“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”
Leo had learned how the Elders punished Mathilda for the Olivia/Cole/Paul fiasco. Now, it was his turn to face the Council. Elder MacKenzie stared coldly at the younger whitelighter. “Leo Wyatt, you have been found guilty of withholding valuable information regarding the notorious Belthazor. Furthermore, you have conspired with former Elder Mathilda Everard to vanquish said demon without this council’s consent. The failure of your actions have resulted in the death of the loyal and valuable witch, Paul Margolin; and Olivia McNeill’s rejection of this council’s authority.”
Olivia’s rejection of the Council’s authority? Leo nearly snorted with derision. Whatever happened to free will? And whom were they kidding? Olivia had ceased to acknowledge the Council’s authority some thirteen years ago.
Elder McKenzie continued, “It is the judgment of this Council that you be suspended from your duties as whitelighter to your charges for six months, as measured on Earth.” Dread overwhelmed Leo. He knew what that meant. His wings would be clipped. Again. However, Elder MacKenzie dispelled Leo’s fears with the following words. “Instead, you will assist Ludmilla Kamilov in the Sorting Department for six hours everyday, as measured in this realm.”
Leo wished that he could feel relief over the Council’s final sentence. Unfortunately, the feeling failed to materialize. He realized that the Elders had enacted an appropriate punishment – forcing him to assist the notoriously brusque Ludmilla Kamilov to distribute assignments to new whitelighters for six months. Only God knew how long those six hours would measure on Earth. It was a task that he did not look forward to. Oh well. At least he would keep his wings.
The Elders added, “Do you have anything to say, Mr. Wyatt?”
Oh yes. Leo had forgotten. “Uh, who will be responsible for my charges?” he asked.
A young man in his early twenties strode into the chamber and stopped beside Leo. Handsome in a boyish, yet intense manner; he possessed dark brown hair and wide blue eyes. He also struck a familiar chord within Leo. “You remember Mr. Christopher Perry, don’t you Leo?” Elder Sylvester commented. “He had helped us in that matter regarding the Titans, last spring.”
Now Leo remembered. The time traveler. “Oh. Yeah, uh . . . why isn’t . . .?” He faced the whitelighter standing next to him. “Aren’t you supposed to be back in the future, or something?”
“I’m afraid that Christopher is trapped here in the past at the moment,” Sylvester continued. “He was unable to return to his own time. At least permanently. There are several whitelighters working on the matter.”
Leo continued to stare at his replacement. “Oh. Um . . .”
After a brief hesitation, Leo continued, “Isn’t . . . isn’t Chris a little young to act as whitelighter to my charges? Especially the Charmed Ones? Let alone, unexperienced?” He added to Chris, “No offense.”
A touch of frost glazed over Chris’ blue eyes. “None taken. Don’t worry. I’ve had experience in the future.”
Elder Madeline Pivet smiled placidly. “There. You see? You have nothing to worry about, Leo. Christopher will do an admirable job with your charges. And do not forget – there were those who had believed you were not experienced enough to deal with the Charmed Ones, considering you had been a whitelighter for fifty odd years at the time.”
“Oh. Of course.” Leo struggled to prevent his resentment from overwhelming him. “Whatever you say.” He glanced at Chris and noticed that the latter’s eyes also flashed with resentment. Interesting.
Marbus stepped out of the elevator and strode down the corridor of Jackman, Carter and Kline Law Offices’ tenth floor. He entered one of the offices and halted in front of the desk that belonged to his nephew’s assistant. “Good afternoon . . . Miss Read, isn’t it?”
The handsome-looking woman responded with a strained smile. “Mr. Farrell. Good morn . . . I mean, good afternoon. Uh, I’ll inform Mr. Turner that you’re here.” Her smile disappeared, while the strained expression remained.
Realizing that something was amiss, Marbus frowned. “Miss Read? Is there a problem? You look a bit peaked.”
“Huh? Uh . . . it’s no . . .” Miss Read hesitated. Then she gave her head a quick shake. “It’s nothing.”
