"A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS"
Act IV - Part 2
In the McNeill garden, Andre sat amongst other wedding guests, waiting for the bridal procession to begin. The seats were formed in an unusual manner - a half circle that partially surrounded the altar. Although the houngan possessed great patience, it seemed to have been stretched to the breaking point, thanks to the jabbering woman who sat next to him. At this moment, he was seriously contemplating on practicing dark magic in order to shut her mouth.
". . .known Barbara for nearly seven years," his neighbor continued. "Ever since I first became an accountant. Around that time, she had just opened a tea shop and café on Powell Street. But it didn't last long. Only four months. Poor Barbara. She really wasn't a very good businesswoman, back then. I certainly didn't think Ostera . . . her new shop . . . would last this long. But it did. For about . . . oh, I don't know. Do you know long its been opened?"
Stunned by the brief silence, Andre stared at his neighbor. "Huh? I mean, excuse me?"
"Barbara's new shop. How long has it been opened?" Andre's tormentor stared at him with pale blue eyes. She was a mildly attractive woman in her late thirties, whose placid looks contrasted with her exuberant persona.
Andre hesitated. He tried to recall what Olivia had first told him and Cecile about the herbal shop, before answering, "Oh . . . uh, nearly a year. I think."
Nodding, the woman continued, "I'm not that surprised. Ostera has been in the black since last November. This time, Barbara had the good sense to open her shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It's an excellent commercial . . ." And on she rambled.
If only the damn ceremony would start and rescue him from this female chatterbox. Or if someone would appear out of the blue. Relief finally did appear - in the form of Mrs. Dubois. She leaned over to tap his shoulder and indicated with a nod to follow him. Andre stood up and followed the older woman away from the other seats. "Something wrong?" he asked with a frown.
"I'm not sure," Mrs. Dubois replied. "I think there's . . ." She paused and glanced past his shoulder. Andre turned around and saw the wedding procession emerge from the French double-doors. Cecile's mother grabbed and led him further away. "Andre, I need you to go and find Cecile. Something's wrong."
His eyes still on the procession, Andre saw his girlfriend walking down the aisle, next to Cole. He blinked. "Uh, Cecile is over there. In the procession."
"That's not Cecile!" Mrs. Dubois hissed. "That's . . ."
A voice called Andre's name and caught him off-guard. "Andre! Can you hear me?" The Vodoun houngan stared at Mrs. Dubois, who remained tight-lipped. What the hell? "Andre, it's me. Cecile! I'm talking to you, telepathically. We've done it before."
"Cecile?" Andre said out loud. Cecile's mother stared at him. "What . . .?"
His girlfriend's voice interrupted. "Not now, Andre! Listen to me. I'm on my way to the garden. I was locked inside the greenhouse by some daemon. You've got to stop the wedding. Barbara . . ."
"If you're on your way to the garden, who is this . . . other you?" Andre frowned at the bridesmaids.
"Andre! That's not me!" Cecile retorted. "It's an imposter! A shape shifter. And Barbara is another. In fact, I think she's that succubus, Claudia Della Scalla. Either the real Barbara is dead, or stashed somewhere. And they have the Soma plant! Now listen up!" The Vodoun priestess paused briefly. "You've got to stop the wedding, or Bruce will end up married to that succubus. Get hold of Piper Halliwell and tell her to freeze everyone. She's the sister with the long, dark hair. Remember?"
Andre stared at the altar, where the bridal procession had stopped. Both Harry and Olivia helped the bride and groom into their ceremonial robes. The Wiccan high priest and priestess were also robed. The high priest began to drone, "Let the four directions be honored that power and radiance might enter our circle for the good of all beings. Caller of the North: with the blessing of the deep and fruitful earth, we call upon the powers of the North."
Cecile's voice cut into Andre's thoughts. "Andre! Did you hear me? Stop the wedding!"
"Yeah, I heard you. Just get here as fast as you can," he replied. Taking Mrs. Dubois by surprise, Andre murmured, "I think you better get ready for some trouble."
"What?" she whispered back.
But Andre barely heard. He made his way over to the remaining Charmed Ones, who sat with Olivia's former whitelighter. Leaning toward the eldest Halliwell, he whispered, "Hey Piper, remember me? Andre?"
