Chapter Thirty-Three: Ashe
I Told You It Would Come In Handy
Light glimmered off Cooper’s knife blade as Jaxx struggled to move, even an inch.
The stone that cast the stasis spell had a radius of five feet. That gave him just a hair’s-breadth of a chance.
Fortunately he had a good throwing arm.
As Cooper passed the desk, the paralysis that held Jaxx lessened just for a second in his left arm. Now. He took full advantage of the reprieve, scooping up the snow globe and throwing it squarely at Dr. Cooper’s face.
The man yelled and threw up his arms to block it, and the glowing stone went flying out of his hands to skid across the floor and underneath the desk.
The snow globe smashed into the wall, sending bits of glass and water and fake snow into the air.
Ashe, freed from the stasis spell, slammed into the chair where Cooper had been.
Jaxx launched himself at Cooper before the man could recover, pushing him hard against a bookshelf and launching a flurry of leather-bound books into the air to join the general chaos.
Cooper’s fiery wings manifested themselves, setting fire to the wooden shelves and sending Jaxx staggering backward against the desk.
Ashe regained his footing and glared at Cooper warily across the corner of the desk, his own wings blazing. “How about we make this a fair fight?” There was fire in his eyes too. Jaxx had never seen that before.
“As you wish.” Cooper launched himself at Ashe, knife still in hand.
Ashe dodged the blade and Cooper reached the window. He flung it open and turned to throw the knife back at Ashe.
Ashe dodged it, and it embedded itself in the wooden door.
Then Cooper was gone over the edge of the faux balcony railing.
Ashe looked back at Jaxx, his eyes wild.
“Go!” Jaxx shouted. “Bring him down!”
Ashe nodded and launched himself after the doctor.
Jaxx ran to the window and stared out over the lake, as Ashe chased down the man who had wreaked such ruin on his family.
He was glad he wasn’t Cooper.
* * * * *
Ashe took fully to the air—no one to hold him back, just the sky above reflected in the lake waters below.
It was late in the day, and Cooper’s own burning wings glowed crimson in the dimming light, calling Ashe like a beacon.
All this time, all of his pain, the long, twisting road from the deserts of Southern Arizona to Switzerland… it all came down to this moment.
His powerful wings pulled him upward after Cooper. He was still a little sore from his injury, but he pushed through it. The man was at least twenty years older than Ashe—he couldn’t keep ahead for long.
Cooper must have known it. He turned back toward the castle, perhaps seeking help or a safe haven.
Ashe couldn’t allow it. He was too close to the end. He redoubled his efforts, his wings beating against the air as he strained to pull himself closer to Cooper.
About a hundred feet from the castle wall, he caught up with the man at last, ramming into Cooper from behind under his wings and grabbing the man around the waist. If he could get Cooper down to the water, his wings would be extinguished and his flight options would be greatly reduced.
Tethered to one another, they began to fall, the air screaming past them, the combined flames of their wings fanned by the wind and making them into a fiery comet.
Cooper twisted and tried to beat at Ashe’s arms with his fists.
Ashe held him tight as they plummeted toward the water. He wasn’t getting away. Not if Ashe had a single breath left in his lungs.
“Get off me!” Cooper shouted. “You’re crazy! You’ll kill us both!”
“Not my plan.” Ashe spread his wings to slow their descent slightly, but they still hit the water at a good speed. His legs entered first, then his torso, and as his wings touched the water, they set off a fierce boil, sending a huge cloud of steam into the sky.
He dropped down, down, down into the depths.
* * * * *
Jaxx saw the two phoenixes fall from the sky, plunging rapidly toward the water in a tumbling blaze of orange flame.
At that speed, one or both of them might be killed by the impact with the water.
“Ashe!” he called out as the pair fell.
Jaxx turned and scooped up his pack and ran out of the room.
* * * * *
Ashe plunged down and down, his flames snuffed out. His wings retreated into his back.
The cold of the water shocked the air out of his lungs, and he struggled to claw his way back to the surface. It seemed to take an eternity, pulling himself up toward the light, but at last he reached the air, bursting above the water to take a ragged breath.
He treaded water, looking around wildly. He was about fifty feet from the shoreline. Cooper was already swimming toward it, his wet wings vanishing into his own back. If the man reached the water’s edge with enough lead time, he might be able to dry himself off and take to the sky again.
Ashe’s shoes were weighing him down. He treaded water and eased them off his feet, letting them float away, and then set off after Cooper. Thank God his father had taught him how to swim when he was young, even though he’d hated every minute of it.
The other phoenix was clearly struggling now, his strokes slowing, but he still managed to reach the shore a few seconds ahead of Ashe. He pulled himself out of the water, dripping wet, and sprinted along the castle wall toward the labs.
Ashe got out of the lake, shivering, and ran after him, hard on his heels.
Ashe caught him in the long grass he’d crawled through earlier with Jaxx. He launched himself at Cooper, bringing the man down.
Where was Jaxx?
They tumbled beak over toe together through the rough patch of vegetation, clawing at one another as they fought. Ashe scored a long gash across Cooper’s back.
They broke apart, and Ashe fought for breath. The man was surprisingly strong for his age.
Cooper snarled and jumped him again, a fire in his eyes.
They rolled toward the garage as the sky spun past overhead. They came to a halt with a smack against the side of the building.
Ashe realized woozily that the smack had been his own head. He reached up and touched his hand to the back of his head.
It came back wet with blood.
* * * * *
Cooper stood up shakily over him with a big rock in his hands. "I'm sorry it has to end like this," he said, shaking his head. “I truly am. It would have been nice to have another phoenix on the team." He lifted the rock up high.
Ashe reached up as the world shimmered and swayed. “Jaxx, I’m sorry,” he said, and closed his eyes.
There was a thunk and a strangled curse.
Ashe opened his eyes in time to see Cooper collapse to the ground.
Jaxx stood over the man holding the stolen laptop, which now sported a sizable dent. He grinned. ”See? I told you it would come in handy."
Ashe's eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell back into the grass, unconscious.