AN: I know I have been gone forever, and all I can say in my defense is that, when working on obtaining a PhD, school and work can occasionally completely take over your life...
Chapter Nineteen: Of Family (part two)
She gasped, and the cup fell from her hands and shattered on the floor.
The dark-haired gypsy glanced over at the other woman in the room and sighed. "Sorry, Lizzie," she said quietly, shaking her head. "I appear to be a bit of a klutz."
Lizzie frowned. "You've never been one before," she remarked.
Ava didn't reply, but simply lowered herself to her knees and began to pick up the shards of porcelain. She had been friends with Lizzie for years, and while the other girl might understand that Ava was part of a gypsy tribe, she was still dismissive of the idea of gypsy magic. She would scoff if Ava told her that she'd been startled by the tea leaves in her cup.
Lizzie wandered over to the closet in the small apartment kitchen and pulled out a broom and dustpan. "Be careful," she cautioned over her shoulder. "You don't want to cut yourself."
"I know," Ava agreed readily enough.
She placed the larger pieces of porcelain on the table and took the broom and dustpan from Lizzie. As she swept up the smaller pieces and the soggy remains of the tea leaves, she couldn't quite stop the shiver that ran down her spine.
Be careful. That was good advice.
"Phoebe is still talking to Piper," Paige announced as she took a seat on the ground next to Chris. She glanced away from him for a moment, towards her two sisters, then shook her head and looked back at him. "I don't know what is going to happen."
Chris nodded. "What does Phoebe think about all this?" he asked.
Paige chewed her lip for a moment. She knew that all this was referring to Piper's refusal to fight back. While she simply could not understand her eldest sister's point of view, she thought that Phoebe might not only understand it, but even agree with it. But Phoebe had been reluctant to say anything, reluctant to actually give her opinion, and that frustrated Paige.
"I don't know," she admitted. "At the moment, I think she is just trying to get Piper to… talk about the way she feels. I don't know if she agrees with her or not."
Chris frowned, and then nodded slowly. Paige studied his expression, but couldn't read anything in his emotionless gaze. His face was carefully blank.
"So… Lola's dead," Paige said.
"Yeah," Chris answered. He said nothing else, and Paige let out a frustrated breath.
She was certain he hadn't told her everything. After he had rejoined them, he'd simply explained that he'd had a run-in with Lola, confirmed that she had been working with Lucifer the entire time, and had vanquished her. But there was something else, something he wasn't saying, and she wanted to know what it was.
Unfortunately, he seemed very determined not to reveal anything.
She looked around the room. It wasn't like most of the other places they had been in the Underworld. It resembled an empty warehouse, with smooth rock walls and a relatively clean floor. There was no drip of water along the walls, no dampness in the air, no smell of blood and death.
But it was still in the Underworld, which meant that it was still possible that demons could appear at any moment. She and her sisters were practically outlaws, hiding from their own, seeking refuge in enemy territory. It sent chills down her spine to realize just how very alone they were.
"I don't think the Elders killed Leo," Chris said abruptly.
Paige looked at him in surprise, and felt a flicker of hope come to life in her chest. "Really?" she asked, irrationally hating how desperate her voice sounded. But she desperately wanted his words to be true. She hadn't even allowed herself to properly grieve for Leo – in part because she was so focused on this civil war, but mostly because she didn't want to believe that he was truly dead.
"The Elder who visited Phoebe, who gave us the warning… he didn't say that Leo was dead."
"He said that Leo was gone, though," Paige countered.
"Gone, yes," Chris agreed. "But gone isn't dead. Phoebe asked if the Elders had killed Leo, and this Elder specifically said that Leo was gone. If Leo was dead, why wouldn't he have just said so?"
"If Leo wasn't dead, why wouldn't he have just said that?" Paige retorted.
Chris frowned again, and didn't answer Paige's question. He seemed to be completely lost in his own thoughts, and when he finally did speak, it was clear to Paige that she had missed a few steps in his thinking.
"But I don't know how we would reach him," he mused.
"Leo?" Paige asked. "Do you even know where he is? Assuming he is alive, I mean."
Chris shook his head. "It is possible they recycled him. That, I think, is more likely than them keeping him prisoner." He paused again, then said contemplatively, "But recycling him would have its drawbacks as well…"
"I'm not following," Paige said flatly.
