tagSci-Fi & FantasyConceal Me What I Am Ch. 06

Conceal Me What I Am Ch. 06


"Madame Witch Belanger," Miranda began, slowly and very formally to Bel, "I have tried to solve an important problem for my father, but I have been quite unable to do so. The matter is either too complicated or beyond the means of my powers, or perhaps both. In short, children have been disappearing lately and no one quite knows why or how."

"Just called me 'Bel'." She replied. "Disappearances in Chicago, or any other city are not uncommon... especially for children. What makes these cases so unusually particular?"

"Yes, children do disappear, but rarely in such singular circumstances where the child will just suddenly vanish right from plain sight in front of several witnesses while out in an open public place. In the most recent disappearance, the five year old daughter of an important family member just blinked completely out of sight while playing with other children in a public park. Her mother and three other parents were within ten yards of her when she disappeared and no one saw or heard a thing. She was there and then she was gone. This happened four days ago."

"There have been other cases like this? Is Chicago PD investigating?" Bel inquired.

"At least a dozen other cases that we've heard about," Sebestyen confirmed, "but this has been the only case involving a family member from my organization. In the earlier cases, the police were called in to investigate but I've been told that the FBI or some other government agency is now in charge of the investigation, and since then all of my usual sources have gone silent on the matter. That alone is extremely unusual and insinuates that they either cannot or will not resolve the problem."

"Do you have any items or articles of clothing that the girl had worn that day, or shortly before?" Bel enquired and Miranda nodded her head. This was very useful indeed, as Bel was quite a talented psychometric who might well be able to follow the trail just like a bloodhound might follow a scent.

"I have the girl's jacket and a knitted cap that she had just taken off before she started to play that morning. We had the thought of using a tracking dog to follow the scent as well but the animal quickly became confused and then frightened and refused to follow the trail even a step outside of the playground. I had hoped that perhaps either of you two wizards might be able to try your talents instead. The family of the missing girl has served my father for many years and in positions of great responsibility and unquestioned loyalty, and it would be most regrettable indeed if that faithfulness could not now be rewarded." She murmured, not entirely optimistic of the chances.

"We will do what we can," I replied, "but you have to know that after a disappearance of four days, the odds become unsettlingly slender that the girl could still be found alive. We certainly both have skills that might allow us to find where she was taken to, and by whom, but we cannot promise you or her parents a happy recovery, but we will both do what we can. If we are already too late but have the chance to discover the culprit, would this be acceptable?" They both agreed, but not with any particular eagerness. Still, they both knew the odds and realized that our late efforts were just a last ditch sort of forlorn hope. Still, as Mr. Dénes had suggested, this was indeed a way of us building some trust with him.

Since we figured that it would be early evening at the soonest before we'd have word of the exact location of the rogue weapons factories, and/or the headquarters of operations for the Clinton Street gang, this gave us a few hours at minimum to examine the peculiarities of the disappearances. Miranda agreed to come along with us to point out the exact location of where the child had vanished, but I wanted to make a quick phone call along the way to our only FBI contact, Janice Simms. She probably didn't want us directly contacting her, but we didn't have time to do any of the other usual sneakiness that Bel and Janice relied upon to leave messages to each other. From what I understood, the FBI had jurisdiction over missing children and possible kidnapping cases, but yet they didn't seem to be involved, and I was curious why.

First, though, I had to get rid of our snoops on the street upstairs. I was feeling good and ready to ride hell bent for leather off of the reservation, but I needed to ensure that we had some privacy for this brand new bit of investigation. We needed to preserve Miranda's anonymity and reduce, if not eliminate, any obvious public association with us and Mr. Dénes and his organization. This problem definitely called for another pair of handfuls of Wonder Putty. Miranda was fascinated by the way Bel and I moulded the two crude putty images of ourselves along with a strand of each of our hairs as we channeled the energies for the illusion spell.

