Magpie stood amongst the rubble where the large cathedral had previously stood. Snarling at the sheer amount of waste heaping around her feet, she craned her neck to search for the location of Ace’s helmet. She couldn’t help it. For months, an instinctual voice within her was clawing at her to find the infamous helmet, which had the power to amplify any prodigy’s power. However, it wasn’t the unlimited access to power that drew her in. There was something familiar about the helmet that called to her. It was strange. And Magpie hated the amount of curiosity that was building up inside of her. Sleepless nights had been plaguing her due to a recurring dream of baby Magpie holding the helmet. It was bizarre but most importantly, it gave Magpie a steadfast determination to solve the mystery of the helmet’s connection to her once and for all.
So far, she wasn’t getting very far. All she saw was rubble, more rubble…...and even more rubble. Scowling, Magpie kicked the debris with frustration, achieving nothing but dust rising and going into her eyes. Waving her hand in front of her face, Magpie ventured on. For the millionth time that day she wished her magnetic powers extended beyond just locating metals. It made this journey impossible! Ace’s helmet was inside a chromium coffin, which made it infeasible to locate using her powers and to break inside due to the caliber of the material. Luckily, she had brought a secret charm to help with that. A star that once fit in the fascinating bracelet, previously owned by that worthless Nova girl, thought Magpie. Few days prior, Magpie had snatched the charm from the artifacts department. Even if it had turned onyx since the battle, Magpie had remembered the brilliant gold color emitting from the charm. Oddly enough, this golden star had accompanied her dreams along with Ace’s helmet. She was sure the two were connected. When she had pawed the star off of the shelf it was on, she noticed the shimmery dust collecting on the charm. As soon as she touched it, it swooped in a circle before landing right on top of the charm, absorbing into the star. A few seconds later, the star in her hand was no longer made of onyx material. It had returned to its former golden glory! Remembering her lesson from science class at the Renegades HQ that renegades her age were required to attend, Magpie recalled that after a supernova, nebula dust remained, where it could then be recycled into creating another star. She marvelled at the charm in her hand as she realized that she had witnessed a creation of a new star- one she would use to her full advantage.
Now here she was, hoping the bracelet would come in handy with her search for Ace’s helmet.
Several hours later Magpie was delirious with exhaustion. This stupid helmet isn’t worth this much work, she bitterly thought. Just as she was about to head back in the direction of Renegades HQ, her foot came across a smooth foothold. Pausing in her step, she dug away, discovering a larger chunk of this strong material. Grinning broadly, she dug faster until she uncovered the large coffin she had been searching for. At last, she thought. She held up the star in her hand, ready to use it to uncover the helmet she had long sought.
Everybody has their nightmares- but they all come to an end eventually. Mine did, Nova
thought. Or rather Gatlon City’s nightmare came to an end. Making her way over to the tall glass window on the top floor of Renegades HQ, she looked down. She saw Gatlon City in its full glory. Kids running around in free spirit, using their superpowers occasionally to best their friends in games. Men and women training in the park to be new recruits for the new police force. A few miles south, adults were using their superpowers to continue repairing parts of the city. There was still much of the city that had yet to be reconstructed from the devastation of the last battle.
It’s been a year since Ace Anarchy, the city’s mastermind villain who also happened to
be Nova’s uncle, heaved destruction on prodigies, forcing hundreds to lose their powers using a poison known as Agent N. Ultimately, the tables turned and Ace Anarchy was dead. Struck by Captain Chromium's silver spear itself.
Nova didn’t like to dwell on the day when her uncle died, mostly because she couldn’t
shake off the guilt that it was due to her betrayal. He was a traitor, her family’s murderer and a liar…..but Nova guessed that it was just a habit to continue caring for someone after trusting them for years. It’s taken time to replace all the kind memories associated with Ace in the past and convince herself it was all an act. To him, she was not Nova. She was simply a means of power. Despite her occasional feelings of guilt over Ace’s death, Nova didn’t have too much trouble to turn her love for Ace into resentment. All she had to do was think about the night her family died when she was six and the feeling of bitterness came all over again.
