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.

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Chapter 9 – City Trolls

Once again, a story in a local paper piqued my curiosity. It reported a series of strange car accidents that were taking place in the city of Braga. They all happened near where the cars were parked overnight and there were signs of sabotage, usually cut brakes. The deaths already exceeded a dozen. According to the story, the police believed that the culprits were one or more serial vandals, but hadn’t yet found any clues or witnesses that would help identify them.

In the past, I would have readily agreed with the authorities, but after all I had seen in the previous months, I wondered if there wasn’t another cause, something associated with the hidden world I had discovered. As such, one night I stayed working late, I decided to look around the city.

On foot, I visited all the streets where cars used to be parked overnight, looking for any movement beneath them. During the first hour, I didn’t see more than one or two stray animals. However, near midnight, I saw a strange black shape under a Ford Fiesta. If I hadn’t seen bizarre creatures before, I could have thought that it was another cat, but there was something about that shadow’s shape that didn’t seem animal-like.

I approached. Slowly, I lowered myself, and turning the flashlight on quickly, peered under the car. What I found wasn’t a cat, but a troll, like the ones I helped to free from the Cerqueiras’ house. It was clearly trying to rupture some of the pipes and cables on the underside of the car.

Alarmed, the being tried to escape. I grabbed it by the arm. If I could capture him, I might find someone who could communicate with him and understand why he was doing what he was doing. However, the troll promptly bit my hand, forcing me to release him. Still I ran after him, but, using his four members, he was much faster than me. I lost him, finally, when he climbed the wall of the terrain adjacent to one of the city’s medieval towers. Besides being too high for me to climb, it was inhabited private property, which I didn’t dare to invade.

The encounter, however, wasn’t fruitless. When I grabbed the creature’s arm, I realized that he had a mark consisting of a circle with an inverted C burned into his skin. So I decided to go to the Fairy Bar to look for Alice in the hope that she knew what it was and also give me some clue about the origin and objectives of that troll.

As I expected, and as in almost all of my visits to the Fairy Bar, I found Alice sitting at the counter. I sat beside her. After our adventure in the Cerqueiras’ house, she no longer seemed so resentful about our first meeting, so I had no difficulty starting the conversation. After the initial greetings, I told her about the accidents, the deaths, my checking of the streets and my meeting with the troll.

“I’ve heard of these accidents,” she said. “Almost all of the cars crashed into places inhabited by some of our smaller races. The one that brought down the wall of the Biscainhos Palace destroyed an entire community of fairies who made their home in the hollow interior. Marta, the fairy who went with us to the Cerqueiras’ vineyard, lost her whole family. That a troll is behind these accidents can be an important revelation.”

I stayed silent for a moment, trying to process what I had just heard. The deaths could have been just collateral damage from someone trying to disguise attacks on fairies as accidents. However, it didn’t reduce my will to find the culprit. On the contrary.

I then told Alice about the branding I saw in the troll’s arm. She looked at me with a grave expression.

“I’ve seen that mark before,” she said. “It was on the trolls we released from the Cerqueiras’ vineyard.”

At that moment, I became white. One, or perhaps more, of the creatures I helped release could be responsible for more than a dozen deaths. It was hard not to feel that their blood was on my hands.

“Are you sure?” I asked, looking for a way through which to escape my guilt.

She just nodded silently.

I got up immediately and returned to the streets of Braga, more determined than ever to find out the reason for all those deaths.

I went back to the street where I had found the troll. Hopefully, I had stopped him before he had completed his sabotage and he would return to finish the job.

I waited, motionless, under the shade of a tree, hoping that the darkness would hide me. I was there almost an hour before the troll came back, out of a nearby alley. I assumed it was the same, as it headed for the same car. This time, I didn’t interrupt his work. I wanted him to finish, so I could follow him and see where he went afterward. There was something else happening there, it had to be, and I would find out what it was, or the blame would be mine… Later I would leave a message in the car windshield to warn the driver.

