SUMMARY: Cole, Paige and the McNeills deal with the Staff of Aingeal and a group of warlocks. Set between Alternate S5 and S6.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeills are my creation.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to "Second Power".
"THE STAFF OF FIRE" - Part I
"Ah, London!" Paige declared with a happy sigh. "God, I love this place!"
Both Olivia and Cecile exchanged long-suffering glances. The three friends, sat inside a Jaguar convertible, while Harry drove them through the streets of London's West End. "Really?" Olivia replied sarcastically. "I never would have guessed."
Paige, who sat up front with Harry, tore her eyes from the sight beyond the convertible, and gave the older witch a pointed stare. "Are we being sarcastic, Livy?"
Green eyes expressed innocence. "Who me? Why would you think that? Just because you've declared how much you love London at least three . . ."
"Five," Harry said, interrupting. The others stared at him. He shrugged. "I've been counting."
Cecile calmly added, "As much as we're glad that you're enjoying yourself, Paige, you're beginning to sound a little redundant."
Paige protested, "Hey! I can't help how I feel! I'm in London, for Pete's sake! This is the first time I've ever been outside the United States, let along California."
The Jaguar continued along XXXXX Road, until it finally reached its destination. Paige glanced at the large gray building to her left. "Harrods!" she squealed. "We're here!"
Harry stopped the convertible in front of a blue canopy that led to the department store's entrance. A uniformed valet appeared. The three women climbed out of the convertible. Harry did the same, before handing over to car's keys to the valet. Within a minute, all four stood underneath the canopy.
As Paige opened her mouth to speak, Olivia softly interrupted. "Please Paige, don't say a word about how you love this place. You're beginning to sound like a character from a Jane Austen novel. Just enjoy the moment."
The four friends stood in front of the department store for another moment. Paige took a deep breath. Then, "Okay, I've had my moment. Let's go in." And the four Americans proceeded along the canopy until they reached the store's double doors and entered.
Across the road, three men sat inside a black Morris-Oxford, and watched the four visitors entered Harrods. The driver shook his head and declared in awed tones, "I reckon the redhead is the one we're supposed to snatch, eh? Bloody hell! She's a right-looking bird!"
"No kidding!" the man next to him retorted. "Right now, I need you to keep your mind out of the gutter and concentrate on the job."
Len Ainsley nodded. "Right, boss. She's a witch, right? What if she proves to be difficult?"
Russell Pierce glared at his fellow warlock. "And we're all warlocks. Somewhat. What is the bloody problem?"
"Shouldn't we kill her?" the figure in the back seat asked. His name was Sean McGarry and he spoke with an Irish lilt.
"No!" The answer shot out of Russell's mouth with the force of a bullet. "No killing! Not yet. Not until our client gets what she wants!"
Len frowned. "Then why don't we steal it?"
Russell sighed. Long and hard. "How many times do I have to tell you? We can't steal it, you ponce! We don't know where the bloody thing is! And neither does our client. She can only get to it with Red out of the way and without any fuss." His eyes narrowed dangerously. "And that means until I say so . . . no mysterious disappearances and no dead bodies being found. Get it?"
"Then what do you need us . . . ?"
"I need you to keep an eye on her!" Russell snapped. "Keep an eye on Red. Follow her to Scotland. Dave and Keira are already there. And when the time is right, we'll get her out of the way and my client will finally get her hands on a certain object." Both Len and Sean responded with an obedient nod. Russell continued, "Now, I want to make clear a few things, while you're following this bird . . ."
Inside one of the bedrooms of a three-story townhouse on Bloomsbury Square, a semi-clad couple laid on a large bed. "God, my feet are killing me!" Olivia groaned, as she stretched her limbs. "In fact, I think that every muscle in my feet hurts, thanks to Paige."
"C'mon, it wasn't that bad," Cole murmured. He reached out to caress one of Olivia's bare legs. "I rather enjoyed the afternoon, myself."
