Supernova (Renegades, #3)

Hearing a groan, Adrian glanced at Nova. She had been slumped against the wall on the opposite side of the roof, too far for him to reach her. Relief welled inside him now to see her conscious, using the wall for support as she staggered to her feet.

He wanted to tell Max to be careful, to not get too close to Nova, but he bit back the words. She still had the Vitality Charm beneath her jacket. It would protect her.

Besides, Max had enough to worry about, facing off against Ace.

All he had to do was get close …

Even as Ace was taking a step back, keeping the distance between them, he curled one finger toward the nave. An arched window of stained glass shattered. Max ducked, protecting his head as the glass drove toward him, sharp edges slicing through his skin, one shard lodging itself into his thigh. He hollered in pain.

With an enraged scream, Hugh took off running, charging toward Ace with renewed vigor. He brandished the pike, holding it like a javelin, ready to spear the villain through the gut.

Ace spun to face him, the chain swinging overhead.

Captain Chromium leaped, at the same moment Ace lashed at him with the chain. Another flash from Ace’s fist, igniting the weapon.

The Captain was in midair when the chain struck him squarely in the chest. The golden aura rippled outward, an explosion of light and sound, burning the air where the invincible chain met the Captain’s invincible body.

Then his dad was falling, his body limp as it was thrown backward, tumbling head over feet off the side of the cathedral.

Adrian wasn’t sure if the scream was his or Max’s, maybe even Nova’s. He didn’t remember sprinting to the edge of the roof. Desperate hope surged through him as he leaned over the short stone balustrade. He imagined seeing Captain Chromium, as ferocious as ever, already scaling back up the wall.

But that’s not what he saw.

Captain Chromium was on his back, eyes closed, the Silver Spear a few feet from his limp hand. A cloud of dust billowed around his body.

Adrian stood motionless, waiting. Waiting for his dad to wake up. Waiting for him to groan and shake it off and get back into the fight.

But Captain Chromium didn’t move.

“Incredible,” Ace murmured. “I remember this feeling.”

Adrian stumbled back from the edge of the roof.

The villain was levitating again, his eyes half closed in euphoria. “The first time I wore this helmet, I was a changed man. Everything that I am, everything I ever hoped to be, was within reach. And now I surpass even those bounds. The world at my fingertips, malleable as clay…”

A hiss of pain drew Adrian’s attention to Max. He watched as Max pulled the shard of glass from his thigh, then stood on weakened legs, dozens of cuts leaking blood into the gray suit. He kept coughing. Beads of sweat dotted his brow. But still, he scrunched his face in concentration, and the wall behind Ace began to tremble. A small vibration at first, until, all at once, the great slab of stone pulled free from its mortar and launched itself at Ace.

He was too distracted by his own glory to notice. The block hit him in the back and Ace fell, sprawling onto his knees as the rest of the wall clattered around him.

For a moment, the villain didn’t move, and Adrian could almost hope that this would be enough—he was still just a man, wasn’t he?

But then Ace released a guttural scream, and the stones shot back at Max.

“Max!” Adrian cried, unable to do anything as the stones collided into Max’s slim form. He fell, curling into a ball as the storm rained down around him. Adrian sprinted across the rooftop, in agony to know there was so little he could do. What he wouldn’t have given to have the powers of the Sentinel again …

“I will not be defeated!” Ace yelled. “Not by you! Not again!”

Adrian skidded beside Max and started pulling the rubble away. He was relieved when some of the stones moved of their own accord, Max lifting them with his powers.

“I’m … okay,” Max muttered, clearly not okay.

“Stop wasting your energy on attacking him,” said Adrian, scooping one arm around Max’s shoulders and helping him sit up. “Focus on getting close. You’re the Bandit, remember?”

“Not ready to surrender?” said Ace, chuckling as he watched Adrian and Max stumble to their feet. “You have no idea what I’m capable of! No idea of the power—!” He cut himself off and a wicked gleam entered his eyes. “Perhaps a demonstration is in order.”

