Chapter 26: Red-Handed
Sand flew through the air as they trudged along, while other parts of the sand collected inside of their shoes. They kept walking silently - exhausted from the heat, yet they still kept walking.
The boy and the girl trudging through the sand were coincidentally wearing the same type of outfit, only that the boy had his pants dyed brown, and the girl had her skirt dyed grey.
Still, they kept trudging - they were almost there! Still, they kept trudging, determined as ever to get to Engine Bay and find clues of where Nola Applequill had gone.
“Hold up,” the girl wheezed, slowing to a stop near a tall wooden pole. She rested her right hand on the side of the wooden pole for balance, but the boy kept walking. “Jacoby, can we please-” She wheezed in another breath, “-just hold on for a second?”
Jacoby Elderfun turned around to face the girl, Grace Newgadget. “We’ve gotta keep moving. If Applequill’s at Engine Bay, she wouldn’t stay for long.”
Grace nodded, still breathing heavy. “Okay.” She shifted from her position and took her hand off of the wooden pole as she resumed walking.
“We’re going to find her, aren’t we?” Grace whispered breathily.
“Let’s hope so,” Jacoby answered as the two of them neared the entrance to Engine Bay.
It all happened in a flash: Glancing frantically at Lightscape’s and Stormy’s panicked faces, the security guard feeling all around my body - which was very uncomfortable, mind you - for signs of weapons… And then him finding one.
This is the only time I regret bringing an extra gun to an operation. I gritted my teeth. I had completely forgot about the extra backup gun I had brought. I sighed. This wasn’t going to end well.
My hands were already cuffed, and the guard was already on his radio, calmly asking for backup. He clipped the radio back on his belt and focused all of his attention to me.
I tried to fight. I tried to squirm, to resist the guard’s clutches and run. But… I couldn’t. Because a nearly scrawny 16-year-old girl is no match for a large security guard of the biggest - and only - museum of Aethasia, any way you slice it.
But I didn’t give up. I closed my eyes and tried squirming out of his grasp. To no avail, mind you, but I tried. My heart skipped so many beats as I tried kicking, punching, moving, doing anything I could. I had never in my life been in so much trouble before. I had never, before that moment, gotten caught.
But this time, it was different.
Shoes clacked on the cobblestone ground. Noises of scuffling bare feet echoed throughout the damp, dreary grotto. Gloria Oldenpinner’s curious green eyes darted to her partner, Scarlett Darkhall.
Gloria signaled for her partner to follow as they entered an alley, searched it for signs of Nola, and then exited.
Odd… Why aren’t the Urchins here?
She glanced at a crate and locked her eyes on it. Two brown eyes glanced up fearfully from behind the crate.
Gloria tilted her head. “Nola?”
The eyes lifted up, and a whole head was seen; then, soon, a whole body. A young girl, most likely about seven or eight years old, with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes, blinked twice and then gave a toothy grin. “D’tective!” she exclaimed. “I thought you with the Empire a’ first!”
Gloria smiled in turn. “Nope! I’m D.G.O., and this is my partner, Scarlett.”
Scarlett smiled also. “Hi! It’s nice to meet you too, uh… What’s your name?”
“‘Arriet,” the girl responded.
“Harriet?” Scarlett repeated.
The girl nodded.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Scarlett. Scarlett Darkhall.”
“Have you happened to see a girl with brown hair and blue eyes?” Gloria asked. “She’s a criminal, and we’re looking for her. She’s probably in her later teens… She’s on the run.”
Harriet shook her head. “Nope! Only seen me mates ‘round ‘ere… And you gels too! None other than that.”
“Her name is Nola Applequill,” Scarlett replied. “If you ever see her, let us know.” She smiled.
“Will do, d’tectives!” Harriet tipped her brown, rugged hat as the two detectives exited the grotto.
7 Minutes Earlier
“This is McCleary. I need backup at the entrance to the museum. There’s an armed girl. I repeat, there is a… Teenager… With weapons. Do you copy?”
