Sunday, December 15, 2013
"Torn Duties" [PG] - 4/6
Barbara stared at the quartet, following their return from the Carnahan Hotel. "So, you didn't find her?"
"Nope," Bruce replied. "She had checked out of the hotel, a few hours earlier?"
Harry frowned. "Why? You think that she found out that Cirhan was on her trail?"
The daemon shook his head. "How? I haven't been in contact with her, since my arrival in San Francisco."
"What if someone else is after her?" Phoebe suggested. Everyone stared at her. "Piper, Paige and I had caught this demon, this afternoon. According to him, this Mira Novak had double-crossed his boss. Whoever he might be."
Cirhan replied, "Loxias."
Phoebe stared at him. "Who?"
"He's a daemon with the Khorne Order," Cirhan explained. "He mainly deals with antiquities . . . and hotels. It's only natural that he would want the Haldane Sword."
Bruce murmured, "The Khorne Order, again."
Cirhan stared at him. "Excuse me?"
"It's nothing. Except . . ." Bruce paused. "Well, we've all had dealings with them, before."
Phoebe continued, "So, this Loxias might be after Ms. Novak? Maybe he got her and the sword."
Scott shook his head. "She checked out. Which meant that she must have realized that this Loxias being was on her trail. And that piece of paper that Cirhan found indicated that she may have checked into some local Holiday Inn."
"Which one?" Barbara asked.
"I haven't the foggiest. I guess I'll have to check around, some more."
Piper asked, "What about this Loxias demon? Maybe we should go after him."
Harry stared at her. "Why? If Scott believes that this Ms. Novak still has the sword, what's the point?"
"He's a demon," Piper stated. Then she shot an embarrassed glance at Cirhan. "And evil," she finished lamely.
Phoebe spoke up. "What about Ms. Novak? If we do get the sword back, what happens to her?"
Cirhan said matter-of-factly, "I'll turn her over to Ulmund. And he'll probably have her sentenced to the Stygian Abyss. It's a prison."
"I know," Phoebe replied pointedly. "I just don't understand how a demon - even a . . . good one - has the right to dictate what happens to a human."
To everyone's surprise, Harry spoke up. "If she's Ulmund's apprentice, then he has every right to dictate what happens to her."
Both Phoebe and Piper glared at him. "What do you mean?" the latter demanded.
Cirhan added, "Mira had signed a contract of apprenticeship with Ulmund. If she hadn't stolen the sword, she would have completed the terms of her contract, later this year. But since she did steal the sword, she violated the contract. And she has to pay for her actions."
"But she's a human," Phoebe insisted.
Coolly Cirhan replied, "And she's also a powerful wizard. What is your point?"
Sensing a serious quarrel on the horizon, Barbara spoke up. "Look, it's getting late. Why don't we all meet back here, tomorrow afternoon? It'll be Saturday. Hopefully, Scott will find out where this Mira person is by then."
The hostility between the two older Halliwells and Cirhan ebbed. Bruce glanced upward and heaved a silent sigh. Harry's mouth formed an amused smile. As for Paige . . . Barbara noticed that the younger woman seemed determined to keep her gaze fixed upon her sisters. Hmmm. Oh well.
"What about two o'clock, tomorrow afternoon?" Scott suggested. "Here?" Everyone agreed.
Within another twenty minutes the visitors had left. Much to Barbara's relief.
"Chris!" Phoebe's voice cried out for the Elder the moment she and her sisters entered the manor.
Paige sighed. "Pheebs, what are you . . .?"
But the middle Charmed One bellowed their whitelighter's name again. "Chris! Get down here! Now!"
Leo descended the staircase, carrying Wyatt. "What's going on?" he demanded.
The sisters stared at him. "What are you doing here?" Piper shot back. "Chris was supposed to look after Wyatt, this evening."
"He was called up there." Leo lifted his eyes, indicating "up there" as the Whitelighters Realm. "What's going on? Have you found the sword?"
Phoebe barked, "No, we haven't! Nor have we found the person who had stolen it in the first place."
Confusion swirled in Leo's blue eyes. "Stolen? Wha . . .?"
With a sigh, Piper explained the circumstances surrounding the theft of the Haldane Sword. "Now that we know who the real owner is," she shot a dark look at Leo, "we're helping this Cirhan to recover it."
"You're working with a demon?" Leo demanded in outraged tones.
Paige retorted, "You and the other Elders didn't bother to tell Chris or us that it belonged to a member of the Gimle Order!"
