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.