It all started with the Clippings Book telling tales of horses going missing from a stable in Ohio, and a unicorn rampaging through a mall a few miles away. It wasn't hard to make the connection.
Flynn, though, had a Charlene sighting, which he waved about the proof of on a scrappy bit of paper, which he swore was genuine. Of course it was more important to him than anything else, so he left to follow it up on his own. He did ask Eve about it first and Cassandra bit back a smile when Ezekiel joked under his breath to her that Flynn was under the thumb.
After he'd gone they all agreed that the best thing to do was to split up for this mission. Eve wanted the more dangerous part and Stone professed some horse knowledge. Letting Ezekiel loose in a place with things to steal was not something Eve was prepared to do.
"I wouldn't steal on a mission," Ezekiel protested.
The other four all came up with examples of when he'd done exactly that, their words almost indistinguishable as they all tried to convince him at once.
"All right, all right." Ezekiel put his hands up. "I'll go to the stables."
It left Cassandra going to the mall with Eve, and Stone grumbling at having to pair up with Ezekiel.
Once at the mall the "We're Librarians" trick worked, although you'd think mall security would prefer stable hands. Security had somehow cornered the unicorn in the women's bathroom with the aid of some fruit, then cordoned off the area. With the mall closed, it meant at least the paramedics wouldn't have any more casualties to deal with for a while. They were lucky there were no worse injuries than broken bones.
Some questioning elicited the information that the unicorn hadn't appeared inside the mall, but had wandered in. There was a fruit and veg stall near the entrance and it probably smelled something it liked. After scaring the customers and wrecking the shop, things had gone downhill.
When they reached the bathrooms, Eve went to the bathroom door, Cassandra close behind her.
Cassandra opened her mouth to protest, but Eve got there first. "I can't imagine there's much space in there for two people and a unicorn."
Cassandra gave in, but kept close behind, so she could see what was happening.
Eve pushed the door open a crack, which was just enough to see there was what looked like a brown horse filling most of the space and kicking at the cubicles. It had gotten one of the sinks partially off the wall and water pooled on the floor. It didn't smell like it had destroyed any of the toilets yet.
Eve crept into the room, either to avoid frightening it or to sneak up on it. Whichever it was, it didn't work. The unicorn turned to her - and it was definitely a unicorn, despite the color: there was a large white horn growing out of the white stripe that ran down its nose.
It went straight for Eve with its head down. She twisted away, putting her hands up and trying to get the door between her and it, but it still managed to stick its horn in her shoulder. She cried out in pain.
Eve stumbled backwards, close enough to Cassandra for her to get a hand under Eve's left arm and an arm round her waist to pull her out of the bathroom. Although the corridor that led to the bathrooms was long, it was devoid of furniture. They managed several steps down it before Eve faltered and Cassandra helped her to the ground.
But Eve wasn't fine. There was a hole in her shoulder, her voice was weak and she'd gone pale; visible even in the half-lit corridor.
"No, you're not." Working on instinct, Cassandra pulled her cardigan off, folded it and held it over the wound. Eve put her left hand over it without needing to be asked. A cardigan wasn't the best thing to use as a bandage, but it was the item of clothing most easily removed, and at least it was tightly knit.
The hard floor was uncomfortable for Cassandra to kneel on. It probably didn't feel any better for Eve to sit slumped on, but at least it was dry and free of unicorn. However, that clearly wouldn't be the case for long, given the cracking sound coming from the bathroom door. It was followed by a horn appearing through the wood, the door bowing around it.
Cassandra dialed Jenkins and put the phone on speaker in case they needed to run. Although how Eve would manage that was a question best left until it was necessary to find out. "Jenkins, we need a door!" If only the door that led to the bathrooms had been the one they'd come through. But no, it was at the other end of the shopping mall.
Jenkins' answer was obscured by the crash of the door finally giving way, followed by the clop of the unicorn running over the fallen door and towards them. Cassandra stood up, putting herself between Eve and the unicorn, holding herself up tall and trying to project an air of confidence she didn't feel.
The unicorn ran straight past them. Cassandra edged around Eve, ignoring for now Jenkins' queries about what was happening. Upon reaching the door that led back into the mall it stopped. Cassandra wasn't sure that the door was any more secure than the bathroom's but it turned out not to matter: the unicorn simply turned and wandered back down the corridor as if it had all the time in the world.
"We're safe," Cassandra said quietly, not wanting to spook the unicorn. She hoped Jenkins heard it, given the argument between Stone and Ezekiel she could hear in the background. "But Eve's injured."
"Ah." That one syllable was enough to tell Cassandra that getting back to the Library was not going to be simple. "It may be a few minutes. Mr. Stone and Mr. Jones have shorted the door."
