“THE STAFF OF FIRE”
If only he would stop talking. The litany repeated in Cecile’s mind, over and over again. While sampling some of the food from the buffet table, Cecile found herself cornered by a McNeill witch who had discovered she was a Vodoun priestess. Soon, she ended up listening to his tales of travel in the Caribbean and West Africa – along with his enthusiastic encounters with houngans, mambos, sorcerers and other magical practitioners. Cecile would have shared his enthusiasm, if he were not so determined to dominate the conversation. And if only he lacked the tendency to drone on and on.
“. . . most amazing sight I had ever beheld,” Ronald McNeill continued. “Mami Labida explained to me that . . .”
A prickly sensation touched the base of Cecile’s neck, followed by a vision that seemed to overwhelm her. It consisted of Olivia fighting two men near the lake’s shore, followed her falling unconscious from a dart. The next vision revealed a car with five people approaching a crossroad. The car passed a road sign that read KILBOURN 41 KL. She recognized two of the people in her vision from the group of servants hired by Colin McNeill for the week. The vision ended with a burly, blond-haired man slitting Olivia’s throat near a pile of rocks and boulders. Once the vision ended, she gasped aloud, interrupting her companion.
“I say,” Ronald McNeill said, casting Cecile an anxious look, “do you feel well?”
Cecile shook her head. “I’m . . . um, I’m okay. I just need a little rest. Excuse me.” She gave the witch a perfunctory smile and quickly walked away. As she rushed toward the castle, Cecile encountered Paige, sitting on the terrace. “Paige,” she declared in an anxious voice. “Paige, I . . .”
A frown appeared on the Charmed One’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“Livy. I had a vision . . . she’s been kidnapped.” Cecile continued, “A group of men and one woman. I recognized the woman and one of the men. They took her near the lake. We have to go after her.”
Paige sprung out of her chair. “Should we get help?”
A third voice asked, “Help for what?”
The two friends spun around. Behind them stood Gweneth McNeill and the laird’s son, Jamie. “Mrs. McNeill!” Paige cried out.
The red-haired woman frowned. “Cecile said something about someone being taken. Do you mean kidnapped?”
Silence fell between the two women. Paige finally spoke. “Cecile just had a premonition of Olivia being kidnapped near the lake. By four men.”
“And one woman,” Cecile added. “I think she’s one of those temporary servants that Jamie’s folks had hired.”
Mrs. McNeill’s green eyes grew wide with shock. “Oh my God! Livy! How is she doi . . .? Have they hurt her?”
Cecile shook her head. “From what I saw, they’ve drugged her. I also saw them in a car, passing a sign that read Kilbourn, forty-one kilometers.”
“I know where that is,” Jamie said with a nod. “Kilbourn is a small market town, not far from here. There’s a clump of rocks, known as the Lindisfarne Crags, outside of the town. It was known as a gathering place for witches. Including some from our family. I also know where that sign is located. Near a crossroad, about 20 kilometers from here. It’s too bad we won’t reach that crossroad before they will.”
Paige added, “Actually, we can.” The others stared at her. “Hello? Half-whitelighter! I can orb us to this crossroad.”
Mrs. McNeill nodded. “Right. All we need are a few weapons . . . just in case. And have Paige orb us there. Let’s go.”
“What about extra help?” Paige asked.
“We don’t have time to gather others.” The older woman started toward the castle.
Once inside, Jamie led the three women to a room filled with an array of weapons – hunting rifles, shotguns, swords, sabers, axes and crossbows of different varieties. Both Cecile and Paige chose crossbows. Mrs. McNeill picked up a taser, generating curious stares from the younger women. “Trust me, it will come in handy. You’ll see.”
Jamie removed a revolver from a desk. It was a Glock. “Where did you get that?” Paige asked, pointing at the weapon.
“It belongs to me,” he replied. “Police officer. Remember?”
“Oh. Okay.” Paige glanced at the others. “Everyone ready?”
Cecile took a deep breath and nodded. She locked hands with the three witches and the Charmed One orbed them out of the castle.
