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Hiding in the Light

by John Randolph Skinner IV about a year ago in fantasy
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Chapter 4

When I got to my house, Charlotte was sitting on the front porch waiting for me. As I got out of my truck she walked up to the railing. “About time you got back Uncle Dante.” I shook my head and laughed. “What brings you out here Pika-cute?” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Thank you for waiting until there was no one else around to bring up that nickname.” She held up an insulated bag. “I brought ice cream. I figured you'd forget.” I shrugged and grinned. “You're probably right. Come on in and I'll get us some spoons.”

Once we were sitting down with a pint of ice cream each, I pointed at her with my spoon. “So why are you really here?” She took a spoonful of rocky road before sliding a folder across the table to me. The outside was stained with beer as well as less recognizable substances. “Salvador came by the bar about ten minutes after you left. He wanted to know if you were looking for someone. I showed him the photo you left. He drew this.” She tapped the folder with a bright green fingernail. That had my attention, the drawing not the fingernail.

Opening the folder I studied the drawing. Although there were a few old stains on the paper, the drawing itself was nearly photo realistic. Salvador had a Psi ability to receive visions of people or places if he had any sort of connection to them. If I could count on being able to find him I'd consider him a first class asset in finding fugitives. As it was he always seemed to show up either when I didn't have anything I needed help with or right after I left someplace.

I stared at the picture he had drawn for me for a long, silent minute. I recognized Edgars of course. Salvador would focus on the one I was looking for. The man Edgars was standing with however was the reason for my silence. I didn't want to believe the drawing, even though I knew Salvador only ever drew what he Saw. There on that stained paper was a face I hadn't seen in ten years. I had half hoped I'd never see it again.

Charlotte started fidgeting, I know she gets anxious if people start getting too quiet. “Hey, Uncle Dante, what's wrong? Who is that guy?” I get so used to her being connected with the Community that sometimes I forget that most of my work falls into the cracks. “I'm sorry kiddo, that will take some explaining. In the meantime I need to talk with your mother.” Charlotte frowned. “I doubt if her office is even open at this hour.” I shook my head and reached for my phone. “I don't need to speak to the Liaison Officer. I need to talk with your mom.”

I could see a look of puzzled worry in Charlotte's eyes as I punched Marla's number and listened to the phone ring. She answered quickly which meant that she had already made it home. “Dante, what could be so important that it couldn't wait until morning. You didn't already kill Mather did you?” “Sorry about the call Marla. Its just that Charlotte brought some information over and we need to talk.” She made a tutting sound over the phone. “Let me guess some boy broke her heart and you need my help hiding the body.” I scoffed, “Like there would be a body to hide.” I went back to being serious. “Just trust me when I say we should talk sooner not later.” There was a pause on the other end. “Alright Dante, I'll be right over.”

Charlotte was watching me with concern by the time I hung up. “You're making me nervous Uncle Dante. You almost look spooked. You don't get spooked.” I sat down and tried for a smile. “This goes back a long time. Back to when I was just starting to work for the Clave. I was part of a team back then. The three of us were close friends, Micheal Tompkins, your father and me. We stood by each other at our weddings. Hell your father even offered to cover my exit if I wanted to run out of mine.” I sighed, “Looking back I probably should have taken him up on that.”

She gave me a look that said both let it go and get on with it. “At first our jobs were pretty routine. Young Magicians that had just realized their abilities and didn't know how to control them. Shifters that got bored and decided to prank the Mundanes. That sort of thing was what filled our days most often. Occasionally we responded to real trouble. Radical Restorationists planning to stage a big demonstration. Or some other group that was tired of hiding and wanted to make a big scene. Most of the time we were able to calm things down. Then we got a call about an unidentified Rouge Magician. Usually they turn out to be nothing. That one turned out to be gruesome.”

I went to the cabinet to get the bottle of whiskey I keep in there and two glasses. Pouring us each a drink I sat back down. “The rouge had killed three mundane college kids down by Little Rock. The Mundane police were stumped so they asked for Clave help.” I pointed at her with the hand holding my glass. “Those kids were desiccated, all their bodily fluids had been drawn out. The bastard used the blood to paint a picture across the walls.” I had to stifle the urge to close my eyes. I really didn't want to see that image again.

“The painting was bad enough even if you didn't know what he used for paint. A nightmare image of Little Rock, ruined buildings with demonic creatures stalking or flying through the wreckage.” I took a pull of whiskey, that damn image was still seared into my brain twenty seven years later. “I understand the house was burned to the ground a couple of months later. They couldn't get rid of the image any other way, I suppose. By that time he had killed three more Mundanes.”