Shaking her thoughts away, Nova turned her attention back to the view of the city.
Seeing new prodigies work together with more experienced superheroes restored the feeling that the sacrifices made by others weren’t fruitless. Nova’s heart twinged. Callum was among those who had sacrificed his life for the sake of the city. He had deserved so much better than death. Optimism was rare to find nowadays but Callum always had an abundant amount of hope. He saw the good in everyone- even the good in her, when Nova felt she hadn’t deserved it. If only Callum could share this view with me, Nova thought remorsefully. She bit her lip hard. Callum had once shared his dream for a city of peace and community. He would have been so proud, looking at this view with her and seeing everything this city has accomplished.
Nova spun around in alarm. She let out a sigh of relief replaced with a look of concern when she saw Adrian hurrying towards her. Great skies, what was he doing? Tailing not too far behind him was Ruby, Danna and Oscar, looking anxious. Many onlookers glanced perplexedly at them.
“What’s happening?” Nova asked, “I’m guessing this commotion is the result of a bigger
emergency than last time, when the vending machine broke down ”. Nova looked
pointedly at Oscar, trying to conceal her concern through lightheartedness.
“I’m afraid we have bigger problems than Oscar’s empty stomach,” Danna stated grimly.
“Prodigies are losing their power all over the city!”.
With utmost stealth, Magpie crept along the shadows steadily. Nearing the towering, double doored exit with Ace’s helmet in tow, Magpie dared to let her heart soar with hope. She might actually escape! Spoken too soon, a shadowy figure emerged before her. Phobia. Magpie sighed, knowing full well it was futile to try to escape under his nose with the prized helmet. Two days ago, it had seemed that finding Ace’s helmet was the most magnificent discovery she had ever located. Now, she wished she never went to search for that stupid helmet, or she wouldn’t be in this mess with Phobia in the first place!
Magpie had stared up at the shadowy figure with dumbfounded eyes. Without a doubt, Magpie knew who he was. She would never forget the shadowy face that had shown up in the second battle of Gatlon and had ripped Callum’s head off in mere seconds without hesitation. But...Phobia was dead… wasn’t he?
Lips curled up in a devilish smile, Phobia looked down at her as she huddled in fear. Noticing his sneer, she immediately straightened up and fixed a scowl on her face.
“How are you alive?” Magpie fiercely glared. “Never mind that- you won’t be alive for much longer. Wait till I get my hands on you for what you did to my… to my friend”.
Callum wasn’t really her friend. Not in true definition anyways. But he was always there for her, with that annoyingly optimistic smile to his face that she often took for granted. Magpie would never admit to anyone but herself that she missed him. A lot.
“What have we got here? A feisty one huh?” Phobia’s grin only grew, infuriating Magpie even more. “Nevermind that. You have something that I want. I have come to retrieve it.”
Pointing towards Ace’s helmet, Phobia waited a few seconds. After seeing Magpie make no move to give it to him, he snatched her along with the helmet and returned to the shadows again.
Now Magpie was stuck with Phobia, in this dilapidated building that reeked of mold and a musty scent. The helmet was back in his possession where he would use it to wreak even more havoc in the city. Yesterday, Phobia had discovered that the helmet magnified his powers to allow him to act on people’s fears and make it come true. After that, nothing could stop him from cornering isolated citizens walking around and bringing their fears alive. Ever since the second battle of Gatlon, the fear of becoming neutralized without possessing any powers was a very tangible fear for all of the Gatlon population. All the fear that had generated from the past war is what allowed Phobia to regenerate after he had died- that and because Adrian’s power came back at the end of the second Battle of Gatlon, allowing a possibility for Phobia to regenerate. Once he had his hands on the helmet, Phobia had enacted on this fear and made several strangers lose their powers. He didn’t target too many people so he wouldn’t give himself away and he always disguised himself by taking human form so nobody would recognize him. It was the first stage of his plan, where he was trying to slowly tear apart the city inside out. She wondered if it was working. What was happening outside the walls she was contained in? Was it chaos out there? Did they have any idea what was causing it?
