Chapter 16 – Lights in the Sky

As part of my exploration of the world parallel to ours the diary I had found revealed, I usually followed national blogs and Internet forums about the paranormal and UFOs, in case something showed up that deserved my attention. It was one of these readings that led to this investigation.

In all ufology forums, there was great excitement about strange lights which were appearing above the hill called Monte do Pilar, on the outskirts of Póvoa de Lanhoso. Of course, that by itself wouldn’t be enough to arouse my curiosity, since reports of unidentified lights in the sky were a usual occurrence. What really made this case special were the rumors of men that blocked the road to the top of the hill during such occurrences. I immediately thought of the Organization, and if the Organization was present, something was really happening.

Forgetting my search for the Witches of the Night for a while, a Saturday night, when the sightings usually occurred, I went to Póvoa de Lanhoso. That night, my wife was at her mother’s house, who had fallen ill again, and my daughter had gone to spend the weekend with a friend, so I didn’t need to make up an excuse.

I left the car near the church built at the foot of Monte do Pilar hill, beside the road leading to the summit, to investigate the alleged roadblock. In fact, as soon as I turned the first corner, I saw two cars parked across the road blocking the way. Behind them, five men stood guard.

Contrary to what I had assumed, they didn’t seem to be from the Organization. They were armed with baseball bats, and instead of suits or military uniforms, they wore casual clothes.

I approached them to try to understand what was happening. I was still a couple of meters from the car when one of the men shouted, “You can’t pass!”

“Why?” I asked, taking two steps forward.

“None of your concern. Go back.”

“By what authority do you deny me passage through a public road?” I asked, trying to force them to reveal who they were.

“Are you going to give us trouble?” said another man, putting his baseball bat across his hand.

His companions raised their weapons.

“Go away before you hurt yourself.”

I did so, but I wouldn’t give up on that investigation so easily. I knew that hill, I had visited it several times, and knew there was an old medieval road that also climbed to the summit.

As soon as I disappeared from the men’s viewing angle, behind the corner, I climbed through the vegetation to the old road. As I had expected, it didn’t seem to be watched.

The way up wasn’t easy. The pavement stones, exposed to the elements and without maintenance for centuries, were irregular, and grass grew between them. At some points, the pavement disappeared completely. Nevertheless, the final stretch was even worse.

Monte do Pilar was crowned by a colossal rock, one of the largest in Europe, on which stood the castle of Lanhoso and a small shrine. The new road bypassed most of it and reached the top through the less steep West hillside. The old medieval road, however, led to the East entrance. I think that once a ladder connected it to the old road, however, now only a few holes dug into the bare rock helped on the way up.

Although urban exploration had given me some experience in climbing, it was with great difficulty that I reached the entrance. It gave access to a small terrace covered with trees and stone tables located a few meters below the main sanctuary area. Fortunately, no one was there, so I could take a break to recover some energy.

As soon as I felt able, I climbed, step by step, the stairs to the upper level and took a peek. On the rock, halfway between the small church and the castle, stood a group of about twenty people. They were gathered around what appeared to be a priest holding a large wooden cross with both hands. He recited, loudly, a song in Latin, drowning out all the other sounds of the night.

For twenty minutes I stood there, listening to him and watching the group, but nothing remarkable happened. I started thinking that it was only some random cult, with no relation to the lights in the sky. Only the roadblock and the link between it and the lights in the ufology forums kept me there.

Fifteen minutes later, I was glad I stayed. The group started to get excited and pointing at the sky. I followed their gaze and saw several points of light, high above the hill.

The priest started singing even louder, and the lights began to descend. Shortly after, they looked like small suns shining on the sanctuary. Their intensity was such that, at first, I could hardly look directly at them. However, they gradually faded, until at last, I was able to see what they were.

They were perhaps the most bizarre creatures I had ever seen. Some seemed to have human form but had six white wings similar to those of doves. They used the top ones to cover their faces, the lower ones to cover their feet and legs, and only the middle ones to fly. Others were vaguely humanoid, however, they had four heads, one of a man, one of an eagle, one of an ox and one of a lion, and four eye-covered wings. Nevertheless, and despite how strange these beings looked, the third type of creature was even stranger. They were formed by various concentric wheels with eye-covered hoops. How they flew, I can’t say.

As a teenager, I had a keen interest in mythology, and although Christian angelology was not one of my favorites, I recognized those beings as angels from the first sphere, the ones closer to God.

Slowly, the beings flew in circles over the assembled people, while they raised their hands skyward and screamed pleas.

After a few minutes, the angels began to fly away. Gradually, their light became weaker, until it disappeared.

With smiles on their lips, the priest and his following began to disperse and return to their cars. What was the result of that ritual, I can’t say, but at least I found out that it wasn’t just demons this kind of cults invoked.

I stayed where I was and waited for them to leave the sanctuary. Then I gave them more time to unblock the road and only then started down the hill, this time through the main route.

As always, several questions raced through my mind on the way back home. What was the purpose of that ritual? Why would angels of the highest orders come down to earth? If angels were real, did that mean God is also real?

Fortunately, my mind was still preoccupied with finding the Witches of the Night and find out their endgame, otherwise, if I had had time to think about the implications of that night, my world could have collapsed.

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Chapter 15 – The Warlock

After several investigations without finding any clue as to the hiding place and intentions of the Witches of the Night, I decided to reread all entries about witches in the journal that introduced me to this world parallel to ours. I finally decided to investigate one that had me curious for a long while.