“Is it Bel . . . uh, Mr. Turner?”
Again, the legal assistant hesitated. She sighed. “I’m sorry to say this, but he’s been a big . . . I mean, rather difficult, lately. I don’t know. It seems as if he’s had some burr up his ass for the past week-and-a-half.”
Another sigh left Miss Read’s mouth. “I’ll announce you.” She picked up the telephone and dialed an extension. “Mr. Turner, your uncle is here to see you.” After a brief pause, she hung up and glanced at Marbus. “You may go in.”
Marbus gave her a reassuring smile. “Thank you, Miss Read. Take care.” He strode into his nephew’s office and found the younger daemon barking at someone on the telephone.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the hours of Hudson Enterprises, Greg!” Cole shouted into the receiver. “I want a copy of that file within 24 hours!” He slammed the receiver down and faced his uncle. A polite smile replaced the scowl on his face. “Marbus. What brings you here?”
The older daemon warily eyed his nephew. “I meant to treat you to lunch, today. At a place called Vornado’s. You’ll never believe who owns it.”
“Riggerio,” Cole sharply replied. “But I thought his place was a jazz club.”
Ignoring Cole’s curt attitude, Marbus added, “Apparently, he has decided to open the place for lunch, as well.”
“How nice.” Cole began to sort through a pile of files on his desk.
Marbus decided that he had enough of his nephew’s churlish behavior. “All right, boyo! Is there a reason why you’re acting like a complete bastard?”
“It’s nothing,” Cole murmured.
“Oh I see. So, this has nothing to do with Fran? Or Olivia?”
Cole stared at him with intense blue eyes. “Her name is Phoebe, okay? Phoebe, not Fran!” he snapped. “And what exactly are you getting at?”
“Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes, boy,” Marbus coolly replied. “I’m not the only one who has noticed your foul mood, lately. What’s wrong?”
A heavy sigh left Cole’s mouth, as he leaned back against his chair. “Nothing. It’s . . . aw shit! I think I may have made a big mistake.”
Looking morose, Cole continued, “I . . . when Olivia was still under that spell, Phoebe had suggested we get back together.”
Marbus nodded. “I understand. And you said yes.”
“Yeah. I was pretty upset over Olivia dumping me.” Cole shrugged his shoulders before sighing. “Only I didn’t know at the time she was under Margolin’s spell. And after the whole thing ended, Phoebe showed up to help me recover. Two days later . . . Olivia dropped by. Only Phoebe was there.”
“Bloody hell!” Marbus exclaimed.
Cole added wryly, “Precisely. You should have seen what happened. Olivia looked as if someone had stunned her with a cattle prod. Phoebe practically claimed me for herself – making sure that Olivia knew that we were a couple. And I couldn’t say a goddamn word.”
Poor bastard, Marbus thought. What a bloody mess. He felt sorry for his nephew – being torn between two women. “How odd,” he commented. “Nearly a year ago, you were determined to win back Fran . . . uh, Phoebe. And now you seemed to have her back . . . against your will. I guess love sometimes die.”
“I never said that I no longer love Phoebe!” Cole protested.
Giving his nephew a shrewd look, Marbus countered, “Aye, but you’re no longer ‘in love’ with her. Are you?”
“Look Marbus . . .” Cole began.
The older daemon interrupted, “Bloody hell, boy! Answer the question! Am I right? Aren’t you really in love with Olivia?”
Cole’s mouth tightened, as he glared at his uncle. “This conversation is over,” he snapped.
Exasperated by his nephew’s stubbornness and repressive nature, Marbus sighed. “If you insist. By the way, are you still available for lunch?”
“Yeah. Sure,” Cole mumbled. “But I thought you would be having lunch with the likes of Mark Giovanni.”
Marbus rolled his eyes at the mention of the wine grower’s name. “Good grief! Do me a favor, lad. Try not to mention that man’s name during the next hour or so. After spending two weeks with that family, I’m about to go out of me bloody mind. In my humble opinion, the entire family needs a good psycho analyst.”