The black Morris-Oxford continued along the narrow road, as it conveyed its passengers toward Kilbourn. “How long before we’re there?” Len asked, as he drove the car.
“In another twenty minutes,” replied Russell, who sat next to him in the passenger seat. “We should be meeting our client near the Lindisfarne Crags.” He glanced at the trio sitting in the back seat. “And how is our supercargo?”
Dave, who sat between Keira and Liam, answered, “So far, she hasn’t fallen out of the boot.”
A smile touched Russell’s lips. “Good. Now, once we reach our client, I will take her back to Dunleith. She can give me a lift. The rest of you can take the witch to a nearby cottage, just west of the crags, and kill her. Make sure the body won’t be found before . . .”
The cry from Len took Russell by surprise. “What the hell is the mat . . .?” The last word died on his lips, as he spotted a figure in the middle of the road. A figure who bore a strong resemblance to their hostage. Only this red-haired woman held what looked like a taser. “Shit! Run her down, Len!”
“What?” The fair-haired man stared at Russell.
“Run the bloody bitch down! Now!”
Russell’s command seemed to have finally reached Len’s brain. The latter immediately pressed down on the pedal, accelerating the car toward the woman in the road. Before the car could reach her, a bolt of lightning burst from her raised hand. Everyone, Russell included, cried out in shock. The car careened toward the side of the road and into a ditch. And Russell cried, “Bloody hell!”
Gweneth marched toward the car, raising her hand in a threatening manner. “Where’s my daughter?” she angrily demanded. Her three companions emerged from the underbrush, brandishing their own weapons.
A woman from the backseat climbed out of the car and waved her hand. Gweneth gasped aloud as all of their weapons – including her taser – flew out of their hands. The warlock was a telekinetic. At that moment, the kidnappers attacked.
Three of the men immediately went after Cecile, Jamie and Paige. Gweneth barely noticed, thanks to the female warlock, who sent the older woman flying away from the car. Sprawled upon the ground and stunned, Gweneth could only watch her companions fight off the warlocks’ attack. She saw Cecile engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a slim, dark-haired man with blue eyes. Jamie seemed busy with another warlock – who, like the female, was also dressed in a waiter’s uniform. And Paige seemed to be doing her level best to avoid the attack of a burly, fair-haired man.
As Gweneth struggled to her feet, she saw Cecile knock the dark-haired assailant to the ground with a well-aimed kick. The female warlock raised her hand for another attack, and the witch immediately attacked with a bolt of lightning. The warlock easily deflected the bolt toward Gweneth, using telekinesis. Fortunately, the older woman possessed even swifter reflexes. She held up her hand and cried, “Gwyro!” The electrical bolt immediately shot back toward the warlock’s right shoulder, knocking the young woman to the ground. Unconscious.
“Keira!” A man, older than his companions, sprang from the car and stared at his female companion in horror. Then he glared at Gweneth with murderous gray-blue eyes. “You bitch!” Before the witch knew what was happening, the man had transformed into a Doberman Pincher. He let out a deep growl and leaped toward Gweneth. She quickly released another bolt of electricity, striking the warlock/dog in the hind leg. The warlock whined in pain and fell to the ground. Then to Gweneth’s surprise, he transformed into a bird and flew away.
Turning her attention to the others, Gweneth noticed that the warlock fighting Jamie, had pulled a gun on the witch. The latter released a gust of cold wind, immobilizing the warlock into icy statue. The blond-haired man grabbed Paige from behind and cried, “Turn him back! Do it now, or I’ll break this witch’s neck!”
Before Gweneth or the others could do anything, Paige orbed out of the warlock’s grip and reappeared behind him. Then she kicked an ankle and finally, his legs out from under him. He fell to the ground, crying in pain.
Gweneth marched up to the remaining conscious warlock, as he continued to howl. “Where’s my daughter?” she demanded. “Where’s Olivia?”
“Oh God! Bloody hell! The bitch sprained me ankle!” the blond man cried.
An energy ball formed in Gwen’s hand. She took a step closer to the fallen man. “Unless you tell me where my daughter is, you’ll experience pain that will be a hell of a lot worse. Now, where . . . is . . . she?”
