Gweneth, Jack and Elise McNeill glanced up from their meals to find Nimue approaching their table with two strangers in tow. "How is everyone?" the demoness greeted warmly. "I hope that you are enjoying yourselves."
The Welsh-born witch returned Nimue's greeting with an equally warm one. "The party is just lovely," she replied. Her eyes focused upon the couple standing behind the demoness. "Are these friends of yours?"
Nimue stepped aside to make introductions. "I would like you all to meet an old friend of mine. Lohdon, who is head of the Fornost Order. And beside him is Miss Adrianne Evans, a friend of his. And a wizard."
"How do you do?" the other daemon greeted. Lohdon looked like a man somewhere in his early to mid forties. Gwen suspected that he might be a lot older - at least between 150 to 200 years. Despite being slightly under six feet tall, he struck a commanding figure with his broad shoulders, light-brown skin, wiry body and dark brown eyes that glowed with authority. "This is Adrianne Evans, a friend of mine."
Lohdon's companion turned out to be a powerful wizard - a lithe blond woman in her thirties with delicate features that any supermodel would envy. She smiled at the McNeills and said, "How do you? Nimue has told us so much about you."
Gweneth recognized the accent, immediately. "You're Welsh, right?"
"Yes. I'm from Holywell," Miss Evans replied.
Nodding, Gweneth said, "Oh yes. Home of the St Winefride's Holy Well. They have a decent football team there, as well." She paused. "I'm from Aberystwyth. Along the coast."
Jack gazed at Lohdon. "I understand that you're head of the Fornost Order? Because that name sounds familiar. Have you ever heard of a daemon named Orcus?"
The smile on Lohdon's lips faded. "Yes. He was part of my order. A witch had killed him some 23 years ago. I'm afraid that Orcus tried to interfere with the witch's business." Lohdon's brows rose questioningly. "You?"
"I'm afraid so," Jack coolly replied. "Sorry for your loss."
A smirk twisted Lohdon's mouth . . . and Gweneth relaxed. "Orcus knew what he was getting into. And he paid the price. It's history."
Nimue added, "I must confess that I had invited Lohdon to the party for a reason. To meet all of you. You see . . . Marbus has told me about your encounters with the Magan Corporation, after that little incident between your daughter, myself and Zamora."
Elise frowned. "Olivia and Cole had told us that this Zamora was part of the Khorne Order. Is that what you wanted? Confirmation that it's connected with the Magan Corporation?"
Both Nimue and Lohdon exchanged uneasy glances. "Possibly," the demoness answered.
"So, you believe as we do," Jack said. "That the corporation's CEO might also be the Khorne Order's leader." He paused. "So, who is the order's present leader?"
Lohdon answered, "As far as I know, Prax. Adrianne," he glanced at his companion, "had confirmed it."
The wizard continued, "At first, I thought it might Loxias. He's an antiquity collector, who's also pretty ruthless. But Artemus, the former leader, had never been fond of him." She glanced around - almost with a desperate air. "Is there a waiter around? I need a drink."
"But what does this have to do with Lohdon?" Gweneth asked. She turned to the daemon. "Why are you so interested in the Magan Corporation?"
A sigh left Nimue's mouth, before she answered, "Surely you must have heard rumors about someone planning to become the new Source."
Elise's eyes grew wide with shock. "Now I understand." She stared at Lohdon. "You're planning to become the new Source."
Lohdon frowned. "How did you . . .?"
"I'm a telepath," Elise quickly explained. She frowned. "But we had also heard rumors of more than one faction competing for the Source's throne."
Nimue explained, "You're right. Lohdon does hope to become the new Source. And I'm one of his main supporters. I believe that Lohdon is strong enough to lead the realm into a new era . . . and intelligent enough not to perpetrate some end-of-the-world scheme, like the one that the old Source had planned over three years ago. Or try to destroy the Whitelighters Realm."
Gweneth inhaled sharply. "So, you had heard about that?"
"There wasn't a daemon in existence who didn't," Lohdon commented. "Some were upset that the Whitelighters had been saved. Others, like myself, were relieved. The destruction of the Whitelighters Realm could have upset the balance in the magical world even further."
Nimue added, "And from what I . . . 'we' know about the McNeill family, you also believe that some kind of balance should be . . ." She broke off, as her blue eyes grew wide with shock. "In Caspiel's name!" she hissed. "What the bloody hell is she doing here?" The demoness shot the McNeills a tight smile and murmured, "Excuse me," before she quickly marched toward one of the refreshment tables.
