Chapter 26 – The Third Witch

Despite the attempts of the Witches of the Night to scare us off, the Organization and I kept exploring the portals in the abandoned camp in Gerês.

After a few more fruitless expeditions, we found another place of interest.

As soon as we crossed the portal, we found ourselves on a paved road. I realized immediately where we were: the lookout atop Mount of Madalena, with its unmistakable view over the Lima River and the town of Ponte de Lima. As a child, I had been there many times with my parents to dine at the restaurant built there.

This restaurant, to my chagrin, was abandoned and had been vandalized. Its windows were all broken, and the doors burst open. Plastic chairs and tables piled up under the archway on its north side and graffiti covered most of its walls, both interior and exterior.

We decided to start exploring the restaurant because it seemed the most likely place for one of the Witches of the Night to hide.

We entered the ground floor through one of the huge broken windows that formed one of the walls of the restaurant’s bar. The mirrors behind the counter were broken, and bottles lay everywhere, along with destroyed wicker chairs and tables.

There was nothing there of interest to us, so we went through the door behind the counter, which we promptly found led to what seemed to be the kitchen. We entered just in time to see a little shadow disappear into the food elevator shaft. What it was exactly, we couldn’t see, and when Almeida’s soldiers peered into the elevator shaft, they didn’t find anything. But one thing was clear: it was one of the Witches of the Night’s creatures.

There were dishes, pots, and pans strewn across the floor. After a quick search to see if we could find something of interest to us, we climbed the service stairs. Upstairs, we found a small room, even smaller than the kitchen, where the waiters probably readied the dishes before taking them to the dining room.

When we got there, we still saw the door closing, so we crossed it immediately in pursuit. But as soon we left the room, we froze. In front of us, scattered around the dining room between broken tables and chairs, there were more than a hundred creatures, each eating raw meat from animals native to those mountains, like hares, squirrels, birds, foxes, and even bats.

Among those beings, there were trolls and goblins, as well as two members of the same race of the creature that attacked us in the Convent of Santa Clara. However, the majority consisted of small humanoid creatures, less than one meter tall, with the body covered by black hair. They had a muzzle that mixed traits from that of a dog with that a cat, which led the Organization to name them (without much imagination, we must admit) dats.

Once the creatures became aware of our presence, they left their grotesque meals and turned towards us. Almeida pulled me back, and his men, not taking any chances, opened fire immediately.

The soldiers’ automatic weapons fell several of the beings, but they charged us and were too many for the bullets to stop them all.

We retreated to the service room, hoping that the door would create a bottleneck that would allow the soldiers to deal with fewer creatures at a time. At first, the plan worked, with goblins, trolls, and dats being slaughtered as soon as they entered the room. However, when one of the largest creatures arrived (I named them ogrons in honor of the monsters from the Doctor Who TV show), the situation changed. Despite the torrent of bullets that hit it, the creature kept advancing towards us, barely slowing. It only fell less than three feet from us, when one of Almeida’s soldiers fired a burst right into its eyes, reaching its brain and killing it.

Although the ogron was dead, the time it took to kill it was enough for many other creatures to enter the room. These were too many, and they were too close for the soldiers to kill them all before they overwhelmed us. As such, Almeida ordered us to fall back towards the other door, and with his soldiers constantly firing to, at least, gain us some time, we did so.

We were only a few steps from it when the second door opened, giving way to more creatures, headed by another ogron.

With the most obvious escape route closed, Almeida ordered his men to form a semicircle around the nearest window. One of them used his gun butt to break what remained of its glass and frame. Then, he asked a comrade to hold one end of his assault rifle and used it to climb down to a height from which it was safe to jump to the ground.

While some of the soldiers kept shooting to slow the creatures approach, two others managed to escape through the window. But it was obvious that we couldn’t all get out that way before the minions of the Witches of the Night reached us.

“Get out of here!” Almeida said to me. “Quickly!”

Without hesitation, I went out the window, and, clinging to the railing to lower myself as much as possible, I let go. The soldiers who escaped before caught me. Then, they ran to the other side of the building to attack the creatures that threatened their companions from the rear.

I was unarmed, so I ran to the front of the restaurant, from which I would have a direct route of escape to the portal, and waited.

For several minutes, I heard shots, shouts, and screams coming from inside. Then silence returned. The fight was over. And I could only wait to see who had won.

After a while, I saw something move in the shadows beyond the kitchen door. When a figure emerged, I sighed with relief. It was one of the Organization’s soldiers. Several of his comrades came close behind, along with Almeida.

“We cleared the inside,” he said as he approached. “It seems that there is no Witch of the Night here.”

“We still haven’t searched everywhere,” I replied.

I took Almeida and his men toward the small chapel built just below the restaurant. It wasn’t very visible from the lookout because trees covered its rear side. I only knew of its existence because I had been present in two marriages celebrated in it when the restaurant was at its peak.

The most direct route, which involved going down some stairs and through a wild path was impassable due to the growth of vegetation, so we had to use the main access. We returned almost to the place where the portal was and then entered the paved road that passed directly below the lookout and went straight to the small chapel.

Unlike the restaurant, it wasn’t vandalized. In fact, a coat of paint would make it as good as new.

We climbed the steps up to its small forecourt and tried to peer inside through the two narrow front windows but saw only darkness. Something on the other side blocked the view.

“Break down the door” ordered Almeida.

With several kicks, Almeida’s men quickly threw the door open. Like the exterior, the interior looked intact. Wooden benches still lined both sides of a narrow corridor that led to the altar. Behind the altar, a cross with an image of Jesus Christ hung on the wall. The only foreign element was a wooden table positioned to the right of the altar, at which the hooded figure of a Witch of the Night sat.

“I see you still haven’t learned to listen to us,” said the creature in a deep and dry voice. “Maybe I can teach you.”

Almeida tried to answer, but the Witch of the Night started casting a spell and ignored him.

“Get back! Get out of here!” shouted Almeida.

We all ran to the door, but none of us managed to escape. The spell of the Witch of the Night took substantially less time to cast than that of her comrade we had found in the tunnels under Valença.

