco states, moving slowly back to the boat, carefully drawing and palming a small silver throwing dagger while pulling a lantern attached to a staff from the boat. Thrusting it at Paolo he orders him to light it and follow his lead.
“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 asks 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 us as a cold wind blew, whipping our cloaks about us as she stared us 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 and eyeless lump with sand pouring from its mouth and nose like streaming water. Letting loose a low and guttural groan, 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.