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)
Cole shimmered into the Manor hall. It was quite late and he half expected the family would be asleep after the long night and day they had spent fighting demons. He called out Phoebe’s name. He had always done that. 3 others living in the Manor but he always called out Phoebe’s name.
“Up here“ she called from the attic. She jumped up and ran halfway down the stairs to meet him. He stood while she flung her arms around him, a long deep kiss. He tasted everything of her, feeling her body against him, slowing down the moment for all he could. Finally he stood back and looked down into large suspiciously damp brown eyes.
“I love you Phoebe“ he said, then he sighed a little “You know loving you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“What did you decide?“ she asked quietly.
“To do what’s right“ he answered “for me.”
“It was the only choice you could make wasn’t it Cole?“ she said.
“You do understand that “he said as a statement not question. He put his arm around her and walked upstairs to the attic with her. Paige was flipping the Book of Shadows and Piper was on the sofa. Leo was prowling around the room. Phoebe sat on her favourite stool and Cole planted himself behind her, hands resting lightly on her shoulder.
Paige was banging each page she flipped “That one“ she said. “And that one. Jeez I didn’t eve recognise that one. And I can’t find anything that looks like the weasels with the nail teeth.”
“What are you doing?“ Cole asked.
“Looking up all the cults and hives and monsters we’ve fought in the last year. Demons“ she added , “demons and monsters coming from everywhere. We are just looking where they all are in the hierarchy, the ones that are coming out now are from the bowels of the Underworld not just Drakianas, but really bad stuff."
“And I don’t suppose you want to even have anything to do with this, stopping these damned cults and hives and rogues“ Piper bitched at Cole.
“It’s not my fight, each of us to our own fight“ he said carefully. At least Piper was making it easy for him. “Tempus is getting weaker by the minute. He’s losing it. He’s losing control. It’s what happens in the underworld when there isn’t a strong leader. When you have a system that depends on the minions being terrified of a despot, if the despot can’t terrify them then the whole place gets shot to…hell.”
“If he’s that damn weak why isn’t he being challenged“ Phoebe asked. “Isn’t that what you always said Cole. They fight until the strongest demon becomes the Source.”
“Because I suppose“ Cole answered “Weak as Tempus is, there isn’t anything stronger down there. You girls made certain of that 18 months ago. “
“So how in the hell do we stop this“ Piper demanded “How do we stop it getting shot to hell up here“
And he was tempted, Cole was so tempted. It would be so easy to let them decide, to tell them now, just ask and doom them to fall. Cole wondered at that point if that was not the attraction of evil, it was always the easiest way, it felt so good.
“I don’t know how the hell you stop it getting shot to hell up here“ Cole answered and hoped Phoebe would not pick up on the lie he implied.
She glanced sideways at him but let it go. “Then I guess evil had better find a way to get a leader strong enough to terrify the minions but not strong enough to threaten good“ she said.
“Well that’s not the way it works“ Paige said. “If Tempus gets the powers of the Source if he can be coronated by swearing on the Grimoire we’re back to where we were 18 months ago.” She looked at Cole standing behind Phoebe his arms resting over her shoulders. He was standing there so he would not have to see her face and eyes when he did what he was about to do.
“And you’re sure there is no demon around, nothing powerful enough to rule the underworld without the powers from the Grimoire“ Phoebe said.
“Nothing we’ve ever heard of“ Leo answered. “And at that level of the hierarchy we would know“ Leo said.
There was silence. Then Paige slammed her hand on the Book of Shadows.
“That’s not really true is it Cole“ she accused.
Cole’s hands pressed on Phoebe’s shoulders to prevent her turning to look at him.
“No that’s not true“ he agreed.
“Are you that strong“ Piper demanded “That you could rule the underworld without the Grimoire.”
“Yes“ he said Phoebe whimpered a little as he dug his fingers into her shoulders. Then in anger he bit “Don’t look at me like that. It isn’t going to happen because I don’t want it to happen. I’ve ruled the underworld, I didn’t like it. I hated it. It wasn’t fun. I will never do it again, I never want it again. I have no intention of it ever happening“ he said as he choked on the words. Knowing what he was going to do.
