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“Have I mentioned how much I hate toga parties?”
Colonel Eve Baird sprinted across the moonlit college campus, inconveniently draped in a rumpled white bedsheet that had been repurposed to serve as standard-issue frat party attire. A veteran counterterrorism agent formerly assigned to NATO, the statuesque blonde generally preferred more sensible clothing, particularly when in the field, but sometimes undercover work required … flexibility, and never more so than when employed by the Library.
“A couple of times, yeah.” Jake Stone raced beside her down a tree-lined path leading away from Fraternity Row. His own makeshift toga made running for his life somewhat more difficult than usual, even as it showed off his equally well-built physique. “Greek life,” he snorted in disgust. “See, this is why I got most of my degrees online.”
His rugged good looks and gruff manner belied the fact that Stone was a world-class expert on art history and architecture, albeit under an impressive assortment of pseudonyms and false identities. Truth to tell, Baird knew professional spies who had fewer aliases than Stone, but, despite his abundant academic credentials, she doubted he had ever been a frat boy. A wildcat oil rigger and occasional hell-raiser, sure, but not a frat boy.
Thank heaven for small favors, Baird thought.
Loud music and raucous laughter blared behind them as they made tracks from the ill-advised revelry at the Gamma Gamma Rho House. The paved walkway provided a shortcut between Fraternity Row, which was located on a hill overlooking Western Cascade University, and the main academic buildings below. Given that it was Friday night, Baird figured most of the student body would be hitting parties instead of the books at the moment—or so she hoped. The fewer potential casualties, the better.
Heavy hooves pounded the pavement behind them, competing with the clamor from the toga party. A ferocious snort sent a chill down Baird’s spine.
“It’s still after us!” she said. “Keep running!”
“Great,” Stone muttered, even though that was the plan after all. A gold-trimmed alabaster figurine was cradled in his arms. About two feet tall in height, the statue reeked of beer after having been “baptized” in a kegger-fueled fraternity ritual. Lipstick and rouge defaced the figure’s formerly pristine features. Stone had personally vouched for the relic’s authenticity earlier, confirming that it was a genuine cultic idol from a temple in ancient Greece, which went a long way toward explaining the fix they were currently in.
The pounding of the hooves grew louder. Glancing back over her shoulder, Baird glimpsed a mountainous shape barreling toward them. Steam rose from a pair of large flared nostrils. Maddened red eyes glowed like hellfire. Ivory tusks gleamed in the night.
At least we’re luring it away from the party, she thought. Lucky us.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, they dashed onto a red-brick quad surrounded by various college buildings housing lecture halls, laboratories, and libraries. Newer buildings of glass and steel squatted across from older, ivy-covered brick edifices dating back to the college’s founding. A dish-shaped fountain, surrounded by low metal benches, sprayed a plume of water into the air. Canvas banners, advertising everything from a peace rally to a used book exchange, adorned the walls of the buildings. Most of the windows were dark, but a few lighted offices suggested that some of the more industrious students and faculty members were working well into the weekend. And despite all the partying on the hill, a handful of college kids were milling about on the quad, engrossed in their phones, their studies, or each other. They gaped at the sight of the two toga-clad strangers dashing onto the quad.
“Run!” Baird shouted at the kids, concerned for their safety. She had thought this part of the campus would be more deserted, but that may have been wishful thinking on her part. “Vamoose! Scram!”
She was used to giving orders, but unfortunately she wasn’t dealing with trained soldiers at the moment, or even Librarians. And her ridiculous outfit didn’t exactly convey a sense of authority. She tugged the top of her toga farther up onto her shoulder, even though possible wardrobe malfunctions were the least of her worries at the moment.
“You heard the lady!” Stone added. “Get out of here! It’s not safe!”
A studious-looking coed bearing an armload of books peered at them in confusion. Like her fellow students, she made no move to exit the scene, promptly or otherwise.
“What are you talking about?” the student asked. “Who are you anyway?”
“We’re the Librarians,” Stone said, even though Baird was technically a Guardian as opposed to an actual Librarian. He held on tightly to the beer-drenched idol in his arms. “Trust me, you don’t want to be here.”
