“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”
A crowd of whitelighters stared at the corpse sprawled in the middle of the corridor. Among them were two women – Natalia Stepanova and Barbara deVilliers. “Mon dieu!” the latter declared in shocked tone. “I cannot believe this has happened! One of the Elders killed?”
“Trust me, my friend, I am quite stunned myself,” Natalia replied, shaking her head. “There will be an emergency meeting over this, of course.”
Barbara stared at her fellow whitelighter. “How can you be so calm about this, Natalia? An Elder is dead! Murdered! This is the first time anything like this has happened.”
“I am far from calm. In fact, I am worried.” Natalia continued to stare at the corpse. “After so many attempts, someone has finally been able to kill an Elder.”
Natalia continued, “Remember the warlock who had killed several witches, a darklighter and a fellow whitelighter in order to acquire an orbing power?”
“I remember,” Barbara said with a nod. “I also remember that the whitelighter who had been killed was also named Natalia.”
“Close. Actually, her name was Natalie,” the Russian corrected. She pointed at a familiar, blond-haired whitelighter. “If Leo, over there, had not brought the Charmed Ones up here, the entire Realm would have been destroyed. And let’s not forget the Titans.” Both women shuddered. “And the attack on Elder Ramus, while he was preparing to retire.” Natalie’s mouth formed a thin line. “I had once warned the Council to prepare for possible chao after the death of the last Source. I only hope they will heed our warning.”
Barbara harbored the same hope.
A gasp left Olivia’s mouth, as she whirled around to see who had uttered her name. The last person she had expected to see in her apartment was a slim, dark-haired young man in his early twenties. He possessed blue eyes that seemed very familiar.
“Who in the hell are you?” she demanded angrily. “And what are you doing in my apartment?”
The young man winced at her hostile tone. “I’m Chris. Chris Perry. Your new whitelighter. Didn’t your brothers tell you about me?”
“No, they didn’t,” Olivia snapped back. “And I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have a whitelighter – new or old.” She paused and gave the newcomer a hard stare. “What happened to Leo?”
The whitelighter – or Chris – shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “The Council had suspended him. I’ve taken over responsibility for all of his charges.”
Olivia allowed one brow to form a dubious arch. “Taken responsibility?”
“Yes. His charges are now mine.” Chris’ face turned red.
Smiling coolly, Olivia said, “Since Leo wasn’t my whitelighter at the time of his suspension, I guess that means that you are not my whitelighter now. Hasn’t anyone told you?”
His blue eyes clouded with confusion, Chris shook his head. “The Halliwells and your brothers had never said anything about . . .” He broke off under Olivia’s intense stare.
“So, you’ve met the rest of them.”
Chris opened his mouth . . . and then shut it. Another moment passed before he finally answered, “Yeah. Um, earlier this evening.”
“Yes, and about me not being your whitelighter . . . you have to understand. There has been . . .”
Olivia interrupted him. “Let’s get something straight, shall we Chris? One, my official relationship with Leo and the Whitelighter Realm had ended while I was in college, twelve years ago. We’ve been friends since . . . well, until he and Paul Margolin had set me up to kill Cole nearly two weeks ago.” Olivia took a step closer toward the young whitelighter. Who took a step back. “As far as I’m concerned, the Whitelighter Council can go to hell. As long as you remember that, we can get along just fine. Okay?”
A slack-jawed Chris stared at her in shock. “Uh . . . yeah. Okay.”
“Good.” Olivia paused, reluctant to ask the next question, but her curiosity got the best of her. “So, what exactly happened to Leo?”
“He was re-assigned,” Chris explained. “To the Realm’s Sorting Department. He’ll be . . .” The whitelighter glanced up. Olivia knew what that meant. A summons from the Elders Council. “Uh, I’ve got to . . .”
Olivia sighed. “I understand. Nice meeting you, Chris.”
The whitelighter shot her an uneasy glance. “Yeah. Nice meeting you, too.” He orbed out of the apartment. Olivia continued to stare at the now empty spot. What was it about Chris that seemed so familiar to her?
