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Archenemies

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The Renegades Trilogy continues, in this fiercely awaited second installment after the New York Times-bestselling Renegades by Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles.

Time is running out.
Together, they can save the world.
But they each other's worst nightmare.

In Renegades, Nova and Adrian (aka Insomnia and Sketch) fought the battle of their lives against the Anarchist known as the Detonator. It was a short-lived victory.

The Anarchists still have a secret weapon, one that Nova believes will protect her. The Renegades also have a strategy for overpowering the Anarchists, but both Nova and Adrian understand that it could mean the end of Gatlon City - and the world - as they know it.
Volume:
2
Year:
2018
Publisher:
Feiwel & Friends
Language:
english
ISBN 10:
1250311446
ISBN 13:
9781250311443
File:
EPUB, 9.55 MB
Download (epub, 9.55 MB)

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I just love this trilogy its so good
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page



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For Garrett and Gabriel, future superheroes





CAST OF CHARACTERS


THE RENEGADES: SKETCH’S TEAM

SKETCH — Adrian Everhart

Can bring his drawings and artwork to life

MONARCH — Danna Bell

Transforms into a swarm of monarch butterflies

RED ASSASSIN — Ruby Tucker

When wounded, her blood crystallizes into weaponry; signature weapon is a grappling hook formed from a bloodstone

SMOKESCREEN — Oscar Silva

Summons smoke and vapor at will


THE RENEGADES: FROSTBITE’S TEAM

FROSTBITE — Genissa Clark

Creates weapons of ice from water molecules in the air

AFTERSHOCK — Mack Baxter

Causes the ground to move with earthquake-like force

GARGOYLE — Trevor Dunn

Mutates all or parts of his body into solid stone

STINGRAY — Raymond Stern

Delivers venom via a barbed tail


THE ANARCHISTS

NIGHTMARE — Nova Artino

Never sleeps, and can put others to sleep with her touch

THE DETONATOR — Ingrid Thompson

Creates explosives from the air that can be detonated at will

PHOBIA — True Name Unknown

Transforms his body and scythe into the embodiment of various fears

THE PUPPETEER — Winston Pratt

Turns people into mindless puppets who do his bidding

QUEEN BEE — Honey Harper

Exerts control over all bees, hornets, and wasps

CYANIDE — Leroy Flinn

Generates acidic poisons through his skin

HAWTHORN — Name unknown

Wields deadly;  thorn-covered tentacles


THE RENEGADE COUNCIL

CAPTAIN CHROMIUM — Hugh Everhart

Has superstrength and is nearly invincible to physical attacks; can generate chromium weaponry

THE DREAD WARDEN — Simon Westwood

Can turn invisible

TSUNAMI — Kasumi Hasegawa

Generates and manipulates water

THUNDERBIRD — Tamaya Rae

Generates thunder and lightning; can fly

BLACKLIGHT — Evander Wade

Creates and manipulates light and darkness





CHAPTER ONE

ADRIAN CROUCHED ON THE ROOFTOP, peering at the delivery entrance behind Gatlon City Hospital. It was early morning—the sun hadn’t risen yet, though hints of light were turning the sky from charcoal gray to pale violet. The dimness made it difficult to see anything ten stories below, beyond a couple of vans and a supply truck.

“I have eyes on the getaway vehicle,” said Nova, who was watching the quiet streets through a pair of binoculars.

“Where?” he asked, leaning toward her. “How can you tell?”

“That van on the corner.” She swiveled her view from the vehicle to the hospital door and back. “Nondescript, blacked-out windows, engine still running even though it’s been parked since we got here.”

Adrian sought out the van. Steam was rising from its exhaust pipe in great white clouds. “Is there anyone inside?”

“One, in the driver’s seat. Could be more, but I can’t see into the back.”

Adrian lifted his wrist toward his mouth, speaking into his communication band. “Sketch to Smokescreen and Red Assassin. Suspected getaway vehicle is parked at Seventy-Ninth and Fletcher Way. Set your stations to the south and east escape routes. Still waiting on internal recon from Monarch.”

“Roger that,” Oscar’s voice crackled back at him. “We’re on the move.”

Adrian tapped his fingers against the rooftop ledge, wishing the back entrance to the hospital had better lighting. There were six street lamps, but three of them were burned out. Shouldn’t someone have taken care of those?

“Can I see?” he asked.

Nova held the binoculars out of his reach. “Get your own pair.”

Though he wanted to be irritated with the response, he couldn’t help a twitch of a smile. It was fair enough, he supposed, as Nova had spent twenty minutes that morning explaining to Oscar all of the modifications she’d made to this particular pair of generic binoculars. They now sported autofocus and stabilization functionality, motion targeting, night vision, a video recorder, and computerized lenses that could display GPS coordinates and weather forecasts. And because that evidently wasn’t impressive enough, she’d also added software that combined targeted facial recognition with the Renegades’ prodigy database.

Evidently, she’d been working on them for months.

“Fine, I will get my own,” he said, pulling his fine-tip marker from the sleeve of his Renegade uniform. He started to sketch a pair of binoculars onto the side of a metal utility box. “Maybe I’ll give mine X-ray vision.”

Nova’s jaw tensed. “Were you always such a one-upper?”

He beamed. “I’m only kidding. I would need at least some basic knowledge of how X-ray vision works. But I’m definitely giving them that motion-targeting feature you talked about. And ergonomic handholds. And maybe a flashlight…” He finished his sketch and capped his marker. Pressing his fingers against the metal surface, he pulled the drawing from the utility box, transforming it into a functional, three-dimensional reality.

Kneeling beside Nova again, he adjusted the width of his new binoculars and peered toward the street. The van hadn’t moved.

“There’s Danna,” said Nova.

Adrian swiveled his view toward the delivery bay, but the doors were still closed. “Where—”

“Third story.”

He readjusted and saw the swarm of Monarch butterflies pouring out of an open window. In the darkness, they looked more like a colony of bats silhouetted against the building. The butterflies converged over the hospital’s parking garage and morphed into the figure of Danna.

The communication band buzzed. “They’re heading out now,” came Danna’s voice. “Six altogether.”

“Seven with the driver,” Nova corrected, as the van pulled forward. It turned the corner and came to a stop in front of the delivery doors. Seconds later, those doors were thrown open and six figures came pouring out of the hospital, loaded down with enormous black bags.

“Citizen status?” asked Adrian.

“All clear,” replied Danna.

“Roger. Okay, team, we are cleared to engage. Danna, stay on—”

“Sketch!” said Nova, startling him. “There’s a prodigy.”

He blinked over at her. “What?”

“That woman—the one with the nose ring. She’s showing up on the database. Alias … Hawthorn?”

He racked his brain, but the name wasn’t familiar. “Never heard of her.” Adrian watched through his binoculars again as the figures threw their haul into the van. The woman with the nose ring was the last to climb in. “What’s her power?”

“Evidently she has … thorn-covered extremities?” Nova shot him a baffled look.

Shrugging, Adrian spoke into his wristband again. “High alert, team. The targets have a prodigy with them. Stay with your assignments, but proceed with caution. Insomnia and I will—” A bang startled Adrian and he turned to see that Nova was already gone. He lurched to his feet and peered over the side of the building. The sound had been Nova landing on the first level of the apartment’s fire escape. “… take the north post,” he muttered.

Tires squealed. The van lurched away from the hospital. Adrian raised his wrist, adrenaline coursing through his body as he waited to see which direction …

The van took the first left.

“Smokescreen, you’re up!” he yelled.

Tossing aside the binoculars, Adrian raced after Nova. Overhead, Danna swarmed again and chased after the van.

Nova was halfway down the street by the time Adrian dropped down from the fire escape, his boots pounding on the pavement. He raced after her, his long legs giving him some advantage, though he was still trailing behind when Nova jutted her finger to the right. “You head that way!” she yelled, taking off in the opposite direction.

A block away, he heard the screech of tires again, this time accompanied by the slamming of brakes. A cloud of thick white fog could be seen rising over the roof of an office building.

Oscar’s voice came through the wristband. “They’re reversing—heading north on Bridgewater.”

Adrian turned the corner and saw red taillights blazing toward him. He reached for a piece of white chalk in his sleeve, pocketed beside the marker. Crouching down, he drew a hasty nail strip on the asphalt. He finished the illustration as the smell of burning rubber invaded his nostrils. If the driver could see him in the rearview mirror, he showed no sign of slowing down.

Adrian tugged on the drawing. The four-inch spikes emerged from the ground, and he lunged out of the way seconds before the van blurred past him.

The tires blew with a series of deafening pops. From behind the blackened windows, Adrian could hear the occupants of the van cursing and arguing with one another as the deflated wheels dragged to a stop.

The cloud of butterflies swirled overhead and Danna dropped down onto the roof of the van. “Quick thinking, Sketch.”

Adrian stood, still gripping the chalk. His other hand reached for the Renegade-issued handcuffs clipped to his belt. “You are under arrest,” he called. “Come out slowly with your hands up.”

The door clunked open, parting just wide enough for a hand to emerge, fingers spread in supplication.

“Slowly,” Adrian repeated.

There was a hesitation, and then the door was thrown open the rest of the way. Adrian spotted the barrel of a gun moments before a volley of bullets started to pepper the building behind him. He yelped and dived behind a bus stop, throwing his arms over his head. Glass shattered and bullets pinged against stone.

Someone shouted. The gunfire stopped.

The rest of the van doors were flung open in unison—driver, passenger, and the two at the back.

All seven criminals emerged, scattering in different directions.

The driver bolted for a side street, but Danna was on him instantly: a cyclone of golden wings one minute, and the next, a zealous superhero, clamping one arm around the man’s throat and throwing him to the ground.

A woman from the passenger seat sprinted south on Bridgewater and vaulted over the strip of nails, but she hadn’t gone half a block before she was struck in the face by an arrow of black smoke. She dropped to her knees, choking. Still struggling to breathe, she offered little resistance as Oscar emerged from behind a parked car and clamped cuffs around her wrists.

Three more thieves rushed through the van’s back doors, each weighed down with their bulging plastic bags. None of them saw the thin wire strung across the length of the road. Their ankles caught, one after the other, sending them crashing into a heap on the asphalt. One bag flopped open, spilling dozens of small white pill bottles into the gutter. Skipping out from behind a mailbox, Ruby made quick work of binding the three, then went to retrieve the red hook at the end of her wire.

The last two criminals emerged from the side door. The woman with the nose ring—Hawthorn, according to Nova’s binoculars—was gripping the automatic rifle in one hand and a black garbage bag in the other. She was followed by a man with two more bags flung over his shoulder.

Adrian was still crouched behind the bus stop when the two shot past him into a narrow alley. He sprang to his feet but hadn’t gone two steps before something whistled past him and he saw a glint of red from the corner of his eye.

Ruby’s spiked bloodstone sliced through the bag over the woman’s shoulder, cutting a narrow slit into its side. But her wire was too short. The woman was just out of reach. The gem rebounded, clattering to the concrete. A single plastic bottle tumbled from the tear in the bag.

Growling, Ruby reeled the wire back in and began to swing it overhead like a lasso as she charged forward, preparing for another throw.

