"He's innocent," Cecile said to Olivia.
Olivia stood before the large oval mirror, inside the bedroom she shared with Cole. She adjusted the blue ceremonial robe she had just donned. "Who's innocent?"
Cecile replied, "Dennis. He didn't hire those warlocks."
"And how do you know that?"
The Vodoun priestess gave the witch a knowing look. Realization struck Olivia with the force of a whirlwind. "Oh. Oh, I see. You read his thoughts."
Cecile shrugged her shoulders. "He asked me to. When he found out about Fiona, he wanted to make sure that he was cleared."
Olivia shook her in disbelief. "This has sure been one strange day."
"Well, it's going to get stranger," Cecile added. "Like this ceremony, for instance. What exactly do you have to do?"
"I guess we'll find out, pretty soon."
Someone knocked on the door. A second later, Cole opened it, his figured framed by the doorway. "Olivia, everyone is waiting for you, downstairs."
A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Yeah. Okay, I'm ready." She and Cecile left the bedroom and followed Cole downstairs. The found Fiona, Dennis, other members of the family and guests gathered in the castle's large foyer. Colin held a long object in his hand. Wrapped in blue cloth.
Margaret Ferguson then led the entire group past a solid oak door and through a narrow passageway that ended at a clearing located several meters away from the castle's south wall. Five torches formed a ring around the clearing. "This is where many of the witches in the family used to hold gatherings in the past," the elderly witch explained. "And this is where all the past bearers of the Aingeal Staff have been initiated. At least since Fergus McNeill finished building this castle in 1287." She paused. "Well, are we all ready?"
Everyone nodded. Then Cousin Margaret ordered the family's other elders to stand in front of a torch. Among them included Olivia's father, Cousin Colin, Simon McNeill, Deborah McNeill Ness and Colin's only sister - Emma. Soon, each elder stood in front of a torch, with the exception of Margaret. The latter then glanced at the three contenders. "Now, who will be first?"
Olivia looked at her rivals. Granted, she felt nervous about taking part in the ceremony, but her cousins' reluctance took her by surprise. Especially Fiona. Dennis finally volunteered. "I'll go first," he said, stepping into the center of the ring.
Colin unwrapped the object in his hand and gave it to Dennis. The Staff of Aingeal. Olivia blinked, as her eyes examined the staff. She had to admit that it looked beautiful in a simple and elegant style. Made from XXXXX, the staff possessed Celtic symbols carved on its upper half. The gold knob, shaped as a dragon, held a crystal - a red carnelian stone that symbolized ambition, drive, positive courage and protection from negative emotions. The stone also seemed to serve as the dragon's eye.
"Wow!" Cole murmured in Olivia's ear. "It's beautiful!"
Olivia nodded. "It is, indeed."
The ceremony continued. Five of the McNeills who surrounded Dennis, stretched their arms out, while Margaret raised hers before chanting:
"This is a time that is not a time.
In a place that is not a place.
On a day that is not a day.
We gather tonight to stand;
At the threshold between the worlds;
Before the Veil of the Mysteries.
Then Simon McNeill continued, "Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Air to your service."
"Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Water to your service," chanted Cousin Deborah.
Colin became the next to speak. "Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Spirit to your service."
"Great Mother, Great Father," Olivia's father continued, "bless this creature of Earth to your service."
Finally, the last McNeill elder, Cousin Emma, said, "Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Fire to your service."
Margaret concluded, "By the blessings of the God and the Goddess, we summon the powers of the Elements to call forth the spirit of the Ancient One. We call upon Niaghall to bring forth the power of the Dragon's Eye and choose the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff."
Seconds later, gasps filled the clearing, as the Celtic symbols on the staff illuminated. The light slowly crept upward, until it reached the red carnelian stone that served as the dragon's eye. Dennis managed to hold onto the staff for a few seconds, but eventually he screamed in pain and dropped it. The staff returned to its natural appearance.
Fear gripped Olivia's mind. What had she gotten herself into? Did they really expect her to simply stand there and allow that staff to burn in her hand? "Oh Goddess," she murmured under her breath.