A gust of wind blew from the altar and closed the door. The first of the Organization soldiers to reach it tried to open it but couldn’t. They were going to start trying to destroy it with their guns, when a second gust, this one much more powerful than the first, hit us and threw us against the wall. Then, benches and some of the decorations hit us and pilled on top of us. Were it not for our protective gear, we would have died or at least been seriously injured.

The wind kept blowing and crushing us against the wall. It was so strong that it kept us pined a few feet above the ground. I had increasingly more difficulty breathing. Finally, when I was about to lose consciousness, the wind died down, and we fell to the ground among all the pieces of furniture that had been thrown at us.

As it was to be expected, the Witch of the Night had disappeared. Almeida called reinforcements and searched every inch of the chapel, restaurant, and surrounding woods. Again, all signs that the Witch of the Night and its creatures had ever been there were gone. And we still had no clue as to what their objectives were.

Chapter 25 – The Second Witch

As I expected, the attempt of the Witch of the Night we found in the Santa Clara Convent to discourage the Organization from interfering in their affairs had no effect. The very next day, Almeida called me to investigate another portal.

Across the portals that we tried in the days that followed, we didn’t find anything significant. Why the Witches of the Night had created those portals, we had no way of knowing. Maybe they were related to aborted attacks or were just for reconnaissance.

Only one proved remotely interesting since it took us to a place near the river Lima’s bank, on the outskirts of Viana do Castelo. It was undoubtedly through it that the Witches of the Night had launched their attack against the King of Islets’ kingdom, but, at that moment, it didn’t help us much.

Finally, one of the portals led us to a completely dark location. We immediately lit our lanterns and realized we were in a tunnel. The walls, the floor, and the ceiling consisted of blocks and slabs of granite.

We were too deep for any GPS to function, and without an opening through which we could peek, we had no way of knowing what part of the country (or perhaps the world) we were in.

The tunnel followed in two directions, so Almeida chose one at random to start our exploration. Knowing of our encounter with goblins and worse creatures and the death of their comrades in Vila do Conde, the Organization’s soldiers strapped their lanterns to their automatic rifles and moved with these at the ready.

We had advanced just a few hundred yards when we found the tunnel’s first inhabitants. They didn’t look like trolls, goblins, or any of the other creatures we had found before. After the mission, we named them troglodytes, as they were vaguely similar to humans, but had flat heads without eyes and ashen skin.

Apparently, they had detected our presence before we realized they were there, as they were charging towards us wielding wood and flint weapons. As they approached, they threw spears and sharp stones at us, however, these primitive weapons could do nothing against the helmets, and other protective equipments we started using after our mission in Vila do Conde. The Organization’s soldiers’ automatic weapons, however, had no difficulty in slaughtering the troglodytes. It only took a few bursts to kill them all.

We passed over their bodies and continued our exploration.

The tunnel changed direction shortly afterwards. Also, it seemed to decline, albeit with a very subtle gradient.

We walked for more than fifteen minutes, always in a straight line, before we reached the end of the tunnel. It seemed to lead to a natural cavern, but only when we got there did we realize how big it was.

Its ceiling was seventy feet above our heads, and the cavern stretched hundreds of yards ahead and to the sides. Stalactites and stalagmites jutted in various places, and, between them, snaked dirt roads tramped by hundreds of feet. Although at first we couldn’t see any, it was obvious that the troglodytes frequented that place in large numbers.

The Organization’s soldiers formed a perimeter around me and Almeida, and, carefully, we started exploring the cave.

We soon found the first troglodytes. A group of six gathered behind a stalagmite, talking. Their tongue felt strange and primitive to our ears, but, judging by the way they spoke, they seemed to be having a trivial conversation.

Suddenly, the troglodytes became silent. At first, we didn’t realize why, but when they started moving away from us, we realized that we had been detected. Since they had no eyes, it was hard to tell when they noticed our presence.

I and the Organization’s soldiers looked at Almeida, waiting for him to say how we should react. The decision, however, turned out not to be his.

Sharp stones started falling on the soldiers in the rear. They answered with shots from their automatic rifles, while their companions attacked the troglodytes we had seen first. However, only then, with our most immediate opponents defeated, did we realize the situation we were in.

All around us, gathered a mass of troglodytes that stretched as far as the light of our flashlights could reach. And they were all coming at us.

The Organization’s soldiers started shooting, but not even their automatic guns could deter all attackers. Eventually, the creatures reached the soldiers and attacked them in melee. Although Almeida’s men protective equipment offered a substantial defense against the troglodytes’ primitive weapons, the sheer quantity of attacks meant that it was almost impossible that some didn’t find a joint or vulnerable gap.

We were about to be crushed by the troglodytes when a cry made the creatures stop. Once these moved away, we started looking around in search of our savior. On the wall of the cave, about ten meters from the ground, we found a smaller cave. Cut by the light emerging from the inside, we saw the cloaked form of a Witch of the Night.

She gestured for us to come closer. The crowd of troglodytes opened a passage, and we slowly and constantly looking around, crossed it until we reached the wall.

“Come up,” said the Witch of the Night. “I want to talk to you.”

Then it disappeared inside the cave.

One by one, we climbed using the various handholds carved into the wall. As might be expected, the soldiers took the lead and the tail.

When we reached the top, the creature waited for us, sitting behind a desk full of books and instruments I didn’t recognize. The walls were lined with bookcases, and there were also several closed chests. The similarities with our previous encounter with a Witch of the Night were obvious. In fact, we couldn’t be sure that this wasn’t the same creature.

As before, the surrounding soldiers pointed their weapons at the creature. Only then did I and Almeida approach it. The Witch of the Night, which hadn’t moved or showed any reaction since our arrival to the cave, waited until we reached the desk and then said, “You have been told that we don’t care about your stupid race. Why do you keep continue interfering in our affairs?”

“And you have been told that your actions risk revealing to the public a world that it isn’t ready to know,” answered Almeida.

“It’s not in our interest that all men learn about our existence, but we can’t compromise our goals because of that. They are too important.”

“In that case, we will keep interfering in your affairs and fight you if necessary,” Almeida said.

“We don’t need more enemies, but don’t think that we won’t respond. Talk to your superiors, tell them what we discussed, and try to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”

“I don’t think that talking to my superiors will make any difference.”

