“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 10/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Ten

“Sweetie, could you hold this?” Phoebe placed a foil-covered tray in Jason’s hands. She added, “And be careful. It’s one of the hors d’ oeuvres trays.”

Jason replied, “You know, when I had showed up tonight, I hadn’t expected to end up as a waiter.”

Phoebe stood on her toes and pecked Jason’s cheek. “I know, baby. I’m just glad that you could help. Maybe if we leave both parties early, we can spend some time alone, before tomorrow.”

“I don’t see why you have to go this party, in the first place.” Jason paused to stare at Phoebe. “Wait a minute, you were invited?”

Nodding, Phoebe asked, “Weren’t you?”

“Not really.” To Phoebe’s relief, he did not seem upset or disappointed. “And if I had, I doubt that I would accepted. I mean . . . I’m only here because of Olivia.” Who seemed to have an effect upon the men in Phoebe’s life. Or so she thought.

Suppressing a grimace at Jason’s last words, Phoebe merely replied, “Oh. Yeah. Of course. Um, have you seen the . . .?”

“Let’s go people!” Piper barked at the couple, causing them to nearly jump. The oldest Charmed One wore a blue-gray, long-sleeved cocktail dress that looked attractive, yet modest. “I need that food inside the SUV. It’s almost time for the party to start and we need to get out of here.”

“You know, Paige could always . . .” Phoebe broke off, realizing that she had almost exposed her younger sister – along with the rest of them. “I mean . . .”

Jason stared at her. “Paige could always . . . what?”

“Um . . .” Phoebe turned to Piper for help.

The oldest Charmed One immediately finished, “I guess that Paige can use her car to take you and Pheebs to the parties.” She turned to the younger woman. “Right Pheebs? Since there’s a chance there might not be enough room in my car.”

Phoebe inwardly sighed with relief when Jason said, “Oh. Well, that’s not necessary. I can drop both Phoebe and Paige off at P3.” He glanced at Phoebe. “If you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s great,” Phoebe replied just a little too brightly. “Paige and I will meet you at your car.” Again, she pecked Jason’s cheek.

Once the billionaire had left the kitchen, Piper glared at the younger sister. “Phoebe, I understand your reluctance to tell Jason about us. But if you’re really serious about him, you better tell him the truth. Before he finds out the wrong way.” She sighed. “I’m going to say goodnight to Wyatt.”

Phoebe watched her older sister leave the kitchen. A dismaying thought struck her that Piper might be right. Only . . . she feared the consequences of such a revelation to Jason a lot more than what her family might think.

————–

A swing tune from the 1930s blasted from P3’s sound system. Olivia, who sat next to the nightclub’s bar – along with Cecile, Sheila Morris, Nathalie Gleason and her two grandmothers. Piper stood behind the bar, serving drinks.

“Okay, here’s my present,” Sheila said, handing over a white, flat box marked MACY’S to Olivia. Hope that you’ll like it.”

Olivia opened the box and removed the tissue. Then she gently lifted an apple-green silk robe and displayed it to the others. “Oh my God! This is . . . Sheila, this is gorgeous!”

Sheila smiled happily. “Thanks. I’m glad that you like it.”

“Here’s another present, Livy,” her grandmother, Elise, declared. She handed over a package made from blue tissue to Olivia.

The tall, dark-haired Nathalie spoke up. “It’s from me.”

“Thanks Nat.” Olivia carefully unwrapped the tissue paper. Inside, laid a pair of multi-colored silk scarves. “Uh . . . thanks Nat,” she repeated, feeling slightly perplexed. “I guess I can think of an outfit or two . . .”

“Oh, it’s not for wearing,” Nathalie explained, leaving Olivia feeling more confused. “It’s for . . .” She glanced at those guests who were obviously unaware of Olivia’s magical background – like Carlotta Trujillo and Cole’s co-worker, Veronica Altman. “It’s for your honeymoon.”

Olivia frowned. “Huh? I don’t understand.”

“According to this trader at the Anduin Marketplace named Valindal,” Nathalie continued, “this scarf is magical. They can block anyone’s magical and psychic abilities . . . including teleportation and telekinesis.”

Olivia’s Welsh grandmother asked, “You were at the Anduin Market? Heavens! I haven’t been there in quite a while.”

“Are you kidding? It’s bigger than ever,” Nathalie said. “Although some of the customers are a lot ruder these days. This one woman had popped inside Valindal’s tent without any notice. Didn’t bothered to check if there were other customers. Like I said . . . rude.”

Olivia and Cecile exchanged long-suffering glances. Nathalie had a habit of ranting over the smallest thing. “Nat . . . honey? About these scarves?” the redhead continued.

The dark-haired witch’s face turned pink. “Sorry. Anyway, you can use these scarves on Cole. You know, during the honeymoon.” When Olivia failed to respond, she sighed. “For certain . . . horizontal games?”

“You mean bondage during sex?” Bronwyn Morgan exclaimed bluntly. Olivia stared at her. “What? I am adult, you know. In fact, your grandfather and I . . .”

Olivia held up one hand. “Nana? Please don’t. The image is already too disturbing.” Elise opened her mouth. “Please Gran. Not you too!”

“For Pete’s sake, Livy!” Elise retorted. “How did you think your parents were conceived? With your grandmother and I simply laying on our backs and submitting? We had desires as well.”

Rolling her eyes, Olivia moaned, “Oh God.”

“This Anduin Marketplace,” Piper said with a frown, “you say that it’s some kind of marketplace . . . for demons? I thought that Phoebe and I had destroyed the only one.”

Elise replied airily, “Oh honey, that place was probably nothing more than some minor market that catered to daemons. The Anduin Marketplace is much larger. And it’s for all magical beings and practioners.”

“Including demons?”

“Of course.” Elise gave Piper a suspicious glance. “You’re not thinking of making an attempt to get rid of the place or something like that, are you?”

Piper’s eyes widened in shock. “No! Of course not. Unless . . . well, if someone there . . .”

Cecile spoke up. “Piper, I don’t think you or your sisters would be able to destroy that particular marketplace. It’s protected by some major mojo. And I doubt very much that the Power of Three could kill an Anduian. Trust me.”

“Wait.” Piper shook her head. “Are you serious?” Aside from Sheila, who looked as confused as the Charmed One, Olivia and the others responded with knowing looks. Shock replaced the confusion on Piper’s face. “Wow,” she murmured.

Nathalie continued, “According to Valindal, the scarves were made right there in the Anduin Dimension. Which means they should be very effective if you decide to use them on Cole.” Her mouth spread into a wicked grin. “If you know what I mean.”

Olivia could hardly wait to find out.

————-

A long-legged, bikini-clad woman with chestnut hair pranced about the Vornado Club’s stage. Most of the bachelor party’s celebrants regarded her with either admiration or avid lust. The groom-to-be did neither. Instead, he regarded her suspicion.

“You know, I think I’ve seen that dancer, before,” Cole commented. Harry McNeill responded with a leer. The half-daemon rolled his eyes. “No, not like that. I think . . .”

Jack McNeill frowned. “Don’t tell me you think she might be Idril.”

“You never know.”

The half-daemon and the two witches shared a table directly in front of the stage. Whistles and cheers mixed with music from the club’s sound system, as the dancer removed her bikini top. Cole turned his attention away from the stage and signaled a waiter, who stood nearby. Enthralled by the half-naked dancer, the waiter failed to respond. “Hey!” Cole cried out. But to no avail.

Then Harry stared at the waiter for one intense moment. The latter snapped out of his trance and approached the trio’s table with an obsequious smile. “Gentlemen, may I help you?”

“Yes,” Cole replied. “Where is Riggerio?”

“In his office, signor.” The waiter paused. “Would you like for me to summon him?”

“If you don’t mind.”

Over a minute later, the nightclub’s handsomely demonic owner appeared at the table. “Belthazor, is there a problem?” he asked.

Cole pointed at the dancer on the stage. “Who is she? She looks familiar.”

“Her?” An amused smile appeared on Riggerio’s lips. “In Sitri’s name, Belthazor! Your memory must be slipping!”

“Meaning?” Cole demanded with a frown.

Riggerio sighed and rolled his eyes. “You mean to say that you do not remember Arda?”

“Who?” Harry asked.

A new voice added, “Arda. She’s one of the top exotic dancers in many dimensions. Think of her as some kind of daemonic version of Sally Rand or Gypsy Rose Lee. Only, she takes it all off.” Andre stepped forward and sat down in the last empty chair. “Cole and I have seen her perform on at least three different occasions.” He shook his head at the half-daemon. “Man, you really must be slipping! Or is this pre-marital stress? I mean, I can understand, considering the wedding tomorrow, and Idril . . .”

“Idril?” Riggerio frowned. “Is she here in San Francisco?”

Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Might be. You remember Cecile Dubois, don’t you?” Riggerio nodded, as the New Orleans hougan continued, “Well, she had a vision of Cole marrying Idril.”

Disbelief shone in Riggerio’s dark eyes. “Why would you marry Idril? She never seemed like your type. In fact, I had the distinct impression that you thought very little of her.”

Cole heaved an annoyed sigh. Jack asked, “You’ve met this Idril?”

“Of course,” the daemon replied. “In London, over thirty-four years ago. Belthazor and Idril were with Tarkin . . . and some English woman. A witch, I believe. I forgot her name.”

“Christine Broom,” Cole murmured, feeling a brief surge of nostalgia.

Riggerio continued, “Speaking of Idril, why would you . . .?”

In a burst of annoyance, Cole exclaimed, “I wouldn’t! Trust me!”

Andre added, “Cecile thinks that Idril might use a spell to get Cole to marry her.”

“Ah yes,” Riggerio said with a nod. “I understand. With Belthazor at her side, Idril would be able to become Queen of the Source’s Realm. That makes sense.”

An inner sigh of relief filled Cole’s mind. So much for Olivia’s theory that Idril might be in love with him.

Riggerio nodded at the dancer on the stage. Aside from a large, transparent scarf that draped over her torso, she was completely nude. “As for Arda, I assure you that is her.”

Cole sighed. “I never said otherwise.”

“If she’s so famous, why would she bother to dance at a private party like this?” Jack asked.

Riggerio replied, “Simple. I had to pay a high price for her services.” A sly grin slid across his face. “And I had told her that the party was in Belthazor’s honor.”

Cole shot a quick glance at the dancer, before his gaze returned to the club’s owner. “Excuse me?”

“Come, mio amico!” Riggerio slapped the half-demon’s back. “Have you forgotten, already? You’re the infamous Belthazor! The former Source, fiancé of the Aingeal Staff Bearer, and son of the Thorn Order’s leader. Naturally, Arda would be thrilled to perform for you. So enjoy.”

Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Yeah. Right.” He and the others resumed watching the dancer. She removed the transparent scarf from her torso and tossed it at Cole. It immediately drifted off the stage and right into the half-daemon’s face.

————-

The plan to summon and vanquish Belthazor’s former lover had failed. Not with a bang, but with an embarrassing whimper. Even worse, when Brion’s brother-in-law had learned of his efforts, Jack nearly went ape. Brion’s ears continued to blister from the heat of his brother-in-law’s words.

For a while, Brion wondered if he would end up at a local hotel, here in San Francisco for the rest of his trip. He had the sneaky suspicion that both Jack and Gwen were tempted to kick him out of the house. At this moment, Brion wished they had kicked him out. He realized that he would have a better opportunity to carry out his plans against Idril, beyond the McNeill estate.

The Welshman sat inside one of the smaller drawing rooms. Although his eyes were glued to the television set, Brion barely acknowledged the images on the screen. He continued to brood over Phoebe Halliwell and Cecile Dubois’ visions regarding Bel . . . Cole. Something had to be done.

Once again, his attention returned to the TV screen. He found himself watching an old 1930s movie from a channel of what the Americans called cable television. Brion did consider changing to the BBC America channel, but an old TV series from the late 80s called “BLACKADDER” was being aired. And Brion had never been a fan. The movie featured some puffed-up character in costume, spouting in an exaggerated English accent, “If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed.” Brion rolled his eyes at the ridiculous cliché. Of all the utter non . . .

The witch’s mind froze. “The mountain must go to Mohammed.” Of course! Who would have thought that some silly old cliché would give him an idea? Instead of summoning Idril, he could always use a spell to teleport to her location. And use the potion to vanquish her. He would be unable to summon a daemon from here. Nor could he endanger the public at any hotel. And since he did not know his way around San Francisco, a local park seemed out of the question. No. He would simply have to go to her. And all he would need is a spell that would send his body to her present location.

————

At precisely eighteen minutes past midnight, the lights inside the Vornado Club went dark. Two lamp posts – standing several yards apart – suddenly materialized into bipedal figures.

One of the figures, a chestnut-haired man with a stocky figure, nodded at his companion. “It’s time to make the call.”

The dark-haired daemon named Andros walked over to a telephone situated on the bar’s surface and dialed a number. “Yes?” a female’s voice answered.

This is Andros. Belthazor’s . . . party had just ended some twenty minutes ago. He should be on his way home.”

Idril replied, “Good job. Get in touch with Beren. Have him meet me at my family’s estate in the Kenotês Dimension. You know where. We shall be there, shortly.”

Andros blinked. “We?”

“Yes. Belthazor, the warlock and myself.” Idril paused. Menace crept into her soft voice. “Is there a problem?”

Recognizing the menacing tone in his mistress’ voice, Andros immediately answered, “No problem, Idril. Uh, what about the rest of the clan?”

Idril replied, “Summon them, as well. It shouldn’t take that long. There are only ten of us.”

“Yes, Idril.” Andros hung up and turned to his companion. “Let’s go. We have a priest to find and a wedding to attend.”

The other daemon shook his head in disbelief and the pair beamed out of the nightclub.

END of CHAPTER TEN

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 9/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Nine

“What were you doing at the Anduin Marketplace?”

Idril’s eyes blinked, as they met Artemus’ unwavering stare. “Huh?”

The older daemon continued, “The Anduin Marketplace. You were seen there, recently. By one of my minions. What were you doing there?”

A wave of guilt overwhelmed Idril, as she quickly pondered on the possibility of Artemus becoming aware of her plans. She struggled to maintain a calm façade with a cool shrug. “Shopping, of course. For what other reason would I be there?”

His eyes still fixed upon the young demoness, Artemus continued, “You were seen leaving Valindril’s tent. And she is known as one of the best collectors of rare antiquities throughout many dimensions. You were seen leaving her tent. Empty-handed. I’m curious. Did you sell something to her? Or . . . what?”

Panic threatened to overwhelm Idril. She took a deep breath. “Really Artemus! I don’t understand this third degree.”

“Forgive me, my dear, but let’s just say that I’m very familiar with your shopping habits.” Artemus leaned back into the leather chair, inside his spacious office. “You’re the type who would prefer shopping for expensive clothes or perfume. Not rare magical antiquities. Unless you have some kind of plan.” He paused dramatically, as his stare grew more intense. “And my source had informed me that you didn’t bother to shop at any of the other tents and stalls – before and after your little visit to Valindril’s tent. You didn’t even stop to visit Yavanna’s tent. And she happens to be one of your favorite fashion designers. If you are after something, I’m curious to know what you’re after. And why.”

Clearing her throat, Idril realized that she might as well tell the truth. To a certain degree. “If you must know,” she said in a calm voice, “I was looking for something I could use against Nimue, once you assume the Source’s throne. After all, she might prove to be a powerful adversary.”

“Nimue?” Artemus snorted with contempt. “My dear, I’ll deal with Nimue, once I become the new Source.”

Relieved that the Khorne Order’s leader believed her, Idril continued, “And how do you think that’s going to affect me, if I become the Thorn Order’s new leader?”

“If” Artemus frowned. “Don’t you mean . . . when?”

Idril sidestepped her little faux pas. “No member of the Thorn Order or the new Source’s Council will respect me, Artemus. Especially if you kill Nimue on my behalf. They will all probably assume that I had used sex to acquire my . . . new position. After all, I used to be Raynor’s mistress. I would have a great deal of trouble maintaining discipline. And what about Belthazor? How do you think he’ll react, once he learns of his mother’s death, now they are closer? In fact, how do you plan to protect yourself from him, that McNeill witch, her family and the Charmed Ones?” Idril noted with pleasure that Artemus’ self-confidence seemed to have slightly deflated.

A long silence followed, before Artemus stood up and headed toward the liquor cabinet. “I must admit that you have a point. As for Belthazor, I am working on a solution to the problem. At least my alchemists are.”

“Alchemists?” Idril frowned.

“They’re working on a power-stripping potion, as we speak.” Artemus turned to the demoness. “Drink?”

Idril hesitated. “Um, absinthe, please.”

While Artemus prepared Idril’s drink, he continued, “Yes, alchemists. I realized that if a Charmed One – especially the least experienced one – could create a power-stripping potion for someone as powerful as Belthazor, so can they.” He then handed a small glass of green liqueur to Idril. “And the sooner I use this potion on Belthazor, the . . .”

The moment she saw the stunned expression on Artemus’ face, Idril felt an odd surge of energy within her body. She glanced down and saw an energy circle swirled around her feet. “What the hell?” she cried, as the circle rose higher and higher. The moment it reached her waist, it seemed as if her body was about to pull apart. “Artemus!”

“Don’t worry,” the older daemon declared in a calm voice. His shock had subsided. “You’re not going . . .” Much to Idril’s relief, the energy surge slowly dissipated until it vanished altogether. “Like I was about to say,” Artemus finished, you’re not going anywhere. This office is protected from unexpected arrivals. And departures.” He handed the glass of absinthe to Idril.

The demoness stared at the other demon in horror. “What the hell was that?” she demanded in a shaky voice.

Coolly, Artemus replied, “Apparently, someone has just tried to summon you. However, I cannot imagine why.” His eyes pierced through Idril’s. “Can you?”

Idril shook her head. “No, I can’t. I don’t know. Maybe . . . Maybe it was some idiot magician trying to prove he can summon a daemon. I’ve ran into my share of such morons.”

One of Artemus’ brows rose questioningly. “Perhaps.” He gave Idril a cryptic stare, as he returned to his desk, drink in hand. “In that case . . .” Artemus opened his desk drawer and removed an object. He tossed it over to Idril. It was an amulet.

“An amulet?” Idril said, frowning at the object. “What for?”

Artemus took a sip of his drink. “Protection, of course. To prevent anyone from summoning you against your will, once you leave here.” His eyes narrowed briefly. “Although I’m still curious as to why anyone would.”

Smiling weakly, Idril placed her drink on his desk and placed the amulet around her neck. “Yeah, so am I.” Then she picked up her absinthe and took a sip.

————

“Dammit to bloody hell!” a masculine voice growled.

Cecile, Harry and Paige exchanged startled looks. The two women and the red-haired man had stepped outside of the McNeill house for a breath of fresh air, when the growl took them by surprise. “Who was that?” Paige murmured.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and continued down the terrace’s steps. The two women followed. They found Brion Morgan on the grass nearby, kneeling beside a chalky outline of a circle. Cecile also spotted a small bottle of pink liquid beside him. “Brion?” Olivia’s brother exclaimed. “What the hell are you doing?”