The radio chirped with the sound of security guard Forrest McCleary’s voice, as Officer Noah Garfield picked up the radio and swiveled in his chair. “This is Garfield. I copy.” He let out a deep breath. What is it with teenagers these days? He shook his head, cocked his pistol and walked out of the small station.
7 Minutes Later
I stared at the police officer. A million thoughts were buzzing in my head like a swarm of bees. Lightscape and Stormy were detained also, since we went in as a group. Of course. I wish we would have just gone in individually, so it wouldn’t be suspicious. They could complete the mission without me. I blinked - back to the officer’s question.
He had asked me a simple question - my name. But the answer would certainly not be as simple as that question.
“I’m going to ask you again,” the officer repeated calmly. “What is your name?”
Okay. Which one do I pick? There’s no way in the land of Aethasia I’m using my real name… But then, my last name I used - Gracie Keyblast - has been, well, used too much.
Fine. Time for a new one.
“M-Maisie,” I replied, stuttering on purpose. “Maisie Egglook.”
“Thank you,” the officer replied, then studied a paper on the table we were sitting at. “And now-” He met my gaze, “-why in the Aetherstep were you carrying a weapon, Miss Egglook?”
Jacoby Elderfun and Grace Newgadget slowed to a stop as they studied their surroundings.
“We’re here,” Grace wheezed, catching her breath.
“Yeah, but Applequill’s not,” Jacoby replied. “We’ve got to report back to the other detectives.”
Grace nodded as they turned around and retraced their steps. “Where else do you think she would be?”
Jacoby shook his head. “I have no idea. We’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Although Peregrine Appleclock’s frantic whispers were, in fact, whispers, they were still loud enough to attract unwanted attention of the Automatons guarding the mines. Fortunately, Peregrine didn’t run into any trouble - not yet, anyway.
Of course, she had a great reason for whispering so loudly - Emily Purplebottle was gone, and that was not a good thing.
How did I just let her go like that? Well, she snuck away… But it makes no sense! It was so quiet! She ran her hand through her short blonde hair and grunted.
Peregrine continued to search for the new criminal on the loose, dreading what the detectives would say when they would find out that Emily was gone.
“Come on, Emily, where are you?” she whispered to herself. I know this place like the back of my hand. She has to be here somewhere.
As she continued searching, her radio came alive with the sound of Gloria Oldenpinner’s voice.
“This is Detective Gloria Oldenpinner,” came the muffled voice on the other line. “Once you are done looking, meet Scarlett and I back at Books & Crannies. I repeat, meet us back at Books & Crannies. D.G.O. out.”
A Mineion twenty feet away stopped in its tracks and turned around to face Peregrine. It began to come at her, faster, faster, faster…
Peregrine resisted the urge to facepalm. Did the radio have to be that loud? She shook off the thoughts and ran away as fast as she could get her legs to run.
You’re fine, Applequill. Just play the victim and play dumb. You got this.
“W-what? Weapon? What are you talking about?”
Not that dumb!
The officer rolled his eyes. “Miss Egglook, you were carrying a pistol. What was your purpose for entering the museum with a gun in your inner pocket?”
“I… I don’t understand this! This makes no sense--”
The officer gave me the I-Know-What-You’re-Doing look. “Maisie, do you think you’re the first person who has tried to steal something from our museum?”
“Steal? Just that word gives me the shivers--”
“Stop playing dumb, Egglook. I know it’s not your real name and I know you’re acting. Because that’s what they allllll do. I’ll crack you like the egg you say you are soon enough.”
Silence. Just plain silence.
There was nothing to be heard but the quiet ticking of the antique clock. The two detectives just stood there in silence, looking at the map table and trying to deduce where in Aethasia Nola Applequill might be.
But there was no talk, nor chatter; no rejoicing, nor mourning; no deduction, nor investigation - it was silence. Pure silence.
And then that all changed.
The door burst open as a boy and a girl arrived, panting, out of breath.
“We couldn’t find her,” the girl, Grace Newgadget, wheezed.
The boy, Jacoby Elderfun, just shook his head silently.
