Cassandra squirmed as she was pulled away from Jacob's prone body. "Let me go!" She slammed one pointy elbow into her captors' gut and was able to move about two steps closer before being pulled back once more.
"Not a chance, Librarian." Asteria was sprawled across the throne in all her dark haired, pale skinned beauty. "You and your… friends? Associates? Fellow Librarians? Whatever you'd like to call them, they're becoming boring. And I don't like boring. Be more interesting."
Jacob groaned a little as he began to come around, the movement drawing all the eyes in the room. "I don't like this one," The goddess announced. "Knock him out again. His coarse recitation of my beautiful language is grating."
Despite Cassandra's protests, Jacob was dealt another blow to the back of the head. Blood began to drip down his neck. Cassandra began to protest louder. "I'll stop fighting, I'll stop – just let me – let me see him! You're going to kill him!"
Asteria waved a negligent hand. "Oh darling, I'm not going to kill him. The Library would cause all sorts of issues for me if I killed him. So what if a couple of screws get knocked loose? Fitting punishment for what he said to me."
"He was complementing you!" And wasn't that galling for Cassandra to see. Her - friend? Librarian companion? What were they, after everything – Jacob flirting with a woman in traditional Greek robes when they were meant to be on a case. Jacob following her when they were meant to stick together. Jacob being flung on the floor of the throne room, bruised and bloody.
"And his complements weren't invited." The goddess growled.
(She had been pursued by enough men – gods – who wouldn't respect the word 'no' to go through it again. Not in this time, a time of new power. Not in this place, which she had made her own.)
"Now," She slouched down further in her seat, plucking a pomegranate from the bowl beside her, "Entertain me until my guards find the rest of your people. If I am sufficiently amused, I might let you go with minimal damage."
Cassandra swallowed her instinctive protests. Just stall for time. Ezekiel's still out there. And Eve will find you. You just need to stall. "Is there something you want to hear?"
"Tell me why you of all people have been chosen as a Librarian."
Deep breath in. "Well, I guess it started when I got a letter. I never usually get letters, and especially ones like this…"
She didn't know how long she'd been talking for before being interrupted. The doors to the throne room were flung open and two guards entered, dragging Ezekiel between them. "We found this one trying to rig the outer security post to explode." One reported.
"Hmmmm…" The goddess hummed around the rim of her goblet. "Another male Librarian. He'll probably be as annoying as the last one…"
"No!" Cassandra burst out. "He – he's mute! In the presence of women! Selective mutism! His – His brain chemistry – he has a bad past with women and – and he can't speak around them! If he even tries, he squeaks!" She ignored the glare being directed her way. Ezekiel could ream her out later if they all got out of this.
Asteria looked at him in interest. "Mute around women? That is interesting…" She stood from her throne and circled him. "Now why would the Library choose you?"
Ezekiel shrugged, and was immediately slapped. A cut opened across his cheekbone from her nails. "Even without a voice you can still give me cheek." She turned to her guards. "Restrain them. Restrain them all."
She returned to her throne as they were lined up before it. Even Jacob's hands were tied behind his back, propped up against Ezekiel's shoulder. It spoke of his worry when the Australian didn't even try to shrug him off.
"So," Asteria began, "What to do with you. I can't kill you – the Library tends to frown upon it, and it always gets its just desserts… Perhaps I should sell you? I believe there's a certain Brotherhood that would be very interested in you…" Whatever she decided was interrupted by the faint sound of an explosion. Gunshots.
There was silence. Then there were screams. Cassandra remembers the data collected by Ezekiel – Fifty people in total on the island. The whole place was surrounded by a ward (They were able to get in with the assistance of Jenkin's invention – one-use ward breakers). Ten servants (groundskeeper, handmaidens, cook, maid), ten personal guards (who rarely left the goddess's side).
There were fourteen gunshots. They had been getting closer.
Asteria turned to a guard, "Go and see what is going on. Now." (There were five more gunshots even as she spoke). The man slipped through the door. As he began to close it, he jerked and fell back clutching his thigh. Blood slipped through his fingers and stained the floor.
The goddess stood from her throne. "What is going on?!" The silvery gems scattered across her robes began to glow faintly. "Someone find out what is happening! Now!" More guards ran out the door. More gunshots. Five more gunshots.
Cassandra stared at the door. "Baird?" She whispered.
Black hair whipped around. "Baird?" She parroted. "The Guardian. You forgot the Guardian!"
One more gunshot.
A man fell through the open door, blood spilling from his side. "Go-goddess." He croaked. The courtyard outside was empty.
Claw-like hands grasped Cassandra's shoulders and pulled her upright. Behind her Asteria looked around wildly. "Find the Guardian. Find her!"
Three of the guards had barely taken a step before they were also gunned down. The shots were deafening in the closed area of the throne room. There was quiet. The only sound was the sobs of the men holding their wounds. Ezekiel and Jacob were forgotten by the base of the throne.