Looking slightly startled, the Welsh-born witch glanced up. “Eh? Oh, um . . .”

“Were you planning to vanquish someone?”

Mr. Morgan stiffened. “Actually, I was meditating. In private.”

“With a vial of potion?” Harry pointed out. “Next to what obviously looks like a magic circle?”

A sigh left Mr. Morgan’s mouth. “Is there a problem, Harry? Because how I conduct my mediation should be none of your concern.”

Harry glared at his uncle. And Cecile regarded the older man with a hard stare. “Are you trying to summon a certain daemon, Mr. Morgan? One by the name of Idril?”

“And what if I am?” Mr. Morgan retorted. “No one, around here, seems to be taking the threat of this Idril daemon, seriously. And if your vision comes true – yours and Phoebe Halliwell’s – if Bel . . . I mean, Cole marries this ex-lover of his, it could mean catastrophe for the magical world at large.”

Cecile replied sharply, “We’re all aware of that, Mr. Morgan. Which is why Cole is now on his guard. But this plan to summon Idril and kill her . . . what the hell were you thinking?”

“She’s got a point,” Paige added drily. “You were actually planning to summon a demon? Without the McNeills’ knowledge?”

Mr. Morgan glared at the Charmed One. “May I remind you, Miss Halliwell that I am . . .”

“Miss Matthews.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Paige sighed. “My last name is Matthews.” Again, she sighed. “God! I sometimes get tired of saying that! Look, what I’m trying to say is that I had once summoned a darklighter without my sisters’ knowledge. It was a stupid move and I got chewed out for my troubles. And I was a novice at the time. What’s your excuse?”

Harry’s uncle snatched the vial from the ground and sprung to his feet. “Now, see here . . .”

“No, you see here!” Harry shot back. “Look, Uncle Brion . . . I realize that you’re concerned for Olivia’s sake. But summoning that daemon in order to kill her is a bad idea. You did it without Mom or Dad’s consent. After all, this is their home, not yours. I think your paranoia is getting the best of you.”

The Welshman’s pale face turned red with embarrassment. For less than a minute, his mouth remained pressed together in silence. Then, “It doesn’t matter, anyway. I wasn’t able to summon her.”

“What a surprise!” Harry replied caustically. “Considering that Dad had cast a protection ward around the entire estate.”

Mr. Morgan hissed in disgust, “Oh bloody hell!” He shook his head and marched away.

The trio watched the older man stalk into the house. “Do you think he’ll try to go after Whatshername again?” Paige asked.

“Are you kidding?” Harry replied with a derisive snort. “Of course he will. The man’s obsessed. Trust me.”

Paige said with a sigh, “Well to be honest, I thought his idea of summoning Idril to vanquish her wasn’t all that bad. Only his timing was off. And choice of location.”

“Maybe to you,” Harry replied, “but to us, killing someone who ‘might’ be a future threat is nothing more than murder.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like this Idril person is a human. She’s a demon.”

Harry retorted, “She’s a sentient being, Paige. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.”

Paige turned to Cecile. “You think I’m right, don’t you?”

A sigh left Cecile’s mouth. She did not want to get involved in this budding quarrel, but . . . She turned to Paige. “May I ask you something? Do you really see nothing wrong with killing any daemon that crosses your path, regardless of whether or not he or she is trying to do anything to you?”

An uneasy expression appeared on Paige’s face. “Well . . . yeah. I mean . . . most of them are evil, right?”

“So, if you see nothing wrong with you and yours sisters killing daemons regardless of what they’re doing, then wouldn’t you say that it’s okay for those daemons to do the same to you?”

“What? No! I mean . . .” Paige broke off and shook her head. “Never mind. I see that I’m going to lose this argument.” She headed toward the terrace steps.

Both Cecile and Harry watched the Charmed One’s receding figure. “Don’t worry,” Cecile said to Harry, “she’ll see the light, one day. Hopefully.”

Harry’s only response was to simply sigh.

————-

A daemon teleported into the middle of Idril’s suite at the St. Francis. His eyes fell upon Gary, who was busy watching television. “Where’s Idril?” he demanded. “I have news for her.”

His eyes still glued to the television set, Gary murmured, “In her room. What’s the news?”

“It’s for Idril,” the daemon retorted in a hard voice.

Gary rolled his eyes and sighed. Daemons could be such a stuck-up bunch! “Right.”

Minutes later, the demoness strode into the suite’s living room. Gary noticed that her outfit – a tight, long-sleeve red dress – accentuated her long legs and exposed her back. She stopped short at the sight of her minion. “Andros, you have news for me?”

“It’s about Belthazor,” Andros replied. “The McNeills are holding some kind of party for him at a nightclub called Vornado’s.”

Gary corrected him, “It’s a bachelor’s party, numb nuts. For the groom. God only knows how long it will be before Turner returns home for the night.”

Ignoring the warlock, Idril said to Andros, “I want you and Cirith to go to Vornado’s. In disguise, of course. Let me know when Belthazor leaves the party.”

“It’ll be a private party,” Gary added. “How would they be . . .?”

Andros shot a contemptuous glare at the warlock. “Don’t worry. We’ll find a way. So do us a favor and mind your damn business!”

Angered by the daemon’s contempt, Gary shot to his feet. “You know, you really need to learn to respect others,” he hissed menacingly. “Some people are not exactly tolerant of bad manners. Like myself.”

“Enough!” Idril cried. She turned to Gary. “Andros and Cirith are chameleon daemons. Shapeshifters. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, you and I have a priest to visit.”

Gary nodded and sat back down on the sofa. “Mind if I finish my show, first?”

Andros rolled his eyes and teleported out of the suite. Much to Gary’s pleasure.

End of CHAPTER NINE

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 8/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Eight

Both Olivia and Cole stared at the tall and slender, robed figure that stood before them. “Is that it?” the red-haired witch asked. “I mean . . . I guess I had been expecting something a little more . . .”

“Bloody?” The Gimle priest broke into a teasing grin. “Not all daemonic bonding ceremonies require blood, Miss McNeill.” The priest, whose name happened to be Riesen. Ridges around his forehead and nose gave him a reptilian appearance.

Cole added, “The wine represents the blood. Like it does in many mortal religious ceremonies.” His blue eyes gleamed wickedly. “Of course, we can still use real blood, if that will make you feel better.”

Elise McNeill and an elderly, yet affable-looking man of medium height looked on with interest. Olivia’s grandmother commented, “Wine is also used in Wiccan rituals, as well. It’s too bad that many people are unable to see the similarities in many religions. Right Arthur?”

The affable-looking man turned out to be a Wiccan high priest named Arthur McMannus. He replied, “Apparently, the similarities go beyond mortal religions.”

“I suppose so,” Riesen commented. “And there is no need to worry, Miss McNeill,” he said to Olivia. “I assure you that no blood will be part of the bonding ceremony.” He gave Cole a slight, reproving look. “Right, Belthazor?” Cole merely sighed and rolled his eyes.

Olivia glanced at the drawing-room’s door. Paige had arrived, along with two surprising visitors. “Is that Paige with Phoebe and Uncle Brion?” she asked.

Cole’s eyes followed Olivia’s gaze. He frowned. “This doesn’t look good,” he murmured.

“Excuse me.” Olivia flashed a brief smile at Mr. McMannus and Riesen. Then she, Cole and her grandmother joined the new arrivals. “Paige! I see that you’ve finally arrived.”

Warily, Paige nodded. “Yeah, I know I’m late. Uh . . .” She glanced uneasily at Brion. “We were . . . delayed. By someone in particular.”

Cole nodded at his ex-wife. “Phoebe. What are you doing here?”

Her cheeks turning pink, Phoebe answered, “Um, we . . . I mean, I have something to tell you. Both of you.” She took a deep breath.

“You had a premonition last night,” Cole said, taking the two sisters and Brion by surprise. He chuckled lightly. “Yeah, I had figured as much.”

Brion added in a slight supercilious tone, “She had one of you . . . marrying some woman other than Olivia. Possibly a daemon.”

Paige glared at the Welshman. “Dude! Couldn’t you have been subtle? Or at least allow Phoebe to say something?”

Olivia allowed herself an inward chuckle. She had never heard a fifty-two year-old British male be referred to as ‘Dude’. Taking a deep breath, she asked her uncle, “Excuse me Brion, but how did you get involved in all of this?”

“I was there when Miss Halliwell had her premonition. On the terrace.” Brion’s green eyes glimmered with suspicion and hostility, as he stared at Cole. “And I had asked her about it . . . this morning.” Then he rounded on his niece. “I must say, Olivia that you don’t seem particularly upset that Cole might have some other female acquaintance that he apparently has not revealed.”

An equally chilly Cole retorted, “Perhaps the reason why she isn’t upset is that she knows about Idril.”

A long silent pause followed, before Brion frowned at Olivia. “You know about this woman?”

“Yes, I do,” Olivia replied wearily.

“Why did you not say anything?”

Cole shot back, “Because it was none of your damn business!”

Brion’s face turned red with anger. “Now look here . . .” the Welshman began angrily.

“Look here . . . what?” Cole continued. “I have no intention of telling you a damn thing! Unlike everyone else here, I don’t know you!”

Realizing that some semblance of peace was needed before sparks of any kind began to fly, Olivia spoke up. “Brion, Cole had told me about Idril not long ago. Their relationship wasn’t that serious. At least from Cole’s point of view.” The half-daemon shot a quick glance at her. “And if you must know, Cecile had a similar premonition about Cole and Idril.”

“She did?” Phoebe demanded sharply. “When?”

Olivia replied, “About two days ago.”

Brion angrily rounded on his niece. “I cannot believe that you had remained silent about such an important matter! Miss Halliwell has a premonition of him marrying another woman . . .”

Cole rudely interrupted, “Spoiled the impact of your little revelation, didn’t it?”

Olivia shot an exasperated look at her fiancé. “Cole? Please!” When he looked away, she continued, “Cecile had figured from her vision that . . .”

“Is someone using my name in vain?” Cecile appeared before the others. She glanced at Paige. “Oh! You’re finally here. Good. Now we can do the full rehearsals for both ceremonies.”

Brion turned to the Vodoun priestess. “I understand from Olivia that you had a vision of Cole marrying another woman, a few days ago.”

Cecile paused, as she assumed a wary expression. “Yeah, about two days ago. Um . . . when did you find out?” She glanced at Phoebe, who shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. “You had one?”

“About Cole and this other woman?” Phoebe nodded. “Last night. Mr. Morgan had found out about it.”

“And Mr. Morgan demands to know more about this Idril woman, who will end up marrying Cole!” Brion demanded angrily.

Rolling his eyes, Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Idril is a daemon I had once dated back in the late 60s. She belongs to my order, the Thorn Brotherhood. And it wasn’t serious . . . at least from my point of view. I broke up with her and she tried to kill me. We had a brief reunion in the late 90s that only lasted a few days. And I didn’t lay eyes upon her, until the party in the Melora dimension, nearly two weeks ago.” He glared at Brion. “Satisfied?”

“And Olivia knows about this . . .?”

Olivia sharply added, “Yes, Brion! I know. I’ve known about her since the engagement party!”

But Brion refused to brush aside the matter. “Nevertheless, until this Idril matter is dealt with, I believe you should consider postponing the wedding.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia exclaimed in disbelief.

Brion continued, “Yes I am, Olivia. I realize that . . .”

Cole interrupted, his blue eyes radiating cold fire. “I don’t give a damn what you think! And apparently, nor do the others. If you continue to insist upon this ludicrous idea that we need to postpone the wedding, I’ll make sure that you will end up under Idril’s spell and married to her!”

Confusion, anger . . . and a touch of fear illuminated Brion’s green eyes. “What the bloody hell did you mean by that?”

“I mean . . . if you continue being such an annoying shit, I just might transform you into me,” Cole continued in a chilly voice, “and make sure that Idril finds you!”

Olivia allowed herself a quick smile, as her uncle’s face turned sheer white. Cecile surreptiously directed her gaze elsewhere. Paige smirked at Brion, while Phoebe regarded Cole with a shocked expression. Brion blinked momentarily. “I see,” he finally said in a stiff voice.

Cole shot back, “And it’s about damn time!”

Brion’s jaw twitched momentarily, before he gave a stiff nod. “Will you all excuse me?” And he then marched away.

Silence fell between the small group. Then Paige broke the silence, as she turned to her sister. “Now that he’s gone, don’t you think that you should be heading for P3, Pheebs?” The older sister stared at the youngest Charmed Ones with confused eyes. “You’re supposed to help Piper decorate the club for tonight. Remember?”

“Oh!” Phoebe gave her head a slight shake. “Yeah, of course. Um . . . I guess I’ll see you all later.” Her face slightly pink with embarrassment, she turned away from the others and left.

Cecile nudged Paige’s arm. “Let’s get ready for the rehearsal.”

The couple drifted to an isolated spot near the fireplace. Olivia regarded her fiancé with curious eyes. “Would you have done it?” she asked. “Carry out your threat to Brion?”

Cole responded with a direct look. “Let me put it this way, he either would have ended up in Idril’s clutches or I would have incinerated him on the spot.”

Olivia added, “Unless Dad had beaten you to the punch and blow up Brion, instead.”

A satisfied smile curved Cole’s lips. “Now that would have been a pleasant sight.”

With a sigh, Olivia patted Cole’s arm. “Listen, I think you should know that this isn’t about you. Brion’s . . . hostility. It’s about me.” Again, she sighed. “As far as my uncle is concerned, you’re just another example of me fucking up by endangering the family. Richard is another. And I don’t think he still hasn’t forgiven me for Dafydd.”

Cole frowned. “Who?”

“One of my Welsh cousins. He, uh . . . after Richard and Aunt Rhiannon’s deaths, Dafydd had came here to escort Rhiannon’s body back to Wales. We were at the Orchid Hotel, when Dafydd made a disparaging remark about Richard. I, uh . . .” She broke off to ask Cole a question. “Do you remember that time when we had meditated together on your birthday, and tapped into each other’s memories?”

“Sure,” Cole said with a nod.

Olivia hesitated, before she continued, “And do you recall seeing some guy fall out of a hotel window?”

A pause followed before Cole nodded again.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia added, “That was my cousin Dafydd. He, uh . . . had ended up in one of the hotel’s swimming pools, after I had flung him out of the window, using my telekinesis.” She paused. “Only, I didn’t know about the swimming pool.”

“I see.” Cole let out a gust of breath. “I suppose this little incident is one of the reasons why your grandfather didn’t show up for the wedding.”

Olivia’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “What do you think? Most of them are convinced that I might be the next Briana Morgan.”

“I think . . .” Cole hesitated. “I think that Brion and some of the other Morgans need to get their heads out of their collective asses. And out of the past. I can only imagine what your uncle might do, next.”

If she had to be honest with herself, Olivia realized that she would rather not.

————

Ignoring the sounds of activity from downstairs, Brion sat inside his guest bedroom, brooding over his niece and future nephew-in-law. He sighed. It galled him that once again, Olivia had become involved in someone with a dangerous past. Only Cole Turner aka Belthazor happened to be a more dangerous kettle of fish than the late Richard Bannen. And this extremely dangerous and powerful creature is set to marry his niece within twenty-four hours. What the hell had Olivia been thinking?

And now it seems that Cole might end up forming a dangerous union with someone other than Olivia. Both Cecile Dubois and Phoebe Halliwell had visions of the half-daemon marrying some demoness – an ex-girlfriend. Brion did not know whether to accept Cecile’s claims that a spell might be the reason for Cole’s possible marriage to this demoness. At first, he had viewed this theory as a desperate attempt on Miss Dubois’ part to divert any suspicions from the half-daemon. Now, Brion began to suspect that the Voudon priestess might be right. Cole did seem contemptuous of his former lover. But how can he prevent this potentially dangerous union from becoming a reality? Killing Cole seemed out of the question. The half-daemon was too powerful and neither the McNeills or Nimue would forgive him.

Several minutes of pondering led Brion to realize that the solution to the problem would be to kill Cole’s ex-lover. He could examine any books on demonology or the supernatural inside the McNeills’ library for information on Idril. Or perhaps any of the personal Books of Shadow that each member of his sister’s family possess.

Brion left his room and slipped downstairs. Avoiding the activity inside the large drawing-room, he headed straight for the library on the other side of the foyer. After searching the bookshelves for nearly ten minutes, the Welshman came across a book titled PARRISH’S ENCYCLOPEDIA ON THE COVENSORDERS AND SECTS OF THE SUPERNATURAL. Brion could not imagine where the McNeills had discovered this book. He noticed that it had been published in 1975.

It did not take Brion long to come across a chapter titled “The Brotherhood of the Thorn”. He recalled Cole mentioning that Idril belonged to the half-daemon’s former order – the Thorn Brotherhood. The chapter provided detailed information on the daemonic order’s origins and its more infamous deeds. It also listed the Order’s top members. Brion found entries on both Belthazor and Nimue. It also included Cole’s uncle, but mentioned that the former assassin had left the Order for the morally superior Gimle Order back in the 19th century . . . and had been killed by his nephew in the late 1960s. It also struck the male witch odd that the Thorn Brotherhood’s members had not been listed alphabetically. Perusing the chapter even further, Brion discovered that the Order’s members had been listed chronologically, based upon the year of their births. And how this Parrish person managed to discover this seemed like a miracle to the witch.

According to the book, Marbus had been born in 1760, Nimue in 1779 and Belthazor in 1885. Brion examined a few pages, until he came upon an entry on Idril. Born in 1911, Cole’s former lover had come from a race of daemons that originated in the Kenotês Dimension. Recruited into the Thorn Brotherhood by its leader in 1949, Idril’s specialty became acquiring the souls of those involved in the entertainment business. As a high-level daemon in the Thorn Order, it would take a blood-based potion, or very powerful magic practitioner to vanquish Idril. Or one could also consider using a potion based upon a resin from trees and shrubs called amber. Apparently, daemons from the Kenotês Dimension seemed to be susceptible to amber – no matter how powerful they happen to be.

Brion paused. Hmmm. Amber. An excellent possibility. It should not hard for him to find any. Once he acquired the amber resin, all he had to do was make the potion, find Idril and use it against her. Finding Idril, he realized, might prove to be difficult. Brion concluded that he would have to use another spell to summon the daemon. And he would have to do it as soon as possible.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 7/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Seven

Gary Wheeler entered the elegant lobby of the exclusive condominium and made his way toward the front desk. “Good evening,” he greeted the desk clerk in a polite manner.

“Good evening sir.” An obsequious smile curved the clerk’s lips. “May I help you?”

“Yes, is Mr. Cole Turner at home? I’m here to see him.”