It spoke of a witch doctor and diviner that attended to his clients in an annex close to his home, in the village of Perre, in Viana do Castelo. It was a story that I knew since I was a child. In fact, for a few years, I passed by his “cabinet” every day on the way to school and saw the rows of cars parked next to it. At the time, neither my family nor I had a lot of faith in his abilities, but after all that I had recently seen and read, I thought I should reconsider.

One weekend, I told my wife I was going to Viana do Castelo to visit my grandparents. Actually, I did go by their house but didn’t stay long, and after, I headed to Perre.

When I reached the warlock’s house, I had a strong sense of déjà vu. The annex, across the road from his home, looked the same, as did the adjacent field. Even the rows of cars on both sides of the road were as I remembered.

I parked behind one of them and headed to the annex. There, people gathered in groups of families and friends, waiting for their turn. These seemed to have varied backgrounds since suits mingled with overalls and farming clothes. The warlock’s fame reached everybody.

I joined them and waited. Gradually, the groups went in and left. Everybody, without exception, emerged from the annex much happier than they had entered.

Finally, it was my turn. On the outside, the building looked like a small shed for agricultural tools. Nevertheless, when I went in, I felt like I had traveled back in time to the study of some Renaissance mystic.

One wall was covered by a shelf full of books, all of them looking very old. On the opposite wall, shelves contained bottles of potions with a huge variety of colors. The others, meanwhile, were almost entirely covered by tapestries with strange and mystical representations of the human body. Esoteric carpets, a brass telescope, and a mechanical planetary completed the decor.

Behind a desk littered with books and strange instruments I didn’t recognize, sat the warlock. Going with the rest of the room, he was dressed in long robes and had a metal tiara.

“You may sit down,” he said.

I sat in a chair across from him.

“Tell me, then, what brings you here?”

I confess I had forgotten to create a story to test the warlock. Then I remembered that that could be the story.

“I came here to test your capabilities, for my paranormal blog.” It wasn’t really a lie.

“If you pay, like everyone else, test me as you will. Where do you want to begin?”

We started with the basics. Without delay, he told me my wife and daughter’s name and birthday. Then he made a short summary of my professional life. Finally, he predicted my daughter’s academic achievements, but I would only be able to confirm them years later.

“Now I’d like to see your healing skills.” With a small knife I had with me, I made a small cut on my arm.

“That scratch isn’t really a challenge,” he said, stepping out from behind his desk and approaching.

Asking for permission, he put a hand on my wound. Then he closed his eyes and remained silent for a few seconds. When he let go, the wound had disappeared without a trace.

It was obvious that the man was what he claimed to be: a wizard. Perhaps he knew something about the Witches of the Night or perhaps he might even be one of its members.

“I hope you write good things about me… on your blog.”

He stared at me with a frightened look for a moment. Then anger came over his face, and he shouted, “Get out of here! Now!”

His tone left no room for argument and so I left, wondering what had happened.
Had his powers allowed him to see the nature of the blog I wrote at the time? (The most curious can find it in terceirarealidade.wordpress.com (Portuguese only))

Of course, I left the annex but didn’t abandon the investigation. I was determined to find out if the warlock could give me some clue about the Witches of the Night.

I hid the car in a nearby dirt road and waited for nightfall. Then I hid in a shadow and waited for the warlock to leave his study and go back home. With the number of customers he had that day, this only occurred around eleven at night.

Once he closed the house gate behind him, I ran to the annex. Using some tools I had brought and a few things I learned from the Braga urban exploration group, I opened the lock. As soon as I entered, I shut the door behind me, turned on the lights and started looking for evidence of a relationship between this warlock and the Witches of the Night.

I looked in the shelves, the desk drawers and behind the tapestries. I even tried to find any secret compartment. However, I soon realized that there was nothing there. The books were just for show, completely unrelated to the warlock practices. And there was nothing hidden, either.

Determined to get to the bottom of all that, I went to the rear of the warlock’s house and, taking care that there was no one around, I jumped the wall into the yard.

At first glance, the only light came from a window on the top floor. I started circling the house looking for a way to see into the interior. However, while searching, I noticed a faint orange light shining behind one of the basement windows.

I approached carefully and peeked inside. I found an almost empty room, except for a circle full of mystical symbols similar to those found in occult books and a wooden tripod on which rested a distinctly old book. Behind it, the warlock, now wearing ordinary clothes instead of the garments he wore earlier, seemed to recite what he read, although from the outside I couldn’t hear him. The basement must have been soundproof.

For about fifteen minutes I stood there, watching the man flipping through and read the book.

Suddenly smoke appeared in the center of the circle drawn on the floor. Gradually it grew, taking shape and gaining consistency until a bizarre creature appeared before my eyes. It had a humanoid form, with long black hair, while a row of horns lined up in the middle of its head and long, pointed ears rose from its mane. It goes without saying that its skin was bright red. In one hand, it carried a crow, and it was mounted on a crocodile.

The demon and the warlock spoke for a few minutes, but once again, I couldn’t hear a thing. Eventually, the creature began to draw mystical symbols in the air, toward the man. When it finished, it redissolved into a cloud of black smoke, which disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.

It should be the ritual that gave the warlock its powers, or at least part of them.

The man closed his book and prepared to leave the basement. But I wanted to talk to him, so I decided to draw his attention and show him I knew his secret by hitting the glass.