I settled back in my chair and stared at the tabletop. “Each crime scene had its own nightmarish mural. The son of a bitch even signed his work, as if the paintings themselves weren't enough of a signature.” I gazed into my glass for a few moments as if it were a crystal ball that would erase visions instead of showing them.

Charlotte coughed softly, “So you knew who he was right? Because he signed his work.” I grinned a bit ruefully. “Not exactly. At first we didn't even know it was his signature. We thought it was the title of his first painting.” She looked at me puzzled. “How would a persons name be a title for a landscape painting?” I rolled my head to shoot her a look. “ How many Magicians do you know personally who have names that could also describe a landscape or idea?” She nodded for me to get back to the story. It wasn't until he signed his next three with the same signature that we realized it was the name he was using for himself. He signed them all, Somnum Exterreri.” I smiled at her confused look. “We had to look it up. It means Nightmare in Latin.” She nodded, “Not many people use Latin names.”

That was one reason we started to think that he came from a Mundane family, like I did.” Charlotte was nodding again, back on familiar ground. “Because most Magicians that change their name are from Mundane families, they do it to mark their entry in to the Magical world.” She took on a thoughtful expression. “Did you change your name Uncle Dante?” I smiled back at her. “Didn't have to, my parents had the foresight to give me a cool name from the start.

I looked back at the picture Salvador had drawn. “we didn't get a look at him that first time. We did manage to get some trace that led us to his hideout. When we got there it was empty except for his seventh victim. And one more mural. That one showed the three of us, in clear detail holding empty sacks.” I realized I had been clenching and opening my fist, so I picked up my whiskey to give me something to do with my hand. “The bastard was taunting us.” I downed the rest of my drink. “We kept our eyes and ears open for any report within our jurisdiction that might be him. We didn't find anything for another year or so.”

I reached over to a shelf close to the table. Taking down a scrapbook, I opened it on the table angling it so Charlotte could get a look at it. “We didn't get much information on him at first. All we could find were second hand accounts. We started keeping anything we could find that might give us a clue.” I started flipping through pages filled with articles on missing pets, strange lights in the woods, and haunted houses. “Most of this stuff isn't even Magic related. And those that are turned out to be routine stuff.” I shrugged, “When you have people with powers, some of them will find ways to abuse them.”

“We did manage to stop quite a few problems before they got too big. So I suppose in that sense our drive to find the guy had a positive impact. Of course when he actually showed up again we had no prior indications.” Charlotte looked up from the clippings in the book. “So you're saying with what you knew you still had no idea of what to expect?” I shrugged again, I was getting a lot of practice at shrugging that night. “Remember, we had not even gotten a glimpse of him by that point. And despite what they show on crime shows, you can only get so much from examining crime scenes.”

I turned the page to a series of newspaper clippings. All the headlines told about a series of mysterious deaths. There were no photos included with the articles, although several sketches were also on the pages. “The basic signature remained the same as in the previous cases. Desiccated corpses and blood used in artwork on the walls. This time, however, the paintings turned out to be of the following crime scene. However since they all occurred indoors, there had been no way to use the paintings to identify those scenes in advance. Up until the penultimate one.”

I turned one more page. Two black and white photos filled both pages. Without color the true horror of the mural wasn't clear. The painting showed two bodies sitting at a table playing cards. The table was set up by a window, through which the Hot Springs skyline was clearly visible. “Obviously we had no problem finding out where this one was. By the time we got there however it was too late. The scene was set up exactly as it was in the mural. And again the mural left at the scene showed the three of us. Only this time it showed us with dog-like tails, spinning around as if to grab them.”

Charlotte leaned back from the table. “So that sicks son of a bitch was laughing at you. Saying he had you chasing your own tails.” I nodded, frowning, “He did seem to have made one miscalculation that time however. In the Little Rock case he had kept to the outskirts and was careful not to be seen any of the scenes. That last scene in Hot Springs was downtown. We found several witnesses who had seen him going in and out from the building he used.” I looked Charlotte in the eyes, and turned the page.

“We managed to get a description and a composite sketch made.” She looked down at the sketch in the scrapbook, then pulled Salvador's drawing over. “He's older of course, but its the same man.” I just nodded. “Did you manage to catch up with him?” I took a long look at my empty glass. “We got a tip almost immediately after we sent out the picture. He was in Fort Smith. We got there as quickly as we could.” I poured myself another drink and held the bottle out to offer Charlotte one. She shook her head and waved me to continue.