The woman stopped suddenly and turned to face them, aiming the gun. She released another round of bullets. Adrian threw himself at Ruby. She cried out in pain as they both tumbled behind a dumpster.

The gunfire stopped as soon as they were under cover. The criminals’ footsteps clomped away from them.

“Are you all right?” said Adrian, though the answer was obvious. Ruby’s face was contorted, both hands gripping her thigh.

“Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. “Stop them!”

Something crashed down the alley—the ear-splitting noise of breaking glass and crunching metal. Adrian poked his head around the dumpster to see a destroyed air-conditioning unit on the pavement. He scanned the roof of the surrounding apartments just as a second unit was hurled down at the thieves. It smashed onto the ground steps in front of the woman, who let out a strangled cry and opened fire again.

Nova ducked back. The bullets burst across the top of the building, marring it with a series of tiny craters.

Adrian didn’t stop to think as he stepped out from behind the dumpster, out from Ruby’s view, and raised his arm. Even beneath the dark gray sleeve of his uniform, he could see his skin start to glow as the narrow cylinder he’d once tattooed onto his flesh sprouted along the length of his forearm.

He fired.

The concussion beam struck Hawthorn between her shoulder blades, launching her over one of the smashed air-conditioning units. The rifle clattered against the nearest wall.

Adrian studied the roof line, heart pounding. “Insomnia?” he yelled, hoping his panic didn’t show in his voice. “Are you—”

Hawthorn let out a guttural scream and pushed herself up onto all fours. Her accomplice stumbled a few steps away, still gripping his two bags of stolen hospital drugs. He shook his head. “Rein it in, Hawthorn,” he said. “Let’s just get out of here.”

Ignoring him, the woman turned toward Adrian and snarled.

As he watched, a series of limbs sprouted upward from her back, not far from where his beam had struck her. Six appendages, each one a dozen feet long and scattered with sharp barbs. They reminded Adrian of octopus legs, if octopus legs had been covered in vicious-looking thorns.

Adrian took a step back. When Nova had mentioned thorn-covered extremities, he’d pictured unusually sharp fingernails. Whoever put the database together really needed to work on being more specific.

Hawthorn’s accomplice cursed. “I’m out of here!” he yelled, and took off running again.

Ignoring him, Hawthorn reached her tentacles toward the nearest fire escape and hauled her body upward, as quick and graceful as a spider. When she was still a platform down from the top, she reached one tentacle up and over the side.

Nova cried out. Adrian’s lungs expelled a horrified breath as he watched the woman haul Nova off the roof. She held her aloft for a second, then threw Nova down.

On instinct, Adrian launched himself upward. He didn’t think about using the springs on his feet—the others weren’t supposed to know about his tattoos—but there was no time to question it. He intercepted Nova’s body before she struck the building on the other side of the alley, and they both crashed down on top of the dumpster.

Panting, Adrian pulled back to inspect Nova, still in his arms. There was something warm and sticky on her back, and his hand was red when he pulled it away.

“I’m fine,” Nova grunted, and she looked more angry than hurt. “Just scratched up by those thorns. I hope they aren’t poisonous.” She sat up and spoke into her communicator band, informing the rest of the team what they were up against.

Adrian scanned the building, afraid that another attack was imminent, but Hawthorn wasn’t coming after them. As he stared, she used her tentacles to swing from the fire escape to a drain pipe, then slid back down to the alley. Two of her tentacles stretched out, snatching up the dropped bag and the single pill bottle that had fallen from it, before chasing after her accomplice.

“I’m going after her,” said Nova. She slipped over the side of the dumpster, her boots thudding on the ground.

“You’re hurt!” said Adrian, landing beside her.

Ruby stumbled out from the shadows. She was limping, but where there had been blood before, now a series of jagged red crystals had burst like stalagmites across her open wound. “I’m going after her too,” she said, snarling.

Nova spun away from them both, but Adrian grabbed her arm and held her back.

“Sketch! Let me go!”

“Two seconds!” he yelled back, pulling out his marker. He used it to draw a quick cut into the blood-soaked fabric of her uniform, revealing the wound on her lower back, not far from her spine. More a puncture than a scratch.

“Adrian! They’re getting away!”

Ignoring her, he drew a series of crisscrossing bandages over the wound. “There,” he said, capping the marker as the bandages knitted together over her flesh. “Now at least you won’t bleed to death.”

She grumbled something, exasperated.

They took off running together, though it soon became clear that Ruby wasn’t going to be able to keep up. While Nova sprinted forward, Adrian grabbed Ruby’s shoulder, stopping her. “We’ll handle the prodigy. You head back, make sure the others are secured.”

Ruby was about to argue when Danna’s voice crackled over their communicator bands. “I have eyes on Hawthorn and the male suspect. They’re doubling back toward the hospital, heading east on Eighty-Second. Probably going for the river.”

Ruby fixed a stern look on Adrian. “Don’t let them get away.”

He didn’t bother to respond. Turning, he sprinted down a narrow side street. Maybe he could cut them off. Had Nova gone back to the main road, or would she make her way to a rooftop and track them from above?

When he was sure Ruby was out of sight, he used the tattooed springs on the soles of his feet to launch himself forward, covering the distance ten times as fast as he could by running. Reaching the end of the alley, he spotted both criminals as they barreled around the next corner.

He ran after them and turned the corner at the same time Nova did, coming from the other direction. She stumbled in surprise when she saw him. “That was fast,” she panted.

They kept pace with each other, sprinting side by side. The criminals were a block ahead. Every once in a while Adrian spotted another pill bottle from the slit in Hawthorn’s bag, rolling off toward a gutter. It made an easy path to follow.

Ahead, the road ended in a T, and Adrian saw the two criminals start to split up. They intended to separate—and to drive Adrian and Nova apart.

“I’ll take Hawthorn,” said Adrian.

“No,” said Nova, pulling a wide-barreled gun from her tool belt. Without slowing, she aimed and fired. The bolt of energy struck the man just as he was heading for the next street. It sent him flying through the window of a small café. Shards of glass rained around him as he tumbled over a table and disappeared from view. One of the garbage bags caught on the broken window, sending a flood of plastic bottles across the sidewalk.

“You get him,” said Nova. “I’ll take Hawthorn.”

Adrian huffed. “Now who’s a one-upper?”

Though Hawthorn hesitated when her cohort was blown through the window, she didn’t stop. If anything, she ran faster, using both her legs and the six tentacles to skitter down the street.

Adrian hadn’t fully made up his mind whether to apprehend the man or stay with Nova when a scream brought them both skidding to a stop.

Adrian’s attention swiveled toward the shattered window of the café. It wasn’t the window, though, but the front door that burst open, crashing so hard against the side of the building that the CLOSED sign fell to the sidewalk.

The man emerged. He had abandoned the garbage bags and instead had one arm wrapped around the throat of a teenage girl wearing a checkered apron. His other hand was pressing a gun to the side of her head.





CHAPTER TWO

THE AIR LEFT ADRIAN as he stared at the gun and the girl’s petrified face. A collage of small cuts shredded her right arm. She must have been standing by the window when the man had fallen through.

“Listen close!” the man yelled. Though his outward appearance was tough, with a tattoo snaking from his jaw down into the collar of his shirt, and arms that had clearly seen plenty of barbells—there was undeniable fear behind his eyes. “You’re going to let me go. You’re not going to follow either of us. You’re not going to attack. You follow those real simple instructions, and I’ll release this girl as soon as we’re free and clear. But I get one hint of being chased, and she’s dead.” He shoved the barrel of the gun against the back of the hostage’s head, forcing her neck forward. His hand was shaking as he began to sidestep along the building’s wall, keeping the girl between himself and the Renegades. “We have an understanding?”

The hostage started to cry.

Adrian’s heart drummed. The code revolved through his thoughts.

Civilian safety first. Always.

But every second they stood there, capitulating to this criminal’s demands, Hawthorn was getting farther and farther away.

Beside him, Nova deftly wrapped a hand around the small gun tucked into the back of her utility belt.

“Don’t,” he murmured.

Nova paused.

The man continued to slink down the street, dragging the hostage with him. Twenty more steps and they’d be around the corner.

If Adrian and Nova did nothing, if they let him go, would he really release the hostage?

The code said to take the chance. Don’t give him cause to attack. Placate and negotiate. Don’t engage when civilian lives are at stake.

Fifteen steps.

“I can hit him,” Nova said under her breath.

The girl watched them both, more horrified with each passing second. Her body was acting as a shield, but there was enough of the man’s head showing that Adrian believed Nova. He had seen her shoot plenty of times. He didn’t doubt that she could hit him.

But still, the code …

Ten steps.

“Too risky,” he said. “Don’t engage.”

Nova made a disgusted sound in her throat, but her hand lifted an inch away from the gun.

The hostage was sobbing now. The criminal was practically carrying her as he backed away.

There was a chance he would kill her as soon as he was out of range. Adrian knew it. They all knew it.

Or he might hold on to her until he reached … wherever it was they were heading to.

Two criminals would still be on the street, including a dangerous prodigy, while pounds of stolen medications that were desperately needed at the hospital entered the city’s drug trade.

Five steps.

Nova looked at Adrian, and he could feel the frustration rolling off her in waves. “Seriously?” she hissed.

He tightened his fists.

The criminal reached the corner and smirked at Adrian. “You best stay put, now,” he said. “Like I said, I’ll let her go when I’m free and clear, but if I get one hint that you Renegades are after us, I’ll—”

A stick appeared from behind the corner and struck the side of the man’s head. He cried out and started to turn, as another blow snapped his head back. His grip loosened on the hostage. With a wail, she wrenched herself free of his grip.

Ruby dropped down from a door canopy, releasing a banshee scream as she pounced on the man’s back and knocked him to the ground. Oscar appeared, gripping his cane like a club. He stood over Ruby and the criminal, prepared to strike a third time, but Ruby had already secured a pair of handcuffs over the man’s wrists.

“And that’s what we in the biz call teamwork,” said Oscar, holding a hand toward Ruby. She locked forearms and let him help her to her feet.

Dazed, the hostage collapsed against the building wall and slid down to the sidewalk.

“Sweet rot,” Nova murmured, echoing Adrian’s thoughts exactly. Ruby’s wounds had continued to bleed, and her uniform was encrusted in sharp red crystal formations sprouting from the bullet wound on her thigh and encompassing her leg down to her knee and up over her hip.

Adrian shook off his surprise. “Where’s Danna?”

“Tracking the prodigy,” said Ruby. “If she hasn’t caught up to her already.”

“I’m going after them,” said Nova. She shot a sour look at Adrian. “If that’s in line with the code.”

He returned the glare, but without much force behind it. “Be safe. We’ll meet back at the hospital.”

Nova took off in the direction the prodigy had gone. Adrian watched her go with a twist of uneasiness in his gut. They still didn’t know much about Hawthorn or what she was capable of.

But Danna would be there. And Nova knew what she was doing.

He forced himself to turn away. “The others?”

“All secured,” said Ruby. “And I’ve already called for convict removal and a cleanup crew.”