He looked at me with a mixture of surprise and terror, but his expression quickly changed to one of resignation when he realized that there was nothing he could do. Through gestures, I told him I wanted to speak with him, and he asked me to wait.

Less than five minutes later, the front door opened and the warlock came out.

“Okay, you know my secret,” he said. “What are you going to do about it?”

“You are one of the Witches of the Night? Or know anything about them?”

The man looked at me genuinely confused.

“Can’t you see I’m a man?” he protested at last.

So I decided to tell him everything I had discovered about the Witches of the Night.

“I don’t know anything about it. I just learned to summon certain demons and bind them to give the powers I need, nothing more. I don’t even harm anyone. I just help people. And I don’t know anything about those fairies and other strange creatures you spoke of.”

The fear in his eyes told me he was telling the truth. Moreover, despite its relationship with demons, he really seemed to be helping people, even if he was making money from it.

I told him I was going to leave him alone, but that I would keep an eye on him. He thanked me and let me out of the yard through the main gate.

Once again, I returned home without unveiling anything more about the Witches of the Night. My only consolation was that I had found out that the reputation of the warlock I heard about since I was a kid was justified.

Chapter 14 – The Demonologist

The idea for this investigation came quite unexpectedly. On a Halloween night, my daughter convinced me and her mother of going to an annual event at the Palace of the Dukes, in Guimarães. There, a troupe had transformed the place into a haunted house full of monsters, ghosts, and spooks. It was the end of the show, however, that most captured my attention. It was the staging of an exorcism allegedly ministered to a duchess who lived there.

When I got home, I did some research and found that not only was it based on historical facts, but that it was also rumored that strange events kept occurring in the palace even after the exorcism.

My previous encounters with witches had revealed a clear relationship between them and demons, so I had to investigate this alleged possession in the hope of finally finding the Night Witches.

One weeknight in November, I told my wife I was going to work late and headed to Guimarães and the Palace of the Dukes. Of course, the monument was closed, and there was no one around. I parked and started looking for a way in.

As you would expect, in addition to the guards inside, the place was protected by an alarm system. One of my comrades in Braga’s urban exploration group that called himself “the greatest urban explorer,” as he liked to visit not only abandoned buildings but also some in use and even inhabited, taught me a few ways to get around alarms. I only hoped that my meager knowledge was enough to do it.

However, I ended up not having to use it. Turning the corner to the back of the palace, hidden by trees and greenery, I found that someone had beaten me to it.

A woman who wasn’t more than thirty years old had disabled the alarm and now reached towards a small window almost two meters above the ground. Realizing her difficulty, I approached and said, with a smile:

“Need a hand?”

She looked at me with a mixture of surprise and fear. She was relatively short, just over a meter and a half, and lean. She wore black metal glasses, and her hair was tied in a ponytail.

For a moment, her eyes darted in all directions. Finally, realizing that I wasn’t a policeman or a security guard, she decided not to run away and asked:

“Who are you?”

“I should be the one asking that. Who are you? Why are you trying to break into a national monument? Give me a reason why I shouldn’t call the police.”

“I could give you a reason, but then you wouldn’t sleep soundly ever again. There is more here than what a normal person can imagine.”

“Like demons?”

She stared at me, surprised. That told me that she knew what I was talking about and that, probably, was there for the same reason as I.

After a few moments, she asked:

“Tell me what you know.”

I told her all about the diary, my previous explorations, the Witches of the Night and what took me there.

“One day, I’d like to see this diary “ she said when I finished. “I’ve heard of these creatures that you call Witches of the Night, but I usually focus on demons, and they don’t seem to use them as other witches do. From what you say, maybe I should start taking an interest in them too. It’s my responsibility.”

“Your responsibility? Why?”

“I’m part of an ancient tradition that protects people from demons and their agents. My master and I were responsible for all of northern Portugal.” She looked sadly at the ground “But he passed away, and now I’m alone.”

“Can’t you get help from the Organization?” I asked, for it seemed to me that they had common goals.

“This Organization you speak about only appeared in the last century. Moreover, they are more concerned with hiding the truth than helping people. They have nothing in common with us.” After a short pause, she continued “If we are here for the same reason, maybe you could help me. I’ve opened the window and confirmed that I turned off the alarm. Now I have to start bringing my equipment inside, and I could use a hand.”

I accepted immediately, and she took me to the front of the monument and toward the nearby street. Halfway, after some short introductions, it occurred me to ask:

“How did you learn about this demon? Did you also come here on Halloween?”

“No, I didn’t even know about the event until you told me about it. I have a small cluster that uses data mining techniques to find patterns in the news and other databases that I have access to that might indicate the presence of demons. I found that many of those who visited this palace were then involved in violent crimes. That’s a clear sign of demonic influence.”

We continued walking until she stopped behind a white Ford transit from the late 90s. It had seen better days, since, at various places, the paint had given way to rust, and the lock on the back door was gone and had been replaced by a simple padlock and chain.

The demonologist ran one of the side doors, revealing a cargo space containing an odd mixture of ancient and modern items. Several wooden shelves lined the walls, containing clearly ancient books, religious artifacts of various religions and electronic machines with their components exposed, clearly improvised from various sources. On the floor, there were some larger objects such as a rug with a mandala, a huge menorah and what appeared to be one or more computers connected to a battery.

The demonologist gave me two tall, slim speakers, while she picked up a flat screen and a small tablet that, if my scarce knowledge of electronics doesn’t deceive me, had been built from a raspberry pi.

