How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 3: The more things change
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
It took Francesca a little while to find Cole. Because he had not accepted his calling, she was not able to sense him as she could the other demons. She finally resorted to what she knew of him, his favourite beaches. She should have guessed she thought grimly. The Irish One.
He was sitting on the rock in the corner of the cove staring out into the roaring Atlantic Sea. She orbed in beside him and stood looking down. He looked up at her and turned away to watch the sea.
“Come to tell me what to do“ he asked bitterly.
“Its not my role“ she answered “My role is to guide you, help you understand what you have to do.” He turned his head to glance sideways at her.
“It’s damned nuisance of it“ Cole said softly.
“Made up your mind ?“she asked.
“More or less“ he said “maybe not.”
“There is a certain amusement in watching Belthezor so famous for his rash, reckless courage sit and procrastinate“ she commented.
“I seriously thought about using the cursed thing“ he said casually, conversationally, “to protect my family. My intentions would have been good.”
“There are other ways of protecting your family“ she said. “Your intention would be to use it to fight Arturo and that would be evil.”
“I know“ he said. “So I have to decide don’t I?“
“Its the price of freedom“ she said “because you are also responsible.”
“Its hard“ he said.
“What did you think the hardness of the road would be Cole?“ Francesca asked, “just being alone.”
“I thought I was supposed to be beyond temptation“ he said.
“No“ she said “you are supposed to be able to resist it.”
“If it makes you any happier“ she said “Arturo is finding this waiting around on your convenience nearly as hard as you are.”
“A little happier“ Cole acknowledged with a smile. “Why doesn’t he just go and force Leo to tell him?“
“Because he feels that would be evil. Everything on the spirit winds says its your responsibility. Its going back Cole“ she said, “its only a matter of the righteousness of the way it is returned.”
“And that matters?“ he smiled.
“In the end its all that matters“ Francesca answered. “Cole its your decision“ she said.
He shrugged .
“But you’re out of time. You need to do or not do. Whatever it is you decide, you must decide.” she said.
He looked at her with blue eyes that were almost expressionless. There was silence between them for a few minutes.
“Its not my role“ Francesca said after a little while when he showed no sign of giving her an answer “but if you want me to tell you what to do I will.”
“Yeah“ he said with a tight smile “I think I do.”
“Stop pissing around and go get the fucking Grimoire Cole“ she said with the ghost of a smile “The sooner the balance between good and evil is restored the better for everyone.”
Cole was genuinely shocked at her language. It was so, so Un Francesca. She enjoyed his shock.
“Feel the balance“ she said “Feel it move, Cole it is necessary. And its right the Grimoire goes back. If evil is not strong enough to hold good to account then good fails and evil wins. Isn’t that how you say Phoebe keeps you good. She holds you to account. To be good you have to be held to account. “
“I wish I never knew about the balance“ he spat out petulantly “I wish I never understood it and I wish I never had the damned power to feel it.”
“You should have thought of that before you stuck your nose into the business of Spites without knowing the consequences“ Francesca answered in her best school marm voice.
“You knew about that“ Cole said.
"Of course“ she answered.
“And just how is handing the Grimoire back to evil so Tempus can become even stronger than the Old Source going to restore the balance between good and evil“ Cole asked. “You’re right I can feel it and evil’s winning.” He was bitter.
“Arturo’s been keeping the balance for a long time“ Francesca smiled, “He’s smart he knows a way.”
Cole was silent .
“What do you want Cole“ she said exasperated to make you accept what you already know. “Do you want me to go and find one of the Powers that be, the highest of the realm, get them to come to you and tell you that it the right thing to do?“
“That would help“ he snapped in anger.
Francesca stood up. She looked down at him ,with expression he hated most, the one that told him the naughty boy was about to be sent to his room.
She nodded and orbed away. A little above his head the orbs suddenly changed into a explosion of white and blue light that lit the sky and was so painful Cole had to shut his eyes. When he opened them she was standing a few feet away but the light was softer and he could bear to look at her. Just.
“Do I need to repeat myself“ she asked severely.
He jumped to his feet and gasped “You’re God you’re oh sh“ he saw the glare on her face “Shucks“ he finished lamely.
“Only a lowly one“ she said, as the light faded a little more “Very lowly I’ve only been around a little over a millennium. I was Arturo’s wife’s whitelighter.”
Cole just stood there staring at her. Then he turned away and walked to the ocean edge. Francesca remained where she was watching him lost in time and thought unaware of the water lapping at his feet. She had guided these creatures called to the hardest reckoning of all for a very long time and she knew that they had to be allowed to find the path themselves, she knew always in the end they had to choose.