Oscar stepped toward the hostage. She was gaping at the three Renegades, trembling.

“You’re safe now,” said Oscar, using his cane for support as he crouched in front of her. “A medic will be here soon to tend to your injuries, and there are counselors on staff if you need someone to talk to. In the meantime, is there someone you’d like us to call?”

Her shaking body stilled as she met his gaze. Her eyes widened—not with fear this time, but rather a delirious sort of awe. She opened her mouth, though it took her a few tries before words started to form. “I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life,” she whispered. “To be rescued by a real Renegade.” She simpered, regarding Oscar as if he were the eighth wonder of the modern world. “Thank you … thank you so much for saving my life.”

His cheeks reddened. “Uh … yeah. You’re welcome.” Oscar glanced at Ruby, uncertain, but when he stood up, his chest was puffed out more than it had been before. “All in a day’s work.”

Ruby snickered.

The wail of a siren echoed through the streets. The ambulance and Renegade squad cars would be arriving soon. Adrian glanced in the direction that Nova had gone, his anxiety returning in force.

How far had the prodigy gotten? Where was she headed? Had Danna caught up to her yet? Had Nova?

Did they need help?

“Hey, guys?” he started, feeling the pulse of adrenaline all over again.

“You’re going after her,” said Ruby. “Yeah, we know.”

“Better be fast about it,” said Oscar. “You know Nova’s not going to save any of the glory for you.”

Adrian’s lips flickered in a grateful smile, and he ran.

* * *

THE SUN HAD risen over the buildings now, throwing long shadows across the streets. The city was coming to life. More cars on the roads. Pedestrians casting curious, even excited looks at Nova as she sprinted past in her oh-so-recognizable Renegade uniform. She ignored them all, dodging around the shop owners who were rolling garbage bins toward the street. Vaulting over sandwich boards that advertised seasonal sales and grand openings. Weaving around bicycles and taxis, street lamps and rusted mailboxes.

Their job was difficult during the daytime. Things were easier when there were no civilians around, as the hostage situation outside the café proved. That’s when the infamous Gatlon code authority came into play. The whole protect-and-defend-at-all-costs thing. It’s not that Nova disagreed with the intention—of course they should be working to protect innocent bystanders. But sometimes you had to take risks. Sometimes you had to make sacrifices.

For a greater good.

Ace never would have spared one life when doing so could have put dozens, even hundreds, more at risk.

But that was the code the Renegades lived by, and now a prodigy with thorn-covered extremities was on the loose, and who knew when she would strike again?

If Nova didn’t stop her first.

Given that she was a superhero and all.

She smiled wryly at the thought. Oh, if Ingrid could see her now. How mortified she would be to see Nova, her Anarchist cohort, working with the Renegades—siding with them over another rebellious prodigy, even. Ingrid would have encouraged Nova to let Hawthorn go, maybe even to try to turn her into an ally. But Ingrid was shortsighted. She couldn’t fathom the importance of Nova earning the Renegades’ trust.

Ace understood. He had always understood.

Earn their trust. Learn their weaknesses.

Then, destroy them.

Hawthorn was headed for the river, just as Nova would have done to cover her tracks if she’d been fleeing from the Renegades—which was, admittedly, a scenario Nova had spent plenty of time preparing for over the years. Three blocks from where she’d left Adrian and the others, she spotted a white pill bottle in a gutter. Hawthorn had changed directions, and two blocks later Nova saw another bottle caught in a storm drain.

She spied a dark, fluctuating cloud over a community garden and it took her a moment to recognize Danna’s swarm. The butterflies drifted back and forth, fluttering over a side street, then up and over the roofs of a narrow strip of boarded-up shops.

Nova had the distinct impression that they were searching for something.

She hopped over the fence and jogged through the muddy garden. When she reached the street on the other side, the butterflies had begun to alight on the power lines and gutters. Thousands of them, wings twitching as they searched and waited.

Nova’s palm thumped against her handgun, but she changed her mind and grabbed the shock-wave gun instead. The alley was almost empty but for half a dozen metal trash cans and piles of heaped-up garbage bags overflowing against each wall. The smell was putrid—rotting food and dead fish. Nova kept her breaths shallow, fighting the urge to gag as she ducked through a throng of houseflies.

A noise made Nova jump and she spun around, shock-wave gun leveled at one of the trash bags. A scrawny cat yowled and darted through a broken window.

Nova exhaled.

A battle cry rang out, echoing through the alley. The lid of a trash can blew upward as Hawthorn launched herself out. A thorny limb snatched the gun from Nova’s hand, leaving a burning welt on her palm.

Hissing, Nova reached for her handgun as Hawthorn took the shock-wave gun into her hand.

Nova drew her gun, but Hawthorn fired first.

Nova was thrown back into a pile of garbage bags, her body vibrating with the concussive blow.

Hawthorn ran the other way. Danna formed in the woman’s path, her body poised for a fight. Hawthorn aimed for her, too, but Danna dispersed into butterflies before the crackling energy could hit her.

The insects cycloned. A heartbeat later, Danna dropped out of the sky onto Hawthorn’s back.

Three of Hawthorn’s six limbs wrapped around Danna’s body, slicing across her back. Danna screamed as the thorns dug long gashes into her skin. Hawthorn hurled her at the wall and Danna crumpled to the ground.

Struggling to her feet, Nova grabbed the nearest trash can and threw it as hard as she could.

Hawthorn cocked her head and whipped out one of the tentacles, easily batting away the garbage can. Another limb reached into a nearby pile of trash bags and pulled one off the top—Nova recognized the slit in its side. Hawthorn began her spidery climb up the wall, her extra limbs reaching for the bars on windows and bracketed lights. She reached the roof and disappeared.

Nova raced down the alley. Hawthorn’s goal became clear the moment she burst onto the street and saw the short bridge spanning Snakeweed River. Hawthorn was already at the bridge’s railing. She shot one hateful glower at Nova, then hurled herself from the bridge.

Though Nova’s legs were burning and her lungs felt ready to collapse, she pumped her arms faster, urging her body forward. She only had to see where Hawthorn surfaced and she would be in pursuit again.

But when she reached the bridge, her heart sank.

Hawthorn hadn’t fallen into the river.

She’d landed on a barge.

It was plowing steadily through the waves, putting more distance between Nova and the criminal with every heartbeat.

Surrounded by shipping containers, Hawthorn waved tauntingly back.

Nova curled her fists around the rail of the bridge, envisioning the river’s path. There were four more bridges before it emptied into the bay. Hawthorn could depart at any one of them, but there was no way for Nova to catch up and find out which one.

Nova cursed. Her knuckles whitened as she squeezed her hands into fists.

There had to be another way to follow. There had to be another way to stop the prodigy. There had to be—

Pounding footsteps caught her attention.

Nova spun around. Her pulse skipped as she saw the man in a shiny armored suit charging straight for her.

The Sentinel.

Skin prickling, she reached for her gun, preparing for a fight.

But the Sentinel ran past her and launched himself into the air with the force of a jet engine.

Nova’s jaw fell as she followed his trajectory. His body arched up and out over the river and for a moment he seemed to be flying.

Then he descended, graceful and sure, his body braced for impact.

He smashed down onto the deck of the barge, inches from its ledge.

The Sentinel stood, briefly striking a pose straight out of a comic book.

Nova couldn’t refrain from rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, show-off.”

If Hawthorn was shocked, she didn’t show it. With a shout, she sent all six brambled limbs driving toward the vigilante.

Nova sort of hoped she was about to witness the Sentinel being impaled, but then he extended his left arm. A bonfire exploded from his palm, engulfing the tentacles. Even from so far away, Nova could hear the woman’s screams as she reeled her limbs back.

Extinguishing the flames around his hand, the Sentinel tackled Hawthorn with such force that both of them rolled behind the stack of shipping containers.

Nova pressed her body against the rail, squinting into the morning light. For a long time, she could see nothing, as the barge clipped through the water.

Before it reached the next river bend, though, Nova spotted movement on its deck.

She grabbed the binoculars from the back of her belt and found the barge. The lenses’ programming zoomed in on the deck.

Nova’s eyes narrowed.

Hawthorn’s clothes were singed from the Sentinel’s flames. Blood splattered her bare arms. The left side of her face was swelling around a cut on her lip.

But she was still standing. The Sentinel, on the other hand, was sprawled at her feet, his body wrapped from shoulders to ankles in the barbed limbs.

As Nova watched, Hawthorn dragged the Sentinel’s body to the back of the barge and dumped him over the edge.

The heavy armor sank immediately into the murky water.

Nova drew back. It happened so fast, she was almost disappointed by how anticlimactic it was. She was no great fan of the Sentinel, and yet, there had been a small part of her that had hoped he would at least catch the thief, as he’d caught any number of criminals over the past few weeks.

Hawthorn glanced up once more in Nova’s direction, her smirk caught dead center in the binoculars’ view.

Then the barge rounded a bend in the river and she was gone.

Sighing, Nova lowered the binoculars.

“Well,” she muttered, “at least I won’t have to worry about him anymore.”





CHAPTER THREE

ADRIAN SURFACED BENEATH Halfpenny Bridge. He struggled to the shore and collapsed, startling a hermit crab who darted beneath a lichen-covered rock.

He attempted a deep breath of blissful air, but it caught in his throat and led to a bout of coughing. His lungs were burning from holding his breath for so long, he was light-headed, and every muscle ached. Grit and sand clung to his drenched uniform.

But he was alive, and for the moment, that was enough to bring a grateful laugh mingling with the erratic coughs.

It seemed that every time he transformed into the Sentinel, he learned something new about himself and his abilities.

Or, lack of abilities.

Today he had learned that the Sentinel’s armor was not watertight. And also, that it sank like a rock.

His memories of the flight were already starting to blur. One moment he’d been on the barge, preparing a ball of fire around his gauntlet, sure that he would soon have Hawthorn begging for mercy. Those brambles of hers looked flammable, anyway. But the next thing he knew, he was entangled in her tentacles, which turned out to be as strong as iron. One of the thorns had punctured the plate of armor on his back, though it luckily hadn’t made it through to his skin.

Then he was sinking. Surrounded by blackness. His ears clogging with the pressure, and water leaking in through the joints in his suit. He’d been halfway to the bottom of the river when he retracted the suit into the tattooed pocket on his chest and started kicking toward the shore.

The coughing fit finally stopped and Adrian rolled onto his back, gazing up at the bottom of the bridge. He heard a heavy vehicle crossing overhead. The steel structure trembled from its weight.

The world had just fallen quiet again when he heard a chime on his communicator band. He grimaced.

For the first time, he began to think that his decision to transform into the Sentinel might not have been the best idea. If he’d caught Hawthorn and retrieved the stolen medication, he’d probably feel differently, but as it was, he had nothing to show for his risk.

His team would be wondering where he was. He would have to explain why he was soaking wet.

Sitting up, he reached for the pocket sewn into the lining of his Renegade uniform, but there was nothing inside.

No marker. No chalk.

Adrian cursed. They must have fallen out in the water.

So much for drawing himself some dry clothing.