Piper nodded. "Yeah. Uh, is there something wrong?"
"Look, something's about to go down, here," Andre continued. "When I give the word, I want you to . . . freeze everyone."
"But I can't freeze witches."
Andre said, "That's okay. Just try not to freeze Cole."
"Yeah, but . . ."
Before the witch could finish, Andre straightened up. In the middle of the high priestess' sermon, he cried out, "Stop! Stop the wedding!" Everyone stared at him. Andre ignored the stares and barked at Piper, "Now! Freeze 'em!" The Charmed One automatically threw out her hands and nearly everyone froze - including the bride, Cecile, and the whitelighter. The baby wiggled in the latter's arms.
"What the hell?" Bruce angrily demanded. "What's going on?"
Shocked at the sight of both Barbara and Cecile in a frozen state, Andre declared, "That's not Barbara! Or Cecile! They're frozen!"
"Of course they are," Piper said. "They're not witches. Well, Barbara isn't a witch like . . ." She paused and stared at Andre. "Why aren't you frozen?"
The other sister - Phoebe - pointed out, "Uh Piper, Barbara's dad didn't freeze. Nor did Cecile's mom."
Frowning, Piper stared at the people in question. "I don't get it. Why didn't . . .?"
Jack McNeill interrupted. "You can't freeze witches, Piper. That includes witches like Barbara and Phil. Nor can you freeze Vodoun priests and priestess, who are like us. However . . ." He glanced around, looking confused. "I still don't know what the hell is going on."
"And why is Barbara frozen?" Mr. Bowen demanded.
Mrs. Dubois answered, "It's like Andre said, that's not Barbara."
At that moment, the fake Barbara slowly regained her movement. Piper let out a loud gasp. The impersonator coolly glanced at the others. "Well, it seems that I have been found out." The blond, blue-eyed woman, quickly transformed into a statuesque woman with long, curly dark hair and hypnotic sherry-brown eyes.
"Oh my God!" Bruce cried. "Portia! Or . . . wait a minute! She's dead! This must be . . ."
The real Cecile rushed out of the house, shouting, "That's not Barbara! It's Portia's sister - Claudia!"
"So, you've heard of me," Claudia sneered in a spiteful tone. "How clever. And if you believe you have won, you are mistaken." She took a deep breath and cried out, "Oh Corvus! Call upon the Congrega de Della Scalla and summon them to my side!" Men and women immediately materialized in the garden, taking Andre by surprise. He realized with a sickening feeling that he and his friends had a battle on their hands with the succubus' entire coven.
Still reeling in shock from Barbara transforming into the Amazon-like succubus, Paige's eyes widened even further at the sight of demons appearing in the McNeills' garden. The fake Cecile slowly unfroze and transformed into a dark-haired incubus.
The "bride" cried out, "Kill them! All of them!" And the succubus' minions commenced their attack.
Before she could deal with the nearest minion, Paige saw the Morrises, Jason, Cole's date and other innocents disappeared from the garden. Cole must have sent them out of harm's way. One demon teleported beside Paige and tried to stab her with a stiletto. She blocked his thrust with her left arm and punched his jaw with a right cross. The demon fell upon the ground. Surprised by the blow, he glared at Paige and threw the stiletto at her. Paige teleported the weapon into her hand, and sent it deep into the incubus' forehead, killing him instantly.
Paige glanced around to see how the others fared against the attack. She saw Paul Margolin turn one demon into an ice-crusted statue. Cool. Cecile - the real one - faced down another demon, brandishing a knife. The Vodoun priestess merely stared at the demon, causing the latter to scream in pain before dropping dead. Paige's eyes then focused upon Gweneth McNeill and Andre Morrell killing a few of the succubus' minions with balls of electricity. That surprised her. She knew that the younger Mrs. McNeill possessed electrokinesis, but the energy balls came as a surprise. As did Mr. McNeill's power. Like Piper, he possessed the power of molecular combustion - blowing up demons who dared crossed his path.