“You stupid, stupid girl,” Phobia drawled with dry amusement, breaking Magpie out of her thoughts. “You thought you could steal the helmet and make a run for it?”
Muttering something unintelligible, Magpie kicked hard at the ground.
“I’m surprised,” Phobia replied with mock astonishment. “I had thought you of all people would easily join me in my conquest to fulfill Ace’s plans. What have the Renegades ever done for you anyways? They haven’t even noticed you were missing in the day and a half you’ve stayed here. That should say a lot about your cherished ‘superheros’”.
Hearing the words stung. Whatever retort Magpie was about to say fizzled out on her tongue. The Renegades didn’t care about her. Just like they didn’t care about her parents when their bodies were filled with bullets nor when her older sister went missing. There was only one Renegade who cared about her and he was dead. Dead because of Phobia, a little voice inside her reminded her. But she didn’t feel like listening to it. Why should she? Why not let Phobia continue to tear down the Renegades from inside out? There was no Renegade left that was worth saving anyways. A sob rose up but she forced it down. She hadn't cried in years and she would not cry now.
“Fine, I’ll help” she spat, looking up at Phobia reluctantly. “But what do I get in return?”
Phobia’s expression did not budge but his eyes gave away his pleased look, as if he were expecting this very question. “Simple. I have information about your sister, the last one remaining in your family. Gain my trust, and gain the knowledge.”
The rush of cool air wrapped around her as she stepped foot into the Renegades HQ. Without a moment to spare, she rushed past Sampson at the front desk and made her ways to the elevator. No one gave her much thought as she intently waited for the elevator to clear. Once it did, she hopped on and firmly pressed the button that took her to the tenth floor. Her plan was simple; find Max and bring him to Phobia. Although she couldn’t understand why it was so important for Phobia to get his hands on Max anyways. But it's not like he would tell her, after she pulled that stunt with Ace’s helmet. Magpie’s brows furrowed. She told herself she shouldn’t feel guilty for what she was supposed to do. He was a Renegade after all. He was a part of the superheroes who had offered her a home, yes, but only because it was their fault she had none in the first place. And for all the heroism they claim to have, none of them realized that Magpie, one of their own Renegades, had gone missing. It was a disheartening thought but it mostly left her angry. Yet, her guilt remained. Max was a Renegade but behind his fame, his fans and his supposed heroism everyone kept praising him for, he was just a boy. A boy who had spent his entire childhood trapped inside a glass quarantine. Ironically, if Magpie’s plan took off without a hitch, Max would find himself trapped in another quarantine of sorts. The thought made Magpie sad...but not sad enough to abandon her scheme. Nope, she was in too deep already and the information Phobia had offered her about her sister was too tempting to refuse.
Stepping out of the elevator, Magpie looked around. Max usually was stationed on this floor while he helped out with the new construction recruitment. To speed up the rebuilding process, the Renegades had to hire prodigies with abilities that would come in handy with construction. It seemed like a never ending process so construction related jobs were always open.
As she suspected, Max was near the front office, head burrowed in a bunch of paperwork. Magpie never really understood all of Max’s Renegade responsibilities. Who would put so much pressure on a ten year old?
She brushed off her thoughts and made a straight path towards Max.
“Max, I need to… talk to you,” Magpie’s brain scrambled to think of anything that would get Max to come out of the building with her.