The wristband pinged again. He rubbed the water droplets off the screen with his damp sleeve, then pulled up the messages. There were seven of them. Three from Ruby, one from Oscar, one from Danna, two from his dads.

Great. They’d gotten the Council involved.

No sooner had he thought it than he heard a roar of water. His eyes widened and Adrian scrambled to his feet—too late. A wall of foaming river water crashed down, drenching him all over again. He barely maintained his balance as the surging wave rolled back out into the riverbed. Spluttering and pulling scraps of snakeweed from his uniform, he watched as a second wall of water built up on the other side of the river, rising impossibly up over the far shore. A wave, thirty feet tall, with all the scattered boats perched deftly on its crest. The floor of the river could be seen, all slimy plant life and built-up trash. The wave hung, motionless for a moment, before sinking back down and surging toward the bay.

Tsunami, Adrian guessed, or one of the other water elementals on the force, combing the bottom of the river.

Searching for him, he realized.

Nova must have seen the Sentinel being dropped into the water, and now they were searching for the body.

Turning, he stumbled for the small cliffside. He grasped at weeds and rocks and exposed tree roots as he scrambled up the bank. By the time he reached the top, he was not only soaking wet but muddy too.

There were signs of recent life in the shelter of the bridge—a tarp, a couple of blankets, an abandoned shopping cart—but no one was there now to witness Adrian as he dashed around the abutment and up to street level. Below him, the river roared again as another unnatural wave began to rise up from the depths.

He was preparing to climb over the guardrail when he heard a familiar, booming voice coming from the bridge.

Heart leaping, Adrian ducked down.

“—keep looking,” said the Dread Warden, one of Adrian’s dads and a member of the Renegade Council. “Magpie will be here soon. She might be able to detect the suit, even if it’s buried beneath the silt.”

Adrian exhaled. He hadn’t been noticed.

“I’ll see if I can find anything from the next bridge too,” said Tsunami. “It seems unlikely he would have gone much farther than this, but it won’t hurt to look.”

Adrian lifted his head and peered over the guardrail. He could see Tsunami and his dad standing on the deck of Halfpenny Bridge, the wind fluttering through Tsunami’s royal blue skirt and snapping at the Dread Warden’s black cape. They were both watching the river.

Tsunami flicked a finger, and he heard the crash of water below.

They started to make their way in his direction. Crouching, Adrian scurried back beneath the bridge.

“Sketch?”

Gasping, he spun around. Nova stood on the other side of the street, peering at him like he was an unknown amphibious species she was preparing to dissect.

“Nova,” he stammered, hurrying back up the hill and stepping over the guardrail. “Er—Insomnia. Hi.”

Her frown deepened. She had changed out of her uniform into drawstring pants and a healer-issued tank top. Adrian could see the edges of bandages wrapping around her right shoulder.

“Where have you been? Ruby’s worried sick,” she said, strolling across the street. Her eyes scoured his uniform. “Why are you all wet?”

“Adrian?”

He cringed and faced the two Council members as they reached the end of the bridge. They appeared as surprised to see him as Nova had, though more curious than suspicious.

So far.

“Hey, everyone,” he said. He forced a smile, but then wiped it away, urging himself to stop aiming for nonchalant. Nothing about this was nonchalant. He licked his lips, which still tasted like sludgy river water, and gestured toward the bridge. “Find anything?”

“Great skies, Adrian,” said the Dread Warden. “Oscar alerted us about your disappearance more than half an hour ago. One minute you’re telling your team that you’re going after a prodigy criminal, and then—nothing! We didn’t know if Hawthorn had attacked you, or … or…” He paused, his expression wavering between worried and angry. “What were you doing all this time? Why aren’t you responding to your messages?”

“Um. I was”—Adrian glanced at the river, sunlight glinting off its surface—“searching for the Sentinel.” He ran a hand over his hair. “I was on one of the side streets when I saw Hawthorn throw him in the water. So I went down to the shore and have been waiting to see if he would surface.” He didn’t have to fake his chagrin. “I wasn’t expecting you to start combing the water so soon, hence…” He gestured at his uniform, which was still clinging uncomfortable and cold to his skin. “And, uh … messages?” He tapped at his wristband. “Oh, wow, seven missed messages? That’s weird. I didn’t hear them come through. But you know, my band has been acting up lately. I’ll have to get the folks in tech to check into that.” He dared to peek at Nova. Her eyes were still narrowed in suspicion.

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “You should look into that.” Her expression cleared as she turned to the Council members. “The cleanup crew is here, along with Magpie.” Her tone carried a definite sourness when she mentioned Maggie’s alias. Though Adrian had a lot of sympathy for the kid, he knew Nova had never quite forgiven her for trying to steal her bracelet. He glanced at her wrist, searching for the clasp he’d once redrawn on her skin, but it was hidden beneath the sleeve of her uniform. “She wasn’t sure where you wanted her to get started.”

“I’ll talk to her,” said Tsunami. “Should I have Smokescreen brief the cleanup crew, or”—she inspected Adrian—“is the team leader prepared to do that?”

Grateful for the opportunity to move on from this conversation, Adrian was about to say that he would love nothing more than to point out all the locations in this neighborhood where windows had been broken, walls had been destroyed, and bullets had been fired, but the Dread Warden responded first. “Have them talk to Smokescreen. Adrian needs to head to the medical tent and be checked for injuries.”

“And let the others know you’re okay,” said Nova, “before Ruby assembles her own search party.”

They followed Nova into a connecting side street, and Adrian spotted two ambulances emblazoned with the Renegade R and a handful of transport vehicles. The media was arriving, too, but they were being held back behind a banner of yellow security tape.

Down the street, he saw the cleanup crew awaiting instructions. Adrian was glad to see Magpie among the crew. It would be good for her to apply her powers to something more productive than pickpocketing. The kid had potential, he knew, even if her personality was as prickly as Hawthorn’s extra limbs.

As if she could hear his thoughts, Magpie spotted Adrian across the street and her bored expression turned sour. He waved jovially and she turned his back on him.

A white tent had been erected in front of a small electronics repair store. Oscar, Ruby, and Danna were each on a stretcher, being attended by the healers who had arrived on the scene. One of the healers was pulling encrusted jewels from Ruby’s thigh with a pair of heavy-duty pliers. Ruby flinched each time a new one was pulled, the wound immediately covered with thick gauze to stanch the bleeding and keep new bloodstones from sprouting.

Danna was lying flat on her stomach. The back of her uniform, from her neck to her hips, had been cut open, allowing a healer to access the wounds crisscrossing her flesh. Her back looked like it had been mauled by grizzly bear. Adrian suspected that Hawthorn’s barbs were to blame. At least the healer working on her appeared to be practiced in flesh wounds, and even from a distance Adrian could see the cuts slowly knitting together in the top layers of her skin.

“Adrian!” Ruby shouted, startling the healer who was trying to extract the final bloodstone from her leg. Ruby yelped in pain as the gem dislodged. She scowled at the healer, who scowled back. Ruby grabbed a roll of bandaging and began wrapping the wound herself. “What happened?” she asked, returning her attention to Adrian and Nova. “Where were you?”

Adrian opened his mouth, prepared to give his explanation again and hoping it would become more believable with repetition, when the healer held up his hand, still gripping the pliers. “There will be time for reunions later. We need to get all of you back to headquarters for follow-up treatment.”

“Has Smokescreen been cleared?” asked Tsunami. “We’d like him to debrief the cleanup crew.”

The healer nodded. “Yes, fine. His injuries were negligible.”

“Negligible?” said Oscar, holding up his forearm, which was wrapped in white bandages. “Their getaway driver scratched me when I was getting out the handcuffs. What if the guy had rabies or something? This could be a mortal wound here.”

The healer eyed him warily. “You can’t get rabies from fingernail scratches.”

Oscar huffed. “I said, or something.”

“Have you checked him for an overinflated ego yet?” teased Ruby. “I’d hate for him to float away on us.”

Oscar cut a glare toward her. “You’re just jealous.”

“Yes, I am jealous!” said Ruby. “I helped rescue that girl, too, but she didn’t even notice me. She was just all—Oh, Smokescreen! I’ve been dreaming of your smoldering smokiness all my life!”

Adrian’s cheek twitched. Ruby’s impersonation wasn’t exactly how he remembered the barista from the café, but close enough.

Oscar nodded. “I’ve found that my smoldering smokiness does have that effect on people.”

Ruby snorted, and Adrian sensed that she was trying to annoy Oscar and was frustrated that it didn’t seem to be working.

“What girl?” said Nova. “The hostage?”

“Yep,” said Oscar, idly swinging his cane. “She’s pretty much in love with me.”

“Who isn’t, right?” said Danna, flashing a cheeky grin.

“Exactly. Thank you, Danna.”

She gave him a thumbs-up from the table.

“Oscar is always telling us that these uniforms are a love beacon,” said Adrian. “I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Although … no girl has ever swooned over me like that. And now I’m jealous too. Thanks, Ruby.”

“It’s not just the uniform,” said Oscar. “I mean, I did save her life.”

“We saved her—” Ruby started, but it fizzled into an angry growl.

“Maybe I should have asked for her number,” Oscar mused.

Ruby gaped at him, cheeks flushing, and Adrian felt a little bad for her. But then, she had been the one to try to tease Oscar in the first place, so maybe she deserved it.

Slamming her mouth shut, Ruby turned her head away. “Maybe you should have. I’m sure she would love to date a real Renegade.”

“Who said anything about dating?” said Oscar. “I just thought she might want to be the president of my fan club. Good help is hard to find.”

Ruby guffawed, but as she looked back at Oscar, her expression softened with suspicion. “Are you saying you wouldn’t go on a date with her?”

“I hadn’t thought of it.” A short silence hung between them, and there was a hint of uncertainty as Oscar ventured, “Do you really think I should have asked?”

Ruby gaped at him again, speechless, trapped by her own taunting. After a long silence, she cleared her throat and shrugged. “You can do whatever you want.”

Adrian bit his tongue, trying to hide his smile at the nonanswer.

Ruby turned her focus back to her wounds, studying them with renewed interest as her cheeks turned scarlet.

Oscar, though, was still watching her, flummoxed, and maybe a little hopeful. “Well … maybe I will ask a girl on a date,” he said. “Someday.”

“Maybe you should,” said Ruby, without looking up.

“Maybe I will.”

“You already said that.”

“Right. Well.” Oscar climbed down from the table, and Adrian could see that Ruby was no longer the only one blushing. “If you’ll excuse me, I have important debriefing responsibility things to take care of. So I’ll, uh … see you guys back at headquarters. Good job today, team.”

Straightening his uniform, he headed toward the cleanup crew. Tsunami followed, with an almost-unnoticeable sigh.

Danna whistled under her breath. “You two are impossible,” she muttered. “In fact, all four of you are driving me nuts.”





CHAPTER FOUR

THE DREAD WARDEN SIGHED, making Adrian jump. He’d forgotten his dad was there. “I don’t miss this age,” he said, and one of the healers gave him a knowing look. “Dr. Grant, could you also examine Sketch when you have a minute?”

“I’m fine,” Adrian said. “Don’t waste your time on me. Focus on Ruby and Danna.”

