"I don't like it!" growled Jake darkly after Baird finished briefing the two returning Librarians about what had happened in their absence with Cassandra and Jenkins. Eve sighed quietly to herself; she wasn't surprised that the taciturn historian was unhappy about all of the magic that was about to be flying around the Library soon. She wasn't even sure yet if she liked it, either.
"We don't know anything about that Cauldron except what Cass has told you herself—under the influence of the Cauldron itself, it sounds like," he continued sourly. "How do we know this isn't gonna be another situation where she gets suckered in by an artifact and talked into doin' somethin' stupid, huh? Like she did with the Heart of Sorrow?"
"Jake, come on!" Eve chided the scowling Stone. "Cassandra isn't stupid! She was tricked, yes—but not because she's stupid! The Stone knew she was susceptible to its magic and it used her!"
"Yeah, whatever," scoffed Stone in disgust. "And so what makes you think this artifact isn't usin' her, too, huh? You tell me that!"
"Dude, why are you being so harsh on Cassandra?" asked Ezekiel, giving Stone a questioning look. "I mean, I know you don't like magic…"
"I don't like magic 'cause I don't trust magic!" Jake shot back. "And I don't like that we seem to be relyin' on it more and more around here lately! I don't trust magic, I don't trust Cassandra, and I sure as hell don't trust Cassandra with magic!"
"You still don't trust Cassandra? You're seriously still rubbing her face in that whole Serpent Brotherhood thing?" demanded Jones caustically, referring to Cassandra's betrayal of the Library when they first joined six years ago. "The same guy who brings a reporter into the Library and then expects her to keep her mouth shut about it—that guy? Really?"
"Why don't you just shut up, Jones!" snapped Jake, at the same time raising his fist and grabbing for him as if to punch the Australian.
"Enough!" shouted Eve, glowering at the two young men. "Just stop it, both of you!" She turned to address Jacob first.
"Look, I get it that you still have some issues with the whole magic thing," she said in a calmer voice. "But the fact is, Jake, magic is simply a part of who Cassandra is. And that's not just me saying that; Jenkins says that. Charlene and Judson said that, too. She can't stop being…'magical' any more than you can stop loving art or architecture or history or being from Oklahoma!"
"I've never killed anybody with a I.M. Pei building, though," Stone answered. "I've never almost caused the world to end with a Michelangelo!"
"Neither has Cassandra!" Baird countered her voice hardening in reaction to the man's stubbornness. "Cassandra has this magic inside of her and there's no removing it. Therefore, she has to learn how to use it, Jacob; she has to learn how to control it, so that she doesn't hurt herself or anyone else! She has to; she has no other choice, because it's not just going to go away!" The Librarian made a wordless sound of frustration.
"Just seems like there has to be another way!" he complained, tipping his chair back. "Somethin' that doesn't require using an artifact like this damn magic Cauldron!" He let his chair fall forward to land on the floor with a thud as he leaned over the table.
"Listen—I know who the goddess Ceridwen is, and believe me, she ain't nothin' you want to mess around with!"
"Why not?" Eve pounced on Jake's declaration; she wanted to find out if the Librarian's knowledge jibed that of Jenkins. Stone snorted and sat back in his chair.
"She was an ancient Welsh goddess of transformation and rebirth," he said.
"I thought she was a goddess of knowledge and magic?" Eve countered. She was getting a bad feeling in her gut. Jake looked directly into the Guardian's eyes.
"Yeah, she was—the kind of knowledge that can only be discovered through dyin'!! She was also a goddess of death and the Underworld, and the kind of magic she possessed was the kind related to death!" Eve definitely didn't like the sound of that.
"That's not what Jenkins said," she replied, suspicious. "He didn't say anything about death or the underworld!"
"Well, maybe that's 'cause he's got a huge blind spot where Cassie's concerned?" he smirked sarcastically. "You know he'll do anything for her, lets her get away with stuff that he would have me and Jones's heads for if we tried it. Maybe he's got a big enough of a blind spot that it's dangerous…"
Eve sucked in a quiet breath as she considered Stone's words. She hadn't realized that Jake was still so mistrustful of Cassandra. She could understand his attitude early on, just after what happened with the Serpent Brotherhood, but by now, years later, he shouldn't have such high walls up.
