“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”
Upon their return from Sausalito, Chris had orbed to the Whitelighter Realm to inform the Council about Mathilda Everard’s part in the Elders’ murders. Only Chris never received the chance, due to the Council being in closed session. Instead, Chris encountered Leo. The latter tried to get inside the Council, but like Chris before him – failed. The two whitelighters returned to the Halliwell manor, arguing over who should approach the remaining Elders.
His face red with anger, Leo shot back, “This isn’t the time to be arguing over who has jurisdiction, Chris! We have important news for the Elders. And since they are probably more inclined to listen . . .”
The doorbell rang, interrupting the whitelighters’ quarrel. “Who’s that?” Piper asked.
Paige marched to the front door and opened it. Cole stood on the stoop, outside. “Hey,” he greeted. “Is Phoebe here?”
Phoebe joined her younger sister at the door. “Cole! What are you doing here?”
“I had called your office for a lunch date,” the half-demon replied. “But you weren’t there. In fact,” he glanced at his watch, “weren’t you due back nearly a half-hour ago?” Paige allowed him inside the house.
A gasp left Phoebe’s mouth. “Oh my God! I forgot!” She rushed toward the telephone. “I better call in sick.”
Paige shrugged. “I don’t think that argument is going to get me anywhere. I better get back to work. I hope Barbara isn’t pissed.”
“Surely she would understand what’s going on?” Piper added.
“Maybe. But it’s been very busy at the store, lately. Inventory.”
Cole glanced at the others. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Leo immediately replied.
Paige said at the same time, “We found out who’s been killing the Elders.”
“Paige!” The blond whitelighter looked upset.
The youngest Charmed One stared at her brother-in-law. “What? Cole knows about the murders!” She turned to the half-demon. “It’s Mathilda.”
Cole’s blue eyes expressed surprise. “Really? The Elder who had tried to get me killed?”
“That’s the one. Blood thirsty lady, isn’t she? Chris and Leo have been arguing over who gets to tell the Whitelighter Council.”
Now it was Piper’s turn to protest. “Paige! Don’t you have to get back to work?”
“So, Natalia is no longer the main suspect?” Cole asked. Everyone, including Phoebe who had hung up, stared at him.
Leo’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you so concerned about Natalia?”
Cole hesitated. Then he sighed. “Since you’ve discovered the real culprit, I might as well tell you. Natalia Stepanova is at my place. She has been, since yesterday evening.”
“What?” Leo cried.
Phoebe exclaimed at the same time, “Cole! Why didn’t you tell me? Tell us?”
“I should have known,” Piper added sarcastically.
The half-demon held up his hand to silence the others. “If you must know, Natalia had asked the Gimle Order to give her sanctuary from your Council. Marbus brought her to me. He figured that I would be powerful enough to protect her from your Elders. But since you found out that my old buddy, Mathilda is responsible, I might as well tell her.”
“We . . . might as well tell her,” Chris added. “We’re going with you.”
Cole seared the younger whitelighter with a cold glare. “I don’t recall inviting you to my apartment. And what makes you think I’ll allow you inside?”
Chris nearly wilted under the half-demon’s intimidating stare. Paige came to his rescue. “Because it would mean a big favor for us,” she added in a conciliatory tone. “Please?”
“All right,” Cole said with a nod. “Let’s go.”
Paige grabbed her purse. “I’d like to join you, but I’ve got to get going. See you guys later.” And she orbed out of the manor.
Serafina Villabos reacted with shock at Gideon’s suggestion for a new Council member. “Are you serious? Mathilda?” she cried. “Our predecessors had removed her for a reason!”
“For trying to get rid of Belthazor?” Gideon retorted. “At least she tried. Which is more than I can say for the rest of my former colleagues.”
The Costa Rica-born Elder shot back, “She had gone behind the Council’s back! Furthermore, she had convinced a whitelighter to coerce a witch into committing the deed!”
