My first searches for the Witches of the Night had been fruitless. Although I still had other entries about witches in the diary to explore, one day, during lunch break, I remembered another place where I could find more information.
In my first meeting with Henrique Cerqueira, he had told me of another place where the strange creatures that dwell beneath our feet in Braga meet. Its location was probably the only good thing that came from having met the man.
As such, a few days later, after work, I went to the Chinese store, one of the city’s largest, under which the place was supposed to be. I parked the car in the underground park and immediately started looking for the drain grate that would take me to the tunnels below.
I found it hidden behind a column, exactly where Henrique told me it would be. In fact, there was no mistaking it. It was the only one through which an adult man could pass, at least if he wasn’t obese.
I had come prepared with a crowbar and, using it, I managed to remove the heavy iron grate with relative ease. Then I lowered myself into the drainage tunnel.
Dragging myself, I started down the narrow, steep pass. Initially, it was coated with cement, but it quickly gave way to dirt and mud. Fortunately, I had changed into casual clothes before I left work.
The tunnel followed in the same direction for its entire length and had no forks, so, with the help of my flashlight, it wasn’t difficult to get to the other end.
When I exited the passage, I found myself in a new tunnel, this one much bigger. It was about two and a half meters high and as many wide, so I could walk through it comfortably. Unlike the passages around the Fairy Bar, the floor, the ceiling, and the walls were made of earth, mud, and stone, with wooden beams here and there to strengthen the most critical points.
I pointed my flashlight at both directions of the tunnel, but I couldn’t see any of its ends. Following the directions of Henrique Cerqueira, I made my way to the east.
For nearly ten minutes, I didn’t see anything more than the walls and the darkness beyond the light of my flashlight, until I finally found the door I sought. It was rough, made of tree trunks nailed together, and ropes bounded it to a beam playing the role hinges.
Carefully, I pushed it open and entered. What I found on the other side couldn’t be more different from the Fairy Bar.
Like the tunnel behind me, it was an open space underground reinforced here and there. The furniture was as rough as the door, and the same could be said of the clientele. Misshapen, dirty, and dumb looking creatures drank from poorly cleaned clay mugs. Most of them were bigger and more muscled than I, although a few creatures with green skin barely reached my waist. I had never seen any of those races in the Faerie Bar. Henrique had called the place the Tavern of the Enchanted, but I now understood that it was a facetious nickname because there was no enchantment there.
Contrary to what had happened in my visits to the Faerie Bar, my entrance didn’t go unnoticed. All eyes landed on me. Weren’t they accustomed to humans or strangers in general?
Trying to show confidence, I approached the counter.
– What do you want? – asked the innkeeper, a huge, brown-skinned creature with a deformed face.
– What do you have?
He pointed to the wormed shelves in the wall behind him, where there were several dirty bottles with strangely colored contents. I chose what seemed less unpalatable, and the creature served it to me in a mug.
After I drank, with a shrug, the repellent concoction, I moved on to the subject that had brought me there:
– Has anyone here ever heard anything about the Witches of the Night? Or know something about the trolls who are causing car crashes?
I was never accused of being subtle.
As soon as I said that, one of the little green creatures left the tavern through a door other than the one from which I had entered.
– Man – said a customer sitting at a table behind me – if I were you, I would leave.
I turned. All eyes were on me, but now there was hatred in them.
– Didn’t you hear me? – insisted the creature, getting up.
He was huge, well over two meters high and twice my width, and had four muscled arms. He picked me up like it was nothing and threw me back into the tunnel from which I had come.
– Get out! – He shouted.
I didn’t dare do anything else. I started walking away. Shortly after, I heard the other tavern door opening. I looked over my shoulder and saw the green creature returning accompanied by several other much larger and muscular beings. I started running, just in case they decided to chase me.
I only relaxed when I got back to the car park. I doubted they would follow me to the surface. Still, as soon I got in the car, I drove off towards home.
A few hundred meters later, when I had already left my fears behind, a massive figure appeared in front of me in the middle of the road. It was the creature that had driven me from the tavern. He had a hand extended in front of him, asking me to stop.
I confess that my first instinct was to run him over, but I wasn’t capable of doing it. I braked and stopped half a meter in front of him. He came up and tapped lightly on the glass on the driver’s side. Cautiously, I opened it.
– Hey, man – said the creature, – sorry for that little thing back there, but if you had stayed, you wouldn’t have lasted long.
I was so surprised that I gaped.
– Park the car and let’s talk. I think I can help you with your questions.
Curious but careful, I did so. We went to the garden of a nearby apartment building and sat on a bench where he could be in the darker half, hidden, and I on the lit side, where I felt safer.
– Oh well, where do I start?
After a moment of silence, he continued:
– It’s like this, the trolls aren’t killing your people on purpose. The Witches of the Night, who have been bossing them around, don’t care about humans at all. The accidents are just a way to destroy their targets without arousing much suspicion.
After my conversations with Alice, I had already come to that conclusion.
– Who are these Witches of the Night? What do they want?
– Sorry man, can’t help you there. Me and the rest of the guys in the tavern work for them, but we only saw them once, with hoods. I think there are five of them, though. They have been attacking fairies and other such races, and are recruiting for an army. And I’m part of it. What will they do with it and why, I don’t have the faintest idea.
I was immediately alarmed to hear that the Night Witches were gathering an army. What would they use it for?
– Do you know where I can find them? – I asked, without hopping much.
– Man, I don’t know. I only saw them once in the Square.
I didn’t ask him where was this square since it was obviously a reference to a part of the tunnels near the Tavern of the Enchanted.
– Now I have to go – he said, standing up. – I already told you everything I know.
– Hang on! – I said. – Why are you helping me?
– Hey man, I don’t think that your people should suffer for no reason. I thought that, at least, you deserved an explanation.
As he finished the sentence, the creature entered the darkness of that winter’s end afternoon, and soon after, disappeared behind a building.
I returned to the car and went home. Along the way, the conversation didn’t leave my mind. The Witches of the Night were trying to weaken their enemies while preparing for war. I wondered if the disappearances of the subjects of the King of the Islets and in the city of the dead in Gerês were related to it. But what terrified me most was that no one seemed to know their ultimate goal. It would be something big, that was now clear, but exactly what was a mystery even to their soldiers.
The possibilities robbed me of my sleep for several nights. But what I would finally discover surpassed anything I imagined.