Supernova (Renegades, #3)

“Yeah, nice try,” said Oscar. “Ruby’s somewhere on the other side of that barrier. When it comes down, I’ll be waiting.”

Danna grinned determinedly. “Heroes to the end.”





CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT




NOVA SPRINTED UP the steps to the northwest tower. When she reached the roofline, she peered through one of the narrow windows. Ace and the Captain were on a flat rooftop that ran beneath a series of Gothic-style flying buttresses. The Captain’s head was lowered as he slammed his way through every obstacle Ace put between them, his fists shattering stones and lobbying thick pillars halfway across the cloister. Despite his strength, Captain Chromium was red-faced, his brow glistening with sweat. Even he was becoming exhausted against Ace’s relentless attacks.

Nova scanned the stairs’ landing. A stone niche held a statue of a praying woman. She tore it from its base and hurled it at the window. The statue burst through the stained glass, littering the rooftop below in colorful shards. She kicked out the remaining edges and climbed through, dropping onto the rooftop.

The Captain had pulled himself up onto one of the buttresses, trying to find a way to get to the villain.

“Ace!” Nova screamed.

It was a sign of his exhaustion that Captain Chromium startled and nearly fell from his perch. He grabbed a gargoyle’s head for purchase.

Nova ignored him. Her attention was on her uncle. She still didn’t know what she could say or do, but if she was going to neutralize him, she would have to get closer.

Maybe she could get close enough to put him to sleep, even, which would make everything a lot easier.

But first, she needed him to come back down to the roof.

Ace peered at her, his eyes thinly veiled with suspicion. “Why, if it isn’t my dear little Nightmare. How thoughtful of you to join us.” He scanned the tower behind her. “The Everhart boy isn’t tagging along?”

Nova lifted her chin, drawing on all she’d learned these past months about lying and betrayal. “He’s dead,” she said, her voice rigid and calm. “I killed him, just like you asked. I’m sorry I hesitated before. It won’t happen again.”

She could see Ace considering her words. Perhaps wondering if he could trust her.

“You’re lying!” Captain Chromium screamed.

Nova looked at him, and though she wished she could convey that yes, she was lying, she couldn’t risk it in front of Ace.

Instead, she raised her voice. Made it colder. Harsher. “When he died, all the things he’d sketched before died with him.” Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her bracelet, its clasp broken but the star glowing bright as ever. “He fixed the clasp on my bracelet once.” She shrugged. “I guess this time I’ll have to take it to a jeweler.”

The Captain dropped to the rooftop, raging, and grabbed the chromium chain. Nova barely had time to blink before the end was flying toward her with enough force that it probably could have taken off her head.

A stone spire snapped off from the tower behind Nova and intercepted the chain, shattering into a thousand bits.

Nova stumbled back into the wall, feeling the crunch of glass under her boots.

“You dare attack my own flesh and blood?” Ace roared, dropping between Nova and the Captain. Her pulse skipped at the opportunity—but he was still at least ten steps in front of her, not close enough to touch.

The pouch with the last Agent N dart felt heavy on her hip. She checked that the zipper was open and started to creep forward while Ace’s back was turned.

“No more games, Captain,” said Ace. He glanced back at Nova. She froze, feeling caught, but Ace was smiling. “Do you know how my brilliant niece was able to retrieve my helmet? She told me about your little box. I suspect you thought it was as invincible as you are … but it wasn’t, was it? You see, we have a new weapon, the last that my brother ever made, and the most powerful.”

Nova cringed, wishing she’d never told Ace about the star and what it could do … what she thought it could do.

“Perhaps,” Ace said, enunciating carefully, “it is even powerful enough to destroy you.” Ace extended an open palm. “Give me the star, Nova.”

She instinctively clamped her fist around the bracelet.

Ace frowned. “Nova. Give me the star.”

The star pulsed against her skin, almost like a heartbeat. Or perhaps it was her own heartbeat thundering through her limbs.

“Let me do it,” she blurted. “My dad left the star for me. And … and Captain Chromium needs to be punished for what happened to my family.”