Adrian and Max took one step forward, and Max’s body collapsed against him from the effort. Adrian realized that Max wasn’t putting weight on his right foot. Was his leg broken?

Lifting his head again, he locked his attention on to Ace Anarchy, who stood at the far end of the rooftop. The distance could have been miles.

“I’ve got you,” said Adrian. “We can do this.”

A shocking burst of light drew Adrian’s attention back up to the overhead barrier. His feet stumbled. The barrier was shifting. Starting from the opening that Max had created, the whole thing seemed to be splitting open. Sewer pipes, utility boxes, traffic lights. Jumbled architecture and found machinery, abandoned vehicles and wrecked buildings. All peeling outward toward the city. Being dismantled, bit by bit. The glare from enormous floodlights that had been erected on a series of trucks cascaded over the wasteland, making Adrian squint against their brilliance.

As the hole grew larger, it revealed the city skyline in the distance and a night sky with the faintest haze of electric blue along the eastern horizon.

Media helicopters circled overhead. It was disorienting, after having the battle relegated to Ace’s small bubble, to suddenly be thrust back into the real world.

That is, until Ace snarled and waved his arm as if swatting at mosquitoes. Both helicopters careened off course, plummeting from the sky.

Adrian ground his teeth. No time to worry about whether or not the pilots had parachutes. He tightened his arm around Max and started moving again, when he heard a new sound—a war cry, blaring from all directions.

His heart leaped. The Renegades had been waiting outside the barrier, desperate to get in. Now, with the wall torn down, they wasted no time in charging across the wasteland. The sight was mesmerizing—wave upon wave of identical gray uniforms. Thousands of superheroes from every corner of the world. Even many of the Renegades who had been neutralized at the arena were still among them, ready to be heroes with or without superpowers. He spotted Tamaya Rae, wingless and hoisting an electric trident that he recognized from the artifacts department.

She wasn’t the only one. The mob was brandishing an assortment of weapons and artifacts. Powerful ones.

They must have raided the vault.

The mob raced forward, more unified than ever. Though it was chaos, Adrian couldn’t help but seek out the people he cared for most. He found them easily, as if drawn to them. Simon. Ruby. And in the wasteland, preparing to join them—Oscar and Danna.

He was glad the villains had abandoned Ace and the cathedral. Seeing the Renegades now, Adrian knew this fight would have become a massacre.

Now, the only enemy left was Ace.

“Isn’t that charming?” said the villain, watching the Renegades come. The way he said it, unconcerned, even amused, sent a chill into Adrian’s bones. “Unfortunately … I fear they’re too late.”

Ace let the chromium chain slip from his hand and cupped the star in both palms. It flashed, and for a moment, Adrian saw streaks of energy in the air, flickering all around them, as far as he could see. Then Ace stretched his hands toward the city.





CHAPTER FIFTY




THOUGH SHE COULD barely stand, Nova forced herself away from the wall. One knee buckled and she half fell onto the hard stone. A chip from a broken spire caught under her kneecap and she flinched. Planting both hands on the ground, she pushed herself back up. Wobbled unsteadily for a moment, then kept going. One foot in front of the other, even as a wave of dizziness washed over her. Step by step, even as her muscles rebelled.

Movement in the distance made her hesitate, the small momentum she’d picked up nearly sending her crashing down again. She barely caught herself.

Her jaw fell as she took in the sight.

Beyond the cathedral, beyond the wasteland and a rush of Renegades, more Renegades than she’d ever seen in her life, the city skyline began to rise upward. Hundreds of buildings shuddering, undulating, lifting into the air. Nova watched a multistory hotel torn from its foundation. She saw the stately courthouse, with its Roman pillars, disconnect from the imposing front steps. She saw the enormous backlit G on top of the Gatlon Gazette building topple over, while the structure underneath swayed upward. Building after building succumbed to Ace’s power, sending bits of concrete raining down on the streets below. Plumbing pipes ruptured, spewing water and sewage into the craters of empty foundations. Wires and rebar dangled from the bases of the levitating structures.