TITLE: DEFENSE OF THE REALM AUTHOR: RFK SERIES: CHA CODE: All RATING: PG-13 Mild violence and adult language.
SUMMARY: The Elder Council is threatened by enemies from within and beyond. Set after "Reflections II" - AU between S5 and S6.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, Darryl Morris and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, Marbus and Natalia Stepanova are thankfully, my creations.

"DEFENSE OF THE REALM" by RFK

CHAPTER 1 -

The man glanced at his watch. It read eleven forty-eight. Which meant that a certain dealer should be in his hotel bedroom about now. Fast asleep. He took a deep breath, opened the side door to the Powell House Hotel and crept inside.

Using the employees' express elevator, the man made his way to the hotel's eighth floor. Before the door slid open, he pulled a stocking over his head, to disguise his feature. The crept along the hotel's corridor, fearful of encountering another hotel guest or employee. He sighed in relief, upon reaching his destination without any confrontation.

He retrieved a card key he had made by a forger and slid it into the lock. A green lock signaled that the door to Room 805 was unlocked and he surreptiously opened the door.

The room was pitch dark. The man removed a small flashlight from his bag and turned it on. The light revealed doors that led to two bedrooms. According to his employer, Mr. Gregory Liederhoff of New York City should be in the bedroom on the right. The man headed toward the said bedroom and opened the door. As expected, Mr. Liederhoff laid his bed, fast asleep.

The man silently made his way to the corner of the east wall, and the room's safe. He removed an instrument and clamped it over the safe's door. After he punched a few buttons, the machine whirled slightly. The man glanced at Liederhoff, who remained fast asleep. A slight click signaled that the safe had been unlocked.

Slowly, the man opened the safe's door. He winced slightly at the sound of a small creak. As he reached inside for a wide black velvet case, a bright light flooded the room. The man blinked.

"Who are you?" Liederhoff demanded. He stared at the man with anxious eyes. "Oh my God! You're trying to take the . . ."

The man whipped out a gun with a muffler at the end of the barrel, and shot Liederhoff in the chest. Twice. The dealer's body fell back upon the bed with a thump.

Quickly, the man snatched the velvet case and opened it. The object in question was inside. He let out a small sigh and quickly closed the safe's door. As he raced back into the suite's living room, he saw a yellow light illuminate under the other door. Liederhoff's assistant. The man dumped the velvet case in his bag and quickly left the room.

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Darryl parked his sedan next to a curb on Kearny Street and switched off the engine. He and his red-haired partner glanced at the shop to their right. The sign read Kostopulos's ANTIQUITIES.

"Tell me why we're here again?" Olivia asked, as they climbed out of the car. "I thought we were supposed to investigate the Liederhoff murder."

Darryl sighed. "Because I'm bored. Or because the bullets found in Liederhoff's body matched with the bullets found in Stefan Kostopulos' body."

"Aren't Scott and Carlotta supposed to be pouring over the shop's inventory?"

Darryl did not bother to answer. Instead, a grunt left his mouth, as he and Olivia started toward the shop. The pair ducked under the yellow police tape that barred the front door and entered.

Olivia had to admit that she found the shop's interior intriguing. The atmosphere reminded her of Vivian Dubois' shop in New Orleans - a colorful place filled with interesting artifacts and antiquities situated in a slightly slap dash manner. It lacked that cold, museum-like aura that many antique and furniture shops seemed to possess these days.

"Man!" Darryl exclaimed. "What kind of stuff did this dude sell?" He picked up what looked like a jewelry box. But this particular box had strange markings curved on its sides.

Olivia immediately recognized the markings as Celtic Druid language. Furthermore, she knew what they meant. "Uh, if I were you, Darryl, I'd put down that box."

"Oh? Why?"

With a sigh, Olivia explained. "Because if you open it, you might find yourself transported into another dimension." Her partner immediately returned the box to the shelf.

"What is this place?" Darryl demanded. "Have you ever seen it before?"

Olivia shook her head. "Nope. I know of this shop in the Haight-Ashbury District. And Cecile's mom owns one similar to this in the French Quarter. But no, I've never been here, before."

"Hmmm." Darryl peered through a glass case that held a variety of knives and daggers. "I wonder if Cole knows about this place."

