Like the previous one, this investigation started with an online forum post that told of a sighting of strange lights, this time at the Citânia of Briteiros. However, it was also associated with witches and the diary I had found, as one of its entries gathered several second-hand stories that told of powerful witches living, hidden, among the ruins. My predecessor, shy as he was, never tried to confirm these stories, but their existence and that of the lights seemed a strange coincidence, and I decided to investigate.
One evening after work, I called my wife to tell her I was going to work late and then made my way to the ruins of citânia. It wasn’t far from my job, but part of the road was very narrow, with many poor visibility turns, and required careful driving. As such, it took me more than half an hour to get there.
I parked on a dirt space by the roadside in front of the entrance to the citânia’s ruins. Although it wasn’t yet night, the sky had begun to darken, and the place was closed. I decided to make use of the little light left in the day to look for another way in.
I walked almost the entire edge of the ruins facing the road. Finally, a hundred meters below where I’d left my car, I found a space between the fence and the ground large enough for me to pass. Dragging myself along the ground, I managed to get in.
I was now near the ruins of a public bath located in one of the lowest points of the citadel. Despite the growing darkness and my eagerness to find the lights’ origins, I couldn’t help but admire the so-called “Beautiful Stone” of the baths, engraved with Celtic motifs.
I started up an ancestral street, the same that the Iron Age inhabitants used in their day-to-day lives, flanked by a conduit that took water to the bath. The climb wasn’t easy as the pavement was uneven and quite steep but finally I reached the area where most of the ruins of houses were concentrated.
After resting a bit, I decided to continue to walk to the top of the Acropolis. Being the highest point in the hillfort, it was the ideal place to keep watch and spot the lights I was looking for.
I went up another of the original paths. It snaked through the ruins of the various family complexes in which circular houses were built around a central yard and surrounded by a wall taller than I.
I also passed by the innermost wall and its northern gate. Although in the dark, I couldn’t see them, I knew, thanks to my previous visit, that there were two other walls beyond it.
Finally, I reached the top of the Acropolis. In addition to two reconstructed houses, there were ruins of a huge round building with stone benches embedded in the wall. According to the reading I did before my previous visit to the citânia, archaeologists thought that that building was where the rulers or the elders gathered to discuss and solve the town’s problems.
From the top of the Acropolis, I could see the whole ruins, however, there was no sign of the lights the rumors spoke of. However, it was still early, so I leaned against one of the reconstructed houses and waited. I just wished that that wasn’t one of the few nights without occurrences that month.
The first sign that something was going to happen, however, wasn’t the appearance of lights, but of shapes that moved further down, in the dark. These came from a point almost opposite that from which I had entered, so I wondered how they had circumvented the fence.
Slowly they approached a small yard located amongst the family complexes below, and then, by the light of the moon and the stars, I realized that they were five women dressed in black. The idea that they could be the Witches of the Night crossed my mind, but I soon discarded it. These women didn’t have the covered faces or the size of the creatures I was looking for.
Then the lights that made me go there appeared. I saw them first as three small greenish flames in a small grove near the outer perimeter of the citânia. However, they quickly approached, their size and intensity increasing.
Seeing them, the five women immediately sought refuge among the ruins. They waited for the will-o-wisps to approach a bit more, and then began to recite a strange and elaborate chant. To my surprise, moments later, a torrent of hail fell upon the living flames, although the sky was clear. In mere seconds, they and the ground around them were covered by a mound of ice.
Up to that moment, I hadn’t seen such a demonstration of power by any witch, so, for a moment, I wondered if those five women really weren’t the Witches of the Night.
The attackers waited a few seconds to make sure that they had really neutralized their target. The mound of ice didn’t move, and they then left their hiding places.
“We did it” said one of them. “We’re now the most powerful witches in Northern Portugal.”
“It seems so” another agreed, with a smile.
“Are you sure?” asked a third, looking, suspicious and frightened, to the hail mound. They’ve survived worse.
“I’m sure” said the first. “We found their weakness.”
In that instant, the ice began to tremble. A second later, with an explosion, the will-o-wisps emerged from the hail.
The invaders rushed back to their shelters and started a new chant. This time, however, their opponents went into action.
With incredible speed, one crashed into one of the witches, projecting her several meters back. Another shot a strange greenish lightning that bypassed the cover and hit the attacker behind it. Then, the three got together and began to move quickly in a circle. A rain of small balls of green flames fell, then, on the three invaders still in combat. As they touched their clothes, they set them on fire. Strangely, though, when they missed and hit the ground, they went off instantly without even burning the vegetation.
