"DEFENSE OF THE REALM"
Natalia stared at the wastebasket in one corner of Beltha . . . Cole's kitchen. It seemed dangerously close to being filled up.
"I'll try to be home at least by five o'clock," Cole said, as he entered the kitchen. "Marbus said that he would also drop by with some clothes." He stared at Natalia's white, long-sleeved blouse and long blue skirt, making her aware that she has not changed her outfit since her arrival, yesterday. "Or he might send someone from the Order to deliver some clothes to you." A wry smile curved Cole's mouth. "Unless you don't mind wearing mine."
At that moment, Natalia forgot that the notorious Belthazor now faced her. Instead, she saw a tall and extremely handsome man with vivid blue eyes, standing before her and wearing a smile that seemed to make her shiver with pleasure. "I . . . uh . . . I mean . . ."
Cole's smile became more understanding. "Don't worry. You should be receiving your new clothes before lunch." He grabbed the last of his orange juice from the kitchen table and drained the glass. "Oh, and don't . . ."
"Do not leave the flat," Natalia finished. She sighed. "I suppose I should find something to do. Perhaps meditate, or work on that novel I've been writing. Speaking of which . . . do you have any writing paper?"
Cole pointed at a desk in the living room. "Top drawer. You should find some writing tablets and pens, as well." With Natalia close behind him, he returned to the other room. "When I return, perhaps I can help you learn who is killing the Elders. If you don't mind my help."
Natalia smiled at the half-daemon. "I would more than welcome it. Thank you. For everything."
"My pleasure." Cole flashed one last smile at the whitelighter and teleported out of the room.
A sigh left Natalia's mouth, as she stared at the spot left empty by her host. After three years, she finally understood how two witches had ended up falling in love with the notorious half-daemon. Who could resist that handsome face, the blue eyes and charming manners? A woman would have to be half dead not to be affected by his presence.
Then her eyes returned to the kitchen's trashcan. Hmmm. Sooner or later, she would have to get rid of it. Before an odor overwhelms the penthouse. Too bad the Elders were the only whitelighters that could teleport other objects.
Olivia glanced up from her computer screen, as Scott Yi entered the squad room. The moment he had settled behind his desk, she stood up and sauntered over toward him. "Hi Scott!" she greeted cheerfully.
The slightly younger inspector smiled at the redhead. "Olivia. You seem pretty cheerful. Having a good morning?"
"Oh, my morning is just fine." Olivia settled in the chair, next to Scott's desk.
He stared at her. "Uh, do you want something?"
"Yeah. Some information. Have you found Lin Bryant, yet?"
Various emotions flitted across Scott's face. Surprise, wariness and suspicion. "What makes you think I . . .?"
Darryl appeared by Scott's desk. "What's going on?" he asked.
Olivia's gaze remained fixed upon Scott. "I was about to ask. You've heard of this Lin Bryant, haven't you, Scott?"
"I . . ." A slightly resentful expression appeared on the young officer's face. "What's this? The third degree? What makes you think that I know her?"
"Your reaction, yesterday, when Gerry Gallagher had mentioned Ms. Bryant's name," Olivia continued. "You've heard of her, haven't you?"
Scott hesitated, before his shoulders finally sagged in defeat. "Okay. Yeah, I've heard of Lin Bryant. She's . . ." He hesitated. "She's a well-known antiquity dealer in Chinatown."
"Legitimate?" Darryl asked.
Scott shrugged his shoulders. "Somewhat. She used to own an auction house on Grant."
Olivia frowned. "Used to?"
"I had checked it out, yesterday. It's closed. I think she's gone. Relocated."
Darryl asked, "Then why the big secret? Why didn't you just tell us about her?"
Again, Scott hesitated. Olivia's eyes fell upon an object on her colleague's desk. A small medallion with Chinese characters on it that hung from a desk lamp. The medallion looked very familiar. "Goddess," she murmured. Then Olivia stared at Scott. "Are you a Taoist monk or disciple?"
Scott stared at her with stunned eyes. "How . . . how did you know . . .? I mean . . ." He paused and bit his lower lip. "What do you know about the Taoist Order?" he finally asked.
"My godfather, Chan Wei Ku, is a priest with the Order," Olivia replied. Scott gasped out loud. She peered at him. "You know him?"
Scott nodded his head. "Master Chan is the head of our local temple. I'm not a monk or anything like that. But I do belong to the Order."
Olivia paused, as she considered her next question. "Scott," she finally began, "are you . . . uh, do you . . . practice the same - you know - as Uncle Wei? I mean . . ."
"If you're referring to the Tai Chi Chuan fighting style, yeah."