The two older Halliwells seemed to be doing well. Phoebe levitated above an incubus and a succubus, and knocked both of them out with well-placed kicks to the head. Just as the middle Charmed One settled upon the ground, one demon raised her hand, as lightning bolts crackled from her fingers. Paige cried out, "Phoebe!" Fortunately, someone else had noticed Phoebe's danger. A stream of fire left Olivia's hand and incinerated the demon within an instant.
Phoebe and Piper stared at the red-haired witch in shock. And both failed to notice the demons that threatened from behind. Before Claudia's minions could attack, Mr. Bowen came from behind and slit the throat of the minion that threatened Phoebe. Bruce McNeill ripped apart the other minion's body with his aerokinesis.
Paige sighed with relief and turned away. She found herself facing another minion. The chestnut-haired woman's eyes glowed red. Before Paige could do anything, a pair of hands grabbed hold of the demon's head and neck, and broke the latter. The succubus sank to the ground, revealing Harry.
"Are you okay?" the youngest McNeill sibling asked with a concerned expression.
Paige nodded, as relief surged through her. "Yeah. I'm fine. Boy, that was close!" She glanced around. "Where's Claudia Whatshername?"
Harry's eyes scanned the altar. He pointed at the succubus, fighting Cole. "Over there. She and Cole seemed to be giving each other trouble."
The redhead had not exaggerated. Claudia seemed to be teleporting all around the half-demon, avoiding the latter's fireballs. Her energy balls merely bounced off Cole's chest. Then the succubus stared at Cole, as if trying to hypnotize him. Aware of the half-demon's susceptibility to telepathic powers, Paige feared the worst. Harry made an attempt to go to Cole's aid, when the unbelievable happened. Instead of succumbing to Claudia's power, the half-demon waved a hand before her face. The succubus clutched her head, screaming and disappeared from sight.
"Harry!" Elise McNeill's sharp cry took the young pair by surprise. Carla Bianchi followed closely behind. "I see that Paige is with you. Good." She grabbed her grandson's hand. "I have the spell to vanquish our little visitors. I need you and Paige's help."
Paige glanced at Mrs. Bianchi. "Would you be able to . . .?"
"Anyone can use this spell," the Strega said. "My grandfather once used it in Venice, years ago."
Harry asked, "What's the spell?"
Mrs. McNeill handed Paige and Harry, each a piece of paper with words scrawled on it. It looked like a banishment spell to Paige's eyes. Then the Strega revealed another piece of paper that had the words, 'Congrega de Della Scalla'. Mrs. McNeill sprinkled salt and water on it, while Harry drew a circle around all four witches with a stick. Mrs. Bianchi lit up a black candle in her hand and set the flame to the piece of paper. And then they began to chant:
"Blazing force of cleansing fire, help me in this rite. By air and earth, water and fire, so you be bound with this rite. Your power takes flight, sky and sea, cleanse us and keep harm from us. Cord go round, power be bound, your negativity will no longer come my way. From hence forth, the power of all incubi and succubae over us be banished. So mote it be!"
Screams filled the air, as members of the Della Scalla coven vanquished - one by one - into bursts of flames and energy. By the time the four witches had finished, all incubi and succubae had been destroyed. "Now that is what I call a timely intervention!" Andre crowed.
Piper added, "Would close call be a better term? Exactly how many demons were in that coven?"
Carla Bianchi replied soberly, "At least forty or fifty. It took Signorina Della Scalla nearly two centuries to create her own coven."
A gurgle caught the attention of everyone. The sound came from a figure sprawled near Vivian Dubois' feet. "Hmmm, looks like my boy is still kicking."
"How is that possible?" Paul asked. "The spell was strong enough to kill the others."
Both Cole and Bruce knelt beside the injured incubus. The half-demon ripped open the demon's shirt, revealing an amulet laying upon the latter's pale chest. An amulet with strange markings. "What's that?" Paige asked.
Cole said, "Looks like a protection amulet. Those markings are Etruscan. So much for protection." He removed the amulet from the demon's neck and slapped the latter's face. "Hey! Wake up!"
Another groan left the incubus' mouth. His dark eyes blinked open and stared at the others in fear. "Eh? Wha . . .?"
"Where is she?" Bruce demanded brusquely. "Where's Barbara? And that bitch you call your mistress?"