“That’s alright,” Gloria Oldenpinner replied. “The others might have made a breakthrough.”
Scarlett Darkhall nodded in agreement.
After a few seconds of silence, the door quietly creaked open, and in came two more - Hanna Brassheart and Ariella Newheart.
Hanna shook her head. “She’s not at Lukas’.”
“Lukas hasn’t even seen her at all today,” Ariella added.
Gloria frowned. “Hmm. Let’s hope Peregrine and Emily are having better luck than we are.”
“Aether,” Hanna whispered.
I raised an eyebrow. This guy’s good.
“If you’ll excuse me,” the officer said, getting up from his chair, “I have two more suspects to interrogate. Good day, Miss Egglook.”
With that, the officer left the room.
I felt terrible that I dragged Lightscape and Stormy into this. This is why I work alone! I gritted my teeth.
If there was anything I could do to break myself and the others out, I would have done it. But I couldn’t, because I was handcuffed to the table, unable to go anywhere or do anything. So I just sat there, alone and in silence. But this was not the solitude that I had loved and learned to live with for most of my life - this was sitting in a chair, unable to stand, unable to help those who are depending on me.
I closed my eyes and rested my neck on the top of the hard metal chair as I sat, alone with nothing but my thoughts.
Officer Noah Garfield gave a deep sigh as he entered Room B. He closed the metal door behind him and stared at the man sitting at the other end of the square metal table.
“I’ve seen you before,” Noah said, resting his hand on the empty chair in front of him. “Mr. Lightscape Ironwalker, right?”
Lightscape sat silently, staring at Noah with his vivid blue eyes.
“This is an interrogation, son,” Noah continued, walking around the chair and then sitting down. “Here, I’m afraid, you don’t have the right to remain silent.”
Lightscape just blinked.
“Mm. So, the girl’s real name. We already know it’s not Maisie Egglook. Why don’t you tell me what her real name is?”
Lightscape raised his eyebrows. “Why should I trust you?”
“You shouldn’t,” Noah answered. “Criminals usually don’t trust cops.”
“We’re not criminals,” Lightscape replied, looking away as he gritted his teeth.
“Oh, you aren’t? So why was Miss What’s-Her-Face carrying a weapon?” Noah rolled his eyes. “Look, I know what you guys are trying to do. Criminals used to try to come in all the time.”
Lightscape met the officer’s gaze. “Sir, I’m afraid you don’t know the whole story.”
9 Years Earlier
Feet scuffling. Breath huffing. Heart pounding. Boy running.
The young boy’s long blond hair blowing, he kept running, running, running.
I’m almost there!
Running, running, running.
They’ve almost got me!
Running, running, running.
Ten feet away now.
Running, running, running.
They’ve grabbed me! They-- AH!
The two Autofficers grabbed the boy by each arm and stopped him from running any farther.
“Not so fast, boy,” one of them sneered.
The other held his arm tightly and added, “Do you know what we’re going to do to you now, you--”
In came a girl that seemed about the boy’s age, with white hair in pigtails and white eyes darting to and fro as she punched one Autofficer in the face and kicked the other.
“Come on, Light!” she beckoned as she began to run toward their hideout. “We don’t have much time!”
The young boy stole one last glance at the two Autofficers already almost on their feet, and then followed the girl to the hideout.
Once they were both inside, the girl closed the door and locked it as she took several deep breaths, as did the boy.
“Thank you, Stormy,” the boy wheezed, still catching his breath.
“No problem.” The girl, Stormy, took one last deep breath and stabilized. “Guess what I’ve got.” She pulled something out of her pocket… A key!
The boy gasped. “You have the key?” he asked in his thick British accent.
“Yep,” Stormy replied. She smiled. “Lightscape, we’re finally getting out of here.”
The boy, Lightscape, grinned. “Then let’s get going, shall we?”
Stormy bit her lip. “Well… What about the others? Lillian? Kylee? Sestiva? Even Neville?”
