Home > Archenemies (Renegades #2)(17)

Archenemies (Renegades #2)(17)
Author: Marissa Meyer

Nova did not think she could get away with pointing out Ace’s growing weakness like Honey did, but it didn’t stop her from worrying. Ten years in the catacombs had made him as pale as his skeletal companions, and almost as gaunt. He seemed to move slower every time she visited, each movement matched with crackling joints and flinches of pain, which he couldn’t always hide. And that was when he moved at all. Half the time he sat almost comatose in his chair, letting his mind fetch him his books and his food when his body refused to cooperate.

Nova did not want to think of it, but the truth couldn’t be denied.

Ace was dying.

The most brilliant visionary of their time. The most powerful prodigy in history. The man who had carried her all the way to the cathedral after her family had been murdered. A growing six-year-old girl, and he had carried her for miles as if it were nothing.

The poetry book closed with a snap and returned itself to a stack of tomes in the corner. “It is a rare treat to be visited by all my brethren at once,” said Ace. “Has something happened?”

Nova could feel the weight of everyone’s focus attach to her. She hadn’t told Leroy and Honey anything yet, only that something big had happened that day and she needed to call an emergency meeting—with Ace, too.

She squared her shoulders. “There was an organization-wide presentation today and … well, I have good news and bad news.”

“Good first,” said Leroy. Nova glanced at him and he shrugged. “Life is short.”

Nova licked her lips. “All right. I received a public commendation for … um. For killing the Detonator.”

A short silence was filled by Honey’s guffaw. “Oh, sweetheart. We need to work on your delivery. You make the praise sound like a death sentence.”

“Well, it wasn’t exactly my proudest moment, was it?”

“And why not?” said Ace, and though he spoke quietly, he immediately had everyone’s attention. Even Phobia’s cloak seemed to flutter as he tilted his head toward their leader. “Ingrid might have been a great ally for many years, but she had grown impatient and selfish. She betrayed you, and in doing so, she betrayed us all.” He smiled, the change stretching deep wrinkles across his cheeks. “I see her death as the worthiest sacrifice she could have made, particularly as it has earned you a great deal of respect from our enemies. That alone is worth a thousand of Ingrid’s explosives.”

The knot in Nova’s chest loosened. “Thank you, Uncle.”

“And your bad news?” said Leroy, rocking back on his heels.

The knot tightened right back up. “The main reason for the presentation today…” Nova took in a long breath and told them everything she had learned about Agent N. How long the Renegades had been developing it. What it could do. How all patrol units would be equipped after they finished their training.

Lastly, she told them about the Puppeteer.

“Well, if it had to be any of us,” said Honey, tapping her nails against the coffin’s lid, “I’m glad it was him.”

Nova started, dismayed.

“Oh, come,” said Leroy, noticing her reaction. “You always hated it when Winston used his powers.”

Nova glared at him, her cheeks flaming. It felt like an accusation, and one that she didn’t like being put forth right in front of Ace. Even if it was true. There was a part of her—and not a small part, either—that had not been sad to know that the Puppeteer was gone. That no children would ever be forced to suffer the mind control he could exact with his creepy glowing strings.

Did that make her as bad as the Renegades who were enthusiastic about Agent N and its possibilities? Did that make her a traitor to the Anarchists, her family?

“The Renegades don’t get to decide who gets superpowers and who doesn’t,” she said, jaw tense.

“And who should we entrust with such a decision?” rasped Phobia. “Fate? The whims of chance? The Puppeteer was a fool and now he is suffering the consequences.”

Nova was surprised to see that no one seemed particularly upset. Winston had been with them for so long. Could it be that, for all these years, they had only barely tolerated him?

For some reason, the thought made her sad.

“So we have lost the Detonator and the Puppeteer,” said Ace. “Our numbers are dwindling.”

“And we’ll all be in trouble once this neutralizing agent is approved for use,” said Nova.

“How could they have created such a poison?” said Leroy, rubbing his jaw. “It must be a marvel of chemical engineering.”

“I suspect they are using the child,” said Ace.

