TORN DUTIES by RFK

Part Six

"Here you are." Cirhan handed the object of his quest over to Ulmund, inside the latter's private chambers in the Gimle Dimension. "The Sword of Haldane." He paused. "I hope."

The moment the older daemon grabbed hold of the sword's hilt, the blade's inscriptions glowed red. "It is," Ulmund crowed triumphantly. "How can I ever thank you, Cirhan?"

The younger daemon nodded curtly. "Just doing my job. Besides, I had plenty of help."

"Yes, so I've heard. Marbus told me about the McNeills and a certain Mr. Yi." Ulmund paused. "How fortunate for you that you didn't encounter the Charmed Ones."

Cirhan hesitated. "Actually, they were among those who had helped me search for the sword."

"Really? They didn't insist upon handing it over to the Whitelighters Elders?"

Recalling Phoebe Halliwell's hostility toward him, Cirhan murmured, "Well . . . I had a little trouble convincing them of my intentions at first. But it didn't take long for them to understand." After a long pause, he added, "By the way, I have some bad news. It's Mira."

Unease and wariness crept into Ulmund's eyes. "In Camuel's name," he murmured. "She's dead, isn't she?"

"I'm sorry, Ulmund," Cirhan continued, "but I had to kill her. I know that I was supposed to apprehend her so that she would be sent to the Barakus Wasteland, but she was about to kill Piper Halliwell. It was either let her kill Piper or allow one of her sisters to hand over the sword to Mira."

With a sigh, Ulmund shook his head. "How am I ever going to explain this to Jan Novak? He'll be devastated."

Cirhan murmured, "I'll do it. After all, I'm the one who had killed her."

Ulmund brusquely objected. "No! No, I'll . . . I'll do it. Mira was my responsibility." He patted Cirhan's shoulder. "As for you . . . when the Council had heard of your success, we decided to grant you some leave. Why don't you spend a little time in the Melora Dimension?"

The Melora Dimension seemed like an excellent suggestion to Cirhan. However, he planned to pay his last respects to the McNeills. He bid Ulmund farewell and strode toward the chamber's double doors. Cirhan then spared one last glance at the older daemon's expression. Poor Ulmund. Mira Novak's death seemed to have weighed heavily upon the Council member's mind. Cirhan hoped that the Novaks would not blame him for their daughter's death. Then he shook his head one last time and left.

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Inside the manor's Solarium, Chris and Leo regarded the three sisters with disbelief. "You handed the sword over to a Gimle demon?" the Elder exclaimed. "Why? Why would you . . .?" Leo broke off and shot an accusing glance at Chris. "Did you explain everything?"

Chris rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Of course I did!"

Piper sat down in one of the wicker chairs, glaring at her former husband. "I don't care what Chris had told us. I don't regret that Cirhan had ended up with the sword. One, he had saved my life." From the corner of her eye, she saw Phoebe look away.

Leo frowned. "Saved you from whom? Another demon?"

A gust of breath left Piper's mouth. "Not exactly. In fact . . ."

"In fact, it was a mortal," Phoebe finished. "Cirhan had decapitated her head with an energy ball."

Ignoring Leo and Chris' shocked reactions, Piper quickly added, "Cirhan had killed that Novak wizard before she could turn me into a piece of fried chicken."

"Maybe he had saved you to make sure that you wouldn't stop him from taking the sword," Chris suggested.

Paige snorted with derision. "Or maybe he did to save Piper. Cirhan's a good guy. Remember? A Gimle demon. They protect innocents . . . like us. And I'd also like to add that the Elders had no business ordering us to get our hands on something that had never belonged to them, in the first place."

Leo sighed. "Paige . . ."

"You know I'm right, Leo." Paige glared at the young Elder, her hands placed firmly on her hips.

Piper saw Phoebe leave the Solarium. While Paige continued to argue with the two whitelighters, the oldest Halliwell followed her younger sister into the living room. "Hey Pheebs, were are you going?"

Phoebe paused in her tracks. "To my room. I . . .uh, I want to get a few things to take back with me to Hong Kong. I want to get back there as soon as possible. Before Jason returns from Taipei." She started toward the staircase.

"Uh, Pheebs?" Piper hesitated briefly. "Look, I realize this isn't the time to start an argument or anything, but do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Frowning at Piper, Phoebe demanded, "Like what?"

After taking a deep breath, Piper continued, "Why were you so hostile and suspicious toward Cirhan? You seemed more concerned about that Novak woman than with helping him."

Phoebe rolled her eyes. "C'mon Piper. He's a demon."