As she took a few steps back, a strong hand gripped Olivia's forearm. "Where are you going?" Cole whispered in a harsh voice.
"I'm getting the hell out of here," Olivia hissed back. She tried not to watch, as her mother and Cousin Leslie nurse Dennis' singed hand. "I'm not about to become the next burn victim."
"So, you had traveled thousands of miles to chicken out, at the end?" the half-demon taunted.
Olivia struggled to wrestle her arm from his grip. "Dammit Cole! Let go of me! We're attracting attention!" She became aware of several pairs of eyes, staring at them.
Gran appeared behind the couple. "What's going on between you two?" she asked in a low voice.
"Nothing," Olivia replied.
Cole added at the same time, "Olivia's thinking of chickening out."
Disbelief shone in the elderly witch's eyes, as she stared at her granddaughter. "Don't tell me that you're afraid of a little heat, Livy! Not after having a fire power for five months."
"I'm not scared of the heat!" Olivia protested.
With a knowing smile, Cole said, "It's something else." Olivia glared at him. He had obviously remembered their conversation from a few days ago. Cole was right. Olivia did not really fear receiving a singed hand. What she really feared was becoming the staff's new bearer. Like she had once told Cole, all she really wanted was to be a witch and nothing else. But what if becoming the new Bearer of the Aingeal Staff entailed more? Did it mean that others would expect her to fulfill some kind of 'destiny' that involved battling a supreme evil being? Like the Charmed Ones? The idea horrified her.
At that moment, Cousin Margaret announced, "Next candidate."
Cole and Gran stared at Olivia. Feeling slightly uneasy, she did not know if she should step forward. Or if she wanted to. Before she could, Fiona volunteered. "Well, looks like Fiona is first," Olivia said. Cole's eyes expressed mild contempt.
The McNeill elders repeated the staff ritual for Fiona. When it illuminated for a second time, everyone held his or her breaths. Fiona seemed to be having no trouble in maintaining her grip. "Looks like we have a new bearer," Gweneth murmured. Conflicting emotions whirled within Olivia. She could not decide whether to be relieved that she would not be the new bearer . . . or disappointed that Fiona would. Realizing how she felt about her cousin, Olivia decided upon the latter.
A smug smile appeared on Fiona's lips. However, the smile did not last very long. A sizzling sound emitted from her hand. Fiona finally howled in pain, as she dropped the staff. "Bloody hell!" she cried, looking very disappointed.
Cole turned to Olivia. "You're next."
Olivia felt her stomach dropped several feet, as she slowly walked toward the center of the circle. Her father picked up the staff and handed it to her. "Here you go, Livy." She responded with a weak nod.
While her mother and Leslie to administer to Fiona's burned hand, Olivia waited for Cousin Margaret to begin the ritual. She became aware of the eyes staring at her. Eyes that belonged to Dennis, Fiona, the other cousins, her family, Cole, the Halliwells and especially Leo.
Margaret finally commenced on the ceremony for the third and final time. The other elders, including Jack, spoke their lines, while Olivia held her breath. Once they finished, Margaret concluded, "By the blessings of the God and the Goddess, we summon the powers of the Elements to call forth the spirit of the Ancient One. We call upon Niaghall to bring forth the power of the Dragon's Eye and choose the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff."
As before, the Celtic symbols on the staff illuminated, followed by the red carnelian stone. Olivia felt her heart thump loudly, as she expected the heat to follow. Instead, a surge of power seemed to grip her. The entire staff now glowed brightly. Feeling the full force of the staff's power, Olivia recalled the instructions given to her by Cousin Margaret. She raised her free hand and declared, "With this staff, I call forth the element of Air." A shot of flames left her hand and lit up the torch behind Cousin Simon. "With this staff, I call forth the element of Water." The torch behind Cousin Deborah soon flickered with flames. After lighting the torches behind Colin and her father, Olivia raised the staff:
"Oh God and Goddess! Summon the power of the Dragon's Eye!