"Guys, you can't do this! You can't turn the sword over to this . . . Cirhan, or whatever his name!" Leo exclaimed. Wyatt began to cry.
"We don't have a choice. The sword doesn't belong to the Elders." Paige paused to flop down on the sofa. "In fact, you shouldn't have assigned us to find this damn sword in the first place."
Phoebe growled, "I don't care who gets the damn sword! All I intend is to make sure that Cirhan doesn't turn this Mira woman over to the Gimle Order." She whirled upon the Elder. "According to Harry, they can do whatever they want to her because of some contract. Is this true?"
Leo's eyes grew wide. "Huh? I don't know what you're talking about."
A sigh left Paige's mouth. "It's too bad that Cole and Livy aren't here. They could probably tell us about this contract."
"Well, contract or not, I think we should make sure that this Novak person doesn't end up in Cirhan's hands," Phoebe insisted. She watched her older sister lift a wailing Wyatt out of Leo's hands. "And who knows? Maybe the Elders will get their sword." She started toward the staircase.
Paige mumbled under breath, "I doubt it."
"Where is she?"
Lemsa nearly wilted under Loxias' stare. "Uh . . ."
"Where is she, Lemsa?" Loxias' eyes bored into the female demon's. "You had traced her to the Carnahan. But I don't see her or the sword with you. What happened?"
A sigh escaped out of Lemsa's mouth before she could stop herself. "I'm sorry, Loxias, but she . . ."
The handsome-looking daemon pressed his mouth into a tight line. "She got away?" His voice oozed with menace.
Lemsa's stomach nearly became twisted into a knot. "Both Tar and Thom had her by the arms. In order to prevent her from using her electrokinesis. Only . . . she . . ." The demoness took a deep breath. "It seems that she has a new way of channeling her power. Via touch."
A long, tense moment passed, while Lemsa anticipated Loxias' next move. She felt certain that death awaited her any moment. She released a gust of breath, when Loxias finally responded.
"I see. Apparently, none of us had foreseen Miss Novak channeling her electrokinesis power in such an . . . original manner." He pierced Lemsa with a pair of aquamarine eyes, hard as polished stones. "I'm giving you one last chance to acquire that sword and kill Miss Novak. You fail me again . . ." He left the threat unspoken. But Lemsa understood. Perfectly.
An obsequious smile curved her lips. "You have my word, Loxias," she pledged. "I won't fail the next time."
"And I'll have your head if you do." The older demon seared her with one last glare before he dismissed her from his office.
The following afternoon saw Bruce and Harry McNeill, Cirhan and the Halliwells inside the former's Blue Room, pouring through every telephone book in the house. Harry heaved a sigh. "I'm looking through an old telephone book. I don't think that we'll ever find the elusive Miss Novak. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she has already sold the sword to her new client."
"I rather doubt it," Cirhan replied. "Ulmund would have known if someone other than him has used the sword. He would have felt the disconnection. The sword is like his ka. Or his sigil." He glanced at the Halliwells. "Like your Book of Shadows."
Piper frowned. "How do you know that?"
With a sigh, Bruce explained, "Everyone knows about the Book of Shadows, Piper. That's why so many have been trying to steal it for so many years."
"Yeah, like Dad's sword, Bruce's scythe, Mom's ruby amulet and Olivia's staff," Harry added. "Along with my signet ring."
Paige stared at Harry. "Are you saying that each of you own a . . . sigil that's considered valuable?"
"Valuable and very powerful." Harry paused. "There have been at least three attempts to steal mom's amulet and four attempts on Dad's sword." He turned to his older brother. "And someone has tried to steal Bruce's scythe at least twice." With a slight chuckle, he added, "Fortunately . . . at least for me - no one has bothered to steal my ring."
Bruce added, "Some daemon once tried to steal Barbara's wand."
"Barbara?" Shock lit up Paige's eyes. "Her wand?"
"Very valuable." Bruce nodded at Cirhan. "And I believe that you have a valuable wand, yourself. It once belonged to a daemon sorcerer named Feanor."
Cirhan nodded. "He was my ancestor. I don't use it, unless I really have to."
At that moment, Davies appeared in the doorway. "Miss Barbara has returned, sir. And Inspector Yi is with her." He stepped aside and allowed Barbara and Scott to enter the room.
From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Paige squirm with discomfort at the sight of his sister-in-law. "I had ran into Scott on my way here," Barbara announced. She glanced at the stack of telephone books on the coffee table. "No luck?"
Bruce sighed. "None, whatsoever. There is no one by the name of Mia Newman staying at any of the Holiday Inns in within this city."
