Chapter Thirty-One: Ashe
They surveyed the scene. The lake was to their right—several boats were bouncing across it, probably coming from Türlen across the water.
He glanced back at the labs. The buildings were scarred in several places, tarnished with holes and burn marks. A group of half a dozen guards were gathered near one corner, looking at the devastation.
Things seemed to be calming down, but who had won?
And if it was Akemi, could they trust her?
He had a brief window of time, to get justice for his parents, and he didn’t mean to waste it. Even if it killed him. He would do what he could the keep Jaxx from the worst of the fray.
“You’re thinking about leaving me behind again ‘for my own good’, aren’t you?” Jaxx said softly, staring at him through narrowed eyes.
Ashe looked away. “I should have left you back home.” Jaxx knew him way too well.
Jaxx snorted. “You tried, remember? Well, you can forget about it. I’m in this with you to the end.”
Ashe nodded. This selfless devotion was more than he deserved, and he was humbled by it.
He pulled out the flash drive. It was still glowing. It was strongest when he pointed it toward the castle where it met the lake. Whoever they were after, they would find him or her there. “So how do we do it?” he said at last.
Jaxx cocked his head. “Get in?”
“There’s some kind of shed or structure not too far from the castle, over there.” Jaxx pointed to where the castle wall made a ninety degree turn toward the labs. “It’s near the kitchen. If we get lucky, maybe the kitchen door will be open—”
“And we’ll just walk right in?” Ashe shook his head. “I don’t like it. Too risky. What about the library windows?” He pointed at the other end of the castle.
Jaxx considered, scratching the stubble on his chin. “Maybe. And it’s farther from the lab. There’s no direct line of sight. We could use the shed as cover, head to the castle wall there…” he pointed to the wall facing the stand of trees where they’d hidden themselves, “…and make our way down toward the water.”
Ashe glanced back at the group of guards in the distance, near the labs. They were all filing inside the building. “Okay, I think that’s our cue. You ready?”
Jaxx nodded, and pecked him on the cheek. “For luck.”
Ashe tucked the flash drive into his pocket. He waited until the last man had filed into the lab, and then ran at a low crouch toward the shed, taking cover behind another shrub, then a tree that stood alone in the middle ground, finally reaching the back of shed itself.
It was dark inside. He smudged some of the dirt off a window with the cloth of his shirt sleeve, and peered inside. It was a garage, with a snowplow and a couple trucks inside.
Jaxx arrived next to him.
They waited for a moment to see if anyone had noticed them in the castle or out in the courtyard. There were no new alarms or shouts.
Ashe pointed at the corner of the castle, where the wall turned away from the labs, and mimed crawling. There were enough weeds and hummocks of grass to give them cover between their hiding spot and the shed.
They were gonna be filthy after this.
No time like the present. He got down on the ground and, with one last look over toward the labs, started toward the castle at a fast crawl.
He was halfway across when another vehicle roared into the courtyard between the castle and the lab, screeching to a halt.
Ashe flattened himself on the ground, praying they wouldn’t look this way—that they wouldn’t notice him from this distance.
He dared to peek in the direction of the labs, under his arm, and saw to his relief that the occupants of the car were also running inside without looking back.
As soon as they disappeared, he hurried on to the castle, leaving the lab buildings out of sight and turning to collapse with his back against the stone wall, panting heavily.
“Shit that was close,” Jaxx said, arriving a moment behind him.
Ashe pointed to the library windows at the other end of the wall. “Come on, let’s go.” He made his way down the wall, ducking beneath windows where someone might have seen him. Afternoon was shading toward evening, and it was getting colder fast. A breeze blew in on off the lake and gave him goosebumps. Either that or he was having a phoenix flare up.
He shook his head. He wasn’t his father, no matter what recent events said to the contrary. He could control himself.
They reached the first of the windows looking into the library.
Ashe peered inside cautiously. The lights were on, but no one was visible.
He stood and tried pulling up the window pane, but it wouldn’t budge.
The castle was set right up against the lake. Maybe there was a way in underwater, but Ashe didn’t fancy swimming around in cold, dark, murky water looking for it. He preferred the sky to the lake.
Ashe pulled out the flash drive again. It wanted them to go inside.
There were two more windows.
He crawled to one, and tried it. Locked.
“One more,” Jaxx whispered. He crawled past Ashe and stood to pull up on the window frame. It resisted for a second, but then slid up with a groan.
After checking inside to be sure no one had been alerted, he gestured to the opening. “After you.”
Ashe gave him a quick peck on the cheek and ducked inside.