The Witch of the Night fell silent for a few minutes. Finally, it said, “In that case, there’s no point in delaying your deaths.”

The creature began to move its hands to cast a spell. Almeida’s men, realizing what it was doing, didn’t hesitate and opened fire. The bullets, however, didn’t seem to have any effect on the creature besides slowing its gestures.

After what I had seen in previous battles against the Witches of the Night, their invulnerability to bullets didn’t surprise me. Almeida, if he was surprised, didn’t show, and immediately shouted, “Run!”

And when we reached the mouth of the cave, he instructed, “Jump on the troglodytes.”

We did so. Fortunately, the blind creatures had no time to ready their weapons, and their bodies, along with our armor, were enough to cushion our high fall.

Sore, we got up and headed to the tunnel through which we had entered.

At first, the troglodytes didn’t try to stop or chase us, but the Witch of the Night soon appeared at the entrance of its cave and shouted something in a language I didn’t understand.

We had to fight our way through the last rows of troglodytes, and the others pursued us even after we entered the tunnel.

The Organization’s soldiers constantly fired back against the horde that pursued us while we ran towards the portal that had transported us to that tunnel. Fortunately, there were no forks, so there was no risk of us getting lost in the confusion during the escape.

We finally reached the bodies of the first troglodytes that we had found, showing that we were almost at the portal. The horde still chased us, despite the dozens of creatures that the soldiers had shot down while we ran.

As we approached the location on which we emerged from the portal, we became more and more relieved. That relief, however, gradually turned into desperation as we crossed more and more of the tunnel without the portal taking us back to the camp. Finally, we reached a corner, showing that we had gone through all that section of the tunnel. Somehow, the Witch of the Night had closed the portal, trapping us there.

“Keep running!” shouted Almeida, with a touch of fear in his voice. “Keep running!”

“We’re running out of ammo,” said one of the soldiers, inserting his last magazine in his gun.

We kept going hoping to find another way out, but, around the corner, there was just another dark tunnel, and then another, and another…

The soldiers started saving their bullets, firing single shots instead of burst, but this allowed the troglodytes to get closer, and closer. And there was no sign that their chase was weakening.

The situation was quickly becoming desperate when I saw what seemed to be a small ray of light coming out of a wall. I pointed my flashlight towards it and revealed what appeared to be an arch sealed with small granite rocks and ancient mortar. It was very different from the stone blocks that surrounded the rest of the tunnel. The light seemed to come out of a small hole between the rocks.

“It may be a way out,” said Almeida when he realized what I had found. “Tear down the wall under the arch,” he then ordered his men.

The soldiers quickly executed the order. Those who had less ammo used their rifles’ butts to knock down the wall, while the remaining fired at the troglodytes to keep them at bay.

“Hurry up!” shouted Almeida.

The first stone eventually fell to the outside, quickly followed by the others. As soon as the hole became large enough for a man to go through, we, one by one, emerged into a public park. Several passers-by stopped to see what was happening. Certainly no one expected to see armed men appear from an arc sealed for who knows how long.

“Get out of here! Run!” Almeida shouted to the nearby civilians while his soldiers lined up in front of the hole, ready to receive the troglodytes.

Almeida’s warning didn’t work. In fact, his cries attracted even more curious people. Fortunately, seconds passed and turned into minutes without there being any signs of our pursuers.

Fifteen minutes later, Almeida ordered his men to check on what had happened to the troglodytes. Carefully, one of the soldiers stuck his flashlight and gun, followed by his head, into the hole. After looking in all directions, he turned towards us and said, “I don’t see them.”

“Maybe they’re afraid of sunlight?” said Almeida.

“They looked blind, but perhaps the sun affects them in some other way,” I replied.

After determining where we were with the help of a GPS, Almeida called reinforcements through his phone. But I didn’t need electronic instruments to realize where we were. The wall, the cannons, the narrow, ancient streets, and the steel bridge over the river, all those elements left no room for doubt: we were in Valença, more precisely in the old part of the town.

An hour later, a helicopter arrived, followed shortly by several trucks full of soldiers. Under Almeida’s orders, they sealed off the entrance to the tunnel and started exploring it in search of the Witch of the Night and its troglodytes.

The helicopter took me to Braga, so I didn’t stay to see what happened next, but Almeida later told me that his men found neither the Witch of the Night or any troglodyte. Even the bodies of the creatures that we killed had disappeared. They found, however, a complex of tunnels that seemed to extend throughout Northern Portugal and Galicia and perhaps even beyond. According to Almeida, exploring it would take years.

Again, the Witches of the Night told and showed us that they didn’t want us involved in their affairs. After chasing us out of the tunnels, the Witch of the Night disappeared along with the creatures under its command and any sign of their presence there — all to hide their goals.

Of course, this effort only increased my curiosity and the determination of the Organization in finding out what was going on. Although we hadn’t yet made much progress, I hoped that everything would be revealed soon. If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken that opportunity to walk away.

Chapter 24 – The First Witch

The very next day, Almeida came through on his promise to keep in touch. When I left work for my lunch break, he was, once again, waiting next to my car.

“We need you again,” he said as I approached.

He then led me to a car that was waiting for us. As soon as we entered, he started to explain what was going on. “We found more portals in the Witches of the Night’s camp. A lot more… and I want you to come with us to explore them.”

The drive took us to the outskirts of Braga, where a helicopter was waiting for us. It took us to the camp we had discovered the night before, situated between Gerês’ forests.

This was the first of many similar trips I made in the weeks that followed. Using its influence, the Organization got me temporary leave from work for me to explore the new portals with their agents.

Many of these portals led to inconsequential places where we found nothing useful about the Witches of the Night, so here I will describe only the most important expeditions.

The first of these took place five days after we discovered the camp. As we had done several times before, Almeida and I entered one of the portals, accompanied by a dozen men armed with automatic rifles. A fraction of a second later, we found ourselves in a corridor. Plaster fell from its ceiling and walls. Behind us, there was an old door that had been kicked in, and in front, there was a window protected on the outside by a metal grate. Several doors lined up on both sides, all in very poor condition.