Chris stared at her, then blinked. Paige felt a small smile curve the corners of her lips as she realized that Chris had been momentarily unaware that she was even still there. He had been speaking to himself, not to her, and her sudden presence seemed to startle him.
He got over it very quickly.
"Right," he said. "The key is to think like an Elder." Paige nodded, and he continued, "The Elders don't have control over souls. When a good witch dies, their souls move on to… well, somewhere. When a bad witch or a demon dies, their powers go to the demonic wasteland, but the Elders don't really know what happens to their souls. Do they go to hell, if such a place even exists? Do they die?" He trailed off for a moment, then cleared his throat and said, "If they think that Leo is working with Lucifer, then they will have some concerns about killing him. What if, after they kill him, Lucifer gets his soul? All the knowledge Leo has, all the ways he could help Lucifer and the Underworld fight against the Elders… no, they wouldn't want to risk that."
"You know a lot about this sort of thing," Paige commented, remembering that he'd also heard of the Elders' council of judgment.
Chris wrinkled his nose. "Yes," he said shortly, almost distastefully. "I learned it at school."
Paige raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Piper and Leo sent you to Magic School?" she demanded. That was the only explanation because there was simply no way Chris would have learned any of this in a regular school.
Chris looked away from her, towards Phoebe and Piper. He didn't answer the question, but instead continued in his explanation, "So they aren't going to kill Leo - they're too afraid to do that. Also, killing an Elder is considered a Great Evil, and I can't imagine that it is something they would do unless they had absolutely no other choice."
"But starting a civil war isn't a great evil?" Paige asked sarcastically.
Chris shrugged. "They didn't intentionally do that."
Paige rolled her eyes. That did not seem like a particularly good justification, but she could at least agree that the Elders might view it that way.
"But you also don't think they are keeping him prisoner," Paige pressed.
Chris shook his head. "They know just how dangerous Lucifer is, and they will be concerned that Lucifer could somehow reach him anywhere he is. Keeping him prisoner wouldn't do any good – particularly if other white-lighters and Elders are supporting Leo. Someone will eventually let him out. No… I think that whatever the council did, they must have lied to everyone else about it. They must have told everyone else that he is dead. That way the other supposedly corrupted white-lighters and Elders won't go looking for him."
Paige pursed her lips. "And if they kept him prisoner Up There, they would run too great of a risk that someone would discover his presence. But if they kept him prisoner somewhere else, it would be too easy for Lucifer to reach him." She paused, a thought occurring to her, and then looked at Chris and asked, "Can Lucifer get Up There?"
"No," Chris answered. "He can't." He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back against the wall, then said, "But he can still corrupt white-lighters or Elders and have them orb Up There to do his bidding. Still, because he can't get Up There himself, it is one of the safest places…"
"But they wouldn't keep Leo Up There."
"No," Chris confirmed. "I don't think they would."
"So then they must have recycled him," Paige concluded. "What other options are left?"
"I agree that they probably recycled him," Chris said, "but they must have done more. Once a soul is recycled, it gets a new body and a new life, but it is still the same soul… No, they must have done something stronger. They must have found a way to permanently block his memories of this life, and to hide him from Lucifer."
"Couldn't Lucifer just unblock the memories, assuming he could find Leo?" Paige asked.
Chris gave a grim smile and replied, "You're giving Lucifer too much power. Remember, he can strike deals and he can manipulate, and he can certainly get demons and the like to do his bidding, but he doesn't have active powers."
"He still manages to do plenty of damage," Paige grumbled under her breath, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Yes," Chris agreed flatly, harshly. Then he sighed. "He might be able to turn the recycled-Leo evil, but I don't know that he has the power to restore Leo's memories. He would have to get a sorceress to do it for him, and the Elders have the ability to block even someone as powerful as Lola… No, I don't think he would be able to return Leo's memories." Then a wry grin graced his lips, and he added, "But Lucifer isn't the only one they are trying to hide Leo from."
Paige stared blankly at Chris for a moment, then a smile lit up her own face as well. "They're trying to hide him from us." Chris nodded, and then Paige's own expression fell. "But do we have the power to… unrecycle… him?"