He finally turned back and walked to her and used his height to tower above her. She held her ground.
“Have you any idea of what an act of betrayal to Phoebe’s family you asking me to do" He demanded. "Those.. Phoebe’s family, they accepted me once, and I betrayed them. Phoebe forgave me because she loved me. I promised them I was not evil" he pleaded "For her sake they forgave me" and his voice cracked "even a little for my sake. And you want me to, you demand. I.. Ask Leo for it.” he said desperately.
“Have you an idea of what an act of betrayal to their own conscience it would be for a good witch or a whitelighter to give the Grimoire back to evil?“ Francesca said “Would you want that for someone you love?“
“So to protect Phoebe’s fam.. to protect my family from the evil of betrayal I have to do it?“ He turned away and then turned back “I have to betray them. Again.. I always, always end it by betrayal and I do it so well.”
“It’s a great power“ Francesca agreed “You do use it well. And it needs to be done soon she added. “Make sure its you who take it she said. Don’t even try and give into the temptation to let them give it to you. Don’t ask for it. It isn’t their responsibility Cole. It isn’t their fight.”
Cole barely nodded, but still hesitated to leave.
Francesca glared up at him “Stop pissing around and go get the fucking Grimoire Cole“ she said.
He looked down at her, hating her, hating what she stood for, hating himself for what he had been and what he was about to do.
“I had already decided“ he said.
“I know“ Francesca answered quietly.
He shrugged helplessly “I.. and“ shimmered away.
Tempus stared morosely into the mirror of time past. He knew his time was nearly over and all he could was wait and watch for the traitor who would destroy him or the faction leaders who would divide and fracture demondom.
He was watching the images of his failure, the faltering and fading images of timelines he had changed and the failure after failure to stop the desecration of the Grimoire, the failure to answer his destiny. The images that lasted longest in those faded lines were the most evil. Tempus sneered. All the power of Evil and still it was not enough for him to fulfil his destiny.
Almost by accident he came again to the images of the last timeline he had changed for Belthezor’s witch and saw again the image of her sister witch lying crying on her bed . Tempus idly wondered what was so evil between a whitelighter and witch in that other timeline that the image was so clear.
And because only the most evil of images were left Tempus started to see things in that timeline that he already changed back that he had not noticed before. There was an image he ignored because it was about the wickedness of mortals and not the battle between Good and Evil. Tempus had no interest in mortals except as captive souls and barter to fuel the battle. Now it fascinated him.
Not long after the Great Immolation, he saw the three Accursed Charmed witches try to protect another witch from a mortal witch hunter. He smiled to himself as the witch hunter attempted to burn the witch, and he saw the Accursed Charmed sisters trying to pull her away, powerless because of talisman’s the mortal had planted. He saw the mortal witch hunter knock the witch who would not be Belthezor’s witch in that timeline down and he saw the witch hunter turn around searching for something on the ground and he saw the gutter mouthed younger sister drag herself away from the fire, forget the witch she had come to save and run and pick up the gun he had dropped
“Looking for this you fucking murderer“ she said and fired.
Tempus saw the shock on the faces of her sisters, he saw them pull the badly burned witch from the fire and he saw the whitelighter husband heal her and turn on the gutter mouth witch to express his horror and he heard the fading voices of the argument they had about the death of the witch hunter.
Tempus heard the gutter mouth witch yell “He was fucking shit Leo. What the fuck. What’s the difference between vanquishing evil with potions and shooting it. Not fucking much.”
“And“ the whitelighter sadly said “If you don’t understand the difference Paige, then perhaps you’re not faraway from evil yourself.”
And his wife stormed “Would you prefer Phoebe was killed?“
“Of course not“ Leo sighed “but if you think what Paige did was right then you’re not.. we have a problem. Maybe Paige is not the only one who is a little to close to evil.”
“How dare you“ said his wife, ice cold “How dare you. If its so evil to prefer my sister alive, then maybe you are just to good to be near me.”
“Piper“ said Leo “That’s not what I meant and you know it. I just think something evil is happening around us. Ever since you vanquished the Seer, it just does not feel ..good.”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous“ Piper said.
“Piper you’re changing“ Leo said. “You’re not the person I knew, you’re rigid, you have no compassion You’re changing and up until now I never understood why.”