All three McNeills gazed after the obviously angry Nimue. Gweneth saw a dark-haired woman with pale skin and exotic features standing near the same table in the demoness' path. The woman's tight dress accentuated her curves in a very obvious manner. "Who is that woman?" she asked Lohdon and Miss Evans.
The female wizard smirked, as a Melorian waiter appeared before her. "Someone who obviously had not been invited."
Cole reached the dark-haired woman first and scowled. "Idril! What the hell are you doing here?"
The young demoness graced Cole with a brilliant smile. "Belthazor!" she exclaimed in a bell-like voice. "Is that the way to greet an old beau? I must say that you look as handsome, as ever. How long has it been? Four years? Five?"
"Not long enough, as far as I'm concerned!" the half-daemon retorted. "What are you doing here? Did Mother invite you?"
A tinkling laugh escaped from Idril's mouth. Cole had forgotten how much he hated it. Until now. "Not exactly. I . . ."
"I most certainly did not invite her!" Nimue appeared before the pair. She glared at Idril. "My dear Idril, may I ask what you are doing here?" she demanded in a soft, deadly voice.
To Cole's surprise, Idril became slightly anxious. "Nimue, I realize that I had not been issued an invitation . . ."
"No, you were not! I had only invited 'certain' members of the Order. And you do not qualify as one." Nimue's eyes narrowed slightly. "How did you manage to gain entry to this party, without an invitation?"
Idril paled slightly. "I . . . I had used Melkora's invitation."
"You mean to say that you had stolen . . .?"
The younger demoness quickly corrected her superior. "No, no! You see, Melkora is ill." She paused. "For some reason - I think it had something to do with this witch she had to deal with - she became ill. And she asked me to represent the sect for her." The Thorn Brotherhood - now renamed the Thorn Order - happened to be organized into seven different sects. And Melkora led one of them.
"Melkora asked you?" Cole's voice expressed doubt. "Now, why do I have trouble believing that?"
"It's true," Idril insisted. "If you don't believe me, you can ask Melkora, herself." She smiled at the half-daemon. "Besides, we're old friends, Belthazor. Surely, there's no harm in me showing up to congratulate you on your upcoming marriage?"
A thin smile stretched Nimue's lips. "Then, please get it over with, so you can leave."
Slightly taken aback by the older demoness' hostility, Idril's face turned pink. Then she smiled at Cole. "Well, Belthazor. Congratulations. I hope that you will be happy."
Realizing that his mother had not arranged for Idril's appearance, Cole smiled back. Politely. "Thank you, Idril. And I'm sorry that you won't be able to stay . . ."
"Oh, a new guest?" a fourth voice asked. Cole's heart beat nervously, as Olivia appeared before them.
The dark-haired demoness appraised the redheaded witch with ruthless eyes. She allowed her chest to thrust out slightly, causing great amusement for Cole. "I'm Idril. An old friend of Belthazor's."
Olivia smiled politely. "And a member of the Thorn Order, no doubt. I'm Olivia McNeill, the bride-to-be. You must be pretty high up in the order, to receive an invitation."
Idril opened her mouth, but Nimue spoke first. "Actually my dear, Idril is representing the head of her sect. Who - for some reason - had fallen ill. Unfortunately, poor Idril cannot stay much longer."
"Too bad," Olivia commented. "Business?"
The dark-haired demoness quickly recovered. "Actually Nimue," she said with a winsome smiled targeted at Cole, "that little business matter has actually been taken care of. So, it looks as if I might be able to stay a little longer."
Olivia nodded. "Good. I hope that you'll enjoy the party."
"Oh, I will." Idril gave a cryptic smile and sauntered away.
Cole glared at his mother. "You're going to allow her to stay?"
"What do you want me to do, Belthazor?" Nimue snapped back. "Kill her in front of the guests? Don't blame me for this mess. Blame Melkora for falling ill. Or better yet, why don't you blame yourself for getting involved with Idril, in the first place? I had warned you to stay away from her, years ago. Now if you will excuse me, I have some guests to attend to." She shook her head in disgust and left.
Olivia murmured, "Oh dear. Did I say something wrong?"
A sigh left Cole's mouth. "No, you didn't. None of us had any idea that Idril would crash the party. Besides . . . I hate to admit this, but Mother might be right. Especially about me getting involved with Idril, in the first place. She never did take our breakup very well."
"I'm trying to figure out what you had seen in her, in the first place," Olivia commented in a dry voice.
An amused smile curved Cole's lips. "I hope you're not jealous."
"More like amazed that you would date someone who looks as if she's straight out of a 60s B-movie." Olivia pecked his cheek. "It's nice to know that your taste in females has improved over the years."