"No," Chris answered with a shake of his head. "But if the opposing army is far more powerful than you are, you don't attack them from the front. You find a way to sneak around them. And that is what we need to do."
Chris lapsed once more into silence, and Paige glanced over at Phoebe and Piper. They were still talking, though their conversation had apparently grown more heated. Paige didn't know what they were saying to each other, and she felt a sudden, unexpected pang of jealousy.
She trampled it quickly, but she knew it would still linger. Even though she had finally moved past her insecurities about her place in the family, even though Prue's shadow no longer hovered over everything she did, she was still sometimes reminded of the fact that she would never have the experience of growing up with her sisters. Piper and Phoebe had a shared childhood, and that gave them a bond that she could never have. Their memories of…
She stopped that thought abruptly and snapped her attention to Chris once more. "Can we send him our memories?"
"If we can't awaken his memories of his life, can we send him our memories? Memories of when we interacted with him, memories of when he and Piper first met, of when they got married, of when Wyatt was born…"
Chris considered this thoughtfully. "The Elders will have thought of that, and will protect against it. I don't know if we have the power to get past their protections… but a blood spell…"
"A blood spell?"
"A spell cast by someone who shares Leo's blood. A sibling, a parent… a child. It would be strong – family ties are strong, but family ties that involve blood are even stronger…" A slow smile spread across his face. "Yes… yes, we might be able to…"
"And it would get past the Elders' protections?" Paige pressed, feeling giddy at the thought.
"Not completely," Chris replied. "But it might still get to Leo somehow. A feeling of déjà vu, a fleeting emotion, a sense of something being missing… maybe even a dream…" He laughed suddenly, and jumped to his feet. "It's worth a shot."
The movement caught Piper and Phoebe's attention, and momentarily halted their conversation. Piper raised her eyebrows questioningly, her gaze moving back and forth between Paige and Chris. But it was Phoebe who asked the question.
"What is it?"
"Chris thinks that Leo isn't dead," Paige said.
Piper's eyes burned brightly for a moment, and something twisted in Paige's stomach. There was hope there, in her sister's eyes – and fear, too. It was a fear Paige knew all too well, one that she had grappled with for the first several months of knowing her sisters. After her parents had died, being alone had been difficult and, well… lonely. But she had still been afraid to love her sisters, to let them be her family, because the pain of rejection, of being alone once more, would have been too much for her.
Piper was wondering now if she could risk believing Chris, because if he was wrong and she was forced to lose Leo all over again…
Phoebe apparently had no qualms about that. "What makes you think that?" she asked eagerly. "And how do we find him?"
Chris explained quickly, briskly rushing through everything he had told Paige, and Paige watched Piper's expression the entire time. The eldest Charmed One asked no questions, but Paige could see the way her expression grew contemplative, and knew that Piper was silently assessing every word he said.
When Chris had finished, Piper said, "I don't know, Chris. That is a lot of conjecture…"
"I know," Chris cut in, "but I know the Elders. I know how they think."
Piper's lips curled into a bitter smile. "So do I," she said.
That reply seemed to give Chris pause, then he said quietly, "What part of the conjecture do you disagree with?"
Piper didn't reply for a moment, then she asked, "Are you sure the Elders are really thinking so… logically… about this?"
Chris nodded. "The Elders are nothing if not methodical," he said, his tone icy with dislike. "They don't act quickly and they always weigh their options." He hesitated, then added, "They aren't rash. Even when they are completely wrong."
Piper's lips pressed into a thin line. "Gideon was," she said. "At no point did he ever consider the possibility that attempting to kill Wyatt would backfire. That it would cause even more damage, that he could turn Wyatt…"
She trailed off into painful silence, and Paige felt sympathy for her sister. Even after all this time, even with Wyatt saved, Piper still had trouble thinking about the Wyatt from Chris' future.
Chris frowned. "True," he admitted slowly, "but Gideon was the exception, not the rule."
"I thought that once," Piper said. "Now I am not so sure." She looked away. "Still, if there is any chance that Leo is alive…" Again, she trailed off, unable to finish the thought. Hope could be painful, after all.
"I'll write the spell," Phoebe said.
"Chris will have to say the spell so that it is his memories that get sent to Leo," Paige said, "and we'll need to say it with him so that it has the Power of Three behind it." She paused thoughtfully. "But maybe we should call on all the witches of the Halliwell line, like we did when vanquishing the Source. That would give us more power."