“Certain situations called for difficult . . . acts! I say that we invite Mathilda to the Council.” When William and Serafina failed to respond, Gideon added, “The Realm’s leadership is in dire straits! Mathilda happens to be one of our oldest and more experienced whitelighters now surviving. Both Johann and I believe it would be a grave error not to invite her back on the Council.”
Johann spoke up. “Gideon is right.”
A sigh left William’s mouth. “All right. I’m convinced.”
Serafina let out a small huff. “I suppose that we can give her another chance,” she said morosely.
“Good!” Gideon smiled brightly, much to Johann’s amusement. “Why don’t we summon the candidates? Now?”
The four Elders closed their eyes. Seconds later, five whitelighters materialized before the Council. Among them, Mathilda Everard and Johann’s fellow darklighter, Belinda. Gideon explained the circumstances surrounding their summons. Johann noted that while the other candidates seemed surprised, a smug smile appeared on Belinda’s lips. As for Mathilda . . . she literally radiated with triumphant.
Just before Cole’s arrival at the Halliwell manor, Darryl’s sedan entered the underground parking lot, below Olivia’s apartment building. “Are you sure it’s okay to park here?” he asked his partner.
“Don’t worry, Darryl. You can use my space,” Olivia reassured him. She pointed at the aforementioned spot. “Right over there.”
After Darryl parked the car, the two police officers climbed out. They had left Scott Yi behind to deal with the cleanup at the Bryant auction house. As they approached the elevator, Olivia spotted a woman struggling to dump a large plastic bag into one of the building’s garbage cans. The latter turned away from garbage can and started toward the elevator. Olivia’s eyes narrowed. At five-feet-five and dark-haired, the woman looked very familiar.
“Good evening,” Olivia greeted politely. “Have we met before?”
The woman, who now stood before the other two, let out a gasp. Then she began to disappear before a cluster of blue lights. Olivia grabbed Darryl’s hand, much to the latter’s surprise, before grabbing hold of the woman’s arm. All three ended up in front of Cole’s penthouse.
“What are you . . . what are you doing?” the woman cried. She spoke in a thick Russian accent. “Let go of me!”
Olivia stared at the double doors leading to Cole’s penthouse. “What is a whitelighter doing here?” she asked.
“I . . .” Again, the woman’s body began to break into a cluster of blue lights. She cried, “Get me inside that penthouse! Quick!”
Olivia forced the doors open, using her telekinesis. Then she forced both the woman and Darryl inside, before following them. Once she closed the doors, she frowned at the woman. “I know you, don’t I?” Then she took in the high cheekbones, the oval-shaped face and dark brown eyes. “Wait a minute! You’re Cousin Keith’s whitelighter! Or you used to be!”
Darryl tapped Olivia’s shoulder. “What the hell is going on?”
“That’s what I like to know.” Olivia continued to stare at the woman. “Well?”
The woman blinked. “You’re a McNeill?”
“Olivia McNeill.” The redhead held out her hand. “One of the American cousins.”
“And I’m Natalia Stepanova. Of course you must know that, by now.” The whitelighter stared at Darryl. “And you are . . .?”
The police lieutenant answered, “Darryl Morris. Olivia’s partner on the police force.” He offered his hand to the whitelighter, who shook it.
Natalia nodded. “Of course! I have heard of you. A friend of Leo’s and the Charmed Ones. No?”
“Uh . . . yeah. By the way, what the hell was that about?”
Olivia added, “I’d like to know.”
Confusion lit up Natalia’s dark eyes. “Have you not heard what is going on in the Whitelighter Realm? The Elders are being murdered, one by one.”
“What?” Both Olivia and Darryl stared at the whitelighter. The former added, “What are you talking about? What does this have to do with Cole?”
After the two partners sat down on the sofa, they listened to Natalia’s tale of death and evasion. When she finished, Darryl said, “So, Cole is giving you refuge?”
The whitelighter replied, “Yes.”
“Then why are you . . .?”