The creature was less than five minutes under the vehicle. He ran to the alley from which he had emerged and, this time, I managed to follow. I made an effort not to lose him, like last time. Fortunately, the chase wasn’t long. I saw him climb the back wall of an abandoned house in the Carvalheiras – a square located at the other end of the alley – and disappear into the darkness behind the iron bars that lined the garden, built over the garage. I knew that house, I had already visited it with my urban exploration group, so I knew how to get in. I didn’t have the troll’s agility nor its claws, however, climbing on top of an electrical service box, I managed to reach a space between the bars wide enough for me to pass.

As is usual in long-abandoned houses, it had been vandalized. The back door had been broken into. I entered. I took my flashlight but didn’t dare to turn it on. I didn’t want to scare who or what was inside, at least not before I found out what was happening. Yet the light of the moon, the stars, and even the street lighting coming through the broken windows illuminated the interior enough for me to see what surrounded me.

The lobby floor was littered with leaves, probably brought by the wind through the door. Fortunately, it was also covered with dust, on which I could distinctly see several small footprints, which I assumed were from the troll. I followed them to the staircase leading to the upper floor, ignoring two doors open to rooms that, judging by the scarce and dusty remaining furniture, were living and dining areas.

The creaking wooden stairs led me to the upstairs hallway. Several open or broke into doors lined both walls. The light coming out from them was enough for me to see what surrounded me. Just like downstairs, the hall was covered in dust, and on it, I could still see troll’s footprints. I followed them into one of the rooms.

As soon as I reached the door, I saw small figures, certainly trolls, running and disappearing through the door leading to the balcony. This door, however, framed a large figure, perhaps even taller than me. It didn’t t seem particularly bothered with my presence since it didn’t even move a muscle when I entered the room.

A cloak covered its entire body, and with the poor lighting, it was impossible for me to see what lay beneath.

“Who are you?” I asked. “What do you want?”

It had to be the figure that controlled the trolls, so it was time for me to get some answers about the accidents and the deaths.

“Go away,” answered the creature with a female, husky voice. “This has nothing to do with you or with those of your race. Forget everything you saw.”

“But…” I started, but she turned her back to me and walked to the balcony.

I ran after her, ready to fight if need be, to get answers. However, as soon as she got outside, she began to hover. The surprise made me hesitate long enough for the creature to rise in the night sky, high above the house. I then saw her fly westward, disappearing shortly after behind the buildings that hid the horizon.

Frustrated, I left the house and made my way back to the Fairy Bar. Maybe Alice knew who or what was that cloaked being.

She was still there, sitting at the counter, in the same place. I sat beside her, and before she had time to say anything, I told her what I had just discovered. When I told her about the cloaked figure and how it took flight, a terrified expression appeared on her face.

– Night Witches – she whispered, as if afraid to say the name aloud.

– Who are the Witches of the Night? – I asked, alarmed by her reaction.

– The legend of the Night Witches is very old. It tells that they are mysterious creatures that attack some of our races. As is usual with these things, there are several stories of sightings, although lately, I have been hearing more. I never gave them much importance. But now, with what you tell me…

We kept talking about the Night Witches for some time. Unfortunately, the stories she knew weren’t very helpful. Often, they contradicted each other. But that’s the nature of legends.

I left the Fairy Bar decided to find and do what I could to stop the Night Witches. When I got home, my wife was already asleep. I had called her saying that I was going to work late. I didn’t join her immediately. I sat at the desk with the diary I found, looking for all entries about witches. My next expeditions would focus on them.

Chapter 7 – The Cerqueiras

One day after work, a few months since my first visit to the Faerie Bar, I decided to go back there. Due to work and family commitments, I hadn’t had the opportunity to investigate one of the diary entries for some time, but my curiosity was beginning to become unbearable. The Faerie Bar was close to the office where I worked, so it was an ideal place for a quick visit. Who knows, maybe I would find someone who could answer some of my questions or even have the opportunity to visit the tunnels hidden under Braga.