To Gary’s surprise, the clerk immediately answered, “Yes sir. Mr. Turner and Miss McNeill had just arrived about . . . oh, twenty minutes ago.”

Miss McNeill? Gary’s stomach began to form knots. “Miss McNeill?”

“Yes sir, his fiancée, sir.” The clerk continued, “Shall I call Mr. Turner and see if he’s . . .?”

What the hell was Olivia McNeill doing back at Turner’s place? Gary quickly squashed his disappointment and smiled at the clerk. “Never mind,” he said in a controlled voice. “I’ll call upon Mr. Turner, tomorrow.”

“Yes sir.” Gary barely heard the clerk, for he had turned away and walked out of the building.

Outside, Gary found Idril waiting patiently next to one of the canopy’s poles. “What are you doing out here?” she demanded with a frown stamped on her face.

“He’s not alone,” Gary replied.

“What?”

With a sigh, the warlock repeated, “Belthazor isn’t alone. Apparently, Miss McNeill had decided to join him for the night.”

“I thought you said . . .” Idril paused, as a couple strolled by. Once alone, she continued, “I thought you said that she would be at her parents’ home!”

“What are you talking about?” Gary retorted. “You were the one who had made that assumption! You were the one who told me that the McNeill witch has been staying with her folks this past week!”

Idril growled, as she forcibly crossed her arms. “I know! Damn! This is getting out of hand!”

“Why don’t you take care of the McNeill woman . . .?”

Dark eyes blazed at the warlock. “Are you serious? She’s a powerful witch! From what I hear, she eats daemons like me for breakfast!” Her shoulders sagged with defeat. “Maybe you should call him in the morning. Try to convince him to see you one last time.”

Gary sighed. “Okay. If you insist.”

————–

The following morning, Gary dialed the number to the Law Offices of Jackman, Carter and Kline. Seconds later, an operator directed him to the extension he had requested. “Cole Turner’s office,” a female voice answered. “May I help you?”

“Yes, this is Mr. Whalen. Gary Whalen,” the warlock replied.

The secretary continued, “Ah yes, Mr. Whalen. I believe Mr. Turner had recommended you to his colleague, Ms. Veronica Altman. Is there a problem?”

Gary hesitated. “Ye . . . uh, no . . .” He sighed. Dramatically. “Well, yes. I’m . . . I’m afraid that I’m not very comfortable with Ms. Altman.” Actually, Gary had never set eyes upon the woman.

“And you would like to become Mr. Turner’s client,” the secretary finished.

Relief surged in Gary’s voice. “Yes! Yes, I . . . no disrespect to Ms. Altman, but I would much prefer Mr. Turner to represent me.”

Silence followed. Then, “Hmmmm,” the secretary finally said. “I guess I can make an appointment for you to see Mr. Turner on January 8. In 2004, of course.”

“January?”

The secretary added, “Mr. Whalen, may I remind you that Mr. Turner will not return to the office until after the holidays? In fact, he is supposed to be busy with wedding rehearsals, today. And tomorrow will be the actual wedding. Now, I can schedule an appointment for early January, or . . . I can recommend an attorney, other than Ms. Altman.”

Gary realized that this phone call might have been a waste of time. He sighed. “All right. Schedule me with a new attorney.”

For a second, Gary thought he had heard a relieved sigh from Belthazor’s secretary. “Yes sir. Can you please hold for a minute? Excuse me.”

Several minutes passed silently before the secretary transferred Gary to another attorney with the firm. After he had hung up, the warlock turned to Idril. “It didn’t work. Belthazor ‘still’ won’t be available until after the New Year.”

One glance at the daemon’s face told Gary that Idril was not pleased. “Shit!” she muttered. “I suppose we’ll have to do this the hard way. Do you have any idea where Belthazor will be, today?”

Gary replied that the half-daemon will be at the McNeill home for wedding rehearsals, most of the day. “The wedding is tomorrow,” he added. “Which means that his bachelor’s party will probably be tonight.” The warlock paused. “In case you don’t know, a bachelor’s party . . .”

“I know what it is,” Idril interrupted sharply. “Daemons have them, too.” She paused momentarily. “Does this mean that the McNeill witch WILL be at her parents’ home, tonight?”

A sigh left Gary’s mouth. “The wedding is tomorrow. And if Belthazor and the witch are following mortal customs . . .” Idril rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry, both mortal and daemon pre-wedding customs, she should be at her parents’ home, tonight.”

Idril smiled. Slowly. “Good. That means tonight, you should have the perfect opportunity to approach Belthazor. And succeed, this time.”

———-

A heartfelt sigh left Paige’s mouth. She placed her elbows on the kitchen table, allowing her hands to hold up her head. “God, I’m tired! What time did we leave that party, last night?”

Piper opened one of the kitchen cabinets above the sink. “Twelve-thirty, I think. Thank goodness I managed to get some sleep. Because, I’m going to be very busy all day, preparing P3 for Olivia’s party.”

“Hey, any chance of a male stripper?” Paige asked hopefully.

Piper seared her youngest sister with a contemptuous glance. “You’ll have to ask Barbara or Cecile. And if there is one, let’s just hope that he doesn’t end up being murdered and impersonated by an incubus.”

A third figure entered the kitchen. “What this about an incubus?” Victor’s deep voice filled the room. He sat down in a chair, opposite Paige. “You’ve encountered one?”

Paige stared at the older man. “You’ve heard of them?” she asked.

“From your mother.”

Piper related the incident regarding a demonic order led by a powerful succubus, who had been after Bruce McNeill during his wedding. “Fortunately, I don’t think anyone is after Cole or Olivia. Or is trying to stop their wedding.”

“Don’t be too sure, Piper,” Paige commented dryly. “I bet that Livy’s uncle – the one from Wales – would love to stop this wedding. He doesn’t seem particularly thrilled by it. And then there’s Leo.”

Victor nodded. “Leo, huh? You think he might try to get between Olivia and Cole, again? Like he did, last summer?”

Piper rolled her eyes. She placed a frying pan on the stove. “I don’t think so, Dad. Neither Olivia or Cole have barely said a word to him in the past four months.”

“What did you expect?” Paige retorted. “Leo hasn’t apologized or shown any remorse for what he had done.” Victor grunted in approval.

Shooting both her sister and father an annoyed glance, Piper continued, “Anyway, Chris has assured the Elders that they won’t have to worry about the consequences of Olivia and Cole’s marriage. Being from the future, I guess he would know.”

Victor asked, “Who’s Chris?”

“Our new whitelighter since Leo became an Elder,” Paige replied. “He’s from the future and he’s got a lot of secrets. Too many, if you ask my opinion.”

A bedraggled Phoebe entered the kitchen, stifling a yawn. “God, I had such a horrible night!” she declared dramatically. “I barely got any sleep.”

“I’m surprised that you’re even here,” Piper said. She opened the refrigerator and retrieved a carton of eggs. “I thought you would be with Jason.”

Phoebe groaned, as she sat down in an empty chair. “Please don’t bring up Jason.” She then revealed an embarrassing encounter between herself, Jason and Cole at the McNeill party, last night. “I think he’s freaked out by the possibility that I might still care for Cole.”

Piper placed a tub of butter on the counter. “Do you?”

“Of course not!” Phoebe protested. Perhaps too forcibly, in Paige’s opinion. “I’m in love with Jason, now! But I still have . . . affection . . . for Cole.”

Victor asked, “Does Jason know that you’re a witch?”

All eyes, including Paige’s, fell upon the middle Charmed One. Who fidgeted on her chair. “Not yet,” she muttered. “I just don’t think . . .”

“Phoebe!” Shocked by her sister’s revelation, Paige cried out, “Are you serious? My God! You and Jason have been dating for nine months! When do you plan to tell him?”

Piper added, “She’s got a point, Pheebs. Look at what happened between me and Dan.”

“Yeah, and I also remember what happened when you finally told him,” Phoebe shot back. “I don’t want the same to happen between Jason and me.”

“You know Phoebe, if Prue had only told Andy the truth a lot sooner – and without using that spell – they could have spent a lot more time, together,” Piper continued. “Even though Andy didn’t react well to the news at first; in the end, he couldn’t stay away from her. And by then it was too late.”

“Piper . . .”

This time, Victor spoke up. “I hate to say this, Phoebe, but . . .” He sighed. “Look, your mother and I had both made mistakes that led to our breakup. We were both guilty. But there was one thing I had difficulty dealing with was the fact that Patty had never bothered to tell me that she was a witch . . . until after our wedding. And for a long time, I had this feeling that I had been trapped into that marriage – for whatever reasons she had. All I’m saying is that don’t make the same mistake with Jason. Especially if you’re serious about him.”

Silence filled the kitchen. Paige noticed that a slightly resentful expression had crept into Phoebe’s eyes. And inwardly thanked the God and Goddess that she had become involved with another witch.

Phoebe finally muttered, “I guess I’ll think about it.” Then in a louder voice, she added, “Although if you ask me, Jason is the least of my problems, right now. Or should I say . . . ‘our’ problems.”

“Meaning?” Piper demanded.

Phoebe paused dramatically and took a deep breath. “When I had bumped into Cole last night, I had a premonition. Of him marrying someone other than Olivia. I think she was a demon.”

Paige frowned. “What makes you think so?”

“Because the priest who was marrying them, was the same demonic bastard who had married Cole and me, when he was the Source.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang.

————

A slightly exhausted Olivia sauntered into the McNeill dining room and found Cecile and her Cousin Margaret at the dining table. They seemed to be enjoying morning coffee. “Well, look who’s here!” Cecile declared. “Cole didn’t come with you?”

Olivia sat down in one of the dining table’s empty chairs and sighed. “Andre had cornered him, as soon as we had arrived. I think Andre wants his room back at the penthouse.”

A smirk curved Cecile’s lips. “Don’t count on it. In fact, I think Andre’s hoping that you’ll stay with Cole, tonight.”

“I don’t think so, dear,” Margaret gently chided. “Not on the night before the wedding.” She faced Olivia. “By the way, have you and Cole discussed the matter regarding Cecile’s vision?”

Astonishment overwhelmed Olivia, as she stared at her best friend. The latter nodded. “Andre’s big mouth had let the cat out of the bag, earlier this morning. Don’t worry. Your family isn’t demanding that you call off the wedding. Especially since I had hinted that Cole might have been under a spell in my vision.”

“Really?” Olivia responded. “Because Cole and I came to the same conclusion, last night.”

“So, you did talk about my vision.” Cecile’s smirk returned. “About time.”

Olivia glared at her friend. Cousin Margaret spoke up. “Jack did point out that Cole might be susceptible to telepathic spells. How interesting.”

Someone other than her fiancé popped into Olivia’s mind. Which led her to ask, “What about Brion? How did he react to the news?”

“Oh, he wasn’t here, dear,” Margaret replied. “I believe I saw him leave the house before I came down for breakfast.” She shook her head in a bewildered manner. “Strange people, the Morgans.” An apologetic expression immediately appeared on her face. “Oh dear! I didn’t mean to insult . . .”

Olivia dismissed her elderly cousin’s last remark with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry, Margaret. Even Mom and Nana would agree with you. Fortunately, not all of the Morgans act as if they have bugs up their . . .” She broke off, aware of the older woman’s presence.

A sly smile appeared on the elderly witch’s mouth. “Up their arses, you mean?” Cecile chuckled.

“Mom once told me that the Morgans are that way, because of ‘you-know-who’,” Olivia explained.

Cecile frowned. “You mean that ancestor of yours? The one who was a warlock on your mother’s side?”

“Ah yes,” Margaret added with a nod. “Briana Morgan. The woman is practically a legend amongst the British Pagans. I remember Gwen talking about her, once. Favorite of the old Source, wasn’t she? Is it true that he had offered her a chance to ascend to daemonhood?”

Olivia nodded. “It’s all true. I guess the sadist in her had appealed to the Source. According to Cole, he was another one. Which is why I think he was an idiot. Ever since her death, the Morgans have lived in fear that another Briana would crop up in the family bloodline. Mind you, Aunt Rhiannon came dangerously close to achieving that.”

Margaret sighed. “Och dearie, who hasn’t? I certainly did. Once.” A haunted expression flashed in her eyes for a brief second. “Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised there isn’t one family involved in magic that doesn’t have a warlock, evil witch or whatever in the family closet.”

“And bokors,” Cecile added. “In both of my parents’ fami . . .” She broke off, as Cole appeared in the dining room.

He said to the three women, “There you are. Gwen has been screaming for all three of you during the past five minutes. Uh, something about starting the wedding rehearsal. And she needs Margaret’s help over something about the decorations.”

A long suffering sigh escaped from Margaret’s mouth. “Bloody hell,” she muttered. “And I thought I had escaped from ‘Queen Gweneth’.” Olivia and Cecile exchanged knowing grins, as she stood up. “Oh well. I’ll see you all later.” She patted Cole’s arm. “You too.” And she sauntered out of the room.

Cole stared at the elderly woman’s disappearing form. “What, uh . . . what were you three talking about?”

After a brief pause, Cecile answered, “My vision of you.”

“Oh yeah,” Cole grumbled with a shake of his head. “Andre told me that he had let the cat out of the bag.” Then he sighed. “Now everyone knows. Even the Halliwells.”

“What are you talking about? Paige hasn’t shown up, yet.”

Olivia explained, “Cole had bumped into Phoebe, last night.”

“I think she might have had a premonition, last night,” Cole said to Cecile. “Maybe one very similar to yours. But that Dean character had appeared before I could find out.”

Cecile let out a gust of air. “Oh. Oh! I see.”

Cole added sardonically, “That’s right. We’re talking about the Charmed Ones, here. Who knows how they’ll react, once Phoebe spills the beans.”

“I don’t think they’ll react irrationally,” Olivia said. “They just might surprise you. On the other hand,” she paused, “you should be thankful that Brion doesn’t know.”

———–

A surprised Piper ushered a determined-looking Brion Morgan inside the house. The other family members had gathered inside the living room. “Hey guys,” the oldest Charmed Ones said with a forced smile, as she led the visitor toward the others, “look who’s here. Olivia and Harry’s uncle.”

Victor held out his hand to the visitor. “Nice to meet you, again, uh . . . Brian, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Brion Morgan.” The Welshman shook Victor’s hand. “And you’re Victor, I believe? Victor Bennett?” He nodded at Paige and Phoebe. “Ladies.”

Piper continued, “So Mr. Morgan, what brings you here?”

“I’ll be direct,” Mr. Morgan shot back. “It’s about Bel . . . uh, Cole. You see, I’m beginning to wonder if it is wise of my niece to marry him.”

Paige snorted with derision. “You’re beginning to wonder?” She regarded the British witch with a dubious eye. “I thought you were against the wedding from the start.”

A wry smile touched Mr. Morgan’s lips, as he nodded. “Yes, well . . . perhaps at first. But I did eventually resign myself to this . . . marriage. Until I had witnessed Miss Halliwell’s encounter with Bel . . . Cole, last night.” He directed his gaze at Phoebe.

Both Piper and Paige stared at the middle sister, as well. Victor angrily rounded on the other man. “You were eavesdropping on my daughter’s private conversation?”

“It was unintentional,” Mr. Morgan protested. “I assure you. However, I cannot deny that Miss Halliwell did react strangely, when she bumped . . . into Cole.” He paused, before adding dramatically, “In the same manner that my cousin, David Llewellyn usually reacted whenever he received a premonition.” He continued to stare at Phoebe. “You see, he is also a seer.”

Paige’s brusque tone interrupted the deafening silence. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but what exactly do you want?”

“I want to know if your sister had a vision, when she bumped into Cole,” Mr. Morgan replied sharply. “And if it had anything to do with my niece. Olivia and I may not share a cordial relationship, but I do have her best interests at heart. If her fiancé proves to be a future threat . . .”

To Piper’s dismay, Phoebe heaved a sigh. “All right. I understand. If you must know, I had a vision of Cole marrying someone other than Olivia. Some tall, dark-haired woman, who looked kind of skanky. And they were being married by this demonic priest.” She hesitated. “The same priest who had married us, when Cole was the Source. I mean . . . possessed by the Source.”

Mr. Morgan frowned. “You were married by a dark priest?”

“We didn’t know it at the time!” Phoebe protested.

A sigh left the male witch’s mouth. “I see. Well . . . you must tell Olivia about your vision. I see no other recourse.”

“Me?” Reluctance filled Phoebe’s dark eyes. “Are you kidding? You want me to tell my ex-husband’s fiancée that he’s going to marry a strange woman? Possibly another demon?”

Strange demonic woman who happened to be dark-haired and skanky? Piper exchanged a knowing look with Paige. Phoebe’s description of Cole’s possible bride seemed very familiar. “Uh, Pheebs,” she began, “can you describe the woman a little more?”

Phoebe stared at the older sister. “I don’t know. She’s tall. Slightly taller than Olivia. Dark, long hair. Straight. Her eyes are light, but I don’t know the color. Sorry, vision in black-and-white. And she looked a bit skanky. Like someone who belonged in that new TV series, “LAS VEGAS”.

A heavy sigh escaped from Piper’s mouth. She had a pretty good idea whom Phoebe had seen. “You’re right about one thing, Pheebs, the woman is a demon. But she’s no stranger.”

Paige added, “Yeah, it seems she had popped up at Cole and Livy’s engagement party, in the Melora dimension.” She paused. “Her name is Idril and she’s one of Cole’s old girlfriends.”

“What?” Phoebe’s eyes widened in horror. “Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

Feeling defensive, Piper shot back, “Because we had forgotten about Whatshername . . .”

“Idril,” Paige interjected.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Whatever! Anyway, we had forgotten about her, after some warlock tried to kill Olivia. Besides, I don’t think Cole really liked What . . . uh, Idril, very much.”

“How about not at all?” Paige added sardonically. “Which is why I find it hard to believe that Cole will dump Livy for her.”

Phoebe protested, “I’m not lying or anything like that! I know what I saw!”

Mr. Morgan stared at Phoebe. “Tell me, Miss Halliwell, have any of your visions ever been wrong?”

The middle Charmed One squirmed with obvious discomfort. “I don’t . . . think so. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted one or two.”

Or more, Piper added silently. But she kept the thought to herself.

Mr. Morgan added, “Then it would be suffice to say it is possible that Belthazor will reject my niece. Marry this daemon. And if he does . . . can you imagine the danger this union might represent?”

Piper sighed. “Look . . . Mr. Morgan, what exactly do you expect us to do? Vanquish Cole? We can’t. He’s too powerful. Even for the Power of Three. I don’t have the stomach to do it, anyway. And I certainly don’t want a pissed off Olivia or Cole’s mother on our backs.”

“Your son . . .” Mr. Morgan began.

“Forget it!” Piper snapped. “I won’t allow anyone to use my son to kill Cole!”

Victor turned to Phoebe. “Sweetheart, why don’t you simply tell Olivia about your vision. She’s probably the best person to deal with this matter.”