"We could also combine that with the Blood to Blood spell, or the spell To Call a Lost Witch," Piper said, frowning as she glanced around the room, "but we don't have the ingredients."
"We also don't have the Book," Phoebe pointed out.
Paige sighed. That had been a heated argument. After sprinkling fairy dust and other protections around Wyatt, Phoebe had wanted to collect the Book of Shadows. Paige had been against it, pointing out that any powerful demon in the Underworld could sense its power. They had enough trouble hiding their own magic, and to have to hide the Book's magic as well would be too dangerous.
And besides, the Book was far too big to drag around with them if they were forced to flee, and Paige could easily summon it to them anyway.
Except that they were attempting to limit their use of orbing because demons could sense that, too…
Piper had removed herself completely from the argument, and Phoebe had finally given in to Paige's opinion, and so the Book was still the Manor.
"We don't need the Book to write the spells," Piper said, "I remember the ones we need well enough. But the rituals… I don't remember the details of those, and we don't have everything we need."
"I can get everything we need," Chris said.
Phoebe nodded, but Piper looked worried. "It is not safe for you to leave the Underworld again," she said in concern. "The Elders…"
"I can go," Paige said quickly.
Chris looked as though he wanted to protest, but then shrugged and uncharacteristically acquiesced, apparently deciding not to waste time on the argument. "Fine."
Phoebe moved away, already fumbling for paper and pencil in the purse she had brought with her when they fled, and Piper gave Chris one last, lingering look before she joined her middle sister.
Leaving Chris and Paige alone again.
Chris curled his hands into fists and shot an annoyed look Piper's way once the older witch had turned her back.
"She's your mother," Paige said, "she worries about your safety. That can't come as a surprise."
Chris looked at her sharply. "She didn't worry about my safety before," he said simply. "It was easier then."
Paige wasn't sure what to say to that, so she instead asked, "What else happened when you talked to Lola?"
Chris slanted a surprised look at her, and said, "I told you everything."
"No," Paige countered flatly, "you didn't." Chris opened his mouth to argue, but she pressed on, "I might not be an empath, Chris, and you might be truly exceptional at lying, but I can still tell that you are holding something back now."
Chris laughed coldly. "Maybe I have a reason for it." His eyes darkened, and he said, "Your interference is the reason we're at war with the Elders in the first place. If you had just left me with Lucifer…"
"Then your family would still have fallen apart," Paige retorted, bristling. "And Lucifer is the reason we are at war with the Elders."
Chris sighed. "No," he admitted after a moment, "it's more complex than that." He gave her a searching look, and Paige had the feeling that he was trying to determine if he could tell her something. She wasn't sure what he decided, though, because he said only, "Fighting Lucifer is challenging."
"And keeping secrets from each other is not going to make it any easier," Paige answered. Chris tried to turn away from her, but she caught his arm. "I know things are… complicated, but…"
"I really don't think you have any idea how complicated this is for me," Chris answered honestly, cutting over her words.
Paige dropped her arm. "No," she said, "I don't suppose I do. But I'm trying. We're all trying."
Chris gave her that same searching look, then agreed, "Yes, you are trying… now."
There wasn't even the slightest hint of reprimand in his voice. He said the words as though they were merely fact and he had no opinion of them. But Paige knew that wasn't true. She could see the tumultuous emotions flicker in his gaze before he forced the blank expression back to his face.
He was getting better at hiding those emotions again, but whatever Lucifer had done to him remained behind, and he just wasn't good enough to completely conceal his feelings.
Paige chewed her lip for a moment, debating whether or not she should venture onto dangerous ground. Chris had been relatively open with her so far, and she didn't wan to jeopardize that. How would he react if she said something he didn't want to hear?
On the other hand, she had stood by and watched his past arguments with Piper in silence, and that hadn't done anyone any good.
"What did you expect?" she asked finally.
"When you came to the past. When you made all your plans. What did you expect we would be like?"
Chris narrowed his eyes at her. "We don't have time for this conversation."
"Really?" Paige countered skeptically. "Or do you just not want to have it?"
"I don't see how it will be conducive to our ultimate goal of defeating Lucifer, ending a civil war, and getting Leo back," Chris snapped.