Olivia glared at the half-demon. "Well, of course you did! You were only with us for the last two hours. When we took that river cruise on the Thames. You didn't have to go all over the West End for most of the day! My God! I'm beginning to think that Paige must be the Ultimate Tourist From Hell!" She noticed that Cole seemed transfixed by her leg. "By the way, where did you go, this morning?"
Cole's fingers began to stroke the inside of her knee, nearly causing Olivia's insides to melt. "I was with your father. We went to see a priest at a local Hindu temple about the Soma plant."
"Oh!" Olivia paused, while Cole's fingers strayed to her inner thigh. "Um, so . . . did you . . . um, God! Did you have any luck? About where to send . . . it?"
To her consternation, Cole removed his hand. "Not really," he replied. "The priest didn't know who could take the plant. But he did promise to talk to the head of his order." Cole lowered his mouth on the same spot where his fingers had caressed. "What did Gweneth and your grandmother do, today?"
Taking a deep breath, Olivia replied, "They went to visit Mom's old school friend, Cordelia St. John." She removed her leg from Cole's reach. "And since Bruce is the only other one who can stand her, Harry and I stayed away."
A smirk touched Cole's lips. "What's she like?" Again, he reached for Olivia's leg. And again, she moved it.
"Ever seen the Disney cartoon, 101 DALMATIONS?" Olivia asked. "Think of Cruella DeVille, but without the looks."
"Sounds like a demon I once knew, over fifty years ago." Cole slowly inched his body upward, until it lay next to Olivia's. "In the Brotherhood of the Thorn. I think a witch had ended up killing her in the 70s. Will, uh Ms. St. John be joining us in Scotland?"
Olivia laid flat on her back, allowing Cole's shirt that she wore, to gape open, revealing her upper chest. "Thankfully no. She doesn't know that Mom or any of us are witches. Besides, I don't think she likes Scotland very much."
"Speaking of Scotland . . ." Cole began. He shifted to his left side, propped up by his elbow. ". . . when do we leave?" His fingers unfastened the shirt's remaining buttons and spread open the former. Then his hand cupped one fully exposed breast.
A moan escaped from Olivia's mouth. "We . . . uh, we'll be leaving on the day after tomorrow. On Saturday morning. We should be in Dunleith in the evening. Hmmm!" Cole's lips encircled a protruding nipple. Olivia gasped. "As for tomorrow . . . oh God! You're . . . I guess you're stuck with us for the . . . entire da-aaa-ay! Cole!" His name tore from her lips, as his teeth gently bit into the coral nub.
Cole grabbed Olivia by the waist and drew her body against his. His mouth hovered less than an inch from hers. "And what's on for tomorrow?" he asked in a low voice.
Breathing heavily, Olivia replied, "Well . . . we're supposed to be going to Windsor, tomorrow, for the races. The last day of Ascot Week." Cole's mouth tugged at her lower lip. "Mom and Dad thought Paige would like a chance to see some of the Royals."
"Hmmm, thrilling," Cole murmured, before he moved his mouth to her left ear. "I can't wait." He began to suckle on her earlobe. "Of course . . . I'm finding it difficult to get excited over horse races and the Royal Family."
A sly smile curved Olivia's mouth. "How about this? There's a small inn not far from the racecourse. At Windsor. The town, not the castle. Maybe we can slip away for an hour or two. Enjoy some time alone."
"Now that sounds more like it," Cole said with a smile. He then lowered his mouth upon Olivia's for a deep kiss.
Next door, Paige stood before one of the windows facing Bloomsbury Square. She reached for the cordless telephone on a nearby table, when a voice demanded, "Paige, what are you doing?"
Due to the number of bedrooms inside the townhouse owned by the McNeills, the American visitors were forced to share rooms. Jack and Gweneth McNeill shared one room, Olivia and Cole shared a second, and Paige found herself sharing one bedroom with Cecile Dubois. Only Harry and the McNeill matriarch, Elise McNeill, ended up with a private room.
Paige turned to her roommate. "I'm about to call San Francisco. Piper and Phoebe should be home, by now. Well, maybe Piper."
