Supernova (Renegades, #3)

It was the end of heroism as she’d known it, which was pretty sad, given that she hadn’t been too impressed with heroism to begin with.

This year, the Renegade Parade had a different feel to it. Rather than putting the Council and their cohorts up on a pedestal, it was about the celebration of all prodigies, of all gifts, extraordinary and otherwise. It was full of peppy good vibes and people saying things like, “Now anyone can be a superhero!” and whatever other mumbo-jumbo they were buying into these days.

The spectacle was still impressive, to be sure. The floats were alive with flames and ice, lightning and fireworks, towers of suspended water and gravity-defying props and the prodigies at its center—the gears that made it all work.

But they’d gotten rid of the villain floats, which were now seen as disrespectful and uncouth. She wasn’t sure who, exactly, they were supposed to be respecting now. The Anarchists? The villain gangs? Ace Anarchy himself?

Please.

Instead, the villain floats had been replaced with memorials for the warriors who had been lost. Blacklight. Queen Bee. Even that jerk, the Puppeteer, which was the height of irony, given that he’d attacked this same parade just one year before.

There was even a float with a statue dedicated to Callum Treadwell.

Her heart did jolt at the sight of it, but she’d never tell anyone that. Sweet marvels, Callum may have been a ridiculous nerd, but he deserved better than being lumped in with these goons.

She watched from the jostling crowd, arms crossed, scowling at each float that passed. What were they supposed to be celebrating now? The idea that they’d all gone from helpless civilians to courageous superheroes? Laughable. So what was it? The second fall of Ace Anarchy? The great equalization?

A return to mediocrity?

No one else seemed to have figured it out yet, but she knew they would soon enough. The facts were inescapable.

If everyone is special … then no one is.

A float rounded the corner, bringing with it a chorus of eager shrieks.

The Council, naturally, every bit the political figureheads they’d ever been. Without Blacklight, the float was lacking a certain flair—no more strobe lights and fireworks and sparklers. Otherwise, not much had changed.

Despite having their own superpowers, people still tried to emulate the Council. Scanning the crowd, she picked out at least a dozen Captain Chromium costumes, along with branded light-up wands and plastic masks. She also saw a large banner hung from a nearby storefront.

BOLD. VALIANT. JUST. DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A HERO?

YES, YOU DO!

But it was a lie. For starters, not all powers were created equal, and she knew the hierarchy would start sorting itself out soon enough, once all this chumminess over “equality” wore off. And not everyone was cut out to be heroic, even if they could boil water with their breath or hypnotize puppies with their magic kazoo or whatever. They weren’t all empowered, no matter how much they wanted it to be true.

Empowered. Gross. She wanted to vomit every time she heard that word.

The crowd broke into another round of cheers. A parade float came into view displaying a miniature model of Gatlon City, crafted entirely of glass, just like the one she remembered at headquarters. It was pretty, sparkling in the bright afternoon light. It took her a minute to notice the boy in the center of the city. He seemed a lot older than the last time she’d seen him.

Max Everhart.

The haunting recluse she’d so often seen watching the Renegades from behind his quarantine walls. He was a legend now. If anyone was a hero, it was him, after he single-handedly rebuilt Gatlon City when Ace Anarchy had tried to tear it apart.

The funny thing was, Max Everhart was quite possibly the only human being on the planet who didn’t actually have any superpowers. Not anymore.

He could have had them all, but instead, he chose to give them up.

To give them away.

She sort of admired him for it. She sometimes wondered whether he had regrets. She sometimes dreamed of having chance encounters with Max Everhart where she could ask him what it had been like to have that much power, even if just for a moment.

Actually, she thought a lot about Max Everhart these days. At some point in the past year it had occurred to her that he was actually kind of cute, and she wondered if he had always been cute and she’d just never noticed it before because, well, no one really noticed Max Everhart before.

But people noticed him now, and she couldn’t help the fact that she had, too.