"Because carrying these resentments into battle is a good thing?" Paige asked mildly, knowing he wouldn't be able to counter that. She had seen the way Chris acted every time they were in the middle of a battle, and she had been the Goddess of War long enough to recognize the signs of a soldier in him. Not just a solider – a general.
"I didn't expect anything," Chris said finally. "And…" He looked over at Piper. "She's not my mother. Not yet."
"Well, biologically speaking…"
"Family isn't just biology," Chris interrupted.
Paige raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you really think you need to tell me that?"
Chris blinked at her, then smiled slightly. "Right," he said, recognizing the irony of his comment. "Of course you'd know that." He ran a hand through his hair, momentarily looking away to gather his thoughts. After a moment, he turned his attention back to her and said, "Look, there really isn't anything to discuss. The past is over. Let's just… move forward."
"Yes," Paige replied sarcastically, "because it is always that simple."
"Is there any possible way I can get you to drop this topic?" Chris asked.
Paige opened her mouth to refuse, and then paused, actually thinking over his request. She licked her lips, then said, "Just listen to three things I have to say, and then I'll let it go."
A hint of a smile curved Chris' lips. "Deal," he said, and both he and Paige shivered a little at that word.
And Paige couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever be able to make future deals with anyone without thinking of Lucifer.
"First of all… You showed up out of the blue, split up Piper and Leo, took over Leo's role, and then lied to us and manipulated us even as we defended you to Leo," Paige said. "I know you did it for all the right reasons and I know you just wanted to save Wyatt, but we didn't know that at the time. You were just a stranger interfering in our family. What were we supposed to think?"
Chris' expression hardened, but he said nothing.
Paige pressed on. "And I'd tell you how sorry we are for that, but for some reason you don't like apologies, so I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix this, and I don't know how to get you to see that you can trust us, that you have to trust us, because otherwise Lucifer will use that against us all."
Chris furrowed his brow. "Do you trust me?" he asked sharply.
"Yes," Paige answered.
"Then can't you just trust that if I don't tell you something it is for a good reason?" he demanded.
Paige tilted his head to the side, regarding him, then asked, "Is it actually for a good reason, or is it because you don't trust us?"
Chris didn't answer that question, and instead muttered sourly, "I interfered in your family and we all need to trust each other. That's two… what's the third thing you wanted to say?"
"Family might not require biology, but sometimes that is all it needs," Paige said. She folded her arms over her chest. "My parents went to the adoption agency and looked at several potential daughters. And sons. They picked me. I don't know why, I never asked. I don't know what made them think I was special, but I do know that they chose to love me. And sometimes I had those fears that they would have a biological child and they would love me less, or that they didn't view me as their real daughter or… But I was wrong about that. They chose me, and that doesn't mean that their love was any less worthwhile than the love of a biological mother who doesn't get to choose."
Paige closed her eyes briefly as thoughts of her parents brought up the usual grief and pain. She forced back the tears that she didn't want to fall, and forced herself not to think of the car accident and the flames and…
She opened her eyes and focused again on Chris. "But Piper and Phoebe loved me because I was their sister. Because we shared biology. Piper struggled to connect with me for a long time after they found me. But she called me her sister within two weeks of us meeting. And she risked her life for me, and she did everything she could to help me when I needed help, even if I didn't realize – or didn't want to admit – that I needed it. I've only known Piper and Phoebe for less than three years, and it is only in the last year that I've really felt like part of the family and… and for at least that first year, Piper and Phoebe loved me because I am their sister, and I loved them because they are my sisters. It took them a while to love me for me. And you know what? That doesn't make their love any less important to me."
Chris didn't say anything. Paige couldn't read his expression, and she didn't know if her words had gotten through. She also wasn't sure if she had adequately conveyed what she wanted to say.
She shrugged. "But that's just me, that's just the way I see it. Maybe you see things differently. Every family is different, every person is different and… I know that my situation doesn't translate perfectly into yours. I'm just saying… don't think that we don't love you just because it took us a while to figure out that we did. Maybe you think that mothers are supposed to just immediately connect with their children but… Piper even struggled to find the connection with Wyatt when he was an infant. That doesn't mean that she loved him less, it just means that… love is complicated." She shrugged again. "That's all."