Cole linked her arm through his. "I just had a lapse of judgment when I first met her. I was young. I had an itch. She provided the scratch."
Olivia peered at him. "When did this 'lapse' of judgment first occur?"
"At the age of 84?"
Cole shot his fiancée with a quick, dark look. "Eight-four is young for a daemon. Now, c'mon. I need a drink." And he led her toward the refreshment table.
The two Charmed Ones and Barbara McNeill observed the dark-haired demoness mingling among the guests. "So, that's one of Cole's old girlfriends," Paige murmured. "It's a good thing Phoebe never met her. She would have suffered from a massive dose of insecurity. Olivia doesn't seem fazed by her."
"Did you get a good look at her?" Barbara demanded. "Why on earth would Olivia or Phoebe be jealous of her? I know I wouldn't."
Piper added, "It's easy to see why Olivia might not be jealous. Cole didn't seem particularly pleased to see his old girlfriend. And neither did his mom. I wonder why she was invited."
Another voice said, "Good question." The three witches glanced up at a tall, elegant woman with aquiline features. She sat down in one of the table's empty chairs.
Piper frowned at the newcomer. "Do we know you?"
"This is Cole's aunt," Barbara answered. "Marbus' wife."
The woman added, "Mauve Farrell." Paige felt a surge of guilt, at the mention of Cole's uncle, recalling how the Charmed Ones nearly killed him. His wife spoke with an Irish lilt. "Now, I do recall meeting . . . Barbara?" The blond witch nodded. Cole's aunt stared thoughtfully at the Charmed Ones. "And you are . . .?"
Paige hesitated, before she answered. "Paige Matthews. And this is my sister, Piper Halliwell."
"Oh! The Charmed Ones!" Mauve frowned. "Shouldn't there be a third sister?"
Piper replied, "She's out of town."
Mauve continued, "Oh yes, Cole's former wife. You know, it's finally nice to meet you. Cole has told us all about you. Including your sister, Frances."
"It's Phoebe," Piper murmured.
"Really? Then why does Marbus keeps calling her Frances?"
Barbara added, "Do you know anything about the dark-haired woman who was with Cole and his mother?"
The female wizard sniffed. "Oh her. Idril. One of Cole's former lovers. Cheap. Even if she is a daemon."
Piper murmured, "Figures. From the Thorne Order, I presume?"
Paige asked, "And you're a member of the Gimle Order, right?"
Mauve shook her head. "Oh no, dear. Not me. I'm a wizard, not a daemon."
"Wizard?" Paige blinked. "I thought that the Source . . ." She paused. "Oh wait a minute. That's not true."
Barbara stared at the younger woman. "What are you talking about?"
A sigh left the wizard's mouth. "I suppose you had been told that the old Source had wiped out all of the wizards."
"Yeah, by a certain wizard named Aman," Paige added.
Mauve explained, "Aman's order had been wiped out by the Source. Good riddance, if you ask me. Trust me, other wizards still survive." She pointed at an elegant-looking blond woman with killer cheekbones and blue eyes. "You see that woman? She's another wizard. Her name is Adrianne Evans. She's also Lohdon's mistress." Her expression hinted slight disapproval.
"Lohdon?" Piper frowned. "Isn't he the head of some demonic order? The Forost . . . or something like that?"
"The Fornost Order," Mauve corrected. "Yes, Lohdon and Adrianne have been close since the 1960s."
Paige frowned. "She looks as if she had been born after the 60s."
"Well, of course, my dear. Some wizards have a very long life. A lot longer than other mortals. Including witches." Mauve paused. "I had been born in the 1840s." All three witches stared at the older woman, who looked as if she was in her late forties or early fifties.
A masculine voice added, "Wizards are masters at prolonging life. Sometimes I wonder if they want to be daemons . . . just like us." The owner of the voice sat down in the remaining empty chair. "Mauve. It's been a long time." He was a tall and extremely pale man, who reminded Paige of the HARRY POTTER character, Severus Snape. Only this joker sported a haircut.
The wizard gave the newcomer a cool look. "Ascaroth. Is there a reason you had decided to join us?"
"Actually, I had meant to ask if you had seen Nimue, but I decided to join in your little conversation." Ascaroth paused. "I assume you were talking about Belthazor and Idril."
Barbara replied, "As a matter of fact, we were. Do you know anything about it?"
"He should," Mauve haughtily replied, "He's Nimue's personal little minion."
The demon shot the wizard a dark look. "I'm Nimue's personal assistant," he said to the witches. "And yes, I do know about them. Belthazor had first dated Idril, nearly forty years ago. In the late 60s. Nimue was against it, of course."