The place seemed familiar to me, and I went up to the window to take a peek outside. I immediately confirmed my suspicion: we were in Vila do Conde. More exactly, we were in the abandoned and vandalized Convent of Santa Clara which I had visited with my urban exploration group years earlier.

While Almeida and I waited, the other men looked behind each of that corridor’s doors. They found nothing, so they expanded the search to the other ground floor corridors. The result was the same: no sign of the Witches of the Night or the creatures under their command.

That changed when we reached the second floor. When we came out of the staircase, we came across a group of five goblins a few yards ahead. Almeida’s men pointed their weapons at the creatures, but they fled, disappearing around the corner just behind them.

With the soldiers in front, we chased them, but once we turned the corner, we didn’t see them. Instead, we saw a humanoid creature more than two meters tall with white skin, covered only by a loin cloth, and completely bald. Unlike the goblins, it didn’t run away. In fact, it charged us.

Almeida’s men started firing, but the creature didn’t even slow down. At the last moment, me, Almeida, and some of the soldiers managed to escape by jumping to the section of corridor before the corner. Some of the others weren’t so lucky as the creature’s mass and momentum pushed them through a wall.

The being rose from the rubble quickly, as if nothing had happened and charged us. The Organization’s soldiers shot at it while they retreated with me and Almeida, but we were all well aware that we would never escape.

Miraculously (or at least that was how it looked like to me), the rotten wooden floor gave way under the creature’s weight, and it fell to the floor below. We ran to the hole to confirm that it was out of the fight, but it was no longer there. It was a hardy creature – it certainly had got up again. At least we would be free from it for a while.

We immediately ran to help the soldiers who had suffered the charge and found that two were dead, and the others had multiple fractures. Almeida called someone on the phone to come and get them but didn’t stop the expedition.

Again, the armed men searched all the rooms on that floor while I and Almeida waited. We heard some shots, but before we got to their origin, two soldiers appeared and told us that it had been just a few goblins. Besides them, we found no other creature on that floor.

Nevertheless, the soldiers found a small, partially hidden door behind a half-broken bookcase. Behind it was a narrow staircase that rose into darkness.

Almeida smiled. Then, ignoring the stairs leading to the next floor, he decided we should go up the hidden staircase. Again, the armed men went in front.

We climbed for several minutes. It quickly became obvious that those stairs skipped the top two floors of the convent and led directly into its attic.

Finally, we reached a narrow door. Light emerged from the gap between it and the floor, showing that someone or something was behind it.

Wasting no time, Almeida’s men broke in. We then entered the extensive attic, which had no rooms. Numerous boxes, chests, and antique furniture were scattered everywhere. Among them, we found only one creature. One of the cloaked figures sat behind a desk covered with books, ink bottles, paper, and pens.

The soldiers surrounded it, their weapons ready to shoot at the slightest move, but me and Almeida froze. This was our first encounter with one of the Witches of the Night. I had been looking for them for so long that I doubted my eyes.

“Come close,” said the creature calmly, with a deep, dry voice to Almeida, correctly identifying the leader of our group. “I need to talk to you.”

Tentatively, Almeida approached her, leaving the desk between them. I followed close behind.

“Why are you getting involved in our affairs?” asked the creature. “They have nothing to do with your race.”

“And the deaths in Braga because of the accidents caused by your trolls?!” I cried more than said.

“Collateral damage.”

I was going to answer, but Almeida raised his hand, stopping me.

“I’m part of an organization whose mission is to hide your world from ordinary humans” he explained to the Witch of the Night. “As you may have noticed, some of your actions are highly visible and have caused us some problems. Could you…”

“That doesn’t concern us. We’ll do what we need to do to achieve our goal.”

“And we, ours” answered Almeida.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

“Think about what I told you” said the Witch of the Night at last. “If you keep interfering in our affairs, there will be consequences.”

Before Almeida could respond, the Witch of the Night made a slight gesture with her hand, and in the next moment, we were back in the corridor where we had started that exploration.

Almeida immediately ordered his men to inspect the convent again, especially the attic, but the Witch of the Night was no longer there, nor were any of her creatures. The place was, once again, completely abandoned.

With nothing else to do there, we crossed the portal back to camp. From there, a helicopter took me back to Braga.

On the way home, my feelings were torn between satisfaction and fear. We had finally found one of the Witches of the Night! However, their motives and objectives were still a mystery. In fact, all the secrecy that the Witch of Night kept around the subject and their clear determination to achieve whatever it was they wanted scared me even more, despite her assurances that it had nothing to do with humans.

Nevertheless, it was an important achievement, and I was sure that the mystery around the Witches of Night would eventually be solved. After all, I doubted the Witch of the Night’s words would be enough to make Almeida and the Organization give up. Unfortunately, I was right.

Chapter 23 – The Organization and the Witches of the Night

In the days following the Great Covenant, I didn’t sleep much as I wondered what more I could do about the Witches of the Night. I didn’t know where they were going to attack next since all of their enemies I knew about had already been defeated. I constantly looked in the newspapers for signs of their activities, but never found anything. Someone must have been cleaning the locations of their attacks.

Then I remembered – The Organization! They must have been the ones who were hiding the Witches of the Night activities. If they were, they would certainly also be frustrated by the highly visible nature of the attacks.

I didn’t have direct contact with the Organization, but I knew that they monitored my old blog – terceirarealidade.wordpress.com – because they would occasionally send me articles or changes that they wanted me to publish through untraceable messages. As such, I wrote an article about the Witches of the Night, hoping the Organization’s frustration with them would make them contact me directly.

The very next day, my plan bore fruit. At the end of the day, after I left work, Almeida was waiting for me next to my car.

“So, you’re also investigating the Witches of the Night,” he said as soon as I approached, getting straight to the point.

I started to tell him what I knew, but he then interrupted me.

“Not here,” he said.

He then took me to a black car with tinted windows that was parked nearby.

“Now we can talk.”

For over an hour, I told him all that I had discovered about the Witches of the Night. Halfway through, I had to call my wife to tell her I would be late.

Almeida was very interested in everything that I had to say, and even asked a few question to clarify some points.