"I'm fine," Eve repeated. Cassandra held her phone nearer to Eve, so Jenkins would hear her. "It's missed everything important and the bleeding's slowed."
And, as it turned out, they weren't that badly off when it came to the problem of the unicorn. As Jenkins promised he'd be as quick as he could, the unicorn came over to Cassandra. She kept her attention on it and held her breath as it lowered its head. But then it just sniffed her and nuzzled her hair.
"Cassandra?" Jenkins sounded worried at her silence.
Cassandra breathed out a sigh. "We'll be fine for a few minutes."
She disconnected and settled down beside Eve, in a position that meant she could still keep an eye on the unicorn. It seemed happy to stay by Cassandra, occasionally licking her hair. Cassandra made a face, but at least it meant Eve wouldn't see how worried she was. And it kept the unicorn away from Eve.
"I can use a spell to lessen the pain," Cassandra offered, softly.
"Absolutely not." Despite its lack of volume, Eve's voice was firm.
Cassandra was tempted to do it anyway, but Eve would know. If their positions were reversed Cassandra would want something to take the pain away, but perhaps Eve's military background gave her a greater resistance to pain. Or more of a tendency to act tough.
"I know why the unicorn didn't attack you." Eve eyed the unicorn warily.
Cassandra blushed and focused her attention on pushing the unicorn away a little. "There was never an opportunity…" She waved an arm in lieu of explaining that. "The brain grape...."
"I know," Eve said softly, stopping Cassandra's halting explanation. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. Or proud of. It just is. And it's no one's business except yours."
Cassandra smiled and chanced a look back at Eve. "It's not like I have a lot of choice for dates. You and Flynn are together and Ezekiel wouldn't be able to shut up about me choosing him."
Eve smiled. "And Flynn's idea of dates involve death-defying adventures."
Cassandra wasn't sure he was the only one. None of them would be Librarians if they didn't like that sort of thing even a little. Although on the whole, Cassandra preferred her adventures with a little less possibility of death. "And you don't like that?"
Eve tilted her head, then winced. "Dinner would be nice once in a while. And you haven't considered Stone. I'm sure he would be understanding."
Cassandra shook her head. "No." He'd said that wouldn't happen and that was that.
"Okay." Eve looked curious.
"The only other person left is Jenkins," Cassandra said quickly, so Eve wouldn't have the chance to ask about Stone.
Eve frowned. "I'm not sure he dates. But he would be subtle, at least."
Cassandra nodded. Jenkins didn't even leave the Annex often, but she was sure she could convince him.
"You could always look outside the Library," Eve went on, before Cassandra could think too much about the idea of dating Jenkins. "You can even find a date on the internet these days."
"Maybe." She wasn't so sure about this topic of conversation, but if it was keeping Eve from thinking about the pain she could live with it a little while longer. "There's not much time for dating between missions." She wasn't even sure how much she cared about it. If she'd been forced to choose between dating and being a Librarian, she'd definitely pick the latter.
Eve nodded. "Flynn had the same problem when he was first Librarian."
But they couldn't all solve that by dating their Guardian. There was only one of her.
Concerned that Eve's left arm might be aching, Cassandra added her hand to help hold down the cardigan and let Eve slide hers out. Although she moved slowly, Eve still grimaced.
"I can take some of the pain away," Cassandra said. "Just so it's bearable."
"It is bearable." Although Eve closed her eyes for a moment.
Now Cassandra was sure she was lying. How much blood would Eve lose before she admitted the truth? They could stay here for now, but if Jenkins took too long with the door Cassandra would have to get one of the paramedics over here. And who knew how the unicorn would react. The corridor was long, but it wasn't that long.
Cassandra shifted her hand a little, so she could sit beside Eve. "Is it because you're military?"
Eve frowned. "Is what because I'm military?"
"Being tough. Pretending you're not in pain."
Eve gave a wry smile. "It's true that if you faint at the sight of blood you're not going to get very far."
"It's the same if you work in a hospital." To Cassandra that wasn't a terribly impressive achievement.
Eve gave a small nod. "But if I was screaming in agony you'd be more worried."
Now Cassandra was worried about the possibility of Eve screaming in agony. Although if Eve actually did that she'd be more scared than worried. Anything that would make Eve scream must be awful. "I'm not worried." She could be just as tough.
Eve winced as she put her left hand on Cassandra's leg.
When Stone and Ezekiel came through the door at the end of the corridor, Jenkins following them, the unicorn huffed and took a step backwards, its nostrils flaring.
"Don't scare it," Cassandra said, as loudly as she dared. She stood up slowly and tried patting the unicorn, but it edged away from her.