"A Gimle demon," Piper corrected. "I thought we've gone beyond the old 'good equals human and bad equals demon' routine, by now. And may I remind you that he's not the first demon we've worked . . ." She broke off at the sight of apparent pain in Phoebe's dark eyes. "Oh God! This is about Cole, isn't it?"

The middle Halliwell's face tightened into an unpleasant mask. "I'm not in the mood to talk about Cole, right now. So, if you don't mind . . ."

"Phoebe . . ."

"It's nothing, Piper!" Phoebe retorted. "This has nothing to do with Cole! The man - or should I say demon - simply got on my nerves. It was obvious that he didn't trust us. Now, if you'll excuse me!" She marched upstairs, before Piper could say anything further.

The oldest Charmed One realized that she should have followed Phoebe upstairs and forced the issue. But unfortunately . . . she was not Prue. And Piper doubted that her late and indomitable older sister could get Phoebe to talk.

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The following Sunday, the younger McNeills hosted the family's traditional brunch. Along with the Halliwells and the Morrises, their guests included Scott Yi and Cirhan. Due to the chilly January weather, the family held the brunch inside the large drawing room.

"So, where are the boys?" Paige asked Darryl and Sheila. She had grown used to seeing the two Morris boys accompany their parents to the McNeills' brunches.

The police lieutenant sighed. "Visiting their grandparents in San Jose for the weekend."

"And thank goodness," Sheila added. "Mind you, I love them to death. But they can be a handful."

Piper nodded. "I know what you mean. Wyatt isn't even one year old."

Smiling, Bruce added, "I recall Mom saying the same thing about Harry, when he was young.

"Hey!" Harry shot a mock glare at his older brother. "Do you mind?" Then he said to Cirhan, "By the way, I guess your boss must have been relieved about getting his sword back."

Cirhan nodded. "More than relieved. In fact, the Council has granted me leave for my services. Which I plan to enjoy in the Melora Dimension." His expression sobered. "However, I don't think he's looking forward to informing the Novaks about their daughter's death. After all, Jan Novak used to be one of his apprentices."

"I don't see why he has to be apologetic," Sheila commented. "After all, the woman was a thief and she nearly killed Piper." Paige wholeheartedly agreed.

Cirhan shot an uneasy glance at Phoebe - an act that drew Paige's interest. "Well," the demon began hesitantly, "she was a mortal. And I understand that many . . ."

Piper brusquely interrupted. "Hey, Hitler was a mortal. And I can't exactly see any of us still mourning his death, let along ever. Payback's a bitch. That's a lesson many of us have learned the hard way."

Paige nearly chuckled aloud, but decided against. Laughing over someone's death - whether that person happened to be Mira Novak or Adolf Hitler - struck her as being distasteful. She saw Barbara shoot a quick glance at the refreshment table. A few of the dishes seemed to be empty. "Excuse me folks," the blond witch said. "I need to discuss a matter or two with Davies." Barbara stood up and walked out of the drawing room.

Sensing an opportunity to discuss the matter of her paycheck, Paige quickly followed her employer out of the drawing room. By the time she caught up with Barbara, the latter had reached the wide foyer. "Barbara!" she cried out. "Can I talk with you for a minute?"

Barbara frowned at the younger woman. Paige understood. They had not been alone since the shop owner had docked her pay, last Friday. "Is there something wrong?" Barbara asked.

Breathing heavily, the Charmed One answered, "No, I um . . . I just wanted to talk to you. Alone." Paige hesitated. "It's about my paycheck."

"You're wondering if I could reverse my decision about docking part of your next check, aren't you?" Barbara asked shrewdly. "I've already had a little talk about it with Piper." Judging from her cool tone, Paige realized that this conversation did not look promising.

The younger woman inhaled. "Well . . . I mean . . ." Damn! Piper had spoken to Barbara already? What had been said? Paige finally rediscovered her tongue . . . and her nerve. "Look, considering what has happened during these past days - with Cirhan and the Haldane sword - I thought you might reconsider docking my check."

Blue eyes bored into Paige's. "Why would I do that?" Barbara demanded.

"Well . . . I thought you would now understand why I have to leave in the middle of the day, sometimes," Paige weakly explained. "You know, as witches, we have to be protectors of the innocent and that sometimes mean . . ."

Barbara quickly interrupted. "Wait a minute! Are you trying to say that since I 'now have a good idea' of you being a 'protector of innocents', I should continue to tolerate your disappearances from the shop? Are you serious?"

