"DEFENSE OF THE REALM" by RFK

CHAPTER 14

After a brief consultation with the three Elders and Leo, Chris returned Piper and Olivia to the Halliwell manor. Olivia then asked Piper for a ride to the police station. During their trip, Piper brought up the subject of their recent experience in the Whitelighter Realm.

"There's something I don't understand," she said. "Those two darklighters that Cole had killed - why were they so powerful and difficult to kill, in compare to the other seven?"

Glancing out of the window of Piper's black Cherokee jeep, Olivia replied, "Probably because they had been initiated as Elders. While they wore the Erebor medallions, they had Elders' powers."

Piper shuddered. "It's scary to think of the Whitelighter Realm being ruled by darklighters. Can you imagine the effect that would have on witches throughout the world?"

"I doubt there would have been much impact," Olivia said, taking Piper by surprise. "Don't forget that there are a lot of witches who don't bother with the whitelighters or the Elders. It's probably because . . . well, the Elders' beliefs don't exactly mesh with many Pagan religions. Like Wicca. Whitelighter philosophy seemed to be more rooted in non-Pagan religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism, and many in those religions acknowledge beings like guardian angels."

"Wait," Piper said, "Are you saying that we're the only witches who acknowledge whitelighters?"

Olivia shook her head. "Of course not. There are other Wiccans who acknowledge angels, but most of them are either new in the religion or had simply studied both religions and decided to mesh them together. But most of the Wiccans that I know don't acknowledge whitelighters. Okay, Bruce and I did accept Leo as our whiteligher for a few years, but we were young at the time. Back in high school. It wasn't until college that we decided we didn't need a whitelighter. But we managed to stay friends with Leo. Until recently."

"But . . ." Piper hesitated. "I mean . . . my family has always acknowledged whitelighters."

Olivia shrugged. "Maybe you should ask your grandmother about that, the next time you see her. Or maybe ask mine. I don't know. Perhaps the Warren line had never really turned away from Christianity. To be honest, I'm surprised that you and your sisters are willing to accept the Elders' authority, considering that you don't like them."

"Well, with Natalia on the Council, I might change my mind. I rather like her."

At that moment, Piper drove the jeep into the precinct's parking lot. Olivia said, "I know what you mean. I like her, too, but my view on whitelighters will probably remain the same."

The two witches climbed out of the jeep, made their way across the parking lot and entered the police station. They found both Darryl and Scott hard at work. Darryl was busy typing a report, while Scott was booking one of Lin Bryant's henchmen. "Hey guys!" Olivia greeted.

"Hey, you're back," her partner replied. When the two women approached his desk, he added, "How did it go? In the Whitelighter Realm?" Both Olivia and Piper told him about their battle against the darklighters. "And the medallions?"

Olivia sighed. "Sorry, but we'll have to report them permanently missing. Cole, Phoebe and one of the Elders had returned them back to where they belong. All nine of them."

Darryl nodded. "It was probably for the best. At least we got Gallagher. And some of Ms. Bryant's men."

"What about the lady herself?"

"Dead," the police lieutenant replied. "From a broken neck. You must have tossed her pretty hard against that bookcase." He turned to Piper. "You should have seen Olivia in action. It was like watching one of those fights from a kung-fu movie."

Piper smiled uneasily. "Actually, I've already seen her in action. Remember? Anyway," she placed her purse around her shoulder, "I better pick up Wyatt from your grandmother. I hope he hasn't been much trouble." She started to away, but hesitated. "Uh, Olivia, could I speak to you? Privately?"

The two witches walked over to a private spot near the file cabinets. Piper continued nervously, "Look, I hope you don't think that I'm interfering, but have you ever thought of getting back with Cole?"

Olivia stared at the other witch. "Excuse me?"

With a shrug of her shoulders, Piper repeated, "Getting back together with Cole. Have you ever thought about it?"

"You must really want Cole out of Phoebe's life that badly," Olivia shot back.

Piper's face turned red. "It's not what you think. Look, I don't know if I'll ever like or really trust Cole, but . . . I'm finally beginning to realize that you were all right about what happened between him and the Source. And after what Leo and that Mathilda woman had done . . . you know, to you and Cole; and the Whitelighter Council, and what you had once said about never knowing who might turn evil . . ." She sighed. "God, I must be babbling. What I'm trying to say is that Phoebe and Cole's little reunion isn't working out. Cole's been less than enthusiastic about it. And a little distant. I think he wants you back, and Phoebe knows I t. She's been a little desperate in showing that nothing's wrong between them. And I'm afraid to say all this to Phoebe."