“I don’t have to listen to this Leo“ Piper bit out calm ice cold. “You just want me to be the helpless one, you just hate when I don’t have to asked you how to do everything, when I can act for myself." She looked him up and down, hands on hips, eyes bitter. "Just get out Leo. Just get the hell out of my life.”
“Piper, you don’t mean that“ Leo said “I love you, we’re meant to be together.”
“Don’t Leo“ she said unfeeling “Don’t . Just. get out“ she said softly get out.
Leo looking grim orbed away. Tempus watching the argument smiled. He had never considered the possibility of Evil being so close to a whitelighter before.
Tempus with renewed interest watched the images of the already nearly faded timeline. Most of that which was good, always difficult for Tempus had faded had long since gone so now the evil of events was more easily recognised.
It was a morning some three months later and the image was clear. Before the timeline faded, this morning had been lost in the shadows between good and evil but with the good already faded, the evil was clear.
The whitelighter was evidently back with his wife but he was not happy. He was arguing with her and the argument seemed to be about the actions of the witches and their changing role. The whitelighter seemed convinced that the Charmed Ones had lost their way and their calling. Tempus who ha no real interest in the Charmed Ones after the Great Immolation smiled cynically as the whitelighter called them evil, told them they were losing their way and that he blamed it on the book.
The witch his wife told him he was on borrowed time and if he accused them once more, their marriage was finished.
“You’re prepared to lose our marriage than look at what you’ve become, look at where you’re going“ Leo said “Doesn’t that tell you something about the evil around you. Piper,you would never, never have considered that once?“
“I am not evil“ Piper said.
“Maybe not yet“ said Leo “but you’re far from good and Piper its not you, its everywhere. I see it in my charges and I see it in the Elders“ Leo said.
The images faded and Tempus cursed, and then a little while later, there was a shadowy image of the whitelighter and the Charmed Ones.
“Its that bloody book“ he said “Ever since the Seer was vanquished, things are fracturing, you’ve all changed“ Leo was saying again, “Paige murdered some one in the name of Good“
Paige snorted “Fuck you“ and put a distance between her and the whitelighter.
Leo shook his head sadly, pleading almost that they listen to him. ”Phoebe just does not care“ he said. ”Phoebe you’re, you’re only interested in yourself and you ,Piper, you’ve turned into some one I hardly recognise. And don’t tell me its because you’re pregnant. Its not you. Not the Piper I fell in love with.”
“Maybe we just realising out power Phoebe“ said bristling with annoyance. “What effect can the book have?“
“You have no power you’re just totally self centred“ Leo answered “And as for that bloody book. I see it with the Elders, they never stop talking about it, whispering how they could use it to defeat evil, how it can make them stronger.”
Tempus smiled because he knew that no Book of Shadows could ever defeat evil.
Until the smile faded as the Leo in the rapidly fading timeline said angrily. ”You should never have taken that damned Grimoire from the Underworld.”
“You’re crazy“ Piper snarled “We defeated Evil bringing it out.”
“No you didn’t“ he said “You just brought Evil from the realm of the Underworld into this realm“ Leo said “It doesn’t belong here. “
“Don’t be stupid“ said Phoebe “even the Elders seem think it should be used to help Good win.”
“How can Good win using Evil.” Leo said “We should have destroyed it. It does not belong in this realm.”
Tempus,18 months in the future and in a different timeline watching the fading images of a different path roared , suddenly, as all hope was raised in him.
“Well we can’t destroy and we can’t safely put it in another realm and it can’t be taken into the upper realm so what do you want to do with it Piper demanded.
“Take it back to evil where it belongs“ Leo said.
“You’re insane“ Piper snapped almost laughing.
“Fuck you“ said Paige.
“I mean it“ Leo said.
“That thing not only lets them create a new source“ Piper said“ but you remember that wizard he said it had all the lore of the Source. That thing is what made the Source so powerful. Give it back and create another Source with all the powers of last one. Give it back to Evil. It was all for nothing. Hell. Leo we won. We beat Evil, we’re the ones with all the power. Give it back to them, let them win" she snorted "Let them win.”
And the two sisters crowded beside her, both nodding. Ready to fight the whitelighter.
“Piper’s right“ said Phoebe, almost brave.
“Fuck you“ said Paige.
“I didn’t think it was about winning“ Leo said “I thought it was about protecting innocents. Give the damned Grimoire back.”
Piper caught her sister’s arms and the three huddled. “You ever say that again Leo and its the end. This is marriage is hanging on a thread right now and if I thought that you…. if I thought you meant that, its over you understand. If you want to salvage anything from this marriage never ever say it again.”