A smug smile curved Scott's lips. "That's because she's no longer using that name. I just found out that someone named Maura Norscott of Boston had checked into the Holiday Inn at Union Square. Room 3012."
"Maura Norscott?" Phoebe said with a frown.
Cirhan replied, "Another one of Mira's aliases."
The middle Charmed One shook her head in disbelief. "She's a human, not a demon. Why would she need so many aliases? What is she? A spy in real life?"
"She's one of three apprentices to a very powerful and important daemon wizard," Cirhan coolly replied. "Which naturally makes her a target for any magical threat."
Scott said, "And she's also from Providence, Rhode Island." The others stared at him. "I had her background checked out. Mira Novak is a homeopathic practioner, who was born in late February 1977. Her mom is a homeopathic practitioner and her dad is a medical doctor."
"And they're both magic practitioners," Cirhan added. "Mira's father had studied under Ulmund."
Piper looked confused. "Are you saying that both she and her father had apprenticed themselves to a demon?"
"Ulmund is considered to be one of the oldest and finest practitioners of esoteric magic and alchemy in many dimensions," Cirhan declared with sheer earnest. "Anyone interested in becoming a wizard would give an eye just to become his apprentice. And he doesn't just accept anyone. As for Mira . . . I suppose that he had accepted her, because her father had been one of his students."
Barbara sat on the sofa, next to Harry. "Before we go after Ms. Novak, what else can you tell us about her?"
Releasing a gust of breath, Cirhan continued, "Well . . . she's a powerful magic practitioner. And she has one psychic ability as far as I know - electrokinesis."
The last bit of information seemed to worry Phoebe. "You mean energy balls?"
"According to Ulmund, she had recently mastered that use of her power. But she can channel her electrokinesis in other ways."
Bruce said, "I'm not surprised that it took her so long to master energy balls. It took Mom quite a while to master them, herself."
With an impatient shake of his head, Cirhan snapped, "Look, I believe I have told you as much about Mira as I possibly could. I feel that we should go after her and the sword, now."
Phoebe stood up and eyed the daemon warily. "I'm going with you to the hotel."
Paige sighed. "So am I." Harry also volunteered.
"I'll wait here," Scott volunteered. "I've been on my feet all morning and afternoon, trying to find your Ms. Novak."
Barbara added, "I'm staying here."
"And me." Everyone stared at Piper, whose eyes widened in innocence. "What? This isn't exactly a job for the Power of Three."
A distressed-looking Phoebe replied, "Yeah, but I think it's best if we were all . . . you know . . . there." She shot another wary glance at Cirhan.
But Piper refused to take her sister's hint. "Why?"
"Oh for God's sake!" an obviously exasperated Paige huffed. "Piper doesn't have to go."
Cirhan, who seemed to be deliberately ignoring Phoebe, nodded. "Good. Then I suggest we leave now." He marched toward the drawing-room's exit, with the two younger Halliwells, Bruce and Harry at his heels.
The four humans and the daemon materialized in the middle of an empty hotel corridor. "Here we are," Cirhan announced. "The Holiday Inn. Third floor." He glanced around. "Hmmmm, very nice. Clean."
An annoyed Phoebe retorted, "Hey! Did you have to do that?"
Cirhan frowned. "I'm sorry. Do what?"
"Teleport us like that . . . without asking or warning."
A confused expression still stamped on his face, Cirhan said, "I simply gave us all a lot of time, instead of . . ."
"Paige could have orbed us," Phoebe growled. "Well, at least the two of us."
Bruce rolled his eyes. "Who cares, Phoebe? We're all here and I suggest we see about getting our hands on that sword."
"Five people against one for a sword seems a bit extreme to me," Harry added. "Don't you think?"
Annoyance flashed in Bruce's gray-blue eyes. "Then why did you join us?"
"And miss out on the fun?" Harry glanced at the door. "Anyone know a way to get inside?"
Phoebe declared, "Paige and I can orb in . . ." Before she could finish, Cirhan produced a key card and swiped the lock. He pushed the door forward and invited the others inside the room. Phoebe glared at the daemon, as she strode inside. "Never mind," she muttered.
Harry glanced around and noticed that the hotel room happened to be empty. The same could be said for the bathroom. "Looks like she's not here," he declared. He and his companions - including the no longer feuding Phoebe and Cirhan - began to search the room for the sword. Harry dropped to his knees and looked under the bed. After he stood back up, his eyes caught sight of a small writing pad on the nightstand. He picked it up and noticed that someone had left a slight writing impression on the pad.
