The Island of Poveglia, Part One
The home to the diseased, the destitute and the downtrodden throughout history. The Romans used the island as a dumping ground for their plague victims, the Greeks did the same. Over twenty years of history showed the darkness of humanity, painted clearly in deeply dug charnel pits filled with blackened, splintered bone; in the halls of the abandoned mansion-turned asylum, only to be closed down again when the staff all went missing one morning in the early 40’s.
Poveglia Island was a one of a kind place, and that was why the Witches Council had claimed it as their own seat of power. The Italian government was easy enough to bribe or bewitch, and the local legends of the haunted nature of the islands kept the locals away. The only true annoyance was the tourists, men and women looking for evidence of the supernatural.
Jenn heaved a sigh from her spot atop a verdigris stained statue, the old bronze wrought statue of Pope Urban VI, his arm raised high to bear a staff that had been lost to the stormy winds that plagued the Mediterranean on occasion. All that was left was a wide bicep that Jenn dangled her feet from, waving them back and forth like a playful child, swathed in a black trench coat that fluttered in the wind beneath her.
She snorted, long and loud, before spitting as far as she could away from her perch. “Guard duty sucks…” She muttered under her breath, resting her chin on her fists as she watched the tide roll in and out on the horizon, the sliver of the new moon hanging high in the sky.
Beneath her sat the graveyard for the island, dating back over seven hundred years. The front half of the isle was covered with ancient tombstones and statues, as well as three deep pits where the dead had been rolled into a mass grave, which had been on fire at the time. It was rumored that charred bone still washed ashore every occasionally.
Jenn believed it.
A first-year graduate of Witchcraft, Jenn had come to the island of Poveglia in search of a place to call home. While even the nastiest of the rumors were true, the large population of Witches dwelling within the old roman catacombs and the modern medical facility built atop them were more than enough to wrest control of the angry spirits dwelling here, pulling their tortured souls together to animate the rotting flesh and ancient bone to create suitable guardians.
Jenn was especially good at that, if she wasn’t too worried about being humble.
While most Witches would try, and find a branch of magic they could specialize in that would provide few risks, Jenn had happily taken up one of the darkest of arts: Necromancy.
Jenn’s thoughts of how school had been were interrupted when a tingle ran down her spine. Someone had just crossed a tripwire that had been carefully laid in the sand of the beach, tugging the arm of one of her personal servants. Closing her eyes, she peered through the rotten orbs of her construct, doing her best to keep the undead beast from moving or drawing attention to itself.
A rowboat had just run ashore of the islands soot-like sand, with three figures clothed in darkness. Between them she could hear the rattling of metal and harsh, whispered orders in Latin.
“Templars…” She muttered, pulling her senses back from her rotten guard. “Of all the nights, they had to come and try a raid, it had to be one when I’m pulling guard duty… unbelievable.”
The Templars were an order of Catholic warriors that had been thought long dead by today’s modern historians, a fact they regularly exploited. While originally organized as a military group that had numbered into the tens of thousands, they’d now trickled down to a much smaller, far more secretive organization that made it their life’s work to hunt those that they deemed evil.
Like Jenn and her colleagues.
Dropping down from her roost atop Urban’s weather-worn arm, she began moving to prepare the Templar’s a welcoming party.
Paolo grunted beneath his cowl as he pulled the boat further into the sand of the beach, cursing softly to himself at the weight of the damnable boat. They’d come here to kill heretics, not for manual labor. Marco watched impassively, his whole body hidden within his cloak and beneath his wide brimmed hat as he stared up at the silhouette of the former Asylum that made this island the stuff of legends. Carmela was doing her best to unload the boat as Paolo drug it ashore, slowly lightening the load so that his work wouldn’t be as difficult.
Paolo tried his best to keep his eyes from Carmela’s lithe frame, her delicate hands and her olive skin; he knew that she would not, Hell, could not ever be with a man like him. The rules of the Order were quite clear in that regard. All Templar’s must remain virgins, as they serve only the Lord during their time on Earth, and the temptations of the flesh were mere distractions that could not be tolerated.
“Make certain we have plenty of ammunition,” Marco grunted without looking back, “I see movement in the graveyard, very slow and quiet. They know we’re here.”
Paolo snorted, as if such a statement was funny. “Of course, they know we’re here. Nobody ever comes to this cursed rock! Has to be a big thing to have visitors after so long, you know?”
Carmela chuckled alongside Paolo as they unloaded their quivers and swords, buckling them to each other in a hastened pace due to Marco’s subtle glares. Marco had kept his blade at his side the entire trip, a quiver full of holly wood arrows tipped with silver strapped to his back. He’d been a Templar for well over a decade, almost a record within the organization, and was renowned for his ability to hunt the undead. Dangling from his hip were small trinkets attached to a silver chain, each one taken from a kill. He said it always reminded him of his duty and his God-given prowess at hunting the Damned.
Paolo thought it was just tacky. Though, and he would never admit this, he was a tad jealous of Marco’s accomplishments. Paolo had only been a knighted Templar for a little over a year now, and was only used to aid in blessings and to do research back within the Vatican library. He’d only done a few field missions, all against what could only be called fledgling evils; first-generation witches, freshly risen Ghouls and zombie outbreaks in remote areas.
But this! This was a task worthy of someone of his skill. Poveglia was home to the Witches of Europe; a Mecca for all who practiced the unholy arts and their sisters, the entire island was classified as a Stage Four zone, meaning it was off limits to all but the most skilled Templars, and even then, they were required to bring a team with them.
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 hesitated 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 sniffed 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 shook his head and remained 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 stated, 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.