Phoebe looked at her family. "He’s not lying" she said. To his relief. "I’d know. In fact he’s telling the absolute truth."
“So what“ said Piper “if Cole won’t lead the underworld, the only way anyone can, the only way any other demon down there can is if they can get hold of the Grimoire and they're not getting it. Okay?"
“This can’t go on“ Leo said. “Today was just a warning of what is going to happen." He sighed. "There has to be a way to get some-one coronated. Maybe we can give it to them and then steal it back again he suggested. Evil needs a leader, and the way things are going, almost anything is worth it, to get that leader.”
“Until they start killing witches and spreading evil because of what’s in that book.” Piper said.
Cole shrugged “Tempus hasn’t got it, and in this time line he isn’t going to get it, unless one of you give it to him, is he?“
“He’s not going to get it“ Piper said firmly, as Phoebe and Paige shook their heads. Leo stood still, contemplative.
Phoebe said “Is it safe Leo?“
“Last time I looked.” he said.
“I’ve been having these terrible time feelings all day“ Phoebe said. ““Not really déjà vu more like I keep going back to places I can’t quite remember, can’t quite recognise. Like when you can’t remember the last line of a song and its all you can think about.”
“Could that be more time jumping about is for Tempus trying to find the Grimoire.” Piper said.
“In the other time lines things did not happen in the same order maybe its something that has not happened in this one yet “Leo said“ That’s why you can’t recognise it, no déjà vu.”
“And this time line it’s the right one?“ Piper asked.
“As far as I can tell“ Leo said “Cole you feel anything?“
“As far as I’m aware this is the right one, the same one“ Cole answered slowly being careful to loosen his grip on Phoebe “but with the time line shifts I’ve been in lately its possible that it could happen and I wouldn’t know“ he said truthfully.
“When did you last check the Grimoire Leo?“ Piper asked.
“A couple of days ago“ Leo answered.
“Check it again“ she said.
“It’s in a place where Tempus, demons can’t find it.” Leo said.
“Be careful Leo. Don’t tell me“ Cole said. “You have no idea how much I don’t want you to tell me.”
“I wasn’t going to“ Leo said. “Cole, stay here where the girls know where you are. Just to make sure you don’t find out where it is accidentally, I mean“ he said.
“Sure“ said Cole “Not a problem. Leo“ he said suddenly “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Leo eyed Cole suspiciously but orbed without saying anything.
“What did you mean by that ?“Piper demanded.
Cole stepped a little way from Phoebe “I’m sorry“ he said.
“What“ said Paige and Cole let fly with a fireball that knocked her senseless and before Piper could react he did the same to her. Phoebe in front of him went rigid
"I’m sorry" he said again.
He left Phoebe alone, partly because it was beyond him to hurt her, partly because there was a baby in the house and the rule was she had to be protected ahead of everything else and partly because he was sure Phoebe would not try to call for help to get him.
“I’m sorry“ he said for the third time and shimmered. As he hoped she ran to her sisters, never looking back at him.
Leo knew the sniffers were after him as soon as he orbed. He had an instinct fro them. Whitelighters hated sniffers, nasty little demons, who could not hurt them but were often used by darklighters to track them and other demons who wanted the whitelighters to lead them to witches.
He orbed first to a place in the Pyrenees mountains, another small time warp, just in case Cole did sense where he went because he was genuinely worried that Cole would do something reckless and stupid to protect the witches, like get the Grimoire and give it to Tempus and destroy Phoebe once more.
Leo spent a few minutes in the Pyrenees and then moved to the area near the Bermuda Triangle, another magic nexus and he was certain the sniffers were tracking him and not just after any whitelighter.
He stayed a few minutes and had time to think. That day Leo was sure was just the beginning and the events, the choices over who he was going to save, bringing back all the terrible choices about Prue’s death, the sly enquiries and whisperings he heard amongst the Elders, and even some whitelighters, all led him to the conclusion, not only was it necessary to ensure a new Source was coronated but it was necessary to get that cursed Grimoire from the realm. And Leo knew the only way that would happen was if one of the Charmed Ones or one of his family committed a terrible act of betrayal, and the girls were not going to do it so that meant it was him or Cole.
