Monday, February 18, 2008

"Second Power" [PG-13] - 7/8



"SECOND POWER"


PART SEVEN

The following day saw Olivia and Cole among the first to arrive at the McNeill manor for brunch. The former brought along two Quiche Lorraine pies that she had prepared in the early morning hours. She had decided to leave behind Cole's birthday present and give it to him later in the evening.

The McNeill family converged in the hallway to greet the newcomers. They welcomed Cole back like a long lost friend. Jack and Bruce McNeill slapped Cole on the back, declaring it was good to see him. Olivia's mother and grandmother welcomed him with warm hugs. And to Olivia's surprise, Harry and Cole merely exchanged knowing smiles, leaving her to wonder what had transpired between the pair.

"You're rather early," Elise McNeill commented. "The brunch probably won't start within another two hours, or so."

Olivia nodded. "I was busy preparing the Quiche, this morning," she replied, handing over the two pies to Bruce. "So Cole and I thought we would use the extra time for a few exercises."

Jack frowned. "So, is everything okay with you, Livy? Are you still having problems with your new power?"

Cole answered, "Actually, she's doing pretty good. I think that Olivia has finally learned to maintain basic control of it."

"That's marvelous!" Gweneth McNeill declared happily. "And you did it within a week. Congratulations, darling!" She planted a small kiss on her daughter's cheek. "It took me a lot longer to learn basic control my electrokinesis. At least over two weeks."

Olivia added, "It's not much, but it's a start. I probably won't use my power until I can really get a handle on it. Or at least that much."

Bruce asked, "So, do we get to see you use your new power?"

"I believe you did, last week. When I burned the ceiling," Olivia replied with a smirk.

Gweneth grabbed her oldest child's shoulders and steered him toward the hallway. "I'm sure that you'll get a demonstration, later. Right now, you need to help me and Davies in the kitchen. You too, Harry," she said to her youngest.

The two men groaned and followed their mother and Davies out of the foyer. Elise excused herself and headed upstairs. Looking somewhat sobered, Jack faced his daughter. "Listen Olivia, there's something I need to talk to you, about. It's very important."

"What is it?" Olivia asked.

Jack began, "Do you remember a story that your grandfather once . . ."

Gweneth reappeared in the foyer. "Jack darling, could you help Harry set up the buffet tables in the drawing-room?"

Irritation flitted across her husband's face. "Why can't you get Davies to help him?"

"Because he's helping me in the kitchen. Now, come along. Hop to it, pet. The other guests will be arriving soon." Gwen disappeared just as fast.

Jack grumbled, "I knew I should have hired more permanent servants for this house. Why didn't I?"

"Because maintaining a full permanent staff of servants is expensive," Olivia replied. "Even for us." She peered at her father, who seemed to be brooding. "Dad? About that talk?"

Nodding, Jack said, "Later. Meanwhile, don't you and Cole have something to do?" He disappeared into the hallway, calling Harry's name.

Olivia faced Cole. "Well? What did you have in mind for this morning?"

"How about a little meditation?" Cole gently grabbed Olivia's arm and led her toward the garden.

* * * *

The guests began arriving nearly two hours later. Among the first were the Halliwells. All of them. Paige noted the McNeills' surprise at her family's appearance. The Halliwells, on the other hand, welcomed Elise McNeill back from vacation.

Barbara Bowen and her father, Philip, arrived fifteen minutes later, carrying food in a Tupperware dish and a wrapped package. "Hey! We're not too late for the party, are we?" the blond woman greeted.

Bruce took the dish from Barbara's hand and they exchanged a light kiss. "Just in time, honey," he replied. He greeted his future father-in-law with a nod.

The Bowens warmly greeted the McNeill matriarch, before Barbara turned her attention to Paige. "So," she said, "have you considered my offer? Do you want the job?"

"What job?" Phoebe asked. Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Paige told her sister about Barbara's job offer. A frowning Phoebe added, "But I thought you were more interested in learning the Craft, full time. Isn't that why you quit your job at Social Services?"

Paige hesitated, aware of everyone's eyes upon her. "Uh, well . . . yeah."

"So, why are you suddenly interested in getting a new job?"

Harry interrupted, much to Paige's relief. "Hey! Barbara has offered you a job at her shop? That's great! No one understands potions the way she does. Right Bruce?" Before his brother could answer, he continued, "Barbara can teach you a lot. Different herbs and spices used for potions and spells." He turned to Barbara. "How much are you willing to pay?"

Barbara answered, "Eight-and-a-half dollars an hour. With Saturday afternoons and Sunday off."

Paige made her decision at that moment. "Okay, I'll take it," she said, ignoring her family's startled expressions.

Smiling, Barbara replied, "Great!" She and Bruce wandered toward the buffet table to join her father.

Phoebe, along with Piper, stared at Paige with almost accusatory eyes. "Why didn't you tell us about this job offer?" she demanded.