Once we returned to the rear of the palace, I helped her up the window. Then I gave her all the equipment and finally entered the palace.

As I expected given the small size of the window, we were inside a small room. At the moment, it was empty, but in the past, it was probably used as a cupboard, because there was no room for anything else.

Cautiously, Susana, the demonologist, put her ear to the single door, making sure that there were no guards on the other side. When she was satisfied, she opened it.

The huge room we encountered beyond looked familiar to me. It was there that during the Halloween show, the possessed Countess laid in her bed and where a priest executed the exorcism.

Once I told her that, the demonologist began to inspect every centimeter of the room, using her tablet and an instrument that she took from one of the bags on her waist. It was a lengthy process during which I kept nervously vigilant to avoid being discovered. Once Susana finished, she shook her head, and we decided to proceed.

Thanks to my last visit, I knew that the only other door opened into the central courtyard, where we would be easily seen by the guards, so we decided to go to the upper floor.

Through a narrow staircase with two flights, we reached a corridor with some doors on the right and a room on the other end. Behind the first door, was a collection of assembled armor, while the others housed other medieval artifacts such as books, furniture, and figurines. The demonologist inspected each room but again found nothing.

The same can’t be said of the room at the end of the corridor, however. As soon as we entered, LEDs in Susana’s electronic instrument lit up.

“That’s more like it” she said.

We found ourselves in an empty room with a fireplace built-in on one wall. It could be the real quarters of the Countess.

The demonologist followed the demon’s trail to a second door.

Always following the makeshift instrument indications, we crossed bedrooms, foyers, hallways and even a huge dining room. Finally, when we reached the palace chapel, Susana said, pointing with her chin towards the fully lit LEDs on the machine in her hand and a graphic in the tablet screen:

“It’s here. We have to install the speakers.”

“The guards won’t hear it when we turn it on?” I asked.

“Almost certainly, but we don’t have a choice. We have to cast this demon from here.”

We positioned the columns between the chapel’s benches, facing the altar. Due to an demonologist adaptation, they were powered by batteries, so all it took was one press of a button on her tablet for a cacophony of voices and languages to invade the room.

“It’s a mixture of various Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Taoist prayers used to exorcise demons” explained Susana.

For long moments we stayed there, hoping that the demon would be cast out before one of the guards heard us.

Despite my nervousness, I couldn’t help but admire the chapel. The Halloween show hadn’t included it, so I didn’t get a chance to visit it. Varnished wooden beams held the roof, and huge stained-glass windows filled almost the entire wall behind the small altar. But what impressed me most were the two side podiums, as their distinctly medieval look made me travel back in time.

Suddenly they began to tremble, as did the altar and the seats around me. Seconds later, from the ground, emerged a creature almost as big as me with red skin, two horns, and a sharp nose and chin.

Almost simultaneously, the door behind us opened, giving way to a guard holding a flashlight. The sight of the creature, however, maybe combined with the cacophony coming from the speakers, were too much for him, and the man collapsed onto the last row of seats.

Unlike me, Susana had paid no attention to the guard and advanced toward the demon with the tablet screen turned towards it. At a glance, I saw several images passing through: various religious symbols, excerpts of sacred texts, images of saints and gods. The creature stopped and started screaming.

Slowly the demonologist side-stepped, trying to put the tablet between the demon and the door while taking something from her backpack. However, before she could do it, the creature gave a fearsome roar and jumped through the benches almost to the door. Instinctively, I tried to bar its passage, but it threw me to the ground like I was nothing and left.

“He’s stronger than I was hoping” Susana said, helping me up ”Let’s go.”

We ran out of the chapel and down the stairs to the palace cloister, and from there, we followed the demon outside. We passed several guards along the way, but them, stunned by the sight of the devil or our presence there, didn’t react.

We pursued the creature up the hill on top of which stood the Guimarães Castle. However, midway, next to a small chapel built there, Susana grabbed me by the arm.

“Wait. This demon is very strong. Usually, they can’t escape like it did. I’ll get some stuff from the van and prepare to ambush and trap it in this chapel. Take my tablet, go after him and try to drive it here.”

Before I could answer, she put the tablet in my hands and turned around. On the screen, still passed all kinds of religious images.

Taking a deep breath, I started running through the dirt road leading to the top of the hill and the ruins of the castle, where the demon had entered.

Being the most famous fortress in Portugal, I had already visited it more than once, so I knew it well and could concentrate on finding the creature. The keep, which had been restored, was the only building still standing, but it was closed, so there weren’t many places where the demon could hide. Unless it had some tricks I didn’t know about, of course.

Trying to hold at the same time my pocket flashlight and tablet in front of me, I started looking into every corner, from behind the rubble mounds to the fireplaces and the broken chimneys that went up from them.

After a few moments, I saw something move through the corner of my eye. But when I pointed the light there, I found nothing. It could have been just a cat, but for some reason, I sensed it was something more, so I chased it.

Finally, when I came to a dead end, I saw the demon and held the tablet in its direction. Since I blocked the only escape route, a narrow passage between the wall and the keep, the creature tried in desperation to use its claws to climb the wall. But, realizing that it couldn’t, it charged me, screaming with a mixture of pain and hatred. Again, I was unable to stop it, and he passed me, throwing me to the ground. Fortunately, I recovered quickly and pursued it.

Running as fast as I could, I tried to keep close to it and, with the tablet, lead him to where Susana was waiting. Although it deviated once or twice from the most direct path, I was able to lead it to the small chapel.