Cecile sighed. "Cherie, it's after midnight. Can't this call wait until morning?"
"But there's an eight-hour difference between here and San Francisco," Paige protested. "By the time it's morning here, it'll be at least eleven o'clock or midnight on the West Coast." She glanced out of the window and spotted a car with two figures inside, parked across the street.
"Paige, I'm tired. Aside from Harry driving us from one place to another and the boat ride, I've been on my feet, all day." Cecile paused. "Don't take this personally, but I'm simply too tired to listen to you talk with your sisters. I need some sleep."
A sigh left Paige's mouth. "O-kay. I'll leave the room."
"Thanks, honey. That's so sweet of you." Cecile flashed a grateful smile, and drew a blanket over her shoulders.
After slipping on her robe, Paige left the bedroom, headed downstairs and emerged into the chilly night. She leaned against one of the columns supporting the small portico and dialed the Halliwells' telephone number. Seconds later, a voice answered, "Hello?"
"Piper? It's me, Paige!"
The oldest Halliwell's voice rang with anxiety. "Paige? Is that you? You haven't called since you arrived, two days, ago." She paused. "Is there something wrong?"
"Everything's great!" Paige's voice throbbed with rapture. "We had a great time, today. Went shopping at Harrods, and oh God! That place makes Macy's look like the local Woolworth store."
Her anxiety still apparent, Piper asked, "Uh, Paige, you didn't spend . . .?"
"No! Of course not!" Paige retorted. "Don't worry! Besides, aside from one dress, I've been doing most of my shopping on Carnaby Street. It's great! The prices there are more reasonable."
"Yeah. Okay." Piper paused. "So, why are you calling?"
Paige replied, "I just wanted to call. Say hi. And let you know that I'm okay." She glanced up and noticed the same car she had earlier spotted. "I also wanted to know if you, Phoebe and Leo will be in Scotland for Olivia's ceremony?"
An awkward silence greeted Paige's ears for a moment. "Oh, I don't know, Paige . . ." Piper finally began.
"Leo will be there."
Piper gasped. "What?"
"Have you forgotten?" Paige continued. "Leo told us that he had every intention of watching Olivia receive the staff. So, I know he'll be here. What about you and Phoebe? You'll get to see Scotland."
Piper murmured sarcastically, "Big thrill."
"Piper . . ."
A deep felt sigh filled Paige's ear. Then Piper said, "Oh God! All right! We'll be there. Well, I'll be there. I can't say the same about Phoebe. I'll ask her when she gets home."
"Okay. Cool. I'll see you next Saturday."
Panic filled Piper's voice. "The ceremony is this upcoming Saturday?"
"No Piper, next Saturday," Paige corrected. "This Saturday, we'll be leaving for Scotland by train."
A pause followed before Piper replied, "Oh, okay. See you then. Bye."
"Bye." Paige disconnected the telephone and glanced up. The car with the two figures inside remained across the street. Then it hit her - a tingling sensation at the nape of her head. She knew what that meant. Danger.
The telephone still in her hand, Paige took a few steps forward. The car's engine roared to life. The headlights lit up. The car inched out of its parking space and sped down the street. Paige's eyes narrowed, as she watched the car disappeared into the night.
The McNeills and their companions arrived at Dunleith station, in Scotland, on a late Saturday afternoon. They found two limousines and a Land Rover waiting to convey them and their luggage to Castle Dunleith, home of the Laird of Dunleith. During the trip to the castle, Cecile marveled at the beauty of the Scottish countryside - the sweeping moors, the patches of wood and especially the wide lake to her left. An even more impressive view awaited them, as the cars approached the driveway, leading toward the McNeills' home.
Paige gasped out loud, as the sight of a three-story castle loomed before them. "Oh my God!" she declared breathlessly. "Is this . . .?"
"Cousin Keith's home," Jack McNeill finished. "Only, it now belongs to Colin."
Gweneth McNeill spoke up. "Colin McNeill. He's the new Laird of Dunleith. Keith's son. And an old friend of mine. He had first introduced me to Jack, thirty-six years ago."
