The rain dripped off my hood. Three days of this was enough to give anyone a bad attitude, and it seemed every face in the city had a scowl glued on. I turned the corner and walked up the street. Water flowed out of a drainage ditch and washed between my toes. After this amount of downfall, there was probably nothing dangerous in it. Probably.
The apartment was on the third floor. I could see the balcony as I entered the stairwell. The shaky wooden steps squished as I climbed, and I could tell that this building was one of the sub-standard apartment buildings that had been thrown up after the fire. Build them cheap and fast and rent them out. No wonder so many of them ended up burning down or collapsing. It never mattered to the owners, they just cleared out the bodies and six stories of rubble and rebuilt.
I rapped on the door and heard a voice answer from within. The door cracked a fingerswidth and a dull, grey eyeball presented itself through the opening. The old woman's voice crackled as she spoke, “Yes?”
“Are you Caecillia Quarta?” I asked, keeping my voice level, almost friendly.
“I am. Are you…” I kicked the door open hard. It smashed her back and I rushed through.
She had been thrown against the wall, into what little light came through the window. She was a small woman, maybe late sixties, with a tangled mass of grey hair that almost matched the color of her eyes and skin. Fear covered her face, and she raised her hands against me. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Please, no," she croaked.
I took three strides forward, knocking over a small table piled with clay and glass pots. They hit the floor, the tinkling of their shattering mixed with the sound of the raindrops outside. I could see her fingertips starting to glow with that golden light I had seen so many times before.
My gladius pierced her chest, sliced through her heart and pinned her to the wall. I grabbed the hilt with both hands and leaned into it with my whole body. Her grey, bony hands clutched the blade and threatened to pull it out, but I could see the strength leaving her, her grey eyes getting darker.
Her arms dropped to her side. I counted to ten before pulling the blade back out. I had to brace my foot against the wall in order to remove it. It slid from her body with a wet sucking sound and she collapsed to the floor with a muffled thump.
Running footsteps ascended the stairs, and I turned to see Norbanus at the doorway. That was when I first noticed that I had quite messily kicked the door off its hinges. He pulled back his hood and whistled softly. “Nice job on the door, Boss.”
I grunted and took a look around while I wiped the blood off my gladius and sheathed it. It looked like every other witchhouse I’d seen - tidy, full of shelves with neatly labeled pots and boxes and bags, clean except for the blood oozing from the old woman on the floor.
“It all needs to be purified.” I brushed past him entering the stairwell again.
“What about the other people who live here?” Norbanus threw the questions at my back. I stopped with my foot on the first stair. I could hear the shuffle of the urbanae out front, waiting for orders. My backup had arrived, finally. Too late to help, as usual.
I sometimes…when you've been doing this for so long, you forget that the world is filled with normal, ordinary people, and sometimes they get in the way.
“Have the urbanae knock on everyone’s doors. Make them leave immediately. Give them no time to gather belongings, but make sure they get *everyone* out.” I took a deep breath.
“Then torch the whole building.”
I plodded down the stairs. I forget, sometimes, why I do this. Norbanus helps me remember, the poor, foolish kid. He might even think I still have a soul, but I gave that up a long time ago to become what I am now.
I am Gaius Sergius Marcellus, and I am a witch-hunter for Rome