Supernova (Renegades, #3)

He watched her. Unmoving, unmoved. And, when he finally spoke, remorseless.


“Your father betrayed me,” he said, speaking in the low, soothing voice Nova knew so well from her childhood. “He sold my greatest secret to my worst enemy. Such treason could not go unpunished.”

A cry fell from her lips. “You had him murdered!” she screamed. “And my mom and”—a sob swelled in her throat—“and … and Evie. How could you?”

“I know,” said Ace, still disgustingly calm. “It’s awful. I know. But you understand how our world works. It is necessary to send strong messages, lest others think to one day betray you as well.”

Nova pressed her palms into her eyes. “What about the Roaches? You told me you slaughtered them, the whole gang, in retaliation…”

“And I did, every last one,” said Ace. He shrugged, remorseless. “I couldn’t have you guessing the truth. Not after I’d seen what you could do.”

“What I could do!” Nova’s pulse stammered. “My father never told you I was a prodigy, did he? Because … if you’d known … you would have tried to turn me into a villain.” Her lip quivered as she realized that she’d become exactly what her father had tried to avoid. “I was supposed to die that night, too. You only saved me because…”

“Because I saw your potential,” Ace insisted. “Because you were my little Nightmare. Listen to me, Nova. I know how much you loved your family, and how the tragedy of losing them has driven you all these years. But for all your father’s talents, he was weak. He did not belong in our world. Your family was not like us. And now … look around. Look at what we have achieved, together. We have torn the Council apart. The Renegades are in shambles. But we still stand, Ace Anarchy and his Nightmare.” He raised his arms toward her. “We are strong, and we have conquered today, because of you.”

Her blood congealed, with revulsion, with dismay.

But in all the tumult of her raging thoughts, she had a flash of clarity.

This moment was what she had been working toward her whole life.

Vengeance.

“No,” she said, her voice shaking. “I am strong. You are a murderer and a liar. You were defeated once. You can be defeated again.”

In a blink, his warmth vanished, masked over with calculating precision.

“It saddens me to have been so wrong about you. Still, you will always have my gratitude for bringing me to this moment. And … for bringing me this.”

He stretched his fingers toward Nova.

The bracelet flew out of her hand. Nova cried out, but was too late to grab it from the air as it sailed into his waiting palm.

She released a war cry and charged for him, no longer thinking strategy, only that he couldn’t have it, she would not allow him to abuse her father’s last gift—

Ace sliced his hand through the air. The star flashed, briefly illuminating the atmosphere in blinding electric waves.

An invisible force struck Nova and she was thrown backward. Her body tumbled, weightless, for nearly twenty feet before her back struck the stone wall of the nave, forcing the air from her lungs.

Ace laughed. “Finally! All these years, being limited to only the control of the inanimate. My brother truly was a genius.”

Nova struggled to breathe, but her lungs wouldn’t expand.

Nova!

The scream was muddled in her head, eclipsed by mounting panic and throbbing pain.

“Adrian! You’re alive!” yelled Captain Chromium.

She peeled her eyes open, wincing from the effort.

A figure was sprinting toward her. Tall and broad-shouldered. Dark skin and thick glasses and a metal pike gripped in one hand. Sweet rot, but he was the most handsomely heroic vision she’d ever seen, and Nova was filled with abject terror that he was there.

Ace would destroy him.





CHAPTER FORTY-NINE




“DAD, CATCH!” ADRIAN yelled.

Captain Chromium caught the pike one-handed.

“Don’t get overconfident,” said Ace, humoring himself. “The rules of this game have changed.” With the star in one hand, he stretched his other toward the chromium chain that was coiled not far from Adrian’s feet. It sprung to life, slithering like a snake toward Ace, one end coiling around his waiting arm. Ace pulled his arm back and lashed out at the Captain.

The Captain blocked with the spear—once, twice—the sound of metal striking metal rang across the wasteland. But Captain Chromium was losing ground, each blow pushing him closer to the edge of the roof. He looked down once to gain his bearings, when the chain reared up and circled around his throat.