"I don't know," Paige replied with shrug. "To be honest, I had forgot." Liar, she mentally accused herself. She had been reluctant to tell her family, knowing their feelings about Barbara and the McNeills in particular. And considering Leo's recent anxiety over Olivia's new power, Paige had not wanted to add to the tension.

The look on her sisters' faces told the youngest Charmed One that they did not completely believe her. Heaving a sigh, Paige glanced out of the window. And at the garden, beyond. "Oh my God!" The words spilled out of her mouth before she could stop herself. "Wow! Would you look at that?"

"Look at what?" Phoebe demanded. She glanced out of the window and gasped.

The others joined the two sisters and reacted just as strongly. In the middle of the lawn sat Olivia and Cole, facing each other. A circle of fire surrounded the pair. Slowly, the flames grew higher, until they formed a wall. The tips rose even higher, creating intricate circles and other designs.

"Oh no!" Leo wailed. Sheer horror was stamped on his face. "Oh my God! What is he . . .? I've got to stop them!" He rushed toward the room's French doors.

Jack grabbed the whitelighter's arm. "No! Leo, stop! Leave them alone!"

"Are you crazy?" The whitelighter shook off the witch's grip. "Cole is doing something to Olivia! We've got to stop him!"

With surprising speed, Elise McNeill blocked Leo's path. "Leave them alone, Leo!" she sternly barked. "Don't you understand what's going on? They must be in the middle of some psychic connection! Or forming one."

"A . . . a what?" Realization filled Leo's eyes. "Oh my . . . oh no!" Before anyone could stop him, Leo orbed out of the drawing-room and onto the lawn, outside. Paige peered through the window, once more. She saw her brother-in-law rush toward the couple, waving his arms and crying, "Stop! Stop!"

* * * *

It began as a simple meditation session. Olivia and Cole had sat down on the grass, facing each other. They closed their eyes and allowed their bodies to relax. Olivia had become aware of every nuance in her body. She became aware of every breath she took and every sensation, due to her nerves. She then extended her realization outward, feeling the air that surrounded her.

Her breath had begun to slow down. Her heartbeat decreased. To Olivia's surprise, she became aware of another sensation - the touch of flesh. Flesh that was alien to her own. She relished in the taut skin and the fine hairs that brushed the surface. As she continued her meditation, Olivia's exploration ascended beyond the flesh. Olivia became aware of another subconscious. One that belonged to Cole. Even more surprising, she could sense him exploring her.

Not only had Olivia received glimpses of Cole's past - his father's murder, childhood in San Francisco, Dublin and the Source's Realm, those he had murdered, his time with Raynor and the Brotherhood of the Thorn, surprising acts of past kindness, and his relationship with Phoebe; but also his secrets, his fears and desires. One particular desire nearly took Olivia by surprise. Yet, before she could further explore it, the pair came together and began a journey down a long tunnel. Where a bright light illuminated the end. Before they could reach that end, Olivia heard a voice cry out, "Stop! Stop!"

Leo? Did she just hear Leo's . . .?

"Olivia! Stop! Olivia! Can you hear me?"

The tunnel disappeared. Olivia released a loud gasp and her eyes snapped open. Aware of what had just transpired between them, she and Cole stared at each other with shocked expressions.

Leo rushed toward the couple. "Olivia! Are you okay?" He offered his hand to the witch. Feeling dazed, Olivia allowed him to help her to her feet. "God, Olivia! What did he do to you?" Leo glared at Cole.

"Huh?" Olivia stared at the whitelighter, wondering what he was talking about. "Do what?"

"What the hell did you do to her?" Leo furiously turned on Cole. "What was it? Some kind of damn spell?" A speechless Cole merely stared at the whitelighter.

The McNeills, the Halliwells and the Bowens rushed forward. "Is everyone all right?" Olivia's father asked, looking concerned.

"I'm fine," Olivia insisted. "Just a little dazed. I guess . . . I guess we ended our meditation just a little too abruptly.

Leo's eyes continued to stab Cole. "If you can call it, meditation."

"It probably was," Elise McNeill stated calmly. "The same thing happened between Kenneth and me on several occasions. We had formed a psychic bond. Became each other's familiar. Just like Jack and Gwen. I believe the same has happened to Olivia and Cole."

Paige said, "I thought familiars were supposed to be animals. You know, like a pet."

Elise shook her head. "Not always. Two humans can be each other's familiar. It was that way with my husband. Actually, a witch does not really need a familiar. But it's nice to have one."

"And how do you explain all that fire?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "What did you expect? Olivia is a fire witch. And I'm certain that some of Cole's powers are based on the fire element." He faced the half-daemon. "Am I right?"

Cole nodded wordlessly.

"When Jack and I first bonded and became each other's familiars," Olivia's mother continued, "Other members of the family claimed they saw an intertwining ring of earth and fire. Really Leo! There's nothing to worry about."

Leo's face hardened. "Is there? What about the Staff of Aingeal?"

"Aingeal?" Harry frowned. "Now why does that sound familiar?"