She’d never tell anyone that, either.

Next came a float that was painted all in black, with light shining through a million pinprick holes, reminiscent of the night sky. A giant five-pointed star stood in the center of the float. On one arm of the star stood Monarch, alongside a shorter girl with red hair that hung to her hips in a long, narrow braid both of them waving exuberantly to the crowd. On the opposite side of the star were Smokescreen and Red Assassin. Grinning his dopey-eyed grin, Smokescreen pointed a finger at the sky and sent off a stream of fluffy white clouds that folded in on themselves to form the shape of a heart. A second later, a second burst of smoke sent an arrow piercing the heart, and Red Assassin gave him googly eyes like he’d just ended world hunger or something.

On the topmost point of the star stood another happy couple.

She scowled. Her lip curled in disgust of its own accord, even as the crowd roared gleefully in her ears.

They were the proof, people kept saying. Adrian Everhart and Nova Artino were evidence that there could be common ground. That the divide between heroes and villains wasn’t as wide as they’d always thought.

That love conquered all.

She didn’t know about any of that, but it was clear enough that the two were disgustingly infatuated with each other.

Her attention landed on the bronze-filigree bracelet Nova was wearing. It was still pretty, and a twinge of desire still coursed through her every time she saw it, but not nearly as much now that the stone had been swapped out. She never could pinpoint what had been so alluring about it before, other than she had a sixth sense for the value of things, and that stone had been worth more than any trinket she’d ever lifted before. Than all the trinkets put together.

It was gone now, though, replaced with a hunk of onyx or black sapphire or something. She couldn’t tell from so far away.

There were a lot of rumors circulating about what had happened at the cathedral that day. Rumors about a star, an explosion, a new weapon made by David Artino himself. Rumors about Ace Anarchy and Phobia and Captain Chromium and Max Everhart.

Rumors about Nightmare.

On the float, Nova leaned over to speak to Adrian, and something passed between them. A softening of the eyes. A widening of smiles.

Then they were kissing, and she had to turn away before she gagged.

She’d seen enough. Any hopes that the Renegade Parade might still be worthwhile were smashed. She shouldered her way through the crowd, dodging people who were drunk on excitement and cheap beer, kids propped up on their parents’ shoulders for a better view.

She wasn’t sure which of the rumors were true, but the only ones she cared to pay much attention to were the rumors about Ace Anarchy’s helmet. They were saying it still had not been destroyed. They were saying it was indestructible, and that the power contained within it would never fade. She had even heard whispers that the helmet had been hidden beneath those cathedral ruins. Buried deep in the catacombs.

It made her pulse race to think about it.

She’d had more than one fantasy lately about being the one to excavate such a treasure.

If the rumors were even true.

A sparkle caught her eye and she paused, noting a fancy brooch pinned to a woman’s gray blazer. It was the iconic Renegade R, set in red rhinestones. Probably not real gems, but pretty enough to give her pause.

She angled her way forward, focusing on the jewelry. She pictured the sharp little pin pushed through the fabric of the woman’s lapel. She imagined the clasp peeling back. The pin popping free. The brooch slipping out of the fabric.

She bumped into the woman at the same moment the brooch tumbled down, landing in her open palm. She wrapped her fingers around it too fast and felt the stab of the pin against her finger. She flinched, but the woman was watching her suspiciously, so she changed the grimace into a brilliant smile and dashed off an effusive apology before ducking back into the mass of bodies.

She felt someone’s gaze on her then. Daring to glance up, she spotted a man tucked into the crowd, a worn trench coat draped over his bulky figure. He was staring at her like he recognized her, though she knew she’d never seen him before. One doesn’t forget a face like that—a patchwork of blotchy skin, with one cheek that drooped lower than the other, dragging down the left side of his mouth, missing eyebrows and raised scars crisscrossing his brow. She wondered what sort of sad superpower would manifest like that.