"THE HALF-BLOOD DEMON"
Inside the private library of Marbus' Dublin townhouse, the daemon heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Bloody hell, woman! How long is this rant of yours is going to last?"
His younger sister paused long enough to glare at him. Nimue had appeared at his home not long after the family had finished breakfast. He led the demoness into the library, where she had broken into a tirade over her disastrous visit to her son.
"What do you mean by that?" Nimue angrily demanded.
"I think I've been perfectly clear. You haven't been able to shut up about Belthazor, since you got here."
Nimue gracefully dropped into a nearby chair. Despair flashed across her still beautiful face. "He's going ahead with this plan of his, Marbus. He's going to ruin himself over some silly little witch."
"I don't know if those are the proper words to describe Frances," Marbus commented. He poured a glass of ginger ale and handed it to Nimue. "Considering how he feels about her."
The demoness frowned. "Who's Frances?"
"Belthazor's ex-wife. One of the Charmed Ones. You just met her."
Rolling her eyes in contempt, Nimue retorted, "Good heavens, you silly berk! I keep forgetting how awful you are with names. Her name is Phoebe, not Frances." A scowl darkened her expression. "And I'm still trying to understand what Belthazor sees in her. She's such a child!"
"Oh, I don't know. She can be quite charming and intelligent." Nimue stared at Marbus in disbelief. "I think. Look, I know this idea of Belthazor getting rid of his powers had started with her. And frankly, it's idiotic." He paused, as he contemplated his words. "Bloody hell! What has that fool gotten himself into? She'll never accept him for himself."
Nimue muttered witheringly, "The mind of a child!"
Marbus sighed. "You might have a point."
An outburst from his sister took Marbus by surprise. "What are we going to do, now?" she cried. "Neither of us seem able to talk Belthazor out of this nonsense! Even the youngest Charmed One thinks he's making a mistake. And he's obviously not listening to her. What else can we do?"
The image of a certain red-haired witch popped into Marbus' mind. "Well . . . there is someone who might be able to talk him out of this."
"Like who?" Nimue took a sip of her drink.
Marbus took a deep breath. "She's a witch. Her name is Olivia McNeill."
"Oh bloody hell!" Nimue exclaimed in disgust. "Not another witch!" She paused, as a frown creased her forehead. "McNeill, you say? Why does that name sound familiar?"
"She's the daughter of Jack McNeill," Marbus replied. "You remember the witch who had saved me from being lynched by that coven, some thirty-six years ago, don't you?" His sister nodded, and Marbus proceeded to tell her about Belthazor's friendship and subsequent romance with Olivia McNeill. And the incident that led to their recent breakup.
Wearing a dubious expression, Nimue said, "And you believe that this witch can talk him out of stripping away his powers?"
"Definitely. He's in love with the girl . . . even if he's afraid to admit. And she's in love with him."
Nimue shook her head. "In the name of Barmiel, a daemon involved with two witches! This must be unheard of in the supernatural world."
"Not really. There was that little romance between . . ." Marbus broke off, under his sister's glare. "Never mind," he murmured.
"How can I reach her? This Olivia?"
Marbus stared at his sister with disbelief. "You?"
"Well, of course me!" an outraged Nimue shot back. "After all, this is my son we're talking about."
"When you do meet with Olivia, try not to pop in out of thin air. Mortals aren't exactly fond of such surprises."
The demoness retorted, "Marbus!"
Realizing that he would not be able to convince his sister to allow him to seek out Olivia, Marbus gave her the information that she needed.
Several hours later, on the other side of the world, Phoebe descended the manor's staircase. She found Piper placing a platter of hash brown potatoes on the dining table. Other dishes were also on the table - toast, link sausages, bacon and scrambled eggs. It seemed a great deal for a Monday morning breakfast. "My God! Piper! What's all this?" she demanded.
The oldest Charmed One glanced up. "What are you talking about?"
"This! This . . ." Phoebe indicated the large meal with a wave of her hand. "Isn't this a bit much for Monday morning? The only one who ever eats this much is . . ." Phoebe broke off, realizing that she had nearly mentioned her brother-in-law. "I mean . . ."