A muted groan of pain slipped out of the young witch's lips as she stumbled to her knees. One hand flew to her stomach, pressing against the damage there. The wound was not so deep, nor the blood loss so great, but it still hurt. And the pain was slowing her down.
She forced herself back to her feet and glanced behind her. The alley was dark, and the faint light of the street lamps made the shadows dance. The fear made her see shapes in the dark, and she had no idea which of them were real and which were merely her imagination.
But she knew that the energy ball to her stomach had not been her imagination.
She pressed forward, determined to keep going. She just needed to get back to her apartment, get to safety…
The figure appeared directly in front of her, materializing out of thin air in the blink of an eye. He was tall and gaunt, with pale skin and sunken eyes and a cruel smile.
"Hello, witch," he said softly.
The witch backed away from him and raised a hand. Her powers weren't working properly, and the rush of wind that she conjured was barely enough to ruffle the warlock's hair.
Anger coursed through her veins, but there was little she could do, and in the next moment he had grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the wall of the building to her right. His fingers bit into her skin as his hands constricted her airway, and she was soon gasping for breath.
Her vision narrowed to pinpricks as she heard his voice, faint and echoing as though he was speaking from a great distance, "I know many demons who say that killing with their bare hands is beneath them – it is such a human thing to do. But I think they've just never tried it."
And then he screamed.
His body burst into flames, his fingers leaving her throat, and he disappeared. She fell to her hands and knees, gasping in a great lungful of air, then slowly lifted her gaze to look at the person who had saved her.
Talia was standing there, holding an athame in her hands, looking for all the world like she couldn't quite figure out what she had just done.
"I thought white-lighters didn't kill," Sara gasped out.
Talia didn't answer the question, but instead dropped the athame and hurried to kneel at her side. She extended her hands, and a bright golden glow spread out from her fingers. Sara felt a warmth suffuse her stomach.
She batted Talia's hand away. "What are you doing here?" she questioned weakly. She knew it was stupid to refuse to let herself be healed, but her pride and her temper were getting in the way of common sense.
Talia rocked back on her heels. "Sara…" she started.
"You left," Sara snapped. She leaned back against the wall and pulled her knees into her chest, willing her stomach to stop hurting and her hands to stop shaking so much.
"I never wanted…"
"But you did," Sara interrupted. "The Elders told you to give up on me, and you obeyed without question. You left me. You gave me your pretty little speech about how you weren't going to give up on me, but you still walked away." Her voice grew louder as she spat the words out, but the emotion proved to be too much for her, and she started coughing violently.
"I'm here now," Talia countered, "so please let me help you."
After the coughing had subsided, Sara wiped at her mouth and said, "You're here now, true, but you weren't here before. You think this is the first warlock that has attacked me since you left? People have died, Talia. My friends have died."
"I'm sorry, I truly am," Talia murmured, "but what was I supposed to do?"
"Fight back!" Sara growled. "That's what you always told me to do."
"It isn't that simple," Talia argued.
Sara rolled her eyes and clambered unsteadily to her feet. Her shirt was stained red with blood, but if she could just get to a hospital, and soon, then she would be fine…
"It wasn't that simple when I first discovered I had magic," Sara said. "It wasn't that simple when demons attacked me. It wasn't that simple when I learned that I was expected to protect innocents. It is never that simple, and I never wanted any of it, but I didn't have a choice. You are the one who told me that. And then you walked away the first chance you got."
"I didn't walk away," Talia protested.
Sara blinked, tears filling her eyes. "You didn't stay and fight, either," she said.
"I am fighting now," Talia hissed. "I'm fighting by being here, by helping you. And when the Elders find out, they will clip my wings and recycle me, and I will lose everything that I have worked so hard to find. I'll lose myself for helping you, but I'm doing it anyway."
Sara opened her mouth, but found she had nothing to say to that. It had never occurred to her that Talia could lose so much – that the Elders would take away her very identity if she disobeyed them.
Talia seemed to take her silence for some sort of acceptance, and she reached forward and carefully rested her hands on Sara's stomach. The golden glow appeared again, and beneath the white-lighter's fingers, Sara's skin began to knit itself back together.
The pain receded, and Sara breathed a sigh of relief. She hesitated a moment, then said quietly, "Thank you."