Before he could even attempt an explanation, a monstrous beast barreled onto the quad, trampling over an organic herb garden in front of the biology building. The glow from a couple of tall metal lampposts exposed the legendary creature in all its fabled fearsomeness.
The Calydonian Boar was at least twice the size of any mortal porker, weighing in at more than five hundred pounds at the very least. Piggy red eyes glared balefully from its massive head. Thick black bristles sprouted along its spine, while lethal-looking tusks jutted upward from its lower jaw. Froth spilled from its chomping maw. Its hot breath steamed from its snout. Once employed by the goddess Artemis to punish disrespectful humans back in ancient Greece, the Boar had resumed its mission in modern-day America, thanks to some idiotic frat boys who just had to employ a genuine relic in their drunken rituals.
Some people had no respect for history … or magic.
Intent on avenging the goddess’s honor, the Boar charged at Baird and Stone, who had filched the idol from the frat house before the monster could turn the toga party into a massacre. In the bacchanalian bedlam of the party, few revelers had taken note of the narrowly averted rampage. A cast-iron bench got in the monster’s way and was reduced to scrap metal beneath its adamantine hooves. The Boar noisily whet its tusks against its stumpy upper chops.
Just another Saturday night, in other words, at least as far as the Librarians were concerned.
Pandemonium consumed the quad as terrified students dropped their books and phones and dates to run screaming in every direction. Momentarily distracted by the commotion, the Boar swung its huge head from side to side as though uncertain which annoying mortal to rend to pieces first. Baird instinctively reached for her gun, then remembered that her toga didn’t come with a holster. No matter, she thought. The damn thing’s hide is probably bulletproof anyway.
According to myth, only one weapon had ever brought down the Boar.…
“Sooooo-ie!” Stone called out. He lifted the besmirched idol above his head. “Come and get me!”
Foaming at the mouth, the Boar veered toward Stone, crossing the quad with surprising speed given its bulk. Stone dived out of the way just in time to avoid being gored or trampled, but the Boar was nothing if not persistent. Doubling back, it charged at him again, ignoring the frantic students for the time being.
That was good for the civilians, Baird observed, but not so great for her cohort.
“Stone!” She dashed away from him across the quad. “Toss me the idol!”
He got the idea. “Catch!”
The idol arced through the air before landing heavily in Baird’s arms. “Look who’s got the goddess now!” she yelled at the Boar. “You got a problem with that, you overgrown reject from a Harryhausen movie?”
Provoked, the Boar wheeled about and ran at Baird, who suddenly had profoundly mixed feelings about capturing its attention. Its hooves literally tore up the pavement, sending pulverized brick flying. Not wanting to call things too close, she lobbed the idol back over to Stone, who caught it with a greater degree of hand-eye coordination than you might expect from somebody with so many PhDs to his credit. He defied stereotypes, that one.
“Over here!” he hollered. “Wrong way, bacon bits!”
The Boar skidded to a halt, trashing more of the quad, and started after Stone again. Baird wondered just how long she and Stone could keep up this death-defying game of keep-away, even as she went long and got ready to receive the idol once more. Her arms were already getting tired. That statue wasn’t exactly lightweight.…
“Back to me!” she yelled. “Hurry!”
“You don’t need to tell me twice!”
He hurled the idol at her, but the throw fell short, splashing down into the basin of the fountain. Baird held her breath, hoping that the Boar would lunge after the idol, but it kept charging at Stone instead, reminding her that the monster wasn’t out to retrieve the idol, but simply to punish those who disrespected it and, by extension, the gods.
“Crap,” she muttered.
Stone turned and ran, but the frothing razorback was closing in on him. Baird tore one of the canvas banners down from a wall and flapped it loudly to get the Boar’s attention. She held it before her like a matador’s cape.
“Hey, Porky! Olé!”
“That’s bulls, not boars!” Stone corrected her.
The flapping cape distracted the Boar anyway. Temporarily abandoning Stone, it thundered toward Baird, who found herself pining for the good old days when all she had to deal with was terrorists and insurgents, not mythological monsters. At the last minute, she swung the banner to one side, so that the Boar plowed into the cape instead of her, slicing it to ribbons. The force of the beast’s charge tore the canvas from her grasp even as its bristly hide grazed her side, knocking her off her feet.