“Did you know that the only picture of you that your father ever saw was an image from the sonogram? He had it with him when we went to face that bastard.” I took a long breath and let it out slowly. All those years and the memory still pissed me off. “He was waiting for us. That miscalculation we thought he had made? That was deliberate, he wanted us to find him. The taunts were to get us angry so we would overlook the idea that it was a trap. And it worked.”

I slumped in my seat. “We found out where he was hiding out. Apparently waiting to get out of the area. Your father wanted to take point, but I wouldn't let him. He had Claire and you on the way. I told him to take up a flanking position and let me go bust in the door. He found a good spot from which to cover the entrance and the front windows. Micheal was off to my right ready to follow me through the door.” I took a drink. “It was a good plan, and it should have worked. Except he was expecting us.”

“As soon as I kicked in the door, I heard your father call out.” My voice had started to sound flat and emotionless to me. “By the time I finished turning around there was nothing left of him but a dried up body.” I tapped the drawing. “That sick bastard was standing right behind your father's body as it fell. He was laughing and waving to make the blood move to the wall.” I closed my eyes to bring the memory in clearer.

“I didn't even think about it, I just reacted. My first levin bolt hit him square in the chest, throwing him back against the wall. The blood he had been manipulating fell to the ground. He recovered quickly, I'll give him that. He returned a bolt right as Micheal and I sent more towards him. That turned out to be our mistake. His bolt hit one of ours and created a flash of light bright enough to blind us for a second. That was all the time he needed to disappear.”

“All we could do at that point was try to find his trail. And wrap up you father's body to return him to your mother.” I sat back and sipped at my whiskey. “After that the Clave started taking the threat he represented seriously. Before that he had only targeted Mundanes. The councils priority had been to keep his actions from revealing the secret, safety for the Mundanes was secondary. I guess that was a holdover from the days when Mundanes feared Magicians.”

“Two years went by without anything from Somnum Exterreri. That was back in the days before the Claves shared information as often as they do these days. So he may have been active in some other Clave's backyard. When he came back we found the bodies, the murals and an addition. A few lines of what looked like poetry in Latin. Turned out to be lyrics from punk rock songs.” I shook my head at her confused look, “We didn't understand either. He killed three people that time. We got a report of a sighting up in St. Louis, but by the time we got there he had disappeared again.”

I paused to check the time, wondering how long it would take Marla to get to the house. I knew how long it would take me to make the drive from Branson. But knowing Marla she would think to stop somewhere on the way. Charlotte was staring at the wall above the shelves. “I wish I had known him.” That confused me for moment, until I followed her gaze. She was looking at a photo of her father, Micheal and me, fresh out of special ops training and ready to take on the world.

I smiled, glad to have the change of subject. “Those were good times. I have never had friends like them since. We went through so much together, you can't just make that happen with someone new.” I closed the scrapbook and pulled down a photo album. “If you think you can handle finding out the embarrassing stuff about your dad...”

We spent the rest of the time before Marla arrived going over happier stories from the life of Jake Fontane. Going over them like that made me realize that I had actually only known him for six years. That just didn't seem like much time for a friendship that had such an impact on my life. There were people I had worked with for longer than that with out even getting to know half of what I knew about Jake.

When Marla pulled up to the house we were talking about a particularly funny episode involving Jake, myself and a Phouka some wiseguy had Shaped. At Marla's knock I went to the door still laughing a bit. She walked through carrying bags of food from an Italian place that was sort of on the way. “I figured that once you two started talking getting dinner together would be a low priority for you.” Charlotte and I shared a guilty look. “I guess we didn't realize the time.” Marla just gave me a dirty look, and started laying out covered dishes of food. “Get some plates, then tell me what was so important.”

Once everyone had plates, and Marla had given us both a severe look about the empty ice cream containers, Marla used her fork to point at me. “So what was this information you just had to share with me?” I marveled for a moment at how she used the same gesture as her daughter to get me started, then showed her Salvador's drawing. As soon as she saw it she took a sharp intake of breath.

“Son of a bitch. Are you saying they're back? After all this time?” Charlotte held up her hand. “Hold on. They? You never mentioned anything about him having a partner.” Marla gave me an angry stare. “You were telling my daughter about that bastard?” So now I had two women at my table and both were angry with me. I started having flashbacks to my divorce. Give me a psycho with a Chimera any day over that.