Looking slightly embarrassed, Natalia answered, “Uh . . . the garbage. Bel-, I mean, Cole forgot to remove it, this morning. I became worried about the odor and decided to remove it myself. When you two approached me, I panicked and orbed here. Obviously, the Council or someone in the Realm must have detected me when I used my power.” She paused. “Would you two like a drink? Some tea, perhaps? I just prepared some.”
Darryl shrugged. “Sounds great to me.” Olivia glared at him. “What?”
Olivia sighed. Ever since stepping foot inside the penthouse, she had been feeling slightly uncomfortable. “We really need to get going. Darryl and I have some research to do.”
“Oh, you mean the medallions?”
Natalia frowned. “What medallions?”
Darryl told the whitelighter about their present case – the deaths of the shop owner and the art dealer and their connection to a petty thief and auction house in the city.”
“Perhaps there is something about them in one of Cole’s books.” Natalia pointed at the bookshelf opposite the fireplace. “Why don’t you look, while I prepare your tea?” She headed toward the kitchen.
Olivia glanced at Darryl, who nodded. Then she stood up and walked over to the bookcase. As she perused each shelf, a book on the third shelf attracted her attention – “HISTORY OF INTERDIMENSIONAL LEGENDS AND LORE” by Aubrey deMariposa. “This looks interesting,” she murmured. “Never seen a copy of it, before.” She removed the book from the shelf and opened it. The copyright date read 1911 – 73rd edition. “Goddess! How old is this book?”
“What did you find?” Darryl asked.
Olivia joined him on the sofa. “A book that I’ve never heard of, before.” She opened the book. One page featured a familiar item. “Well, well. If it isn’t the Staff of Aingeal.”
“Isn’t that the staff you had brought back from Scotland, last summer?” Darryl commented.
“It certainly is.”
Natalia returned with a tray containing a teapot, three cups, a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. She placed it on the coffee table, before sitting next to Olivia, and glanced at the book. “Ah! Keith’s staff. The last time I saw it was four years ago, when he helped my charge and I deal with a powerful wizard. Unpleasant fellow. I understand that you now have it, Miss McNeill. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Olivia murmured, not knowing how to take the compliment. The witch continued her examination of the book. She finally came upon a page that featured a drawing of . . .
“The medallion!” Darryl cried. Natalia handed him a cup of tea. “Or maybe I should say, medallions? There seemed to be nine of them.”
Olivia read from the book. “The medallions of Erebor. Two thousand years ago, a powerful daemon named Kiro had asked a deity or a dominion named Erebor to create nine medallions for him and his order. Erebor was willing to create the medallions, in exchange for services from Kiro’s order. It doesn’t really go into details in what deeds Kiro and his followers had to commit for Erebor. But the medallions were forged and given to the daemon. Before he and his order could use it, a wizard named Caedmon had snatched the medallions and hid them throughout Europe, Asia and Northern Africa.”
“What did this Kiro plan to do with the medallions?” Natalia asked.
After further reading, Olivia gasped aloud. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “Those medallions would allow anyone who is not a whitelighter into their Realm – without the assistance of said whitelighter.”
“So, one of these medallions could get me into the Whitelighter Realm without Leo or Paige?” Darryl asked.
Olivia nodded. “Not only that, but each medallion would also give the bearer whitelighter powers.
Anxiety filled Natalia’s eyes. “My God! And two of those medallions have already been found!”
“Who knows how many of those medallions have been found or are in use?” Olivia added. “Don’t forget . . . according to one of Lin Bryant’s men, she had been hired by the Magan Corporation to search for them, some five or six years ago. She may have . . .”
At that moment, five people materialized in the middle of the living room, causing Olivia to break off. She gawked at the newcomers. Her heart twisted at the sight of Cole . . . and of Phoebe clutching his arm.
Cole regarded the whitelighter and two police officers with a mixture of surprise and a little hostility. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded in an angry voice.
END OF CHAPTER 11