Asteria pulled Cassandra with her as she turned in frantic circles. "Show yourself," she cried, "Show yourself or I end your little Librarian right here!" Those claw-like fingers pressed against her throat. When she swallowed, she felt a sharp pain as they drew blood.
A tap on glass.
High above the throne was a giant stained-glass window. It depicted Asteria on the run from Zeus and Poseidon, her transformation into island and quail, her assistance in Apollos' birth. The centrepiece was Asteria herself, in robes of night-blue speckled with stars. One pane had been removed, and in the gap stood Colonel Baird.
Cassandra has never seen her like this before. She was still wearing the same clothes (military green t-shirt, long cargo-pants, army boots) but there was something different. Maybe it was the blood that stained her shirt. Or the blackened skin on her arm (Her gun was being held in her non-dominant hand – Cassandra hadn't realised that she was ambidextrous). But as the Colonel made her way down to ground level, she could tell that it was none of that. It was the look in her eyes.
Cassandra kept forgetting that Eve was a soldier once.
"So, this is the infamous Colonel Baird. My guards have mentioned you." Even though her voice was even, Cassandra could feel Asteria trembling against her back. "They call you a survivor. That Death must hate you, with the amount of times you've escaped him."
"I think you'll find that the stories are overrated." Colonel Baird held her gun confidently. "Let Cassandra go Asteria. I don't want to shoot you."
The goddess tugged the Librarian closer to her chest. "I don't think so Guardian. This pretty young thing is the only reason you haven't shot me yet. I say that you should let me go, and I'll take… Cassandra, was it? I'll take Cassandra with me as insurance."
But when she tired to take a step, the gun was trained on her. "Try it and we'll see if a goddess can heal from a bullet to the skull."
"Uh, uh, uh! Are you willing to sacrifice your Librarian for it?" She glanced to where Ezekiel and Jacob were still tied up by her throne. "Though you do have two spares." Back to Colonel Baird. "Are you willing to do it Guardian? Killing Cassandra? And for what? For my gems?"
Asteria took one hand away from Cassandra's neck and tugged a silvery jewel off her dress. "The Gems of Asteria… They can protect, attract, distract… Is this what you want Guardian?" She nodded to the Colonel's blackened arm. Now that she was closer, Cassandra could see the blood and burnt redness. "I see you've already had an encounter with the ones I planted on the castle border. Or was it one of my guards who got you?"
Colonel Baird sent a small grin to Cassandra. Apparently, her worry was more obvious than she thought. "I'm afraid you don't have a front gate anymore. I was worried when my Librarians never reported back."
"How unfortunate for you. Now, you are going to let me leave. If I'm feeling nice, I'll let Cassandra go at the nearest port. Otherwise I might make her into my handmaiden." The hand on her neck shifted to grasp her chin, tugging Cassandra's head back to rest on her shoulder. The gem was held between forefinger and thumb and pressed into the hollow of her cheek. "She's pretty enough, but I'd have to mark her as mine."
Eyes flickered to the nearest guard – a star-shaped brand stood out starkly against his tanned skin. Asteria followed her gaze and grinned. "Yes, all my guards were branded into my service. There's another reason that you shouldn't shoot me Guardian. Those men are mine now. Kill me, and you kill them… if you haven't already."
Colonel Baird raised a brow. "Who said anything about killing you? Cassandra, do you trust me?"
She nodded against the iron grip Asteria had on her chin. Of course she trusted Eve.
The Colonel's eyes sharpened. In a moment, she aimed, fired, and moved forward. Asteria screamed in Cassandra's ear. A spray of warmth hit her shoulder and cheek. Eve's hand grasped her shoulder and pulled her forward. Nails scratched her neck. Asteria fell back.
Cassandra couldn't think. Her face was pressed against Eve's shoulder, an arm banded across her back tightly. She found herself clinging to her Guardian. She didn't want to look back. "Is she…" She swallowed. "Is she alive?"
"Straight shot to the shoulder," Eve said quietly. "Through and through shot. But she's not injured anymore anyway. Look."
She still didn't want to look. But the arm around her turned her, and on the ground wasn't a dead body like she'd feared, but a statue made entirely out of silvery crystal. "The Gems of Asteria," Cassandra found herself saying, "Imbued with the protective, definite will of the Star Titan, who ran from the lustful gods and turned her very body into a sanctuary for the titan Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis."
Eve carefully turned her away. "Mission complete. Jenkins set us up a new door once I took down the ward or whatever it was – if you and Ezekiel want to take Jacob to the archway just outside, I'll finish everything up in here."
Cassandra was very fine with that. Now that Asteria was… dealt with, the groans and sobs of injured men seemed very loud. Ezekiel stayed quiet when she untied him, just grabbing Jacobs arm and pulling it over his shoulder. She kept her eyes averted as they manoeuvred their way through the open door – kept her eyes away from the prone guards, the pools of blood. Everything seemed to blur after that.
She came back to herself an indeterminate time later, to the sting of hydrogen peroxide and Eve's apologetic eyes as she cleaned the wounds left by Asteria's nails. "You've come back to us Red?" She asked quietly.