The incubus' eyes fluttered. "I . . ."
"I guess I hit him a bit too hard, huh?" Mrs. Dubois asked.
"Where is she?" Bruce continued to demand. "Where's Barbara?" He began shaking the incubus' arm.
Mr. McNeill grabbed his son's arm. "Hey! C'mon Bruce. Take it easy!"
The incubus opened his mouth. Another gurgle came out, before his body stiffened. Then he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
"Shit!" Mr. Bowen cried out in frustration. "Now what are we going to do?"
Mr. McNeill sighed. "Well, we can always scry or try a locator spell. Or maybe we . . ."
"It's not necessary," Harry said, interrupting his father. "I know where Barbara is. She's at 933 . . ."
Cecile finished, ". . .Oceanview Avenue. In San Mateo." Harry stared at her. "I also read his thoughts before he died."
Bruce sprung to his feet. "Right! Olivia, Cole, let's go." He turned to his sister. "Livy, you might as well bring Darryl with us. Especially if Nick is there."
"Wait a minute, Bruce!" Olivia protested. "We're going to need a telepath. You're talking about a succubus, here. We don't even know how many other demons there are."
Cecile spoke up immediately. "I'll come with you." She glanced at Harry. "If you don't mind." The redhead responded with a silent shrug.
Cole waved his hand and both Darryl and Leo, who held Wyatt, reappeared. The former blinked and glanced around with confused eyes. "What the hell . . .? Where is everyone?"
"What happened?" Leo added.
Paige promptly replied, "Demon attack. Bruce almost married Portia Della Scalla's sister. Who was disguised as Barbara."
Cecile added, "They also have the Soma plant." Everyone stared at her. "I found two of them in the greenhouse. And whoever knocked me out, took the plant.
"Looks like I had missed all of the excitement," Darryl said in his usual, wry voice.
Leo asked, "Where are the other guests?"
Cole answered, "Safe. In another dimension. But right now, we need Darryl's help." He said to the police lieutenant, "We know where the real Barbara is. And possibly Nick Marcano."
"Oh." Darryl glanced around. "Uh . . . my gun. I think I'll need . . ." A Glock pistol materialized in his hand. One also appeared in Olivia's hand. "Okay. I guess we can leave."
The five people joined hands. Before Paige could blink for the umpteenth time, they disappeared. Piper sighed. "And once again, it's the Charmed Ones 'not' to the rescue. You know, it's becoming a habit with this bunch."
Realizing the truth when she heard it, Paige could only respond with a wry smile.
The moment Claudia teleported to the middle of her living room, she called for her surviving minions. Her heart nearly broke when only seven appeared, including her personal maid - Flauvia. "This is it?" she bemoaned. "Only seven of you have survived?"
Flauvia replied, "I have been here all day, Padronessa." Her dark eyes brimmed with resentment, as she gingerly touched the back of her head. "Because of that witch." Claudia looked at her questioningly. "She tried to escape."
A sigh left Claudia's mouth. "As much as I would like to kill her, I need the witch alive for now. To lure her fiancé to me. Meanwhile, bring the Streghone to . . ."
Before Claudia could finish her command, Nick Marcano burst into the room. "You're back!" He glanced around in confusion. "Why are you here, so soon? Where's Bruce? Is he dead?" Hope replaced his confusion.
Anger welled within the succubus. This Streghone . . . this idiot had cost her a lot. "No! Signor McNeill is still alive." Disappointment flitted across Nick's face. "Nor am I married. Someone had exposed me before wedding vows could be exchanged. I had to summon my coven to help me. Unfortunately, most of them are dead." Claudia's voice hardened. "Thanks to you."
"Me?" Nick shook his head in disbelief. "I wasn't even at the wedding! Why blame me?"
"Because you were the one who started this . . . this guaio!" Claudia spat out in anger. "By summoning my sister in the first place!"
Fear crept into the Streghone's eyes. "But . . . but I . . . I didn't force her or anything like . . ."
"Everything I have held dear is gone!" Claudia continued. "My coven and my sister. All because of your infatuation with that Wiccan bitch!"