I command the elements of Air, Water, Spirit and Earth;
To bring for the Power of Fire! The Power of Aingeal!
Flames flickering from the staff's knob shot forth and lit up Cousin Emma's torch. Then to everyone's surprise, including Olivia, the staff's flames connected with those from the torches . . . creating a ring of fire. In the middle of that ring stood the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff, wondering what in the hell she had gotten herself into.
The woman watched Russell Pierce stumbled out of the woods and into the clearing that surrounded the Lindisfarne Crags. As he slowly made his way toward her, she noticed the large burn mark on his left leg. He finally stood before her, breathing heavily.
"What happened?" she demanded. "It's been over six hours, since you called."
Between gasps, Pierce replied, "We . . . uh, we ran into a spot of trouble."
"Really?" The woman's eyes returned to Pierce's wound. "Did this spot of trouble come into the form of one Gweneth Morgan McNeill?"
"That bitch had burned me!"
The woman allowed herself a smile. "I'm not sure if I should allow you to call her a bitch. Although I have done so on one or two occasions in the past year-and-a-half." After a pause, she asked, "But she was only one witch. You mean to say that she stopped you from snatching her daughter?"
"There were three others!" Russell protested. "Some long-haired bastard with the face of a horse."
The woman's mouth twitched. "That would be Jamie."
"Then there was a black woman. Short. Real good-looking bird with intense eyes."
"Cecile. She's a Vodoun priestess. You're lucky that she didn't get to you."
Pierce finished, "And there was this red-haired bird. I think she was one of the Charmed Ones."
"A red-haired Halliwell?" The woman's voice expressed surprise. "Are you telling me that a Halliwell took part in the rescue? Interesting. Which one? Phoebe? She's always changing her hair color."
The warlock shook his head. "Her name wasn't Phoebe. According to Keira and Dave, her name was Paige. Yeah, that's it. Paige. And her hair was red. A dye job, I reckon."
The woman frowned. "That's impossible! There's no Charmed One named Paige." After a brief pause, the woman continued, "Then I gather that Co. . . Belthazor didn't give you any trouble. The potion worked?"
A grimace tightened Pierce's lips. "Not quite. Mind you, it did keep him out of the way, but it sure as bloody well didn't knock him out. Just made him groggy."
"That's funny," the woman said with a frown. "That potion has worked on other upper-level demons. Including those from the Thorn Brotherhood. Unless . . . this Belthazor might be more powerful? Is that it?" A red light illuminated the dark sky. The pair stared at it. "Looks like we have a new bearer of the Aingeal Staff." An arch smile formed on the woman's lips. "Any guesses on who that might be?"
"We can still get the staff," Russell Pierce added. His voice rang with desperation. "I'm a shapeshifter, and I can . . ."
The woman interrupted. "You can what? Sneak into her room and grab the staff?"
Stabbing the warlock with a shrewd look, the woman said, "You've forgotten one thing, Mr. Pierce. Thanks to you and your associates, everyone at the castle is on guard. And I'm sure they'll have some kind of protection spell surrounding the staff. Or have put it up, somewhere safe. By the time you finish searching for it, you'll be caught. And I can't have that. Besides, they're now looking for a shape shifting warlock with a bum leg."
"But . . ."
A lifted hand silenced the warlock. "Don't worry, Mr. Pierce," the woman added in soft tones. "I'll find another way to get my hands on that staff. I'm a patient woman."
"And what about me?" Pierce demanded. "I went through a lot of trouble for you, this week. I have a bum leg and me mates are behind bars. What do I get for compensation?"
The woman sighed. "You do have a point." Before the warlock could react, she stretched out her hand and enveloped him in a ball of fire. He screamed in agony, as the flames consumed him. Once they died down, all that remained of him was a pile of dust.
The woman reached inside her purse and removed an amulet. She chanted a few words in Gaelic, and a blue, shimmering appeared between the rocks, revealing a portal. After returning the amulet back inside her purse, she heaved a sigh. Then Olivia McNeill stepped into the portal to return her own dimension.