As before, I accessed the bar via the stairs behind a door in the back of a pastry shop near the Arco da Porta Nova. When I got there, I came across a scene similar to that of my first visit. There was only one significant difference. A man was seated at the counter. Alice had told me that it was rare to see anyone of my race there, so I approached slowly, watching him closely to make sure it wasn’t just another human-like creature. As soon as I became sure that I wasn’t mistaken, I sat down beside him.

He looked as surprised as me to see another human there. His name was Henrique Cerqueira, and although he had known about that other world for some time, he didn’t seem to know much more than I did. Still, we exchanged tales as we drank a glass of the water that was the only drink served at that bar. He didn’t usually leave Braga, so he didn’t know all I had found out, but he told me about another place similar to the Faerie Bar on the other side of town, although he had warned me that it wasn’t so well frequented. There was no mention of it in the notebook I had found, so I made a mental note to visit it later.

Our conversation was interrupted, after just over an hour, by a phone call from my wife. I had to go home, but not before Henrique gave me his cell phone number and invited me to come have lunch at his house one day. Maybe because I finally found someone I could talk to about that world that most people were unaware of, I was looking forward to my visit.

Unfortunately, I was only able to accept the invitation almost three weeks later, when my wife had to go out of the country because of work and my daughter went to spend a few days at a friend’s house.

I drove to the old parish of Dadim, where the Henrique’s house was located. It wasn’t hard to find. Following the path he had indicated, I immediately ran into an isolated house, just above the base of a forest-covered hill. In front of it lay a valley that I never realized existed, for it was in a depression that was not visible from the road. A granite wall enclosed it and the house, telling me that it belonged to the Cerqueiras’.

I drove to the entrance and rang the bell. A voice asked through the intercom who I was, and as soon as I answered, the gate opened.

Even by car, it still took me about five minutes to traverse the dirt road, which meandered through terraces covered with vineyards.

After one last turn, I got to the house. Up close, it was truly impressive. It had only one floor, with the exception of the tower on its right side, which rose two stories high, although the attic also appeared to be spacious. The whole front of the house was occupied by a huge porch, whose ceiling rested on several cast iron columns. Behind it, windows, also made of cast iron and decorated with various shapes, occupied almost the entirety of the wall.

I stopped the car in front of the steps that led up to the main door where Henrique and the rest of the Cerqueira family awaited me.

“Welcome to Vila Marta,” said Henrique with a smile when I reached the top of the stairs.

Then he introduced me to his family. Between children and adults, there were about twenty people there.

From the entrance, we passed to the vestibule, where I left my coat, and from there to the dining room. There was a huge table with ten chairs on each side. As a guest, they gave me a seat near the end of the table, in front of Henrique. To our right, at the head of the table, sat Henrique’s mother, the family’s matriarch, while the rest of the family sat in the other places on our left.

After a short while, an elderly maid, older than any of the diners, began to bring platters from the kitchen. The conversation started with the usual trivialities about job, family, and even the weather. Then it finally went into that world parallel to ours, of which the whole family was aware.

“How did you find the Faerie Bar and all the other places Henry told me you visited?” the matriarch finally asked.

I told her the story of how I found the notebook that had brought me to those discoveries.

“In our case, it’s a family heirloom,” Henrique explained. “No one knows for sure for how many generations we have this knowledge.”

The conversation then became about strange creatures and places hidden from the sight of most men. Everyone contributed something, and I found out things that weren’t even in the notebook.

Lunch lasted almost until four o’clock, when the diners began to rise. Henrique led me into the living room, where we sat down to drink a whiskey older than me. Through the wide windows, one could see the vineyards in front of the house.

Amidst the drinks, Henrique told me how that vineyard was the source of the family wealth since time immemorial.

That’s when I noticed something peculiar.

“Where are the workers?” I asked, noting the lack of movement in the fields. “You must need a lot of manpower to keep a vineyard so big.”

“Here, most work is done at night,” he explained.

“At night?” I asked confused.

“Come,” he said, rising from his chair.