The moment Darryl mentioned her ex-boyfriend's name, Olivia stiffened. She had spent the past few days trying to put Cole behind her. "I don't know," she said, barely able to keep the chilliness out of her tone. "If he does, I'm sure that Phoebe also knows about it."

Silence filled the shop. The only noise came from Union Square, outside. Olivia could sense Darryl's eyes upon her. She tried to ignore him and concentrated her attention on a case filled with pendants and other jewelry. "What?" she finally said, unable to deal with her partner's silence.

"I wondered if you were ever going to mention Cole's name, again," Darryl replied.

Olivia retorted, "I didn't mention his name. You did."

Darryl sighed and tapped her shoulder. "Olivia, what happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean . . . what happened between you and Cole? How did he end up with Phoebe, again?"

Olivia regarded her partner with feign contempt. "Gee Darryl! Where have you been for the past week-and-a-half? It's simple. We broke up. I tried to kill him and he went back to Phoebe. End of story."

"C'mon McNeill! I know it wasn't that simple," Darryl shot back. "What really happened? Didn't Cole realize you had been under a spell?"

Sighing, Olivia replied, "Look, it's like this. Paul cast a 'I hate Cole and let's kill him' spell on me. I broke up with him. Phoebe had visions of what really happened between him and the Source. They reconciled. While under the spell, I dumped Cole and he turned to Phoebe for comfort. They decided to have a grand reconciliation. Hearts and all. But before Harry and Mom had broken the spell. I went to see Cole at his place. I found Phoebe there, and I found out about their reconciliation. I stood there like a dummy for a minute or two and wished them well. And then, I got the hell out!"

"Oh." Darryl paused. "I see. In other words, you simply gave up. Surrendered to Phoebe."

Olivia stared at Darryl, as if he had lost his mind. "What? What the hell was I supposed to do? Grab Cole's arm and claim him for . . .?" The sound of rattling trashcans interrupted Olivia. She and Darryl exchanged a brief glance, before they dashed toward the alley, out back.

There, they found a derelict - a shabbily-dressed woman, whose face and clothes were stained with dirt. Matted brown hair had been twisted into a chignon. The woman was busy rummaging through a trashcan. She took one look at the two police officers, turned on her heels and tried to make a run for it. Unfortunately, both Olivia and Darryl proved to be faster.

"Hey! Police officers! Hold it!" Darryl grabbed the woman's arm. "We just want to talk to you."

Looking terrified, the woman struggled to escape Darryl's grip. "I didn't see nothing," she cried. "Honest!"

"See what?" Olivia gently asked.

The woman's large brown eyes blinked. "Uh . . . you two robbing the store?"

"Do we look dressed for committing a robbery?"

"Well . . . not like that last . . ." The woman broke off and clapped one grimy hand over her mouth.

Olivia's eyes narrowed. "Not like the last . . . what? Have you witnessed another robbery . . . what's your name?"

The woman gave a suspicious sniff. "Huh, what's yours?"

Pulling out her badge, Olivia declared, "Inspector McNeill of the San Francisco PD."

"And I'm Lieutenant Morris." Darryl released the woman's arm. "Now, who are you?"

The woman nervously tugged at her clothes. "Look, I didn't see. . ."

"What's your name?" Darryl insisted. "Of course, we can simply take you in."

"On what charge?"

Olivia took a step closer to the woman. "Loitering. And since you obviously don't have a dime to pay for a fine, I'm sure that you'll end up spending 'time' behind bars."

Another sniff from the woman followed. "So what? I could use a bed and a meal for the night."

"What makes you think you'll receive either?" Darryl said in a threatening tone.

The woman glared at the two police officers. "Hey! You just can't . . ." Her outrage quickly dissipated, under the partners' intimidating gazes. "Okay! All right," she said, with a defeated air. "My name is Grace Newhan."

Olivia suppressed a triumphant smile. "Do you hang around here a lot, Grace?"

"Well . . . yeah. Mr. Kostopulos always have a meal waiting for me around this time of the day. But ever since he was killed," Grace heaved a regretful sigh, "it's been hard finding something to eat."

