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?

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