Henrique led me into the corridor and through it to the ground floor of the tower. There he turned aside a bookcase full of books, revealing a narrow tunnel containing a stairway that curved downward until it disappeared from view. Led by my host, I descended to the bottom, where we came upon a wood and iron door that seemed decades, if not centuries, old. Despite its age, Henrique opened it without any difficulty, giving access to a huge cellar that probably occupied the whole area of ​​the house.

We crossed the narrow corridors opened between fertilizer sacks, wine barrels, empty and full bottles, and farm implements until we reached the far side of the basement opposite the one we entered. There, we found a wall interrupted only by a bar door. Henrique took me to it. 

When I peeked through the bars, I didn’t know what to say. On the other side was a small room with a pungent smell. In the middle of the ground, almost in darkness, dozens of small creatures, no more than a meter high, were pilled. Their skin was blue-grey, and long, matted black hair cascaded down their backs. Claws ended their feet and hands.

“You can’t find cheaper labor,” said Henrique, clearly proud. “A bucket of cooked meat every night and they are ready to work.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Those creatures weren’t human, I knew that, and I didn’t know how intelligent they were, but even then, what the Cerqueiras were doing seemed wrong to me.

Henrique noticed my discomfort and led me back into the living room to finish our drinks. I stayed there for almost another hour, but we didn’t speak much. Finally, excusing myself that it was getting late, I left Vila Marta.

On the way home, I couldn’t forget my disappointment. I had found someone with whom I could talk about that world hidden from most humans, but he used it for his own benefit.

During that night, I hardly slept, because I couldn’t take the image of those creatures jailed in that basement. Even the next day, during work, I couldn’t forget. As such, and despite having a lot of urgent work, after office hours I went to the Faerie Bar. I hoped to find Alice there to tell her what I had seen.

I opened the door that gave access to the bar slowly. I didn’t want to come across Henrique Cerqueira. Fortunately, there was no sign of him. On the other hand, Alice was sitting at the counter almost in the same place where I had first seen her. I approached and sat down on the barstool next to her.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” she said sarcastically.

She clearly hadn’t forgotten my sudden departure last time.

I began to tell her what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house. Although she didn’t appear very interested at first, I ended up getting her attention.

“From what you say, they use troll slaves to work the fields. They aren’t the most intelligent of creatures, nor the most agreeable ones, but they don’t deserve to be treated like that. Come back here tonight. I’ll see if I can find someone to help us.”

I agreed. After dinner, I told my wife and daughter that I had to go back to the office to work so I could leave without raising much suspicion. In fact, it wasn’t totally a lie. I should have gone to work that night, but I couldn’t let the Cerqueiras continue to exploit those poor creatures.

When I returned to the Faerie Bar, it was almost empty. In addition to one or two lone clients, there was a group of five creatures, of which Alice was a part. She called me and asked me to tell the others what I had seen.

As I told, once more, what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house, I observed my new companions. One of them, a man, seemed to be the same race as Alice, for he had the same white hair, long neck, and feline eyes as she. Another was small, barely reaching my waist, and had yellow and orange skin. In contrast, beside him was a very tall, slender woman with blue skin and large eyes, and several black lines on her face that I couldn’t tell if they were natural or tattoos. Finally, at a nearby table, sat a tiny creature that closely resembled the popular idea of ​​a fairy. On her back grew dragonfly-like wings, and small multi-colored scales covered the back of her neck and arms.

When I finished my story, everyone readily agreed to help free the trolls. Then Alice led us to one of the doors to the tunnels where their races lived. Ever since I’d discovered the bar, I have wanted to visit them. I just wished the circumstances had been different.

The door, after a short walk, opened into a wide, high tunnel with a cobbled floor, granite walls, and arched ceiling. Blue flames, which seemed to emit no heat, burned in niches on the walls and gave as much or more light than modern light bulbs. There was a myriad of other doors on both walls.

During our journey, we went through several curves and bifurcations. The further we went, the bigger the tunnels became, and the greater the crowd that walked through them. On the surface, only during the summer did I see so many people. And never with that diversity. I lost count of the number of different races I came across.

Finally, we descended a staircase to a huge rectangular chamber. It was traversed in its center by a ditch that connected at both ends to tunnels larger than any we had passed.

