The Melora Dimension has served as a sanctuary - a literal 'No Man's Land' - from the numerous conflicts that have flared between various factions in the magical world.
Gweneth McNeill and Cole had revealed all of this to Olivia and the others before the half-daemon teleported the entire family to Melora. But what she had learned did not prepare for the other dimension's reality. The redhead had visited her share of other dimensions during her fourteen-and-a-half years as a witch, but none could match the sheer lush and natural beauty of Melora. Aside from the Valinor Dimension.
"Good God!" Bruce exclaimed, as his eyes scanned the surroundings.
Barbara clutched her husband's arm. "No kidding! I can't think of any spot on Earth that looks this beautiful."
Cole replied, "Now you know why the Melora dimension has been so popular with the magical world."
"And no one has tried to take control of it?" Harry asked.
Gweneth commented, "And face the wrath of both Arnen and Usiel? No one dares."
"Where is this Berisa Resort?" Jack asked.
A sheepish expression appeared on Cole's face. "Ooops! I, uh . . . I think I may have teleported us to the wrong spot. Hold on, everyone." Seconds later, the half-daemon beamed the McNeill family to the middle of a long driveway that led to a sprawling building. The Berisa Resort Hotel turned out to be a six-story, villa-style building with a red-tile roof with spirals soaring from it. A wide verandah with wicker chairs scattered across it wrapped around the building's ground floor. It reminded Olivia of the Coronado Hotel in San Diego - only larger and with more intricate designs.
"This is it," Cole declared. He led his future wife and in-laws up the driveway and toward the hotel's entrance. Once inside the lobby, Olivia could not help but gasp out loud. She had never seen such sheer elegance and luxury in her life. Certainly not in any of the luxury hotels and resorts she had visited over the years.
Harry exclaimed, "Wow! And I mean wow!"
"You can say that again," Olivia's grandmother commented. "Gwen, why haven't you told us about this place?"
Gweneth shook her head. "Because I haven't thought about it, in nearly forty years. But it certainly brings back memories."
Olivia, Cole and Jack strolled toward the front desk. Behind it stood the hotel clerk, a humanoid male with light blue skin, long earlobes and no hair. The half-daemon asked the latter for directions to the location of the Turner party. The clerk's dark eyes blinked. "Turner?" He glanced at a large book in front of him. "I'm sorry sir. There is no Turner party booked for this hotel."
An irritated sigh left Cole's mouth. "Is there a party hosted by Nimue of the Thorn Order?"
Again, the clerk checked the book. "Ah yes! Yes, there is. The Thorn Order's party is being held in the Leithian Room. Hosted by Nimue."
"That would be it," Cole murmured.
"Hadir!" The clerk summoned a tall, bi-pedal creature with deeper blue skin, two tusk-like ears that flowed from the crown of his head, wide dark eyes and four arms. He wore a uniform similar to that of a bellboy. "We have more visitors for the party in the Leithian Room. Escort them, there."
The creature . . . or Hadir bowed to Cole and the McNeills. "Please follow me," he rumbled in a deep voice. He then led them to their destination - a large, elegant ballroom with a black-and-white marble floor, candlelit chandeliers, and a nymph-shaped fountain surrounded by an ottoman. Water sprouted from the nymph's mouth. "The Leithian Room."
"Bloody hell!" Gweneth murmured. "Remind me to book this place for the next major family occasion."
Cole tipped Hadir with some kind of gold currency and the latter disappeared. At that moment, Nimue made her way toward the newcomers, smiling brightly. "Welcome!" she greeted cheerfully. "I'm so glad that you finally made it. Belthazor." She offered one cheek to her son. Who reluctantly kissed it. "And Olivia." The demoness grabbed hold of her future daughter-in-law's hands. "My dear, you look absolutely lovely."
"Thank you," Olivia replied with a smile. And so do you." She shot a glance at her fiancé, who regarded his mother with slight suspicion. "I see that we're not the first to arrive."
Nimue added, "You're among the early arrivals. Marbus and his family are here." She indicated her brother and his family with a wave of her hand. "Let me introduce you." She led the McNeills over to one of the refreshment tables - and her brother's family. "Marbus, look who's here."
The jovial daemon greeted his nephew and the McNeills with his trademark good humor. "Well, it's good to see all of you. Glad you could make it. You remember my wife, Mauve, don't you?" He indicated a tall, dark-haired elegant woman, who stood beside him. Olivia recalled meeting her at one of the McNeills' Sunday brunches, nearly two months ago. Mauve had also joined Marbus at the other engagement party, at the St. Francis Hotel. The daemon continued, "And these are my children - Liam and Siobhan."
