"DEFENSE OF THE REALM"
Once the five chosen whitelighters were initiated into the positions of Elders, the newly completed Council decided to proceed to their first topic - namely filling the position of Head Elder. Not surprisingly, Gideon was the first to make a suggestion. "I nominate," he declared, "Elder Mathilda Everard."
Johann allowed himself an amused smile, as Serafina shot up from her seat. "I mean no disrespect to Elder . . . Everard, but this is becoming absurd. Not long ago, the old Council had dismissed her for flagrantly disregarding the rules. Then most of the old Elders are brutally murdered. Elder Davis then suggests that we reinstate her back on the Council and once we accomplish that, he nominates her as the Council's new leader." The Costa Rican regarded the veteran Elder with narrowed eyes. "I do not know about the rest of you, but this is all becoming very suspicious."
"Exactly what are you insinuating, Serafina?" Mathilda coolly demanded.
Serafina's dark eyes blazed with righteousness. "I am saying . . . no, I am accusing you of manipulating the entire situation. Of being complicit in the murders of the Elders."
An unpleasant smile curled Mathilda's lips. Johann could not help but feel a surge of admiration for the old warhorse. "May I remind you that I'm a whitelighter? And an Elder? I have served the forces of good for nearly four hundred years. How dare you suggest that I would take a life? Especially that of a fellow whitelighter!"
"Of course not!" Serafina retorted. "However, you are in the habit of getting others to do your dirty work. Your dealings with Leo Wyatt, for instance! Did you not used him to get a witch to . . ."
Mathilda shot to her feet. "Enough! I do not have to listen to such nonsense! Frankly Serafina, I find it distasteful that you would resort to wild accusations in order to maneuver your way into position of Head Elder!"
"I am not interested in that position!" Serafina shot back. "However, I do find it suspicious that not long after you were dismissed from the Council . . ."
"Oh yes! I see that we have to endure that little spiel, again!"
Johann watched the entire confrontation between the two alpha females with repressed glee. So much for the angelic reputation of whitelighters. Apparently, they could be just as petty and temperamental as humans, darklighters, daemons and other so-called lesser beings. Artemus had been right. The Austrian also realized that it was time to end the pissing contest that now raged.
"Pardon frauleins," he said. When the two continued to argue, he shouted, "Ladies!" Both Mathilda and Serafina fell silent and stared at him. So did the other Council members. "Thank you. Now, before we all decide upon the new Head Elder, I have my own candidate to nominate."
Gideon stared at him. "And who might that be?"
Johann smiled. "Me." The others, with the exception of Belinda, regarded him with shock and surprise. Especially Mathilda.
"Johann, what are you . . .?" the latter demanded.
The Austrian continued, "What am I doing? Deviating from our plan, of course."
"What do you mean by that?" Serafina demanded. "And why should we nominate you?"
Still smiling, Johann stood up and walked around the Council's table, until he ended up facing his fellow Elders. "Oh, you won't be the ones to choose me," he said. "They will." He pointed at seven robed figures that had entered the Council chambers. Gasps escaped from the others' mouths, as the strangers threw back their hoods and pointed bow-and-arrows - darklighter weapons - at the Council members.
"What in the hell is going on?" Cole demanded for the second time. He did not know whether to be surprised, angry or happy at the sight of Olivia. Or worried by the bruises on her face. He decided to settle for surprise and anger. "Natalia," he said to the Russian-born whitelighter, "when I had given you refuge, I didn't mean for you to invite others without my permission."
Natalia stood up. "Forgive me, Cole. I had encountered Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris in the garage, downstairs. We had a . . . near miss. I thought they were agents for the Council and orbed up here. Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris had followed me. And since she is a relation of one of my former charges, I had invited them inside. You do not mind, do you?" Her dark eyes widened with innocence. Then she frowned. "Forgive me, but why are you here?"
Before Cole could answer, Chris spoke up. "Hi. We haven't formally met. My name is Chris Perry. I'm . . ."
"Yes, I know who you are. I've seen you in the Realm. The whitelighter from the future." Natalia coolly nodded. "I assume you are here to take me back to the Elders." She shot an accusing glance at Cole.
Leo replied, "It's not what you think, Natalia. We . . . I mean, Phoebe had a vision of who was behind the Elders' deaths."
"It's Mathilda," Phoebe added.
Natalia did not look particularly fazed by the news. She snorted with derision. "Huh, why am I not surprised?"
Olivia added, "Wait a minute! You mean the Elder who had arranged the whole thing between me, Cole and Paul, is also behind the murders in the Whitelighter Realm?"
"Yes," Chris replied.
The Russian said to him and Leo, "Have you informed the Council?"
Leo glanced uneasily at Chris. "We . . . uh . . ."
"I was about to, but the Council chambers are off-limits to other whitelighters. I believe they might be forming a new Council. I ran into Leo and told him."
"When we found out that you were here," Leo continued.
Chris finished, "We decided to let you inform them."
