Chapter Twenty-Four: Ashe
Ashe’s broken wing ached, despite the pain killer pills Edwige had produced after she’d splinted his wing. He felt exposed, practically naked behind enemy lines, and wearing the dragon rider’s shorts to boot. His wings were exposed, and he couldn’t pull them back inside himself where they would be safe.
He felt vulnerable.
Jaxx seemed to sense his discomfort, reaching back with his hand to grasp Ashe’s. “You okay?” he mouthed in the dim light. He’d smartly inserted himself between Ashe and the dragon rider to prevent any further altercations.
Ashe shook his head. “But I will be. You?”
Jaxx gave him the wavy hand sign that meant ‘kind of, but not really.’
They stopped for a minute as Kaden looked back and forth, either hearing something or trying to judge the best path forward.
Edwige whispered something to Aegeus. The merman was holding Nootau. The merman passed her message back along the line.
Jaxx whispered it into his ear. “She says the castle is the safest bet. There are fewer patrols there, and it’s closest to the lake. Pass it on.”
Ashe nodded and turned to find Rolly behind him. He whispered the message into the man’s ear.
Ashe turned to look at their new companions. Maybe they had jumped the gun, acting first when they should have asked questions.
Edwige looked back at the line, looking for all the world like a mother goose guiding her brood to the lake. She nodded at him, and he gave her a sheepish smile.
Mother swan, he corrected himself. She was far too pretty to be a goose. He admired how she had knocked them all into line, both figuratively back in the lab and literally as they made their escape. There was steel in her spine.
They started forward again, entering the long passageway that connected the castle to the research center. Ashe glanced back over his shoulder. They seemed to have escaped detection so far, though something had brought those other guards for a look-see.
They had turned out the lights in the lab, and if they were really, really lucky, the results of their rampage would stay hidden until morning. But the guards were likely find the other one—Davis?—before that. And that was assuming that they hadn’t tripped any alarms on their way in or out.
* * * * *
Aegeus cradled Nootau’s limp form in his arms, following Edwige and Kaden as they led the motley group back toward the castle. He hummed softly to his lover, every now and then pulling him up for a nuzzle or a light kiss on his forehead.
Nootau slept the sleep of the dead. The poor man had been put through so much these last few months—more than one Being should be asked to endure. From the death of his close friend to living and fighting as a dragon to taking the form of a human, every day seemed to bring something new to tax his already-depleted reserves. Aegeus didn’t know how Nootau managed to go on.
He’d almost lost it when he saw Nootau in the lab after his fight with the little goblin. The skin walker had fought to stay upright, the color gone from his face, his eyes red and his arms and legs quivering with exhaustion.
He was worried about Nootau. His third shouldn’t have been fighting in his condition.
When they paused at the entry to the castle, Edwige turned back to him and touched Nootau’s face, cupping it gently with her hand.
“How is he?” she whispered.
“Bad. He needs rest, and probably healing.”
She nodded. “Keep him comfortable.”
She started to turn away.
“You did well back there.”
She flashed him a ghost of a smile. Then she started off into the castle halls.
He looked down to see Nootau staring up at him. He was trying to say something. Aegeus pulled him up close to his ear.
“Who...” He struggled to get the words out. “Who...”
“Who… who what?”
Nootau tried again. “Who are they?”
Aegeus shrugged. “That’s what we need to find out.”
Kaden led them around a corner to a pair of large, carved wooden doors. So far, they’d been lucky. The guards must have already swept this part of the facility.
With a brief look around, Edwige opened them and led them inside, closing the doors quietly.
Aegeus looked around. The room was dark, but moonlight shone through windows on the far side. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness.
Shelves upon shelves filled the room, each one covered in books.
They’d found the library.