“Um..ok” Max rightfully looked perplexed. Magpie and him had never talked before and he looked baffled as to why she suddenly wanted to talk now. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Its… about something outside. I need to show you something and it’s urgent!” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Magpie internally facepalmed herself for not thinking through what she was going to say beforehand. She looked like a bumbling moron right now and she didn’t like it. In a move to suddenly gain the upper hand in the conversation, she took Max’s hand and forced him to come alongside her to the elevator, not allowing him to get a word out. She immediately regretted the choice of physical contact but fought the flush creeping onto her cheeks. She carried on, switching to yanking Max’s sleeve instead of his hand.
It seemed Max was at a loss for words from this bizarre interaction and had chosen to follow her down the elevator and all the way outside in silence. Magpie refused to let her relief show.
She stepped outside the Renegades HQ before she realized Max had stopped following her.
“What exactly did you want to show me?” Max crossed his arms and stared at her with an exasperated look.
“Oh yah… it’s over here,” her thoughts churned. “A building!”
Max shot her a confused look.
“I mean, a building has collapsed!” Magpie nodded as she formed her thoughts. “You’re helping out with the reconstruction of buildings and someone asked for you to come.” She pointed in a random direction.
Max looked stupefied. “Collapsed?? A building collapsed and you’re wasting your time talking to me?! I’m going to go call my dad!” He turned and started running back into the headquarters.
“Wait! Your dad is already there and he sent me to bring you there. He needs to ask you if anything material can be salvaged,” Magpie lied. “Come on! We have to go”
“Why didn’t he just send me a message on my communicuff?” He raised his hand and shook the band on his wrist.
Magpie was getting antsy. Surely with all this time she was wasting trying to convince Max to follow her, someone would have noticed Max was gone from his station!
“I don’t know!” She threw her hands up in the air, an impatient look in her eyes. “We have to get there quickly!”
Max hesitated but decided to follow Magpie anyways. She couldn’t help notice how his eyes lit up in curiosity when mentioned hypothetical materials that could be salvaged. Vaguely she remembered hearing somewhere that he had spent years of his life constructing a glass model of Gatlon City. Max obviously had a passion for architecture.
This did nothing to calm her rising guilt.
She and Max ran, with her taking the lead. She directed them both to the spot Phobia had designed for her to meet up at. Rounding the abandoned intersection, Magpie took a right and reached the dark alleyway.
“Hey, where are we-” Max’s words were cut short as a cloth was wrapped around his nose and mouth. Within seconds he had blacked out. Even though she knew what was going to happen, Magpie still had trouble pushing down her shock.
“Get in,” Phobia’s voice grew distanced as he made his way to the truck. He threw Max into the trunk and gestured for Magpie to follow.
Sighing, Magpie trudged her way to the truck and got in.
With every step he took, his head pounded harder. Adrian was wincing by the time he reached the massive front gates of his house. Today’s patrol duty was rough to say the least. With prodigies losing their powers, a whole lot of blame was being shifted. Four fights had broken out today alone with groups of angry non prodigies blaming the Renegades. It didn’t make any sense. What did the Renegades have to do with their sudden loss of power? Adrian supposed these groups of people weren’t thinking seriously. They obviously let their anger wash out all rational thought as they misplaced their frustration. Still, it was hard to sympathize with them while his back and shoulder took the brunt during all the fistfights. If only he was allowed to wear his Sentinel uniform on patrol duty. It sure would have blocked the impact of those angry fists.
Walking up the path to his house, Adrien wondered for the umpteenth time why his dads continued to put his team on patrol duty rather than have them help out with the missing powers investigation. He kicked a nearby rock and watched it roll into a bush, glowering. He’d already proved himself to his dads, time after time. He still didn’t get why they STILL were being overprotective!
With his face set in a frown, Adrian opened the front door and instantly shrank back from the scene unfolding in front of him. His dads were screeching into their communicuff bands and frantically pacing around. Clearing his throat to announce his presence, Adrian stepped inside and opened his mouth to speak. But before he could get a word out, Simon had his arms enveloped around his shoulders.
“Thank goodness!” Simon breathed out with relief. Hugh stood back, watching from afar. He had never particularly been an overly affectionate man but Adrian could see it was taking him all he had from racing over and throwing his arms around Adrian too.