Jenkins, though, went straight up to it, his hand out flat in front of him. The unicorn held its ground, then when Jenkins neared it stepped forward and bent its head to take whatever was on Jenkins' hand. It was calmer now, allowing Jenkins to pat its neck.
Stone walked over to Eve, sticking close to the wall. Cassandra watched as he fed her some of the healing potion, even though Eve complained that she could hold the bottle herself. It only took a moment for the lines on Eve's face to smooth out and the color to return to her cheeks. She smiled at Stone as she sat up straight, and took his hand to help her stand, holding Cassandra's now-ruined cardigan in the other.
"Thank you," Eve said to Stone and Cassandra, before looking around the rest of them. "I'm fine." Cassandra had heard her say that twice before, but this time she believed it. Relieved that Eve was all right, Cassandra hugged her.
The unicorn had to be coaxed through the back door by Jenkins, but it went in the end.
"It's interesting," Jenkins said, once they were back in the Annex, and the unicorn deigned to let Cassandra pet it again. "Unicorns are always white."
"That's definitely one of our missing horses," Ezekiel said. "I've got a photo of it." He held his phone up to the unicorn so they could all see the likeness.
"The saddle is an artifact." Stone pointed to the saddle now sitting on the table in the middle of the room. "You put it on a horse, leave it for a minute and it vanishes."
"It tried to vanish us!" Ezekiel sounded put out.
Stone turned to him "It wouldn't have if you hadn't tried to take it off me!"
Jenkins rolled his eyes and put a hand up. "Gentlemen."
Stone and Ezekiel glared at each other, before facing the rest of the room once more. Stone picked up the story once more. "It turns them into magical horses."
"That much we worked out," Eve said. It went a long way to explaining a brown unicorn.
"How did it happen?" Cassandra asked. "Did someone do it on purpose?"
Ezekiel stepped forwards. "The stables are on a ley line. One of the kids having riding lessons wished it was riding a unicorn."
"And the child lives near the mall," Stone finished.
"Now the saddle needs to go somewhere safe, where it can't turn any more horses into unicorns. Or grant any other wishes," Jenkins said, gently pushing the unicorn's nose away from his shoulder.
Cassandra opened her mouth to say that it sounded like the saddle was a genie's lamp, but then she glanced at Jenkins, who was shaking his head. Of course it wasn't a genie's lamp, it never was.
"I'll take it," Ezekiel and Stone said together. Another exchange of glares and they both picked the saddle up, each holding one side. They were quiet until they were out of the room and thought they were out of earshot, then they resumed their argument.
Eve sighed. "I'd better check it doesn't do anything to them on the way. No matter how much I might be tempted to let it."
"Thank you, Colonel." Jenkins smiled at her.
Left alone with Jenkins and the unicorn, Cassandra smiled at them both. "It likes you."
"Sugar lumps," Jenkins explained, putting a hand in his pocket and coming out with another, which the unicorn was quick to crunch up. "Any animal will like you if you feed it. Unicorns are no different."
"Isn't there something about being a virgin?" she asked cautiously, hoping he wouldn't guess the reason for her question.
"Oh, merely a myth," he said, "corrupted by time and meaning. There is a difference between being a virgin and being pure of heart. But in the case of unicorns it was more that they found someone smaller and quieter less threatening. This one was probably just unhappy about being trapped in a bathroom. You'd be scared too, if you'd just grown a horn and been dropped into in an unfamiliar place with a lot of people around."
"I suppose I would," she said slowly. It would explain the unicorn's actions just as well as the virgin angle.
"Now, I think this fellow might be happier in the Magical Creatures section along with the other unicorn." He led it out, the unicorn trying to get at his pocket.
Cassandra followed, but broke off when she spotted Eve on her way back to the Annex. They needn't have had that conversation earlier, now Jenkins had explained the myth.
"About what we said earlier," Cassandra began, but Eve held up a hand.
"Your secret's safe with me," she said, guessing what Cassandra was concerned about. "And you don't have to date or do anything else with anyone if you don't want to. There's no pressure - it's up to you."
Cassandra breathed out a sigh of relief.
"We've had a hard day," Eve said, changing the subject.
"That's an understatement." And Eve was perfectly fine, but Cassandra was still scared about something happening to her.
"So I think we've earned a break," Eve went on, but the corners of her mouth twitched at Cassandra's interruption. "Let's go get a drink. If Stone and Ezekiel don't stop arguing, they can buy the drinks."
Cassandra smiled. "Or we'll just sit at a different table. On the other side of the bar."
Eve smiled and offered her arm, which Cassandra took. They ended up spending the evening alone, for when Jenkins tired of Stone and Ezekiel's arguing he made them clean out the magical creatures' living spaces.