Leo had seen Cole over the years he had known him, do some very reckless things, and he had no doubts that for all Cole’s protestations he was not far away from doing another. Or becoming the Source again in a futile attempt to protect his family.
If Cole had not been there this morning, Leo did not want to think what he would be feeling right now, or if he had not been there when the Harpies came after Melinda. Cole would protect his family, and so would Leo and if he did it the family would survive, he hoped. Piper may forgive him, may eventually understand and if I those other timelines, the reason he and Piper had broken up was the Grimoire, so be it. The Accursed thing had to go. If the thing tempted Cole to evil again, Leo was very certain the family as he knew and loved them, would never survive.
And suddenly with the sniffers scenting him, for Leo it was easy, take them to the Grimoire and let destiny take its course. Leo orbed to the Andes Mountains.
Cole shimmered from the Manor. He knew the direction Leo went and by this time he had a pretty good idea of what to look for, but it still took him a few minutes and all the power he could summon to sense the time fold in the realm. He smiled grimly. Leo had hidden the thing well. He could only find it because he had been in the Manor and caught the edge of Leo’s movement and even then it was very difficult. No other magic creature would get near it.
As Cole shimmered in, Leo was in the cavern, standing still staring at the shelf where he had put the Grimoire, using the light of one of his orbs to see what was on it. In the shadowy light his face had an odd expression of relief and concern. Cole followed his glance and saw the Grimoire still on the shelf. Cole wondered how Leo good as he was going to move it.
But before he could come out of the shimmer to ask, peculiar dog headed sniffers materialised in front of him. In the light of the fading orb, in that dank dark cavern in the Andes mountains, Cole saw Leo with an odd fearful yet calm smile that did not reach his eyes, quietly point out to the sniffers the Grimoire hanging at an absurd angle of the ledge.
The four sniffers began yapping like excited mongrel dogs and as one moved to reach for it, Cole came out of his shimmer.
Leo he sighed and with a quick movement of his hand he sent a fireball in four different directions and the sniffers disintegrated in an spiral of ugly green goo.
“It was inevitable wasn’t it?“ Cole said softly. “One of us was going to betray the Charmed Ones, everything they fought for, and try and return the damned thing.”
“Sniffers just caught the scent of my orbs“ Leo said diffidently.
“You’re smarter than that Leo“ Cole answered a little amused.
Leo turned to face Cole “I’m not surprised" he said 'I’m really not surprised, but I can’t let you take it. This time, its not your fight. I don’t believe it’s not your responsibility.”
“Ahh" said Cole calm, cold, “That’s where we differ. I believe it is .. my responsibility, my legacy, my business. Been told it ..emphatically“ he said with a soft smile.
“Girls may never forgive you for it Cole“ Leo said “You’ve come to far. Don’t go evil again.”
“From what I saw in those other timeline, they were not very good at forgiving you for it Leo“ Cole said. “Anyway“ he added “It looks like there’s nothing to protect you against it, you can’t move it. You’re to damned good Leo“ he said. “Or at least you will be until you really decide to move it.”
“My problem“ said Leo “I’m going to try and stop you.”
Cole nodded “I know“ he said “Fight me for it Leo. Try and stop me. I want you to.”
Leo spun a shaft of orbs at Cole, and it all but skewered him. He spun it back at Leo and using the lightning power to beat him to the ground, holding him down with more. Leo managed to get a few more orb shafts at Cole. Leo fought hard desperate. Cole was not surprised because he knew how hard good could fight and Leo was fighting for something he cared about, more than just the possession of Grimoire. His family.
But Cole was the most powerful creature in the realm, nearly, and Leo finally collapsed under the assault of lightning power. Cole stared down at Leo’s unconscious form at his feet.
“For a pacifist you did pretty damn good Leo“ he said. “Thank you. It means…. I’m grateful.”