Olivia frowned at the other woman's outburst. "So, are you suggesting that I chase after Cole?"

"Why not?"

With a mirthless chuckle, Olivia added, "Well, he has to meet me halfway, if he really wants me back. Because I'm not going to do all of the work."

Piper shrugged her shoulders and sighed. "I guess you have a point." She hesitated. "Uh by the way, I thought you might want to know."

"Know what?" Olivia demanded.

After a deep breath, Piper continued, "When Cole had dropped by to pick up Phoebe for their last date, Jason Dean called. From Hong Kong. Cole didn't say anything and Phoebe didn't talk to Jason, but . . ." Again, she hesitated before continuing, "Phoebe hasn't told Jason about her and Cole. In fact, she hasn't bothered to break up with him . . . yet. And I think that Cole suspects. Just thought you might like to know. See ya." Piper flashed a quick smile and started to walk away.

"Oh Piper!" Olivia called after her.

The Charmed One hesitated. "Yeah?"

"Mind if I give you some advice?" Olivia hesitated. "Well, you can pass this on to Chris and Leo. Tell them . . . tell them to keep an eye on Gideon, if they can. If I were them, I wouldn't trust him. I know he's a pain in the ass, but he strikes me as being another fanatic. Like Mathilda. And beings like him that are so sure about how right they are . . . tend to bring a lot of harm to others. Remember Mathilda."

Piper gave her an uneasy look. "Yeah. Sure," she mumbled. "Thanks." She left the squad room.

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"Hello? Is anyone at home?" Phoebe cried, after she and Cole beamed into the Halliwell manor's living room. When silence greeted them, Phoebe gave her shoulders a shrug. "I guess not."

Cole glanced at the grandfather clock. It read five thirty-eight. "That's odd. Isn't Paige usually back by five?"

"I did get home around five," a third voice added. Cole and Phoebe gazed up at Paige descending the staircase. "Where have you guys been?"

Phoebe answered, "In the Whitelighter Realm. And the Belegost dimension."

"The what?" Paige frowned suspiciously at the couple. "Did I miss out on something?" Both Cole and Phoebe told the youngest Charmed One about their adventures in the Whitelighter Realm, and their trip to return the Erebor medallions. A pout marred Paige's countenance. "Great! Why do I get to miss out on the fun? Dammit!"

The front door opened and Piper entered the manor with Wyatt in her arms, and a plastic shopping bag dangling from one of her wrists. "Well, I see that everyone's back." She glanced at Cole and Phoebe. "So, what happened? With the medallions, I mean."

Cole replied, "Phoebe, Whatshisface and I took them back to the Belogost dimension. Where we tossed them into a river."

Paige frowned. "Who's Whatshisface?"

Phoebe jabbed Cole's side with her elbow. "He's talking about Gideon, one of the surviving Elders. He and Cole . . ."

"I don't care if he is a whitelighter," Cole grumbled. "That man was a pain in my ass! He practically bitched about the Elders not holding on to those medallions, during the entire time."

"Well, nice to see that everything is back to normal," Piper mumbled. She handed Wyatt over to Phoebe, and started toward the kitchen. "By the way, is Leo back?"

At that moment, Leo and Chris orbed into the room, blocking Piper's path to the kitchen. Cole tensed at the sight of the older whitelighter. "Piper," the blond-haired whitelighter exclaimed."

Piper frowned. "Leo? Is there something wrong?"

"I . . ." Unease and pain clouded Leo's blue eyes, much to Cole's curiosity. Then the half-demon glanced at the younger whitelighter. To his surprise, resentment had briefly flared in Chris' eyes. Interesting.

An exasperated sigh left Piper's mouth. "Leo, I have a dinner to prepare. What's the big news? Spit it out."

Leo continued, "The Elders Council is in the midst of reforming."

"O-kay."

"Right now, there are . . ." Leo glanced uneasily at Cole, who rolled his eyes with contempt. Leo's face turned red. "Right now, we have five members on the Council."

Both of Piper's brows formed arches. "We?"

Leo hesitated, "Yeah. Uh, William, Gideon, Natalia - which you know about, Barbara deVilliers . . . and me."

Piper stared at her husband in disbelief. "What do you mean . . . 'me'? Are you saying that you're now an Elder?"