Together with other creatures, we waited on that platform. About ten minutes later, a light appeared in of one of the tunnels. Shortly thereafter, a gigantic creature emerged from it. It was as high as the trench and long enough to occupy the entire length of the chamber. It looked vaguely like a centipede, with a red-brown body and a myriad of thin legs. However, it had no antennae, and its face was vaguely human. On the creature’s back lined up six wooden carriages.

Using a boarding plank, we climbed to one of these carriages and settled on the wood and iron benches. A little later, we set off, entering the other tunnel leading into the chamber. Braga had a subway after all. The surface inhabitants simply didn’t know about it.

We disembarked about fifteen minutes later, in a chamber very similar to the one in which we had boarded that strange train. We climbed stairs and returned to a tunnel system. That one was much smaller than the one next to the Faerie Bar, with much fewer doors and bifurcations. Finally, we came to a metal door guarded by a tall, muscular creature, who let us out. We were now in a narrow natural cave, through which I could only walk sideways. A few moments later, a silver light appeared ahead. After passing a thicket, which disguised the entrance, we reached the outside.

It was with some surprise that, in the moonlight, I realized that we were in the valley of the Cerqueiras, near the border between it and the hill, not far from one of the farm’s walls. Was that the way Henrique used to enter the world hidden under Braga?

Without wasting time, the little fairy flew over the wall. She returned about five minutes later.

“The trolls are already working,” she told us. “And they’re not alone. The Cerqueiras use Ogrons as foremen.”

“How many?” Alice asked.

“I’m not sure, but not many.”

“So let’s go.”

“Wait,” I said. “What’s the plan?”

“We go in there and distract the foremen while the trolls escape,” Alice answered, not even stopping. “Come on.”

The wall that surrounded Vila Marta and its fields was more than two meters high. If we were all human, it would have been a hard obstacle to cross. Luckily, one of my companions had retractable claws, so it reached the top with relative ease. Then he helped us to the other side.

There was no lighting on those terraces, and it was one of the last nights of a waning moon, so it was dark. I could see nothing beyond the diffuse silhouettes of the vineyards and the poles that supported them.

“I can’t see anything,” I said to my companions.

“We do,” said the fairy and the creature who had helped almost in unison.

“Come on,” Alice said.

With me following the others blindly, we climbed to the first terrace. We hid behind a circular wall, which must have belonged to a well, and we looked up. On the next terrace, I could see several silhouettes among the vineyards, most of them small, but one exceptionally large, probably the foreman.

Alice put a hand on my arm.

“You don’t see well in the dark, so you’re going to help me with that foreman. The others will take care of the terraces above.”

I readily agreed. Crouched, we climbed the dirt ramp that led to the next terrace. Then Alice and I broke away from the others. We tried to approach without being seen, using the poles as hiding places, but the foreman’s night vision seemed to also be better than mine, for he promptly emitted a fearful howl and advanced toward us.

Alice pulled me, and, together, we threw ourselves against him. At first, the being resisted our onslaught, but we ended up managing to push it to the ground. As we pinned down the foreman, Alice shouted to the goblins, “Run! Get out of here!’

The creatures hesitated for a moment, but soon fled, crawling down the wall that supported the terrace like cats.

The ogron continued to struggle and shout. Alice punched him and, when that didn’t work, again and again, and again still. The creature kept moving, so he hadn’t lost consciousness, but he no longer struggled.

“I think we can go,” Alice said.

When we reached the ramp through which we had climbed, we saw the silhouettes of our companions running from the higher terraces, accompanied by small shapes that could only be trolls. Behind them, I heard Henrique’s voice and heavy footsteps. We had been discovered, and reinforcements were coming.

We ran back to the wall, and the trolls, in their craving for freedom, overtaking us and getting outside before we even began climbing.

After leaving the Cerqueiras land, we saw and heard no further signs of pursuit. Still, we just stopped running when we entered the tunnels that led to the living train. To where the trolls had fled, we didn’t know, nor if we had succeeded in freeing them all. There was no point in thinking about it, though. After that night, the Cerqueiras would be on their guard. We were never going to be able to save anyone from that farm again.