Jack replied, "Because your grandfather once told you about it, when you were kids. Why don't we all go back inside and discuss this matter."

* * * *

Inside the drawing room, Paige sat on one of the chairs, next to Harry. Jack McNeill stood in front of the fireplace - center stage. And explained about the Staff of Aingeal.

"It's a staff made from ash," he explained. "The staff was first given to Duncan McNeill, Laird of Dunleith, in the 11th century by a powerful wizard named Niallghas."

Leo frowned. "A wizard? Why would this Duncan McNeill even consider accepting anything from a wizard?"

Gweneth heaved a sigh that hinted strained patience. "Dear Goddess! I keep forgetting about the whitelighters' mistrust of wizards. Everyone knows that most of the wizards had rejected the Elders' authority and more or less told them to bugger off! Anyone who doesn't follow the Elders' code is always considered a major threat." She added under her breath. "No wonder there aren't many wizards left."

"We had met a wizard nearly a year ago," Piper spoke up. "He was trying to get his hands on the Source's Grimoire. And he was definitely evil." Leo shot her a grateful smile.

"I didn't say that all wizards were good, pet. But they're not all evil."

Paige glanced at her oldest sister. The grimace on Piper's face told her that the latter did not care for Gwen McNeill's dismissive tone. Or being called "pet".

Olivia's father continued, "Actually, Duncan happened to be Niallghas' illegitimate son by a woman named Brianag McNeill, a powerful witch. Niallghas was eventually killed by a warlock named Ceallach Keir, who wanted his staff - Aingeal."

"Aingeal? What sort of name is that?" Paige asked, before she bit into an English muffin.

Jack replied, "It means fire in Gaelic. Well, fire is one of the word's meanings. The staff's tip is made from gold and shaped like a dragon. And in the center, where the eye should be, is a small red carnelian stone. The stone represents ambition, drive, positive courage and protects the user from all negative emotions. Duncan was the first fire witch in the McNeill family. He had inherited the power from his father. And like his parents, he was very powerful. He managed to stop his cousin, Ceallach McNeill from stealing the staff and bringing about an apocalypse."

"That must be one powerful staff," Bruce commented. He paused momentarily. "Hmmm, that didn't exactly come out right. Did it?"

His grandmother spoke up, "In the hands of a McNeill fire witch, the staff is extremely powerful. And it only works with a McNeill fire witch, by the way. First of all, a staff or a wand is considered to be a magical tool for the fire element; and two, the bearer of the staff must be a descendant of Niallghas. And both Duncan and Ceallach were his decendants."

"I've heard of it," Cole finally said. Everyone stared at him. "The Source . . . uh, the old Source had been trying to get his hands on it for centuries. Never succeeded, though."

Jack added, "He wouldn't have been able to use it. The Source's best bet would either to have the thing destroyed or convert a McNeill fire witch to evil. He tried to recruit one of my dad's distant cousin - a woman named Ruth McNeill Thompson, back in the late forties."

"She was Ken's fourth cousin, once removed," Elise commented. "She had been killed in a car accident in the mid-fifties . . . about a week before Keith's fire power manifested."

Phoebe asked, "Why would the Source be so interested in the staff? Is it that powerful?"

"Oh yes," Jack answered. "With that staff, a McNeill fire witch could vanquish the Source."

A brief silence filled the room, before Leo declared, "What?"

"That's not possible!" Piper protested. "Only the Power of Three could vanquish the Source. It was prophesized!"

"By the Elders, right?" Jack nodded. "I can understand why they would put their hopes on you. They knew that Keith or any other Keeper of the Aingeal Staff would never vanquish the Source, unless it was a matter of self-preservation. Nor would a McNeill witch bother to destroy the Grimoire. The family believed in maintaining a balance of good and evil within ourselves and in the universe. Keith knew that without the Grimoire, the Source's Realm would fall into chaos, and eventually the entire supernatural world. Both Niallghas and Brianag McNeill believed this. And this belief was passed to their descendants." Paige glance at Leo, whose eyes were bright with anger.

Phoebe stared at Olivia, who seemed to be distracted. Or in another world. "So, are you saying that Olivia is or will be as powerful as the three of us? Together?" she demanded. "Just as strong as the Power of Three?"

"If she becomes the staff's new bearer. That is not certain, yet. I realize that many of you find this hard to believe. But I assure you that the Elders can confirm this." Jack glanced at Leo, as he spoke the last words.

More silence filled the drawing-room. Everyone seemed to be contemplating Jack McNeill's astounding revelation. And what they had earlier witnessed. At least Paige was. Davies entered the room and broke the deep silence with a slight cough. "Excuse me," he said. "More visitors have arrived."

Seconds later, a cheerful Darryl Morris entered the room, with his wife and two sons in tow. "Hey everyone! Has the surprise birthday party started, already?"

"Surprise birthday party?" Cole's expression became blank momentarily. Until realization hit him. "Oh, wait a minute! Is this a birthday party for me?"

Harry groaned. "So much for the surprise."


END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

No comments: