“THE POWER OF ONE”
“Hey.” Jason popped into Phoebe’s private office.
The publisher leaned over Phoebe’s desk, his face hovering inches away from hers. “How about lunch . . . with me?” he asked in a seductive voice.
Smiling, Phoebe automatically picked up a paper weight that had been an office-warming present from Piper. “Well . . . hmmmm. Let me think about that,” she whispered. “Now, where do you plan to take me?”
“Well, there’s the Compass Rose at the St. Francis Hotel.”
Phoebe wrinkled her nose playfully. “Too stuffy. How about . . .?” A gasp left her mouth, as images of a demon attacking her older sister filled her mind. Despite Piper’s best efforts, the demon kills the oldest Charmed One and kidnaps a sleeping Wyatt. The vision ended with the disappearance of the demon and her nephew.
Jason stared at Phoebe, frowning. “Something wrong, honey? You looked a . . . I don’t know. A bit spaced out.”
“Oh, uh . . .” Phoebe quickly tried to think of an excuse. “It’s nothing. Nothing big. I . . . uh, just remembered.”
Think Phoebe, think! Finally an answer came to the Charmed One. “Uh . . . I just remembered that Piper wanted me to a favor for her. Pick up both her and the food she had prepared for some private luncheon at P3.”
Jason’s frown deepened. “A luncheon at a nightclub?”
“Actually . . . it’s a party. Office party.”
“Yeah, but at a night . . .”
Phoebe stood up and walked around her desk. “Oh baby, I’m sorry.” She planted a light kiss on Jason’s cheek. “I’m going to have to take a rain check on lunch, today.” Then she grabbed his arm and steered him toward the door. “We can have lunch, tomorrow.”
Reluctantly, Jason allowed himself to be dragged out of the office. “Okay, but you tell Piper that I’ve got you all booked for myself, tomorrow.”
“Okay baby. Bye.” Phoebe gave Jason one last kiss and slammed the door in his face. She leaned against the wall and sighed. Then she picked up the telephone receiver on her desk and dialed the number for Ostera’s.
After the third ring, a voice answered. “Ostera’s Herbal Shop. May I help you?”
“Hello? Who is this?” Phoebe demanded.
The voice continued, “This is Maddy. May I help you?”
“Maddy, this is Phoebe Halliwell. I need to speak with Paige. Is she there?”
Maddy replied, “Sorry, but she’s making a special delivery right now. I can take a message.”
Phoebe hesitated. Until she realized that she could reach Paige by the latter’s cell phone. “Never mind. I’ll call back, later.”
“Is this some kind of magical emergency?” Maddy’s question reminded Phoebe that the shop assistant happened to be a witch. “I could get hold of Barbara.”
“No, that’s okay. Thanks anyway. Bye.” Phoebe hung up the phone. Then she took a deep breath and cried out her whitelighter’s name. “Chris! Chris, I need you! Now!”
Around the same time of Jason’s visit to Phoebe’s office, Cecile sat inside the McNeill boardroom, as she provided the last figures for her presentation to the Board members. “Cresent, Incorporated now provides computer office software to over thirty companies and corporations in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and parts of the Southeast,” she concluded. “With McNeill Enterprises, I hope to expand distribution to the West Coast. I could provide the Board with a list of my clients and their contact numbers. I am sure they will confirm what I have just told you.”
Bursts of conversation broke out among the members inside the boardroom. Both Cole and Harry gave Cecile reassuring smiles. She smiled back, despite the fact that her heart was not really into the meeting at the moment. Cecile had managed to put aside her bleak mood regarding Andre during the meeting. But once she had completed her presentation, her mood immediately returned.
Perhaps she should consider ditching the idea of breaking up from Andre. To be honest, she did not really want to end their relationship. Hell, she was in love with him! Why on earth would she want to break up with the only true love she had ever had in her life?
Then Cecile thought of Piper Halliwell and Olivia’s former whitelighter. She recalled Olivia telling her about the couple’s difficult courtship and the problems they had encountered, getting married. Piper and Leo had viewed themselves as soulmates. Yet, less than three years after their wedding . . .
The vision hit Cecile’s mind without any warning. She saw Piper unsuccessfully fighting a demon. . . Piper dying . . . and the daemon stealing Wyatt from a basquinet before disappearing from the Halliwells’ Solarium. The vision ended and Cecile gasped out loud.
The others inside the boardroom stared at her. “Is there something wrong?” Cole asked.
“I . . .” Cecile began to rub her forehead. “I think I’m getting a slight headache. Uh, excuse me.” She stood up. Cole and the McNeills did the same.
Mr. McNeill gently took Cecile by the arm. “Why don’t you come inside my office, Cecile?” I’m sure that my assistant could find some aspirin or something for your headache. Cole?”
“Yeah.” The half-daemon and the witch escorted Cecile into the latter’s spacious office. Once they were alone, Cole demanded, “Are you really having a headache? Because if I didn’t know any better . . .”
Cecile sighed. “Yeah, I just had a vision. I saw some daemon killing Piper, before kidnapping Wyatt.”
Mr. McNeill frowned. “How is that possible? I thought that Wyatt had some kind of protective shield.”
“I only know what I saw,” Cecile insisted. She turned to Cole. “Maybe we should pop over there. Now.”