Liam turned out to be a tall man who strongly resembled his mother. Like her, he possessed sharp, elegant features and very dark hair and eyes. Siobhan, on the other hand, was a married woman with two children. She shared her father and aunt's auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. The same eyes that Cole also possessed. Olivia also noticed that her fiancé's cousin stood an inch shorter than herself.
After all the introductions had been made, Liam said to Olivia, "I must say that it's nice to finally meet you. It was quite a shock to find out that Cole has finally found someone to marry."
"Thanks," Olivia said with a smile. "But I won't exactly be Cole's first wife."
Siobhan's blue eyes widened. "Of course! Frances!"
Cole rolled his eyes and retorted, "You mean, Phoebe." He glared at his uncle. "Marbus!"
"What?" the older daemon protested. "I can't help it if I can't remember her name, properly."
Mauve asked, "Is she here? Fra . . . I mean, Phoebe."
"I don't think she's coming," Jack said. His gaze focused upon the ballroom's entrance. "But I believe that her sisters have arrived."
The two figures teleported in front of the hotel's driveway. One of them - Eric Logan - heaved a sigh. "All right," he said. "Let's get this over with."
His companion gripped his arm. "Wait a minute. How do you plan to get inside? You don't have an invitation."
Logan stared at the daemon. "I don't need an invitation. I have you."
"Don't be absurd! I have no intention of introducing you as my personal guest. No one will expect me to show up with a companion. Especially one who's assigned to kill the bride-to-be."
A sigh left the warlock's mouth. "Great! Then it looks as if I'll have to check in as a guest. And join the party later. As a waiter." He shook his head is disgust, as he and his companion strode up the driveway. "I should have never accepted this job," he muttered. "A hit inside the Melora dimension?" He glared at his companion. "Even if I get away with it, sooner or later, Arnen or any of his goons will track me down for violating the dimension's sanction against violence."
"Oh please!" The daemon retorted airily. "The so-called 'sanction against violence' is not the law in this dimension. It's just an idea that everyone pays lip service. Don't worry."
Logan protested, "I should have went after the witch near her home or job! Not here, in Melora."
"Artemus felt that the target would be less on her guard, her in Melora." When Logan failed to respond, his companion expressed impatience. "Listen, if you think you cannot complete this assignment, we'll find someone who can. Like myself."
Logan scoffed at the suggestion. "You may be a daemon, but I am the assassin. Or else Artemus and Prax would have never hired me. Don't worry. I'll do the job."
"Fine," his demonic companion shot back. "Then stop your bitching, so we can get inside." The warlock glared at the daemon and continued toward the hotel.
Piper felt inclined to pinch herself, as her eyes roamed over the vast ballroom. She had never encountered such beauty, elegance or luxury in her life. Not even in the McNeills' San Mateo home, Castle Dunleith in Scotland, or the Westin St. Francis' Colonial Room. Quite simply, the Melora dimension and the Berisa Resort Hotel had completely blown her mind from the moment she, Paige and Chris had arrived.
"There's something wrong about this place," Chris commented. He glanced uneasily around the room. "It just doesn't seem normal for both good and evil to hang together. Like old war buddies at a reunion."
Piper rolled her eyes. She and Chris sat at one of the tables that surrounded dance floor. "I can't believe I'm hearing this from a half-whitelighter who fell in love with a witch assassin."
"It's not the . . ." Chris broke off and sighed. "Okay, maybe some might consider me falling in love with Bianca as wrong . . ."
"No kidding," Piper murmured. She reached for her glass of champagne. "Look Chris, let's put an end to this conversation, okay? You haven't been honest with us about a lot of things. Especially about you being part witch. By the way, Leo didn't raise a fuss when we mentioned this place. Why should you?"
Chris snorted with derision. "Yeah, like he would know everything."
Perturbed by Chris' continuing hostility toward her former husband, Piper demanded, "What is with you and Leo? Why do you resent him so much?"
A long pause followed before the young whitelighter replied, "Let's just say that our future relationship isn't so hot."
Before Piper could demand a further explanation, Scott Yi appeared at the table with a plate of food. "So, how are you enjoying the Melora dimension?" he asked, before sitting down in an empty chair.
"Great," Piper replied. She frowned. "I didn't see Darryl. Are you the only one from the station who's here?"
Scott replied, "I believe that Darryl did receive an invitation, but I think that he and Sheila were more than satisfied with the party at the St. Francis. If you know what I mean."
Knowing Darryl's anxiety toward all things magical, Piper understood perfectly. She glanced at Scott's plate. "Is that food . . . uh, normal?"
With a shrug, Scott said, "Of course. These are appetizers. Canapés. Smoked Trout, Frittata, Ricotta Cheese and Spinach and little Quiche Lorraine. Haven't you tried anything, yet?"