“It's not my fault, she bribed me with mint chocolate chip.” They gave me identical “are you kidding me” glares. “Alright, moving on.” I helped myself to some bread sticks and marinara sauce. “By the time we realized he was more than just a lone psychopath I was no longer with the Clave full time. I went freelance after Micheal was killed.” Charlotte looked a question around a mouthful of pasta. “Unrelated case of a group of rouge Magicians. They had decided to attempt to carve out a section of a state park for their own territory.” I scooped up a plateful of baked ziti. “We managed to convince them that would be a bad idea. Just not before their beasts killed six agents, including Micheal.”

I took a big bite of ziti and Charlotte asked, “Is that why you left Special Ops?” Marla tried to hide her smile at the memory, “That's kind of why he left.” I scowled at them both. “The commissioner at the time suggested I take a desk position after that. I responded by offering to show him exactly where he could stick that desk.”I made a gesture with a fork full of pasta. “He found the suggestion offensive for some reason.”

Marla could not contain her laughter any longer and Charlotte joined in almost immediately after her mother had started. “After that I decided to wash my hands of the Clave. Then a few weeks later the council called me back in. The said they had an issue that they needed me to deal with.” I waved a bread stick like a wand. “I've been freelancing for them ever since.”

Charlotte dabbed at her eyes with a napkin. “So when did you find out that your nightmare artist wasn't working alone?” Well that sobered the mood quickly. “I had been freelancing for almost two years. He showed up, killed a few people and left his murals. But that time there was a new agent working for the Clave that noticed some interesting iconography in his paintings. She looked back to the previous murals and noticed the same symbols kept popping up.”

I paused to take a bit of salad and Marla took up the story. “That peaked the agent's curiosity so she studied the history of those symbols. Turns out they were associated with a secret society dating back to the time of the Inquisition. They called themselves Timentibus Se, Latin for Fear Itself. Charlotte looked puzzled. “I've never heard of them.” I shared a look with Marla. “That's why its known as a secret society. If more people knew about it, it wouldn't be much of a secret.” Charlotte threw a piece of garlic bread at me.

“In all seriousness though, most everyone had forgotten about their existence. They formed in reaction to the Inquisition, which let's face it was itself a long time ago. And they were in Europe. Not many organizations survived the move to the New World. New Claves, new Covens, and new secret societies were formed by the Magicians that migrated out of Europe.”

Charlotte was getting that bored in history class look in her eyes. “So how would a society like that last for so long?” I pointed at her with a bread stick. “You need to remember that the Magicians that came over here back then were trying to avoid the witch hunts. While most of them decided that the best defense was to lay low and spread out, some were probably still angry at being driven out of their homes. Those were just the sort to import Timentibus Se texts and ideology with them.” Marla chimed in, “Of course at least some of them had enough sense not to be too overt with actions. So over time they managed to slip back into the shadows. Even now most of the scholars that know they existed think they disappeared hundreds of years ago.”

We spent the next few minutes filling our plates and our mouths. There is something about good Italian food that just makes you want to take time to savor it. Then Charlotte voiced an idea that I had back in the day. “So maybe this nightmare artist did the same thing as the agent. Researched secret societies and found one that he liked. Maybe there really isn't a Timentibus Se active these days.” Marla and I exchanged glances. “The thought had crossed our minds.” Marla answered, “So since I had been working in the Liaison Office at the time, I started discretely gathering information from other Claves. There were several reports that started to fit a pattern which only made sense if there was a organized group behind them.”

Charlotte looked from her to me and back again. “So if there really is a dangerous group of psychotic Magicians out there, why don't more people know about it?” I lifted my glass towards Marla, “Do you want to field that one? After all you are the one working with other organizations for the Clave.” Marla stuck her tongue out at me. “That is a complicated answer that can be summed up in one word. Politics. The council members feel that spreading the news of the existence of Timentibus Se would just cause panic. So they insist that these attacks are the work of individuals. And since we were never able to find conclusive evidence to show otherwise, we don't have anything to bring to the attention of the public except speculation.”

I sat back in my chair and looked back over at the books on the shelf. “We know that there are some really bad people out there. And we know that at least some of them are organizing. What we can't do is prove what we know. So we get together and compile reports on our own.” I looked Charlotte straight in the eyes. “I guess you could say we formed our own secret society to stand against the ones that want to harm the Community.” Marla raised her glass in a toast, “To our unnamed society, hiding in the light to stop the shadows.”

fantasy

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John Randolph Skinner IV

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