“I wonder what’s at the bottom of that lake in Tibães,” he wondered when I finished. “The Witches of the Night’s soldiers surely went somewhere.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just shrugged.

“I hope you’re not busy tonight. We’re going to drain the lake.”

Almeida’s tone showed that it was more of an order than an invitation. So, while he phoned for the equipment and manpower to drain the lake, I called my wife to tell her I was going to be even later than I thought. She wasn’t very happy as I had been coming home late too often, but she ended up agreeing.

Once Almeida finished his calls, he ordered the driver to take us to the Tibães Monastery.

As expected, we arrived there long before the draining equipment, and Almeida took advantage of this time to (again) hear what I knew about the Witches of the Night in case he had missed something the first time. We only left the car when the rest of his men arrived.

Contrary to what happened on my previous visit, we didn’t have to jump any walls to enter the monastery fields since the Organization contacted someone to open the door for us.

Almeida and I quickly went through the paths beneath the vines and in-between other cultures before reaching the lake. It wasn’t very different from when I saw it last time – it was only missing the cloaked figures of the Witches of the Night next to the stone from which flowed the water that filled it.

While their mates assembled the equipment to drain the lake, some of Organization’s men searched the forest for signs of the creatures that had been summoned by the Witches of the Night. Although weeks had passed, they still found faded footprints and broken branches, confirming my story.

Gradually, the lake bed became exposed. At first, there seemed to be no place where the Witches of the Night’s army could have gone, but soon, a tunnel appeared under the Eastern shore. However, we couldn’t investigate it immediately since the pump still took about an hour to drain enough water to clear a path to it.

After putting on tall rain boots, myself, Almeida, and some of his men stepped into the lake’s mud. Advancing was difficult because, with every step, we’d get buried halfway to the shins, but we finally reach the tunnel ‘s mouth.

We pointed the lanterns into the interior. The floor, the ceiling, and the walls were made of earth. Ahead, on the edge of the area illuminated by the lanterns, there was a sharp bent in the tunnel, so we entered, curious about what was beyond. The Organization’s men, armed with automatic rifles, went up front with Almeida and I behind.

A connection to the tunnels under the city of Braga, a cave that the army of the Witches of the Night could use as barracks and many other possibilities went through my mind as to what we would find around the bend. However, we found was the only thing I didn’t expect: nothing. About three dozen meters after the bend, the tunnel simply ended.

Frustration immediately appeared on Almeida’s face. Incredulous, I advanced till I reached the end of the tunnel. Perhaps there were signs of a collapse and that it hid the rest of the passage. But before I got to the wall of earth, it vanished.

Stunned, I pointed my flashlight back and realized that Almeida and his men were no longer there. It was only when a cool breeze led me to look further did I realized what had happened. Nothing and no one had disappeared. I was no longer in the tunnel, but in a huge clearing surrounded by distant trees. Here and there, I could see the huge, dark silhouettes of mountains covering the stars.

Moments later, Almeida appeared behind me. At first, he seemed as confused as I was, but he soon realized what had happened.

“Teleport” he said, surprised. “The Witches of the Night are even more powerful than I thought.”

We quickly inspected the site and immediately found campfire remains and makeshift shelters. This was a campground for the Witches of the Night’s army, or at least it had been.

“How do we get back?” I asked.

“Let’s see if we can get back by taking the reverse path. If not, I’ll have to call a helicopter. But, before we do that, let me first mark the coordinates of this location on my phone.”

When he finished, we tried to go back to the same place where we appeared in that clearing. As Almeida predicted, we found ourselves in the tunnel again in the blink of an eye.

We no longer had anything to do there, and since the investigation of the Witches of the Night camp would have to wait for daylight to be thorough, Almeida took me back to my car in the City.

When I opened the door to leave, he told me, “We’ll keep in touch. Your experience and knowledge about the Witches of the Night might prove useful again.”

As soon as I got into my car, the Organization’s departed.

So, for the first time in awhile, I went home satisfied after an investigation. We didn’t discover the intentions of the Witches of the Night or their whereabouts, but we found their army’s camp which would certainly lead to new discoveries. I just hoped that Almeida was being sincere when he said that he would keep in touch.

Chapter 22 – The Great Covenant

In the days following the defeat of the Gerês’ ghosts by the Witches of the Night, everyone told me that I looked distracted and tired. I had to agree with them. Since that night, I could barely sleep and only thought about what I could do about the Witches of the Night. I contacted everyone I remembered, hoping that someone could give me an indication of what to do next, but I didn’t have any luck.

Finally, the Sea Witch that I had met in Esposende called me a few days after to tell me about a Great Covenant that would happen the next Saturday night to discuss the Witches of the Night. I immediately decided that I would attend for what I had learned until that moment could prove useful.

As such, I told my wife that I was going with my urban exploration group to visit the ruins of a factory in Guimarães. It wasn’t entirely a lie as the Great Covenant was, in fact, going to be in Guimarães, but on the top of Monte da Penha, near the Catholic shrine.

When time came, I got into my car and drove to Guimarães. Through the motorway, it took me about twenty minutes to reach the city; however, the climb to the top of the hill took a while longer.

Finally, I came to the sanctuary area. It was winter, so the shops, cafes, and even the hotel were closed at that time of night. I parked in the main parking lot, which was completely empty, and got out to look for the location of the Covenant.

It was then that I remembered why I had loved that place since my first visit – it was like a playground for adults.

A false castle wall separated the hill slope from the parking lot. To its right, an earth ramp led to the traditional taverns built below, and on the left rose a pile of boulders on which a chapel had been built. However, the real attraction was under this building. Passages created by the overlap of the boulders led to caves and niches under the rocks that had been adapted as chapels and taverns. It was like something out of a fantasy novel.

The Covenant, however, would happen in opposite direction. I crossed the road, passed by the relatively modern sanctuary, and entered a network of passages that lead south. Some of them went through small tunnels and caves formed by boulders. Finally, I emerged in a large clearing.

In the middle of it burned a huge bonfire, around which gathered several groups of people, mostly women. Among them, I could recognize some of the witches I found in Montalegre, Porto, and, to my surprise, those who had attacked the Citânia of Briteiros as well as the warlock and healer of my home town. The leaders of the Great Covenant, the witches I first met as will-o-wisps, were, as expected, in the center, by the fire.