Next to the building’s door, waited the demonologist holding another tablet and, who, in the meantime, had built a passage delimited by speakers emitting her prayers mix and a huge monitor that led into the interior.

Realizing her intention, I tried to drive the demon into the trap. It tried to escape, but with the demonologist’s help, I was able to take it to the passage and into the chapel.

As soon as the creature passed the door, Susana sealed it with the huge monitor which showed images similar to the ones on the tablet. Then, she activated the speakers she had placed inside the sacred building. The demon started to scream. First, it threw itself against the walls, as if trying to smash through them then charged toward the door.

Behind the screen, the demonologist took from her backpack a curious object that looked like a water gun, like the ones used by kids, but painted silver and covered with sacred symbols. When the being got within reach, she fired the gun. Various jets of liquid flew toward the demon.

As soon as they hit it, it began to scream even more violently. Susana, however, kept shooting. I noticed then that the creature started melting, as if it had been hit with acid. It gradually disappeared, until all that was left of it was a red puddle on the floor, most of which seeped through the cracks between the funerary slabs that covered the chapel’s floor.

“What do you have in that gun?” I asked, surprised and curious.

“Holy water, anointing oil, water from sacred rivers, water from the Zamzam well, things like that” she explained. “Now we better get out of here before the palace guards recover and come after us.”

And that’s what we did. I helped her carry her stuff to the van and got back to my car, but not before she gave me her contact. This investigation might not have given me new information about the Witches of the Night, but it brought me a new ally in my mission to find and stop them.

Chapter 13 – The Sea Witches

After all I had discovered during my visit to the Tavern of the Enchanted, I wanted more than ever to find the Witches of the Night. As such, in the very next weekend, I decided to investigate another of the diary entries that seemed to be related to witches.

On that Saturday afternoon, when my wife and daughter went to a bookstore for a book presentation, I drove to Barcelos.

The diary entry spoke of several disappearances next to a village in the outskirts of that city, involving a sea eye on the Neiva River near a rock known as the “Penedo da Moira.” Supposedly, on certain nights, women came out of the water and dragged any man they found into the sea eye, never to be seen again. After all I had witnessed, I had no difficulty in believing in moiras, but as they weren’t mentioned in any other part of the diary, I assumed that they were witches.

I arrived at the site in the early afternoon. There were several small ponds where people used to swim in the summer; however, being a cold winter day, there was no one around. I searched immediately for the supposed sea eye. I investigated all the rocks in the area, looking for the “Penedo da Moira” that would tell me which one was the right pond. It took me a while, but I finally found a rock on top of which there was a small hole filled with water, the so-called “Moira’s Footprint.” It was partly within one of the ponds, clearly indicating me that that was the one I was looking for.

Years ago, during a vacation in Greece, I took a diving course to be able to visit some underwater ruins. I had even bought the complete equipment, hoping to use it later to investigate other similar places (which unfortunately never happened). That day, I took it with me and, next to the car, I put it on.

Carefully, I entered the pond, and as soon as the water reached my waist, I dived. The water was clear, so, even in the deeper parts, I could clearly see the bottom. This was made of pebbles and some sand. Unfortunately, after a long search, I found no sign of the sea eye. The pool’s bottom seemed well defined. However, a small depression at its deepest point caught my attention. It seemed out of place because there was no clear current that could originate it, and it was almost four meters below the surface, so it was doubtful it could have been created by swimmers.

I approached it. I took aside a few pebbles and waved away the sand. Once it settled, I found one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. Under the depression, there was only darkness, a darkness that not even the light of my diving flashlight could penetrate. It could only be the sea eye.

Slowly, I dipped my hand in that darkness. To my surprise, it disappeared, but I could move it down there. After a few moments, I realized that there was a tunnel there.

Suddenly, I felt the water moving around me, at first slowly, but accelerating rapidly. I realized then that it was a vortex centered on the dark spot I had just discovered. Instinctively, I tried to fight it; however, seeing that it was stronger than me, I just let it take me. After all, I was there to find out what was on the other side.

I confess that it wasn’t my smartest decision. Shortly after entering the tunnel, I hit my head and lost consciousness.

When I came to, I was in a dark place, but out of the water. I was hurting all over, and I didn’t need to see to know that I had several injuries. Fortunately, nothing seemed to be broken.

I swept the floor with my hands in search of my diving torch, however, when I found it, I discovered that it was completely destroyed. Luckily, my smaller flashlight, that was always with me and that I had put in my shorts’ pocket, underneath the wetsuit, still worked.

Once I turned on the light, I confirmed my suspicions. The wetsuit was torn in few places, and I was bleeding from several cuts. Then, I directed the light to the darkness around me. The first thing I found was a small circular pond beside me, certainly the exit of the sea eye. Immediately after, I spotted walls. Made of huge granite blocks, they stood behind and in front of me, until they disappeared into the darkness. They were so high that my small flashlight could not reach the ceiling.

With nothing else I could do, I got up and started to explore the place. I had walked only a few steps when I found what I feared most, but had already expected: a human skeleton. It certainly belonged to someone like me, who got there through the sea eye but couldn’t get out.

I took a deep breath, trying to calm me down, and forced myself to continue moving forward. More and more skeletons appeared, some wrapped in clothes and wearing jewelry so old that must have been there since the Middle Ages and even the hillfort era. I tried to cheer myself with the thought that I might be able to find something that my predecessors didn’t. After all, among the piles of bones and rags, there wasn’t a single flashlight.