"Yeah," Cassandra croaked. "It's just – today was – intense."
Eve nodded. "Intense is… one word for it." The cotton pad moved to her scraped wrists, and a hiss slipped out. "Sorry, sorry, sorry… I'm almost done."
Movement caught her attention, and she saw Jacob make his way over. Light bandages were wrapped around his wrists, and another wrapped around his head. "Jacob! You're okay!"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Heard I missed out on all of the action though."
Cassandra flinched. The action… the gunshots, the blood, the warmth as it…
"You shouldn't be up and walking around Stone. Go sit back down." Eve grasped Cassandra's hands as Jacob took the dismissal for what it was. "Cassandra, look at me. Focus on me."
She couldn't. Her eyes were blurring. Her head was hurting. Everything kept running through her mind. She could smell copper.
There was warmth. Around her. Against her head. Against her back. She could hear a heartbeat. Eve's heartbeat. She was talking. "—Just come back to me Cassandra. You're not there anymore. I've got you. You're safe. You're okay Cassandra."
"What – Why—"
"You've just had a bit of a panic attack Cassandra." Jenkins. Jenkins was speaking. "I'll go and get you some water." When did Jenkins get here?
"He came over when he saw that something was wrong." She'd asked that out loud. "No, but you didn't have to." Eve was sitting next to her on the cot, pulling Cassandra tight against her side. "Feeling a little better?"
"Yeah," Cassandra breathed, "Everything just kinda hit me at once."
A hand rubbed her back. "That happens when you get violently rescued from what was essentially a hostage situation. And I'm sorry. I should have found a different way to resolve things."
She looked up at Eve in alarm. "No, you did fine! I'm just over-reacting!" She could hear the guilt in the Colonel's words.
"You're not over-reacting Cassandra. You've never been in that kind of situation before. You've never seen me in that kind of situation. It is going to be overwhelming." Eve squeezed the younger girl tighter.
Jenkins returned with a glass of water. "I see you're feeling better Miss Cillian."
"Yes Jenkins, thank you." She drained the glass in a few gulps – she hadn't realised that she'd been so thirsty. As she went to hand it back, she caught saw it.
"Eve!" She exclaimed, "Your arm!" It was covered in silvery, vaguely green tinted paste. The bare skin on her hand at the top of her arm were a sunburned pink. Thinking back, she could remember the blackened burns the Colonel had shown up with.
"It's alright Cassandra. I was just a little hasty getting the front gate open." Eve grinned sheepishly. "It looks a lot worse than it is."
Jenkins gave her a baleful stare. "Yes, next time you could lose your arm, if you insist on breaking down a magical ward stone with a tree branch."
Cassandra stared at her in horror. "You what?!" A ward stone… with a tree branch…
"I did what I had to. I didn't lose my arm. I'm fine." Eve pointed at the wounds under her chin. "You, however, could get a very nasty infection if you don't keep those cuts clean. I'll monitor them, but you'll need to take it easy for a few days, and maybe stick to baths or something. I don't want your bandages getting wet."
"A ward stone with a tree branch Eve?! Why didn't you use Jenkins' ward breaker?1"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, a ward stone with a tree branch. It worked, the ward-breaker didn't. I'm fine, you're fine, Jones and Stone are fine. We survived, Asteria is now safely locked away, and all of her guards have been treated and are getting rehabilitated with the assistance of some of my old contacts."
"The guards? They're… alive?" Cassandra didn't really mean to sound so tentative, but all the blood…
"Yeah, they're all alive. I aimed to wound, not kill. And I got them treatment in time. They'll recover." Eve gave her one final squeeze before letting go and standing up. "Just like you will. Now you should have a nap – I'll be back with some dinner for you all later." She spun around to point at Jenkins, "And you will join us. I'll make sure it's something nice."
And then the Colonel was striding off deeper into the Annex, probably to check on the others.
"She was very worried when she returned," Jenkins confessed quietly, passing her a blanket. "Wouldn't let me see her arm until Mr Stone had been seen to. And even then, Mr Jones had to threaten her with calling Mr Carson and letting him know what was going on."
"I see… Eve really cares about us, doesn't she?" Before today, Cassandra had always known, peripherally, that Eve had been a soldier. That she'd been in a warzone. But everything that had happened today, with all the guards, and Asteria, and that final shot… It really drove the fact home.
"How did Mr Jones put it? Colonel Baird is a… mama Baird?"
"Yeah…" Cassandra wiggled down further under the blanket. "She's a real mama bird…"
Because the Guardian protected the Librarians. But who would protect her?
This is also my contribution to the Writing Month 2019, prompt 2: Hurt/Comfort (A day late, but I only found out about it today, so…) Because this fandom needs more BAMF!Eve. Not much JenkinsEve bonding, but there's some EveCassandra bonding, which is nice. Hope you enjoyed it! Check me out on Tumblr Celebrimbor97