"So that's how it's done!" She cooed with genuine amazement. "I tried to do something like this a few months ago when I thought a government witchfinder was on my trail. I'd had to hoof it the hard way and he almost trapped me with a stun spell before I reached a place where I could access the tunnels underground. The next time, I think I'll be able to do this!" I didn't disbelieve her. Truth-telling, the mentalist ability to detect whether a speaker is lying or not, is a tricky skill to do with even close to 100% accuracy. Like most mentalist powers, this was something I wasn't particularly good at and had hardly even ever tried before. Having a knack for the truth sometimes also means that a magician might also be equally good with illusions. Odd how in magic, opposites tend to work together. More weird magical theory that I'd mostly dozed through when back in school. That was definitely something that you couldn't really learn from a book! I had only recently learned this simple illusion, and only after quite a bit of help from Sean while learning. Miranda was going to need a proper instructor if she was ever going to make the most of her promising but nascent talents!

Sending our images walking down the street and turning the next corner down the block, our watchers dutifully drove on after us, and right away the three of us scampered into Bel's car and headed off in the opposite direction. Out of sight and now more than a block away, I knew that our illusions wouldn't last or fool them for long, giving us a minute of freedom at most before they would realized they'd been duped and would be hot again once more on our trail. Bel tried to give the tracker in the car another good hex to disable it, but this wasn't really her forte. I didn't think I could do much better, and it would have to wait until we reached the park. Hopefully, this would give us at least a half hour or so of privacy before the cavalry started to arrive.

Reaching the park, I let Miranda take Bel over to the last place the girl, little five-year old Anne-Marie had been seen, so that along with the jacket and cap she could best use her psychometric talents to pick up the trail. This was her forte and strongest talent, something that I couldn't do if my life depended upon it. Frankly, if Bel come up stumped, I wasn't too sure at all what else I could contribute that would help. For now, I just wanted more information and calling Janice at the local FBI office seemed to be the best, if not the most discrete, way to get it fast. There was a payphone at the corner of the park and I thought using this reduced at least some of the risk. She was in the office that Friday afternoon, wonder of wonders, and the switchboard connected us in just a few moments. I was pretty sure that government phones were not secure, especially in the local FBI field office, so I had to be a tad creative.

"Agent Simms? This is Officer Zachary with the Chicago PD. We talked last night with my partner, Officer Darling, about a possible arson investigation, do you remember?" She did indeed. She didn't quite laugh or snicker, but I was sure that there was a smile on her face on the other end of the phone.

"Well today I've got a different sort of problem, and we're wondering if the FBI has any formal involvement. There have been some rather odd public disappearances of children -- as if by magic. The last case was of a girl in Lincoln Park. I've just spoken with a concerned family member and they're a bit concerned that some government agency has already taken over the investigation and my superiors don't want us street boys getting any further involved. Can you assure me that it is your office that has this investigation in hand?"

Janice paused, then thought for a long moment and then hastily put me on hold. I stayed in the booth feeding dimes as necessary and waited for Janice to return to the phone. While cooling my heels and ears, I watched Bel trying to do her thing, tracing the psychic traces of the child from her clothes and her last footprints off into the unknown, but without much if any visible signs of success. Finally Janice returned.

"Officer Zachary? Sorry for the delay. No, the FBI has no formal involvement in this investigation of the missing children, including the most recent Lincoln Park disappearance. I would however be available to meet you at the park so that I could file a report of inquiry to send to my field office supervisor. Can I meet you there in about fifteen minutes?" That was cutting our safety time a little close, especially since the last thing we wanted was for our spies to catch Bel and Janice together in public once again, but it was apparent from the tone in her voice that Janice knew something we didn't, and she couldn't say anything more over the phone. I agreed I'd be there and we hung up immediately afterwards.

From the looks of Bel's face, she wasn't finding anything sort of the kind of success that she had expected.

"I don't understand it!" She panted and with her jaws set tightly, as if in physical pain. "I can feel the traces of the girl strongly in her clothes, and I can even find her last footprints before she disappears, but if I concentrate on where she went next I get dizzy with pain until I almost blackout . The world just spins on me. That's never happened to me before!"

