Supernova (Renegades, #3)

He leaped from the beam, barely managing to grab hold of the bell adjacent to Nova’s. It shifted from his weight, the clapper banging against its sides. He held tight to the crossbar, his other hand securing Cyanide’s dead weight, and looked back in time to see the center bells angling upward, pulling unnaturally against their restraints. The wood gave out with a thundering crack, and the bells soared straight for the side wall. Adrian tightened his hold as the bells burst through the stone exterior of the belfry with a ringing cacophony. Stones and mortar exploded outward, raining down on the rooftop, as the bells hurtled through the open air, heading for the Captain.

His dad braced himself on top of the buttress. He ducked, letting the first bell sail over his head and smash into the dome, then reached up with both hands and grabbed the rim of the second bell. The clapper inside gonged against the bronze shell. Using the bell’s own momentum, he spun in a circle and threw it at Ace.

Ace dodged. The bell missed him by inches and crashed into the barrier. A jettison of debris trickled down to the wasteland.

Adrian was still holding Cyanide, still watching the bells, when the tower began to groan.

It had taken as much destruction as it could.

He looked at Nova—but she was no longer silhouetted in the next window frame.

“Nova?” he yelled, searching the inside of the tower, but there was no sign of her. “Nova!”

The roof above him gave out. The tall spire fell forward, tumbling past the demolished windows, pulling apart joists and beams. The off-kilter weight of it started a chain reaction that pulled at the weakened walls. Stones crumbled into the void. Ornate moldings broke free and disappeared into the chasm below.

Adrian was still searching frantically for Nova when the sill he was perched on tipped, and he was falling.

Please oh please let her not be doing something reckless right now, he thought, watching the fast approach of the cathedral rooftop and trying to determine a safe place to jump to. He adjusted his hold on the unconscious villain, muttering to no one in particular, “Hold on…”

They crashed into the roof and it caved from the force. Chunks from the tower hailed around them, beating against Adrian’s suit, and he did his best to shield Cyanide from the deluge.

He tried to twist his body to get his legs beneath them so he could use the springs to absorb the shock of the fall, but there wasn’t time. They crashed onto a stone floor inside the cathedral, landing with a jolt that ricocheted through his body. The rest of the falling tower tore through the weakened roof, smashing into the church’s northern wall. It exploded outward, scattering across the wasteland. The remaining bells landed with such force they cratered the floor and fractured stones.

Adrian lay amid the rubble, every inch of him aching.

“Nova,” he groaned. He checked to make sure Cyanide was okay, before stumbling to his feet. He could barely see for the cloud of dust surrounding him. “Nova!”

“I’m … fine,” came a weak reply. Heart soaring, Adrian stampeded through the debris in the direction of her voice.

He was a few feet away when a bell that had landed upside down rolled off the broken stone wall it had crashed into, striking the floor with a clang.

“Ow,” Nova groaned.

Adrian froze. He stooped to look closer, and there she was. Her body tucked inside the bronze bell, her arms and legs braced against its curved sides.

“Nova,” he whispered, sweeping forward and helping her climb free. He pulled her against his chest, though the embrace wasn’t quite the same now that he was wearing his armor.

“Your suit gave me the idea,” she said, her voice muffled against his breastplate.

“Genius,” he replied. “Are you hurt?” After a moment’s consideration, he amended, “Badly hurt?”

Nova groaned, but followed it with, “Not really. Leroy?”

“He’s alive. We should find a place to put him before the whole place caves in.”

Nova pulled away and shook some of the debris out of her hood, while Adrian scoured the dust from his helmet’s visor. They scanned the wreckage. The collapsing bell tower had torn a hole through this part of the cathedral, demolishing nearly the entire northeastern corner.

Adrian’s body stayed tense, waiting for the next catastrophe to strike. But there was only the ongoing trickle of dust and clattering debris.

“We can put Leroy inside one of the bells,” suggested Nova. “I think he’ll fit, and it will be as safe a place as any.”

Cyanide did fit inside the bell, though he would probably have a terrible crick in his neck when he came to.

“So,” said Adrian, watching as Nova grabbed a few vials off Cyanide’s bandolier and shoved them into a pouch on her belt. “How do we stop Ace?”