A sigh left Natalia's mouth. "I see." She paused. "By the way, we have another problem."
Cole noticed the book in Olivia's lap. "Uh, what's going on? What are you doing with my book?"
Olivia and Darryl told the others about a murder/robbery case they were investigating. And their encounters with Gerry Gallagher and Lin Bryant. "Is that why your face looks like that?" Piper asked.
"Unfortunately yes. I know it looks pretty bad," Olivia said. "Personally, I feel like I had just went ten rounds with Michelle Yeoh." She sighed. Cole wanted to reach out and stroke her face.
Piper added, "Maybe you should ask Leo to heal those bruises."
Olivia shook her head. "No. We had left . . . or maybe I should say that I had left Ms. Bryant on the floor, dead. These bruises are proof that I had a good reason for kicking her ass." She added, "Anyway, our case had led to this." She pointed at the book on her lap. Cole recognized it as a book on inter-dimensional mythology. "Someone from the Magan Corporation had hired Lin Bryant to find the Erebor medallions, in order to reach the Whitelighter Realm."
"Yeah," Darryl added. "According to one of Ms. Bryant's men, someone named Johann Bauer."
"Who?" Chris demanded.
Both Natalia and Leo's faces turned pale. "Oh my God!" the latter cried.
Cole grunted. "Now there's a name I haven't heard in years."
Leo stared at the half-daemon. "What do mean? Where have you met Johann, before?" Then he turned to Olivia and Darryl. "And why would a whitelighter be involved with a company that might be demonic?"
"This Johann Whatshismane," Piper began, "he's a whitelighter?"
"Yes!" Both Leo and Natalia answered at the same time.
Cole replied coolly, "No, he's not. He's a darklighter."
"That's impossible!" Leo declared. "No darklighter or any other entity can access the Whitelighter Realm, without being accompanied by a whitelighter."
"Leo, I've had dealings with this guy, before. He has connections with the Khorne Order."
Darryl frowned. "The what?"
With a sigh, Cole explained that the Brotherhood of the Khorne was among the many demonic orders in the old Source's realm. An upper-level daemon named Artemus used to be its leader. "But the Source had banished him to the Stygian Abyss in the 1970s, after he had failed to destroy the Gimle Order."
"What's this Stygian Abyss?" Piper asked.
Olivia indicated the book in her lap. "It's a supernatural maximum-security prison to where many beings of magical abilities are banished. My family has sent a good number of daemons there. The thing about the Stygian Abyss is that no one can escape from it. It's like Alcatraz. Well, maybe worse. As for this Johann Bauer, if he is a darklighter . . ."
"He's been a whitelighter for the past five or six years!" Natalia exclaimed.
Nodding, Olivia said, "Interesting. He became one around the same time Lin Bryant had began her search for the Erebor medallions. Perhaps this Mr. Bauer was among the first to use one . . . if what Cole says about him is true."
"Oh great!" Piper retorted. "And this guy is now an Elder?"
Anxiety whirled in Leo's eyes. "We have to stop him!" he insisted. "Expose him to the Council, before he kills again."
"Wait a minute!" Chris demanded. "If two of these medallions have fallen into Johann Bauer's hands, and he's probably wearing a third; what about the other six? Do the darklighters now have all nine of them?"
Phoebe commented, "If they do, they can get rid of the entire Whitelighter Council. And after that . . ."
A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Oh God! This means that all of us will have to go to the Whitelighter Realm." Darryl coughed slightly. "Well, except for Darryl."
"And Cole," Piper added. "Considering he's a demon."
The redhead's green eyes swept over the half-daemon in a manner that left him feeling slightly aroused. "Oh, I don't know. Considering that Cole had managed to return from the dead on his own, he might be able to teleport to the Realm. After all, we're going to need his help. Especially if Bauer is an Elder, as Leo claimed."
Cole stared back at Olivia. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," he murmured.
"My pleasure." Olivia smiled.
"And what about Paige?" Phoebe asked. She seemed slightly uneasy by Cole's exchange with Olivia. "We might need the Power of Three."
Olivia added, "All we have to do is make sure that we remove the medallions from the darklighters, before we attack them. So, are we all ready?"
Chris frowned at the redhead. "Are you always this bossy?"
She smiled at him. "Yes. Considering that you're from the future, you should know that." Then Olivia stood up and turned to the Russian whitelighter. "Natalia? Ready for that lift." The whitelighter stood up - much to Cole's disappointment. The two females joined hands and disappeared in a swirl of blue lights.
Leo heaved an exasperated sigh and orbed with Piper. Chris turned to Phoebe. "Maybe you should come with me. In case Cole can't reach . . . uh, up there." Phoebe stared at Cole, who shrugged. She pecked his cheek, and grabbed Chris' hand before disappearing.
Cole sighed. He glanced at Darryl, who regarded him with sympathetic eyes. "You mind locking up, before you leave?"
"I don't mind," the detective replied.
Then Cole gave a small nod, as he beamed out of his living room.
END OF CHAPTER 12