“We were just about to come get you…” Simon’s face crumbled as he let out a small sob. He seemed unable to continue on. Hugh placed a gentle hand on Simon’s shoulder but even he was struggling to meet Adrian’s eyes. Adrian could feel his insides clenching. What was happening?! Had more prodigies lost their powers? Had something worse happened?
“Dad? Pops? What’s going on?” his voice had come out much smaller than expected.
Hugh spoke up, pain laced in his voice. “Max is missing.”
Adrian’s legs burned with exhaustion but he refused to stop. Max had to be here somewhere. Adrian was going to find him. He just had to! In hindsight, sprinting out his house and down the streets of Gatlon city in desperation to find Max might not have been the best idea. But what could he do? Sit at home and wait? Max could be in serious trouble!
Adrian’s heart lurched at every shadow on the street, hyper aware of his surroundings. His dad's voice replayed in his ears: Max is missing. Max is missing. Max is missing. He closed his eyes and tried to trap out the voice.
His back and shoulder trobbed with such intensity that Adrian was forced to stop running. Catching his breath, some clarity entered his thoughts. The snippets of his dad's words that had not been processed yet had returned to the forefront of Adrian’s mind. His dad had said the security cameras at the entrance of Renegades HQ caught Magpie and Max leaving together around noon. No one had seen them since. Either they had disappeared together for whatever reason or the same sinister force had abducted them both. Whichever had happened, Adrian couldn’t help the sinking feeling in his stomach that his brother was in extreme danger. Nova! Adrian fiddled with his communicuff band before finally sending out a message to her. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought to message her sooner. If anyone would know the correct plan of action, it would definitely be her. She would definitely know what to do!
And I really want her here, Adrian admitted to himself. He was falling apart with worry but Nova would be there to pick up the pieces. She always was. Somehow the thought alone was enough to lift some of the distress off of his shoulders.
Nova took a right at the intersection at Tupac Lane and ran for Main Street. Bumping into several people, Nova continued to run as fast as she could. Pedestrians scowled at her, but other than shouting back a rushed apology, Nova gave them no thought. Poor Max! It’s been half a day since he was kidnapped! What if he’s in danger this exact second? Her heart twisted as she imagined Max screaming from pain in a dark, deserted alley. Nova shook her head. However terrified she felt, she would not let it show in front of Adrian. He had enough to think about without her having to add more worry onto his plate.
Nova finally reached Edinburgh Grove, the street Adrian had told her to meet him at. She glanced around and spotted Adrian plopped down on the middle of the sidewalk, his face buried into his hands. Nova’s heart sank. She took a few small steps toward him, when suddenly she wasn’t seeing Adrian collapsed on the sidewalk anymore. She was seeing a younger version of herself in the same position, eyes swollen from crying. Despair had filled her heart in the months after her family’s death. She was scared, confused and hurt.
Nova was broken out of her reverie a second later. Looking at Adrian was painful. His imminent distress reminded her of her own heartache and hopelessness when she was six. Her lip trembled as her heart continued to break for him. She couldn’t stop her feet as they ran towards Adrian. Her arms immediately wrapped protectively around him. Nova felt Adrian startle against her but slump in relief when he realized who she was.
“Nova?” Adrian’s voice was small. “What do I do?! I mean- where do I even- there’s not…” Desperation was slowly creeping into his voice. Nova shushed him and rested her head on top of his chin. She closed her eyes and slowly, a plan was beginning to formulate.