A deep silence fell between the two women. A silence that managed to increase Paige's unease. And regret. The younger woman finally spoke. "So, I guess you won't change your mind."

"No Paige, I won't. And do you know why?"

Again, Paige hesitated. "Never mind. I guess there's nothing more to say."

A heavy sigh left Barbara's mouth. "Does this mean that you don't want to hear what I have to say?"

"Why should I? You won't listen to me!" Paige snapped. And she immediately regretted her show of temper. Shaking her head, she said, "I didn't mean to lose . . . I mean . . ." Then she sighed. "Never mind. Look, maybe I should just quit."

Barbara rolled her eyes. "Why? Because I won't change my mind about docking part of your pay? C'mon Paige, you can do better than that."

"Then why won't you change your mind?" Paige demanded, feeling increasingly frustrated by Barbara's stubbornness. "I would think that being a fellow witch, you would understand . . ."

"Understand what?" Barbara retorted, not allowing Paige to finish. "You and your sisters' tendency to rush about town every time some supernatural mystery pops up, in order to . . . 'protect the innocent'?" She spoke the last three words in deep contempt. "You're right, Paige. I don't understand. I don't understand why you and your sisters continue to believe that being a witch is all about 'vanquishing' daemons and following the Whitelighters' orders. Especially after the numerous times Olivia and I have said otherwise. There are plenty of daemon hunters in this city who can do your job. And they're professionals who receive a fee. Nor do I understand why you think I should allow you to leave the shop, just because you and your sisters go on some daemon hunt to 'protect the innocent'. You have a job, Paige. A job that comes with a lot of responsibility. I'm sorry, but it's time you realize that these little daemon hunts DO NOT give you the right to engage in such activities on my time and. . . on Maddy's. It's not fair for either of us. I'm not paying you to . . . 'kick evil's ass. I'm paying you to tend to the shop and our customers. Maddy should not have to sacrifice some of her free time for your little activities. Now, unless you have a real emergency - if someone from your family is sick or in immediate danger, I would prefer that you limit your daemon hunting activities on your . . . own . . . free . . . time. I'm tired of allowing you to get away with this nonsense. Do you finally understand?"

So much for her efforts to change Barbara's mind. Paige briefly considered in quitting her job, anyway. But she realized that she has also learned other aspects of witchcraft since working at Ostera's. And since the Elders have never considered a salary for her or her sisters . . . She sighed out loud and replied, "Yeah, I understand."

"Good." Barbara gave the younger woman a firm nod. Then she disappeared into one of the manor's hallways.

'I don't understand why you and your sisters continue to believe that being a witch is all about 'vanquishing' daemons and following the Whitelighters' orders. Especially after the numerous times Olivia and I have said otherwise.' Barbara's words reverberated within Paige's mind, as she returned to the drawing room. For the first time since Piper and Phoebe had recruited her into the "family business", Paige began to harbor doubts. Barbara had not only reminded her that she had a paying job to uphold, but had also planted seeds of doubt about Paige's role and duties as a Charmed One.

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Dr. Hugo Kendrick strode into a room at Saint Luke's Hospital. He paused before a bed that held a female patient with multiple burns on her upper torso and neck. "Pardon me Jenny," he asked the attending nurse, "but who is this woman?"

"A Jane Doe," the nurse coolly replied. "The police weren't able to find any I.D. on her. And she's been unconscious for over twenty-four hours." The nurse injected a drug into the patient's I.V. "Mannitol for electrical burns."

A low moan from the patient filled the room. Dr. Kendrick notice her auburn hair. And aquamarine eyes fluttered slightly before they stared at Kendrick and the nurse. "Who . . . where am I?" She spoke with a British accent. Her eyes bored into the surgeon. "Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Hugo Kendrick," the surgeon replied with a gentle smile. "You're at Saint Luke's Hospital. In San Francisco." He paused as something occurred to him. "I . . . uh, noticed that you speak with a British accent. Are you a visitor to the city? Or do you live here?"

Aquamarine eyes blinded. "San Francisco?"

An uneasy feeling slowly overwhelmed Kendrick. "Pardon me for asking, but do you know your name?"

Nearly two minutes passed before the patient replied in a voice filled with doubt, "Oria?"

Oria? What an unusual name, Kendrick thought. He cleared his throat. "Oria. Oria . . . what?"

Again, the woman hesitated. Fear and confusion swirled in her eyes. "I don't know. Just . . . Oria."

Dr. Kendrick sighed, as he realized that he had stumbled across an amnesia victim . . . and an intriguing mystery.

PART SIX