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.