"That doesn't exactly look like a sword to me," Paige commented from behind his shoulder.
Harry replied, "But it might be a clue. It looks as if she may have written some note or message before leaving."
"I know a spell that might . . ."
Interrupting, Harry added, "I know an easier way." He placed the writing pad on a nearby desk. Using a pen, he lightly scratched over the top sheet and revealed the imprints left behind from the previous sheet. "Eaton something," he read. "South San Francisco." He looked up and frowned. "Aren't there a lot of warehouses in that area?" Then he continued reading. "Oria M. Nine-thirty pm."
"What exactly did you find?" Cirhan asked.
Paige replied, "Looks like Harry has found out where that Novak woman might be, tonight."
"Eaton something," Harry repeated. "In South San Francisco. Might be a warehouse. There are a lot of them in that area. And she's meeting someone named Oria M."
Bruce frowned. "Oria?" His eyes assumed a faraway light. "Why does that name sound familiar?"
Phoebe, who now sat on the bed, said, "How do we know that message was genuine? I mean, there's no sign of the sword in this room. Or that Miss Novak was here."
Paige sighed. "Phoebe . . ."
"According to your friend, Inspector Yi, a Miss Maura Norscott had checked into this room, yesterday evening," Cirhan retorted, looking obviously exasperated. "And that happens to be one of Mira's aliases. Now, I've made this obviously clear, Miss Halliwell. Which leads me to wonder why you have such difficulty believing this."
Phoebe opened her mouth to retort, when Paige grabbed the former's arm. "Hey, I'm sold that this Miss Norscott is the same Mira Novak that we're looking for. Right Pheebs?" She gave Phoebe's arm a tight squeeze.
The middle Charmed One glared at her younger sister. "Yeah," she replied through gritted teeth. "Right."
Obviously, some kind of conflict seemed to be brewing between Phoebe and Cirhan, Harry surmised. And the conflict's source seemed to stem from the Charmed One's dislike or distrust of the daemon. Where this hostility came, Harry had no idea.
Davies entered the Blue Room, carrying a tray with three glasses of iced tea. He offered a glass to both Piper and Scott, before offering the last one to Barbara. "Is there anything else you need, Miss Barbara?" he asked.
The blond witch smiled. "That's all, Davies. Thanks. Bruce and the others should be back within a few minutes or so." "If we want anything else, I'll let you know." Davies nodded and started toward the door.
Scott stood up. "Before I drink this, I need to make a visit to the restroom. I'll be right back." He followed Davies out of the room.
Now alone, Barbara and Piper began to sip their drinks. Then the Charmed One broke the silence between them. "Uh, Barbara, I . . .um, I do want to talk about something" She inhaled sharply. "It's about Paige."
Dread filled Barbara, as she regarded the other woman. "What about her?"
"It's about her paycheck . . ." Piper continued.
Oh God, Barbara thought. She should have known. "Look Piper, I'm sorry about what happened between Paige and me . . ."
"Is it really necessary to dock her paycheck like that?" the other woman finally blurted out. "I realize that Paige had been late in getting back from lunch, but you have to understand that it was for an important reason."
Barbara let out a gust of breath. "If you're talking about our present search for the Haldane sword, I'm afraid that I'll have to disagree."
"I would think that you'd understand, considering that you're a fellow . . ."
Before Piper could finish, Bruce, Harry, the other Halliwells and Cirhan entered the Blue Room. Much to her relief. "Hey guys!" she greeted, ignoring Piper. "How did it go?"
"We didn't find the sword or Ms. Novak, if that's what you mean," Bruce wearily replied. He sat down on the sofa, next to Barbara. "But Harry found something."
Barbara glanced at Harry. "Oh?"
"A piece of paper," the redhead added. "Next to the hotel bed. We think that Ms. Novak has scheduled a meeting with a potential customer. At some warehouse in South San Francisco. Eaton's."
"That sounds familiar," Barbara said with a frown. "Eaton's happens to be a herbal supplier for my store. And they happen to have a warehouse in South San Francisco."
Piper rolled her eyes in contempt. "Oh God! Another warehouse? Why do all of these demonic types have to end up in some warehouse?" Barbara noticed the glare that Cirhan shot at the Charmed One. Whose face turned red with embarrassment. "Sorry, I meant the evil variety."
Barbara asked Harry, "What was the name of the person whom Mira or whatever-her-name is supposed to meet?"
"Oria M," Harry answered.
The name touched upon an old memory for Barbara. A memory that went back to her college years at Stanford. She recalled a statuesque auburn-haired woman with turquoise eyes. Barbara turned to her husband. "Bruce, did Olivia ever tell you about a woman we once met named Oria?"
