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?”
Paolo and the Witch walked in silence up the grassy hill, moving between the uneven grave plots and crumbling tombstones. As they walked, Paolo could see the walking dead watching them, studying them with a primal hunger that he prayed he would never know. Despite their great number, with four or five always lumbering within a few yards, they remained passive enough to keep Paolo from trying anything.
The Witch herself seemed to be in high spirits, whistling some nameless tune as she twirled her Linden wood cane in lazy circles, her form fitting black dress somehow staying free of dirt or moisture that seemed to pervade the very air of the island. Between the bitter wind and the growing fog, Paolo couldn’t even begin to see how anybody would willingly subject themselves to living in such conditions.
His thoughts, which were growing ever darker, were cut off as the Witch abruptly stopped before a moss covered crypt, twin hooded statues flanking the stone doors, brass sconces bearing dying embers shedding an aura of light and warmth over them that Paolo couldn’t help but to revel in. The Witch spun on her heel, a Cheshire grin splitting her face as she clasped her hands behind her back, thrusting her chest forward.
“Here we are my darling!” She cooed, bringing a faint blush to Paolo’s cheeks from the sudden change in attitude. “This is where we part ways and you get to prove your worth. Go into the crypt and make your way through the catacombs until you reach the Undercroft.”
The Undercroft… the fabled city of Witches and home to the Poveglia School of Sorcery. Paolo could only guess as to why she would send him, a Templar, to the most carefully guarded secret of the supernatural world. Marco had brought them to Poveglia to hunt the dead that he knew roamed here, to better hone their skills under pressure. To think that the fabled Black City of Undercroft was this close to the Vatican... it was almost laughable! He swallowed his fear in an audible gulp, looking from the sealed stone doors to the Witch and back again.
She smiled even wider, revealing rows of glistening sharp teeth. “The spirits can tell you’re frightened. That’s good! That means you might just survive the catacombs and make it to town. There you’ll learn why I spared you instead of adding you to my collection.”
She turned to the crypt, muttering in an alien tongue as her eyes began to spark an unholy shade of green. As if struck by an unseen giant, dust erupted from the seams of the two great stone slabs before they began to groan. Slowly, the titanic slabs grinded along the stone floor of the crypt backwards, into the darkness, before sliding behind the walls. The crypts entryway was dark and cold, like the maw of some infernal creature held wide for unwary travelers to enter. Stale air and mold filled Paolo’s nostrils as he coughed and hacked, trying to clear his throat of the centuries old dust and grime shaken loose by the towering pieces of worked stone.
“If you can’t handle a little soot than you might not be as valuable as the spirits claim,” The Witch said doubtfully, appraising him as if he were a fresh side of beef.
One she would like to eat.
Paolo decided that the crypt would probably be safer than staying with the Witch of questionable sanity and reached for the hilt of his sword, just for reassurance, before slowly making his way up the uneven steps and past the twin statues and their somewhat comforting light.
The comfort didn’t last long, for as soon as he entered, the great stone slabs began dragging themselves back into place, slowly sealing him within the sepulcher. Spinning about in fright, he caught sight of the Witch’s face, a smile tugging at her lips as a mob of shambling corpses were slowly surrounding her.
“Turn back now little boy and I’ll add you to my collection,” She said before blowing him a kiss, “I know you’ll do fine. The spirits never lie!”
Paolo couldn’t think of anything to say as the light began to dim, the air began to grow stale and the darkness closed in around him like a crushing weight. The very last thing he saw before the light died was the milky white eyes of a dozen dead men glimmering in the dying embers flanking what was the seal of his own tomb.