Piper's expression hardened. "I know who you meant. And no, it's not for . . . him. I'm sure that he's eating his heart's content . . . up there."
Phoebe found it disturbing that Piper seemed incapable of mentioning Leo's name. Come to think of it, her older sister has been walking around in a near zombie state ever since Leo had revealed his new position as an Elder. "Uh, yeah. But Piper, this is a lot for Monday morning. I don't know if I can eat half of this. Let alone one-quarter."
Piper shot an appraising stare at Phoebe. "I don't know. You look as if you could use a few extra pounds."
"Hey! What do you mean by that?"
A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Nothing. I take it back. Now sit down and eat."
While she eased into a chair, Phoebe said, "You know, I've been trying to figure out what we could have done to adjust that power stripping potion for Cole. But I can't think of anything. I wish Paige would just tell us."
"I don't know, Pheebs." Piper placed a pitcher of orange juice on the table. "Maybe this is a sign that we should leave Cole's powers alone. Remember what happened the last time?"
"Piper! How can you say that? You know that Cole and I can never have a life together, as long as he has those powers."
The oldest Charmed One heaved a long sigh. "I don't see why not. Aside from Barbas and those warlocks, no one has bothered to steal them. And at least Cole can be here with you." Piper's tone grew bitter. "At least he won't be spending eternity with a bunch of . . ." She broke off and poured a glass of orange juice. "Never mind." While Phoebe stared at her, Piper added, "Um, what are we going to do with Cole's powers, once they've been stripped? I mean, even Paige's potion hadn't been able to vanquish them to the Wasteland. Which is probably why Barbas was able to steal 'em in the first place."
A third voice added, "I've got an idea about that." Both Phoebe and Piper stared at Paige, who approached the dining table. She sat down in the chair, opposite Phoebe. "Wow Piper! Went a little overboard with the breakfast, didn't you?"
Phoebe stared at her half-sister. "Wait a minute. What idea are you talking about? Since when did you change your mind?"
Paige airily replied, "Well, since you and Cole want this so badly, I figured that I might as well help. Oooh, sausages!" She reached for the platter of meat.
Piper finally sat down next to Phoebe. "And this idea?"
After placing three link sausages on her plate, Paige continued, "A glass jar."
The youngest Charmed One continued, "I read somewhere . . . or was it Barbara who told me? Anyway, I heard that glass jars are used to contain mystical or spiritual elements - like souls and other stuff."
"Does that include magical powers?" Phoebe asked.
"Yep." Paige reached for the scrambled eggs. "But if a glass jar doesn't work, I guess that Cole will have to keep his powers, until we find something better."
There seemed to be something about Paige's flippant manner that Phoebe found disturbing. Especially over a serious matter like Cole's powers. "Well, let's just hope that it works."
"I wouldn't worry, Phoebe. I'm sure that it will." Paige flashed a cheerful smile at her sister and began scooping eggs onto her plate.
Barbara handed the customer his purchase and politely bid him good-bye. The moment he closed the door behind him, she glanced at the figure removing items from a shelf.
"Paige?" She walked over to where her shop assistant was reaching for a bag of Angelica Root. "Uh . . . what are you doing?"
The Charmed One replied in a cheerful voice, "Getting a few things together."
"For whom? We don't have any customers at the moment."
Still smiling, Paige replied, "I'm the customer. All of this is for me. Well, for the power stripping potion I'm preparing for Cole."
Huh? "Wait a minute . . ." Barbara hesitated, wondering if she had heard right. "You're helping Phoebe prepare that potion? I thought you were against the idea?"
"I was," Paige replied. "But I've changed my mind, last night. Phoebe and Piper weren't having any luck in creating a potion strong enough to remove Cole's powers. And I realized that I had no right to stand in the way of what Cole wanted."
Barbara nearly rolled her eyes. "You mean, what Phoebe wanted."
"Whatever," Paige replied in a singsong voice that Barbara found disturbing. And slightly annoying. The blond woman fought the urge to slap the younger woman.
The shop's bell jingled, announcing the arrival of a new customer. Barbara ordered Paige to cut short her errand and help the customer. "But I'm busy." Paige reached for a bag of herbs.