And Cole turned and reached up to take the Grimoire, and he could not touch it. As his fingers went near it, it moved back and the pain shattered through him. He tried again and this time the pain was almost agony and the book shot further away. Cole became aware of Leo groaning and the irony of the situation was not lost on him. The former coronated source of all evil, who had betrayed his family, forsaken his love, beaten his brother in law ex brother in law unconscious in order to steal back the Grimoire was to good to touch it.
Francesca orbed from the Irish beach to the house on the Corinthian Gulf. She was less than pleased to see Proctor calmly drinking Arturo’s brandy.
“Well“ said Proctor in a flat disinterested voice.
“Cole has gone to retrieve the Grimoire“ she said.
She saw the relief on Arturo’s face and a smile that could have been very close to a smirk on Proctor’s.
“So …good of Belthezor to finally decide“ Proctor murmured. “And how is he going to get the whitelighter to tell him where it is.”
“I have no idea“ Francesca said almost snakey. “He’s clever. He’ll find a way.”
“Without a conflict with the Powers of Good“ Proctor asked.
“That would be evil“ Francesca said.
“More’s the pity“ answered Proctor.
“You had better go“ Arturo said to Proctor. “Even if Belthezor has not answered his calling, three Guardians together….“
“Yes“ said Proctor “I am gone.”
“More’s the pity“ said Francesca “A pleasure Proctor.”
“All mine“ murmured Proctor as he shimmered away.
Francesca sighed and then glared at the still moving air where Proctor had shimmered. “You have it“ she asked.
“Yes“ Arturo said “Therold gave it to Proctor.”
“So“ said Francesca.
“So“ agreed Arturo, “Now we once again wait on Belthezor’s convenience“ and he walked over and poured both of them a glass of port.
Francesca accepted it. She opened the glass doors to watch the view of the Gulf below. “I disagree with Proctor“ she said “I prefer the sea to the mountains.”
“I know my dear“ Arturo answered.
In the cavern in the Andes mountains Leo was groaning and Cole realised he had to do something before Leo came awake. He stripped his jacket off and spread it on the floor and tried to use the laser power knock the cursed book to the ground. He fell back against the wall and started to laugh almost hysterically that he had come so far to fail because he was good. He thought of the pain and the fight with evil, and the terrifying agony of the time when the old Source had possessed him, he thought of the demon Kutan and the pleasure of his death, and he stood up and using the laser power again pushed the Grimoire off the shelf onto his jacket.
“Who says no good comes out of evil?“ he sighed.
Summoning every last vestige of his demon inheritance and the darkness of the powers he pulled from the wasteland he was able to pick up the jacket like a sack, and gasping in agony he shimmered away to the house over the Corinthian Gulf, and every the second of the shimmer felt like a hundred years of unremitted torture.
He shimmered onto the balcony of Arturo’s house, shaking with pain and gasping. He dropped the jacket on the floor and the dark, cursed Book fell out. Cole backed away, breathing the fresh deep air of the Gulf, taking in the scent of the pine trees and the cold cleansing crispness coming off the snow on the high hills.
“Took you long enough“ Arturo said standing at the glass doors to the balcony. He walked over to the Grimoire lying in the middle of his balcony and picked it up.
“Heavier than I remember“ he said.
Cole who had his back pressed against the balcony rail as far away as he could get from the book was ready to fight “I was in agony touching that thing“ he said.
“You think I’m not“ Arturo answered smoothly and to Cole’s surprise the old demon was visibly paling and there was sweat beads forming on his temple and around his mouth and his eyes were taking a glazed look.
Francesca, hair in a ponytail, her whitelighter hood down was curled in one of the chairs in the room off the balcony. She slowly moved away from Arturo, as far away from the book as she could get.
“Disgusting thing“ she commented to Cole who had come into the room, moving around the edge of the room, keeping his distance.
He watched while Arturo put the Grimoire on a wooden antique glass topped table, then becoming paler by the second, walked across the room to pick up a sheaf of papers that Proctor had left by the chair he sat in. Arturo returned to sit in front of the book, opened it and began to read, Cole watched him with fear and anger and would have raised a fireball at him, if Francesca had not gently touched his hand as warning. Arturo kept calmly turning the pages, not unaffected by the evil in the book but in control, beyond it.