I sought the Sea Witch, who had called me there, and found her alone, along the edge of the clearing.

“You came,” she said when I approached.

“Of course. The Witches of the Night’s enemies are falling like flies. I had to come find out if anyone can stand against them.”

“The Witches of Briteiros seem to have a plan,” she said, pointing towards the Covenant leaders. “We’ll just have to wait until we’re all here.”

With nothing else to say, we waited in silence, though it didn’t last long. A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind.

“You’re also here!” Said a voice.

I turned and found Susana, Northern Portugal’s demonologist. The small girl held one of her homemade tablets on the other hand.

I introduced her to the Sea Witch and explained to her why I was there.

“And you – what are you doing here?” I asked.

“I like to keep tabs on all kind of witches. They use demons. Besides that, this Great Covenant is about the Witches of the Night and, from what I hear, I should be keeping tabs on them as well. Some rumours say that they are demons in disguise.”

Although that hypothesis didn’t seem probable to me, the truth is that, at the time, it was as valid as any other considering that the nature of the Witches of the Night’s was still a mystery.

We didn’t have time to say anything more, because the Witches of Briteiros called for everyone’s attention.

Once everyone gathered around them, one of Witches of Briteiros said, “Thank you all for coming. It’s good to know that the Witches of the Night aren’t a concern only to us.”

Another of the Witches of Briteiros, the male one, continued, “I don’t know if you’re all aware, but the Witches of the Night have attacked several communities of magical creatures in the past few months. We don’t know who will be next. It can be any one of us.”

“We have to unite and do something about the Witches of the Night,” said one of the Witches of Briteiros who hadn’t yet spoken. “They are a threat to us all.”

Although there were many witches with reasons to dislike and even hate the Witches, I got the feeling that the Great Covenant had been summoned because the Witches of Briteiros felt threatened by the newcomers.

“What do you suggest we do?” Asked a witch on the audience.

“First, we must combine our scrying abilities to locate the Witches of the Night,” said the first witch of Briteiros.

I knew where they could start looking, but hesitated to tell them, as I had trouble trusting those witches. Perhaps because I grew up in a Catholic country, I somewhat feared those who dealt with magic and demons. On the other hand, the Witches of the Night and their servants had already killed several people as well as magical creatures. They had an army at their service and had made me partially responsible for some of these deaths by using trolls that I had released from the Cerqueira’s vineyard to do their dirty work. Taking everything into account, I couldn’t help but think that the witches of that Covenant were a lesser evil.

I stepped forward and got ready to announce what I knew.

Suddenly, the ground began to shake. Shortly after, I heard trees breaking and thundering footsteps. The witches started looking around, but I didn’t. I had been through that before, in Tibães. I knew what was coming.

From the trees around the clearing emerged a variety of creatures including giants, ogres, goblins, trolls, and others whose name’s I didn’t know. The next moment, hooded figures with long, black robes appeared in the sky above our heads. The Witches of the Night had arrived.

Completely surrounded, the witches of the Great Covenant prepared to fight. The Witches of Briteiros transformed into will-o-wisps and took flight, while others started the long process that was necessary to cast spells.

The demonologist, the Sea Witch and I were very close to the tree line, so the monsters were almost upon us. We turned to face them. Susana stood, immobile, looking at them, probably wondering if she had any weapon that would be effective against those creatures while the Sea Witch imitated the other witches and began casting a spell. Meanwhile, I picked up a fallen branch and prepared to defend myself. This time, I was going to face the Witches of the Night’s soldiers.

An ogre and several goblins came straight at us. I waited until the former was within reach of my improvised weapon and tried to hit it. However, the creature grabbed the other end of the club and tore it from my hand. Terrified, I got ready to be crushed by the enormous mallet that the creature carried. It, however, threw me to the ground with one hand and kept going forward. Then, it did the same to the demonologist.

The goblins, who followed close behind, ignored us and, along with the ogre, advanced toward the Sea Witch. However, before they reached her, she finished her spell. Water covered the ground under the creatures feet and quickly infiltrated into the soil, forming a mud puddle that buried the ogre almost to its knees and the goblins to their chests, immobilizing them.

Susana and I gathered up and prepared to re-join the Sea Witch. However, between realized that one of the Witches of the Night was heading towards her. Fortunately, my ally had time to cast another spell. A water jet shot out of her hitting her attacker. However, the Witch of the Night kept going, cutting the water almost without slowing down. Shortly before she reached the Sea Witch, huge claws, over a foot long, grew on her hands.

Susana and I still tried going around the mud puddle to help my ally, but we didn’t reach her in time. With a brutal blow, the Witch of the Night struck the head of the Sea Witch, her claws slashing flesh, bone, and, fatally, reaching the brain underneath.

Terrified by that bloody vision, Susana and I halted, convinced that we would be the next victims. However, the creature flew away toward another witch without paying us any attention.

I then took a moment to look around and see how the fight was going.

The warlock from my homeland lay on the ground, dead, as did some of the witches from Montalegre and Porto and many others that I didn’t knew. However, some had managed to invoke imps and alongside them, fought with some success against the enemy soldiers. However, whenever a Witch of the Night attacked the enemy on the ground, nothing could prevent her from causing death.

Fortunately, three of the Witches of the Night were busy in the air, facing the will-o-wisps while the latter threw small fireballs constantly at them. Now, while these didn’t seem to cause them any injury, they clearly bothered them and prevented them from casting spells.

Gradually, the fight spread beyond the Great Covenant’s clearing. After a while, imps faced trolls and goblins in passages built under boulders, while witches cast spells from concrete bridges designed to imitate trees and other natural shapes.

Though it was the most balanced battle against the Witches of the Night I had seen, their forces were gradually gaining ground.

Susana and I killed the creatures trapped in the mud of the Sea Witch with small knives, but we were unprepared for battle and dared do little else than attack wounded and dying enemies.