Chapter 2 – The Faerie Bar

The day after I found the diary, the stories it contained were always on my mind.

After getting off work, my curiosity got the better of me, as usual, and I decided to visit a place called Faerie Bar in the book, which wasn’t too far from my office. According to what I had read, it was located near the Arco da Porta Nova, in Braga, under a shop that had already been home to several businesses and which was now a pastry shop.

At first glance, it looked like any other businesses of its kind, with a small terrace on the street, a front window full of cakes and other confectionery, and a counter with a coffee machine and other coffee shop paraphernalia.

I went in, sat down at one of the tables, among three other customers, and ordered tea and cake. I wanted to buy some time to study the place more closely and see if there was any truth in what I had read in the diary. Actually, the door that supposedly gave access to the Faerie Bar was in the expected place, but it could have been just a coincidence or an inspiration.

During the time I sat there, nothing extraordinary happened. It seemed, in every respect, an ordinary pastry shop. Finally, impatient, I paid and went to the bathroom, which was just after the mysterious door. But as I passed the later, I ignored the red sign that said “Restricted Access” and opened it. On the other side, I found a staircase that descended into darkness.

I didn’t go in right away. I was waiting for someone to scold me, to tell me that I couldn’t be there. But no one did, and I started descending.

About ten steps later, the door closed behind me, leaving me in the dark. I hadn’t planned that visit, so I didn’t have my faithful flashlight with me. I had to make do with my cell phone.

I went down for what seemed several minutes. Finally, I reached the bottom, where I found a second door. It was little different from the first. It even had a red sign saying “Restricted Access.” Again, I ignored it and opened the door. That was the most important moment of my life. At the time I didn’t know it, but my world, my all universe, would never be the same again, for it was then that I realized that everything written in the notebook I had found was true.

On the other side of the door was a bar, as I had read. The decor was modern with metal and glass chairs and tables and white, smooth and clean walls. However, that’s where the similarities with surface bars ended.

Its clientele was wholly formed by strange beings, some of whom I hadn’t imagined even in my weirdest dreams.

Many were humanoids, though the smaller ones didn’t even reach my knees, and the taller ones had twice my height, with skin tones that ranged from pale white to dark black, through gray and purple. Claws, horns, and spikes were also common.

Then there were those that were almost impossible to describe. Masses of tentacles with small spherical bodies amongst them; hybrids of various animals; long bodies with multiple legs.

In groups, the patrons chatted and drank the contents of teardrop shaped cups, which consisted exclusively of a clear liquid that looked like water.

The name Faerie Bar has been probably created by the author of the diary since most of these creatures didn’t fit the popular image of fairies (though there were some tiny humanoid beings with insect-like wings in the bar).

From what I had read, my predecessor didn’t stay in the bar long or tried to talk with the patrons. But my curiosity was stronger than his.

Fearfully, I went to the counter. Like the other furniture, it was made of metal and glass, but behind it, there were no shelves with rows of bottles, as I was accustomed to seeing in bars. In fact, the drinks seemed to have only one origin: from the ceiling, water trickled down to a stone pipe on the counter, which carried it to the barista.

I sat down on a high bench and looked around again. No one seemed to have noticed me, or at least they didn’t care.

The clerk put a glass in front of me, filled with the strange water. He didn’t say anything; he didn’t even ask what I wanted. Not that there was much of a choice.

Although he was an intimidating creature, with small horns crowning his head and incisors that didn’t quite fit in his mouth, I tried to chat with him:

“Is the bar always this full?”

He didn’t answer me. He simply turned his back and went to another customer.

“Miguel isn’t very talkative,” said a female voice beside me.

I turned and saw a very pale woman with white hair and several silver rings on her ears and face. She had a long neck, double or triple the size of a human, decorated with a golden torc. Her eyes were big and feline, but she had a small, discreet nose.

“Miguel?” I asked. “Is that his name?”