"Why . . . 'of course'?" Paige asked.
Ascaroth replied, "Idril was one of Raynor's protégées. Some say that she was his mistress on-and-off. Raynor wanted them to marry for some reason I don't know. Nimue, who resented his influence over Belthazor, was against it. I don't think that Belthazor was really that interested in Idril. But he thought that Nimue was trying to interfere, so he got involved with Idril, anyway." The demon snickered. "Much to his regret."
"Meaning?" Piper demanded.
The demon sighed. "Idril is lovely and quite clever. But she is also shallow. And a bit . . . obvious. She had produced and starred in a series of bad B-movies in the mid 1960s." Ascaroth shivered with distaste. "Quite horrible, my dear. She and Belthazor became involved again . . . just four years ago. But that relationship had lasted even shorter. Unfortunately for poor Idril, she was never really Belthazor's style." He smiled at the witches. "Anything else you want to know?"
Barbara replied, "Yeah. Is there someone planning to become the new Source?"
Ascaroth paled even more. "Excuse me. I believe I see Nimue." He quickly stood up and walked away.
"Now that was interesting," Mauve commented. She glanced at Barbara. "I think you may have stumbled upon something."
The two Charmed Ones exchanged uneasy looks, clearly hoping otherwise. The last thing they wanted to face was a new Source. And the fact that the McNeills might play a part in this possibility made them feel even more uneasy.
Logan took a deep breath and stood up. He had remained inside his hotel room, long enough. It was time to complete his assignment. The warlock reached inside his pocket and removed a small vial that contained some kind of yellow liquid. It was poison made from the seeds of a few yew berries.
Then he slipped out of his room and headed toward the hotel's first floor. Just before he reached the Leithian Room, Logan morphed into one of the hotel's four-armed employees. He strode into the ballroom and headed straight toward the refreshment tables, where another blue creature - one with two arms - awaited him.
"There you are!" the two-armed Melorian demanded. He shoved two trays filled with hors d'oeuvres into two of Logan's hands. "Here! Take them and circulate the room. And next time, don't be late!"
Slightly taken aback by the Melorian's demeanor, Logan merely nodded and mumbled, "Yes sir." With the trays in hand, the warlock merged into the crowd. As he passed out numerous hors d'oeuvres to the guess, Logan realized that not one daemon or witch had expressed any suspicion toward him. Or sensed that he was something other than another Melorian waiter. Not even the mighty Belthazor, to whom Logan had served a few hors d'oeuvres.
Realizing that he would be able to circulate among past colleagues and acquaintances without being detected, Logan decided to complete his mission. Just as he turned on his heels to start back, a voice stopped him. "Hold on!" A hand reached for a hors d'oeuvre.
Logan recognized the daemon that had teleported him to this dimension. He smiled. "Are you sure that you want to eat that? I might have saved it for the witch."
The hors d'oeuvre halted less than an inch from his companion's mouth. The daemon quickly dropped it on the tray. "Why haven't you served it to her, yet? You're going the wrong way."
"Because I had planned to poison her in another way," Logan shot back. "When will Belthazor's mother make the announcement?"
The daemon retorted, "What are you talking about?"
"The announcement for the engagement!" Logan sighed. "Haven't you ever attended an engagement party, before?"
"Once! Long ago. Besides, why do you need to know?"
Another frustrated sigh escaped from Logan's mouth. "Because a toast - with a drink - usually follows an engagement announcement. And I plan to make sure that Miss McNeill will drink more than just champagne." Again, he sighed. "Aw, hell! I'll find out from my . . . supervisor. Just be prepared to get me out of here, when I'm ready." Logan walked away before his companion could reply.
"Excuse me, Nimue."
The demoness, who had been conversing with a guest, turned to face her assistant. "Yes, Ascaroth?"
Her assistant continued, "The champagne has arrived for the toast. When do you plan to make the announcement?"
Nimue graciously excused herself from the guest. She drew Ascaroth away to a private spot. "The announcement? Oh, for Belthazor's engagement. Yes, of course." She stared at the guests, scattered throughout the ballroom. "You can start making arrangements to pass out the champagne, now." Ascaroth nodded and walked away. Nimue sighed and returned to her guests.
". . . of the strangest experience in my life," Guldur was saying. "Have you ever experienced any of those moments when you honestly believe that you will die, and your life just flashes before your eyes?"
Olivia nodded. She and the daemon sat at one of the near empty tables in the Leithian Room. Guldur happened to be in the middle of a tale about his encounter with a powerful wizard who harbored information needed by the Fornost Order. "I suppose that last task must have been rather difficult," she said, oozing sympathy. "Getting the orb, I mean."