Still, she wasn't ready yet to admit defeat. She placed her right hand once again upon the last tiny footprint and closed her eyes tight with concentration until the world again spun around in her head and she quite fell over to the ground, dazed and with a head full of stabbing pain.

"Damn it!" She whispered, as Miranda and I helped her to a sitting position. "I can almost feel where she went next, but it hurts too much to follow. She wasn't teleported ourt, she didn't fly, and she wasn't carried either. Someone or something takes her hand and they walk away, but I cannot follow them. It's like they're here... but they're not quite. Like they've taken a half-step outside of this world to one where I'm blind!"

Someone or something - and living in but just a fraction outside of our world... that suggested 'visitor'. It actually screamed, not just hinted, inter or intra-dimensional trouble. Well, that's the sort of shit that tends to pay my bills back home in Austin. Still I needed to think for a moment, so I joined Bel sitting on the grass and I shut my eyes for a moment to think. I had half of an idea that I thought might work, but I wanted to consult with Sean for a moment.

"Aye, lad... you've got the jist of it just right, and with just enough Wonder Putty left to work the shaping. There be at least three of the child's hairs still in her cap, and with those in the simulacrum it can follow the trail without feeling the pain of the other's presence. This be a bad one, this is... but make ready swiftly for Janice is crossing the grass to join you, and your other company will not be far behind her!"

Sean was right as usual and by the time I made my feet and grabbed my last handful of Wonder Putty, Janice had quite nearly reached us, and her mood was none too cheerful.

"Zak, do you have even half of a clue about what sort of shit-storm you've stirred up now? Ok, you did a decent job of playing a stupid CPD officer just fishing for information, but how did you know that this whole investigation isn't even in FBI jurisdiction anymore. Investigating missing and kidnapped children is a FBI obligation, but some other government agency, MDIA, MSA, NSA or something like them, came in a few weeks ago flashing their badges and took all of our files and told us to mind our own business! They even took a piss all over the FMBA too, and told them to stay out as well. You of all people know what that means!"

"Unfortunately, yes. Visitors... and probably not nice or friendly ones." I replied, finding the three loose hairs of the child that remained stuck inside of the knitted cap. "This has major clusterfuck written all over it, with some big government lads in black protecting some of their nasty illegal very alien friends in return for unwholesome and probably unspeakable rewards. I know that this is a majorly fucked up government, but they signed the Visitation Treaty along with every other magically responsible government on the planet. To officially support and protect a group of visitors is against international law... and all of the rules of common sense, let alone self-preservation. Even the 'likeable' visitors have agendas of their own and should never be assisting governmental policy on a formal basis. That's what the treaty says, and as far as I know the GWA has always followed it to the letter. If the USA isn't, this could seriously set back relations with everyone, and even give the CSA a major causes-belli. Please tell me I'm wrong, or at least overreacting?"

"No, you probably aren't." Janice replied, who gave Bel a brief hug that she tried to disguise by helping her girlfriend up from the grass. "If you find those agents responsible, and you can prove they're hiding or protecting in an official capacity the persons or things responsible for these kidnappings, you have my carte blanche... and that of my boss the station chief, to start the next great Chicago fire roasting the bastards responsible. With any luck, just pray this is just a group of basement dwelling bureaucrats protecting some gang of child-snatching pervs, assisted perhaps by a rogue wizard." The tone of her voice suggested otherwise. This sort of magic was just not normal, and this wasn't the way most gangs of kiddie-pervs operated. I also wondered what sort of government agency had the clout to order the FBI around in its own jurisdiction, but I quickly decided that I probably didn't want to know the answer.

When I had the child's hairs worked into the small putty doll I set it upon the ground on the last footprint that Bel had located and I quickly explained what needed to be done next. We were nearly completely out of time and could feel Sean's impatient breathing down my neck and more than a sense of vital urgency.