“Baird!” Stone shouted in alarm.
The shredded banner was draped over the Boar’s head, infuriating it. The monster shook its head violently to rid itself of the annoying encumbrance, and Baird took advantage of the moment to scramble to her feet. She leaned against a tall metal lamppost, catching her breath. Her right leg was raw and sore where the rampaging Boar had scraped against it. It stung like Hades.
Now what? she thought. They couldn’t just let the berserk beast keep running amuck. Back in ancient Greece, the Calydonian Boar had terrorized an entire kingdom, laying waste to everything in its path, until it was finally slain by—
“Watch out!” Stone hollered. “Here it comes again!”
He wasn’t kidding. Baird could practically smell the Boar’s rank breath as it bore down on her with murder in its eyes. With nowhere to run, she shimmied up the lamppost to put some distance between her and the monster. As far as she knew, boars—even mythical ones—couldn’t climb.
But that wasn’t about to stop the Boar, who slammed into the post hard enough to all but uproot it, with no visible damage to the beast itself. Baird clung to the post for dear life as it tilted precariously at a sixty-degree angle. Snorting, the Boar backed up for another run at the post, which was unlikely to withstand too many blows like that.
What the heck is keeping the others? Baird thought impatiently. Anytime now would be good.…
As if on cue, a blinding white flash came from the front door of the college library just across the quad. The door swung open and two more Librarians burst onto the scene. Panting in exhaustion, and looking distinctly worse for wear, Cassandra Cillian and Ezekiel Jones arrived in what Baird desperately hoped was the nick of time. Their clothes were rumpled and torn, their hair was mussed, Ezekiel was missing one shoe, and was Cassandra wearing a pair of … antlers?
“We’ve got it!” Cassandra brandished an antique bow and arrow. The petite redhead waved the weapon enthusiastically. Large blue eyes gleamed with excitement. “We found it!”
“About time!” Baird clung to the tottering lamppost. “What took you so long?”
“Hey,” Ezekiel protested. “You try robbing an ancient Greek temple that’s been hidden for thousands of years—and that just happens to be guarded by some very grumpy Harpies.” He flashed Baird a cocky smile, looking typically pleased with himself. An Australian accent tinged his voice. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
“You can tell me all about it … later,” Baird said. “At the moment, I could use a little help here.”
Although momentarily distracted by the new arrivals, the Boar rammed its massive skull against the base of the lamppost. Sparks flew where its tusks scored the metal. Baird gulped as the leaning post dropped another fifteen degrees or so, bringing her closer to the frenzied razorback. Gravity tugged on her as she tightened her grip upon the tall iron pole, holding on to it with both arms and legs. Hanging beneath the post, with her back to the demolished pavement, she struggled to get up on top of it instead.
“Right, sorry,” Cassandra stammered. She nocked the arrow to the bowstring, but struggled to draw the string back as the sturdy bow resisted her efforts. “Wow, this is harder than movies make it look!”
Legend told of how the Calydonian Boar was finally brought down by an arrow loosed by the celebrated Greek heroine Atalanta. Tracking down the long-lost arrow of Atalanta after a couple of millennia had been no easy task, but it was precisely the sort of quest at which the Librarians excelled. Now Baird could only hope that history—and myth—repeated itself.
“Gimme that.” Stone ran over and claimed the bow and arrow from Cassandra, pausing for a moment to admire the artifacts. “A classic recurve bow, as employed in ancient Greece, composed of polished horn per tradition. Craftsmanship and detailing consistent with early Aetolia, fifth century BCE if not earlier…”
Baird rolled her eyes. Librarians.
As their Guardian, it was her job to protect her brainy charges, sometimes even from themselves.
“Less ogling, more shooting!”
“Technically, you loose an arrow, you don’t shoot it,” Stone said. “But … I’m on it.”
His upper-body strength proved sufficient to draw back the bowstring. He let fly the arrow, which struck the Boar squarely between the shoulders. It squealed in fury and gnashed its choppers.