Adrian cried out and ran to him. He tried to dig his fingers between the chain and his dad’s skin, even as the metal squeezed tighter. His dad fell to one knee, suffocating.

The most ear-piercing, skin-crawling screech echoed from overhead. Adrian flinched and resisted the urge to cover his ears, still pulling at the chain. It started to come loose as Ace shifted his focus to the barrier overhead.

With a reverberating groan, the enormous back end of a rusting semitruck that had been attached to the barrier pried loose and fell. It landed with a resounding crash in the wasteland, mere feet away from the cathedral’s side wall, sending up an enormous cloud of dust.

Captain Chromium ripped the chain over his head and tossed it away, panting and massaging his throat.

Adrian squinted toward the gigantic hole left behind by the semitruck, taking in the patch of night sky. There should have been stars, but some artificial light was being shed on the dome, blocking them out.

“Who dares interfere?” Ace growled.

As if summoned, a head appeared over the edge where the trailer had been. With the figure silhouetted by the glaring lights, Adrian couldn’t make out any details, but he would know that fluffy hair anywhere.

He didn’t know if he was more elated or horrified.

“Sorry!” Max shouted. “Is everyone okay? It didn’t hit anyone, did it?”

In response, Ace released an enraged scream. He took to the air. Gripping the chain, he reared his arm back and sent it whipping toward the opening. Max’s eyes went wide and he vanished.

The chain struck the barrier, knocking loose an aluminum wheel. Ace froze, hovering over the cathedral as the chain swung beside him. He scanned the barrier, tense and watchful, as he gradually lowered himself back down to the roof.

A tall, narrow spire snapped from the western tower and plummeted toward Ace. He sneered and sent the chain soaring for the spire. The chain lit up, as if made of molten gold. When it struck, it sounded like a bomb going off. Stonework cascaded around them, chunks of shrapnel, some as big as Adrian’s head, raining across the roof and down to the wasteland.

Adrian heard a cry of pain. He blinked back the dust as he searched the roofline of the cathedral.

Max flickered back into view. He had followed Ace, trying to get closer, and was now caught in the deluge. He lifted his arms to protect himself from the blast.

Ace roared at the sight of the boy. “I’d hoped we would meet again! You and I have unfinished business.”

Max startled as he realized his mistake. He winked into invisibility again, but the chain was already careening through the air.

It crashed through a window, catching the wall above the jagged stained glass as Ace yanked it back. Stones blew outward, leaving a crater where Max had stood.

Adrian searched the cloud of dust, his body trembling with fear and adrenaline.

“I’m fine!” said Max, his disembodied voice a little breathless. “Don’t worry about—”

Ace swung the chain again, aiming for the air where Max’s voice was coming from. It crashed through one of the flying buttresses, sending more stonework and a hefty gargoyle toppling over the side of the cathedral.

“It shouldn’t be possible,” said Hugh—drawing Adrian’s attention to him—aghast and pale, red impressions on his neck where the chain had dug into his skin. He was watching Ace. “He could never use my weapons before. They always defied his telekinesis.”

“It’s the star,” said Adrian. “It’s changed him somehow.”

It was difficult to see his dad this way, weaker than Adrian could even have imagined him looking.

“You think you can stop me?” Ace bellowed. “A child?”

“I did once, didn’t I?” Max appeared again, crouched on the edge of a tower, holding on to one of the decorative spires for balance. “Besides, you’ll have to kill me to stop me. All I have to do is get close to you.” He stood, his jaw set. His feet lifted off the roof, and he hovered there a moment, before sinking down to Ace’s level. A few feet closer than before.

The sight left Adrian awestruck. Max was wearing a Renegade uniform. It might have been a little long in the arms and legs—Adrian guessed it was Ruby’s—and yet, for all the greatest skies, his little brother really did look like a superhero.