Supernova (Renegades, #3)

With a chromium spear impaled through his heart.

Nova scurried backward, colliding with another body, and a pair of arms wrapped around her from behind. She screeched and spun out of reach, already calling on the well of power in her gut.

Adrian grabbed for her again, his face wild with worry.

Adrenaline draining from the tips of her fingers, Nova swiveled. Ace seemed frozen in time. His head was cocked back. His eyes on the brightening sky. The great floodlights around the wasteland lit up the metal driven through his chest.

Ace Anarchy tipped forward and fell.





CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE




“EVERYONE OKAY UP there?” called a ragged voice.

Nova peered over the ledge, avoiding the sight of Ace’s broken figure below. A surge of relief rushed through her to see Hugh Everhart on his feet, if only barely.

With an exhausted grin, he wiped an arm across his brow. “I once swore to protect you. I’m sorry it came so late.”

She laughed, half delirious with gratitude that it wasn’t her broken body at the base of the cathedral.

“Dad!” cried Adrian, throwing himself against the balustrade a few feet away. “You’re alive!”

Hugh chuckled. “Yes. But not invincible anymore, I don’t think.” He tried to disguise the pain that flashed over his features as he shifted his attention to the other side of the roof. “How’s Max doing?”

Nova studied Max, taking in his shuddering limbs and the helmet that was far too big for him. Little ten-year-old Max, who was clever and brave and now might very well have stolen the superpowers of Ace Anarchy and Captain Chromium, arguably the two strongest prodigies in the world.

And Nightmare’s, too, she knew with absolute certainty. There was no need to test the theory. When she called for her power, that subtle strength that had always pulsed beneath the surface of her skin, it was no longer there.

She would never put anyone to sleep again.

But what surprised her more than anything was that she suddenly recognized Max in a way she had never recognized him before. Watching him was like watching an illusion.

He stood as still as the gargoyles that surrounded them, his face shrouded by the helmet, his arms stretched out like offering a gift to the world. The star hovered a few inches above his cupped palms.

He looked like the statue. The one she had once conjured in a dream. The one who had held a star in its hands.

The star brightened, and for a moment, she saw the flash of energy lines again, the coppery-gold strings her father could manipulate, the remains of a supernova that had brought superpowers to humanity. The lines were still there, but more sparse now than she’d ever seen before and—unnervingly—they were all flowing in one direction.

They were all flowing into Max.

She blinked, and the vision was gone. She was left gaping at the boy, afraid of what it could mean.

“Adrian,” she whispered. He was focused on his brother, his face pinched with concern. Nova stepped closer and tucked a hand into his, but he hissed in pain and pulled away. Nova started. Adrian flashed her a sheepish look and flipped his hand over, showing her the blisters on his palm where the star had burned him. “It’s not so bad.”

She linked their elbows instead. “Don’t panic,” she said, “but I think Max might be absorbing all the superpowers that are left … maybe, in the whole world.”

Adrian frowned. “What?”

“The helmet is amplifying his power,” she explained. “He took my power already, and your dad’s.”

His eyes widened.

“I think he’s taking them all.”

In the distance, the final building fit into place. Shattered concrete and snapped rebar melded back together. The skeletons of broken scaffolding and discarded fire escapes climbed back up their facades. Erupted asphalt streets sunk into smooth, level grades. Collapsed walls righted themselves. Bricks and mortar fused like puzzle pieces. Sludge-filled water drained into the sewers. The whole world knit itself back together, as if the wounds caused by Ace Anarchy had been nothing but a long nightmare they could finally awake from.

Electricity had not been restored, leaving a city that would once have been aglow with a million golden windows instead awash in the light of a million stars and an indigo sky. The horizon was glowing with the promise of dawn. It was absolutely breathtaking.

“He did it,” Nova whispered.

Adrian didn’t respond.

She cast a look up into his face and saw that he wasn’t witnessing the same amazing sight she was. His attention was trained on his little brother, his lips parted with growing horror. “What’s happening to him?”