And what about Jenkins? Had he intentionally left out some crucial intelligence about this goddess and her cauldron in order to help Cassandra? Jake was right when he said that the immortal had a blind spot where his wife was concerned, but was it really so big that he would allow it to put the Library and everyone else in danger? She had a hard time believing that. Nevertheless, she made a mental note to have a little chat with both men later; right now, she needed to make a decision.
"Okay, you know what? It doesn't matter," she said briskly, putting on her military commander's face. "Stone, I get it that you don't trust Cassandra, and that you don't trust Jenkins where Cassandra is concerned. What I want to know is: Do you trust me?" She leaned forward in her chair and gazed intently at the historian, waiting for him to answer.
Stone fidgeted in his seat as the silence dragged on and her eyes never left him. Finally, he coughed nervously and threw himself back into his chair.
"Yeah, yeah, I trust ya!" he muttered sheepishly. Baird smiled.
"Good," she said quietly. "Because if you can't trust Cassandra and you can't trust Jenkins, I need for you to be able to trust me."
"'Cause you trust Jenkins and Cassandra," he finished for her. Eve nodded.
"Exactly!" The Guardian turned to look at Jones. "So what about you? Do you have any trust issues I need to know about?" The thief shrugged carelessly, a roguish half-smile on his lips.
"Me? I don't trust anybody, except for Ezekiel Jones, of course!" Eve and Jacob rolled their eyes and groaned to themselves.
"Perfect!" sighed the Guardian, getting up from the table. "Then let's go see how the others are doing."
Eve led the two Librarians back to the Celtica Wing and ushered them inside. Jake and Ezekiel, never having been in this particular part of the Library before, stopped dead just inside the room and gawked, awestruck at the monumental rings of stone that dominated the room.
"Is that…?" Jake started to ask, pointing at the henge. Eve cut him off.
"Stonehenge, yeah," she confirmed flatly. "The real one. Come on." She grabbed his outstretched arm and began dragging him toward the ancient landmark.
"But…then what's out on Salisbury—?" the stunned historian tried to ask.
"Fake," she answered matter-of-factly. She was far more interested right now in what Jenkins and Cassandra had done to the area around the altar stone. The low flat stone was now elaborately dressed with rich brocade cloths, candles and fresh leafy limbs cut from various trees. There were two huge bronze braziers for burning incense flanking the stone, and the Guardian thought she even spotted what looked like a drum on the floor, leaning against the altar. The whole thing had a vaguely pagan-medieval-Celtic flavor.
"Sightsee later, Stone; right now we have work to do." Eve brought the two men to the edge of the stone circle and stopped. Inside the henge, Flynn was carefully stacking thin sticks of aromatic cedarwood into the braziers. Cassandra and Jenkins stood off by themselves; the Librarian had an even more spellbound look in her glassy blue eyes by now. Jenkins had one arm loosely around her thin shoulders, murmuring what Eve assumed were words of assurance, a worried look on his face. Eve moved around the outer ring of stones until she standing as close to Flynn as she could without actually entering the henge itself.
"What is all of this?" she asked in a hushed voice, not sure why she felt compelled to speak so softly. "I thought Jenkins said to stay out of Stonehenge?" Before Carsen could answer, Jenkins—overhearing the Guardian—spoke up.
"This is what Cassandra wanted," he answered, flicking his worried brown eyes toward his wife. "I'm beginning to wonder if she is perhaps somehow in contact with the spirits of the old gods that are supposed to be in these stones."
"Okay—not sure I like that idea!" hissed Eve, appalled. "The last thing we need to deal with is a Library full of pissed off gods! Or even just a Librarian possessed by a bunch of pissed off gods! Or anything, really, having to do with a bunch of pissed off gods!" Jenkins's brow furrowed in puzzlement. He gave Cassandra quick to make sure she was all right, then walked over to the Guardian.
"Why would you assume they'd be angry, Colonel?" he asked. Baird rolled her eyes.
"Maybe because ninety-nine percent of the entities we've come across over the last six years has been pissed off at us about something?" she countered dourly, and waved at the huge stones looming around them. "And now we're going to wake up a fresh batch of gods and risk pissing them off, too!" Jenkins, forcing the ghost of a smile onto his lips, reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder.