Mr. Morgan’s green eyes brightened considerably, much to Piper’s disgust. “Of course! I had heard that Olivia had nearly killed Cole, last summer. Once she realizes that both he and this daemon will pose a potential threat, she certainly won’t hesitate to use that vanquishing potion that she had created.”

“What?” Phoebe regarded the male witch with dismay. Paige glared at the man.

Piper rolled her eyes. She really needed to get rid of this guy. “Wait a minute! How do you know that Olivia will kill Cole, once she learns about Phoebe’s premonition? We don’t even know the circumstances behind the whole thing in the first place!”

The Welshman stared at the oldest Charmed One. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Beltha . . . I mean Cole still have feelings for this woman.”

Another derisive snort escaped from Paige’s mouth. “Really? And you know this for a fact?”

“I . . .”

Phoebe calmly and coolly spoke up. “If what Piper and Paige say about Cole’s feelings for this woman is true, I doubt very much that Olivia will simply use the potion on him. However . . .” She heaved a morose sigh. “I guess I better tell Olivia about the premonition.”

For the first time, Piper began to wonder if her younger sister was finally growing up. She hoped so. And she hoped that Brion Morgan was wrong about Cole’s feelings for this Idril. The last thing any of them needed was an all-powerful half-demon for an enemy.

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 6/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Six

The front door swung open and Piper entered the Halliwell manor, followed by her companions. “Here we go,” she announced cheerfully. “Home sweet home.”

A sigh left Victor Bennett’s mouth. “I don’t know if this place was ever home to me, sweetheart.”

“Dad,” Piper gently admonished the older man. “I’ll show you to your room. And then you can clean up and get dressed.” She headed toward the staircase.

Victor followed his daughter. “Get dressed for what?”

Piper began to climb the staircase. “For the wedding dinner at the McNeills.” Then she shouted, “Phoebe, we’re here!” She and Victor paused outside of Wyatt’s nursery, where they found the middle Charmed One rocking her ten-month old nephew.

“Phoebe’s here?” Victor gaped at his youngest daughter. “In San Francisco?”

Phoebe smiled. “Hey Dad! Welcome back.”

“What . . . what are you . . .?”

Piper jerked her father’s arm. “Not now, Dad. Later. You need to get dressed, first.” She led him to his bedroom.

“What is Phoebe doing here?” Victor demanded. “I thought she was in Hong Kong. With that Jason fellow.”

Phoebe appeared in the doorway. “I was,” she said. “Jason and I had also received wedding invitations.”

“From your ex-husband?”

Piper added, “And Jason’s ex-girlfriend.”

Victor frowned at her. “What . . .?” He glanced at Phoebe. “What’s going on? Look honey, I know that you and Cole had made your peace. And I know that he was as much a victim of the whole Source mess, as you were. But why on earth would you attend his wedding to another woman? And did I hear right? Olivia McNeill was Jason’s . . .?”

“. . . ex-girlfriend,” Phoebe finished with a sigh. “Yeah, that’s right. In a nutshell, Olivia and Jason had also made their peace. Then she and Cole had sent wedding invitations to the both of us. I think they were just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, Jason had decided to accept on behalf of both of us. And I couldn’t say no . . . because I didn’t want Jason to think I was jealous. About Cole’s upcoming wedding.”

Concern and sympathy mingled in Victor’s eyes. “And are you? Jealous, I mean.” Before Phoebe could answer, he added, “Sweetheart, it would be okay if you were a bit jealous. It’s only natural. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason is wondering why he and Olivia didn’t work out.”

Piper glanced at Phoebe and noticed that the younger woman did not care for her father’s last suggestion. Then she glanced at her watch. “Uh-oh, I hate to cut this short guys, but we’ve got less than three hours to get ready. Now, if only I knew where Paige . . .”

A sharp bang signaled someone slamming a door. Then a voice cried out, “Hey! I’m home!” It was Paige.

“Well,” a slightly relieved Piper continued, “I guess we now know. Okay guys, let’s get busy.” She grabbed Phoebe’s arm and pulled the younger woman out of their father’s bedroom.

————-

A sigh left Claude Dubois’ mouth. He stood in front of a large mirror as he struggled to adjust his tie. His wife frowned. “What was that about?” she asked.

“What?” Frustrated by the tie, he turned to Vivian for help.

The middle-aged woman calmly finished the task. “That little sigh of yours. What was that all about?”

“This whole wedding thing,” Claude finally confessed. “There’s just a whole lot of . . . I don’t know . . . craziness going on. Olivia is marrying a half-daemon. Okay, he’s now one of the good guys, but still . . . his past makes Andre’s look like nothing. And that mother of his . . .”

Vivian interrupted. “Evil or not, she seems like an interesting person. And she obviously loves her son and has no problems with him marrying Olivia.”

“Is it any wonder? She knew Jack’s great-granddaddy,” Claude reminded his wife. “Who also happens to be her own son’s godfather. And then there’s this whole mess about Jack and his family being related . . . to daemons?”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian pointed out that the Dubois family knew about the McNeills’ blood connection to an incubus. “And you’re complaining now?”

Claude sighed. “What about the other two daemons they’re supposed to be kin to?”

Vivian shot him a hard look. “If you wanna leave now, Claude . . . you can go back to New Orleans, now. This isn’t about the McNeills or Cole . . . or even those daemons that Jack is supposed to be related to. This is about Andre becoming your son-in-law, next month. If Jack and Gwen can accept a former daemonic assassin in the family, surely you should be able to accept a former bokor into yours. Or do you wonder if you can?”

He hated it when Vivian exposes his true feelings. It made Claude feel vulnerable and guilty. Yet, his wife’s bluntness happened to one of her traits that he valued. “I hope I can,” he finally said. “For Cecile’s sake. It’s just that . . . well, it’s hard.” A sigh left his mouth. “It’s hard to just dismiss all that I’ve been taught in my life. But I don’t want to become like Gwen’s daddy. Or her brother for that matter.”

“Good,” Vivian said with a final pat on his arm. “Now let’s go downstairs. We have a party to attend.” The couple linked arms and left the bedroom.

———–

Brion Morgan stood on a balcony that overlooked San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the bay in the far distance. His eyes barely acknowledge the panoramic view. But his mind seethed with disturbing thoughts.

A slight cough interrupted his reverie. “Ready to leave now, darling,” his mother announced. When he failed to move, she added, “Brion?”

“Yes Mother.” Brion returned inside Bronwyn’s bedroom and found his mother dressed in a deep blue cocktail dress. “You look lovely,” he announced.

Bronwyn smiled. “Thank you. You look handsome yourself. Now, let’s go.” Brion sighed as they linked arms. The elderly woman frowned. “What is it now, Brion?”

Son and mother stopped short near the doorway. “Nothing . . . Mother. It’s just . . .” Unable to remain silent, he burst out, “This entire wedding is a mistake! It’s wrong! Completely wrong! In two days, a powerful daemon, who happens to be a notorious assassin, is about to become my nephew-in-law! A notorious assassin who was once the Source. Doesn’t this disturb you?”

Bronwyn sighed. “I admit that when Gweneth first told us about Olivia and Cole, I was a bit . . . flabbergasted. But she and Jack have convinced me . . .”

“Convinced you? One would think after that debacle with Richard Bannen . . .”

With surprising speed for someone her age, Brion’s elderly mother whirled around, blocking his path to the door. “Look here, Brion,” she said in a low voice. “It is time you realize that the only one truly responsible for your sister’s death was Rhiannon, herself. She had allowed her grief over Tony’s death to veer out of control. And if your father and the others can forgive her little . . . murderous spree, you can certainly do the same over Olivia’s attack against Dafydd. How long do you plan to bear a grudge against her?”

“I don’t . . .” Brion pressed his mouth together and shook his head. “This is not about what Olivia had done to Dafydd, Mother. I’m just concerned over this upcoming marriage to Belthazor. A former daemonic assassin! Aren’t you concerned?”

Bronwyn shot back, “After meeting him . . . no. Olivia is in love with him. And it’s obvious that he feels the same about her. Gwen and the others seem to regard him as a member of the family.”

“Yes, but . . .”

Again, his mother interrupted him. “Brion, when you had asked to accompany me to this wedding, I assumed that you wanted to make your peace with Olivia.” The elderly woman’s eyes nearly resembled black marble. “Am I wrong?”

Brion wanted to convince his mother that it was wrong to support Olivia’s marriage to the notorious Belthazor. But what could he say? She seemed perfectly convinced otherwise. He finally murmured, “No, you’re not wrong.”

“Good. Now,” the elderly woman extended her arm to her son. “I’m ready.” Brion linked his arm through hers and led her into the hallway.

————-

Olivia reached for a glass of champagne from one of the refreshment tables. She took a sip, as her eyes scanned the crowd inside the McNeills’ large drawing-room. She felt thankful that her parents had only invited friends and family, and not invited half of San Francisco’s high society to this engagement party. It would have been difficult dealing with them. And the only non-magical mortals attending the party were Darryl and Sheila Morris, Carlotta and Marcus from the squad, along with Veronica Altman from Cole’s office. And dealing with those three mingling with magic practitioners seemed bad enough.

In the past three or four hours, Olivia had tried to become involved in tonight’s celebration. She tried to be happy when Dad had toasted the engaged couple. She tried to be happy when some of the presents were opened. She simply wished that she could enjoy the party. But Cecile’s vision about Cole and Idril had left her in a state of anxiety and confusion.

Olivia simply could not understand why Cole would be willing to marry someone like Idril. Someone whom the half-daemon apparently harbored a low opinion. Olivia could understand if Phoebe Halliwell had been in Cecile’s vision. Or even a blast from the past like another one of Cole’s former girlfriends – Christine Bloom. But Idril? Why would Cole change brides in the first place? Will something happen to break up their engagement?

Longing to clear the cobwebs of questions from her mind, Olivia left the party for a few minutes. After retrieving a coat to ward off the December chill, she headed for the garden, outside. She sat down on her favorite bench. And continued to brood. But not even the garden’s scented sanctuary could offer escape from her anxiety. Olivia realized that sooner or later, she would have to face . . .

“Mind if I join you?” a soft, masculine voice asked.

Olivia’s heartbeat increased, as she recognized the voice. She glanced up and sure enough, Cole’s tall figure loomed before her. “Sure,” she said with a dim smile. “Go ahead.”

After Cole had filled the empty spot next to hers, he commented, “Why are you sitting outside, like this? Aren’t you cold?”

“It’s not that cold,” Olivia said with a shiver. “And I have a coat.” Dammit! Why did he have to remind her?

One of his dark brows formed an arch. “Oh really? Then I can only assume that your reason for being out here in 50 degrees weather is that you’re trying to avoid me.”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “I’m not trying . . . I mean . . . maybe I . . . All right! Maybe I have.”

“Why?”

Olivia seared the half-daemon with a sardonic look.

Cole shrugged. “Of course. Idril.” He paused before adding, “Here’s another question.” His blue eyes pierced into Olivia’s. “Do you honestly believe I would dump you for someone like Idril?”

Strange. Olivia had expected Cole to ask such a question. Yet, she still found herself taken by surprise. “No, I . . .” She paused – and sighed. “I don’t know, Cole. Normally, I would say no. But . . . you have to understand.”

“Understand what?”

Another sigh left Olivia’s mouth, as she realized that she would finally have to reveal a certain aspect of her life. “I, uh . . . I haven’t had much luck with men in life. And I mean with guys I’ve been serious about.” She told Cole about her first love, a high-school football player named Ronnie Whitelaw. He had dumped her about a week or two, after he took her virginity when she was seventeen.

“And then there was Richard,” she continued.

Cole frowned. “I know that Richard’s death had been difficult for you,” Cole said with a frown. “But I don’t see how . . .”

Olivia shook her head. “I guess that in a way . . . I felt that he had abandoned me. You see . . . he . . . I had to watch him die.”

“But I thought you had been unconscious at the time,” Cole insisted. “Because of your aunt’s attack.”

Closing her eyes, Olivia replied, “Not really. I . . .” She felt Cole’s gaze upon her. “I guess that when it came to Richard, I’ve always found it difficult to talk about his death.” She paused. “Especially about that moment when he finally died. I had to watch him die. Slowly. I didn’t mean to lie about it, when we first met. It’s just . . . we hadn’t known each other . . .” She sighed again. “Never mind. I guess the truth is that I had lied.”

“I see.” Olivia barely heard Cole’s voice. Anxiety clenched her heart. Did he really understand her reluctance to discuss that moment of Richard’s life? A sigh left the half-daemon’s mouth. “Olivia,” he added wearily, “I understand. Okay. I mean . . . I’m sure there are other matters that neither of us have brought up. There are some . . . aspects of my life I probably haven’t revealed, yet.” He gently pressed his hand against one of Olivia’s cheeks. “I understand.”

“I know,” Olivia said with a sigh. “I mean . . . now, I do. It’s just . . . well, Richard’s death was a horrible moment for me.”

Cole added, “Which is why you tend to be insecure when it comes to romance.”

The red-haired witch surprised her fiancé when she answered, “Oh, Richard’s not the main cause.”

“He’s not?” Cole said with a frown. “I don’t under. . .”

“Adrian Chambers.”

“Who?”

Olivia then proceeded to tell Cole about Adrian Chambers, a witch she had dated during her first two years in college. “Adrian’s mother was the first in his family to practice witchcraft. Which meant, he had no problem accepting a whitelighter as his guide. Like the Halliwells, he was really into daemon hunting. And I guess I was, too. I think I mainly did it to please him.”

Cole snickered, “I bet Leo must have loved this guy.”

“Are you kidding? Leo was crazy about Adrian. In fact, one of his friends happened to be Adrian’s whitelighter. Someone named Natalie. But she’s dead, now. As for Leo, he thought that Adrian and I made the perfect couple – you know, two witches battling evil daemons, together.” Olivia hesitated, as she recalled the last days of her college romance. “But . . . Adrian put an end to all that.”

The half-daemon drew Olivia closer into his arms, as she shivered. “What happened?”

With a sigh, Olivia explained, “Cecile, Barbara and I had this friend who majored in archeology. He found this artifact that belonged to a daemon named Rashik. Unfortunately, Jared had unintentionally turned it over to another daemon. Someone very unpleasant. We helped Rashik recover the artifact.”

“I’ve heard of Rashik,” Cole said. “He wasn’t a subject of the Source’s, or belonged to anything like the Gimle Order. He was an independent, like Riggerio.”

Sadly, Olivia concluded that Adrian had been appalled by her willingness to work with a daemon. “In other words, he had dumped me. Told me that he couldn’t remain involved with someone willing to work with ‘evil’.”

Cole rolled his eyes. “This guy sounds like a prick.”

“Prick or not, I was crazy about him. It had really hit me hard, when he dumped me.” Olivia paused. “So much so that I tried to win him back. I even began stalking him, but Cecile and Barbara put a stop to that. Even Leo was upset. And that’s when Bruce and I had decided that we no longer wanted a whitelighter.” She shook her head and sighed. “It took me a long time to get over Adrian. He had a talent for undermining my self-esteem, back then. In fact, I didn’t get seriously involved with anyone else for ten years . . . until I met Richard.”

Cole said, “And you think that I’ll dump you, just as this Adrian had done.” Olivia opened her mouth to speak, but the half-daemon continued, “Okay, there was that matter with Phoebe, last summer, but I was on the rebound . . . after you had dumped me, because of that spell Margolin had cast upon you. Remember?”

Olivia nodded. “Yeah, I remember. But this thing with Idril . . . I just don’t understand why Cecile would have a vision of you marrying her. You barely like her.”

“Hell, I don’t like her at all,” Cole corrected. “In fact, the only way I could see myself marrying Idril, is for her to cast a spell on me. And . . .” He broke off and stared at Olivia.

Olivia’s own eyes grew wide with realization. “Oh Goddess!” she exclaimed. “You think that’s it? Is that how she’ll end up marrying you? Through a spell?”

“I wouldn’t put it past Idril,” Cole muttered. “That’s how Leo and Margolin got to you.” He gently rubbed Olivia’s arm, as she snuggled even closer to him.

Olivia planted a light kiss on his jaw. “I wonder . . .” she began.

“You wonder what?”

“I wonder if your mother was right about Idril.” Olivia’s gaze met Cole’s. “That she was behind the attempt to kill me during our engagement party in the Melora dimension, and had poisoned that warlock.”

Cole grunted. “I wouldn’t be surprised. Poison had always been Idril’s forte. But if she comes near any of us again,” his voice hardened, “she’ll end up one dead daemon.”

Again, Olivia kissed his jaw. “Hmmm, my hero.”

“Speaking of which, how about rewarding your hero?” Cole said in a suggestive voice. “I . . . wouldn’t mind becoming familiar with your old bedroom, again.”

A light chuckle escaped from Olivia’s mouth. Sometimes, her fiance’s audacity never failed to surprise her. “You really amaze me sometimes, Cole.”

“Does that mean . . .?”

“Nana is using my old room, right now. And I’m sharing another with Cecile.”

A long, silent pause followed before Cole whispered in Olivia’s ear, “How about my place?”

Olivia stared into Cole’s eyes, which glimmered with desire. She pressed her mouth against his for a passionate kiss. After a brief, yet wet exploration of each other’s mouths, she murmured, “Hmmm, now that sounds more promising.” And their lips met once more for another kiss.

———-

Phoebe had planned to stick by Jason’s side throughout the evening. But when he drifted toward Cecile Dubois in order to discuss business, the Charmed One decided that she would prefer to be elsewhere. She eventually joined her father, who was in deep conversation with Olivia’s dad and Uncle Mike, along with Cecile’s dad, Claude Dubois.

“. . . that you’re not uneasy about Olivia marrying . . . well, you know . . . Cole,” Victor was saying. “Considering his past.”

Jack McNeill stared directly at the other man. “I’m as uneasy as any father who’s about to lose his daughter to another man.” He glanced at Mr. Dubois. “Right Claude?”

“Fortunately, I won’t have to experience that until next month,” Mr. Dubois mumbled. “And if Gabrielle ever get married . . . I’ll have to go through it, again.”

Victor stared at the New Orleans man. “Two daughters, huh?” Then he glanced at Michael McNeill. “What about you, Mike?”

“Two,” the younger Mr. McNeill replied. “One is in college right now. And not concerned with marriage, thank God. And the other is too young. Sixteen.”

Nodding, Victor continued, “But at least none of your daughters are involved with a daemon. Or a half-daemon.”

“Dad!” Phoebe grasped her father’s arm.

But Victor did not pay her any attention. “One who used to be evil, I might add. When Phoebe had married Cole, we all thought that his powers were gone.”

“Dad!”

Unfortunately, Victor seemed to be on a roll. “But now, he’s more powerful than ever. I mean . . . aren’t you a little uneasy?”