"Bel, I need you to hold the jacket and cap and focus upon them hard and connect this link to the simulacrum. I need you to become that lost little girl and give the simulacrum her focus and life, to follow and go where your mind could not. Miranda, I need you take my hand to help me concentrate on keeping the simulacrum 'alive' and focused in this world, because it is going to try and 'jump' out of phase with our world, and if it does we'll never find and get it back. It's going to be hard and it will take both of our wills linked together and if the doll loses its anchor to both the present and the past path that the girl took, I don't think we'll get a second chance!" Both women nodded and with a bit of magical flourish I focused as much earth energy as I could into the putty doll, living live and our focus to the putty crafted simulacrum.

At first I thought we hadn't succeeded, but with everyone exerting their will eventually a shadowy figure of the young girl began to appear, dressed exactly as she had been on the park playground a few days ago. The illusion wasn't real of course, but I thought I saw the little girl smile at us as she took one step forward away from the last known track and then another, and then a few more. I thought Bel was having another dizzy spell as she focused upon her linkage with the child's clothes, and the connection it gave her, but as the pace began to increase the discomfort began to minimize a little, but I could tell it never quite went entirely away. Soon even the effort to keep her eyes open became too much for her and Janice had to lead her as if she was blind so that she could maintain her focus. Miranda and I were having a slightly easier go of it, but we too needed to keep our focus on the more material parts of the doll. It felt 'slippery' to us, as if we let up on our focus it might slip out of our mental hands entirely and disappear, following that different and unseen path instead. A year ago, I could never have held my focus this long and already after just a few minutes I was grateful for Miranda's assistance. The young lady was untrained and inexperienced, but she did have will and she could indeed focus it! By the time we reached our probable destination nearly two miles away, Miranda was too mentally exhausted to do more than stumble her feet, but her will never quite collapsed.

We had done it. My own eyes were awash with pain and it hurt to look around us, but the doll had reached some sort of final destination, stopped at the edge of a sidewalk leading to an old but rather splendid multi-story house that was nearly a mansion.

"Shit... just what I was afraid of." I heard Janice mumble, and when Bel managed to get her own eyes open and focused, her spirits became equally deflated and she sunk to the ground in agony to rest, but didn't quite entirely lose her focus on the girl's spirit.

"Ok, where are we and just how bad are we fucked? This isn't the Mayor's house?" I enquired.

"Worse... this street is Consular row, and all of the houses on this block belong to the various embassies or consulates. There's no flagpole here, but not even the FBI can go here and no judge would ever give us a warrant."

"There is evil here." Bel whispered, her words stuttering with the pain of her concentration. "The girl disappears from here, across the barrier... inside -- and with something... something very bad. I can feel it almost even here, outside." With that, Bel exerted herself and leaned forward across the sidewalk to place her hand upon the walkway leading up to the rather forlorn looking house. And then she screamed.

I've heard screams of terror before. On the frontier border with Deseret in my youth while in military service, and while protecting victims from a horrific summoned creature, such as when hundreds of possessed bodies were burned to the most minute ashes in that movie theater in Austin. Sometimes, once or twice, I've screamed myself. I'll admit it; the world is indeed full of ghastly and unspeakably terrible things. I don't know what Bel sensed for she suddenly quite lost her contact with the simulacrum and she fell into a trembling stupor on the pavement, shaking uncontrolably.

To make things somewhat worse, her scream had attracted a good deal of local attention, including pointing out our presence to two different car loads of unfriendly looking folks that now seemed to be taking an unhealthy interest in us. This particularly included one large vehicle full of yellow jacketed (and probably jack-booted) thugs that were already smiling at the thought of making our acquaintance in a unfriendly sort of physical way. One way or another, the jig was pretty well up.

Since Bel had lost her connection with the simulacrum, further concentration was no pointless and I told Miranda to let go of her focus as well. Both women were quite done in, and exhausted beyond the point of being able to concentrate their wills. The doll had led us as far as it could go. Now, after catching a few deep breaths, I decided to take a closer look at the protections around this house. While I didn't actually touch the pavement itself, I could get a pretty good idea of what was on the other side, and I didn't like it much at all.

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