Cole chuckled – a sound Marbus had wondered if he would ever hear again. “God Marbus! Who on this earth doesn’t need a psychiatrist?”
“Besides,” Marbus added, ignoring the other daemon’s sardonic comment, “there hasn’t been an attack on Mark since that incident with the darklighter and her warlock.”
Cole grunted. “Don’t worry. I’m sure that the Magan Corporation is thinking of another way to get its hands on Mark’s Oakville property. Which is why I would be grateful if you can remain ‘friends’ with him.”
“All right,” Marbus protested. “But I need a break from him. At least today. If you don’t mind.” He opened the door. “Ready to go?”
“Ready.” Cole grabbed his jacket and brushed past his uncle. Marbus quickly followed.
An upper-level daemon named Prax entered the plush office of the Magan Corporation’s CEO. Many employees found it odd that Mr. Arthur Winslow’s office was located on the building’s fourteenth floor, instead of the top floor. Prax knew the reason behind the location of Mr. Winslow’s office. He also knew that Winslow happened to be Artemus, another upper-level daemon and present head of the Khorne Order. And that Artemus wished to keep his presence a secret, in case someone had linked him to the no-longer-existing Arthur Winslow.
“Pardon me Artemus,” Prax said to the distinguished-looking man who sat behind a large desk.
Artemus glanced up from his work. Slightly annoyed by his assistant’s interruption, he growled, “What is it, Prax?”
“You have a visitor, sir.” Prax paused. “The . . . uh, the new darklighter that . . .”
The older daemon’s skin tingled with anticipation. “Show him in, Prax,” he ordered. “And please bring him a cup of his usual coffee.”
The minion responded with an obedient nod and ushered in the visitor. After Prax had disappeared, the darklighter eased into a chair opposite Artemus. “So,” the latter continued, “how is life in the Whitelighters’ Realm?”
Johann Bauer heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Intense. The Council is still shaken over Elder Everard’s plot to kill Belthazor.”
“The witch wasn’t able to kill him?” Artemus asked.
“She nearly accomplished the task . . .” Johann began.
Artemus’ brows rose questioningly. “Nearly?”
“Yes, but her brothers and the youngest Charmed One were able to stop her in time.” Johann heaved another sigh. “Mathilda had hoped that the McNeill witch would reveal her spell to vanquish Belthazor to the others, but . . . she has refused.”
Artemus shrugged. “Not surprising, since she’s in love with him. I will deal with Miss McNeill, later. However, we have a more pressing matter to discuss.” He allowed his eyes to bore into the darklighter’s. “Like the Elders’ Council.”
“I have informed Fraulein Everhard of your plan – as you had suggested. Although she was reluctant at first, she seemed eager to use it.” Johann’s voice expressed surprise in his last sentence.
The darklighter nodded. “Well . . . yes. I never thought a whitelighter would, uh . . .”
“Would what?” Artemus demanded. “Resort to violence to achieve a means? Why would you find that surprising? The whitelighters have been encouraging witches to kill all daemons on sight. With extreme prejudice. Many of them have never bothered to distinguish between daemons such as myself, and those who help other beings, like the Gimle daemons. As far as whitelighters like Mathilda are concerned, the only good daemon is a dead daemon. Please remember, Herr Bauer, that whitelighters used to be humans. When they became whitelighters, they failed to evolve beyond the usual human emotions – both positive and negative. Besides, I’ve heard of Mathilda Everard. A ruthless bitch, if all accounts of her are true. And very self-righteous. She’s one of those creatures who would resort to any means to further her cause. Even if it meant committing a few rotten deeds.”
Johann hesitated. “Does that include harming her fellow whitelighters?”
Allowing himself a wry smile, Artemus replied, “Of course. Look how she had plotted behind the Council’s back to manipulate the McNeill witch into killing Belthazor. Like I said – very ruthless. However,” Artemus’ smile hardened, “poor Miss Everhard is in for a very nasty surprise. A very nasty one, indeed.”
END OF CHAPTER 2