And only then did Cole realise the incredible power of the human heritage, why both good and evil were so frightened of the half breed monsters, evil bred to be its slaves. They and they alone had the power to defeat magic, any magic.
“That last old bastard of a Source learnt a few things in his time“ Arturo said to Francesca. Arturo glanced at the papers beside him and then put his hand on the edge of the dark parchment of the Grimoire and with the full strength of a thousand year old demon who knew the extreme power of his humanity ripped out a page and put it on the glass top table, then raising his hand burnt it to a crisp. He flipped the pages and ripped another and burnt it and another and another while Cole watched in fascinated disbelief
“What are you doing“ Cole demanded.
Arturo looked up from his work. “I’m restoring the balance between good and evil“ he said “Evil needs a new Source, something has to be coronated.” He ripped and burnt another page. “Tempus, any damned demon floating around down there“ Arturo said makes no difference. “But who ever it is they can create their own lore. The legacy of the Old Source is over. His time and his power are finished.”
Cole just gaped at him, to Francesca’s amusement.
Arturo looked up. “What“ he said to Cole “You want a cleverer solution. Why do you think the answer has to be complicated?“ He said. “You do not as yet have true wisdom if you think that.”
“No I don’t suppose I have“ Cole said fighting down hysterical laughter. He watched in fascination, as Arturo with deft movement removed all the spells and lore of the Old Source from the Grimoire, using the list that the lore master Guardian Therold had spent a century creating in order to ensure the balance between Good and Evil was maintained.
Arturo looked up from his work, sweat beads on his face becoming rivulets. “If you have to do this when the next source takes power in about 500 years time and I pray it will be you and not me“ he told Cole “remember you have to destroy one page at a time or else you risk the magic merging and reconstituting twice as powerfully.” Arturo continued ripping until the book was less than half its size as Cole watched mesmorised.
When Arturo finished Cole asked “What now?“
“We give it back to Tempus of course“ said Arturo.
“How?“ said Cole.
“My business not yours“ said Arturo “That’s how we work Belthezor.My concerns are mine, Your concerns should you chose to follow your destiny will be yours.”
“And the order Go get the Grimoire.” Cole asked nastily.
“Was my concern.” .Arturo said grinning.
“So you live a thousand years just to rip some pages out of a book?“ Cole asked, shaking his head.
“Not just for that“ said Arturo “but its one of the reasons. I should have listened to my own wisdom“ he told Francesca. “The questions are straight forward enough. Why did I think the answers were complicated. All those complicated plans to reconstruct it. Tempus had the answer Find it.” Arturo laughed “Then he complicates it, turns times lines around to find it when all he had to do was sit and wait.”
“I know“ Francesca said glaring at Cole “The answer for us as was to wait on the convenience someone who knew where it was. I told you time was on our side“ Francesca added.
“You will take it back?“ Cole asked.
“I will see it is returned“ Arturo answerd. Then he looked seriously at Cole. “Belthezor“ he said “Your legacy is completed The underground is off limits to you now and should you choose your destiny, you’ll know that . You have no business in the lower realms.”
Cole looked inclined to argue.
“Another Guardian has business there, it’s his responsibility“ Arturo said, “Your legacy is ended. It is the realm of the Source, Tempus or whichever minion of hell decides to take control. Whatever happens down there is whatever happens. All we need is a strong leader there, whoever is chosen, we interfere in the affairs of demons no more than we interfere in the affairs of witches. Unless the balance is in danger. The underworld is no longer your legacy.”
And the most overwhelming sense Cole had from that order was relief.
“What is your choice Belthezor?“ Arturo asked “Your destiny or….“
“I don’t want to be a Guardian“ Cole said slowly.
“I see“ said Arturo.
“I haven’t decided“ Cole said hurriedly.
“I see“ said Arturo “How do you do it Belthezor?“ he asked, slamming the Grimoire shut.
“Do what?“ said Cole innocently.
“Betray so well when you lie so badly“ Arturo asked.