"The Library will protect us if needed, Colonel, have no fear," he said reassuringly, but Baird could hear the strain in his voice. She turned to Flynn, who was now finished with the braziers and had come to stand next to Jenkins.
"Flynn, I think we need to wait on this," she said urgently. "We don't have anything in place in case something goes wrong, and …" Flynn took her hands and gave them a squeeze.
"You heard, Jenkins; the Library will protect us," he said earnestly. "It's too late for plans, now, Guardian. I don't like this any more than you do, but now we just…have to trust the process!"
She almost confronted her husband about his sudden laissez-faire attitude, but she decided to let it go. She didn't share his optimism, however forced it might be, that the Library could protect them from vengeful gods. Instead, she waved her arm at the altar stone. In the center of the low, flat stone was the Cauldron of Ceridwen, flanked by two long beeswax candles in massive silver holders. Eve noticed that the cauldron now held what looked like red wine, almost to its brim.
"So what's going on here now?" she asked again in a low voice as she turned back to the Librarian. "And why is it suddenly all right to be inside of the henge?" Jenkins pulled himself up to his full height and gave the Guardian a concerned look.
"As I said, this is how Cassandra asked to have things set things up," he replied, his deliberately calm voice doing nothing to allay her trepidation. "She says that we must conduct the ceremony here, at the altar stone."
"Wait—what ceremony?" she demanded in frustration. This whole thing was getting out of her control, fast, and Eve Baird didn't like things getting out of her control, especially when the safety of the Library and of her Librarians was at stake.
"The quarry that these stones were taken from is on a ley line," Cassandra spoke up from across the altar area of the henge, her voice distant and placid, yet forceful at the same time. "They are not imbued with just the spirits of the gods; they also have a powerful connection with the electrical impulses produced by the human body, especially the heart."
"And what does that mean?" asked Eve in bewilderment. A shiver suddenly went up her spine as she recognized the sound of Cassandra's voice; it was exactly the same tone and pitch, her words were delivered with the same cadence as the sorceress version of Cassandra that Baird had seen at the Loom of Fate. A tiny smile came to the Librarian's lips, but her vacant eyes remained focused on something far away that only she could see.
"It means that these stones are not only soaked in magic," she answered. "But, through the network of ley lines and the electromagnetic field of the Earth itself, they've also soaked up the magic and the electrical impulses of the countless human beings who have worshipped here over the millennia, the electrical brain patterns and signatures of every single person—their electroencephalographs. The patterns are stored in the stones, and they can be accessed, if you know how to do it. Every person's thoughts, feelings, reasoning, hopes and fears…"
"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" interrupted Eve, shaking her head. "You're saying that you can like…tap into these stones and through them actually…tap into the brain of a person from thousands of years ago and then like—see them? Hear them? Talk to them?" The Guardian looked over at the granite-faced Jenkins.
"How is that even possible?" she demanded of him. She turned to look at Flynn, her eyes pleading for a rational explanation.
"It requires very powerful magic, Colonel," came the somber answer from Jenkins, his voice hushed and his face drawn as he turned his head to look at her. "Primordial magic. Old Magic." Eve's chest went cold at the look of fear in the Caretaker's eyes that could no longer be hidden. For Jenkins to be truly afraid of anything was a bad sign. A very bad sign.
"How dangerous is this, Jenkins?" she demanded. Jake and Ezekiel were now standing with them; they had been listening to everything in silence, their own faces shaken and worried. "We can stop this right now if—"
"It's far too late for that, Colonel," he answered in a resigned voice. "I shouldn't have let her touch the Cauldron; it, too, is made of the same material as Stonehenge. She fell under its irrevocable influence the moment she came into contact with it."
"The magic of the bluestone that makes up Stonehenge can strip away the layers that have accrued around us over the centuries, so that we can remember our beginnings," continued Cassandra evocatively, seemingly oblivious to the others now. "We can see our past lives and learn where we come from, learn from the mistakes our past selves have made and which have led us to the present moment."
"Past lives?!" exclaimed Jacob, moving forward to stand next to Baird. "When did past lives become a thing with this?" Jenkins held up one hand in a calming gesture.