"Actually, it was a chalice," Guldur corrected. "The Delphi Chalice. It had allegedly belonged to the Roman god, Apollo. The chalice - filled with water, of course - not only enabled a person to see the future and the past, but it can also serve as a mirror to alternate dimensions. I had to kill this . . . python in order to . . . eh, grab it." The daemon sighed. "I never thought I would survive. Especially since my electrokinesis and other powers seemed had no effect . . ."
Cole appeared at the table. "Am I interrupting your conversation?" He regarded both Olivia and Guldur with curious eyes. "So Guldur, boring Olivia with another one of your tales about your exploits?"
The other daemon sneered. "Really Belthazor, I had no idea that you regarded my exploits as . . . boring. But then what can I expect from one of the Source's top assassins."
"Don't worry Guldur," Olivia said, smiling at the daemon. "I found your exploits to be very exciting."
Guldur returned her smile. "Thank you, Olivia. It's nice to find someone who is appreciative of my talents." He shot a dark look at Cole and left the table.
Olivia stood up and turned to her fiancé. "By the way, did he really steal this . . . Delphi chalice for some wizard?"
"Guldur had done a lot of things in his time," Cole replied. "That's why he was one of the deadliest daemons before he became Lohdon's assistant."
As she linked arms with Cole, Olivia shot him a knowing smile. "Was that some kind of warning for me to stay away from him?"
Cole sighed. "I wouldn't even bother. I'm sure that you're quite aware of how dangerous he can be. In fact," he paused and stared thoughtfully at his fiancée, "I have this deep suspicion that you wanted to speak to him. Pick his mind, so to speak. Come to think of it, you've been talking to a good number of my former colleagues. And members of the Fornost Order. What exactly are you up to?"
"If you must know, I was curious about what Guldur's boss, your mother and my parents were talking about."
Cole's eyes narrowed. "And?"
Olivia shrugged. "And nothing. He didn't know what they were talking about. However, I did pick up some interesting information about his background and his past. In fact, I haven't even heard of the Delphi Chalice, until today."
A waiter appeared before the couple and literally shoved one end of the tray in Olivia's face. "Champagne? The hostess will be making an announcement, soon."
Glaring at the waiter, Olivia grabbed the nearest glass. "Thanks," she muttered. Cole grabbed another glass. "I think we better make our way toward the front."
As they moved toward the bandstand, the half-daemon stared at the Fornost Order's leader, conversing with Bruce and Barbara. "Perhaps Adrianne might know."
A woman's voice added, "I believe that Belthazor was referring to me." The voice's owner, an elegant blond woman appeared before the couple. "Belthazor, congratulations." She offered a hand to Olivia. "It's nice to meet you, Miss McNeill. I'm Adrianne Evans." The woman spoke with a soft Welsh accent, similar to Olivia's mother. "A friend of Lohdon's."
Cole added, "And she's also a wizard."
"Oh. Well, uh . . . my name is Olivia McNeill. Nice to meet you." The witch shook the other woman's hand. "I suppose you might know what my parents were discussing with Nimue and Lohdon?"
Adrianne sighed. "I'm afraid not." She cleared her throat. "Damn this dry throat. I've been drowning myself in liquids of every kind, all day. And no, Lohdon had decided to keep me in the dark, as well." Glancing at Olivia's glass, she asked, "Do you mind if I drink your champagne? I've already drunk all of mine." The wizard grabbed Olivia's glass and consumed the champagne in three swallows. She sighed before remorsefully returning the glass to the witch. "I'm sorry about that, but this dry mouth has been bothering me all day. Perhaps I can find another waiter."
"I see one," Cole said. He summoned another Melorian waiter. Who appeared with a tray with more glasses filled with champagne. Cole handed a glass to each female and took one for him. "If I were you, Adrianne, I would wait for the toast."
The wizard smirked at the half-daemon. "Of course. I only hope that Nimue doesn't take long to . . ." She broke off, as her body shuddered violently.
Both Olivia and Cole stared at the female wizard. "Adrianne?" the half-daemon began in a concerned voice. "Are you okay?"
More convulsions followed, much to Olivia's consternation. Then the wizard's elegant face turned deadly white. She clutched her chest and shuddered a few more times, before she collapsed upon the floor.
"Good God!" Olivia exclaimed, as she stared at the fallen woman. "What happened? Is she . . .?"
Cole knelt beside the wizard and examined her for a pulse. Grim-faced, he stared up at Olivia and shook his head. "Nothing. No pulse." He sighed. "I'm afraid that she's dead."
END OF ACT III