"The name had sounded familiar to me." Bruce frowned. "Only I can't remember why . . ."
Paige suggested that they call Olivia. "She and Cole are in Orlando, right? Or are they still on that cruise ship?"
"Orlando," Bruce promptly replied. "They're supposed to be celebrating the New Year at Disney World."
Paige continued, "Then why don't we call . . ."
Barbara interrupted. "Don't bother. I can tell you all you need to know about Oria M. And her name is Oria Mundi, by the way. She's a wizard of Anglo-Italian descent. Although she was born in England, she was living here in San Francisco, when Olivia, Cecile and I had a run-in with her nearly thirteen years ago. While we were in college. Apparently, she was trying to get her hands on this book or grimoire. I forgot, exactly. Anyway, Olivia ended up banishing her to this place called the Barakus Wasteland."
"Wasteland?" Phoebe cried out. "Is that where Cole had ended up after we had va . . .?" Her face turned slightly pink, as she broke off.
Cirhan spoke up. "No. The Barakus Wasteland is a supernatural prison for those who aren't daemonic. All other magical beings and practitioners are imprisoned there."
"But apparently this Oria wizard had managed to escape," Paige surmised. "And I thought that no one escapes from the . . . well, whatever you call it."
Sighing, Bruce explained, "You're referring to the Stygian Abyss. Barbara said that Olivia had sent Oria Mundi to the Barakus Wasteland. And a few beings have been known to escape from there."
"Why didn't Olivia simply vanquish this Oria person?" Phoebe demanded. "You know, kill her."
It took all of Barbara's efforts not to roll her eyes at Phoebe's question. After all, the Charmed One had no idea of what really happened. "We had managed to get the drop on Miss Mundi and knock her unconscious. And since we couldn't turn her over to the police, Olivia came up with the idea to send her to the Barakus Wasteland. Besides, if we had simply vanquished her, we would have ended up committing murder."
Bruce spoke up. "Personally, I don't really care what happened thirteen years ago. All that matters are that Cirhan gets our hands on that sword. And hopefully, it'll happen tonight. So . . . any ideas?"
The room fell silent. Barbara's gaze swept the room. When it settled upon her husband, she asked, "What time are they supposed to meet? Oria and Mira?"
Cirhan pulled out a pocket watch and glanced at it. "That's at least four or five hours from now. So, I suggest that we all meet at this Eaton Warehouse in . . . oh, four hours. Or three-and-a-half."
"All of us?" Piper exclaimed. "Because I figured that . . ."
Harry nodded. "That sounds like a good idea, to me. Just in case either woman show up with some help." He paused. "Hell, I would."
Bruce smiled. "Then the matter is settled."
At that moment, Scott strolled into the room. He seemed slightly taken aback at the sight of the newcomers. Then he frowned. "Did I just miss something?"
Lemsa burst into the Corianna Hotel's premiere penthouse suite. She found her chestnut-haired mentor eating dinner at a table that overlooked the city. "Lexias," she announced breathlessly. "I've just received news from one of the Order's members. From Norica. She had learned from a wizard that Oria Mundi has made a deal for a very valuable object. Possibly the Haldane Sword. And that the transaction will take place at some warehouse in South San Francisco."
The demonic hotelier placed his knife and fork on his plate and glanced up. "Norica gave you this information?"
"Apparently, this wizard, who's part of Oria's coven, was one of her . . . customers." Lemsa expressed discomfort at the last word. The demoness Norica happened to be a high-priced prostitute within the supernatural community.
Oria Mundi? The revelation of Mira Novak's new customer shocked Lexias. He had heard much about the notorious wizard. "You mean to say that Oria Mundi is here in San Francisco? I last heard that some witch had entrapped her inside the Barakus Wasteland."
Lemsa shrugged. "According to Norica, Oria had escaped."
"What's the name of this warehouse that Oria and Ms. Novak are supposed to meet at?"
After a brief hesitation, Lemsa replied nervously, "Um, Norica didn't have that information. But she does know where Oria's minion lives." She paused. "He's a regular customer."
A heavy sigh left Loxias' mouth. "Fine. Then I suggest that you return to Norica and ask for his address." He glared at the demoness and added pointedly, "As soon as possible."
"Of course, Loxias." Lemsa nodded quickly and left the suite.
Loxias heaved another sigh. Then he stared at the food on his plate, before shoving the latter away from him. Thanks to Lemsa's news, he no longer possessed an appetite.
END OF PART FOUR