Supernova (Renegades, #3)

They tingled and grew cold, until he almost couldn’t feel them at all.

He heard a rattling cough. “No,” Phobia whispered. “This isn’t … you can’t…”

He wailed as he began to fade away. His cloak vanished like fog on a breeze, a cloud of ash billowing across the sanctuary floor. The cloak, the skeletal fingers, the shadowed hood, and, last, the scythe—a curl of candle smoke wisping into the air, before it, too, was gone.

Adrian held his breath. He counted to ten.

Phobia did not come back.

Adrian slumped forward. Warmth was returning to his fingers, but it didn’t come with the sensation of power he’d known all his life. He knew beyond doubt that he could draw a hundred flowers or a thousand weapons or a million dinosaurs, and none of them would ever come to life again.

And everything he’d ever made before … would it all be gone? All the work he’d done rebuilding the mayor’s mansion … the jungle in his basement …

Even as he thought it, Nova gasped and something clinked, hitting the floor. She bent down and picked up her bracelet. The clasp was broken again.

The star, however, was still there, glowing brightly, indifferent to their victory. He had drawn this, too, and yet …

His thoughts caught on themselves.

No. He hadn’t drawn it. In the mural, the statue had its back turned, so its hands could not be seen. The star had been Nova’s dream, not his.

Nova shoved the bracelet into her pocket and crouched beside Adrian. “I can’t believe you did that,” she said, inspecting the burn on his chest. “Sweet rot, Adrian. A firebrand?”

“It was the fastest method I could think of,” he said. “It’s not that bad. I think it singed off the nerve endings. Really. I can hardly feel it.”

Nova sat back on her heels, staring at him with something like awe. It wasn’t the first time she’d looked at him that way, with something more than admiration, more than respect. With something akin to amazement.

He would do just about anything to keep her looking at him like that.

He was still tense, his whole body strung tight, half expecting Phobia to reappear, howling his dark laugh.

But only the sound of their own uneven breaths persisted and, after a moment, Oscar’s voice cutting through the gloom. “That was simultaneously the bravest and stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Adrian tried to smile, though he knew it was weak. “I created Phobia. It had to be me.”

Oscar opened his mouth, but Adrian raised a hand. “I’ll explain later.”

Harrumphing, Oscar said, “There’s a growing list of things you’ll be explaining later.” He grabbed the altar and pulled himself up, weak on his feet. As the rest of them stood, too, Adrian wondered how long Oscar had been without his cane.

A faraway rumble shook the walls of the cathedral. Adrian glanced toward the nave. In the struggle against Phobia he’d nearly forgotten that his dad was still out there, battling the most infamous villain of all time. He knew that Ace Anarchy was powerful, but it was still unbelievable to him that anyone could be a match for the Captain.

Then he remembered that his dad had given up his favorite weapon, the Silver Spear, when he’d thrown it at the bell tower. The pike must have been buried beneath the tower’s wreckage.

Was there any hope of finding it? Would it give his father the upper hand again? Surely no one could defeat Captain Chromium, not even Ace Anarchy.

“Adrian,” said Nova. “That was the last of the Agent N. The only way we can stop him now is if we can somehow get the helmet, but—”

“I have Agent N,” said Narcissa.

Nova froze, then spun to her.

“You do?” said Adrian, at the same time Nova said, “Why are you helping us?”

Narcissa crossed her arms. “Could ask the same of you.”

“She helped us escape,” said Danna. “Well, I mean, we only made it this far, but she broke the doors and cut our ropes. And she doesn’t even have to stay—she could leave through a mirror anytime. As far as I can tell, she’s a few steps ahead of you as far as trustworthiness goes.”

“We’re all trustworthy,” Adrian insisted. “We’re all on the same side.” He gave Narcissa’s shoulder a squeeze. “Thank you for helping my friends.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” she said. “I just…” Her attention traveled from Adrian to Nova, Oscar to Danna. She cleared her throat. “My grandfather was a lot of things to me, but I never thought of him as a villain. I know he did some bad things, but he was just trying to survive, to take care of me and the library. I don’t think he would want this for me, and … I’m not sure I want to be a part of it.” Guilt scrawled over her face. “Any more than I’ve already been.”

“We’ve all done things we’re not proud of today,” said Nova.

“Speak for yourself,” Danna muttered.

“Danna’s right,” said Oscar. “I’ve been pretty awesome today.”

“You said you have Agent N?” said Adrian.

Narcissa reached into a pouch at her waist and pulled out a dart full of green liquid. Adrian recognized it as the projectile Frostbite had given him, the one he had brought with the intention of neutralizing Ace Anarchy from the start. “I swiped it when we were carrying you back to that chapel. I figured they’d give it to Cyanide, but”—she frowned at Nova—“after Ace Anarchy’s speech about us all becoming gods, I worried this whole plan might be going off the rails. I thought this might come in handy at some point, and … I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted anyone else with it.” After a moment’s hesitation, she held it out to Nightmare. “Please don’t make me regret this.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Nova, tucking the dart into her belt. “Now, to figure out how I’m going to sneak up on him.”

Oscar held up his hand. “Just so we’re clear, you are officially on our team again, right?”

“Of course she is,” said Adrian, more defensively than he’d intended.

“No,” said Danna, pressing her hands into her hips. “There is no of course she is. She betrayed us. She let them neutralize us! She doesn’t get to just—”

“She killed Queen Bee,” said Adrian, “and she saved my life. I know things are messed up right now, but I trust her.”

Danna’s glare only intensified.

Nova took a step forward. “I know it doesn’t mean much, but I am sorry.”

Danna huffed, but Oscar made a face like maybe the apology meant something.

“Look, we’re going to have to work this out later,” said Adrian. “The three of you”—he gestured to Oscar, Danna, and Narcissa—“you’re with me. My dad threw his spear into the belfry before it collapsed. It’s his strongest weapon, and one that Ace can’t control. We’re going to see if we can find it and get it back to him.”

“Spear, belfry, got it,” said Oscar, saluting. He cocked his head toward Nova. “What’s she doing?”

Adrian turned to Nova.

She took in a steadying breath. “I might be the only one who can get close enough to Ace to neutralize him. I have to try.”

* * *

Adrian had been so focused on making sure Nova was okay after the bell tower collapsed, he hadn’t fully grasped the extent of the destruction. The tower had crashed through the roof of the transept, leaving a gigantic pile of rubble beneath a split roofline. The dust had begun to settle, but Adrian still covered his mouth to keep from inhaling too much as he made his way through the treacherous landscape. He could see the doorway that led down to the catacombs, now largely covered up by debris. A handful of the bells stuck out from the mayhem, silent where they had fallen.

“Whoa,” said Oscar, who had taken a floor candelabra from the nave to use as a makeshift cane … and possibly a weapon, in case it was needed. “I think I found a body?”

Adrian cringed, not eager to see Queen Bee again. But Oscar had crouched in front of one of the fallen bells, where a foot was dangling from the opening.

“That’s Cyanide!” said Narcissa.

Adrian nodded. “He was trying to kill me, so Nova put him to sleep. We thought he’d be safe inside that bell, in case the whole cathedral collapses around him.”

They started sifting through the wreckage, searching for the chromium pike. It wasn’t long before Adrian began to realize how much he was going to miss the strength that had come with his alter ego’s suit. Each stone block, every ancient timber, seemed heavier than the last. He was already exhausted, and it wasn’t long before his muscles were groaning at him to stop. He was glad Oscar was there. He, at least, had actually bothered to spend time lifting weights in the training halls. Unlike Adrian, who had just gotten really good at drawing weighted barbells.

“There!” Danna cried, standing on a bank of rubble.