Piper glanced at the grandfather clock inside the living room. It read six minutes after ten. She frowned. Leo had informed her that he would be home at least by eight. He was now two hours and seven . . . eight minutes late. Exactly how many charges did he and Chris visit?”
“Piper, will you please stop staring at that clock?” Phoebe demanded.
The oldest Charmed One heaved a sigh. “I can’t help it. Leo was supposed to be home by now. His dinner is getting cold.”
“Well, he is a whitelighter, Piper. Since when has Leo ever kept a regular schedule?” Phoebe returned her attention to the magazine in her hand.
Staring at her younger sister, Piper realized that something seemed amiss. “Wait a minute! You’re home!”
“Didn’t you go over to Cole’s place?”
“Yeah, I did. He’s busy.” Phoebe turned a page. “Working on a case. We talked a little about Chris . . . and then he asked me to leave.” She turned another page.
Piper frowned. That did not sound like the old Cole Turner, who would have dropped everything at the crook of Phoebe’s finger. Times certainly have changed. Her husband orbed into the living room, before she could comment. One glance at Leo’s expression told Piper that he was troubled. “Leo? Are you okay?”
“Uh . . .” The whitelighter regarded the two Halliwells with dazed eyes. “There’s . . .” He glanced around. “Where’s Paige?”
Piper cried out her youngest sister’s name. A minute later, Paige emerged from the Sun Room. “I’m in the middle of a good movie. This had better be good.”
Leo took a deep breath. “I have some bad news. There’s been . . . well, there’s been a murder.”
Phoebe frowned. “A potential whitelighter?”
“Worse.” Leo paused. “An Elder.”
The news took the Charmed Ones by surprise. “What?” Piper exclaimed. “How is that possible?” The whitelighter explained that Elder Sylvester Monroe had been killed by an unknown person with a darklighter’s arrow. Piper added, “What was he doing here on Earth?”
“He had been killed up there,” Leo corrected. “In the Realm. I just . . . I can’t imagine who would want an Elder killed.”
Phoebe immediately replied, “A demon, for one. Or how about the Titans?”
“Phoebe, we had managed to deal with the Titan problem last spring. Remember?” Leo heaved a sigh. “Thanks to Chris and a few deities we had summoned.”
Speaking of their new whitelighter . . . “Where exactly is Chris?” Piper demanded. “Shouldn’t he be telling us this news, himself?”
“Piper! There’s been a murder in the Whitelighter Realm, and all you can do is be concerned about him?”
Rolling her eyes, Piper muttered, “I never said I was concerned about him. Sheesh!” Then an idea came to her. “If this Elder Sylvester was killed up there, then a demon couldn’t have possibly killed him.”
“Unless he or she had stolen whitelighter powers,” Phoebe said. “Like that warlock, over two years ago. Other than that, no demon is powerful enough to orb up to the Realm.”
Piper realized that she might be risking Phoebe’s wrath with her next statement. But someone had to say it. “What about Cole?” she quietly asked. “I mean . . . he’s probably more powerful than any other magical being right now. At least more powerful than the Source used to be. Or an Elder.”
As expected, Phoebe angrily rounded on her sister. “Are you saying that Cole did it? Is that it, Piper?”
“I didn’t say that he had done it!” Piper lowered her voice. “I was simply contemplating if he was capable of going to the Whitelighter Realm all on his own.”
“And killing an Elder.” Phoebe’s anger continued to simmer. “Why now, Piper? It’s been a year since he came back from the Wasteland!”
Oh God! Piper bit back a sigh. She had forgotten how much a drama queen Phoebe could be. “Okay Pheebs! Take it easy. It was just a suggestion.”
Paige added, “I have one.” Everyone stared at her. “Maybe the Elder had been killed by another whitelighter. Like Mathilda, for instance.”
Leo immediately came to his former superior’s defense. “No way! Not Mathilda! She would never . . . C’mon! Mathilda? Killing a whitelighter? Why?”