“Adrian—” the Dread Warden started.

“Honestly, Pops, I just got splashed with some river water. It’s not like I almost drowned or anything. Don’t worry about it.” He added a grin for effect. He’d gotten lucky lately, not having experienced any dire wounds since he’d started giving himself the tattoos that imbued him with the Sentinel’s powers. The last thing he wanted was for a healer to notice the curious designs inked into his skin and start to make inquiries, especially to his dads.

“Fine,” said the Dread Warden. “Let’s get everyone back to headquarters, and”—he turned toward the gathered journalists and their flashing cameras—“start figuring out what to tell them.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” yelled Danna as two assistants wheeled her gurney toward one of the ambulances. She propped herself up on her elbows. “I’m not going anywhere until someone tells us what happened. Adrian disappears and no one can get ahold of him, the Sentinel shows up, Hawthorn gets away, and now they’re saying the Sentinel might be dead? And what is this about Adrian getting splashed with river water?” She spread her fingers toward Adrian, like she would grab him and shake him if he were within reach. “What were you doing?”

“I was chasing the Sentinel, and after Hawthorn threw him in the water, I was waiting to see if he would surface.” He shrugged, relieved that, in fact, it did sound more believable this time.

“You’ll all be filled in after the healers have released you from the med wing,” said the Dread Warden. He snapped his fingers and Danna and Ruby were loaded up into the ambulance, grumbling to themselves.

“Nova?” said the Dread Warden. “I’d like to have a private word with Adrian. You’re welcome to assist Oscar and Tsunami with the briefing.”

Nova glanced at the group and noticed Magpie among them. Her own lips wrinkled in distaste. “Actually, I think I’d better head home before the news stories get too convoluted. I like to give my uncle the story from my point of view before he hears it all thirdhand.” Her gaze swooped over Adrian’s wet clothes one more time and he found himself standing straighter. “I’m … glad you’re okay,” she said, sounding almost uncomfortable to be admitting it. “You did scare us for a minute.”

“We’re superheroes,” he said. “We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t scare people from time to time.”

Nova didn’t respond, but her expression softened before she turned away and started heading back toward the river. It was a long walk to her home, Adrian knew, and he was about to call after her and suggest she wait. Maybe they could take one of the transport vans together. But the words didn’t come and he knew that the invitation would be declined.

Most of his invitations were declined where Nova was concerned. So what was the point?

His shoulders sank, ever so slightly.

“About that,” said his dad.

Adrian turned to him. The Dread Warden peeled the black domino mask from his face and it was as if his dad had transformed. It wasn’t just the costume. The shift was in the relaxing of his posture. The ironic tilt of his mouth. Where the Dread Warden, famous superhero and founding member of the Renegades had stood, now it was just Simon Westwood, concerned parent.

“About what?” said Adrian.

“It is not our job, as superheroes, to scare people from time to time.”

Adrian chuckled. “It may not be written into our job description, but come on. What we do is dangerous.”

Simon’s tone hardened. “You’re right. And because it is so dangerous, it is of utmost importance that our behavior never veers into recklessness.”

“Reckless?”

“Yes, reckless. You can’t just leave your team behind like that, Adrian. Why do you think we organize recruits into teams in the first place? It’s your responsibility to look after one another, and your teammates can’t do that if they have no idea where you are.”

“We were all following the same objective.” Adrian gestured in the direction Nova had gone. “Nova ran off after Hawthorn too.”

“Yes, Nova McLain’s penchant for making rash decisions has been well documented, and to be perfectly honest, I hoped that spending time with you and your team would help her grow out of it.” Simon pushed his cape back from his shoulders. “Besides, in this particular case, it’s not a fair comparison. Nova still had Danna to watch her back. Whereas no one had any idea where you’d gone off to. It’s not like you, Adrian, and it’s got to stop.”

“I was trying to catch up to Nova and Hawthorn. I wasn’t sure what direction they’d gone, so it took me a while to find them, and then there was the whole Sentinel thing that threw a wrench in my plans, but…” He rubbed the back of his head. “It’s not like I ran off to Casino Jack for an afternoon without telling anyone. I was doing my job!”

“I’m not trying to start a fight about this,” said Simon. “You’re a great team leader, and we’re really proud of you. I just want to remind you that there are no lone wolves in the Renegades. There is no I in hero.”

Adrian rocked back on his heels. “You’ve been holding on to that one for a while, haven’t you?”

“So long!” said Simon, a smile brightening his face. “Actually, I’m pretty sure it was one of those sayings your mom used to say.”

Adrian chuckled. “She did like her two-cent parables.”

Though Adrian’s mother, the brave and wondrous Lady Indomitable, had been killed when he was a kid, her cheesy sayings still came back to him sometimes. Unbidden, but when he needed to hear them most.

Superheroes are only as good as their conviction.

Sometimes, a smile is the most powerful weapon we have.

When in doubt … fly.

Easy for her to say, of course, given that she could actually fly.

Adrian turned toward the cleanup crew. There were a dozen or so Renegades gathered around Oscar as he gave an animated reenactment of the fight with Hawthorn and the rest of the criminals. He was currently using his cane to swipe at an invisible enemy, which Adrian thought might have been his explanation of how he’d knocked out the guy who had taken the café server hostage.

They had worked as a team then, hadn’t they? And they had successfully rescued the girl.

He appreciated his team. Respected them. Even loved them.

But he wasn’t convinced that a superhero didn’t sometimes have to go off on their own. Maybe there weren’t any lone wolves in the Renegades, but … the Sentinel wasn’t a Renegade, was he?

“So,” said Adrian, turning back to Simon, “if you and Tsunami were looking for the Sentinel, who went after Hawthorn?”

“Hugh and Tamaya,” said Simon.

Hugh Everhart—Adrian’s other dad, the invincible Captain Chromium. And Tamaya Rae, Thunderbird. The only founding member other than Adrian’s mom who had the power of flight.

“Have we heard anything?” he said.

Simon checked his wristband and shook his head. “I’m worried the trail had gone cold by the time we got here. But her accomplices are in custody and we’ll begin interrogations immediately. One of them will talk.”

“What do you think they wanted all that medication for?”

Simon heaved a sigh. “The drugs they took are used to develop a powerful opioid. It’s a pretty lucrative business for those who are willing to produce and deal it. And of course, for every street dealer doling out these drugs, there are plenty of sick patients at the hospitals not receiving the help they need. The bag Hawthorn had was mostly painkillers, and it’s going to be difficult for the pharmaceutical industry to replenish the supply on short notice. It’s been hard enough to bring back legitimate drug production as it is.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Luckily, your team managed to keep a lot of those drugs off the street. It could have been much worse.”

Adrian wanted to accept the compliment, but he couldn’t help but focus on their failure more than their successes. They should have been able to stop Hawthorn. “Will you let me know once they have Hawthorn’s location? If you’re going to send a team after her, I’d like to—”

“No,” said Simon. “If Hugh and Tamaya don’t bring her in today, we’ll be assigning another unit to the case. Your team has sustained too many injuries. You’re taking a few days off.”

“But—”

“Don’t.” Simon held up a hand. “This is non-negotiable.”

“Are you saying that as my dad, or my boss?”

“Both, and also as someone who cares for Ruby and Danna. They need time to recover, Adrian.”

“Fine, then let me, Nova, and Oscar be a part of it.”

Simon scratched the dark whiskers on his chin. “Is this going to be Nightmare all over again?”

“We found Nightmare, didn’t we?”

“You almost got killed.”

“Yeah. I’m a superhero, Pops. How many times have you almost gotten killed? And you don’t hear me complaining about it.”

Simon groaned good-naturedly. “What now? Why do you care about Hawthorn? It was just another mission, Adrian. You guys stopped six of the seven perpetrators. We got back most of the medicine they took. You did well.”

“I like to finish what I start.”

“Is that all?”

Adrian drew back. “What do you mean?”

“I just wonder if maybe you’re trying a bit too hard to prove yourself these days, after what happened at the carnival.”

Adrian scowled. He hated being reminded of how he had failed at the carnival. True, he had found the Anarchist known as Nightmare, but he had also allowed the Detonator to play him like a pixilated character in an old video game. He had replayed those moments with the Detonator a thousand times in his mind, trying to figure out what he could have done differently to stop her. His hesitation had allowed the Detonator to set off two bombs, resulting in dozens of innocent people being hurt, and Adrian couldn’t help feeling responsible for each and every one of them.

It was Nova who had shot and killed the Detonator, putting an end to her terrorism. If Nova hadn’t been there, Adrian didn’t know what might have happened. He should have done more to stop her. He should have figured out sooner that killing the villain would deactivate the explosives.

Maybe it was because he had the Gatlon code authority echoing in his thoughts. Killing an adversary should always come as a last resort.

Nova had recognized that they were at the last resort. She did what needed to be done.

Why hadn’t he?

“I’m sorry,” said Simon, squeezing Adrian’s shoulder. “That was thoughtless of me. You and Nova both handled yourselves well, given the circumstances. I’m sorry you couldn’t save Nightmare, but no one regrets that we no longer have to worry about the Detonator.”

“Save Nightmare?”

Simon lifted an eyebrow. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Adrian’s shoulder jerked and Simon dropped his hand. “I wanted information on my mother and her murder. I thought Nightmare might have that information. It had nothing to do with saving her. So she’s dead—it’s not exactly a tragedy.”

“Right. That’s what I meant. And I know … regardless of who she was and the things she’d done, her death was a disappointment to you. To all of us, if she truly did have information that would have solved Georgia’s murder.”

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe how Adrian felt at losing that tenuous connection to his mother’s killer. He knew Nightmare wasn’t the murderer—she was far too young for that—but he was convinced that she had known who it was. Even now, months after he had fought Nightmare on the rooftop overlooking the parade, her words often echoed through his head.

One cannot be brave who has no fear.

The same words that had been found on a small white card on his mother’s body, after she fell seven stories to her death.

“Yeah, well, I’m not giving up on finding my mother’s killer. Nightmare was an Anarchist. If she knew something, then maybe another Anarchist will, too, or another villain who was around at the same time.”

“Someone like Hawthorn?”

Adrian didn’t try to disguise his bemused grin. “Was she around back then? I haven’t had time to confirm that yet.”

Simon lifted a finger, nearly jutting it against Adrian’s nose. “I’m only going to say this once, Adrian. Do not try to go after Hawthorn by yourself. Or any of the Anarchists, for that matter. You understand? It’s dangerous.”

Adrian pushed up his glasses and opened his mouth to speak.

“And don’t try to tell me that dangerous is how superheroes are supposed to operate.”

Adrian snapped his mouth shut.

“We have methods in place for a reason,” Simon continued. “To help mitigate threats and damage. If you hear something about Hawthorn or any other villain, you call it in and wait for instructions. I want to find out who killed your mother as much as you do, but I’m not about to lose you in the process.”

Adrian forced himself to nod. “I know, Pops. I’ll try to be less … reckless.”

“Thank you.”

Adrian pressed his lips into a thin smile, biting back the words he really wanted to say. The suspicions that had been filling his head for weeks.