"Cassandra has just been telling me about it, before you all arrived," he answered. "She hears what she describes as a 'voice' coming from the Cauldron; it tells her that she must go back into the past to find the answers she seeks." The Guardian's eyes widened with disbelief.
"A voice?" she repeated. "Not the same voice she heard with the Heart of Sorrow!" Jenkins shook his head emphatically.
"No, not the same!" he said hurriedly.
"I don't like this, Baird!" growling Jacob warningly, looking at the tall woman. "I don't like any of this! After what happened the last time Cass listened to a talkin' artifact, we need to get her out of here and away from the Library until we can get this…this…'Old Magic' bullshit under control!"
"I'm afraid it's not a simple as that, Mr. Stone," said Jenkins evenly.
"The hell it isn't!" Stone exclaimed. "She's a walkin' hazard! There has to be some kind of spell or somethin' that we can use to turn it off or to get it out of her…"
"I thought you were against the use of magic, Mr. Stone?" Jenkins snapped angrily. "Or is it only permissible when it suits your fancy, or accomplishes something you wish?" Stone fell silent at the rebuke, then dropped his eyes in embarrassment. Jenkins took a deep breath, quickly regaining his composure.
"My apologies, Jacob; I didn't mean to snap at you like that," he murmured. "What I mean to say is that the magic that is inside of Cassandra cannot simply be removed or banished., no more than you can remove or banish any knowledge that you possess."
"Except I can choose when to use my knowledge or not," Jacobs grumbled, still stung by the Caretaker's reproach.
"That's true, Jacob—because you have learned how to do that," countered Jenkins gently. "Cassandra has not had the opportunity to do that, and that's why she is so...'dangerous'. And I'm afraid that the only way in which she can learn how to control her magic is to face it head on, whether we like that approach or not." He nodded his white head at the stone bowl sitting on the table, then fixed his piercing dark eyes onto the historian.
"If the Cauldron of Ceridwen is the only way to accomplish that, then the Cauldron is what we will use—with or without your approval." Jacob lowered his head for a second in surrender.
"Sorry, Jenkins," he said, still clearly unhappy with the situation. "I didn't mean it like that." The immortal raised his head slightly, his eyes narrowing, looking as though he was thinking about saying something pointed, but in the end he held his tongue. Instead, he lowered his head again and looked sternly at the younger man.
"I understand your concern, Jacob," he said sincerely. "Believe me, if there was any other way, I would not hesitate to take it. But for Cassandra's own good, this has to be done, and it has to be done in this particular way, much as I dislike it myself—and believe me, Mr. Stone, when I tell you that I dislike this intensely. But, for Cassandra's sake, I have to put aside my own preferences and do what needs to be done!" Jake listened to the old Caretaker's words and nodded.
"Yeah, okay," he finally said quietly, then flicked his eyes in Baird's direction as he recalled his earlier discussion with her. "If I can't trust magic, then I guess I need to trust you, huh?" Jenkins rolled his shoulders as some of the tension he had been holding there eased a bit.
"That's one way of putting it, I suppose," he agreed amiably. Jake reached his hand back to scratch the nape of his neck nervously.
"So…how does this work, exactly?" he asked, anxious to get attention off of himself. Jenkins opened his mouth to answer, but Cassandra suddenly spoke.
"Jacob will play the drum," she said, her voice still distant, but commanding now.
"The rhythm should be like that of the human heart—slow and steady and strong," Cassandra turned her head to each person as she continued to give instructions, but her eyes saw nothing. "Ezekiel will tend the incense and the braziers; he must keep both fed, but not overly so." The Librarian then turned toward the altar and began walking toward it.
"Jenkins and I will stand at the altar," she continued to instruct them. "He and I will hold hands throughout the ritual."
"Cassandra, what's going to happen, exactly?" asked Eve urgently. "I need to know what to expect so I can keep you safe!" Cassandra stopped at the altar and smiled, her eyes fixed dreamily on the Cauldron in front of her.
"What will happen, will happen," she answered blithely. "Not even the Guardian of the Library can stop what Fate has decreed must be!"
"Like hell I can't!" Eve muttered under her breath. She started toward the altar herself, but Jenkins held out his hand to stop her.