Ace still appeared doubtful, bordering on angry.

“Niece?” said Captain Chromium, his tone full of disbelief. Only a few moments before he had looked ready to tear Nova in half, but now his head was cocked to one side, a wrinkle stitched between his brows. Staring intently at Nova, as if seeing her for the first time.

Ace tensed, as if he realized he’d said something he shouldn’t.

“But that means … you’re David Artino’s daughter.”

The name coming from him was a shock, this man who was supposed to protect her family. Who was supposed to be a superhero.

But he hadn’t come.

“Yes,” she said defensively. “I am.”

“And I could not be more proud of her,” said Ace, shooting her a doting smile.

She tried to return it, but hers became more of a grimace. All her life, she’d longed for those looks from Ace, the recognition that she had done well. He had taken her in, given her a home and a family when all was lost. And now she was going to betray him.

There was no other way, though. He was hurting too many people. He was no longer seeing a better world for prodigies. All he could see was his own revenge.

Sudden anger eclipsed the Captain’s boyish features. He bared his teeth at Ace. “Does she know?”

“Know what?” Ace said. Quietly. Harshly.

The Captain bellowed, “Does she know you killed her family?”

Nova stumbled back a step. “What?” She swiveled toward Ace, but he was watching his enemy.

“A desperate, pathetic lie,” said Ace. “He would say anything to turn us against each other. Anything to save himself.”

Nova riveted her attention on the Captain again. “I witnessed their murders. My family was killed by an intruder, an assassin hired by the Roaches when my father refused to keep crafting weapons for them. Ace saved me.”

“No,” said the Captain, shaking his head. “He sent the assassin. A lowlife gun for hire that wouldn’t be traced back to the Anarchists.”

Her throat constricted. She glanced at Ace.

“You know it isn’t true,” he said, but he still wasn’t looking at her. “You know that I killed the Roaches in retaliation for the deaths of my brother and his family, whom I loved.”

The Captain’s expression became almost gentle, Nova thought, which might be worse than his anger. Worse than the shock. He was watching her with pity. Captain Chromium, the one who had not come, even after she had put every ounce of faith into him … he pitied her.

“Your father regretted making the helmet,” he said. “He felt responsible for the things Ace had done. He came to us and begged us to stop his brother. He told us about the helmet—before then, we believed Ace Anarchy’s strength was inherent, but when David explained that most of his powers were a result of the helmet itself, it allowed us to formulate a plan to defeat him. But David knew…”

He hesitated, his handsome features twisting with grief.

“David knew that Ace would seek revenge for his betrayal. In exchange for the information, we promised … to protect his family.” His voice broke. “But we failed. I’m sorry, Nova. I’m so, so sorry.”

“No!” Nova yelled, surprising even herself with the outburst. Tears flooded her eyes, and she swiped at them with her fist. “You don’t get to apologize! Why didn’t you save us?” Her voice rose, ten years of rage storming inside her. “Why weren’t you there? Where were you?”

The man’s ruthless stare.

Bang.

Her mother begging for mercy.

Bang.

Evie’s cries, silenced forever.

Bang.

“Why?” she murmured as the first tears escaped.

“We were there,” he whispered.

“Liar!” she shrieked.

Hugh Everhart’s voice remained steady. “We had someone posted at your apartment building day and night. For weeks.”

“No. No one came. No one—”

“Lady Indomitable was there the night of the murders.”

Her breath snagged. “What?”

“She was killed that night, too,” he said. “And though I’ve never known for sure, I always wondered if Ace had orchestrated that death as well. I believe he sent another villain to distract Georgia while the murders took place.”

Nova felt suddenly dizzy.

A Renegade had been there that night? To protect her family, to protect her …

Not just any Renegade. Lady Indomitable. Adrian’s mother.

Phobia killed her … that same night …

Her lungs throbbed, expelling the air as fast as she could gulp it down.

“I’m sorry, Nova,” Hugh said again. “I failed you. I failed your whole family. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t regretted it.”

Nova turned her head, focusing on Ace. “Is it true?”