“Well, sure I am,” Jack finally replied. “Just as I’m sure that Cole’s mother is uneasy about Olivia. After all, she nearly killed him, last summer.” Victor stared at him. “Didn’t Phoebe and Piper tell you about what happened between Leo and that Margolin witch?”

Claude Dubois spoke up. “I had heard about that. From Cecile.” He shook his head. “Bad business, robbing someone’s control like that. Might as well be stealing a person’s soul.”

His comment stirred up memories of the Valhalla incident for Phoebe. And guilt for what she and Paige had done to Darryl Morris.

Victor replied gruffly, “Yeah, they told me. Let’s just say that my opinion of whitelighters took a nosedive . . . again.”

“Dad,” Phoebe admonished. “Don’t forget that Paige is half-whitelighter.”

“She’s different,” Victor said with a wave of his hand. He then paused. “But still . . . Olivia marrying a . . .”

A heavy sigh from Jack interrupted Victor. “Look . . . Victor, I’ll give you a few reasons why I have no problems with this marriage. One, I liked Cole from the moment I first met him. Two, the reason is that my gut instinct told me that he would be good for Olivia – although I haven’t told her this. Three, he had saved her life when they first met. Four, he happens to be my late great-grandfather’s godson.” Phoebe gasped. Victor’s eyes flew open in shock. Jack continued, “Apparently, the McNeills and the Turners knew each other for quite some time. Five, his Uncle Marbus had started out as a top daemonic assassin and ended up spending the last 143 years helping others as a member of the Gimle Order. Which means that Cole is capable of doing the same. And six, my family has recently discovered that we’re descended from three daemons, and not just some 10th century incubus. One of the daemons had been an assassin for the Source. And another is still alive.”

From the corner of her eye, Phoebe saw Michael McNeill wince at his brother’s last words. Her father, on the other hand, looked flabbergasted. “Oh God,” she murmured.

“Say that again?” a dazed Victor asked.

Phoebe jumped in. “Uh, Dad . . . maybe you should get a drink, or something.”

But Victor did not seem to be listening. “Did you say that you’re descended from three demons?”

Closing her eyes, Phoebe sighed. She did not want to hear anymore of this. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’ll just . . . oh boy. Excuse me.” And she quietly walked away.

The Charmed One decided that she needed a breath of fresh air. Badly. After retrieving her trench coat from a nearby room, Phoebe squared her shoulders as she attempted to find a door that would lead her outside. She finally came upon one of the smaller drawing-rooms that had double French doors that led to the garden. Just as she stepped out on the terrace, she encountered Olivia. “Oh!”

“Hi Phoebe!” the red-haired witch said with a bright smile. “Taking a walk?”

Phoebe smiled feebly. “Just getting some air.”

“Okay. See you later.” Olivia strolled into the house, wearing an unusually pleased expression.

Phoebe glanced over her shoulder to observe the other witch, who turned right to walk the length of the terrace. Where was Olivia going, and why was she looking so . . .? She turned around and bumped into a tall figure. At that moment, visions of Cole and a dark-haired woman standing before a very familiar man with hooded eyes and a beard. All three stood before a reddish stone altar. Phoebe had the distinct impression that she was witnessing a demonic wedding.

“Phoebe?” Cole’s soft voice broke Phoebe out of her trance. She opened her eyes and saw the half-demon staring at her with concerned eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Huh? Oh . . . sure. I’m okay.” Phoebe inhaled sharply.

Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Are you sure?” Cole demanded. “Because you look a little dazed for a minute. Almost as if . . .” He paused. “Did you just have a premon . . .?”

A third figure appeared on the terrace. “Phoebe?” The Charmed One’s heart sank at the sound of Jason’s voice. The blond man glanced at Cole and looked taken aback. Phoebe’s stomach made a 360 degree somersault. “Oh . . . uh Cole.” The millionaire obviously struggled to look nonchalant. “Um . . . what’s going on, here?”

Phoebe sighed. “Nothing, Jason. I was on my way to the garden, when I bumped into Cole.”

“Uh-huh.” Jason shot another glance at the half-demon. “Tell me Turner, are you in the habit of wearing lipstick?”

Cole’s eyes grew wide. “Huh?”

“On your chin. And lips.”

Sure enough, Phoebe spotted dark streaks on Cole’s jaw and lips. Olivia.

“It’s Olivia’s lipstick, Dean,” Cole replied in a cool voice. “Not Phoebe’s.”

Phoebe added, “He’s right, Jason. Didn’t you run into Olivia?”

“No, I didn’t,” Jason replied in a hard voice.

Cole sighed. “That’s because she probably walked along the terrace and entered the house through another room.” A sneer appeared on his face. “And if you would bother to check, you would see that the lipstick on my face and that on Phoebe’s lips do not match.”

Jason blinked momentarily. “Oh . . . uh . . .”

“Excuse me.” Cole turned away and headed in the same direction as Olivia.

Phoebe sighed, as she grabbed her boyfriend’s arm. “C’mon Jason. I think we might both need some fresh air. Badly.” And she steered him down the terrace steps.

————

Unbeknownst to the three people on the terrace, a fourth person had witnessed the entire scene from one of the French doors in the direction opposite from where Olivia and Cole had gone. Once everyone else had disappeared from the terrace, Brion Morgan walked toward the terrace’s balustrade.

A perplexed frown marred the aging witch’s handsome face. He had seen that expression on Phoebe Halliwell’s face before – the gasp, followed by a deer-in-the-headlights look. On numerous occasions, Brion had seen that same expression on one Gilbert Llewellyn’s face. And he knew for a fact that his cousin was a seer. Which could only mean that Miss Halliwell possessed the same abilities.

Brion also recalled something else. Miss Halliwell’s “vision” may have struck her the moment she bumped into Bel. . . Cole Turner. Had the Charmed One foreseen something horrifying in store for the half-daemon? Or had she learned something worse – that he might be a future threat? Brion had to find out as soon as possible. Before the half-daemon marries his niece.

END OF CHAPER SIX

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 5/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Five

Cecile speared a piece of honeydew melon from her place and popped it into her mouth. As she chewed, she note the subdued air that permeated the McNeills’ dining room during breakfast. No one seemed inclined to talk. Not after the verbal bloodbath between Mr. McNeill and Mr. Morgan that she and Olivia had encountered, following their return from Cole’s penthouse, last night.

The Welsh-born witch had castigated Olivia for getting involved with a notorious half-daemon, and the McNeills for supporting the relationship. Jack McNeill made it clear that any of Olivia’s relationships were none of his business. Before matters could get worse, both old Mrs. McNeill and Cecile’s own father managed to convince the two men to cease hostilities.

Strangely enough, Olivia had remained silent during the entire quarrel. And her subdued manner seemed to have continued into the morning. Cecile knew the reason behind the redhead’s mood. Her vision. That damn vision about Cole marrying some old daemonic lover. Right now, Cecile wished that she had never opened her mouth in the first place.

After twenty-one years, Cecile knew Olivia. Very well. On the surface, the redhead usually projected an air of great self-confidence. But when it came to her love life, that self-confidence usually threatened to crumble at the first hint of a major trauma. And those traumas usually involved romance. Cecile knew about the high-school football player to whom Olivia had lost her virginity. He used her feelings for sex and dumped her not long after he got what he wanted. And there was poor Richard Bannen, whose only real crime seemed to be that he was killed before he and Olivia could get married. But Olivia’s biggest trauma occurred during college when an old boyfriend and fellow witch named Adrian Chambers had dumped her after she failed to live up to his ideal of what a girlfriend and a witch should be.

It seemed ironic to Cecile that the biggest threat to Olivia’s relationship with Cole Turner happened to be his status as a divorced man, and not his past as a daemonic assassin. A divorced man who remained in touch with his ex-wife. Barbara had told the Vodoun priestess about the summer breakup between Olivia and Cole . . . and the latter’s brief reconciliation with Phoebe Halliwell. And now it seemed that another one of Cole’s former lovers threatened to ruin the upcoming wedding. Or marriage. Cecile knew that Olivia would remain in a state of anxiety until . . .

“She really planned this well. Didn’t she?”

Everyone stared at Brion Morgan, who had spoken. Mr. McNeill sighed wearily and stared at his brother-in-law. “I’m sorry, Brion. Did you just say something of any significance?”

Mr. Morgan glared at the other man. “I’m speaking of Bel . . . Cole’s mother. Nimue. Haven’t any of you wondered why she didn’t tell you about the connection between her husband’s family and yours – until now?”

The younger Mrs. McNeill rolled her eyes in contempt. “I don’t know, Brion. Perhaps this is some devious plan of hers to prevent Livy’s upcoming marriage,” she commented snidely. “Of course, I’m sure that would sit well with you.”

“Gwen darling,” old Mrs. Morgan said in a firm voice. “Brion. Must we quarrel?”

Olivia’s uncle protested, “I was not quarreling, Mother. I had merely stated that I found it odd that Nimue never told Jack and the others about . . .”

“Where are you going with this, Brion?” Mr. McNeill demanded. “Honestly! Why are you so upset by the idea that Cole might be my great-grandfather’s godson? Is this some kind of hint or sign that the McNeills are marked by evil?”

Cecile noticed that Olivia’s other uncle – Michael McNeill had winced at his older brother’s words. “I don’t think that Brion meant anything of the sort, Jack,” he said in a conciliatory voice.

“The news probably took him by surprise,” Cecile’s father suggested. “Like the rest of us.”

Glaring at his brother-in-law, Mr. McNeill muttered, “I’ll bet.”

Bruce continued, “C’mon Uncle Brion. I’m sure there isn’t a family with a magical background that has connections others might not view with a tolerant eye.”

“Like dear great-great-great-whatever grandmother Briana Morgan,” Harry added.

Brion Morgan’s head whipped around. He glared at his younger nephew. “May I ask why you deemed it necessary to bring ‘her’ up? And how can you even compare her to any daemon? She may have been a warlock, but she was mortal.”

“For heaven sakes, Brion!” Mrs. McNeill retorted. “Briana Morgan was one of the most notorious warlocks in the supernatural world! Everyone knows it! She was practically a favorite of the old Source’s! Look at Andre!” Or don’t, Cecile added silently. She really wished that Olivia’s mother had not brought up her fiancé. But Mrs. McNeill continued, “He was once a notorious bokor with associations with a powerful order! He managed to change his life and will be marrying Cecile, next month!” The Vodoun priestess glanced at her father, whose face had tightened. “And before you experience another fit, I might as well tell you that your niece and two nephews are descendants of at least three daemons!”

The dining room fell silent. Everyone stared at Gweneth McNeill. Cecile noticed that her mother’s eyes had grown wide with shock. Brion Morgan, on the other hand, reacted to his sister’s words with horror. “What did you say?” he whispered.

Oh oh, Cecile thought. The shit has certainly hit the fan.

“I said that the McNeills are descended from at least three daemons. At least the ones, here in America.” Mrs. McNeill glanced around the dining room with defiant eyes. “What? It’s nothing to be ashamed of!”

Mr. McNeill regarded his wife with an affectionate smile. “It certainly isn’t, sweetheart.”

Cecile shot a peek at her best friend. Mrs. McNeill’s little bombshell had knocked Olivia out of her anxious mood. There seemed to be something to be grateful for.

———

“BECAUSE SOONER OR LATER, I THINK THE TWO OF YOU WILL END UP AS HUSBAND AND WIFE.”

Cecile’s words reverberated inside Cole’s head, over and over again. The New Orleans woman had predicted future matrimony for the half-daemon. Only not with Olivia. According to Cecile, he would eventually marry Idril – one of the great mistakes of his life. And he could not simply fathom such a thing happening.

Cole leaned back into his leather chair and sighed. Perhaps Cecile’s vision might prove to be false. He fervently hoped so. The last thing he wanted to do was marry a shallow bitch like Idril, who would bore him silly after thirty minutes in her company.

The intercom on his desk buzzed. Cole snapped out of his reverie and answered. “Yes?”

“You have a visitor, Mr. Turner,” his assistant, Elinor, replied. “A new client. He had made an appointment, earlier this morning. A Mr. Gary . . .”

Cole finished, “. . . Whalen. Oh yeah. I remember. Send him in.”

A minute later, Elinor ushered in a blond man just barely under six feet tall, with blue eyes. He held out his hand. “Mr. Turner? How do you do? I’m Gary Whalen.” The man spoke with a slight Southern accent.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Whalen.” Cole shook his guest’s hand. “Would you like some coffee? Or water?”

“No thanks.”

Cole said to his assistant, “Thank you, Elinor.” Once she had closed the door behind her, the half-daemon turned to his guest. “So, what can I do for you, Mr. Whalen?”

The blond man cleared his throat nervously. “I . . . uh, I need an attorney,” he declared. Then he paused. “I’m looking for a new attorney, that is.” He ended his last sentence with a firm nod.

Cole regarded the other man through narrowed eyes. “Is there something wrong, Mr. Whalen? You seem nervous.”

“I guess I am,” Mr. Whalen said with an uneasy chuckle. “You see, I’m . . . interested in drafting a new will.”

One of Cole’s dark brows formed an arch. “A new will?”

Whalen hesitated. Then, “My former attorney . . . He, uh . . . was killed by a hit-and-run driver before he could draft a new will for me. And his death, quite frankly, has made me more aware of my own mortality.”

“Your accent,” Cole continued. “You don’t sound like a Californian. Where are you originally from?”

Mr. Whalen gave a slight smile. “Um . . . Richmond. I’ve lived in San Francisco for the past four years.”

Nodding, Cole said, “I see. Now, before we commence upon drafting your will, we need to sign you up as one of the firm’s new clients.” He strode toward one of the beige filing cabinets and opened one drawer. “This is basically a standard contract. It will remain in effect as long as you remain a client of Jackson, Carter and Kline.” Cole removed a blank contract. “I’ll have my assistant type it up, so that you can . . .”

Cole turned around. A bright, turquoise-blue stone gleamed in his eyes. And then his mind went blank.

————-

Ensnaring the infamous half-daemon proved to be easier than Gary had imagined. Perhaps those rumors about Belthazor’s encounter with Barbas had been correct. The warlock took a deep breath and continued:

“With this stone will soon be linked,
Your mind to mine, shall finally . . .”

A sharp knock on the door interrupted the spell. Gary muttered a quick oath under his breath. Then he said to Belthazor, “Forget the last minute or two. Continue explaining about the contract.”

The half-daemon’s blue eyes blinked momentarily. Then he finished his last sentence. “. . . sign it.”

At that moment, the door burst open. Two men entered the office. “Hey there, buddy! Ready for lunch?” The tall, black man stopped short at the sight of Gary standing near Belthazor. “Oh, sorry man. Didn’t realize that you were alone.”

Belthazor paused, as if confused about something. Fortunately, his confusion barely lasted a second. “Uh, it’s lunch, already?” He stared at the newcomers. “Where’s Elinor? Wasn’t she out there?”

The other man, who was a white man with dark-brown hair replied, “She wasn’t there.” His blue-gray eyes fell upon Gary. “Hello.”

“Oh yeah. Uh, Bruce,” Belthazor began, “this is my new client, Gary Whalen. Well, a prospective client. Mr. Whalen, I’d like to introduce you to my future brother-in-law, Bruce McNeill and a very close friend, Andre Morrell.”

It took all of Gary’s efforts not to gape at the black man. He had heard of Andre Morrell. An infamous bokor from the Anasi Order. “Oh, uh . . . hi.” Gary smiled uneasily at the two men. He realized that he needed to get out. Fast. “Well, I better get going.” He started toward the door.

Belthazor frowned. “What about the new contract? And your will? Do you still plan to join our firm?”

“Oh! Of course. Uh . . .” Gary deliberately drifted toward the door. “. . . I’ll get back with you, later. Your friends just reminded me that I have a lunch date.” He nodded at the three men. “Nice meeting you all.” And he quickly made his escape.

Andre regarded the closed door with thoughtful eyes. “That is one strange dude,” he commented.

“Huh?” Bruce asked. “What do you mean?”

“Cole’s new client. I’ve never seen anyone – normal that it – move with the speed of light, like that. Strange thing is,” Andre paused, “he didn’t seem to be much in a hurry, when we first got here.”

Cole shook his head and smiled. “I think you had scared him off. He, uh . . . had some private business to attend to. A will.” Then he frowned at the other two men. “By the way, what are you two doing here?”

“Bruce and I had decided to take you to lunch,” Andre explained. “Help get you out of any funk you might be feeling.”

Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted lightly, “Well, you’re wasting your time. I’m not in a bad mood.”

Andre grunted. “You could have fooled me, last night. And this morning, before you left. Considering how Olivia had reacted to Cecile’s little bombshell.”

“I’m not upset.” Cole insisted in a hard voice.

Bruce shook his head. “That’s one hell of a vision that Andre had told me about. Was Cecile referring to that daemon you used to date? The one who had appeared at your engagement party, in the Melora dimension? And who used to be in the movies as Diane Hayward?”

Cole sighed. Long and hard. “You mean, Idril. One of the few mistakes in my life.”

“If you feel that way about her, why would you want to marry her?”

The half-daemon rolled his eyes and retorted, “What makes you think that I would ever marry someone like Idril? Cecile’s vision must be a mistake. I just can’t . . . The idea of marrying Idril makes me ill. Literally.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Andre said. “I remember her from that trip we had made to the Bahamas, early in ’99. Before I had even met Cecile and Olivia. Never understood what you saw in her. She seemed pretty sharp, but . . . just didn’t seem your type.” He paused momentarily. “Come to think of it, I’m trying to understand why you became involved with Phoebe. Especially after meeting her.”

Cole shot back, “What? You’re now questioning my taste in women?”

“I have to admit that Andre has a point about Phoebe,” Bruce added. “I mean – yeah, she has an outgoing personality that would probably attract someone like you.” Cole stared at the witch, as he continued, “But when Leo had first told us about you two, I was surprised that you didn’t hook up with Prue. She seemed like more your type. You know, more sophisticated and mature. Then again, maybe Prue was too much your type. You two seemed a little too similar in your natures, despite you being a daemon, and her a witch. As for Phoebe . . . well, sometimes she seems smart and on the ball. And other times, she reminds me of a female Peter Pan. Or a child bride. You know what I mean?”

Cole knew exactly what Bruce meant. One of his former clients – the late DeWolfe Mann of the BAY-MIRROR – had said the very same thing, last spring. The half-daemon began to wonder if his relationship with Phoebe had been doomed from the start. And what about Olivia? She had Phoebe’s extroverted nature, but Prue’s maturity. Did Cecile’s vision meant that he would never find happiness with her, as well?

“For two people who came here to cheer me up,” Cole grumbled, “you’re doing a piss poor job of it. Now I’m really beginning to question my taste in women.”

With a smile, Andre said, “Well, you’ve hit the jackpot with Olivia. That’s saying something. Right Bruce?”

His gray eyes twinkling, Bruce solemnly replied, “I refuse to answer on the grounds of possibly being accused of favoritism.”

Cole sighed, as he led the other two men out of the office. He could only hope that Olivia felt the same about him.