“I don’t Leo,” Paige sarcastically replied. “Maybe she was pissed for being kicked off the Council. After her little plan to get rid of Cole had failed.”
Phoebe nodded her head. “I can buy that.”
“So can I,” Piper added. Oddly enough, she could. She had never said a word to Leo, but she had been appalled by his participation in the attempt on Cole’s life. It was one thing if the half-demon had genuinely posed an immediate threat to innocents. But there had been no immediate threat. Except from Mathilda, Paul Margolin, and sadly enough . . . Leo. Even worse, Leo and Paul had used Olivia McNeill in the worst possible way – against her will.
Leo stared at his wife in horror. “Piper!”
“How can you . . .?” The whitelighter took a deep breath. “Whitelighters don’t kill!”
Phoebe snorted with derision. “Yet, apparently they plot with witches to commit cold-blooded murder. And what about Nina Kriegler? You know, the bitch that had hired a telepath to screw around with my head? Wasn’t she a former whitelighter?”
Piper realized that Phoebe had a point. And like her sisters, she gave Leo a challenging stare. Before he could respond, his head cocked upward. A summons from the Elders. “I have to leave,” Leo finally said. He orbed out of the living room.
A sigh left Piper’s mouth. As usual, her husband had disappeared on her again, thanks to the mighty Elders. Hopefully, this would be the last time – at least while Leo’s suspension remained in effect.
Nearly every whitelighter available had gathered in the Realm’s great hall, for the big meeting. Leo noticed Chris standing several feet away from him. His attention became distracted by the appearance of Elder MacKenzie, who strode toward the podium.
“I have several announcements to make,” the Elder declared. First, he announced Elder Sylvester’s death. No one seemed surprised by the announcement. News of the Elder’s murder had spread quickly among the whitelighters. “I can assure you that the party responsible will be discovered and swiftly punished,” Elder MacKenzie added.
Low murmurs filled the vast hall. Leo had a good suspicion of what his colleagues were thinking. The warlock who had infiltrated the Realm over two years ago.
MacKenzie continued, “Meanwhile, I would also like to announce two new members to the Council.” Two? Leo along with several other whitelighters frowned. What did Elder MacKenzie mean by . . .? T hen he remembered. Not only did they have to replace Sylvester, but Mathilda, as well. Two robed figures appeared next to the Elder. “Our first new member of the Council will be Serafina Villabos.” The shorter newcomer removed a hood, revealing a handsome, bronze-skinned woman with thick black hair. “She has been willing to replace Elder Sylvester at such a short notice.
“Our other new Elder had been accepted by the Council sometime earlier,” MacKenzie added. The second figure pulled back a hood, revealing a man of medium height, with violet eyes peering from a thin, sharp pale face. Leo blinked. Why did this new Elder seem familiar? “I would like to introduce you to Elder Johann Bauer, who has replaced Mathilda Everard. Please welcome both of our new members.”
The audience broke into an applause. Including Leo. Yet, he continued to stare at the newly initiated Elder Bauer, wondering why the name and the face seemed familiar. He glanced at Chris, whose eyes seemed to regard the Great Hall with awe. Odd, for an allegedly experienced whitelighter.
Once the applause died down, MacKenzie continued, “I hope that you will all serve our new Council members with the same respect that you do toward the rest of the oth . . .” He broke off, as a whitelighter appeared and rushed toward him. The newcomer whispered something into the Elder’s ear, causing the latter’s face to turn white.
A brown-skinned whitelighter named Chauncey whispered in Leo’s ear. “I wonder what that’s all about.”
“Doesn’t sound good,” Leo whispered back.
Sure enough, a shaken Elder MacKenzie faced the crowd. “I have some disturbing news. The bodies of Elder Godfrey Davis and Elder Isak Kulle have been discovered outside the Council’s chambers.” He paused, as if to collect himself. “Killed by darklighter’s arrows.”
END OF CHAPTER 4