The Streghone inhaled sharply. The man was obviously trying to keep from wetting his pants. Instead, he said in a wavering voice, "Look, things may not have turned out as we had expected. But you still have one thing."
Nick continued, "The Soma plant. Didn't one of . . . your helpers bring it here?"
"He is right, Padronessa," Flauvia added. "Giancarlo had left it in the library for . . ." Her voice faded under Claudia's hard stare.
With an air of desperation, Nick said, "With the plant, you can achieve invincibility. And get revenge on the others. Not even Belthazor would be a match for you."
Claudia shuddered at the memory of the handsome half-daemon. He had managed to easily repel her attacks - telepathic or otherwise. The succubus realized that she had been fortunate to escape with her life. And the Soma plant would certainly be useful in her present situation. She turned to her servant. "Flauvia, go to the dining-room and . . ."
Five people suddenly materialized in the room, drawing stares from Claudia and the others. The succubus' heart sank when she realized that one of the newcomers happened to be Belthazor.
The moment they had materialized in the middle of Claudia Della Scalla's living room, Cole and his companions went on the offensive. The half-daemon destroyed one incubus with an energy ball the moment the latter had lifted an arm.
The others seemed to be doing fine. One daemon - a dark-haired female with a slender face - transformed into some horned creature, who pounced upon Olivia. The latter stopped the daemon in mid-air using telekinesis and flung her against the wall. She returned to human form and grabbed a knife from a nearby table and threw it at Olivia. The witch deflected the knife and forced the pointed edge to be buried into the demon's forehead. The latter disintegrated into dust.
Cole glanced to his right and saw Cecile facing two daemons - a tall, fair-haired man with gray eyes and a middle-aged woman. Her lips moved, as if reciting a chant and both demons disappeared into bursts of light.
A gust of wind from behind attracted Cole's attention. He turned around and witnessed Bruce disposing an incubus with aerokinesis. Then the older McNeill sibling cried, "Cole! To your left!"
The half-daemon whirled around and spotted a fireball hurtling toward him. He lifted one hand and easily deflected the fireball back to his attacker, destroying the latter in the process. Olivia killed a second daemon - another incubus - with a stream of fire, before turning to Cole. "Where is she?" she demanded in an anxious voice. "Claudia Whatshername?"
Glancing around, Cole realized that he had forgotten about the succubus. "I don't . . . I don't know. And I thought I had seen Nick in here." His eyes returned to Olivia. "Where's Darryl?"
"Oh my God!" Olivia's eyes widened in horror. "You don't think . . .?" She did not bother to finish her question. Instead, she rushed toward the doorway. Cole quickly followed at her heels.
Upon entering the foyer, the couple found themselves unable to decide whether to check the other rooms on the first floor or the second floor. Just as Olivia had suggested that she search upstairs, a slight cry emitted from another room. He and Olivia exchanged glances and rushed toward the source of the noise.
They found Claudia Della Scalla inside what looked like a library. The succubus seemed to be gushing over a bush planted inside a large clay pot. The legendary Soma plant. She spotted the newcomers and immediately flung an energy ball at Olivia. The latter easily deflected it back. Unfortunately, the succubus teleported out of the line of fire, avoiding energy ball. Cole waved his hand and a surprised-looking daemon reappeared. "Wha . . .?" she began.
Then the succubus disappeared. Again. She reappeared beside Cole, taking him by surprise. "Cole," a soft voice whispered in his ear. A voice that strongly resembled Olivia's. "Cole, it's . . ."
"Stop!" the half-daemon cried out loud. Then he fought back with his own telepathic powers. "Blazing force of cleansing fire, help me in this rite. By air and earth, water and fire, So you be bound with this rite. Your power takes flight, sky and sea, cleanse me and keep harm from me. Cord go round, power be bound, your negativity will no longer come my way. From hence forth, the power of Claudia Della Scalla over me be banished. So mote it be!" He held his palm out and a flame of fire appear.
Claudia let out a scream. "No!" But Cole chanted the spell again, refusing to stop. The succubus release one last agonizing scream, before she finally disintegrated into a ball of fire. Cole stared at Olivia. "Is she . . .?"
"Gone." Olivia nodded. "Yeah. What did you say to her?"