———–

Inside a small suite at the St. Regis Hotel, an impatient Idril faced Gary Wheeler. “Where’s Belthazor? Why isn’t he here?”

Wheeler sighed. “Because we were interrupted before I could finish the spell.”

“And that stopped you?” Idril rolled her eyes in contempt. “Why didn’t you just deal with them and continue the spell?”

Keeping his annoyance in check, Wheeler shot back, “Because we were interrupted by one of Belthazor’s future brothers-in-law . . . and Andre Morrell. I wasn’t about to go toe-to-toe with a powerful witch and a powerful Voodoo priest.”

Idril’s stomach tightened. “Morrell? Andre Morrell? From the Anasi Order? I’ve met him once. Nearly five years ago.” Realizing that the warlock had good reason to abort the spell, disappointment settled within her. “Okay,” she added, “I guess you’ll have to set up another appointment. Maybe you can see him, later this afternoon.”

Wheeler shook his head. “Sorry, but he’ll be busy! I was lucky enough to see him this morning. Besides,” the warlock paused, “why don’t you do the spell?”

The demoness snapped, “Because I would have to get close to him! And I can’t. Or have you forgotten? It means you’ll have to make . . . another . . . appointment!”

“I tried!” Wheeler sighed, as he plopped down on the sofa. “I just called his secretary. Or assistant. Apparently, Belthazor won’t be available after today. Not until after the New Year.”

Idril heaved an exasperated sigh. “Of all the . . .” She paused and then added, “All right! Then visit him at home. Tonight.” She shook her head in frustration. “This is getting out of hand.”

“Then why don’t you call it off?” Wheeler suggested. Idril glared at him. “Or not.”

Still glaring, the demoness added, “You’ll visit Belthazor’s apartment, tonight. The McNeill woman should be at her parents’ home. Make sure that you’re alone and use the stone. Once the spell is completed . . .”

“Yeah, I know,” Wheeler said, interrupting. “Bring him here.” He sighed. “I only hope that nothing goes wrong.”

“It better not.” The veiled threat hung heavily in the air. Just as Idril had intended.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 4/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Four

The doorbell rang. Olivia heaved a sigh and stared at Cecile. “Oh God,” she murmured. “It’s time.”

Cecile rolled her eyes. “Get serious, girl. You act as if we’re about to attend the wedding party from hell.”

“We’re talking about my half-daemon fiancé, his daemonic mother and uncle, and my prissy Uncle Brion in the same room.” Olivia paused. “You do the math.”

With a snort, Cecile added, “Now if you add Daddy and Andre, who can barely stand each other, then you’re talking about a hellish night.” She grabbed Olivia’s arm. “And by the way, since when, as a Wiccan, did you start believing in hell? Time to go downstairs and meet the guests.”

The two friends left the bedroom that they shared and headed downstairs toward the large drawing room. Seconds later, Davies ushered in Cole, Andre, Nimue and Marbus. Olivia greeted her fiancé with a kiss. “Ready for tonight?”

“Would you be upset if I said ‘no’?” Cole murmured back.

Olivia shot him a quick grimace and made the introductions. “Cole, Andre . . . I’m sure that you two remembered my grandmother, Bronwyn Llewellyn Morgan. From Bruce’s wedding.”

The half-daemon and the former bokor greeted the elderly witch with warm smiles. Olivia’s grandmother literally gushed over the pair. “I must say that it’s lovely to see you two, again.” She sighed. “Makes me wish I was fifty years younger.”

“Mother!” Gweneth admonished.

“How about forty years?”

Barely smiling, Olivia continued the introductions. “Nana, this is Elizabeth Turner, Cole’s mother. She’s also known as . . . uh, Nimue.”

The elderly woman’s dark eyes grew wide at the sight of the demoness. “Good heavens! So, you’re the one who . . .” She glanced at her son. “Brion, is the daemon who had . . .?”

Olivia’s uncle stiffened. “Yes,” he muttered.

An amused smile curved Nimue’s lips. “Yes, I’m the one who had taken Aeronwyn’s Grimoire. I still have it, by the way. Nice to meet you again, Mr. Morgan.”

Brion’s mouth tightened even further. His mother peered closely at Nimue. “Good heavens! I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you speak with a Dublin accent?”

“I was born in Dublin,” Nimue explained. “And my family are descendants of the Tuatha Dé Dannan.”

Bronwyn exclaimed, “Bloody hell!”

“That was more or less my reaction,” Margaret Ferguson added.

Nimue’s smile widened, as she nodded at Marbus. “By the way, this is my elder brother, Marbus. I’m sure you know him as . . . um, Miles Farrell. Like me, he was born . . .”

“Miles Farrell?” The outburst came from Olivia’s uncle. Who wrote ‘VISIONS OF RAGE’ and ‘TIME OF THE PHOENIX’?”

Looking slightly embarrassed, Marbus nodded. “That and a few others.” He held out his hand to the Welshman. “Nice meeting you, uh . . .?”

“Brion Morgan.” Olivia’s uncle shook the daemon’s hand. “I understand that you’re also a Gimle daemon?” Nimue rolled her eyes.

Marbus replied, “Aye. For over 140 years or so.” He shook Bronwyn’s hand. “Lovely to meet you, Mrs. Morgan.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Olivia’s grandmother replied.

After Olivia finished with the introductions, a heavy silence filled the room. Nimue’s next comment caught the others off guard. She turned to the Welsh visitors and said, “I suppose that Gweneth must have told you the news.”

Brion peered suspiciously at the demoness. “What news?”

“About Jack’s family, of course.”

Another deadly silence followed. Dread filled Olivia’s mind. She feared that her future mother-in-law was about to reveal the McNeills’ family secret. “Oh, Nana and Uncle Brion already know about the daemonic wedding ceremony, Nimue.” She shot an uneasy look at Cole. “If that’s what you’re talking about.”

The half-daemon stepped forward. “Mother is probably referring to the news about your shop.”

“What?” Nimue frowned at her son.

Cole deliberately repeated himself. “Olivia’s new shop, Mother. Isn’t that what you mean? She plans to open it after the New Year.”

“Hopefully in early February,” Olivia added, grateful for Cole’s quick thinking. She turned to Mrs. Dubois. “I thought you might like a peep at it, before you leave.”

A wary smile appearing on her face, Mrs. Dubois replied, “Yeah. Yeah, Andre told me all about it.”

Once again, the room fell silent. From the corner of her eye, Olivia noticed that Nimue seemed interested in the room’s décor. So did Gweneth. “I realize that this room looks a bit old-fashioned, but I’ve always been a fan of the old Spanish Colonial style. Ever since I first arrived in California.”

“So have I,” Nimue replied. “Of course that was 120 years ago. Although I must say that this room looked slightly different, back then.”

Everyone stared at the demoness. Including Olivia. “You’ve . . . been here, before?”

Nimue hesitated. “Well . . . yes. After all, the Turners were a well-to-do family, back then.”

“That would make sense,” Mr. Dubois said. “Considering that Cole is . . .” He paused and turned to the half-daemon. “Sorry, but I remember Cecile and Andre telling me that you’re . . . 115 years old?”

Cole corrected him. “I’ll be 119 years, next month.”

“That’s right,” Nimue added. “Oh, how I remember that day. Deirdre had to act as midwife, while Benjamin and William waited downstairs for . . .”

Uncle Mike interrupted. “Wait a minute. William? As in William McNeill?”

“Of course,” Nimue coolly replied, nodding her head. “He and Benjamin were close friends. As a matter-of-fact, Belthazor was his godson.”

Gasps filled the room. Eyes grew wide with shock. Olivia and Cole’s eyes met. Then Jack McNeill turned to the family’s boggling manservant. “Uh, Davies, perhaps you should serve another round of drinks.”

————-

Several hours later, a furious Cole paced back and forth in front of the penthouse fireplace. Olivia, Nimue, Andre, Cecile and Marbus observed his action with wary eyes, from the comfort of nearby chairs and the sofa. The half-daemon finally paused, as he angrily turned on his mother. “Exactly when did you plan to deliver this little bombshell to the rest of us, Mother?”

“This . . . what?” Nimue coughed slightly. “Oh, you mean our little family connection? Well, I didn’t exactly have any plans, Belthazor. Especially since I’ve been a bit pre-occupied by the engagement and the wedding. And before that, I had not seen you in months.”

Cole retorted, “And why didn’t you tell me, last summer?”

“Because I was too busy trying to prevent you from making a grave mistake.” Nimue’s eyes – so similar to her son’s – shone with resentment. “You remember, don’t you, Belthazor? When you had planned to give up your powers?”

“Mother . . .”

Cecile spoke up, “I don’t want to get involved in a family spat, but I don’t see why you’re upset.” Mother and son stared at the Vodoun priestess. “Yes Cole, I’m talking to you.”

“What the . . . I . . .” The half-daemon felt speechless. He turned to his fiancée for support.

Olivia merely added, “Cecile has a point, Cole. I don’t really see why you’re upset. Didn’t you once say that you had the feeling that you’ve been inside my parents’ home before? And considering your mother’s news, I thought you would be thrilled about being the godson of my great-great-grandfather.”

Shit! Cole glared at his mother, who looked slightly amused. His anger increased. “I would be,” he growled, if Mother . . . had not deemed it necessary to keep this a secret.”

“In Capsiel’s name! I did not keep this a secret!” Nimue protested. “I simply forgot to mention it! Bloody hell! I haven’t set foot inside that house since 1892!”

Marbus drained the last of his whiskey and stood up. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but it’s time for me to leave. I need to get home.”

“Before you leave Marbus,” Cole said in a deceptively soft voice, “how long did you know that I was William McNeill’s godson?”

“Who me?” The older demon regarded his nephew with innocent eyes. “Not until tonight.”

Nimue added, “He never knew, if you must know. I never told Marbus about our connection to the McNeills. Don’t forget Belthazor, he first met you in the Melora Dimension, when you were four.”

Cole remained silent, but continued to regard both his mother and uncle with suspicion. Marbus said, “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing the rest of you, later this week. Uh . . . when is the bachelor’s party?”

“This Friday,” Andre replied. “At the Vornado Club. On Powell Street. The party begins at 7:30.”

“Right. The Vornado Club. I reckon I’ll see you lads there. Goodnight everyone.” And the daemon teleported out of the penthouse.

Nimue stood up. “It’s time for me to leave as well.”

“Making your escape as well, Mother?” Cole murmured in an insinuating voice.

The demoness sighed. “You really amaze me sometimes, Belthazor. You’re about to be married in a few days. Someone has recently tried to kill your bride-to-be . .”

“I had hoped everyone had forgotten that,” Olivia added.

Nimue finished, “. . . and you’re creating a fuss over something I had forgotten about for years.” She shot a friendly smile at Olivia and the two New Orleans visitors. “It was lovely seeing you all, again. And I’ll be seeing you two ladies, Friday night.” Then she glared at her son. “Belthazor.” She shimmered away.

Cole stared at the other three, who deliberately avoided his gaze. “Okay. You might as well say what’s on your mind.”

“Oh, you mean that you’ve been acting like a complete ass?” Olivia volunteered. “Or that once again, you’ve allowed your feelings toward your mother to overcome any sense of forgiveness?”

Frowning, Cole shot back, “Olivia, is it your goal in life to make me feel like a complete shit?”

With a sigh, Andre answered, “Hey man, you’re doing that all on your own.”

“No kidding,” Cecile added. “You really need to make up your mind about how you feel about that mother of yours. Apparently, you still have a grudge against her, because of what happened to your daddy. Yet, you’ve allowed her to become involved in your wedding. What’s up with that, anyway? Have you forgiven her or what?”

A gust of breath escaped from Cole’s mouth as he sat down on the sofa, next to Cecile. “I don’t know. I mean, I want us to move on, but . . .” He paused, as a gasp left the Vodoun priestess’ mouth. Everyone stared at her. “What?” Cole demanded. “Something wrong?”

A frown appeared on Cecile’s face. “I don’t know. Are you familiar with a dark-haired woman who looks like a second-rate Vegas showgirl?”

Idril. The moment Cecile spoke, he recognized the demoness’ description. “Yeah,” he said warily. “I think I know her. Why?”

The frown remained stamped on Cecile’s face. “Because sooner or later, I think the two of you will end up as husband and wife.”

———-

Idril climbed the stoop of a Baltimore townhouse and rang the doorbell. Seconds passed before a man’s voice answered. “Yes? Who is it?”

“My name is . . .” Idril hesitated. She had considered using her mortal name, but decided against it. Why bother when Wheeler happened to be familiar with the supernatural world? “My name is Idril.” She paused. “I’m a daemon.”

The door immediately swung open. An attractive man with conservatively cut blond hair and light-blue eyes appeared in the doorway. He stood at least an inch under six feet tall. And Idril could not help but admire his compact, muscular body – especially his wide shoulders. “What do you want?” he demanded in a suspicious voice.

Idril took a deep breath. “I understand that you have an object – an amulet that I might be interested in. Evendril’s Amulet. I would like . . .”

“Who told you that?” Wheeler regarded the demoness with hostile eyes.

“Valindal of the Anduin dimension.”

Wheeler muttered through his teeth, “That bitch! Can’t keep her mouth shut. I’ll never do business with her, again.” He glared at Idril. “If you think that you can take the amulet from me, think again.”

Idril retorted, “I could have simply killed you and taken the amulet. Which I assume is hanging from your neck.”

“I doubt it.” Wheeler glanced at an object that hung from the doorway – inside the house. Idril’s eyes followed his gaze. She saw a white pouch hanging from above. “Protection ward. Angelica Root.”

A frustrated sigh left Idril’s mouth. “Look, I understand that you have to be close in order to use the amulet on the . . . person in question. Which is something I won’t be able to do. Not with the person I have in mind. Which means I need someone to get close to this person.” She paused. “Namely you.”

Silence followed, until Wheeler finally agreed to cooperate. “Okay. Fine. I’ll help. But for a price.” His eyes hardened.

“How much?” Idril asked.

The warlock hesitated. “One hundred thousand. I want half before I do anything.”

“Fine. One hundred thousand is chump change to me.” Idril glanced at the protection ward. “By the way, may I finally come in? We need to make plans and that’s not gonna happen with me standing on this stoop.”

Reluctantly, Wheeler removed the protection ward from the doorway. He stood back. “C’mon in,” he said. With a tight smile on her face, Idril entered the townhouse.

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 3/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Three

Davies and two other servants entered the McNeills’ west drawing-room carrying silver trays filled with refreshments for the afternoon tea. They placed the trays on the large Sheraton sideboard, before Davies announced to Gweneth, “Tea is ready, Mrs. McNeill. And your relatives should be downstairs very soon.”

“Thank you Davies,” Gweneth replied.

Margaret McNeill Ferguson gave Gweneth a curious stare. “Has your father decided to attend the wedding, after all?” The elderly woman had arrived yesterday morning from Inverness, representing the Scottish branch of the McNeill family at the upcoming wedding.

A mixture between a derisive snort and a guffaw escaped from Jack’s throat. Gweneth glared at her husband. “Not exactly,” she replied. “Father couldn’t make it.” She paused momentarily. “Bad health.” The lie settled unhappily in her mind. “But my younger brother, Brion – you remember him, don’t you? Well, he’s decided to join Mother, instead.”

“It’s a shame that your father couldn’t make it to the wedding,” Claude Dubois commented. “Vivian told me that he was at Bruce’s wedding.”

Jack commented in a snide voice, “That’s because Bruce was marrying a human.” Gweneth sighed. It seemed understandable that her husband would be angry on behalf of their daughter. But she also found it sad that years of effort to form a reconciliation between her husband and father had eventually gone down the drain. Gweneth wondered how her parents would react to the recent news regarding the McNeills’ family line.

“Gwen, does that mean that your family knows about Jack’s . . . uh, family history?” Vivian Dubois asked.

“You mean that my family is descended from three daemons?” Jack finished.

Gweneth glanced at the middle-aged man, who sat in one of the chairs near the bookcase. Michael McNeill, who bore a strong resemblance to Jack’s mother, winced at his brother’s words. Gweneth recalled Jack’s description of Michael’s reaction to Sean McNeill’s surprising revelation – confusion and disbelief. “I haven’t told my parents, yet,” she finally said, answering Vivian’s question. “Knowing Dad, I don’t know how he would rea . . .”

Two people entered the drawing-room. Gweneth immediately stood up and rushed forward to greet her mother. “Mother! You made it!” she cried, hugging the older woman. “I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you at the airport. Bruce and I had a bit of an emergency at one of the restaraunts.”

Bronwyn Morgan kissed her daughter’s cheek. “It’s all right, Gwennie. I understand. Besides, it’s lovely to see you, again.” She glanced around the room. “But where is Bruce? And Livy? Where is she?”

“She’ll be down any minute,” Gweneth replied. “You remember Vivian Dubois, don’t you?” She proceeded to introduce the other visitors to her mother. Once she finished, Gweneth turned to the other newcomer. “And this is one of my younger brothers, Brion Morgan,” she coolly added. “I’m glad that you could join us, Brion. I’m sure that Livy would appreciate your presence.”

A faint smile touched her younger brother’s lips. “Well, she is my niece, after all.”

Jack spoke up. “I’m glad to hear that.” He stood to greet the Welshman. “Brion.”

Brion’s greeting was equally chilly. “Jack. It’s . . . good to see you.”

“I’m sure,” Jack replied cynically. He turned to his mother-in-law and smiled. “Bronwyn! You look beautiful, as usual.”

“Jack!” Bronwyn kissed her son-in-law’s cheek. “Look at you! Still a handsome devil! You’re not nervous, are you?”

“Nervous?”

The elderly woman slapped her son-in-law’s arm. “About Livy’s wedding, of course!”

Jack snorted with mock derision. “Nonsense! If I can survive Bruce’s wedding – which nearly became a disaster – I can survive Olivia’s.”

“My dear boy, you’ll be giving away your only daughter. Which can be nerve-wracking for any father,” Bronwyn declared.

Claude grumbled, “You can say that, again. My daughter, Cecile, will be getting married, next month.”

“Congratulations!” Bronwyn said.

Brion mumbled, “At least your daughter won’t be marrying a notorious half-daemon.” His face turned red, as both Gweneth and Bronwyn glared at him.

“What was that, Brion?” Jack asked in a hard voice.

“Nothing. I . . .” Brion paused and inhaled sharply. “By the way, when will I meet the groom?”

Gweneth’s mother-in-law, Elise McNeill, entered the drawing-room. “Tonight. We’re holding a small dinner party. Cole should be here . . . along with his family.” She turned to Gwen’s mother and smiled. “Bronwyn, you’re looking quite well.”

“Thank you, darling. So do you.” Excitement lit up Bronwyn’s dark eyes. “You said something about Cole’s family? And they would be . . .?”