Occasionally, I came across statues and bas-reliefs engraved on the walls representing what I could only describe as demons. They had sharp horns and snouts, long teeth, fins and some even had wings. Their representations varied widely in size, but if that was their true scale or only artistic license, I had no way of knowing.

Finally, I spotted a faint light in the distance. I approached carefully, not knowing what to expect, but a few meters further on, I realized that it was the end of the long structure where I was.

For a moment, I felt relieved, thinking that I had found the exit. However, I soon discovered that it wasn’t the case. The structure was, in fact, open in that direction. However, instead of a way out, there stood the ocean itself.

I approached and discovered that an invisible barrier, certainly magical in origin, prevented the Atlantic waters from entering. And me from leaving. Not that it made much of a difference. Even if I could cross the barrier, I could hardly reach the surface alive. From there, I could see the surface, more than a hundred meters above. Moreover, the likelihood of being found and saved in the ocean when no one was looking for me was minimal.

In desperation, I hit the invisible barrier with my fists and then let myself slide to the floor. For long minutes, I stayed there, resigned to die. Then I remembered my family and decided to go see what was on the other end of the building. I didn’t have much hope, but there could be a way out around there.

I was about to get up when I heard a knock in the invisible barrier. I looked up, and amidst a passing shoal, I saw a young woman in her twenties. She didn’t wear any diving equipment, just a pair of jeans and a blouse that seemed not to affect her buoyancy.

I backed off two steps, not knowing what to expect. Soon after, the woman crossed the magical barrier and came into the building. To my surprise, her clothes looked completely dry.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I came to get you out.”

“Who are you? Are you one of the Witches of the Night?”

Her face contorted in pain when she heard that name.

“No,” she replied.

“But do you know them? Do you know where I can find them?”

“I don’t know where they are, but I know them, yes. Unfortunately.”

The sadness in her voice made me curious, but I didn’t dare ask. Fortunately, she realized all that and continued:

“My mother and the other Sea Witches died because of them. They came to us for help to destroy a community of sea creatures, a few kilometers off Castelo do Neiva, promising us magic items and other rewards. But once we did what they asked, they attacked us. I only survived because my mother insisted I stay behind. The others are all dead.”

With my curiosity satisfied, my thoughts returned to the place I was in, to how I would get out, and especially to the bones I had found. That woman might not be one of the Witches of the Night, but it seemed that her intentions weren’t exactly benevolent.

“What is this place?” I asked.

“An old temple built by my ancestors, nobody knows exactly when. For centuries, we used the sea eye and illusions to bring human sacrifices here. It was believed that they helped draw the Devil’s and its demons attention and facilitated the casting of spells and curses. My grandmother put an end to it. The disappearances were attracting too much attention. Now, tell me, what is your interest in the Witches of the Night?”

I told her all about my search and the “accidents” that started it.

“If you want to stop them, you can count on my help. Come, I’ll get you out of here.”

I approached. She grabbed me and pulled me through the invisible barrier to the ocean. After a moment of panic, I realized I could breathe underwater.

Through a propulsion method beyond my ken, probably of magical origin, we quickly reached a beach. As soon as I looked up, I saw the towers of Ofir. We were in Esposende.

“Keep looking for the Witches of the Night. If you need help, call me.” The witch told me her phone number, which I repeated in my mind until I memorized it.

Then she returned to the sea and soon disappeared beneath the waves.

I had found another witch enemy of the Witches of the Night. However, at the time, I had more pressing matters to think about. I was alone and more than fifteen kilometers from my car. How would I explain the situation to my wife without revealing the dangerous and frightening parallel world that I had discovered? And my wounds?

I was thinking about all this as I left the beach and stepped into the nearby town.

Chapter 12 – The Tavern of the Enchanted

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.

Chapter 11 – Urban Witches

When I looked in the diary I’d found for entries about witches, one in particular caught my attention. When we think of witches, at least in Portugal, what comes to mind are images of women around bonfires in abandoned fields or in the woods, or folk healers and diviners who attend to their customers in basements or small barns. This entry, however, told of a group of witches from Porto who gathered in a tea room in the heart of this city, which is the second largest in Portugal.

Small wonder, then, that after the most obvious entry, about the witches of Montalegre, I decided to investigate this one.

One day I was alone in Porto on business, I took advantage of a big gap between my meetings in the morning and those in the afternoon to visit the tea room.

With the help of my phone’s GPS, I found the place. I then found a problem. The diary entry was several years old, and the tea room no longer existed. In its place now stood a small shopping center.

I parked in a nearby carpark and went in. Maybe I could find some clue that could tell me where the witches’ new meeting place was.

As soon as I entered, I realized that that wasn’t an ordinary shopping center. Instead of stores selling clothing, jewelry, sporting goods, and technology, as in most malls, this one had esotericism, natural makeup, organic food and cultural items shops.

I walked through the corridors and up the stairs to the second floor. It was then that I came across what I what was looking for: a tea lounge with the same name as that where the witches met. They must have reopened in the mall after it replaced the original lounge.

I went in and sat at a table. The decor was quite modern: white oval chairs, leather sofas, single stem tables. Even the orders were made through tablet PCs embedded in columns or through any smartphone using the QR codes printed on the wooden napkin boxes.