Talia shrugged. "Just doing my job," she said. She was silent for a moment, then she awkwardly cleared her throat and said, "I am sorry."
And then the arrow slammed into her.
Sara's scream of horror died on her lips as Talia crumbled to the ground, the dark-lighter's arrow protruding out of her back. Her gaze moved past her white-lighter's body, and she saw the dark-lighter standing in front of her, a smirk twisting his features.
She raised a hand, fury flooding her, and prepared to attack him.
And he casually picked up the athame Talia had used to vanquish the warlock, the athame the white-lighter had dropped to the ground as she rushed to heal her charge, and stabbed Sara in the chest with it.
Sara, too, fell to the ground, and the last thing she saw before the darkness claimed her was the dark-lighter standing over Talia's body, absorbing the white-lighter's powers.
Ava locked the doors to the free clinic she still ran for gypsies without health insurance, and glanced around warily. It was late, and the sun had long since set over the horizon. She had known for a while now that evil lurked in the dark, but tonight seemed even more dangerous than usual.
She remembered the tea leaves.
She had called Piper, wanting to relay what she had seen in her cup, but the Charmed One had not answered her phone. She'd left a message, and could only hope that Piper would hear it, and soon.
And she couldn't help but wonder where the Charmed Ones were.
She walked briskly, shivering slightly in the cool night air. The overwhelming feeling of danger clung to her, and every time she caught the sight of movement out of the corner of her eye, she spun around, prepared for the worst.
She reached her car without incident, and let out a sigh of relief.
She slid into the driver's seat and stared out of the windshield for a long moment, uncertain what she should do next. She could drive home and try to forget the tea leaves and the feeling of unease and the shadows; or she could go to the Charmed Ones' manor in the hopes that they were there, and that they could explain her fears; or perhaps she could visit one of the other gypsy tribes.
There were no Shuvanis left in her own tribe, but her sister tribes still had some high priestesses who were far more adept at reading tea leaves than she was. They had helped her before, and would do so again if she asked.
She slipped her keys into the ignition and pulled out into the street.
The Sinti tribe had gatherings of the holy women on most nights, and would certainly be having them now in the midst of all this unrest. The Shuvani of any of the tribes were always welcome, but Ava had never been to one – though she had embraced her heritage, she had never felt entirely comfortable among those devout elders.
But perhaps tonight was the night to change all that.
It was a twenty minute drive to the meeting place, and Ava's sense of unease did not lesson along the way. She parked her car outside the small building that housed the other gypsies and glanced up at the sky.
She couldn't see any stars.
She walked towards the building. It was a temple of sorts – if such a word could really be used to apply to any aspect of the gypsy belief system. The door was covered with spells in the dialects of the Romani, and the interior was painted with ancient runes and symbols of protection.
Ava had come to the building once or twice, but had never entered it. Still, even from the street she had been able to feel the power of the spells seeping into the air and offering protection to anyone gathered inside.
But tonight the power was conspicuously missing.
The feeling of unease turned to one of abject terror, and the young gypsy sprinted forward, taking the stairs two at a time and shoving the front door open. It slammed back against the wall, the hinges protesting at the force of her blow, but she did not notice. She hurried forward through a small entryway to another door and pushed that one open as well.
The room was large and circular, and the ceiling sloped upwards towards the middle, forming a dome. There were no windows, but the middle of the dome was a large skylight, and the pale, sickly light of the moon illuminated the scene below.
The bodies were everywhere. Some were on the ground, sprawled at awkward angles. Others were still in the chairs that formed a circle in the center of the room. The bodies were bruised and bloody, and the air reeked of death and fire.
There were so many of them – fifteen, maybe twenty. They were older women, and Ava only recognized one or two, but she knew that they had all been powerful. Some had fought back; that much was evident from the piles of dust and ash that littered the ground, remnants of the demons that had attacked.
Ava lifted a hand to her mouth to stifle the cry of horror that rose in her throat.
How could this happen? The protections spells were supposed to prevent the building from being located by Evil, just as they were supposed to prevent Evil from gaining entrance. But the spells were gone now – why?
She was so lost in her own horror and grief that she did not see the shadow slipping noiselessly along the entrance way behind her; nor did she see the flash of steel as the athame materialized in the shadow's hand.