Finally, the witches of Great Covenant suffered a fatal blow. With the situation on the ground under control in their favour, the Witches of the Night focused entirely on the Witches of Briteiros. Outnumbered, they were unable to keep their opponents occupied and spells began coming at them from all directions. Lightning, energy balls, ice spheres and many other magical projectiles hammered at them. One by one, the will-o-wisps turned back to their human forms and fell to the ground, dead before they reach it.

Without the constant barrage of spells from the Witches of Briteiros, the Witches of the Night could now devote all of their attention to the witches who fought against their soldiers. While the latter were already losing the battle, their defeat now became inevitable.

Susana and I continued to help as we could, but it made little difference. Within minutes, the few surviving witches fled as fast as they could to wherever they could, while their invoked demons all lay on the floor, dead.

To our surprise (and relief), the Witches of the Night didn’t pay us any attention, and their soldiers only interacted with us if they had to and only to take us out of the way. However, the reason for it was a mystery that we would solve only latter. We didn’t want to tempt fate and, together, we returned to the parking lot where I left my car.

As the sounds of fight and persecution disappeared behind us, I commented, “Another victory for the Witches of the Night.”

“What is their goal?” The demonologist asked, rhetorically.

I didn’t know how to answer, so I said nothing.

“I will keep tabs on their activities. Something is happening, and it isn’t good,” she said, returning to her old Ford Transit.

I got into my car and headed towards Braga, rebuking myself for my inability to help stop the Night Witches, or even just find out what they wanted every step of the way. However, one thing had become clear that night: they were trying to avoid engaging me and Susana in their struggle. Why, was another mystery to solve, though I didn’t know how I was ever going to do it . I had no clues to follow, especially now that I had lost another ally.

Chapter 21 – The War of the Dead

After a sleepless night thinking about what I was going to do next about the Witches of the Night’s attacks, I ended up deciding to try to warn the spirits of the dead in Gerês. In fact, I didn’t know where to find any more of their enemies.

I knew that the dead only went to their city after midnight, but I wanted to get there early. I didn’t want my warning to be late again. As such, although I had a lot of work, I took the afternoon off work without telling my wife, and I went to Gerês.

I left the car in a dirt space next to the road, above the same ruined village as in my previous visit. I went down to the village, and from there, I made my way to the only entrance to the city of the dead I knew. Despite the ghost leader’s threat after my last visit, it was still in the same place.

Before entering, however, I called my wife to tell her I was going to work late. I didn’t want to have another fight with her.

Finally, I went down the hole in the ground to the tunnel leading to the city proper. Midnight was still a while away, so, as I expected, there were no guards.

With the help of the small flashlight that I always carried with me, I navigated the passages until I reach the broad, deep pit where the city stood. There wasn’t yet any spirit, as I expected, but I confess that I was surprised when I realized that the ethereal buildings I had seen on my last visit also weren’t there.

I sat against the wall, on a rock, and waited.

My watch was clearly early, for three minutes before midnight the buildings began to appear in the ledges along the pit’s wall. From circular Iron Age houses to apartment buildings with several floors, there were houses of all types and ages.

I got up. I took the appearance of the buildings as a sign that the spirits of the dead were leaving their tombs and forming the processions that every night lead to their city.

The first ghosts showed up ten minutes later. Like the last time, my presence didn’t go unnoticed. Every one of them that went by stared at me. However, none spoke to me, only kept going forward, floating toward their ethereal dwellings.

Then one appeared that I had met, the one called The President. When he saw me, he came over and said:

– Didn’t I tell you not to come back here?

I then explained why I was there and told him about the previous attacks of the Witches of the Night. He didn’t seem very surprised.

– Their attack is already here – he answered. – Some of us saw their army coming towards here. We just came to get our weapons.

I looked again at the pit and saw that several ghosts were returning wielding ethereal hand to hand weapons. As the buildings, they came from all of mankind’s historical eras. I saw swords, war hammers, and maces; wooden clubs and axes with a stone head; knives and even brass knuckles.

The President left me and went to get his weapons. I followed the column of armed ghosts back outside. I had some trouble climbing the entrance, but I ended up getting to the valley above.

While it was already night-time, the sky was clear, and the moon and the stars radiated enough light for me to see what surrounded me. The phantoms were lining not far from the entrance, forming blocks similar to those used by the armies of Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

At first, I didn’t see their opponents, but a dark line quickly appeared about the horizon. Gradually, it approached, until I could see some dark spots flying over it, probably the Witches of the Night.

It took about half an hour until I could clearly see the soldiers that formed it. To my surprise, they were all of the same race of creatures, one that I had never seen before. They walked on four legs, but there was intelligence in their eyes. Hair covered their bodies, and a long, slender tail moved behind and above them. But their nose was the feature that stood out the most. Long and tapered, it resembled those of anteaters, but it was longer and ended in a much wider mouth.

The army kept advancing, but the Witches of the Night stayed behind. I wondered how those creatures could hurt the intangible ghosts at my side, especially without the help of their master’s spells.

Eventually, the two armies met face to face. The spirits lined up in well-formed blocks. Their enemies, in turn, resembled less an army and more a pack ready to descend on their prey as soon as their master gave the order.

– Get out of here – The President told me, approaching. – Take shelter.

– I want to help – I protested.

– Look around. You think that one man will make a difference? Hide yourself. If we are defeated, at least someone will know what happened.

I didn’t argue with him. He was right. Among those hundreds of ghosts, my help would hardly be felt. If I stayed away and survived, at least I could continue the fight against the Witches of the Night (although at the time I had no idea how I would do it).

I got a few hundred yards away from the two armies and hid behind one of the many boulders in the area.

Just an instant later, without warning, the creatures charged against the ghosts. The latter, not knowing exactly what their enemies were capable, decided to wait. Only a few volunteer scouts advanced against the creatures.

Within seconds, the two forces met. It was then that the Witches of the Night’s soldiers revealed their terrible ability. About three feet before they got within the ghosts’ weapons reach, they opened their mouths. Immediately, with an irresistible force, the spirits were sucked into their stomachs.

It was thus explained the disappearances the dead had told me about on my first visit.

The army of the dead immediately reacted to the gruesome sight. Ghosts, beings who thought they wouldn’t have to fear anything ever again, panicked. Some tried to escape, while others lowered their arms and simply waited. Even The President seemed not to know what to do.