It was the final straw. Barbara snatched the item out of the younger woman's hand. "Paige," she continued through clenched teeth, "get your ass in gear and help that customer. Or you will find yourself looking for a new job." She removed the shopping basket from Paige's arm.
The half-witch/whitelighter's cheerfulness disappeared, as she heaved an exasperated sigh. "Oh, all right." Then the smile returned, as she left to face the new customer.
Bewildered by her employee's behavior, Barbara shook her head. When did Paige began acting like a Stepford wife? Even more alarming was the news that the Charmed One had finally decided to help her sisters strip Cole's powers. When the McNeills had first learned of Cole and the Halliwells' plans, they had tried to contact Olivia, who was in Monterey. Unfortunately, either the redhead's cell phone had not working or she switched it off. Once more, Barbara dialed the number. Dead line. A sigh left her mouth, as she hung up the telephone.
As Cole drove his Porsche through San Francisco's streets, the cell phone on the passenger seat rang. He picked it up and flicked it open. "Hello?"
"Cole? It's Phoebe." His ex-wife's voice sounded breathless. "Good news! Paige has finally agreed to help with the potion. She's going to start on it, as soon as she gets home. It'll be the same potion that she used on you, the last time."
"Paige?" Cole could not believe what Phoebe had just told him. Paige had agreed to help strip his powers? Consciously, he realized that he should feel relieved that the youngest Charmed One had finally agreed to cooperate. Subconsciously, he felt disappointed in his former sister-in-law. He also realized that he might have passed the point of return in the whole matter.
Phoebe continued, "Cole? Did you hear me?"
A sigh. "Yeah Phoebe. Uh . . . what . . . what made her change her mind?"
"I don't know. But maybe you should come straight to the house. That way we can get this over with as soon as possible."
And that would spell the end of Cole Turner, half-daemon. Cole kept his dire thoughts to himself. Instead, he said, "Oh. Okay. I guess I'll see you soon."
"Bye! I love you." A silent pause followed. "Cole?"
"I love you, too. See you in a few minutes." Cole immediately hung and tossed the phone on the seat beside him. He heaved a large sigh and muttered, "Shit!"
Phoebe entered the manor in a breathless rush, dumped her purse and suitcase on the sofa and headed straight for the kitchen. There, she found Piper and Paige preparing the potion. "Is it ready?" she asked.
Piper sighed. "We've barely got started, Phoebe. Paige hasn't been here very long."
"Oh." Damn. "Well, let me know . . ."
"Yes Phoebe, we will." Piper's voice expressed her annoyance.
Paige added cheerfully, "Don't worry, Phoebe. It shouldn't be long for us to make the potion. When will Cole be here?"
"He was on his way home when I called. He's coming by here, instead. By the way," Phoebe gave her younger sister a grateful smile, "thanks for helping us out."
Paige replied chirpily, "My pleasure."
Piper, Phoebe noticed, gave the youngest sister an odd stare. "Are you on crack or something?"
"Piper!" Phoebe admonished. Inwardly, she had to admit that Paige had been acting a little odd, lately. Phoebe decided to chalk it up to Paige wanting to make up for her hostile behavior of the previous days.
The doorbell rang, causing Phoebe to nearly jump with excitement. Cole. "He's here!" Then she raced out of the kitchen and into the living room. Phoebe opened the door and found a slightly nervous-looking half-demon standing on the stoop. "Cole! Hey!"
"Phoebe." Cole glanced nervously into the manor's foyer. "Uh, is everything, um . . . ready?"
Gently ushering her former husband inside, Phoebe said, "Paige and Piper are making the potion, as we speak." For a brief second, Phoebe thought she had detected a glimmer of resentment in his blue eyes. But only for a moment. She decided that her mind had played a trick on her. She gave Cole a reassuring smile. "Are you ready?"
Blue eyes bored into Phoebe's, making her feel slightly uncomfortable. Cole had assumed that mask-like expression that made him look sinister and she had always disliked it. Then to her relief, his lips quirked into a slight smile. "Yeah," he said. "I'm ready."
END OF PART 4