“Nice shot, mate!” Ezekiel said.
Stone shrugged. “Well, I’ve done some bow hunting in my time.…”
“Mind you, I could have made that shot, too,” Ezekiel said, “if necessary, that is.”
“Uh-huh,” Stone said with a smirk. “You keep telling yourself that, pal.”
Ezekiel grinned at his friend’s disheveled toga. “Nice look, incidentally. Very Bed, Bath, and Beyond.”
Stone scowled. “Don’t even start.…”
“Um, guys,” Baird called. “We’re not done here yet.”
Although wounded, the Boar was still up and about. Snorting and squealing, it furiously rubbed its back against the tottering lamppost, trying to dislodge the wooden arrow jutting from its back. Ichor trickled down its hide, but the monster seemed as preternaturally powerful as ever. The unsteady lamppost shook from the impact of the Boar’s frantic activity. An exposed electrical cable, severed and sparking, hissed like an angry serpent.
“I don’t understand.” Cassandra looked on in confusion. “Why isn’t it working?”
“Beats me,” Stone said. “In the myth—” His eyes lit up as he put it together. “In the myth, the Boar was famously defeated by a woman warrior—after all the male heroes had failed.” He shouted at Baird. “You hearing me?”
“Loud and clear.” She sighed in resignation. “Guess it’s up to me.”
Letting go of the tilting post, she dropped onto the Boar’s back. Its spiny bristles scraped her flesh, but she grabbed the jutting arrow shaft with both hands to keep from being thrown off the bucking monster. No way was she falling off the Boar and under its angry hooves. She hadn’t survived magical transformations, time travel, and a couple of near apocalypses just to get trampled by an overgrown potbellied pig.
“Time to put you down for good.”
Gripping the arrow with all her strength, she drove it deeper into the Boar’s hefty body, aiming for where she guessed its heart should be. An anguished squeal rewarded her effort as the ancient wooden arrow pierced something soft and vulnerable deep inside the creature. A tremor shook the Boar from head to tail, almost unseating Baird, before the previously solid monster dissolved into a puff of thick gray smoke that smelled vaguely of pork chops. Baird tumbled onto the broken pavement as the beast vanished out from under her.
“Ouch!” she exclaimed. “Remind me to do that over grass next time!”
The Librarians rushed to her side. “You did it!” Cassandra blurted. “You bested the Boar … just like Atalanta!”
“No, we did it.” Baird let go of the arrow, which clattered onto the ground. “It was a team effort all around, just like always.”
Stone helped her to her feet. “Is that it? Are we done?”
“Pretty much.” She dusted herself off before wading into the fountain to retrieve the idol. “Now we just need to get this back to the Library so Jenkins can undesecrate it somehow.”
“Er, I think the word for that is consecrate,” Cassandra said. “Or maybe reconsecrate?”
“Whatever,” Baird said. “Just so long as it defuses this puppy.”
“Hang on.” Ezekiel turned toward the noise coming from the party on the hill. Fireworks exploded in the air above the raucous celebration. Explosions briefly drowned out the dance music until somebody turned the volume up to eleven. “What’s the rush? Sounds like quite the blast.” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Which means we’re talking drunk college boys who aren’t paying close attention to their valuables.”
A master thief as well as a Librarian, Ezekiel often had his own, somewhat questionable priorities.
“Forget it,” Baird said firmly, laying down the law. Her soggy toga dripped onto the shattered pavement. “I’ve had all the Greek-a-palooza I can handle tonight.”
Cassandra retrieved the arrow. “I’m with Baird. It’s been a long day … night … whatever.” She fought back a yawn. “I’m getting jet lag from hopping from America to Greece and back again.”
Ezekiel started to protest again. “But—”
“No buts.” Baird held up her hand to forestall any further debate. “Home it is.” She took a closer look at Cassandra. “So what’s with the antlers, Red?”
Blushing, the smaller woman removed the bony tines crowning her head, as though she had forgotten about them.
“It’s a long story,” she said.
“Can’t wait to hear it.” Baird herded the Librarians toward the waiting doorway. Beyond the entrance to the college library, another Library awaited.
Copyright © 2017 by Electric Entertainment