Despite the bomb that had supposedly killed her, despite the amount of destruction that had been wreaked at the carnival fun house that day, despite the fact that Adrian himself had witnessed the fight between Nightmare and the Detonator … despite everything, he had doubts.

His dads would call it denial. His team would call it his typical, uncanny optimism.

But Adrian couldn’t help it.

The truth was, he did not believe that Nightmare was dead.





CHAPTER FIVE

ADRIAN AND THE TEAM had been left off the patrol schedule for the rest of the week, owing for time to “recover from injuries and trauma,” so there was no reason to head into Renegade Headquarters in full gear today. Normally he wouldn’t have had to come in to headquarters at all, except that morning the Council had sent out a global communication to all Renegades in the Gatlon City division, requesting their presence at a mandatory meeting.

It was a mysterious message. Adrian couldn’t recall there ever being a meeting for the entire organization. Sometimes they implemented new rules in the code and summoned the patrol units to discuss them, or had department meetings with the administration, or the research and development teams, and so on—but everyone?

Unfortunately, his dads had already gone when he woke up, so there was no hope of needling information out of them.

Adrian turned a corner, walking beneath a strip of construction scaffolding as he approached the north side of headquarters. It was an overcast morning and the top of the building was lost in clouds, making the skyscraper appear endless.

His attention caught on a vehicle parked at one of the side entrances. It was an armored van, its back doors heavily fortified, and its sides lined with short, tinted windows. The side of the van read CRAGMOOR PENITENTIARY: PRISONER TRANSPORT.

Adrian slowed to a stop. Cragmoor was a prison located off the coast of Gatlon City that had been built to hold prodigy criminals, as most civilian prisons weren’t sufficiently equipped to handle a wide array of extraordinary abilities.

Maybe they were picking up a prisoner from one of the temporary holding cells inside headquarters. Although transfers like that were generally made at night, when the streets were empty of curious onlookers.

He continued walking, gazing into the windows of the van as he passed. He couldn’t see into the back at all, and the driver’s and front passenger’s seats were empty.

Shrugging to himself, Adrian made his way to the front of the building, where tourists were gathered around the main entrance, snapping photos of everything from the revolving glass doors to the nearby street sign and the place where the building disappeared into thick cloud cover high above. Adrian wove his way through the crowd, ignoring a couple of gasps and one low muttering, Was that Adrian Everhart? The fame wasn’t really his, anyway. People didn’t care so much about Adrian Everhart as they did about the son of Lady Indomitable, or the adopted son of Captain Chromium and the Dread Warden.

Which was fine. He was used to the attention, just like he was used to acknowledging that he’d done little to earn it.

He shoved through the revolving doors, smiling at the fellow Renegades he passed and jovial Sampson Cartwright at the information desk. He surveyed the lobby for any sign of Oscar or Nova, but when he didn’t see them, he headed up the curved flight of stairs to the sky bridge that connected to Max’s quarantine.

Max was almost always inside the glass gallery during the day, working on the extensive glass model of Gatlon City he’d been constructing for years, or watching the TV screens that dotted the lobby’s many pillars, but today Max was nowhere in sight. He must have been back in the private quarters tucked behind the enclosed rotunda.

Raising his hand, Adrian thumped hard on the wall. “Hey, Bandit, it’s me. Are you—”

Max appeared all at once, standing mere inches in front of Adrian on the other side of the glass.

Adrian yelped and stumbled backward, colliding with the sky bridge’s handrail. “Great skies, Max, don’t do that!”

Max started to laugh. “Your face!”

Glowering, Adrian pushed himself off the rail. “Very clever. I’m sure you’re the first prodigy with invisibility to ever do that to someone.”

“Originality is overrated,” said Max, pressing down his sandy-blond hair, though it puffed right back up again. His goofy grin didn’t fade. “That was so worth it.”

As his heart rate returned to normal, Adrian found himself starting to smile, even as he shook his head. Max was only ten years old, but he could be uncannily serious for his age. It was refreshing to see him pulling a childish prank and getting such an enormous kick out of it.

“I’m glad to see you’ve been practicing,” said Adrian.

“I’m getting really good at the invisibility thing. And also, I was able to fuse a penny to a nickel, which is cool because it’s harder with two different metals. Your power, though?” Max made a sour face. “I drew a worm yesterday and all it did was wriggle around for, like, five seconds, then died. I mean, come on. A two-year-old could draw a worm.”

“You didn’t get that much of my power,” said Adrian. “Maybe you’ll never be able to get your drawings to do much.”

Max grumbled something that Adrian couldn’t make out.

Max had been born with the rare gift of power absorption, meaning he stole the powers from any prodigy he came in close proximity to, hence why Adrian had long ago dubbed him “the Bandit.” Most of his abilities had been taken when he was just a baby: metal manipulation and matter fusing from his birth parents, who had been part of a villain gang; invisibility from the Dread Warden; and even telekinesis taken from Ace Anarchy himself during the Battle for Gatlon. Max had been too young to remember any of that, though. More recently, he got a touch of Adrian’s ability when Adrian had pulled Nova out of the quarantine that kept Max separate from the rest of the Renegades. Max said that he was sleeping less lately, which probably meant he’d gotten a bit of Nova’s power, too, though he had no interest in staying awake twenty-four hours a day, even if he could. He got bored enough as it was in his solitude.

For years, Max would experiment with his abilities only in secret, keeping the extent of them private, even from Adrian. He had been surprised to learn that the kid was actually a lot more talented than anyone had guessed, largely thanks to his own self-training. Adrian knew Max felt guilty for having a lot of the powers he had—like he didn’t have a right to any of them. But lately he seemed more eager to practice, and even to show off a little bit. Adrian was happy to see it. Max was the closest thing to a little brother he’d ever known, and he hated to think that Max might feel guilty for something he couldn’t control. No prodigy should be made to feel guilty for what they could do.

“Where’s Turbo?” Adrian said, scanning the city at Max’s feet.

“In the top of Merchant Tower.” Max gestured to one of the taller glass skyscrapers. “I made him a little bed in there and now he sleeps, like, all the time. I think you might have made him part sloth.”

Weeks ago, Adrian had drawn a tiny dinosaur, a velociraptor, to prove to Nova that Max hadn’t taken his powers from him. The creature had disappeared for a while, then one day showed up unexpectedly inside the pastries case of the small espresso stand in the lobby. There had been a great commotion over it and a lot of screaming, and someone from the janitorial crew ended up chasing the creature around with a broom for almost twenty minutes before Adrian heard about it and claimed the dinosaur as one of his creations. Max had asked if he could keep it, and just like that, he inherited a thumb-size pet.

“Eat, sleep, hunt,” said Adrian. “That pretty much covers all the dinosaur instincts I know of, so I doubt he’ll ever do much more than that.”

“If by hunting, you mean gnawing on the leftover meat from my dinners. By the way…” Max gestured to something over Adrian’s shoulder. “Did you know you’re dead?”

Adrian turned to see one of the screens playing a video of the Sentinel being thrown off the barge and disappearing beneath the water. It had been recorded from Nova’s fancy binoculars and was the clearest footage that anyone had managed to catch of the Sentinel so far.

“Were you worried?” said Adrian.

“No.”

“What? Not at all?”

Max started to respond and Adrian knew it would be to deny it again, but he hesitated and admitted, “Maybe for about five seconds or so, but I knew you’d be fine.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Adrian glanced around and, though the sky bridge was empty, lowered his voice. “Of course, we really shouldn’t talk about this here.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Max, unconcerned. He was the only one who had figured out Adrian’s identity, a conclusion he reached after watching Adrian leap more than halfway across the quarantine in an effort to save Nova. It really was a shame that he was stuck in here all the time, because the kid would have been a great investigator. “Do you ever think about telling them?”

Adrian gulped. He tried to meet Max’s eyes, but Max was still watching the news footage.

“Every single time I see them,” he admitted. “But every time I see them, it gets a little bit harder.”

Adrian had never intended to keep this secret for so long. In the beginning, he’d been excited to tell his dads about his tattoos and how he could use them to give himself new powers. But since then, things had gotten out of control. As the Sentinel, he’d broken a lot of rules. He’d endangered civilian lives. He’d damaged public buildings and infrastructure. He’d searched private property without the “evidence” of wrongdoing that the Renegades would have required. He’d used violent force to apprehend criminals when maybe—maybe—he could have found a way to stop them without causing harm. The list went on.

But he couldn’t bring himself to regret any of it. Breaking those rules had allowed him to do a lot of good. In the past month alone he’d single-handedly captured seventeen criminals, including two prodigies. He’d stopped car thieves, house burglars, drug dealers, and more. Yes, he’d gone against the code at times, but he was still a superhero.

Somehow, though, he didn’t think his dads would see it that way. What would they do if they found out his secret identity? If they showed him leniency, when anyone else would be arrested, it would be a blatant disregard for the Council’s laws. Their laws.

And Adrian didn’t want to put them in that position. He didn’t want to make them have to choose between him and the Renegades.

To be honest, he also wasn’t sure he wanted to know what their choice would be.

“Maybe…,” Max started, though his voice was quiet. “Maybe you won’t have to tell them.” He gestured up at the television. “Given that the Sentinel is dead.”

Adrian blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him that this could be the end of his alter ego, but … Max was right. This would be an easy way out. If he never transformed again, everyone would assume that the Sentinel had drowned. No one would have to know.

But the thought of never becoming the Sentinel again made his stomach lurch.

The Renegades weren’t enough. Gatlon City needed him.

“Do you think that would be best?” he asked.

“It would be easiest,” Max said. “Also … highly disappointing.”

The corner of Adrian’s mouth twitched. “That would be the worst thing of all.”

Max sighed. “No Sentinel, no patrol … you’re going to be so bored.”

Adrian cast him a weak smile. “That’s not entirely true. I have … some idea of how to fill my time.” At Max’s curious expression, he leaned closer to the glass. “There are still three Anarchists out there, right? Queen Bee, Cyanide, and Phobia. I may not be on the official investigation team, but with all this free time, I figured maybe I could do a bit of side research.”

“Have the patrols found anything since they abandoned the subway tunnels?”

He shook his head. “No. But they’re out there somewhere.”

And with the Nightmare investigation gone cold—what with her probable death and all—he needed a new direction if he was ever going to find his mother’s killer. The Anarchists were his best hope for bringing the murderer to justice.

Adrian’s wristband chimed with an incoming message. He tapped the screen and Oscar’s text started to scrawl around his arm.


Ruby just got released from med-wing. Heading to meeting room. Any word from Nova?

“I have to get going,” said Adrian. “The Council called everyone in for a big meeting this morning. You don’t happen to know what it’s about, do you?”

Max’s expression turned strangely vacant. “I might,” he said.

“Oh?”

Max shook his head. “I might be wrong. I don’t know. Come tell me when it’s over, okay?”

“Can do.” Adrian pulled a new marker from his back pocket—a replacement for the one that had fallen into the river—and sketched an earthworm onto the glass wall. He pushed it through, sending the wriggling creature into Max’s open palm. “A snack for Turbo when he wakes up.”