Cole shrugged. As he opened his mouth to respond, two gunshots rang out. The couple exchanged anxious looks. The shots came from upstairs. Cole grabbed Olivia's arm and beamed her out of the room.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Barbara sat inside the bedroom/cell, brooding over her foiled escape. She glanced at the clock and her gloom deepened. It read five mintues after three. Which meant that Bruce was now married to that succubus bitch.
Barbara realized that all was not lost. Even though Claudia Della Scalla and Bruce might be married, hours would pass before the honeymoon began. This left plenty of time for the McNeills or anyone else to figure out that the bride was an imposter. And hopefully, this would provide Barbara with another opportunity to escape. If only she could find . . .
A loud, commanding voice interrupted Barbara's thoughts. It came from downstairs. And it sounded as if it belonged to the Della Scalla succubus. What was she doing here?
A few minutes passed and the bedroom door burst open. Nick marched inside and grabbed Barbara's arm. "What the hell?" she demanded angrily. The Streghone lifted her from the bed and dragged her toward the doorway. "Nick, what the hell are you doing?"
"We're getting out of here," Nick growled. "Now." He continued to drag Barbara.
Nick's grip on her arm tightened. "I'll tell you later."
Barbara wrenched her arm from his grip. "No! You tell me now! What's going on?"
A second later, Barbara found herself looking down the barrel of Nick's .38 revolver. "I'll tell you later," he shot back in a menacing tone. "Now move!"
A figure appeared in the doorway, also brandishing a weapon. Barbara sighed with relief. It was Darryl Morris. "Put the gun down, Nick," he said cautiously. "Put it down."
Taking Barbara by unawares, Nick grabbed her arm and drew her close to his body. "No! You put your gun down! Or she's dead!"
"C'mon Nick! What's the point?" Darryl replied in a cool voice. "If Barbara dies, you're not getting out of here, alive. Even if you take her, we'll get you. Besides, I know you don't want her dead."
With Nick's gun pressed to her temple, Barbara could not see his expression. But she did notice that Darryl refused to lower his gun. She realized that she was in the middle of a standoff between the two men. And neither seemed willing to yield. Recalling similar situations in many television shows and movies, an idea came to Barbara. One that any sane person would consider idiotic.
Barbara took a deep breath and elbowed Nick in the gut. Hard. He let out a grunt and released his grip on her arm, allowing her to escape. Nick cried out, "No!" and aimed his gun at Barbara. Two shots rang out and the Streghone dropped to the floor. Dead.
Seconds later, Both Cole and Olivia appeared in the room. Olivia stopped short at the sight of Nick's inert body on the floor. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Poor Nick."
"I'm sorry," Darryl explained, "but he was about to shoot Barbara."
Her eyes on the corpse, Barbara murmured, "Yeah." She and the others continued to stare at Nick's body. Remembering her rescuer, she added, "By the way Darryl, thanks for saving my life."
"Hey, no problem," Darryl replied. "Just returning the favor from three weeks ago." His eyes filled with compassion at the sight of Nick's body. "Man, I sure don't look forward to telling his folks."
Footsteps thumped in the hallway, outside. Bruce, followed by Cecile, burst inside. The former spared the Streghone a quick glance, before he rushed toward his fiancée. "Barbara! Are you okay?" He enveloped her into a bear hug.
Barbara nodded. Between Nick's death and seeing Bruce again, she felt too emotional to say anything. Then she recalled something else. "By the way, did anyone find the Soma plant? I heard it was brought here."
"It's in the library, downstairs," Cole murmured.
Cecile added, "Now that Barbara is safe and we have the plant back, I guess we can return and start the wedding again."
"We have a few problems," Barbara said. She glanced at her blouse and pants. "One, if that Claudia woman is dead, I think my wedding dress may have went up in smoke. Two . . ." Outside, police sirens wailed in the distance. "We have a body to explain."
A smile touched Olivia's lips. "Darryl and I will handle the police. And maybe Cole . . ." she glanced at the half-daemon, "can do something about another body. I'm sure that the police would like to see who was responsible for Nick's escape. As for your dress, I'm sure there are a few stores still opened. And then you can have your wedding."
END OF ACT IV - Part 2