After mere seconds, the army of the dead’s organized blocks were gone. When the creatures of the Witches of the Night reached the main concentration of ghosts, they no longer seemed to be fighting a battle, but hunting powerless prey.

I saw spirits being sucked by the dozen. The stomachs of their captors were apparently impossible to fill.

The dead desperately tried to flee, some back to their graves, others to the underground city, but none reached their destination. The Witches of Night’s creatures were too fast.

Gradually the ghosts disappeared from the battlefield. The few who remained tried in desperation to face the enemy, but were sucked well before they could use their weapons.

Finally, the Witches of the Night approached, flying over their victorious army. There was no longer any trace of the dead. It was as if they had never been there.

I remained in my hiding place. I didn’t know what the Night Witches would do to me if they found me. Fortunately, they didn’t remain on the battlefield long. Surprisingly quickly, they reorganized their army and disappeared in the same direction from which they had come.

The valley was now completely empty. There were no bodies or blood. Even the grass seemed almost untouched. If that had been my first contact with that hidden world parallel to ours, I might have thought that everything had been a dream or a hallucination. However, I knew that it wasn’t the case. And the Witches of the Night had obtained another victory. I was no closer to discovering their goal than when I started investigating them, but judging by their methods, it could only be something nefarious.

Since there was no reason to remain there, I returned to my car and drove back home. I arrived at almost four in the morning. My wife and my daughter were obviously already asleep.

I went to bed but could not sleep. That victory had eliminated the last Witches of the Night’s enemies I knew, or at least that I knew where to find. What would I do now to stop them and make them accountable for the deaths they had already caused?

Chapter 20 – The Battle of the Islets

After spending a sleepless night wondering who I should warn next about the Witches of the Night and their army’s attack, I decided to go and talk with the King of the Islets. In our last (and only) conversation, he had told me that his subjects were disappearing, which I now suspect was an attempt by the Witches of the Night to weaken them before the final attack. Besides, I could always tell my wife I was going to visit my grandparents in Viana do Castelo without further increasing her suspicions.

The day after my discovery of the macabre scene in the tunnels beneath Braga, I told my wife that I was going to dine at my grandparents’ home and, after work, I drove to Viana.

Actually, I didn’t lie because I did, in fact, visit my grandparents, and my grandmother forced me to stay for dinner. However, I soon I left their home and contacted an old friend, asking if he could lend me his boat once again.

We met at the river in the usual place, and after a short conversation about what was new in our lives (and me making up an answer to the question, “Why do you only need my boat at night?”), I boarded the boat and started paddling toward Camalhão, the largest of the Islets in the Lima river and the place where the throne of the King of Islets stood.

I was halfway there when, in the shadowy and uninhabited north river bank, I saw a huge figure. I stopped to look more closely and realized that it was a humanoid creature, probably one of the giants who served the Witches of the Night. Thanks to its prodigious size, it forded the river since the water barely reached its knee, and reached Camalhão in mere seconds.

I started rowing again. I had to try to warn the inhabitants of the islets. Then, I saw more figures in the margin, all of varying sizes. The largest went straight into the water, pulling ropes tied to what looked like rafts, which carried the smaller ones.

At the same time, I began to hear noises in Camalhão; the inhabitants were vigilant and had detected the enemy as soon as he appeared. The first giant seemed to be the target of veritable items in a rain of tiny projectiles, while the reeds around his feet moved, possibly agitated by small creatures attacking at close quarters. However, the attacker didn’t fall, and his companions readily reached Camalhão.

The battle had begun. There was no one to warn. I thought about joining the inhabitants of the islets and fight, but what could I do? I had no weapons and even if I had, I couldn’t fight those kinds of enemies. Instead, I ended up simply dropping anchor and watch the events unfold.

Although I couldn’t see the tiny creatures of the islets, only their projectiles, the reeds’ movements, and their enemies’ reactions. They seemed to be fighting well. I saw several of the smaller monsters at the service of the Witches of the Night fall. Then, the first giant to reach Camalhão brought to his knees, although he kept fighting.

Despite all of their efforts, however, the attackers kept coming. I couldn’t see how many casualties the Witches of the Night’s army had caused, but I had to assume the number was significant.

Although slow, their victory seemed certain until the reeds around them started moving. Within seconds, they grew and weaved together, forming ropes and nets that held the invaders.

Soon after, a shape about thirteen feet tall appeared on Camalhão, probably from one of the many gullies that crossed that islet. Armed with a huge club, he attacked the kneeling giant, crushing his head. It could only be the King of the Islets.

With the enemy paralyzed and their monarch at their side, the inhabitants of the Islets redoubled their efforts, and many of the invaders fell. More continued to arrive from the shore, but as soon as they put their feet on Camalhão, they were immediately trapped by the reeds. The victory of the islets’ inhabitants now seemed not only a possibility but a near certainty.

Then, something flew over my head. I looked up and saw five cloaked figures heading toward Camalhão; the winds carried their voices to me, singing the words that casted their spells. The first made the reeds in the combat area and around it rot and fall, freeing the soldiers of the Witches of the Night, while the following ones threw a veritable torrent of flaming spheres onto the King of the Islets.

The King used his own spells to defend himself, raising invisible barriers to block the enemy’s attacks. However, because he was attacked from several directions, he didn’t resist for long. After a few minutes, I saw him fall. After that, the attacking creatures quickly spread across Camalhão.

Small boats, carrying groups of tiny creatures began to leave the islet, trying to escape to one of the other several islets. However, they weren’t many, and they could hardly build up any resistance if the Witches of the Night chose to conquer the rest of their kingdom. For all intents and purposes, the battle was over.

I rowed back to shore. In a few places, including the bridge that crossed the river and passed over Camalhão, I saw people trying to figure out what was happening on the Islet. I doubt they understood what they were seeing, and even if they did, it wasn’t enough to reveal that world hidden from ours. Still, I’m sure Almeida and the rest of the Organization weren’t going to be very happy.

On the trip back home, I couldn’t help but think that the Night Witches had obtained another victory. Whatever their goal was, they were closer to achieving it.

And once again, I had arrived late too warn their victims.