I ordered a tea and grilled cheese, which I consumed slowly as I watched the customers coming and going. Their age seemed to vary between twenty and fifty years old, and judging by their clothes, they were all from the middle/upper class and above. The majority were women, though not by much.

During the half an hour that I sat there, I noticed something that, if I didn’t know what I was looking for, I wouldn’t have. Alone or in pairs, seven women in their thirties wearing high heels, expensive looking dresses, fine makeup and meticulously maintained hair, entered and, without hesitation, went to the top floor.

Fortunately, the sign indicating the bathroom pointed there, so I had the perfect excuse to go up and confirm my suspicions.

I climbed the wood and iron stairs. At the top, I came upon a room at all similar to the downstairs one. Of the seven women, however, there was no sign of them.

Carefully, trying not to draw too much attention, not knowing if I was being filmed, I tried to figure out where they could have gone. In the corridor leading to the bathroom, I found a third door with the usual sign saying “Restricted Access.” It was the only apparent place where the witches could have hidden.

Silently, I put my ear to the door but heard nothing. Slowly, I opened a small crack and peeked inside. Once the light dispelled the darkness on the other side, I saw a staircase leading to another door, above. I closed the first behind me and turned on my flashlight. Being careful not to make any noise, I started to climb.

Just a few steps later, I heard a chant. The more I climbed, the further it intensified. When I put my ear to the second door, I realized it was coming from behind it. There was no doubt that the witches had gathered there.

After about fifteen minutes, the chant came to an end. A few moments of silence went by, and then a distant, high-pitched voice asked:

“What do you want from me?”

It certainly belonged to a spirit or creature that the ritual invoked.

“You see more than any of us. We called you here to answer our questions,” said a female voice, surely belonging to one of the witches.

One by one, the women put their questions. I admit I was disappointed. With all the mysteries of history and the universe that they could try to unravel, their questions were of the most basic of natures. Who was Joana betraying her husband with? Where did Paulo get the money to buy a new Mercedes? How did Miguel manage to win over his wife when he was so ugly?

Gossip! People like that couldn’t possibly be the Witches of the Night. I was about to leave when I heard the high-pitched, distant voice say:

“Would you like to know who is behind the door?”

I turned to run, but I had only descended three steps when the door opened behind me, and someone pushed me. I fell down the stairs, crashing against the lower door.

Dazed and sore, I felt several hands grab me and drag me up the stairs.

After recovering for a few minutes, the dizziness and the mist before my eyes dissipated. I was now in a small windowless room, lit by more than a dozen candles. There was a strange mixture of the modern and the old. Tablets computers, in the screens of which could be seen pages with texts written in strange characters, rested on a worn carpet full of burn marks. At its center burned a small brazier, whose flames were stirred by the air conditioning. Modern chairs, similar to the ones used in the tea room, rested among cabinets that looked like something out of an antique store and contained a multitude of ancient paraphernalia.

Sitting on the carpet, the seven women surrounded me. All of them now had, around their necks, huge amulets with an old and worn look, contrasting markedly with their modern dresses and high heels.

“Who are you?” one of the witches asked me. “And why were you eavesdropping?”

“I’m looking for the Witches of the Night. Do you know them?”

“Who are they?” asked another witch. “Some hillbillies who fly around on brooms?”

Her companions laughed.

“We don’t get along with riffraffs like that,” added a third witch. “Only if it’s really necessary.”

“Now we have to decide what to do with you.”

“Let him go,” said the witch that spoke first.

“And what if he tells someone?” asked the woman who had raised the issue.

“Look at his clothes,” said her companion. “Do you think anyone will put the word of a nobody like him above ours? Getting rid of him would give us more trouble.”

“You’re right,” said another witch. “Get out of here. But don’t come back!”

I did so without delay. Those were clearly not the Witches of Night, so they had no interest to me.

I went to the bathroom of a cafe near the shopping center to wash my suit and my wounds from the fall, and I made my way to my afternoon meeting. Contrary to what had occurred after my previous explorations, this one raised no thought or question. Those witches were useless in the unraveling of the mystery that haunted me.

Chapter 10 – The Witches of Montalegre

As you would expect, one of the first references to witches in the diary I found was associated with the Portuguese town most famous for its witches: Montalegre. Actually, every Friday the thirteenth, the town organizes an event called “The Witches Night” to celebrate this same tradition.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, when neither my wife nor my daughter wanted to leave home, I went there. There was no highway leading to Montalegre, so I had to use the local roads. For much of the way, they were wide and well-maintained, but a few dozen kilometers before reaching the town they became narrow and winding. Slowly and carefully I drove up and down hills covered with pine and eucalyptus trees.

Finally, after a last climb, I saw Montalegre. Built on a hill that towered over a vast, empty and sparsely wooded plateau, it was an impressive sight, especially on a greyish day like that. At its highest point, above a mixture of new and old buildings, rose the medieval castle, its massive keep looking like it could weather the Apocalypse itself.

According to the diary, the witches of the region only came out after dark. It was almost winter, so I didn’t have long to wait and then decided to pass the time at a local pub.

I took the opportunity to ask for more information about the place where the diary said the witches gathered and more accurate directions to it. The employee told me how to get there without asking question. However, a customer sitting at a nearby table, a somewhat old man with a hat and a walking stick resting on the chair beside him, heard the conversation and said, “Don’t go there! That’s where the witches gather at night. When they find someone near there, they cast a spell on the person. If they are in a good mood, they will only give you the runs, if not, they’ll give you a disease that will weaken and kill you. That’s how a neighbor of mine died. He got curious and…

The warning didn’t dissuade me from going to look for witches. On the contrary, it only confirmed that I was on the right track.