Nova welcomed the nighttime breeze that enveloped her. Once she had dropped off Adrian at his room-it took forever for her to leave because he was quite adamant that he should join her- Hugh and Simon had shown her the footage the security cameras had picked up. The security footage had pinpointed Max and Magpie’s last known location to be at the doorway to the Renegades HQ. Nova noted that they had taken a right turn from the doorway before they ran out of the security camera’s sight. Now she stood in front of the Renegades headquarters, ready to track down Max and Magpie’s next steps. As she wandered through the streets of Gatlon city, she surveyed the sidewalks, looking for any kind of clue. All she needed was one item, any kind of item, that belonged to Magpie or Max that they left behind. Her plan was counting on it. Nova still knew where Millie lived. Millie was a prodigy who had made it possible for Nova to be undercover among Renegades by giving her a fake last name and paperwork to match it. But most importantly, her superpower was psychometry, the ability to see events that happened to a person by touching an inanimate object that was associated with them. If she could just find an item held by Magpie or Max, she could have Millie see the full history of the object and in turn discover what happened to Max. Nova was fully aware that this plan could be a big dead end- what if she couldn’t find any item? What would she do then? She couldn’t bear going back to Adrian empty handed and seeing his helpless eyes. No, she would scrounge the city and find something to report back with.
A few hours later, Nova slumped against the wall. A fly buzzed around her and she hurriedly swatted it. She had wandered half of the city and to no avail. She knew she had no reason to feel guilty but the feeling crept up on her anyways. She had promised Adrian she would find Max and she had let him down. Worse, each second that she wasted was a second that Max was possibly facing danger. Gulping down her panic, Nova quickly got up on her feet once again. Again, the incessant buzz of a fly came again. The fly circled her head, as if trying to get her attention. On further notice, Nova realized the buzzing object was no fly. It was light green and in the shape of a bird. Nova grew more puzzled until she got a closer look at the flying thing. Turbo!! The tiny velociraptor that Adrian brought to life for Max! Nova couldn’t believe her eyes! Max must have dropped Turbo sometime during his abduction! How long had Turbo been flying around? Had he been searching for help? Nova grinned and carefully took Turbo in her palm. This was it! She could take Turbo to Millie and find out what really happened to Max!
Nova tried to tamp down the hope that awakened inside of her but to no avail. Barely being able to squelch her grin, she overzealously pounded on Millie’s door.
Nova heard hurried footsteps from inside before the door flung opened. Millie stood, an unamused expression on her face. Upon seeing Nova, her eyebrows raised slightly. Nova could feel her smile slowly diminishing. Millie better cooperate today, Nova hoped.
“Well, well, look what we have here,” Millie drawled. “Whatever you’re here for, it better be worth interrupting my sleep.” She finished this sentence with a particularly nasty scowl and walked inside, expecting Nova to follow.
“Millie, I need your help. Max is in terrible danger and I need you to use your powers to see-” Millie cut her off by raising her hand.
“Knowledge comes with a price, my dear,” Millie looked pointedly at Nova.
Expecting this, Nova handed over a heap of coins to Millie’s hand.
“There,” Nova raised her chin. “ That should be more than enough money to keep you satisfied.”
Millie tilted her head back and let out a cackle. “I’m afraid I’ll need more than just a few measly coins! I need something better. More powerful.”
Face growing red, Nova racked her brains. Usually all Millie wanted was monetary incentive. But now she wants more?
“Fine. What do you want?” Nova begrudgingly grunted out.
Millie smirked victoriously, as if she were waiting for those exact words to come out of Nova’s mouth.
“The Vitality charm”.
You’re making a mistake
Nova’s mind continued to remind her that something sketchy was definitely going on. Millie couldn’t be trusted with the charm of Vitality! But it’s not like the charm has any use anymore, Nova countered herself. With Max’s powers gone, the Vitality charm is just a hunk of metal that could protect against mundane causes like diseases!
Nova had already spoken with Simon and Hugh over her communicuff and updated them about Millie’s demands. There were several texts back and forth arguing whether or not the Vitality charm should be handed over. Ultimately, Simon and Hugh agreed and decided that Max’s safety was the number one priority. Besides, the Vitality charm wasn’t worth anything anymore.
Their reassurances had yet to crush the sinking feeling in her stomach.