"Well . . . yeah. The others asked me to join them . . ." Again, Leo hesitated. Cole began to wonder if the whitelighter had any balls. ". . . and I said yes." Leo added in a gentle voice, "And it also means that I'll have to give up my life here to devote all my time to the Council."

"WHAT?"

Leo rambled on, "Piper honey, I'm sorry. But I have no choice. Being an Elder is considered a profound experience. An honor. We're the guardians of everything that is good in the universe."

"Oh God," Cole mumbled.

Leo glared at the half-demon, before he continued, "And besides, after all of the problems we've been having in the Realm, a new, stronger Council is needed to keep an eye on everything. Bring stability to . . ."

Piper's voice rang throughout the room. "Do I look like I give a rat's ass about the friggin' Council? What are you saying, Leo? That our marriage is over? That you're going to desert your family?"

"Honey, I can't be a husband and an Elder at the same time!"

"Why not? You managed to be a whitelighter and husband for two-and-a-half years!"

"Piper . . ."

Phoebe's voice brightly interrupted. "Cole and I have some news."

Oh no! Cole groaned inwardly. He had no desire to deal with the issue of his powers. He did not even want to think about it.

Piper glared at her younger sister. "What? Cole is going to become our new whitelighter?" she replied caustically.

Phoebe's face turned red. Leo said, "Actually, Chris will continue to be your whitelight . . ." His voice faded under Piper's death glare.

"Excuse me," Piper hissed. "I have dinner to fix. For my sisters and Wyatt." She started toward the kitchen.

Leo cried out, "Piper!"

In a too cheerful voice, Paige said, "Hey, I don't mind hearing Phoebe's news. What is it?" Piper paused in her tracks.

Phoebe tenderly looked at Cole, who smiled back in an attempt to ignore the sickening dread in his stomach. "Cole has decided to get rid of his powers. For good."

Confusion filled Chris' eyes. "Huh?"

Both Piper and Leo seemed to have forgotten their recent flare-up and stared at the other couple in shock. "What did you say?" Piper demanded.

Phoebe repeated her announcement. "Cole is giving up his powers."

Cole had expected surprise from the other Halliwells. But nothing had prepared him for Paige's reaction. She turned her dark eyes upon Cole, as her voice rang out with disbelief. "You're getting rid of your powers? Are you out of your damn mind?"

----------

Artemus sat inside his study, at his private townhouse in Pacific Heighs, sipping port and enjoying his Mozart CD. Just as he seemed to be on the verge of relaxation, Prax entered the room looking very anxious.

"I'm afraid that I have some bad news, sir," the younger demon announced.

So much for a little relaxation. Artemus sighed. "What . . . bad news?"

Prax hesitated. "I heard a rumor of a major upheaval in the Whitelighter Realm. From some darklighters."

"And this is bad news?"

Another silent pause followed. This did not bode well. "Well, since we've heard nothing from Mr. Bauer or his associates, I had decided to find out what happened to him, from a seer I know. She informed me that Mr. Bauer and the other darklighters had managed to kill most of the Elders . . . except for two members."

Artemus frowned. "Two? What happened to Johann?"

Prax trembled with fear. "Uh . . . he's dead. The two older Charmed Ones, the witch Olivia McNeill . . . and Belthazor had saved the last two Elders." He paused. "They also killed Bauer and the other darklighters." A sigh left Artemus' mouth. Prax added, "Also the medallions are missing. The whitelighters don't have them. At least according to the Seer."

"Wonderful." Artemus took a large gulp of port. "So much for my dreams of ruling the Whitelighter Realm, before destroying it. I suppose I'll have to be satisfied with the Source's Realm. If Cedric Lloyd's plan succeeds. Whatever it is. You know Prax, I'm seriously considering another attack on Mark Giovanni."

After a brief hesitation, Prax added, "Before you do, sir . . . uh, the Seer had some other interesting news. Actually, it was a vision."

"What vision?"

According to Prax, the Seer had a vision of Belthazor's powers being stripped. "It was the Charmed One. The one called Phoebe Halliwell. She will convince him to give up his powers. Or she may have already convinced him." Shocked by Prax's news, Artemus ordered his assistant to continue in a hoarse voice. The other demon added, "She also saw you . . . acquiring Belthazor's powers. And becoming more powerful than ever."

Artemus sat back into his leather chair, stunned by this new revelation. "You don't say," he murmured. "Then we must make sure that Belthazor and his witch's plans will be carried out." A smile slowly appeared on his face.

THE END