“What were you expecting?” She replied. “Gorash, or some other of those ridiculous names you give us in your stories?”

I confess I didn’t know how to answer. I even felt a little embarrassed. Fortunately, she changed the subject.

“I don’t see many of your race around here.”

“I didn’t know. This is my first time here.”

She placed a hand on my forearm.

“You know, I’ve always been curious about your race.”

“And I’m curious about yours.”

“I can answer any question you have,” she purred in my ear.

Her intentions were clear, yet I didn’t want to squander that opportunity to learn about the world I had just discovered.

“My name’s Alice, by the way.”

I told her my name.

“I find it curious that no one has made a big deal of my presence here. If my race is so rare around here…”

She smiled.

“Not many of you come here, but some do. At least we see more of you than you see of us.”

“Why? For what reason do you hide? Why don’t you live openly with us?”

“To be honest, I have no idea. I think it’s a cultural thing. We have always kept away from humans. And that Organization of yours doesn’t help either.”

“Organization?”

“Yes. Whenever one of us shows up in your world, by accident or not, or whenever a human who knows about us tries to reveal our existence, the Organization covers everything up. I swear that sometimes it seems they are more afraid that humans find out about us than we do.”

It was an interesting revelation. There was an organization dedicated to keeping the general public from becoming aware of the world I had just discovered. However, its existence also revealed that there were more intersections between the two worlds and more human beings that knew of these creatures than I had at first imagined.

“Don’t you drink?” She asked, pointing to the glass filled with the strange water in front of me.

Distracted by the conversation, I had completely forgotten my drink. Carefully, I took a sip. It didn’t taste particularly good. It tasted like water, lighter than the one I was accustomed to drinking, but still just water. Fearing that I was missing something, I drank the rest of the glass, but the taste remained the same, and I felt no further effects.

Alice noticed my disappointment.

“I think you have to be one of us to feel the effects of the water. It comes from a timeworn spring with special properties. A sip is enough to make us feel calmer and uninhibited. That’s why you can find me here every day. If you want.”

Once more, she touched my arm.

“How about if we went to a more private place to clarify my curiosities about your race? I don’t live very far.”

I confess that I felt tempted, but not for the most obvious reasons. I wanted to know more about those beings and the society in which they lived. Besides, during the conversation, I noticed several other doors beside the one I had used, each of which seemed to give access to a tunnel. It must be in them that those creatures lived, and the urban explorer in me desperately wanted to explore them.

Yet, I had to think that I was a married man with a daughter. It was better not to put myself in the way of temptation. Besides, I had already discovered much that day and I didn’t know if I could handle any more. Letting my feelings about the discovery of that world settle and then coming back seemed a better idea. After all, the mere fact that I was surrounded by beings that shouldn’t exist was enough to make me question everything I believed and knew about the World and life.

To Alice’s surprise, I excused myself saying that it was getting late and that my wife was waiting. At first, she insisted that I went with her, but she eventually let me go. I went back to the pastry shop and to the streets of Braga.

I didn’t go home immediately. I was too enthused about what I had just discovered. For more than an hour, I wandered around the city thinking about that new world, all the questions that its existence raised, and of future explorations to other places mentioned in the notebook. Today, I regret that I wasn’t able to control myself, to simply forget what I had seen and just stuck with my normal life.

Chapter 1 – The Book

The story of how I met the Witches of the Night is long and complex. To tell it in a way that everyone understands, I must explain the world that exists parallel to ours, which most people don’t know exists. As such, I will start with what, for me, was the beginning: the event that made me aware of this world.

From a young age, I have been interested in urban exploration. At the age of thirteen, I joined the Braga urban explorers group and, over the years that followed, I explored the ruins of warehouses, factories, monasteries, and many other interesting buildings. But it was only in my thirties that I dared to do a solo exploration.

It was of a house in the parish of Palmeira, on the outskirts of Braga, that I had discovered during one of the many visits to the Dona Chica Palace that the group had organized. Although I drew attention to the house, no one else showed interest in exploring it. It was a small home, with just a ground floor, and with nothing to distinguish it from those that surrounded it. But something about it drew my interest. Perhaps because it reminded me of my great-grandmother’s house, or because it was old enough to contain artifacts of the life of yore, not found in any modern house.