She followed his gaze.

Shining rivulets appeared beneath the skin of Max’s hands, like veins of melted gold disappearing into the cuffs of the Renegade uniform. More were on his throat, where the helmet didn’t cover. They glowed with an iridescence that was both beautiful and terrifying, its warmth pulsing in time with the star.

The star, too, had begun to change. It was larger now, roughly the size of a walnut, and its color had changed to a writhing orange-red mass. Like a sphere of molten lava.

“Max?” Adrian called uncertainly. He pulled his arm from Nova’s and approached his brother. Nova followed, and as she got closer, she could see Max’s eyes open through the cut in the helmet.

She gasped, at the same moment Adrian froze.

The irises of Max’s wide brown eyes were gone, replaced with liquid gold. A few droplets had leaked down the corners of his eyes like tears.

A shiver cascaded through her body.

“MAX!” Adrian cried, running the rest of the way to him and grabbing his elbow. He gave him a shake, but the boy didn’t respond. Adrian looked at Nova, panicked. “What happens to someone who absorbs too much power?”

She shook her head. How should she know? Had anything like this happened before? Closer to Max now, she sensed an electric current in the air, a charge that made the hair stand up on her arms.

Adrian grabbed the helmet, pulling it from Max’s shoulders and tossing it across the roof.

“Max…” He squeezed the boy’s shoulder, pleading. “Max, talk to me. Tell me how to help you.”

For a long moment in which Nova suspected even her own heart had stopped beating, Max remained unresponsive.

Hovering a few inches beyond his fingers, the star continued to grow, now almost as big as a hand grenade.

“I…”

Nova and Adrian both jumped, pressing closer to Max. His voice had been so small, as if being dredged up from somewhere deep inside.

“I’m here, Max. Talk to me,” said Adrian.

“I … don’t want … it…”

A golden tear dripped from the bottom of his chin and Nova instinctively reached out. It landed in her palm, warm, but not burning. It reminded her of the golden threads of energy she had watched her father pull from invisibility and craft into toys and armor and jewelry and … weapons.

She pictured him sitting alone at their small table, coppery strands illuminated between his fingers. He’d been working on something special that night. He’d told her as much. She thought that she solved the mystery, but no—her father wasn’t creating the star as a weapon to destroy Captain Chromium. He’d wanted to stop Ace.

What are you making, Papà?

Something I hope will put to right some of the great injuries I’ve caused this world.

The great injuries he’d caused this world.

He had so much guilt for making the helmet. He wanted to counteract the enormous power he’d given his brother. So he made a new gift for the world, crafting it from light and energy and stardust.

The droplet seeped into her palm and Nova felt a twinge of familiar power tingle in her fingertips. She squeezed her fist shut and gulped.

“I’m going to knock it out of his hand,” said Adrian, picking up the remnants of a broken stone pinnacle.

“Wait,” said Nova, looking from Max to the dark city, the ocean, the vast world beyond.

She had once dreamed of a statue surrounded by ruins, but that dream had never been about destruction. It was about the hope that persisted when all else seemed lost. It was about the hope that the world might yet be saved.

It was about putting to right the great injuries Ace and the helmet had caused, and seeing her father’s final wish fulfilled.

Nova looked at Max again. She took in his eyes, glazed with liquid gold, and the star, which had darkened to a rich, crimson red.

He would absorb it all, every drop of power in this world. She didn’t know if this is what her father had intended, but she knew it was for the best. Soon, there would be no more prodigies. No more heroes, no more villains. It was the world Nova had longed for, convinced it was the only way for humanity to ever achieve some semblance of kinship and equality.

But no human could possibly hold so much power and survive. If Max did this, it would kill him.

Nova shuddered.

The Anarchists believed in sacrifices.

The Renegades believed in a greater good.

Nova wasn’t sure what she believed in anymore, but she knew she believed in Max. And Adrian. And herself.