Both Olivia and Darryl regarded the homeless woman with sympathetic eyes. "Well, Inspector McNeill and I wouldn't mind providing you with a free meal," Darryl said. "That is . . . if you can answer a few questions for us."

Olivia added, "Like did you see anything, when the shop was robbed nearly two weeks ago?"

Grace hesitated. Fear flickered in her brown eyes, followed by hunger. Her shoulders sagged. "Yeah. I saw the guy. The robber."

Darryl's eyes glimmered with excitement. "So, you saw him. Well that's good! That's . . . why don't you join us at the precinct and you can tell us the everything that you saw." He indicated the shop's back door with a sweep of his arm.

Grace warily headed toward the door. Before Olivia and Darryl could follow her, the latter added in a sotto voice, "Remind me to ask Morales at the station's garage, to fumigate the car." Olivia merely smiled, as she followed her partner into the shop.

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"Mathilda Everard, the Whitelighter Council has found you guilty of withholding valuable information from the Council. We have also found you guilty of taking action against Belthazor without our consent. Therefore, we decree that you will no longer serve as an Elder on the said Council."

The Council's verdict echoed in the former Elder's mind like a bad song. After 321 years of serving as an Elder, Mathilda had been demoted to a whitelighter. A mere foot soldier for the Army of Good. A minion. She sighed. The humiliation seemed too much to bear.

After the Council had stripped Mathilda of her Elder robe and position, they assigned her to the Realm's extensive library - the scene of her past triumphs as a researcher and librarian. Only this time, she did not feel any satisfaction at being there. On the desk, before her, lay a parchment that traced the bloodline of a family of 14th and 15th century witches and warlocks named DeGrasse. Mathilda sighed. Until this day, she never realized how tedious research could be.

"Elder Everard?"

The newly demoted whitelighter glanced up. Before her stood one of her former followers - an Austrian-born whitelighter named Johann Bauer. "Johann," she commented politely. "What can I do for you?"

"I have learned that the other Elders have dismissed you from the Council," the brown-haired whitelighter said in a thick, Germanic accent. "How . . . why?"

A faint smirk formed on Mathilda's lips. "According to the Council, I had made a decision without their consent. And I had also withheld from them, my plans to vanquish Belthazor." The smirk became a grimace. "Of course, the real reason I have been punished is that my plan had failed. The hypocrites!" She sighed. "If the witch had succeeded in vanquishing Belthazor, the Council would have overlooked . . . my discretion. And I would have become the Head Elder." The reality of her failure deflated her anger. "But that is no longer possible."

"Is it?" the other whitelighter commented. Mathilda stared into his violet eyes. "What about your contingency plans?" he added.

Mathilda frowned. "My contingency plans? You mean . . . to replace the Council members? By force?" She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Fraulein Everard, the Whitelighters Realm is descending into chaos. The Council lacks the strength and intelligence to deal with it. Only a strong person with the mind and will . . ."

Still staring at Johann, Mathilda exclaimed, "Are you referring to me?"

Hope and faith shone in Johann's eyes. "Jawol, Fraulein. I am. I realize that this second plan may seem . . . aggressive. And that it could spell the end of your former colleagues' . . ."

Mathilda ignored the Austrian's platitudes. Instead, she continued to focus upon his arguments that the Realm needs a new leader to meet the threat of the growing chaos. And Belthazor. "You're right of course," she murmured, interrupting Johann.

The younger whitelighter's eyes widened. "Pardon?"

"You're right. About the Council needing a strong hand to guide the Realm. I can't ignore that - despite my setback." Mathilda sprang out of her chair. "We'll do it. We'll use the contingency plan." She sighed with regret. "Granted, it might seem violent and excessive. But desperate measures are needed for desperate times." Her mouth formed a grim line.

A gust of breath escaped from Johann's lips. "Which members do we target?" he asked.

Mathilda glanced at him. "Draw up a list of the present Council members. All nine of them."

"Eight," Johann added. "You have not been replaced."

"All right. Eight." Mathilda nodded. "We'll see which member gets to witness the Whitelighters Realm's new age. And which one doesn't." Then without a moment's hesitation, she returned to her seat and continued with her assignment.

END OF CHAPTER 1