"I'm not talking about kung fu," Olivia said pointedly. "You had noticed something about that medallion that Gallagher had stolen from Kostopulos' store." She heaved an impatient sigh. "Okay, enough stalling! Scott, do you by any chance, practice magic?"
A horrified Darryl cried out, "Olivia!" He glanced anxiously around the squad room.
Scott hesitated before he finally responded. "How did you know?"
Darryl murmured, "Oh man! Not you too!"
Ignoring her partner, Olivia continued, "I figured as much, when you had admitted that Uncle Wei was the head of your local temple. So what are you exactly?"
"A sorcerer," Scott admitted with a shrug. "I'm not powerful like Master Chan. Well, maybe not as experienced. But I'm pretty good." He hesitated. "Are you into . . .?"
Olivia quickly replied, "I'm a witch. Wiccan priestess. Like the rest of my family."
"And she's also pretty good," Darryl added.
Scott stared at the older man. "What about you, Lieutenant? Do you also practice magic?"
Darryl replied firmly, "No! But I know about Olivia and her family. And I know three other witches." He paused. "Now, about Lin Bryant . . ."
"Like I said, she's an antiquity dealer," Scott continued. "She's also a known sorceress. A few friends and myself had checked out her old auction house on Grant. It was empty. Looked like it had been abandoned for quite some time. I had planned to see if I could track down her new location."
Olivia asked, "What kind of . . . antiquities does Ms. Bryant deal in?"
A smirk appeared on Scott's face. "What do you think?"
Noon appeared and Paige stopped working for her lunch break. She immediately orbed out of Ostera's and materialized in the middle of an empty corridor of one of the BAY-MIRROR's floors. From there, she made her way to Phoebe's office.
"Hey there," she greeted her older sister, after poking her head into the latter's doorway. "Ready to leave?"
Phoebe stood up and grabbed her purse. "Let's go." The two sisters headed for the same empty corridor, where Paige had arrived and orbed to the Halliwell living room. "We're here!" Phoebe announced.
Piper and Chris emerged from the kitchen to greet the newcomers. "And we're ready," Chris declared.
Paige frowned. "Where's Leo?"
"In the Realm. At work."
"And what about Wyatt?"
This time, Piper answered, "Chris dropped him off with Mrs. McNeill. The elder. She was the only person I could think of to take care of Wyatt. So . . ." She ended the conversation with a shrug. "Let's go."
Paige turned to Chris. "Where do we go?"
"Link hands. I'll take you there." The young whitelighter grabbed Piper's hands. She grabbed Paige's, who grabbed Phoebe's. All four orbed out of the living room. A second later, they reappeared in an alley in Sausalito. "This is it," Chris declared. "Just around the corner is the theater where Elder James saw a movie."
Paige watched Phoebe glance around the alley. "Found something, Pheebs?"
"Like what?" the other witch demanded. "There's nothing for me to find. No clue or anything." Her eyes fell upon the ground.
Piper added, "Can't you pick up on any strong psychic aura or something? Like you did, when Prue was empathic?"
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, Piper. I was never able to do that again. Besides," Phoebe sighed, "that so-called psychic aura was probably strong, because we were dealing with empathic powers. I can't sense any . . ."
Chris interrupted. "What's this?" He knelt to the ground.
The three sisters crowded around their whitelighter. Paige pointed at an object on the ground. A broken end of a thin stick, with feathers protruding from it. "Is that an arrow?" she asked, reaching for the object.
Phoebe slapped the younger woman's hand. "Paige! Don't touch that! It's probably part of a darklighter's arrow." She picked up the broken shaft. And a gasp left her mouth.
Paige frowned. "Phoebe?"
"I saw it!" the middle Charmed One cried. "I saw what happened to Kevin."
According to Phoebe, she saw a dark-haired woman dressed in black, shoot the young Elder. "Twice," she added. "After the first time, Kevin tried to pull the arrow out of his back and broke off the end."
Piper placed a reassuring hand on Phoebe's shoulder. "Oh honey! Are you okay?"
"I also had another vision," Phoebe added. "I saw the dark-haired woman and a man - also with dark hair and a thin face - talking to another woman . . . in the Whitelighter Realm."
Both Paige and Piper exchanged uneasy glances. Chris said, "Describe her. The other woman."
"Uh . . . she's in her early forties. Light brown hair." Phoebe paused. "It's styled in a shoulder-length bob. Like Kathryn Janeway on "STAR TREK VOYAGER". The later years."
Chris' face turned pale. "Ohmigod! You and Paige were right!"
"Huh? Right about what?" Paige demanded.
After a brief pause, Chris added dramatically, "Mathilda. Phoebe had just described Mathilda, the one who had been kicked off the Elders' Council. She's the one behind their deaths."
END OF CHAPTER 9