* * *

HE FOUND OSCAR, Ruby, and Danna in the hall outside the grand meeting room. “You’re free,” he said, beaming.

“I know!” said Ruby, throwing her arms gleefully into the air. “I should have gone home yesterday, but there’s that antiquated twenty-four-hour waiting period. I don’t understand why the healers think they know how our powers work better than we do. My grandma was worried sick.”

“Well, you look good,” said Adrian, inspecting the place where Ruby’s leg had been covered in bloodstones last time he’d seen her. Though she was wearing denim shorts, there was no longer any sign of her wounds. Not even bandages, for that matter. “Being covered in vicious rock formations is cool and all, but I prefer you without.”

“Aw, you’re making me blush,” said Ruby, though one look at her freckled cheeks proved that he definitely wasn’t.

Danna, on the other hand, kept flinching when she moved, and he could detect a white bandage peeking out of her sleeve.

“I don’t want your pity,” said Danna before Adrian could say anything. “I’m actually becoming fond of the covered-in-bandages look. It’s like a fashion statement.”

“Is the statement that you’re a total badass?” asked Oscar.

“Do you even have to ask?” she said, grinning at him. “Anyway, the cuts were deep and not all of them were clean, but another couple of days and I’ll be fine. Besides, those injuries were nothing compared with the burns from the Sentinel.”

Adrian winced and immediately hoped that no one had noticed.

It occurred to him that the strangest thing about seeing his teammates right then wasn’t the fact that their severe wounds were nearly gone—the Renegades kept the best prodigy healers in the world on staff—but that they were all wearing civilian clothing. Even Oscar was in a vest and dress shirt, his sleeves cuffed at his forearms.

Together they seemed almost … normal. It was actually kind of nice, for a change.

“Oh! Before I forget…” Ruby pulled a handful of cards from a pocket. “You’re all invited.”

Adrian took the card from her and flipped it over. It was an announcement for the annual Sidekick Olympics happening that weekend at City Park.

“Sidekick Olympics, awesome,” said Oscar. “I’ve been thinking the superhero gig has gotten to be too much pressure. A sidekick role sounds much more laid-back.”

“Too bad it’s a non-prodigy competition,” said Ruby. “My brothers are competing in it. They’ve always been a little jealous that I’m this totally cool and semi-famous superhero and everything. I mean, proud, but still jealous.”

“Hold on. You’re a superhero?” said Oscar, feigning shock. Then he leaned against her shoulder, batting his eyelashes. “Did you know, I’ve always wanted to be rescued by a superhero?”

Ruby laughed and shoved him away, even as her cheeks reddened. “You make a terrible damsel, Oscar.”

Danna rolled her eyes at them.

“Anyway, I’d get major big-sister points if you guys came,” Ruby finished. “And before you ask, yes, Oscar, there will be food trucks.”

Oscar made an approving okay with his fingers.

Adrian scanned the invitation. He’d never been to the Sidekick Olympics before—a series of lighthearted competitions for non-prodigy kids. It wasn’t exactly how he’d planned to spend his Saturday afternoon, but it could be fun.

“I have an invitation for Nova too,” said Ruby. “Has anyone seen her today?”

“Not yet.” Adrian checked the time on his wristband. There were still ten minutes before the meeting was supposed to begin. He glanced through the open doors, where he could see hundreds of Renegades milling about as they waited. “Maybe she went in already?”

“We checked,” said Danna. “No sign of her. But we should go sit down before it gets too crowded.”

“We’ll save her a seat,” said Ruby. “Does anyone know what they called us in for?”

“Do you think it could have to do with yesterday?” said Oscar.

“You mean about the Sentinel being dead?” Adrian asked.

Oscar cast him a strange look as they started heading toward the doors. “No. I mean about Hawthorn getting away with all those drugs.”

“Oh, right,” said Adrian, feeling sheepish for jumping to the Sentinel thing. “They would have started questioning her accomplices already. Maybe they learned something.”

“Guys!”

A spark flickered inside Adrian’s chest. Nova was jogging toward them, her cheeks flushed.

“Oh, good,” she said, slightly out of breath. “I only saw the message an hour ago. I had to run all the way from Wallow—uh—past Wallowridge. I thought for sure I’d be late.” She drew up short as Ruby thrust the invitation beneath her nose. “What’s this?”

“My brothers are competing in the Sidekick Olympics.”

Nova made a face—instinctive, Adrian knew. But before she could say anything, Oscar piped up, “Don’t fret. We’ve been guaranteed food trucks.”

Her aversion was immediately replaced with an amused smile. “Well, in that case…”

She met Adrian’s gaze, and for the briefest of moments all he could think about was how her blue eyes were brighter than usual, from the morning air or the exercise or maybe there was just really good lighting on this floor, and …

He really needed to stop thinking about it.

Gripping the card, Nova peered into the meeting room. “Do we know what’s going on?”

“No idea,” said Danna, waving her arm. “But we’d better get in there before all the good seats are taken.”





CHAPTER SIX

NOVA HAD NEVER been inside the main conference room at Renegade Headquarters. According to the others, it wasn’t used much. Oscar had once mentioned an annual meeting in which the Council liked to bore everyone to tears with statistics on their successes over the past twelve months, and lengthy discussions of their priorities for the future. When he told her this, Nova attempted to act sympathetic—how awful, how boring, how can anyone stand it? When in truth, she would have loved nothing more than to sit in on some of the Council’s upcoming plans for Gatlon City.

Danna led the way into the room, which consisted of a platform at the front facing hundreds of plastic chairs set into rows. The seats were filling up fast as Renegades poured in. Nova tried to eavesdrop on their huddled conversations, but it seemed the rest of the organization was as baffled as to the purpose of this meeting as her team was.

Though she’d been a Renegade for months now, Nova still found herself growing anxious when she was surrounded by so many superheroes at once. She calmed herself with practice observations—counting exits, determining what objects in the room would make decent weapons, estimating potential threats, and developing a mental escape route should anything happen.

Nothing ever happened, though. She was beginning to feel like all her preparation was unwarranted—the Renegades were as clueless to her true motives as they had been the day she entered the trials. But she couldn’t make herself relax. Any small slipup could reveal her identity. Any little clue could end this charade. An attack could come the moment she let down her guard.

It was exhausting to maintain her vigilance while still acting as though she belonged there, but she was getting used to being on edge. She couldn’t imagine being any other way, at least not inside headquarters.

“There are five seats together,” said Danna, pointing toward a row not far from the front. She moved to stake their claim.

“Nova McLain?”

Nova spun around. Evander Wade, one of the five Council members who was more generally known by his alias, Blacklight, sauntered through the crowd. “Do you have a second?”

“Um.” Nova glanced at Adrian, then at the platform at the front of the room. A microphone and a stool were waiting for a presenter, but the stage was empty. “I guess so.”

“I’ll save you a seat,” said Adrian, with the faintest, almost unnoticeable brush of fingers against her elbow, before he followed the rest of the group.

Almost unnoticeable.

Nova and her traitorous nerves, of course, noticed it keenly.

“I wanted to discuss the request you submitted a couple weeks ago,” said Evander, folding his arms over his chest. The stance was not so much defensive as it was a display of innate power. Nova had seen Evander Wade standing like this a number of times—feet planted into the floor, chest ever-so-slightly lifted. Unlike the rest of the Council, who could at least feign normalcy on occasion, Evander never seemed to be able to turn off his “superhero” self. The fact that he was currently dressed in his iconic uniform made the effect even more pronounced: all black Lycra formed to each muscle, white boots, white gloves, and a glow-in-the-dark emblem on his chest.

To Nova, it made him seem pompous and a little ridiculous, but the crowds of giggling girls who always followed after him at public events must have felt otherwise.

“My … request?” she said.

“About doing some part-time work in the artifacts department.”

“Oh! That. Right. Is it … still under consideration?”

“Well, I’m sorry it’s taken us this long to get back to you.” Evander tilted his head toward her as if they were in a conspiratorial conversation. “Been busy around here, you know?”

“Of course.”

“But … well, when can you start?”

Nova’s heart expanded. “Really? Uh—now! Or, whenever. As soon as you’d like me to.”

“Excellent.” Evander flashed a smile, his white teeth visible beneath a curled red mustache. “I’ve already talked to Snapshot about it. She heads up the department, and she’s excited to have you onboard. I think you two will get along well.”

Snapshot. Nova knew that alias. Simon Westwood, the Dread Warden himself, had mentioned the name to her when he’d told her that Ace’s helmet was not strictly available for public viewing, but … “Maybe if you made a really great bribe to the people in weapons and artifacts. I hear Snapshot is a sucker for sour gummies.”

Nova wasn’t sure if he’d been making a joke or not. What she did know was that Ace Anarchy’s helmet was somewhere in that department. Most of the world believed that Captain Chromium had destroyed it, a lie perpetuated by the Council themselves. They even kept a damaged replica in a display case outside their offices. But the real helmet was actually somewhere in this building and, presumably, this Snapshot knew how to access it.

“Now, that does leave one conundrum,” said Evander.

“It does?”

“Honestly, it’s part of the reason we’ve hesitated for so long. There are some people”—he faked a cough and spluttered, “Tamaya,” then another cough—“who worry we’re putting too much on your plate.” He gestured toward the front of the room, where the other four Council members were chatting together beside the platform. It was startling to see them all dressed in their traditional superhero garb, down to the capes and the masks, which made Nova even more curious to know what this meeting was about. “You may not know that Tamaya’s been pushing us to start drafting labor laws for the city for … I don’t know, six years now? It’s not exactly a top priority with everything else, but we all have our passion projects. Anyway, we’re aware that you’re currently on a patrol unit and we want you to stay on patrols. Plus, you’ve been called on to do investigative work and data entry for incoming acquisitions, and that’s asking a lot of you. So you need to let us know if it starts to feel like too much. You want to take some time off, set some limits on your work hours, that sort of thing, you come talk to me … or go to Snapshot and she and I can discuss it. Just, please”—he lowered his voice—“for all the skies, don’t complain to Tamaya without talking to me first, because she is an adamant abuser of the phrase ‘told you so,’ and no one needs that, you know what I mean?”

Nova stared at him. “You really don’t have to worry about that. I’m so excited for this opportunity. Believe me, I want to be involved in … well, as much as you guys need me for. And I have so much free time on my hands, it feels good to be using it for something productive.” She grinned brightly, and it was made easier by the fact that she hadn’t had to tell a single lie. Given that she never slept, she did have a lot of free time on her hands, and having access to the artifacts department would be very productive indeed.

“Great to hear,” said Evander, slapping her on the back, hard enough to make her stumble in surprise. “Adrian really knew what he was doing when he picked you out at the trials. That boy has great intuition.” Stepping back, he pointed his fingers at her, like shooting pretend pistols. “You can report to artifacts tomorrow morning. I’ll let Snapshot know you’re coming.”

She turned away, newly energized.

All of Nova’s previous attempts to learn more had been met with dead ends and unknowns, to the point where it made her want to attack something with a crowbar. She was supposed to be a spy. She was supposed to be the Anarchists’ secret weapon. Now, she could get close to Ace’s helmet and start making a plan for how she was going to get it back.