A frown flitted over her face. It took him a second to remember that she couldn’t see his face behind the visor. He pressed a button on the side of his helmet, retracting the face shield. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “I’m not sure Ace can be stopped, not while he has the helmet. Unless we can find a way to neutralize him.”

“Is there any more Agent N?”

She considered this. “Do you still have my pen? I have one blow dart with Agent N in the chamber.”

“Yes, I have it. If we can get you to the roof, do you think you can get close enough to use it?”

“Maybe,” said Nova, “but if he figures out what we’re trying to do … he’ll snap that dart like a twig.”

“If anyone can do this, it’s you.”

She shot him a wry look.

“What about Oscar and Danna?” he asked. “Where are they?”

“They were locked up in the treasury when this all started. Come on.” She led him up a short set of steps and down a curved corridor, through a chapel that was only slightly less dreary than the one he’d been kept in earlier.

Then Nova froze, staring into the room attached to the chapel. It had once had doors of stained glass enclosing it, but the glass had been shattered. The room beyond was barren and tidy compared with the destruction wrought on the rest of the cathedral. And it was empty.

“They were here,” said Nova, her boots crunching over broken glass.

Adrian noticed frayed ropes tossed across the ground. “They must have found a way to escape.”

Nova seemed unconvinced. “Maybe.”

They shared a look, laced with a question.

Find Oscar and Danna … or try to stop Ace Anarchy?

Adrian sighed and tucked a hope into the back of his mind that his friends would be all right, wherever they were. “The roof?”

Nova’s expression hardened and he recognized the same resolve that had made his heart skip when he saw her at the trials.

She gave him a nod. “Let’s end this.”

They raced back through the chapel, but as they were passing the choir, a shrill scream made them both skid to a stop. Adrian peeked around the wall toward the high altar.

He gasped, pulling Nova back into the corridor.

“What is it?” said Nova.

“Birds!”

She hesitated only a moment, before shoving Adrian’s arm away and looking for herself.

The sanctuary that surrounded the altar was full of enormous black crows. Everywhere, shining black eyes and sharp black beaks and scaly black feet. They perched across the rails that divided the sanctuary from the choir, along the moldings of the grand pillars, and on the tall windowsills stretching to the top of the vaulted ceiling. Their black wings drummed against the air as they flocked in and out of the space, like a blizzard of ink-black wings. A clamor of angry caws echoed through the chamber.

In the center of the tumult, clinging to each other at the base of the altar, were Danna and, of all people, Narcissa. Danna was curled into a ball, her head in Narcissa’s lap as she tried to protect herself with her arms. Narcissa had one arm around her, though her own face was pale with terror and her other arm kept swiping aimlessly at the air to keep the birds away.

It wasn’t working. Their feet dug into her limbs. Their beaks nipped at Danna’s legs.

“Oh, come on,” Narcissa pleaded to no one. “Birds were the one thing I wasn’t afraid of!”

Adrian was still trying to figure out what he was seeing when a figure emerged from behind a pillar, wielding an antique candelabra like a sword. Oscar roared insensibly at the flock, trying to beat them back as he made his way toward the altar. “Monarch!” he yelled. “You have to get up!”

As soon as Oscar stumbled onto the dais, the crows converged into a whirlwind, trapping all three of them inside a funnel. Their wings and bodies so dense it seemed impenetrable.

And then the birds caught fire.

“It’s Phobia,” said Nova. “Danna had a fear of birds, and I’m pretty sure Oscar is afraid of fire.”

Adrian’s skin prickled at the mention of his mother’s murderer, the phantom that was so eerily similar to his childhood nightmare.

“I need something to draw on,” he said, pulling out Nova’s ink pen. “We need water. A hose or some sprinklers?”

Nova’s face pinched. “He’ll just morph into something else.”

“Then what do we do?”

“I don’t know. He isn’t a normal prodigy. As far as I know, no one’s ever managed to actually hurt him, not with weapons or even superpowers.” Her gaze grew intense. “But … Adrian … if you made him…”

“I didn’t make him!” he snapped.

Nova shrank back. “Okay,” she said, placating. “But I’m just saying, if you did, then maybe there’s some way you could destroy him?”