"It's all right, Colonel," he said quietly. "She's right; this is all a part of our fates—separately and joined. Just as Mr. Stone has decided to trust me, I'm going to place my trust in Cassandra."
"Jenkins—!" Eve started to protest, but Ezekiel suddenly came forward to lightly grasp her upper arm.
"He's right, Eve," the Librarian said. "I think we should just see how this plays out. If things get too hairy, we can always intervene then." She turned to face him in disbelief.
"But it might be too late by then!" she hissed. The young man shrugged and offered her a smile.
"I guess we'll have to wait and find out, hey?" he answered her, surprisingly calm. Eve turned to look at Jenkins and Cassandra, both now standing at the altar stone. She caught the immortal's eye and stared hard at him.
"If this even smells like it's going to go bad, I'm ending it!" she warned him sternly. He steadily met her gaze and nodded almost imperceptively before turning his full attention back to Cassandra. Her eyes, glistening and feverish-looking, were locked onto to the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
"Cassandra?" he said quietly. "What do you want us to do?"
"Begin the drum! Light the fires and the incense!" she barked, her gaze never leaving the stone bowl in front of her. Jake cast a questioning glance at Baird and she nodded. He picked up the large, flat, one-sided drum and recognized it as an Irish bodhrán. He looked around for its beater and found it, a short stick slightly knobbed on each end. As he adjusted his grip on the crossbar underneath the drum, he began to hesitantly tap on the taut goatskin with one end of the beater. Having never played a drum of any kind before, he was unsure at first, but he quickly fell into a recognizable heartbeat rhythm, and the drumbeats became gradually louder as his confidence grew.
As Jake began to play the bodhrán, Ezekiel went to the first brazier and lit the aromatic cedarwood already piled in it, then lit the second one. He next went over to a small side table that held a large, heavy brass thurible already full of burning coals. Next to the thurible was a bowl of various dried herbs and tree barks mixed with something that looked like granules of dried glue. He picked up the silver spoon next to the bowl and filled it the incense, then dumped the whole spoonful unceremoniously onto the hot coals. A cloud of perfumed smoke instantly enveloped his face. It made its way into his nose, down his throat and into his lungs, causing the young Librarian to cough and splutter loudly.
"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed in a rasping voice between coughs as he turned away from the thurible, his hands waving frantically in front of his face as he tried to drive away the choking cloud. The whole area was soon filled with the cloying, aromatic smoke, causing Jake and Eve to begin coughing as well.
"Geez, Jones, go easy with that stuff!" snapped Stone, somehow managing to maintain a steady beat on the drum. Ezekiel shrugged.
"Sorry!" he wheezed, then stepped back to stand next to the anxious Baird.
As all of this was going on, Cassandra's mind was racing, filling with calculations.
"Light the candles, Jenkins," she ordered in a faint voice, and he obeyed. As soon as they were lit, Cassandra reached out and picked up a small bodkin with one hand while she reached for Jenkins's hand with the other. Before he realized what she was going to do, she pricked one of his fingers with the sharp blade, then held his bleeding finger over the Cauldron. As several large drops of his immortal blood fell into the dark red wine, it pooled momentarily at the bottom of the Cauldron before dissipating. Cassandra released Jenkins's hand and turned the bodkin onto one of her own fingers, allowing her blood to join his in the Cauldron before she set aside the dagger.
The entranced Librarian held her hands over the Cauldron, then began to wave them in a circular motion over the artifact as she whispered the words of a spell in a language unfamiliar to the immortal. The wine glowed a dull red for the space of a heartbeat, then faded back to its usual color. Cassandra slowly picked up the Cauldron, being careful not to spill a drop of the wine. She brought it to her lips and took a large sip of the magically-charged wine, then held the Cauldron out to Jenkins, her eyes still wide but unseeing.
"Drink!" she whispered.
Jenkins unhesitatingly took the Cauldron and lifted it to his lips. He closed his eyes and took a deep drink of the wine, then set the Cauldron back onto the altar. Cassandra immediately joined hands with the immortal, their fingers tightly lacing together, their arms encircling the Cauldron of Ceridwen between them on the altar stone.