A familiar voice answered, “His mother Nimue and his uncle, Marbus.” Olivia breezed into the drawing-room like a gust of fresh air. She rushed forward and enveloped her maternal grandmother into her arms. “Nana!”

“Livy, darling! Oh, look at you!” Bronwyn smiled happily at her granddaughter. “I’ve never seen you look so radiant.”

Olivia smiled back. “Thanks.”

“Did you say that your fiance’s mother is named Nimue?” Brion asked. Everyone stared at him.

“Uncle Brion,” Olivia greeted in a less than cheerful voice. She dutifully pecked his cheek. “Nice to see you.”

But Brion had other matters on his mind. Namely Cole’s mother. “About this Nimue, you say that she’s . . .?”

“Cole’s mother. Yes.” Olivia frowned. “Wait a minute! You know her, don’t you?” A bright smile lit up her face. “Of course! She had stolen Aeronwy’s Grimoire from you. I remember Nimue telling me about it, when I mentioned you and Nana.”

A deadly silence filled the room. Gweneth noticed that her brother’s face had turned red . . . with anger. Olivia’s eyes widened innocently. “Did I just say something wrong?”

At that moment, Cecile burst into the drawing-room, breathless. “Has the tea started? I hope that I haven’t missed anything.”

Gweneth heaved a sigh of relief at the young woman’s outburst. Everyone relaxed, including Brion. And at her suggestion, they all helped themselves to the refreshments.

————–

Piper entered the manor, carrying Wyatt in one arm and two plastic bags filled with groceries, in the other. As she struggled to balance both the ten month-old baby and the bags, she muttered darkly, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then she yelled, “Hello? Is anyone home? Paige?”

To her surprise, both of her sisters emerged from the Solarium. “Hey Piper,” Paige greeted cheerfully. “Here, let me get that for you.” She removed the grocery bags from the other woman’s arm.

Piper, however, barely paid attention to her youngest sister. Her eyes widened in shock, as the middle sister gave her a quick hug. “Phoebe? What are you doing here?”

“For the wedding, of course.” Phoebe’s too-bright tone raised the hackles on the back of Piper’s neck.

The oldest Charmed One stared at her sister in disbelief. “You’re here for Cole and Olivia’s wedding?” After a long pause, she added, “Why?”

“Huh?” Phoebe blinked.

Holding the grocery bags, a sardonic Paige cleared the matter for Piper. “What she’s saying, Feebs, is why on earth would you want to attend your ex-husband’s wedding?”

“I didn’t . . .” Phoebe huffed aloud. “I mean . . .”

A small suspicion wiggled in the back of Piper’s mind. “Wait a minute,” she said, shifting Wyatt to her other arm. “You don’t want to go to this wedding, do you?”

Phoebe sighed. “No, not really.”

“Then why are you . . .?”

Another sigh left Phoebe’s mouth. “Jason. He . . . Cole and Olivia had sent us wedding invitations. And since Olivia and Jason have ‘buried the hatchet’, so to speak, he had decided to accept for both of us.”

“Buried the hatchet?” Paige frowned. “You mean, after that night Olivia had invited him to her parents’ party, so that he could meet Cecile?”

Piper added dryly, “That’s one night I won’t forget.” How could she? On the night of the McNeills’ party, her son’s nanny – who also happened to be a female Vodoun bokor and drug dealer – had stolen Wyatt’s powers.

Phoebe continued, “Ever since that night, Jason and Olivia have been . . . well, friends.”

“Hence the wedding invitation,” Piper said.

“And Jason’s decision to accept.” Phoebe sighed. “Oh God. I can’t believe that I’ll actually be going to Cole’s wedding. To another woman. This is so depressing.”

Phoebe’s lamentation over Cole’s upcoming wedding revived Piper’s worries that her younger sister had not recover from the divorce. And to think that recently, she had believed otherwise. Piper sighed. She should have known better.

————

The Anduin Marketplace was known throughout the supernatural world as the premiere flea market in the universe. Located in the Anduin Dimension, it lured merchants, antiquity collectors and dealers, cooks, animal traders and others who offered services, food, stock and other goods to magical beings and practitioners throughout the Universe. Male or female, bi-pedal or otherwise, good or evil – witches, warlocks, wizards, sorcerers and sorceresses, daemons and fairies of all kinds would converge upon the village-like community near the Arda River to enjoy these services.

Idril teleported next to a large, green-and-white striped tent that stood over an open aired restaurant. Crowds of various beings filled the wide, dirt lane that paved through the village. Idril merged into the crowd and walked. She passed a tent that housed a daemonic seer, two stands that offered liquor and a third tent, whose owner sold used books. Finally, a pale-blue tent west of the lane, appeared before her. It belonged to a sorceress from this dimension that sold knick-knacks – seemingly cheap goods that turned out to be magical objects of great power.

The demoness paused before the tent. She took a deep breath and passed through the opened flap. Once inside the tent, she paused at the sight of two figures haggling over a pair of silk scarves. Idril recognized the pale pink-skinned sorceress, whose curly gold curls were barely hidden underneath a blue head scarf. The tall, dark-haired woman was a stranger – and obviously a human.

“Six ducats?” the dark-haired woman exclaimed. “For a pair of scarves?”

A cunning look crept into Valindal’s green-blue eyes. “These are more than just a pair of scarves. And you know it, Nathalie. Your friend will greatly enjoy using them. Trust me. All she has to do is use them just as I had described. I . . .” She glanced to her right and noticed Idril. “Oh! Idril. Welcome back. It’s been a while.”

Idril responded with a dim smile. “Valindal. I’ll uh . . . I’ll just wait until you finish with your customer.”

Valindal hesitated. “Well, I . . .”

“Two ducats,” the human said. “I’ll pay two for the scarves.”

“Four.”

The human countered, “Three.”

A sigh left Valindal’s mouth. “If you insist. Sold.” The human smiled, as she handed over three gold coins to the sorceress. Who handed over a package wrapped in blue tissue paper.

Once the mortal woman left, Idril said to Valindal, “She ended up paying half of your original price.”

Valindal shrugged. “Actually, the scarves are worth two ducats. At least I’ve made a profit of one ducat. So,” she sat down in a nearby chair, “how may I help you? See anything that interests you?”

Idril shook her head. “I’m more interested in information.” She handed a photograph of Evendril’s Amulet to Valindal. “Have you ever seen this, before?”

“Of course,” Valindal said with a shrug, “Evendril’s Amulet. If you’re looking for it, I no longer have it.”

The news disappointed Idril. But she refused to give up. “But I was told otherwise.”

Valindal replied, “I used to own it. Until I had sold it to a human, some time ago. A warlock.” A satisfied smile curled the sorceress’ lips. “And he had to pay through the nose.”

“What’s the name of this warlock?” Idril demanded.

Cool green-blue eyes stared at Idril. “And what can I expect in return for this information?” the sorceress demanded.

With any other being, Idril would have countered with a death threat. But the demoness knew that a threat would have been useless against Valindal. As a native of Anduin, the pink-skinned sorceress could easily repel any of Idril’s attacks. Which is why the latter came prepared – just in case Valindal wanted to bargain. With great reluctance, Idril removed a silver chalice from her tote bag. “It’s a chalice,” she said. “It once belonged to the old Seer. Filled with water, it can enable anyone to see the future. Or the past.”

“This used to belong to the old Seer? The one who used to serve your Source?” Valindal demanded. “The one killed by the Charmed Ones?”

Idril nodded. “Ever since her death, others have searched for her chalice. Especially this other seer named Kira. The old Seer . . . well, she would sometimes use her chalice for greater visions. It can be a very powerful tool, when used properly.”

“Why give it to me?” Valindal asked. “Why not keep it for yourself?”

Because the chalice frightened her. Only Idril did not want to admit it. Her mother had once told her that although divination and precognition can be very useful, it could also be dangerous. Great power have been acquired through the use of precognition. However, knowledge of the future has been known to lead toward great disaster, every now and then. And some past seers have been known to be eventually driven insane by constant visions of the future. Idril’s mother believed that sometimes it was wise to be ignorant of the future.

Idril kept all of these thoughts to herself and lied. “To be honest, I don’t really know how to use the chalice. Summoning visions of the future have never been my forte. So, you can have it . . . in exchange for information.”

Valindal eyed the chalice, hungrily. “I had sold the amulet to a warlock. His name . . . is Gary Wheeler. I don’t know where he lives. Somewhere in the mortal world, one can only assume. I’ve only met him once. But I’ve heard of him and his former coven – the Gaea Coven. They no longer exist.”

“What happened to them?”

With a shrug, the sorceress replied, “The coven was destroyed by assassins. Haldane assassins. Apparently, this Gary Wheeler had hired them. He wanted complete possession of the coven’s Book of Shadows.”

Idril nodded. “I’ve heard of the Gaea Coven. It was located at a place called Baltimore. Perhaps I should start there.” She handed the chalice over to Valindal. “Thanks for the information.”

A satisfied sigh eased out of Valindal’s mouth. “By the way,” she added, “if you’re thinking of stealing the amulet from this Wheeler person, consider this – he’s a strong magic practitioner and has killed his share of daemons. High-level ones, included. And if you plan to use the amulet, you’ll have to get close to your target in order to do so.”

Which meant that she would have to get close to Belthazor. And Idril could not see that happening. “Thanks for the advice,” she said to the sorceress. “And good luck with the chalice.”

“I think you’ll need more luck than me.” Valindal’s words rang in Idril’s ears, as she left the tent.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 2/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Two

The five people teleported into the middle of the McNeills’ foyer. “Damn, that was a new experience!” The words came out of Claude Dubois’ mouth, after Cole Turner had delivered him, his wife and daughter, and his future son-in-law to the McNeill manor, two thousand miles west of his hometown, New Orleans. Cecile’s father struck Cole as being in pretty good shape for a man of about fifty-nine years. The latter’s five-foot-ten frame displayed very little fat and well toned muscles. He also possessed rich brown skin and wide hazel-brown eyes that peered from a narrow, intense countenance.

Vivian Dubois, who happened to an older image of her petite daughter, smiled at her husband. “What did I tell you, Claude?”

At that moment, Cole spotted Olivia and Gweneth descending the winding staircase. The McNeills’ manservant, Davies, followed from behind. “You’re here!” Gweneth declared breathlessly. “Darlings, it’s so good to see you!” She enveloped Vivian into a bear hug.

“Well, it hasn’t been that long,” Vivian protested. “Just seven months ago.”

After Olivia and her mother had greeted all of the New Orleans visitors, Gweneth ordered Davies to escort them to their rooms. “Except for me,” Andre said. “I’m staying with Cole.”

Everyone faced the half-daemon. “I thought that Livy had moved in with you,” Cecile asked.

Olivia replied, “I did. But with the wedding coming up in a few days, I decided to stay here until the day of the ceremony.”

“Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” Cole said as he glanced at his watch, “I’ll be dropping Andre off at my place. Then we can change and get ready for dinner, tonight. With you two ladies, of course.” He nodded at Olivia and Cecile.

Vivian’s mouth formed a mock pout. “Aren’t we old folks invited?”

“Since I’m the oldest person in this room, the ‘old folks’ will be there.” Cole smiled at Vivian, before he teleported himself, Andre and the latter’s luggage to his penthouse.

————

The New Orleans man sighed with relief and plopped down on the sofa. “Alone at last!”

“I didn’t realize that my company was that desired,” Cole said. He teleported Andre’s luggage into one of the guest bedrooms.

The other man chuckled mirthlessly. “Man, you have no idea how lucky you are! You won’t have to deal with having Claude Dubois as part of your family for God knows how long. I’m almost tempted to ask Olivia to marry me. That way, I’ll only have to deal with Jack McNeill.”

Cole walked over to the liquor cabinet. “Before you start envying me, may I remind you that I have Olivia’s family to deal with. Mainly her mother’s Welsh family. And I’m not really looking forward to meeting any of them – aside from her grandmother, an uncle and a few cousins. Hell, I’m just thankful that I’ve never met her aunt Rhiannon.”

“The one who had killed Richard Bannen?” Andre quietly asked. “I think I had met her once.” He shuddered. “Cold woman.”

With a nod, Cole continued, “And if the Morgans aren’t bad enough, we have my mother to deal with.”

“What are you talking about?” Andre demanded. “What’s wrong with her?” Cole stared at, as if he had grown a second head. “What? I’ve met her a few times, myself. You know, for a powerful and evil daemon, she’s pretty . . .”

The doorbell rang. Cole turned away from the liquor cabinet and headed for the penthouse’s front door. “If you were about to say ‘cool’, please don’t. It’s bad enough that Olivia likes her.” He peered through the peephole . . . and groaned. “Oh God! Speak of the devil.”

“Huh?”

“My mother and my uncle.” Cole opened the door and smiled coolly at his new visitors. “Good afternoon, Mother. Knocking? That’s a bit new for you. Isn’t it?” His smile grew warmer, as he greeted his uncle. “Marbus.”

The elegant, auburn-haired demoness swept into the penthouse. She kissed Cole’s cheek. “Belthazor.”

“And here’s the groom!” Marbus gave his nephew a bear hug. “Look at you, lad. Never seen anyone so happy in my life. Being engaged agrees with you.”

Cole’s smile widened. “I hope I can say the same about marriage. Of course, the last time I was engaged, I was only able to enjoy the moment for less than a day. Before the old Source had interfered.” He gestured toward his third guest. “By the way, I’m sure that you both remember Andre Morrell.”

Marbus glanced at the Vodoun priest and smiled. “Of course! Andre! Good to see, again.” He and Andre shook hands.

“Same here, Marbus,” Andre replied. “How’s your family?”

Smiling, the older replied, “Very well, thank you.”

The Vodoun priest and the demon briefly discussed the latter’s family, until a slight cough from Cole’s mother interrupted. Andre turned his attention to her and politely greeted, “Nimue. It’s good to see you, as well. How long has it been?”

Nimue seemed pleased that Andre remembered her. “Six years, I believe. Something to do with a business deal that had involved both the Thorn and Anasi Orders. It’s a shame that you’re no longer with them.”

Andre smiled at the demoness. “Well, I had decided it was time to make a change in my life. Although I must say that I do miss doing business with you.”

Cole rolled his eyes at his friend’s overt and successful attempt at flattery. “I hate to interrupt all this mutual admiration nonsense, but what are you doing here, Mother?”

Nimue gazed at her son. “Marbus and I have found a priest to conduct your wedding. The daemonic ceremony.”

Surprise lit up Andre’s eyes. “So, you’re really going through with it?”

With a sigh, Cole said, “Olivia did point out that since we’ll be having a mixed marriage, we might as well have a double ceremony.”

“I wouldn’t worry, Andre,” Marbus added. “The priest will be from the Gimle Order.” Nimue wrinkled her nose. “In fact, Risen had conducted my wedding to Mauve.”

Nimue commented, “With members from our two orders at the ceremony, I only hope that we won’t have a repeat of poor Adrianne Evans’ death at the Melora engagement party.”

“Speaking of the party, Mother,” Cole said, “have you or Lohdon ever find out who had killed that warlock?”

A frown appeared on Nimue’s face. “Unfortunately, no. Although, I do have a few suspects.”

“Like Idril?” Cole eyed his mother, closely.

Nimue’s mouth formed a chilly smile. “She is first on my list. But,” her smile disappeared, “no one has been able to connect her with that warlock. More’s the pity.”

Cole returned to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. “As much as I dislike Idril, I don’t see any reason why she would want to kill Olivia. Other than the fact that Olivia is a witch.”

“In Caspiel’s name, Belthazor! Must you be so anal?”

Cole stared at his mother. “Excuse me?”

Her eyes flashing with annoyance, Idril continued, “Idril’s in love with you. She has been for a long time. Ever since that ill-fated romance of yours, back in ’69.”

The half-daemon retorted, “Mother, I had nearly killed Idril, after she had set those assassins upon me.”

“But you did date her for a while, a few years ago,” Andre added. This time, Cole stared at his friend. “Don’t you remember? Bermuda in ’99?”

“That was nothing but a brief fling!” Cole protested. “Nothing else. Idril and I had put Christine Broome, behind us.”

Andre sighed. “But I remember her, Cole. I was there. And she had looked like a woman in love, to me.”

“Oh for God’s . . .” Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Are you trying to tell me that moments after meeting Olivia for the first time, Idril had plotted with some warlock to kill her?” When the others had failed to answer, he nodded in triumph. “I thought so.”

Marbus asked, “If Idril didn’t try to kill Olivia, who did? And why?”

Unfortunately, no one had an answer.

———–

Paige and Harry sat inside the British Airways lounge, at the airport. The latter’s maternal grandmother and uncle were expected to arrive on an incoming flight from London. And Harry had been recruited to greet them.

“Harry, is there something wrong?” Paige asked, frowning at her boyfriend. “Your jaw seemed to be frozen in one position. And are you grinding your teeth?”

The red-haired witch sighed. Long and hard. “It’s nothing,” he muttered. “I’ve been thinking about a problem at work.”

“Uh-huh.” The Charmed One continued to stare at her grim-faced boyfriend. “It must be something pretty bad.”

Now it became Harry’s turn to stare. “You’re going to keep bugging me, until I tell you. Aren’t you?”

“Of course not. You can tell me when you’re ready. Or if you want to.”

Another five minutes passed before Harry spoke again. “If you must know, it has nothing to do with work.”

Paige nodded. “Okay.”

Again, Harry sighed. “I’m always like this, whenever we have to deal with the Morgans. Mom’s marriage to Dad isn’t . . . wasn’t popular with them. It still isn’t, after thirty-five years.”

His comment surprised Paige. “Why would they be against your dad, in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said with a shrug. “I think it has something to do with Cole’s Uncle Marbus. According to Dad, some daemons had framed Marbus for murder. And because of his past reputation as an assassin, some witch coven thought he was guilty and went after him. Dad thought otherwise and set out to exonerate him. That’s how they met.”

Paige murmured, “Sounds like something you or Olivia would do.”

Harry continued, “Yeah, well some of the more conservative covens didn’t approve of Dad’s actions. Including some members of Mom’s family. Like Grandfather Morgan.”

“I don’t understand,” a confused Paige said. “Wasn’t Marbus with the Gimle Order, at the time?”

Harry nodded. “Sure, but he was hiding from zoltars, at the time. Very few witches knew that he had turned his back on the Source.” He paused. “And then there’s the matter regarding Aunt Rhiannon and Olivia’s old fiancé. Richard.”

“You mean, when they had killed each other?” Paige shook her head. “I remember Leo mentioning that Richard had tried to kill Olivia and your mom . . . and that your aunt had saved them. But Olivia claimed that Leo had got it all wrong. Only she never went into details.”

“Leo did get it wrong,” Harry said. “You should ask her or Mom about it. They were there. I do know that Aunt Rhiannon had went a little crazy after one of Richard’s cousins had killed her husband.”

A voice over the terminal’s P.A. system declared, “Attention please. We would like to announce the arrival of British Airways, Flight 531 from London. All passengers will arrive through Gate 7B.”

