Chapter 20: An Unexpected Ally
It had already been ten minutes, and any normal person would have left by then. But then, he wasn't exactly normal, was he?
It was rumored by some that Lightscape Ironwalker had the ability to predict the future. Even though he wouldn't admit it to anyone, he knew that rumor to be true. Although he wasn't always perfectly accurate, he usually was. And that was scary.
Obviously, he never used his power for any harmful purposes. In fact, he could never truly use his power. It was more of a case-by-case basis.
Iliara Mustardtop, who was on the other side of the counter, plopped down on a bar stool with a slight sigh and glanced at Lightscape. "Is she late?" she asked, finally. "The woman you're meeting with?"
"No," Lightscape replied in his thick British accent, that signature knowing smile accompanying his face yet again. "If I'm correct, she'll arrive precisely on time." He paused, and then continued, smile growing quicker. "I like to arrive as early as I can." He winked.
The two of them turned their heads to the cheery bell that dinged its greeting behind both of them.
"Please let it be another customer," Iliara whispered.
My eyes softly fluttered open. I heard the roaring of engines all around me, and wondered where in the Aetherstep I was.
And then I remembered the adventure that I had taken a part in. The escape from the Boom Lands, and the guilt of a mission unaccomplished.
I sighed tiredly and sat upright. Suddenly, fearful thoughts penetrated my mind. Why was I asleep? Did someone inject me with a sleep serum? What did I miss? Wait... Was I unconscious? My breathing started to quicken as I dumped out all of my thoughts into my words. "Wait... What happened? Was I unconscious? When did I fall asleep? What's going on?"
"Nola?" Darkhall shouted over the roar of the engines. "Nola, you okay?"
"No!" I shouted back, panic filling my thoughts and memories infiltrating my mind. "What happened?"
"Nothing important," she replied. "We got past that big robot eye, so there should be smooth waters from here on out."
I sighed in relief. I didn't know why my emotions were stimulated like that, but it was most likely memories of my childhood, back at the Grotto with Ais--
I looked back at the robot eye behind me, the distance gaining as we sped farther and farther. Thanks, mind. Now I can't stop thinking about her and... Ava.
Now, two people for my mind to dwell on. I choke back tears, and the next thing I think of is, "Really, Nola? Now you want to cry? Wait until you're somewhere by yourself, back on No Man's Landing, faaaaaar, far away. Wait, no. Why don't you just not cry at all? That would be really helpful. Yeah. It would. Let's just not cry."
You know how sometimes you get that feeling where you just sense someone staring at you and you can't even see them, and you turn around and they really are staring at you?
Needless to say that happened. I turned around and saw Gloria looking at me, most likely studying me - being a detective and all. She quickly looked away.
My attention is turned to her now. And that's a good thing, or else sneaky little tears would have probably made their way down my cheeks. "Oldenpinner."
Gloria looked back at me.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing." Her green eyes met my gaze, looking directly at me. "Nola, I'm having trouble figuring you out."
I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow naturally. "Maybe you shouldn't be."
"Shouldn't be what?"
"Figuring me out. Or even trying, for that matter."
Gloria perked up slightly. "And why is that?"
"Because there are some parts about me you wouldn't want to figure out," I reply.
Gloria gasped faintly. "Did you... Did you hurt someone?"
"I hurt many people, Oldenpinner. Not physically, but mentally. You wouldn't want to figure me out, I guarantee you." I noticed her eyes drooping downward, but I added, "But if you did, you'd understand why I do what I do."
"Do what you do? You mean commit crimes?"
"Only when I need to... I actually meant being a nomad. Moving from place to place. Taking names, faces, accents, friends... Becoming a different person, basically." After a moment of silence, I added, "You should be grateful I'm Nola Applequill with you and your fellow detectives, or I probably had some kind of betrayal up my sleeve like just about everything else."
I sighed. I didn't want to do what I did. I didn't want to live a lie for an extended period of time and then switch to a new and improved lie. Not just a lie to others, but also a lie to myself.
Finally, after a few minutes of silence, Gloria met my gaze. "Nola, you should join us. You really should be a detective, and work with the Resistance. Please."
I shuddered at the thought of "joining a Resistance". I knew those kind of groups. They're like a family. And the last time I tried to join a family--
"Nola, listen to me. We won't betray you like every other time. I promise."
My eyes darted to Gloria at the sudden statement. It was like she pierced my soul with conviction... And a knowledge even a detective couldn't detect. I didn't understand why she brought it up, and I didn't even know if she did, but I knew that it meant something.
"How did you know that?" I asked quietly, my voice creaking.
"I... Well... Um..."
"Tell me!" I roared.
"I'm sorry, I just... I felt like saying that."
I glanced at her sternly, but my reply was not that of anger. My expression changed and my weary, tired face showed through. "I-it's okay."
Newgadget suddenly shouted at us from the other boat. "I see land!"
"I see a dock!" Gloria shouted, jumping up to a higher platform on the speedboat. "We're at the port of No Man's Landing."
I couldn't help but grin as we neared the wooden docks and stepped foot on land once more. "We made it."
"Hey, I have an idea," Gloria replied.
I nodded, as if saying, "go ahead".
"There's a bookshop and coffee shop that just opened not too long ago," Gloria explained. "Want to stop in? I think I may know someone there to help us with our interrogation."
"Sure... I'm not in the mood for coffee," I reply.
"Nola, it's more than just coffee. There's someone I can talk to there to--"
"They have books there, too!" Grace piped.
"Thaaat's what a bookshop is," Ariella replied.
"Let's just go," I stated.
We finally made our way into the quaint bookshop.
Gloria immediately tugged Scarlett and Ariella to the front desk, where a young girl with a braid sat. She looked... Familiar...
"Hello, Miss Applequill."
I heard the British accent in the distance and quickly turned my head to see who called. It was a man, most likely in his twenties, with long blond hair and beautiful blue eyes.
I raised my eyebrow and walked toward him. "Hello, Mr..."
"Ironwalker," the man replied. "Lightscape Ironwalker."