Most of the crowd had found seats by the time Nova made her way toward her team.

“What did Blacklight want?” Adrian whispered as she sat down between him and Danna.

“He wanted to know if I’m still interested in doing extra work in the artifacts department,” she said. “I start tomorrow.”

Adrian looked surprised and, she thought, a little disheartened. “Artifacts? But … what about…”

“I’ll still be doing patrols. Remember, I have a lot more hours in my day than you guys have.”

Adrian nodded, but she could still see a shadow of concern behind his glasses. She knew exactly what he was thinking. Just because she never slept didn’t mean she shouldn’t occasionally rest. It was an argument she heard a lot. But people who needed sleep and rest couldn’t possibly understand how lack of action only made her irritable. She needed movement, work, momentum. She needed to keep busy during those long hours when the rest of the world was sleeping in order to drive away the anxieties that were always encroaching on her. The constant worry that she wasn’t doing enough.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I want to do this.” Remembering the faint way Adrian had touched her elbow, Nova braced herself and went to place a hand on his knee. But in the space between her brain telling her it was a good idea, and her hand actually making the move, it turned into an uncomfortable balling of her fist that knocked clumsily against the side of Adrian’s thigh, before immediately withdrawing into her own lap.

Adrian stared down at his leg, brow furrowed.

Nova cleared her throat and wished that she’d been gifted with the power to stop blushing at will, rather than eternal sleeplessness.

A hand thumped against a microphone, reverberating through the speakers. The five Council members had taken the stage: Evander Wade, Kasumi Hasegawa, Tamaya Rae, Simon Westwood, and Hugh Everhart.

Hugh stood at the microphone. Though the Council pretended they didn’t have a hierarchy among themselves, most people felt that Hugh Everhart—the invincible Captain Chromium—was the figurehead of the organization. He was the one who had defeated Ace Anarchy. He was the one who had rallied countless prodigies to their side and fought against the villain gangs who had taken control of the city.

He was also, of the entire Council, the one who Nova felt deserved her wrath the most. If anyone should have rescued her family when they were killed more than a decade ago, it should have been Captain Chromium.

But he hadn’t stopped the murders from happening. He hadn’t been there when she needed him most.

Nova would never forgive him for that. She would never forgive any of them.

“Thank you all for coming today on such short notice,” said Hugh. His Captain Chromium uniform was comprised of skintight fabric that made it seem like even his neck muscles had been lifting weights. The classic costumes were generally reserved for special occasions—big celebrations or big announcements. It suggested that today, the Council were not only the leaders of this organization. They were the superheroes who protected the world.

And, in doing so, controlled the world.

“We hadn’t intended to conduct this meeting for another couple of weeks,” Hugh continued, “but due to recent events, the Council has agreed that immediate action must be taken. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Renegade organization has come under recent scrutiny, beginning most notably with the Puppeteer’s attack on our parade, and more recently, the Detonator’s bombing of Cosmopolis Park.”

Nova traded a glance with Adrian, but as soon as their eyes connected they both shifted away.

“Add to this the rising crime rates and the growing black-market trade for weaponry and drugs, and we understand why the public has been demanding a response from us. They want to know how we plan to protect and defend our citizens in the face of so many threats. The Council is doing everything we can to ensure the people that their safety is our utmost priority, and that we require their continued support and cooperation in order to serve them. On that note, I must remind you all that it is of utmost importance that all prodigies who carry the Renegade banner uphold the Gatlon code authority, both on and off duty. The pursuit of justice is integral to our reputation, but the safety of civilians must always be our top priority. On that note, I want to briefly address the rise we’ve been seeing in vigilantism.”

Adrian started to cough sporadically. He ducked his head, burying his mouth in his elbow.

Nova pat his back and he winced. “I’m okay,” he muttered. “Just … inhaled wrong.”

“We want to see justice served,” Hugh continued, “but it is a thin line we walk between justice and revenge. The code is in place so that we can always know what side of the divide we must adhere to. It’s selfish to risk the lives of innocent people in order to serve our own agendas. It’s thoughtless to put civilians at risk so we might achieve glory. That might be the course of villains of the past, or vigilantes like the one who recently called himself the Sentinel. But that is not who we are.”

Adrian sank lower into his seat. Nova remembered him once talking about the code, and how the rules set forth by the Council could be hypocritical when, during the Age of Anarchy, they themselves had had no problem endangering innocent lives, so long as they caught their enemies in the end. Back then, the Renegades were notorious for causing catastrophic destruction or engaging in fights that led to plenty of innocent onlookers being wounded, but it hadn’t seemed to bother them at the time. They would have done anything to ensure their side was victorious.

Sometimes Nova felt like the Renegades of the past had more in common with the Anarchists than anyone dared to admit.

“But of course,” said Hugh, “there are times when a peaceful solution cannot be reached. There are times when a criminal must be stopped, as quickly and effectively as possible, to prevent them from causing even more devastation. And so long as stopping that criminal does not interfere with the safety of our citizens, then Renegades who embrace their duty must be celebrated and praised.” He took in a deep breath, and the furrow that had appeared between his eyebrows relaxed. “Which is why, today, we would like to take a moment to honor one of our own.” His eyes scanned the crowd. “Would Nova McLain, alias Insomnia, please stand?”





CHAPTER SEVEN

NOVA JOLTED IN HER SEAT, not sure she’d heard correctly.

Danna swatted her on the back, nearly pushing her out of the chair. The crowd was already applauding as Nova stood uncertainly in their midst. Even the Council was clapping. Captain Chromium was beaming at her with … pride?

Nova felt like she’d just stumbled into one of those bizarre anxiety dreams she’d heard people talk about. The ones where you were put on display in front of your worst enemies, only to discover you’d forgotten to put on pants that morning.

But she wasn’t asleep. This wasn’t a dream.

She blinked at Adrian, whose dark expression from before had disappeared. He was grinning—that open, heart-stopping smile that she absolutely loathed.

Oscar let out a whoop of pride, while Ruby wiggled both hands in the air.

Once the applause had settled, Hugh continued, “I am sure most of you have heard how Nova McLain subdued Ingrid Thompson, an Anarchist more commonly known as the Detonator, with a single, merciful shot to her head, during the altercation at Cosmopolis Park. Had she hesitated, or failed to strike her target, many more bombs would have exploded inside the carnival that day, and we estimate that hundreds of people would have been injured or killed. It is because of McLain’s bravery and quick thinking that this catastrophe wasn’t far worse. Insomnia, we are proud to have you as a Renegade.”

Nova tried to look pleased while cheers started up around her again, but she thought it might have come off as more of a grimace. The look Hugh Everhart was giving her, she couldn’t help but notice, seemed borderline … fatherly.

He had no right to be proud of Nova or any of her accomplishments, when it was because of him that she didn’t have her own father to look at her that way.

We are proud to have you as a Renegade.

Her skin prickled.

She knew she should feel elated—she had earned the trust and respect of her enemies, just like she’d wanted to. Like Ace wanted her to. But in this case, their admiration wasn’t due to her cunning and duplicity. It was actually warranted. She had been a Renegade that day, hadn’t she?

The Detonator was an Anarchist. They had been on the same side. For a long time, Nova even would have called her a friend.

But in that moment, Nova had sided with the Renegades.

She hadn’t just betrayed Ingrid. She had killed her. She could call it self-defense, but there had been more than self-preservation in her mind when she’d pulled the trigger. She’d been afraid for the children and families at the carnival. She’d been furious with Ingrid for tricking her, again.

She’d been worried for Adrian.

Nova knew that sometimes sacrifices had to be made to force society down a different path. She knew thousands of people had died when Ace started his revolution. But Ingrid’s casualties wouldn’t have been sacrifices. Those would have been murders.

Nova couldn’t have stood by and done nothing.

In the weeks since, Nova had retraced her steps from that day a thousand times in her mind, trying to determine if there was something she could have done differently.

Except … she didn’t regret killing Ingrid.

She wasn’t proud of it. Her stomach curdled each time she recalled the squeeze of the trigger and how, for the first time in her life, she hadn’t hesitated. The words had been in her head, as they had been since she was a child, staring at the unconscious body of her family’s murderer.

Pull the trigger, Nova.

The next thing she knew, Ingrid’s head had snapped back and she was dead.

The most surprising thing was how easy it was. If that made her a Renegade, fine.

Because she believed it made her an Anarchist too.

The applause died down and Nova collapsed into her seat. Her cheeks were hot. Two aisles ahead, she caught sight of Genissa Clark and her minions: Mack Baxter, Raymond Stern, and Trevor Dunn. Or, as the world knew them, Frostbite, Aftershock, Stingray, and Gargoyle, whom Nova had had the great pleasure of defeating during the Renegade trials. All four of them were sneering at Nova, and Genissa didn’t hide her disgusted eye roll as she turned to face the front.

Danna must have seen it, too, because she made a face at Genissa’s back. “Jealous,” she whispered.

Nova smiled faintly in response. Genissa’s team was one of the Renegades’ most well-known patrol units and also the squad that Nova despised the most. Not only because they were cruel and arrogant, but also because they exemplified the corruption that came with handing a bunch of superheroes too much unrestrained power. So Genissa’s hostility hardly fazed Nova. If anything, she would have been more concerned if Frostbite actually liked her.

Oscar reached around Adrian and knocked his knuckle into Nova’s chin. “I remember when she was just a fledgling Renegade wannabe, getting challenged at the trials. And look at her now.”

Nova pulled away, but she couldn’t quite get her scowl right.

Onstage, Hugh Everhart cleared his throat. “One more order of business before we get to the reason why we requested you here today. As you know, there was a recent theft at Gatlon City Hospital, in which life-saving and expensive medications were taken. We’re doing everything we can to find the perpetrator and retrieve the stolen drugs, but in the meantime”—he gestured at Blacklight—“Evander has had the brilliant idea of including a fund-raiser portion to our annual gala next month, where we will be raising both money and awareness for the growing need for medications, especially as our pharmaceutical industry continues to flounder without proper funding. I know there’s a … a preconception among our civilians that prodigy healers will be enough to aid them should they require medical treatment, but … well, there simply aren’t enough of them to go around, and their abilities can be limited. We need to put more focus on our medical field. As such, we’ll be asking for memorabilia donations for a live auction in the coming weeks. Please mark your calendars if you haven’t already, as I hope to see strong support from our entire community.”

Nova frowned. If prodigy healers weren’t enough to cure the sick and injured patients at the hospital, why didn’t they just say that? Why didn’t they encourage more civilians to study medicine? Why were the Renegades so determined to act as if they really could save everyone, when they knew perfectly well they couldn’t?

“And now,” said the Captain, “it’s time to discuss the main reason we called this meeting today.” He gestured toward the Council. “Kasumi?”

Kasumi Hasegawa, or Tsunami, stepped onto the stage and took the microphone while Hugh disappeared through a nearby door.

Pulling a handful of index cards from the sleeve of her uniform, Kasumi said, “To expand on Captain Chromium’s introduction, the Detonator’s attack was a reminder that we cannot allow villains like Ingrid Thompson to remain in full possession of their abilities, without an