Lightscape’s grin faded as he shook his head rapidly. “We haven’t any time! The Autofficers are most likely still trying to get to us. We must leave them, Stormy.”
Stormy met Lightscape’s gaze, eyes beginning to water. “Then let’s go.”
“And that, sir, is the story. At least the beginning of it, anyway.”
Officer Noah Garfield finished jotting the entire story down. “So, you and the other woman - Stormy - were held captive in a place called Base Zero, a secret base of the Empire that no one knows about.”
“Mm. That explains Miss Stormy, but what about Egglook?”
“That is a whole another story to tell,” Lightscape replied. He went on to explain that his parents died when he was young, and that they left him a journal and one piece of the Amulet. And the Amulet, if all of the pieces are connected, will somehow explain who he truly is and what happened to his parents.
“And this very museum happens to have one of the pieces,” Lightscape finished.
Noah stifled a laugh. “So you were going to steal it, then?”
“Not necessarily.” Lightscape sighed, then continued. “It was more, the museum stole it from us. These pieces of the Amulet… They were forged a special way. I know not how, but I know the Amulet is special. There are seven pieces, and they are all hidden in different places. They were originally my parents’, and the museum took one of them from us.”
Noah made a slowing down gesture with his hands. “Okay, rewind. You said, ‘the museum stole it from us’. Who is us again?”
Lightscape closed his eyes. “Maisie and I.”
Noah raised his eyebrows. “And how is she connected here…?”
“She is my sister.”
Noah blinked. After a long moment of silence, he replied, “Okay. So…”
“The name she is most commonly known as is Nola Applequill,” Lightscape added. “But that is not her real name.”
“And what’s her real name?” Noah prodded.
“That is where I draw the line, sir,” Lightscape said. “I have said enough for now. Are you convinced we're not criminals now?”
Noah narrowed his eyes. “How do I know you’re not lying?”
“You don’t.” Lightscape smiled faintly. “Except that if you ask Stormy, she will have the same story. And if you ask Nola, she will have her own variation.”
“Okay, anything else I should know?” Noah asked.
Lightscape shrugged. “Not much. I can see the future. At least part of it.”
At that, Noah burst into a laugh. “Hah! Yeah, right.”
Lightscape sighed, closed his eyes, and then opened them again with a newfound grin on his face. “You will want to respond to that radio.”
Noah opened his mouth to say something, when his radio suddenly came alive with the voice of security guard Forrest McCleary.
“This is McCleary. Any word on the armed group? Over.”
Noah stood up, glared at Lightscape and grabbed his radio from his pocket. “This is Officer Garfield. I, uh…” He looked at Lightscape. “The man’s told us all we need to know. He’ll be given a warning. Over.”
“Since when did we give criminals warnings?” asked Forrest.
“You’re right,” Noah replied, “we don’t. But these people aren’t criminals. Not yet, they aren’t. We caught them before they were gonna steal anything, and now that they’ve told us the truth about what was going on beforehand, I’ll cut them some slack this time.”
There was a bit of silence before Forrest replied. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Officer. But when they come back, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Noah closed his eyes as he drew in a deep breath. He opened his eyes as he responded, “Roger that.”
“Thank you,” Lightscape said.
Noah shook his head. “Don’t thank me. I’m not doing anything for you.” He pulled something out from his inner jacket pocket. “I’m going to put a tracker on you and your friends. Wherever you go, we’ll know.”
Lightscape sighed as he rolled up his left sleeve, letting Noah shoot the tracker into his arm.
“Thank you. Enjoy your freedom.”
“You think that’s freedom?” Lightscape asked calmly, tilting his head. “No, letting someone go but watching their every move is not freedom.” He sighed. “But I thank you for letting us go nonetheless.”
Noah put a hand on Lightscape’s shoulder. “Like I said, don’t thank me. If any of you ever try to steal anything again, you will be arrested and in jail for who knows how long. Consider this an official warning.”
“Warning received,” Lightscape muttered, but inwardly wondered how they would accomplish their quest now, with every action being monitored and studied.
I suppose we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.