“This marriage was over a long time ago“ Leo said sadly making a decision. “Do you know the day you took that thing from the Underworld it was over, it was gone. I lost you that day Piper“ he said, “The Piper I love would never be the hard cold..bitch you are right now“. And he gulped.
Piper stared at him. “The Piper I am deals," the coldness of her soul in her voice. "The Piper I am is the one who has is strong. A damn sight stronger than you. You just want me be weak, listening to your advice as if I couldn’t think for myself, hanging on every word, you say.”
“I want you good Piper "Leo said "and its seems it isn’t going to happen while that thing exists.”
Tempus watching the faded mages heard only EXISTS EXISTS EXISTS EXISTS EXISTS EXISTS
“I want the Piper I love back, the one who has a soul and a heart“ Leo said. And orbed.
“He’s just being a prissy little shit“ Paige said.
“Yeah“ said Phoebe. “You’re better without him Piper. Men are just trouble.”
“Shit“ breathed Piper “he’s… he’s going to try and fix it. Paige she yelled "Follow him,. He’s going to get it.”
Piper grabbed Paige’s hand and Phoebe’s shoulder and Paige orbed following the trail Leo left.
Tempus gasping in pain of anticipation leaned almost into the mirror.
The next was difficult to see shadowed out of focus. Good and Evil entwined in a time fold. Only the strength of the evil that was happening, allowed even parts of the image through the distorted time fold and the fading time line to reach Tempus. In a dark and shadowed cavern, in a place Tempus could not recognise the whitelighter reached for a sack sitting on a ledge and with disgust and puritanical self righteousness, in Tempus view, lifted it off the ledge.
He was about to orb when the voice of his wife sneered “You traitorous shit Leo.”
“Better it goes back“ he said “much better, evil has the power, than watch all those I love, all those good around me be corrupted by the evil of this thing. It does not belong anywhere near Good. It corrupts and changes and destroys“ he said.
“You traitorous shit“ Paige snarled.
“Traitor“ whispered Phoebe hiding behind them.
“Better that than watch what it is doing to you“ Leo said. Piper raised her hand and grimly froze Leo still clutching the sack with the magic spell on it, the one which allowed Good to orb the Grimoire.
Piper stalked over to Leo and wrenched the sack from him. She shook it hard and was not so close to evil that she did not shudder as the Grimoire, the lore of the Source of all evil fell at her feet.
Tempus watching reached his hand to the mirror, trying to grasp it, pull t it ,take it to him. Relieved at finally knowing it was within reach and frightened for his treasure.
“What do we do now“ Paige said so overawed she forgot to swear. Phoebe whimpered behind her.
“Just make sure that no one good can touch that thing again“ Phoebe whimpered.
“You sometime hit on the truth little sister“ Piper said and threw the sack on the ground, and with a swipe of her hand disintegrated it. “First thing we do when we get home is get rid of the spell from the Book of Shadows, the one that makes those things safe.” she said.
“What about at that thing“ Phoebe asked nervously pointing at the Grimoire.
“Paige you could orb it into a sack can you orb it out of reach“ Piper asked
“No fucking problem“ said Paige and stealing herself orbed the Grimoire back onto the ledge. It reached the shelf and hung just on the edge , as if it was laughing at the evil it had caused that day,
Paige caught her sister’s hands. She looked at Leo still frozen “Traitorous shit “she said.
Piper unfroze Leo, and as she did all the light and fire left her eyes. Her soul died. Cold, no longer able to feel, Paige orbed her away.
Leo came out of the freeze , and took some time to realise what had happened . He searched in the dark and finally found the Grimoire high on its ledge. He reached for it and was able to grasp it and then as he steeled himself for what he was about to do, Leo was thrown backwards in a flash of orange and red light and he fell hard against the cavern wall, lying there knowing in his failure to find evil in himself and touch the Grimoire, he had failed to rid the realm of evil, he had failed in his marriage, and he had perhaps failed to stop evil destroying all that was good around him.
Tempus in his throne room 18 months later, in a different timeline where evil was about to fracture, laughed with satisfaction, exultant. And only a short time ago he had believed his destiny was beyond his grasp.
As always, as always, the greatest of all the powers of Evil, was the power to corrupt, the power to convert and seduce its enemies. He tried to reach his hand into the mirror but could not reach the Grimoire. But it did not matter Time was on his side.
He called for demons, the sniffers the ones who could follow the whitelighters to and ordered them to follow the whitelighter because sooner than later he hoped, the whitelighter would lead him to the Grimoire.