The three cars came to a halt in the middle of the castle's courtyard. Three of the four servants that emerged from the castle, approached the Land Rover, and began to remove the luggage. As Cecile, the McNeills, Paige and Cole climbed out of the two limousines, a fourth servant accompanied a middle-aged man dressed in a dark green pullover and corduroy slacks approached the visitors. Cecile smiled, as the latter greeted cheerfully, "Welcome to Dunleith!"
"Colin!" Mr. McNeill rushed forward to greet his cousin with a bear hug. "Good to see you. How long has it been?"
The Laird of Dunleith replied happily, "Too long, cousin. Too long." He then greeted both Gweneth and Elise McNeill with hugs and kisses.
The McNeill matriarch commented, "It's a shame that you and Lesley had missed Bruce's wedding. You missed a lot."
A sigh left the laird's mouth. "Beastly luck for us. From what Jack told me, it was quite exciting. You were attacked by a succubus' coven?"
"The Della Scalla Coven. I'm sure that Jack or Gwen gave you the details." Mrs. McNeill glanced around. "Is Margaret here?"
Cecile overheard Harry murmur to Paige, "Margaret was Cousin Keith's sister. And she's Colin's aunt. She'll be performing the ceremony for Livy."
"Who is that speaking?" Colin demanded, his eyes pinpointing the two younger witches. "Harry?"
The youngest McNeill stepped forward and shook the other man's hand. "Colin. It's good to be back."
"Who were you speaking to?"
Before Harry could reply, Paige stepped forward. "Hi, I'm Paige Matthews."
Old Mrs. McNeill added, "Remember Penelope Halliwell? Paige is her youngest granddaughter."
Colin's eyes swept appreciatively over Paige. "So, you're one of the Charmed Ones."
"Yes sir." Paige's face turned pink with embarrassment. Cecile also noted the pleasure in the young witch's eyes at being recognized.
"Well, it's nice to finally meet you." The laird turned his gaze upon Cecile. "And Cecile. Welcome back to Dunleith."
Cecile smiled at the witch. "Thank you."
"How is Vivian? And your father? I haven't seen them in quite a while."
Although Colin had known Cecile's family for nearly twenty years, the Dunleith branch of the McNeill family and her parents had rarely met. As far as Cecile knew, on at least five occasions since 1985. "It has been a long time," Cecile added. "The last time you saw my folks, was six years ago."
Colin nodded and then turned to Olivia, smiling broadly. "And look whom we have here. Possibly the future Bearer of the Aingeal Staff."
Olivia quirked an eyebrow. "Possibly?"
The laird's thoughts struck Cecile's mind before she could stop herself. "You have two others who are fire witches?" she demanded.
Everyone stared at Colin. Who nodded. "Dennis and Fiona. Both are strong enough to be tested during the ceremony."
Olivia rolled her eyes. "So much for me being the staff's new bearer."
"Now Livy, as far as we know, you still might be the top contender." Colin held out his arms. "Now give me a hug."
Cecile's friend broke out into a wide smile and allowed herself to be enveloped into a hug. Olivia eased out of the older man's arms and turned to the last member of the American visitors. "Colin, I'd like you to meet . . ."
"Belthazor." The laird regarded Cole with a mixture of awe and disbelief, as he offered a hand. We've met before. In . . ."
Cole took the laird's hand and shook it. "In London. The summer of '77. You remember?"
Colin shrugged his shoulders. "I was there. With Jack. I'm only glad that we can now meet on friendlier terms. Jack and Gwen have told me a lot about you, these past seven months. He quietly added, "Good show." While Cole blushed with embarrassment, the laird added, "We're having a few more guests, tonight. Dinner party. Should start in three hours."
"Gives us plenty of time to unpack and freshen up," Gweneth commented.
The laird turned to one of the servants. "Angus, please show our guests to their rooms. The others will carry the luggage. Inside everyone!" Cecile and the others followed their jovial host inside the castle.
END OF PART I