Fear flickered in the warlock’s blue eyes. “In the boot! She’s in the boot!”
Paige frowned. “Huh?”
“The trunk of the car,” Gweneth explained. “Cecile, Jamie . . .”
The other two needed no further explanations. They opened the car’s trunk and Cecile cried out, “She’s here! Olivia’s here! Unconscious, but otherwise okay!”
Gweneth allowed the energy ball to dissipate, before she rushed toward the car to check on her daughter. Olivia’s body laid inside the trunk, in a fetal position. Despite the small mark on the side of her neck and pale demeanor, she was breathing. Gweneth sighed with relief, as she helped Jamie and Cecile lift the unconscious woman out of the trunk. They gently placed her body on the side of the road.
Meanwhile, Paige whipped out her cell phone and called Colin. “Mr. McNeill is calling the police right now,” she said, after hanging up. Then she glanced at the four warlocks sprawled about the road. The ice surrounding the one Jamie had frozen, began to melt. “I hope that ice is gone before the police gets here.”
“No problem.” Jamie held up one finger. It glowed red. After touching the frozen warlock with his finger, the ice surrounding the latter, melted away. Jamie immediately snatched the gun from the warlock. “Not only am I a cyrokinetic,” he said, “but also a thermokinetic. I can affect the temperature of another object or my surroundings.”
Paige stared at him with admiring eyes. “Cool.”
Twenty minutes later, the police finally arrived at the crossroad to arrest the prisoners for kidnapping and assault. One constable noticed the burn mark on the female’s right shoulder and Mrs. McNeill immediately explained that she had used a taser. Paige wondered if arresting the warlocks would say anything, especially since one of them happened to be a telekinetic.
“Don’t worry,” Jamie said, after she had expressed her doubts. “One of the constables is a fellow witch. He’ll make sure that the warlocks’ powers are bound. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but at least she won’t be able to escape custody.”
Paige and her three companions eventually returned to the castle, with an unconscious Olivia in Jamie’s arms. After he had delivered his unconscious cousin in her bedroom, Jamie followed Paige downstairs. Both were surprised to discover the arrival of Piper, Leo, Barbara and Bruce. While Jamie enjoyed a brief reunion with Bruce and Barbara, Piper revealed that Phoebe had decided to remain in San Francisco and baby-sit Wyatt.
“Leo and I were surprised to find you gone when we got here,” Piper said, as her eyes roamed over the castle’s elegant drawing room. Both she and Leo seemed in awe of their grandeur surroundings. “Where were you?”
With a shrug, Paige replied, “Rescuing Olivia.” Her response drew surprised looks from the newcomers. “A bunch of warlocks tried to kidnap her. Have you guys been outside, yet? There’s a picnic going on.”
Leo shook his head. “No . . . uh, we had decided to wait for you.” He paused, as disbelief shone in his blue eyes. “Olivia was kidnapped? Where was Cole?”
Jamie replied, “Poor bastard is upstairs and barely conscious. One of the kidnappers had drugged him, before snatching Olivia. Mother and Cousin Elise made some healing tea for him and Olivia.”
Paige added, “Yeah, both of them are out of it, at the moment. Why don’t you guys go outside? Enjoy the picnic?”
While Piper and Barbara accepted the suggestion, both Leo and Bruce insisted upon learning from the others on what happened to Olivia. The three witches and the whitelighter found other members of the McNeill family discussing the situation.
“And the last warlock,” Colin McNeill was saying, “had escaped?”
Gweneth sighed. “What can I say, Colin? He transformed into a bird and flew away. I did manage to injure his leg.”
Looking anxious, Gweneth’s husband added, “Why did they attack Olivia in the first place? Why didn’t they just wait to see if she would get the staff, if they wanted it that badly?”
Jamie replied, “From what one of the warlocks had said before the police arrived, they were hired by some woman to kidnap Olivia. Apparently, she wanted the staff for herself. Unfortunately, the only one who has met their client is this Russell Pierce chap. The shapeshifter.”