Whatever the reason, on a morose Sunday afternoon, when my wife went to visit her parents with our daughter, I drove to the old house. Taking care that the neighbors did not see me, I entered through a window whose glass and shutters had been broken by vandals.

On the other side, I found what was to be expected: a room full of broken glass, syringes and destroyed furniture. Anything of value had long been plundered. Still, I didn’t give up. Carefully, fearing to find some squatter, I continued exploring the house.

I entered the corridor, which gave access to two more rooms. Passing over the remains of broken doors, I entered the bedroom, which didn’t look any better than the living room. In the window, agitated by the wind, danced the remaining rags of crochet curtains. Clothes, from black dresses to felt hats, covered almost all the floor, clearly torn from the rotting closet and discarded for being worthless. Oddly enough, and despite the interest that antiquaries nowadays have in such furniture, an iron bed, with its white paint almost entirely replaced by rust, was still in the room, but upside down and tossed into a corner. The mattress had been removed and laid flat against the wall. It was covered in red, yellow, and white stains, and a shiver went up my spine as I thought of all that could have happened on it.

Then I went into the last room, the kitchen. The floor was littered with smashed crockery, and the cabinets were broken into and emptied. Everything else had been taken away.

Discouraged, I prepared to go back home. Unfortunately, there was nothing of interest in that house. The other urban explorers were right.

I was about to leave the kitchen when a metallic glow in the tiny pantry caught my eye. There, between broken shelves and nauseous remnants of rotten food, I found a door. The glow belonged to a primitive latch, which I opened immediately. On the other side, I found a stone staircase that descended into darkness. As I did when I explored a structure, I had a flashlight with me. Its light revealed a basement at the bottom of the stairs, apparently untouched by the vandals. Maybe the lack of daylight in there had kept them away.

Step by step, since I didn’t know what awaited for me down there nor how robust were the stairs, I descended. At the bottom, I found a veritable time capsule from mid-century Portugal.

In one corner, I saw an old manual sewing machine, still with the cast iron pedal and the belt that transmitted the movement to the needle. In a table next to it, there was a charcoal iron. I could almost see smoke coming out of his little chimney.

On the other side of the basement, next to a rotting fabric sofa, I found a cabinet containing a tube radio, its yellowish plastic testament of its antiquity.

On top of all surfaces, there were testimonies of past times: oil lamps, slabs of slate, jars of ink, ink pens, etc. However, my gaze fell mainly on a wooden chest that lay on the floor beside the stairs. Curious, I opened it. It wasn’t locked. Inside, I found albums with photographs, some of them certainly more than a hundred years old. It was sad to see those pictures of lively groups, couples dancing and dinner parties and thinking that most, if not all, of those people were gone.

Among the albums, however, I found a small notebook. I opened it and found that it was a diary. Normally, I never take anything from the places I explore, nor do I think that any urban explorer should do it, but having an account of the life of yesteryear was too tempting, and my curiosity got the better of me, as usual.

I left the house with the book in my pocket. I wanted to read it right there in the car, but dinner time was approaching.

When I got home, I put the book down and went to prepare the meal with the rest of my family. Despite being somewhat curious about its content, I dined calmly and even helped my daughter with her homework.

At last, I sat down at my desk and started reading. The stories in the diary were, in fact, interesting, fantastic, even, but in a way I didn’t expect. They mentioned hidden places in cities, mountains, and even the sea, and encounters with fairies, vampires, witches, goblins and innumerable other mythological and imaginary beings.

Was it a work of fiction, or the reverie of a madman? At the time, I couldn’t consider another hypothesis. But I also couldn’t stop reading, because many of the stories were in or near places I knew.

When I finally went to bed, it was almost two in the morning, and I only did it because I had to work the next day. Still, with much effort, I was able to push the book away from my mind long enough to fall asleep.