Harry stood up. “Here they come.” He took a deep breath.

A stream of passengers poured out of an opened doorway. Among them were a silver-haired woman and a tall, middle-aged man. Both headed straight toward the young couple.

“Harry! Darling! It’s so good to see you!” The elderly woman pecked Harry’s cheek, before enveloping him in a bear hug. Paige immediately recognized Harry’s maternal grandmother. The Charmed One had first met the elderly witch at Bruce and Barbara’s wedding, last spring. But since she had not been dating Harry at the time, she barely got to know Bronwyn Llewellyn Morgan. “Look at you,” Mrs. Morgan continued in a soft Welsh accent, reminiscent of Gweneth McNeill. “Just as handsome as ever. In fact, you look like your grandfather.” Although she was in her early eighties, Mrs. Morgan possessed an energy that belied her age. Her dark eyes and lightly swarthy skin tone suggested that she might have been a brunette in her younger years.

A light blush tinged Harry’s cheeks, much to Paige’s amusement. “C’mon Nana! You said this eight months ago.”

“And so what if I had? You are handsome. Right . . .” Mrs. Morgan turned to Paige. A slight frown appeared on her face. “Oh dear! I’m afraid that I’ve for . . . You’re one of the Charmed Ones. Right? Paige, I believe?”

Paige smiled. “That’s right. Paige Matthews. It’s good to see you again, Mrs. Morgan.” She glanced at the middle-aged man, who slightly resembled Harry. Same aquiline features, freckled skin and tall, wiry frame. Only the stranger was a little heavier in pounds. He also lacked Harry’s broad shoulders and possessed strands of gray in his red hair. “Um, you are . . .?” Paige asked him.

“Brion Morgan.” The man held out his hand. “I’m Harry’s uncle. One of Gweneth’s younger brothers.”

Paige shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure.” Like Mrs. Morgan, he spoke with a soft Welsh accent. “And an honor to meet one of the Charmed Ones.” He shifted his traveling bag to his other shoulder, while Harry rolled his eyes. “I reckon it’s time we pick up our luggage.” He sighed. “And deal with Customs.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.” After the Morgans had retrieved their luggage, the red-haired witch led Paige and his relatives to the Customs station. There, the two young Californians waited, while Customs agents examined the Morgans’ luggage.

Once the Customs agents completed their search, the Welsh visitors returned to Paige and Harry. “Well, it went off better than I had expected,” Mrs. Morgan commented. “I thought, for sure, they would examine my bum for drugs.”

Paige chuckled. “I think that happens a lot on the East Coast. Of course, I could be wrong about . . .”

“Paige?” A familiar voice caught the Charmed One’s attention. She turned around and felt surprised to find Phoebe and Jason Dean standing behind her. “What are you doing here, at the airport?” her older sister continued.

“What are you doing here, back in the States?” Paige countered. “We never thought that you would be coming home.”

Phoebe shot a meaningful glance at Jason and mumbled, “Neither did I.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 1/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

RATING: PG-13 – Mild adult language and violence.
SUMMARY: Cole’s former demonic lover threatens to wreck havoc on his and Olivia McNeill’s wedding day.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. Olivia McNeill, Cecile Dubois, Andre Morrell, the McNeill family and Idril are my creations.
NOTE: Takes place about a few days after “Strange Bedfellows” (Alternate Universe Season 6).

—————-

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter One

Olivia McNeill glanced down at the long, cream-colored gown and sighed. “It’s beautiful,” she declared. The tall woman, who stood beside her, smiled. “Really Laura, I love it. Very elegant, yet simple.”

“I must agree,” her mother, Gweneth McNeill added. “It is quite lovely.” She examined the dress with its halter top and pearl embroidered bodice. “But doesn’t that come with a shawl?”

Laura Harper let out a small squeak. “Oh yes. I forgot.” She strode toward Olivia’s bed and gently gathered a cream-colored silk shawl into her arms. Then she draped it around Olivia’s shoulders. “There you are.”

Olivia examined herself through the long, oval mirror inside her old bedroom. With her wedding just less than a week away, she had temporarily moved back to her parents’ home. Meanwhile, her fiancé, Cole Turner, had prepared one of the penthouse’s guest bedrooms for the best man’s arrival. “Perfect. Laura, you have outdone yourself.”

“Thanks,” the dress designer replied with a pleased smile. Then she returned to the bed and opened another large box. “By the way, here’s the other gown that you had requested.” She removed a long, red satin gown with yellow patterns of the sun embroidered around the hem from the box. The gown also possessed a square neckline and bell-shaped sleeves. “Designed just as you wanted it.” Laura frowned. “What is it for, again?”

Recognizing her second wedding gown – for the demonic ceremony – Olivia hastily replied, “Oh, nothing special. I simply wanted a new evening gown for my honeymoon.”

“Hmmm.” The designer closely examined the red gown. “It has a very medieval look about it, doesn’t it? But I think it suits you.”

“Thanks.”

Gweneth made a show of glancing at her watch. “Oh dear! Look at the time. Laura dear, didn’t you say something about an appointment around two-thirty? It’s almost two, right now.”

“Oh!” Laura returned the red gown to the box. “I almost forgot about the appointment with Pamela Giovanni. She and her family will be leaving next Friday for Fiji. They’re staying there for the holidays.”

Recognizing the wife of one of Cole’s clients, Olivia winced. “Poor Fiji,” she murmured. She ignored her mother’s pointed glance.

The designer picked up her check from Olivia. “Well, I better get going. Call me if any extra work is needed on the gowns. I’ll see you on Saturday.” The McNeill women bid her good-bye, as she rushed out of the bedroom.

“Help me out of this, will you Mom?” Olivia asked the older redhead.

While Gweneth assisted her daughter in removing the cream-colored gown, the latter continued, “So, Mark and Pamela Giovanni will be out of town. Talk about good luck! It’s a good thing we didn’t invite them to the reception.”

“Livy . . .”

“Oh c’mon, Mom!” Olivia protested. “Granted, Mark Giovanni can be a tolerable person . . . when he’s not trying to seduce every female in the room. But you know what Pam . . .” She broke off, as she stepped out of the gown. “. . . what Pamela is like. No one likes her! I know that you, Dad and Gran don’t. And Cole despises her. I think we should count ourselves lucky.”

Gweneth sighed. “If you insist. By the way, your Grandmother Morgan will be arriving within two days for the wedding.”

“And not Grandfather?” Olivia challenged. She twisted her mouth into a smirk. “I guess he still hasn’t forgiven me for what happened to Aunt Rhiannon . . . and Richard.”

Again, the older woman sighed. Olivia immediately understood. The Morgans – at least a good number of them – had never really approved of her parents’ marriage. Jack and Gweneth’s marriage had strained relations between the Welsh-born witch and her father. It had taken nearly twenty-five years for Rhys Morgan to accept his daughter’s marriage to the wealthy San Franciscan witch. The reconciliation between the American McNeills and the Morgans eventually unraveled following the debacle that surrounded the deaths of Olivia’s aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Vaughan and Olivia’s former fiancé, Richard Bannen.

“Livy, you must understand . . .” Gweneth paused. “What am I saying? Sometimes I think that Dad hasn’t forgiven me. Rhiannon had always been his favorite.”

With a sniff, Olivia replied, “Well, of course she was. She didn’t resemble the family’s bogeywoman – dear Great-great-great-whatever-grandmama Briana Morgan. Let’s face it, Mom. Both of us resemble her stronger than anyone else in the family.”

“Well, she was a powerful warlock, Livy. She has cast a long shadow over the family for over two centuries. And at least Mother will be at the wedding.”

Silence fell between mother and daughter. Gweneth draped the wedding gown across the bed, as Olivia asked, “So, is Grandmother the only Morgan will be the only one coming?”

Gweneth paused. Which made Olivia feel uneasy. “Your uncle Brion will be joining her.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia winced at the memories of her mother’s younger brother. “Not Uncle Oliver?”

“I’m afraid not, pet,” Gweneth added ruefully. “Oliver is somewhere in Finland, at the moment.” Both women seemed mournful that the outgoing Oliver Morgan – Olivia’s uncle and godfather – would not be able to attend the wedding. “Perhaps you should be thankful that neither Evan or Dafydd would be here.”

Olivia sighed at the mention of her oldest uncle and his son. Not long after Richard’s death, her cousin Dafydd had made a disparaging remark about the former warlock. A then furious Olivia retaliated by attacking her cousin. The attack nearly cost him his life. Neither Dafydd or his father had been able to forgive the young red-haired witch.

“I’m more than thankful,” Olivia replied with force. She donned a robe. “Speaking of wedding guests . . .”

Gweneth stared at her daughter. “Yes?”

“Well, Cole and I had sent invitations . . . to Phoebe and Jason in Hong Kong.”

Surprise lit up the older woman’s green eyes. “Why?” Olivia stared at her. “I mean . . . well, I understand about Phoebe, since you must have sent invitations to the entire Halliwell family. But Jason?”

Olivia’s cheeks grew warm with embarrassment. “I guess you can say that Jason and I had finally buried the hatchet, so to speak. Especially after I had invited him to Dad’s party, in order to meet Cecile, last month.”

“So, he and Phoebe will be . . .?”

Olivia picked up her jeans from a nearby chair. “Well, Cole and I have received a ‘yes’ from Jason, yesterday. Whether they’re going to show up – that remains to be seen.”

————

Hong Kong Island, China . . . Jason’s personal assistant quickly shut the door. Inside one of the Peninsula Hotel’s plush suites, an angry Phoebe Halliwell faced her current boyfriend. “I can’t believe you did this!” she cried, waving a telegram in Jason’s face. “When were you planning to tell me?”

“Phoebe!” The blond billionaire rushed forward to placate his girlfriend. She jerked away from his touch. Jason Dean heaved an exasperated sigh. “C’mon Phoebe! What’s the big deal? It’s just a wedding. And this will give you the chance to see your family for a few days.”

Phoebe stabbed the older man with a knowing glare. “Oh please, Jason! You know what the big deal is! You had accepted Cole and Olivia’s invitation without my permission! It’s okay for you to speak for yourself, but you had no business accepting on my behalf. Without my consent!”

The couple stared at each other in strained silence. Then Jason turned away and drifted toward the large windows that overlooked Hong Kong and the Victoria Peak. Just fifteen minutes ago, Phoebe had stumbled across a copy of a telegraph that Jason had sent to San Francisco. It was a confirmation for her and Jason to attend Cole’s upcoming wedding. Furious at her discovery, Phoebe had interrupted Jason’s meeting with his executive assistant.

Jason regarded Phoebe with glittering eyes. Phoebe could sense a hint of suspicion . . . and jealousy welling inside him. “What’s going on, Phoebe?” he demanded.

“What do you mean?” The Charmed One immediately went on the defensive.

With a sigh, Jason continued, “Why are you so pissed off about this wedding? I’ve taken matters into my own hands, before.” He walked toward the suite’s sofa and sat down. “Has this something to do with the fact that your ex-husband is getting married?”

The words came out of Phoebe’s mouth before she could stop herself. “Of course it does! What woman in her right mind would want to attend her ex-husband’s wedding?” Before Jason could reply, she added, “And why on earth would you want to go to your ex-girlfriend’s wedding? Didn’t you once tell me that you and Olivia had a traumatic breakup?”

Jason blinked several times. “Well, that was honest,” he finally said. “I guess I can finally understand why you would be reluctant to attend this wedding. I mean . . . I’ve never been married myself, but I understand.”

“Good! Then we’re not going.”

“Uh, Phoebe . . .” The moment Jason had spoken those two words, the Charmed One’s heart sank.”

She frowned at her boyfriend. “You’re still going, aren’t you?”

“I’ve already accepted the invitation!” Jason protested. “I can’t change my mind, now. Besides,” his voice lowered, “Olivia and I . . . we’re friends, now.”

Phoebe continued to stare at the billionaire. “Since when?”

“C’mon Phoebe. You remember how she had helped me get invited to her parents’ party for Cecile Dubois, don’t you? Well, we had decided to bury the hatchet that night. And I remember you telling me that you and Cole had finally got some closure over your divorce, last summer.”

Memories of her lukewarm romance with her ex-husband loomed in Phoebe’s mind. “Yeah,” she murmured. “I remember.”

“Does that mean you still want to avoid the wedding?”

Yes! Phoebe’s mind screamed. But she dared not express her true feelings again. Not while Jason harbored his own anxieties. Phoebe took a deep breath and pecked her boyfriend’s cheek. “No, I guess not. It’s just . . . the idea of attending Cole’s wedding to another woman seems really weird. Like you said, you’ve never been married.”

“I understand.” Jason returned Phoebe’s kiss with one on the top of her head.

‘No you don’t,’ Phoebe wanted to scream. Instead, she remained silent . . . as another secret from Jason, settled within her heart.

The offices of Armistead Corporation was situated on seven floors of the Prudential Tower in Boston. Unbeknownst to the city’s human populace, it served as the mortal business center for the demonic Thorn Order, on Earth. The Corporation had transferred its offices from New York City to Boston when the order had acquired a new leader over a year ago.

As a member of the Thorn Order, Idril served as one of the corporation’s officers. She led the Entertainment Division and dealt with obtaining contracts from humans that included actors, actresses, directors, producers, singers, musicians, professional athletes, and artists. Anyone willing willing to sell his or her soul to become a success in the entertainment field. A six-year stay in Hollywood during the 1960s led to Idril’s rise in power within the Order’s Entertainment Division.

At that moment, Idril strolled along Armistead’s 16th floor, lost in thought over a specter from the past – namely a certain half-daemon named Belthazor. Seeing him in the Melora Dimension had manifested old memories of their two brief affairs – one from the late 60s and the other, thirty years later. Although the half-daemon had not been the only male in her life, he was the only one – aside from her mentor, Raynor – who had left a great impression upon her. So much so that thoughts of Belthazor continued to plague her mind, even days after the engagement party.

Idril had attempted to relive their past affair through an offer for lunch. To her dismay, not only did Belthazor reject her, but also revealed that he had used their affair as a weapon in his never-ending feud with his mother, Nimue. This latest humiliation reminded Idril of another – his rejection of her for that trampy English witch. Looking back upon it now, she realized that she should have never accepted Raynor’s suggestion to use Belthazor as a front for their own affair. Not only would she had been spared of so much humiliation, she would have never fallen in love with Belthazor.

Perhaps following Artemus’ advice regarding love of any kind seemed the best recourse. Perhaps she should help the Khorne Order’s leader become the new Source. But thoughts of the half-daemon refused to disappear from Idril’s mind. Her desire for him remained stronger than ever. Nor did it help that Belthazor’s present fiancée strongly reminded her of that know-it-all bitch, Christine Bloome. Idril wondered how Olivia McNeill would feel if she had managed to, once more, attract Belthazor’s attention. The idea made her glow with warmth. Unfortunately, it was only . . .

“Oooof!” A body came from around the corner and collided with Idril. Books, parchment papers and computer disks scattered on the floor. “Pardon me, Idril!” a nervous voice exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to be so clumsy.”

Idril glared at a thin, bronze-skinned man with anxious dark eyes. “You should watch were you’re going!” she retorted.

“Yes, I am sorry. I was . . .” The daemon, whose name happened to be Tuxor, bent down to pick up the fallen material. “. . . in a hurry to return this material to the library. Pardon me for my clumsiness. I’ll never . . .” The thin daemon did not possess a reputation for any assassination skills or any abilities for corrupting others. In fact, Idril suspected that he was not particularly evil in any way. But everyone knew that he was a first-class researcher and one of Nimue’s protégées.

The demoness’ eyes fell upon an open-faced book that contained a black-and-white photograph of a medallion with a large stone in the middle. “What is that?” she demanded, picking up the book.

The other daemon glanced at the book’s cover. “It’s called ‘HISTORY OF INTERDIMENSIONAL LEGENDS AND LORE’. It was first written by this mortal over two centuries, ago. This is the 73rd edi . . .”

“I’m talking about the picture of this medallion,” Idril interrupted sharply.

His face now dark red with embarrassment, Tuxor commented, “Oh. Uh . . . that’s . . . uh, a medallion.” He took the book from Idril and perused the opened page. The . . . I mean, Evendril’s Amulet.”

Idril stared at Tuxor. “And what is it used for?”

“Telepathic manipulation.” Tuxor squinted at the text. “That’s right. Telepathic manipulation. You use it to place someone in a trance . . . and give them instruction. You know, like hypnotism. Or something close to what a telepath would do. Only the effect is more powerful. The . . . uh sapphire stone is used to cast the spell. Especially since it is linked with psychic abilities.”

A magical stone used for telepathic suggestion? A wild idea took form in Idril’s mind. She wondered . . . “Just how powerful is this stone? What I mean is . . . would it work on any daemon?”

Tuxor returned his attention to the book. “Ah . . . I believe so. The stone was created by a powerful wizard over eight hundred years ago. It turns out that she was also a telepath. She had created the amulet, when she temporarily lost her power.”

“How about a daemon as powerful as . . . say, Belthazor?” Idril asked in a deliberate offhand manner.

Tuxor frowned slightly, as he answered in a hesitant voice, “Uh . . . Maybe. I’ve heard rumors that he’s susceptible to telepathy.” The demon stared at Idril. “You’re not planning to use this stone on him, are you?”

“Of course not!” Idril protested with a dismissive sniff. “And incur the wrath of Nimue? Besides, why on earth would I want to use this stone on someone like Belthazor?”

“Oh . . . I . . . I just thought . . .”

Idril heaved a loud and dramatic sigh. “The stone in the book caught my eye and made me curious about it. That’s all.” After Tuxor had expressed relief, the demoness added, “By the way, do any of the wizard’s descendants still have the amulet?”

Tuxor shook his head vigorously. “Oh no! I heard that it had passed out of their hands, centuries ago. In fact . . .” He assumed a thoughtful expression. “I believe I may have seen the stone before.” Idril silently held her breath, while Tuxor paused. Then he continued, “At one of those multi-dimensional outdoor markets. I just wish I could remember which one.”

Keeping her frustration in check, Idril merely smiled. “Oh well. I wouldn’t bother. I doubt that stone will be seen again for many cent . . .”

“Now I remember!” Tuxor’s exclaimation nearly made the demoness jump out of her shoes. “The Anduin Marketplace! Of course! About six months ago. I saw it at . . .” Again, Idril held her breath. Unfortunately, Tuxor ended up disappointing her. “Damn!” he cried. “I can’t remember which vendor had it.”

“Well, it’s not really important, is it?” she said in her most pleasant voice. “As for the Anduin Marketplace, I haven’t been there in years.”

Tuxor said politely, “Why don’t you pay a call? Their food court has greatly improved over the years. You might want to try this particular restaurant for lunch.”

A wide smile stretched Idril’s mouth. “You know, I just might do that.”

END OF CHAPTER ONE