Simon and Hugh had told her where to find the key that would unlock the safe in which the Vitality charm is stored. Apparently, the key was in Simon’s desk drawer at the Renegades HQ.
Nova entered the Renegades HQ and found the building next to empty. While others would have regarded the current empty state of the Headquarters as eerie or creepy, she found it calming. Nova had gotten used to the building’s usual bustling activity but still preferred the quiet of the night.
She had taken only a few steps towards the elevator before a rustle behind her made her pause. The door opened and Nova tensed, bracing herself for whatever walked through the entrance. A figure stumbled in, and immediately muttered under his breath.
“Adrian?” Nova let out a gasp. “What are you doing here?”
Adrian defensively held his hands out in front of him. “I know you told me to go home, but I just couldn't sleep knowing Max is in danger. So I snuck out”.
Nova opened her mouth in protest but expecting this, Adrian stepped toward her. “And I can’t let you take all the risk in trying to find him.” He found her hand and gripped it. “I know you’re used to doing things on your own, but we’re a team. That means we stick together. So whatever you’re planning on doing, count me in.”
Nova pretended to consider this, but secretly she was pleased. Usually nights were her turf, and she liked to be left alone. But Adrian was the only exception she would allow. Besides, Nova loved every extra moment she and Adrian had together.
“Ok.” Nova simply said.
“Really?” Adrian asked like he expected more of a fight out of her. He broke out in a smile. “Alright! Let’s go! What are we doing first?”
Nova smiled and pulled on his sleeve, directing him to the elevator. “Getting the Vitality Charm”.
n almost no time, Adrian and Nova collected Simon’s key and used it to unlock the safe. Once again in the possession of the Vitality Charm, Nova felt the slightest bit of guilt. The last time she had retrieved the charm, she had done so through deception and betrayal of Adrian’s trust. This time it’s different, she reminded herself. Adrian came up behind her, his body brushing against hers.
“So all we have to do now is bring this to Millie and she’ll give us a clue as to where Max is?” Adrian did little to hide the hope entering his voice.
Nova turned around to face him. “That’s the plan,” Nova tried to say resolutely but couldn’t keep the doubt from reaching her voice. She downcasted her eyes. Let’s just hope Millie holds up her end of the bargain, Nova thought bitterly. She was beginning to feel like this was all a wild goose chase. After all, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure that Turbo’s clue would be substantial enough to find Max’s location.
Sensing the darkturn in her thoughts, Adrian closed the gap between them and lifted her chin up. “Hey-don’t give up just yet, ok?’ His gentle voice forced her to look at him. “You got us this far! We’re close to finding him. I can feel it.”
His face was so earnest and hopeful that she couldn’t help but give a small smile. However, she did notice the irony here. Adrian’s brother was missing, yet he was comforting her. She mentally chided herself and stood up straighter.
“You’re right,” she gave her most convincing smile and leaned forward to give him a quick kiss. Motioning towards the door, she said: “Now let’s go find Max.”
But before they could leave the Renegades Headquarters, a loud clang rang from the room further down the hallway. Nova rushed into what she recognized as the lab room. Leroy stood in front of a shattered beaker with a sheepish look on his face. After the second Battle of Gatlon, Leroy was the last remaining Anarchist excluding Nova. Choosing to take the same path as Nova, she had given him a job in the Renegades Headquarters among other scientists. Leroy had always been fond of chemistry and spent his time in the Anarchist tunnel mixing chemicals into deadly poisons. After the battle, Nova had been determined to find him a place where his passion would be appreciated, unlike in his childhood. She had since spent many nights in the company of Leroy in the lab, watching him focus on the task at hand and mixing chemicals with precision that Nova admired. While her relationships with the other Anarchists had become complicated and muddled since the battle, Nova’s relationship with Leroy became a constant. He was a beacon of support and one of the few people she could place all of her trust on.
Noticing Nova standing in the doorway, Leroy spoke up. “I promise I’m not usually this clumsy.” Leroy let out a small chuckle.