“So, you have no idea of who wanted Olivia out of the way?” Leo asked. All eyes turned upon him. Jack introduced the whitelighter to the rest of the family gathered inside the room.
“Really Bruce,” Mrs. Ferguson commented, “I had no idea that you, Olivia and Harry still maintained a whitelighter.”
Bruce quickly replied, “Actually, Leo is more like a family friend to us.” His reply caused Leo’s face to turn red. “As for this mysterious client, I guess she’ll remain a mystery. Unless that fifth warlock can be found.”
“She?” Paige said.
Realization lit up Jamie’s eyes. “She! Of course, she!”
Jack frowned. “What are you getting at?”
Jamie exclaimed, “Fiona! Who else, besides Dennis, has a reason to prevent Olivia from acquiring the staff?”
“But we don’t know if Olivia will become the staff’s next bearer,” Margaret Ferguson protested.
“True, but Olivia’s pyrokinesis had manifested before the others,” Jamie continued. “If she, Fiona or Dennis dies, the chances for the surviving two of becoming the new bearer increases. And if dear Cousin Fiona is this mysterious client, she must believe that Olivia has the best chance of becoming the new bearer. Let’s face it, Olivia has always been a more talented witch than either Fiona or Dennis.”
Paige finally understood what Jamie was talking about. “Now I get it!” Her outcry attracted everyone else’s attention. “It’s like with me and my sisters. If Prue had lived, I would have never become part of the Power of Three. Even if my own powers had been restored. Only the three oldest living sisters were destined to be the Charmed Ones.”
“And when Prue died,” Leo added, “Paige became one. It’s the same with Olivia, right? With her dead, this Fiona person obviously thought she would have a better chance of getting the staff. Only . . . why wait until the day of the ceremony to snatch Olivia?”
Colin grimly answered, “We will soon find out.”
Harry stood inside a small room with his grandmother and Cecile, adjacent to the library. The three telepaths held their breaths and listened, while his parents and Colin questioned an angry Fiona.
“How dare you?” the Scotswoman exclaimed angrily. “How dare you suggest that I would stoop to kidnapping and murder to acquire the Aingeal staff?”
Colin’s voice replied, “Those warlocks had claimed that a woman had hired them to kidnap Olivia. We cannot think of any other female with a reason to get Olivia out of the way.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of other women who would!” Fiona retorted. “And for reasons, other than that staff!”
Harry exchanged glances with his two companions, while Jack said, “Do you expect us to believe that you had nothing to do with Olivia being kidnapped? Are you saying that Dennis is responsible?”
“And why not?” Fiona shot back. “He probably wants the staff, badly! For all we know, I was to be his next victim.”
Gweneth’s voice rang with steel, as she reminded Fiona that the warlocks in custody had all confirmed that their client was a woman. “And I certainly do not recall Dennis being a shapeshifter.”
“I’ve had enough!” Colin demanded to know where Fiona was going. She snapped, “Back to the fete! I would have left, after being insulted like this. But I have a ceremony to participate in, tonight!” The sound of a door slamming shut, immediately followed.
Seconds later, Harry, Gran and Cecile filed into the library. Colin turned to them. “Well?” he demanded.
The three telepaths exchanged glances, before Gran finally spoke. “I believe she’s telling the truth. She had nothing to do with Olivia’s kidnapping.”
Cecile added, “I agree. Fiona’s innocent.” She paused. “Unfortunately.”
“Harry?” Jack asked his son.
As much as he hated to say it . . . “She’s innocent,” Harry said with a sigh.
“Well that’s bloody marvelous!” Gweneth exclaimed. “Our only decent suspect is innocent. And the only person who can identify this mysterious culprit is now a bird, heading for God knows where!”
Harry added, “Maybe Fiona had a point about Dennis being the one. I mean he is a witch. It wouldn’t be impossible for him to use some kind of shapeshifting spell.”
The others stared at him and Harry found himself wishing he had kept his mouth shut. But the idea of Dennis transforming into a woman did not seem that impossible. Did it?
END OF PART V
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