"Look into the Cauldron," she whispered. "Don't look away from it, no matter what happens!" Jenkins opened his eyes and fixed them on the contents of the Cauldron. He was already beginning to feel lightheaded.
As happened at the DOSA facility, Cassandra's brain was flooded with equations. Numbers, symbols, letters flitted through her mind's eye at the speed of thought itself, glowing with a warm, soft, golden light as she sought to connect the electrical energies of her and Jenkins's brains with that of the earth itself, in combination with the reservoir of Old Magic and ancient memories held within the towering monoliths of Stonehenge. The same Old Magic that bound her to the stones, the Old Magic that bound her to the land of Britain itself.
Soon the air over the Cauldron began to snap and crackle, softly at first, quickly becoming louder and stronger. As Eve Baird and the others watched, enthralled, the rim of the Cauldron began to glow a blueish-green color that matched the color of the stone from which it was made. Sparks appeared over the surface of the wine, snapping sharply, gradually growing into spidery arcs that leaped from one side of the Cauldron to the other.
"What is that?" whispered Ezekiel nervously, staring at the dancing lights. The air began to grow heavy and warm, as though a summer thunderstorm was forming.
"St. Elmo's fire?" offered Eve, unable to tear her eyes away from the phenomenon.
"No, not St. Elmo's fire," answered Flynn. "At least, not the kind you mean; that's a form of plasma, and the conditions here aren't right for that to occur." He nodded at the increasingly intense lightshow as Jake continued to relentlessly beat the drum in his hand.
"This—this is something else entirely!" Eve glanced at the Librarian.
"What is it, Flynn?" she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer. His eyes never left the Cauldron. Eve quietly grasped the butt of her gun and held onto it tightly, ready to draw it at moment's notice.
"It's the Old Magic, of course!" Flynn whispered, rapt.
Wide-eyed and stone-faced, Jenkins and Cassandra continued to stare into the blood-red contents of the Cauldron, their faces growing more and more slack as they fell deeper in a trance. Eve forced her eyes onto the pair, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice if need be. The Guardian noticed that they were holding hands so tightly that their knuckles were white, and she feared that Jenkins might actually break bones in Cassandra's much smaller hands.
But the young Librarian seemed not to feel any pain or discomfort. The couple held onto to one another as the air around them became charged with static electricity that made the hair on Eve's arms stand on end and her skin tingle. Clouds of some sparkling, fog-like substance now rolled out of the Cauldron and onto the floor. Instead of spreading or dissipating like a normal fog, however, it flowed down the side of the altar, along the short distance between it and the massive inner ring of stones. With incredible speed, the fog swallowed the stones, each in its turn, but went no farther. Glints of golden light flashed back and forth throughout the lengths of fog's multiple arms. Eve glanced at Jones and then Flynn, but they were both too absorbed in what was happening to pay any attention to her. She glanced at Jake, still drumming, and he met her gaze with nervous eyes.
Good, she thought. At least Stone is still with it enough to help me if I need it!
As one, their heads snapped up and Jenkins and Cassandra looked up from the Cauldron and straight into each other's eyes. A look of elation lit up Cassandra's face, her eyes now glowing with joy.
Jenkins gaped at the place where his wife stood, but he didn't see Cassandra now. His eyes filled with shocked disbelief as he beheld a familiar figure standing across from him and tightly holding his hands—a small, familiar figure completely swathed beneath a hooded scarlet cloak trimmed with heavy gold braid.
"Galahad!" the figure whispered softly.
The color drained from his face, and his dark brown eyes were wide, completely filled with awe, bewilderment—and fear.
"Ceridwen!" Jenkins breathed.
He was barely able to speak it before his knees buckled and he crashed to the floor, nearly striking his head against the altar-stone. He could feel his hands still tightly gripped by the red-cloaked woman as a heavy, smothering darkness fell over the immortal's vision, just like the one in his dream, blocking all sound and sight from without. The all-consuming blackness seemed to suck the very air from his lungs as he slipped gently into unconsciousness.
From just outside of the altar area, the drumbeat ceased as the Guardian cried out, then she and the Librarians rushed forward as one.
AN: Thus ends Part 2 of "The Red Sorceress and the White Knight". Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to have the next part out by the end of 2020!