Piper's stomach growled in reply. "To be honest, I didn't know if I should."
"Go ahead and try it," Scott insisted. "Of course, there are some dishes that aren't from our dimension. But I don't think that will kill you. Trust me."
"Well . . ."
Chris spoke up. "I think Mo . . . uh, Piper and I will eat later."
"Excuse me?" Piper glared at Chris. "Since when did you become my nutritionist? Or babysitter, for that matter?"
The young whitelighter explained, "I just think you should be careful about what you eat in this place."
"Chris, knock it off! You're becoming a bore."
Scott picked up one canapé and commented, "You don't have to worry about this place. Like I said, it's quite safe. Most of the time."
Piper stared at the sorcerer/cop. "I didn't realize that you were familiar with this place."
"Oh sure," Scott replied. "I've known about it, since I was in high school. The Chinese call it Lotus Haven. This is my first visit, here." He sighed. "Just as my uncle had described it."
A figure in dark-blue loomed before the table's three occupants. "Yes, it is quite perfect. Isn't it?" Piper and her companions glanced up at the slim man, who smiled at them. His smile revealed large, white teeth that struck the oldest Halliwell as wolfish. "Hello." His deep gray eyes focused upon Piper. "May I assume that you are one of the Charmed Ones?"
Both Chris and Scott immediately stiffened. Piper maintained her cool and tartly replied, "You may assume. Do I know you?"
The man . . . or whatever he happened to be, threw back his head and laughed. "I'm afraid that we've never met. My name is Guldur, by the way. Emphasis on the last syllable."
"You're a demon," Chris flatly stated.
Guldur stared at the whitelighter. "Why yes, I believe so. Are you, by any chance, a witch? Or a wizard? You look familiar." His eyes narrowed slightly. "Come to think of it, you fit the description of a whitelighter who had been looking for a daemon I know. A daemon named Gith. Poor bastard ended up dead, over a month ago."
For reasons that eluded her, Piper immediately came to her whitelighter's defense. "Actually, my sisters and I were the ones who killed Gith. He was trying to kill us." She gave the demon a challenging stare. "Is that a problem?"
Again, the demon laughed, taking Piper by surprise. "What do you think?" he finally answered, after his laughter had subsided. Then a deadly light gleamed in his eyes. "Twelve years ago, Gith had arranged the death of a close friend of mine. A very close friend. I even hired a zoltar to find Gith, but it seem that you and your sisters got to him, first."
Frowning, Scott said, "So, what you're saying is that . . ."
". . . the Charmed Ones had done me a favor," Guldur smoothly finished. He turned to Piper. "I would give you a reward, but something tells me that you wouldn't accept one from a daemon." Piper's only response came as a weak smile.
Cole appeared at the table, looking handsome in a tailored suit. "Perhaps you should accept that reward, Piper. It's not every day that a daemon as powerful as Guldur would be indebted to a witch."
"Belthazor!" The other demon turned to shake Cole's hands. "Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I've already met the bride, by the way. Outstanding!"
Cole allowed himself a genuine smile. "Can't argue with you, there. Speaking of Olivia, have you seen her?"
It was Scott who answered, "I last saw her with Bruce and that friend of yours, Nathalie Green. Near the bar."
"Thanks." Before Cole turned away, he said to Guldur, "Since you're here, I can only assume that Lohdon is here, as well."
"Who?" Piper asked.
Guldur replied, "Lohdon. The head of my order."
Cole added, "I had expected to find a few members of the old Thorn Brotherhood, here, but not from the Fornost Order." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Something tells me that Lohdon's presence has more to do with business than my upcoming wedding."
The other demon's eyes widened with innocence. "Really, Belthazor! How would I know? Lohdon doesn't tell me everything. Besides," his gaze focused past Cole's shoulder, "I believe that Lohdon should be the least of your worries."
"Wha . . .?" Cole's gaze followed Guldur's. His blue eyes grew wide with shock. "What in the hell is she doing here?" he growled.
Piper noticed that Cole was glaring at a curvy, dark-haired female with cat-shaped hazel eyes. Her wardrobe consisted of a tight-fitting dress and heeled sandals. The woman reminded Piper of a second-rate sex symbol from a 1960s "B" movie. "Who is that?" she asked.
Cole replied through clenched teeth, "A nightmare from the past." A scowl now fixed upon his face, he marched away from the table.
"Who is she?" Chris asked Guldur.
The demon sighed. "Oh, some old girlfriend of Belthazor's. Her name is Idril. They were quite an item for a brief period back in the late 60s or early 70s. And I heard that they were seeing each other again, some four or five years ago. As far as Belthazor is concerned, she was a mistake." An amused chuckle escaped his lips. "And it looks like Idril is one that refuses to go away."
END OF ACT II