The attackers rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames. When they got up, they decided that they had had enough and, after picking up their two unconscious (or maybe even dead) friends, they fled, disappearing into the darkness from which they had emerged.
The will-o-wisps remained motionless for a few more minutes. I stayed where I was, watching them, hoping that when they left, they would take me to something that would reveal their origin. After all, the women they had faced were clearly witches. Could they be somewhat related to the Witches of the Night?
The truth promptly revealed itself and it caught me completely by surprise.
The flames of the will-o-wisps started stirring and growing. Suddenly they disappeared completely, revealing three persons: two women and one man.
“I hope this is the last of these attacks” said the man. “Fighting these second-rate witches is becoming tiresome.”
“It’s the price of fame” said one of the women.
“But what do they think they can achieve?” asked the other woman. “Occupy our place? They think that by defeating us, they will get our powers?”
Clearly, those people were powerful witches. However, they didn’t have the size or the garments of the Witches of the Night, so I assumed they weren’t them. Moreover, the latter could hardly be called famous. But perhaps these three knew something that could help me.
I took a deep breath to gather some courage before, once again, addressing a group of witches.
I got up and called for them. Without a word, they again turned into will-o-wisps, flew up to the Acropolis and surrounded me. Then they returned to their human forms.
“Who are you?” asked the man. “Don’t tell me you’re another wizard who wants to face us.”
“No, no” I answered promptly.
I then told them about my search for the Witches of the Night and what had brought me there.
“You know, we’re also very interested in the Witches of the Night. No one knows who they are, what they want or where they came from. This makes them dangerous to us.”
“Do you know where I can find them?”
“Unfortunately, no” said the other woman. “If we knew, we would have already talked to them. We always try to convince all witches in the North to join our Great Covenant.”
“Come with us” said the first woman. “Let us show you what we have on the Witches of the Night. Perhaps if we combine our knowledge, we can figure something out.”
“Do you think we should show him our hiding place?” asked the man.
“He has dealt with witches before. He knows that if he says something to someone, we’ll put a curse on him and everyone he loves” said the first woman. “Besides, everyone knows that we are here in the citânia and that our hiding place isn’t very far.”
They took me, then, to one of the rebuilt citânia houses. The man took a key from his pocket, which he used to open the door, and we entered. Inside it was dark. The only light was the pale luminescence of the moon and the stars that came through the door, however, it was enough for me to realize that the place was empty.
As I wondered why they had brought me there, one of the women pulled away some of the straw that covered the floor and lifted a small stone slab. To my surprise, underneath it, there was a small backlit keypad. The witch introduced a numeric code, and the ground began to tremble.
“Step back a bit” the man said, pulling me gently by the shoulder.
A part of the floor lowered and slid aside, revealing metal stairs leading down vertically to a concrete tunnel. The woman who opened the trap door went down first, followed by the man. I was the third, while the last witch stayed back to close the trapdoor.
The tunnel was well lit and short, ending up less than two meters ahead in a room considerably more spacious than the rebuilt house above.
It was a strange place. Like the tunnel, it had concrete walls, giving it a bunker-like look. Desks with computers and tablet PCs mingled with counters filled with mortars, knives, scythes, bottles, and vials filled with multiple liquids of different colors. Bunches of different herbs hanged by strings from the ceiling, as well as chicken paws and net bags filled with bones. The walls were partially covered with newspaper clippings and pictures of people, some of whom I recognized as being involved in national and international politics.
Exactly what these witches did there, I don’t know, but it was obvious they were more powerful and influential than any other covenant I had met before.
One of the women turned on one of the computers and started showing me videos on which the Witches of the Night appeared. I confess I was surprised, scared even, with all the places where those witches had eyes. I saw images of the Witches of the Night in the Gerês Mountains, in the streets of Porto, flying over the river Lima, in the tunnels hidden under Braga. They even showed me a video of my encounter with one of the Witches of the Night, when I pursued one of the trolls under its command. These were images from outside the abandoned house where I found the creature, certainly taken by a drone. Unfortunately, the machine wasn’t fast enough to follow the cloaked witch to its hiding place.
Although the videos revealed several places where the Witches of the Night had been, even with the knowledge I had gained during my search, they didn’t help uncover the creatures’ motives or whereabouts. In fact, they only brought more questions.
With nothing more to do there, I said goodbye to the witches. After reiterating their threats of what would happen to me if I revealed their hiding place to anyone, they let me go.
On the drive back home, I couldn’t help thinking that I was increasingly confused. The more I learned about the Witches of the Night, the least I understood. Would I ever be able to find them and make them answer for the deaths they had caused?