Cole nodded. “Yeah. Right.” He took hold of Cecile’s hand. “We’ll back,” he said to Mr. McNeill. Then the two friends teleported out of the office.
Twenty minutes before Phoebe and Cecile had simultaneously experienced their visions, Piper ended her interview with Warren Koslo and bid him good-bye. Then she turned to the Latina woman. “Mrs. Madrigal? Could you follow me, please?”
Mrs. Madrigal rose to her feet and followed Piper into the Solarium. The applicant shot a quick glance at the sleeping Wyatt, before she sat down in a nearby wicker chair.
“So,” Piper began, “I understand that you saw my announcement on the bulletin board at the Red Pyramid. Do you . . . go there a lot? Or was that just a one time visit?”
Mrs. Madrigal nodded. “I’m a regular customer. Are you?”
“I’ve been there a few times.” Piper hesitated, unsure of how to ask her next question. “Um . . . are you into . . . uh, the occult?”
The older woman frowned. “Aren’t you? I had assumed that you were also into it . . . considering where you had posted the ad.” She paused. “You are into it. Right?”
Piper replied sardonically, “More than you can imagine.” Mrs. Madrigal’s eyes grew wide. “I’m . . . uh, a witch. One of those Wiccans. I’ve been one for at least five years.”
“Oh.” The older woman’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Well, I’m glad that I wasn’t wrong. You see, I also practice magic.”
Relief flooded Piper’s veins. “Really? Are you some kind of witch?”
Mrs. Madrigal stood up. And right before Piper’s eyes, she transformed into a pale, stocky man with wintergreen eyes. “No,” he said in a deep voice. “I’m a daemon!” He tossed an energy ball at the Charmed One.
Piper let out a squeal, before she flung her hands at the energy ball and destroyed it in mid-air. “Oh crap!” Then she flung her hands at the demon. His body immediately exploded . . . and reassembled within seconds. “Oh crap! Chris! CHRIS!”
The demon flung another energy ball at Piper. She froze it in mid-air and ducked behind the chair. The demon waved one hand and the energy ball continued its course toward her, striking the wall and missing her head by inches. With her sisters at work and Chris failing to show up, Piper realized that she might be in serious danger. “You can’t hide from me forever, witch! And your sisters can’t help you!” The demon sent another energy ball toward Piper’s direction. Before she could destroy it with her combustion power, it blew up the chair in front of her. And led the Charmed One to rue the day she had thought about hiring a nanny, in the first place.
Daley heard a woman’s voice cry out the name – Chris. She frowned. What in the hell was going on in the other room? Then she heard a man shout, “You can’t hide from me forever, witch!” At that moment, the sorceress realized that something was wrong. She had seen a middle-aged woman follow Piper Halliwell into the other room. Where did the man come from?
An explosive sound interrupted Daley’s musings. Without thinking, she rushed into the other room and found Ms. Halliwell cowering before a stocky man with pale skin. And no sign of Mrs. Madrigal. An energy ball formed in the intruder’s hand. Viewing him as a threat to her plans, Daley quickly reached for a dagger in her knit bag and threw it at the man. The dagger’s sharp point pierced his shoulder, forcing him to cry out in pain and dissipate the energy ball.
“You!” the man growled, as he glared at Daley. An energy ball materialized in his hand. As he hurled it at Daley’s direction, she cried out, “Deflect” in Yoruba. The energy ball zinged back toward the man. He ducked before it could strike his body.
Daley rushed toward Ms. Halliwell. “Are you okay?” she asked, breathlessly.
“I could be better,” the other woman shot back. “Do you . . . uh, recognize this demon?”
“He’s a daemon?”
Another energy ball zoomed toward them. Ms. Halliwell flung out her hands and the energy ball exploded in mid-air. “I guess that’s a no.” Desperation shone in the witch’s dark eyes. “Do you know any spell to get rid of this guy?”
“Uh . . .” At that moment, one immediately came to Daley’s mind. “Wait. Here’s one.” She began to chant, “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase.” The two women stared at the daemon. Nothing happened. “Damn! Maybe we should say the spell, together.”
Both women took a deep breath and repeated the spell. “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase!” Instead of the daemon’s death, they were faced with another energy ball that missed Ms. Halliwell’s head by inches. The pair quickly scurried on their knees, toward the sofa.
“Too bad my sisters aren’t here,” the witch commented. “I could use the Power of Three. And why does that spell sound familiar?”
Daley asked, “Why is he trying to kill you?”
“So that me and my sisters won’t come after him, if he steals my son.”
Ah! So the attack was about the child. Then Daley’s eyes narrowed, as she spotted a string holding an object around the daemon’s neck. “Look! There’s something around his neck! Let me . . .” Focusing her attention upon the object, Daley murmured a chant underneath her breath. The string broke, taking the daemon by surprise. Then the object – obviously an amulet – fell upon the floor. “The spell again!”
The two women chanted, “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase!” Cries of pain poured out of the daemon’s mouth, as flames engulfed his body. Within seconds, he exploded into a ball of fire and light.
Ms. Halliwell rushed over to the basquinet for a peek at her son. “He’s safe,” she said with relief. “Awake, but safe.” She turned to Daley. “Are you still interested in the job?”
Daley struggled not to flash a triumphant smile. “Sure.”
END OF PART IV