I paid and went back to the car. I left the town, driving through the road that crossed the east side of the plateau. There, on a grey day like that, it wasn’t hard to see why the region gained its supernatural reputation. A moor flanked the road. Here and there grew a tree and occasionally you could see a pond, but it mostly contained rocks and undergrowth, among which rose small elevations. According to the diary, the meeting point of the witches hid behind one of those.

I parked the car at the beginning of a path which, according to the pub employee, would take me there, and I started to follow it. Almost immediately, I became glad I had brought my best mountain boots. The road was bumpy, rocky and muddy. With any other footwear, my feet would have been quickly soaked and sore.

It took me just over an hour to get to the small rise I sought. Behind it, I encountered a small grove with half a dozen trees and some bushes. In the vaguely circular space between them, I found the recent ashes of a fire. There was no doubt I was in the right place.

The sun had already disappeared under the horizon, so it shouldn’t take long for the witches to come to that night’s meeting. I hid behind a thick bush, opposite the path, and waited.

About an hour later, I started hearing someone coming. The night had, by then, fully fallen, and the sky was overcast, so, away from any street lighting, I saw little more than darkness. I heard the person entering the clearing from the trail, and shortly after, the sound of wood logs being thrown to the ground. Suddenly, a small flame lighted up and moments later, a fire was burning strongly. Next to it, I could now see a woman of some age. She was all dressed in black, including a scarf covering her head.

For a few minutes, she stood there, waiting. Then a second woman, younger but wearing similar clothes, appeared coming from the trail. They had barely time to greet each other when a third and then a fourth joined them. The last two members of the group took a little longer, but once they arrived, the six formed a circle around the fire. Then they took off their clothes, and I saw them more clearly.

The youngest was little more than twenty years old, while the oldest had long passed her eightieth birthday. Contrary to what some legends say, I saw no unusual marks on their bodies.

Naked, they started dancing around the fire, singing something in a language I didn’t recognize.

The dance lasted about half an hour, their bodies writhing in a chaotic, but at the same time beautiful, almost mesmerizing, way. Even the older witches showed remarkable, supernatural, even, agility and flexibility.

When they finished, they fell down, facing the fire. Suddenly, from the flames, jumped a small creature with bright red skin. It had pointed ears, between which grew two tiny horns, and a sharp snout full of teeth-like needles. Small wings, clearly unable to support his body in a constant flight, protruded from his back.

He was followed in quick succession by five others. Promptly, they all joined the witches and dance resumed. What was the purpose of that ritual, I couldn’t even imagine.

There was an obvious similarity between those beings and the ones summoned by the cult I had found in the convent of San Francisco, in Viana do Castelo. However, at the time, I didn’t realize that. I was too concerned to find out if those were the Night Witches or not. If I had realized that, perhaps some of the deaths that occurred later could have been avoided.

Suddenly, one of the creatures left the dance circle and began to sniff the air. After a few seconds, he turned to his companions and said, “We are not alone.”

A chill went down my spine. He was clearly talking about me.

The witches and the other imps stopped dancing and singing. I got ready to run, but it was too late.

“Get out of there!” said the first imp, with a shrill voice, towards the bush behind which I was hiding. “And don’t even think about running away. I and my brothers see very well in the dark and we are faster than we seem. We’ll catch you for sure. And you won’t like what we’ll do after that.”

The creature laughed cruelly.

With a mixture of fear and curiosity, I stepped out from behind the bush and approached the fire.

“It’s dangerous to come here after dark,” said one of the witches, one of the youngest, with a grin. “And even more if you peek at our rituals.”

“Are you the Witches of the Night?” I asked, going straight to the point. After all, what else could I say.

Hearing that name, the imps snarled and the witches spat into the fire.

“Don’t mistake us for those bitches,” said one of the older witches.

“We are devotees of the horned one, Beelzebub, the devil. It’s him that gives us our powers,” said a middle-aged witch. “The Witches of the Night came out of nowhere and nobody knows where their power originates or who they serve. But they aren’t like us.”

“Bitches!” shouted an older witch. “They appear out of nowhere and think they are better than us. They don’t go to the Great Coven, don’t respect our master, and don’t even recognize us as sisters.”

“What is your interest in them?” asked one of the imps.

Even though I was already used to speaking with strange creatures, I hesitated for a second. There was something disturbing about those creatures. However, I ended up telling the story about the deaths, the goblins, and the black figure in the abandoned house.

For a moment, no one said anything. They didn’t know how to react.

Finally, the imp that interrogated me said, “Get out of here. But, remember; we are only letting you go because you want to interfere with the plans of the Witches of the Night. Don’t come back.”

Without another word, I did so. On the trail, about midway back to my car, I heard the witches and the imps resume their song.

For much of the drive back home, contrary to what was usual, I couldn’t think about what I had just discovered. The narrow roads with dozens of bends required all my attention, especially at night. But once I got to better roads, my mind began to wander.

Those weren’t the Night Witches, that was clear, but the contempt they have shown them and the fact that they consider them a sect apart was an important discovery. Unfortunately, this didn’t answer the mystery of who the Night Witches were, what they wanted, and where to find them. It just thickened it.

When I arrived at Braga, it was almost dinner time. I called my wife and my daughter to see if they wanted takeout from Burger King. I wanted to compensate them for my absence.