Nova grinned and raised her eyebrows in question, revisiting dozens of memories in which Leroy had spilled chemicals in the Anarchist tunnels over the years.
She came closer to Leroy’s lab table and nimbly avoided the glass pieces scattered on the ground. She had almost stepped on a glass piece she had missed but Adrian nudged her out of the way at the last second. She hadn’t even noticed Adrian’s presence in the room until then. The stealth walking lessons she was giving him were definitely paying off, she thought with satisfaction.
“What are you working on?” she asked Leroy.
Leroy hesitated for a moment before answering. “I’m not exactly supposed to tell anyone at the moment. It’s a top secret project I’m working on.”
That was odd. Nova wasn’t aware the Renegades Headquarters were in the middle of a top secret scientific project. The last time that happened, Agent N was produced. An uneasy feeling grew at the pit of Nova’s stomach but she didn’t press Leroy for more information.
“Leroy, you know Millie better than anyone I know. Can you think of any reason why she would want the Vitality Charm?” Nova questioned. Leroy gave her a puzzled look. She let out a breath and filled him in on Max and Magpie’s disappearance, Nova’s plan and Millie’s questionable bargain. Leroy patiently listened.
“But since the Vitality Charm has no use anymore, Millie won’t be able to do anything drastic with it. Right?” Nova finished.
Leroy looked straight at Nova. “I think you already know the answer to that.”
Millie was still as cranky as last time when she opened the door. Swinging it open, Millie walked back inside with little else said. Adrian quizzically glanced at Nova from this bizarre interaction and stepped inside the cluttered house. Following him, Nova walked to where Millie sat-in a muddy colored, torn chair. Millie looked up expectantly.
“Let’s get this over with,” Millie held her hand out. “The charm.”
Nova handed over the charm and Millie pawed it over for inspection.
“Nice try,” Millie huffed out a breath of annoyance. “Now hand over the right charm.”
Nova scowled. After Adrian and her left the building, Nova was struck with the idea to give Millie a fake Vitality Charm. Adrian had sketched the charm and brought it to life. Unfortunately it seemed Millie’s powers had been able to see the history of the fake charm and identify that it was not the right one.
Millie turned to look back at Nova again and Nova begrudgingly handed over the real Vitality Charm-which she had hid in her back pocket. She gave an exasperated glance toward Adrian. Her talk with Leroy made her even more paranoid about Millie’s intention than before. But what could she do? Millie was the only one who could give them a clue as to where Max went. It was a risk she would just have to take. Millie let out a satisfied smirk and disappeared down the hallway with the charm for a few moments before returning bare handed.
“Now it’s time for you to uphold your end of the bargain,” Adrian stepped forward. Nova had given Turbo to him at the Headquarters, which he now pulled out of his pocket. He motioned the sleepy Turbo towards Millie. Grabbing it from his hands, Millie retreated back to her chair and held Turbo in her palm.
“A masked man grabbed Max and Magpie. From the looks of it, they’ve taken the two up North. Max dropped Turbo when the men were attacking him but Turbo followed the car all the way to Stoney Lane before he lost sight of the car. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Do you believe her?” Adrian asked quietly.
“Of course not,” Nova replied. She felt like a fool. Millie snatched the Vitality Charm away and offered up a story which only a fool would believe. Nova could detect a lie when she saw it. And there was something Millie was definitely leaving out. While she and Adrian would still check everywhere near Stoney Lane, Nova had a hunch they would find nothing there.
To the side of her, Adrian slumped against a nearby wall in defeat.
“We were so close…” he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, overcome by emotion. Nova’s heart broke for him. There was no greater torture than experiencing the taste of hope but having it snatched away a second later. She didn’t bother saying anything- no amount of platitudes would make him feel better. Instead, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him. Adrian leaned into her embrace and stood still.
“I’m sorry,” Nova whispered. But he barely heard it. His mind was already so far away.