Nova spun back to him. She had avoided telling the Anarchists about Max, worried that one of them might try to target him specifically. But of course Ace knew of his existence. Max had been the one to drain away some of his powers during the Battle for Gatlon.

“What child?” said Honey.

“One whose mere presence can suck the power from our souls.” Ace’s eyelids fluttered shut and he leaned against the back of his chair. “I have no doubt that he has served a role in the development of this … this Agent N.”

“Y-yes,” Nova said. “They call him the Bandit.” Saying it felt like a betrayal, but she tried to ignore it. Her loyalties were here, not in a quarantine at Renegade Headquarters.

But then Ace opened his eyes again and they were burning. “He is an abomination.”

Nova took a step back, surprised by his vehemence and the unfairness of such a statement. She wanted to be sympathetic to Ace and the grudge he must have held against Max all these years. The baby who had weakened him, who had cost him everything.

But still … Ace had always fought for prodigy rights. For freedom and equality. To call Max an abomination for a power he couldn’t control went against everything Ace had taught her.

She wanted to say as much, to defend the kid, but the words wouldn’t form.

“We need to know more,” said Leroy. “How the substance works, how they plan to administer it, what might be its limitations.”

Nova nodded. “We start training with it next week. I’ll find out more then. Do you think … if I could steal a sample or two, do you think you might be able to replicate it?”

He frowned, doubtful. “Unlikely, without the … source material.”

Meaning the Bandit, she assumed.

“But I would still like to study it and see what can be learned.”

“If you make me a decoy sample, I might be able to swap it out,” said Nova.

“Our efforts must go beyond learning the properties of this substance,” said Phobia, stepping into the halo of candlelight. “We must consider how it can be weaponized against our enemies.”

“I agree,” Ace murmured. “Our Nightmare presented this news to us as a problem to be overcome, and yet … I think you might have just told us of our salvation.”

“Salvation?” barked Honey. “Those tyrants want to strip us of our powers!”

“Indeed,” said Ace, “and their quest for power has led them to create what might be their own undoing. As Nova has said, they are as vulnerable to this weapon as we are. If we can find a way to weaponize it, as Phobia suggests, we can turn it against them.”

“Hold on,” said Nova. “Finding a way to protect ourselves is one thing, but even if we could get ahold of Agent N and find a way to use it against the Renegades … how is that any different from what they want to do to us?” She stared at Ace. “You started your revolution because you wanted autonomy and security for all prodigies, but this is just another form of persecution.”

“What do you propose, little Nightmare?” said Ace. “We cannot defeat the Renegades in a battle of skill. There are so many of them, and so few of us. They must be weakened if they are to be overthrown.”

“But if we neutralize the powers of all the prodigies who believe differently than we do…” She groaned, frustrated. “This can’t be what you had in mind. This can’t be what we’ve been fighting for. It would make us just like them.”

“No, it would not.” Ace’s voice cut through the catacombs. “This is a means to an end. We end the Renegades, and we rebuild our world upon their ashes. Fairness. Justice. Peace. These are ideals worth sacrificing for.”

“But you’re talking about sacrificing them. Their powers, their livelihoods…”

“They are the enemy. They have made their choices—just as Ingrid and Winston. We all must take responsibility for our decisions. We all must suffer the consequences. That is the only way for true justice to prevail.” Ace started to stand, bolstered by the strength of his beliefs, but he just as quickly slumped back into his chair. A fit of coughing overtook him and he buried his mouth into his sleeve.

Nova and Honey both started to move toward him, but Ace lifted a palm, signaling for them to stay back.

Nova wrung her hands, hating the sound of those wracking coughs. Her eyes began to tear at the sight of his fingers clawing the arm of the chair, fending off what pain she could only imagine.

He needed a doctor. He needed a hospital. He needed one of the Renegades’ healers.

But of course, that wasn’t an option.

“Perhaps you should lie down,” murmured Honey, once the fit had passed.

“Soon, soon,” said Ace, his voice rough. “Nova. Have you found anything more on my helmet?”

Nova stood straighter. This, at least, she had finally made progress on.

“Not yet, but my request to work in the artifact warehouse was approved. I start tomorrow. If the helmet is there, like the Dread Warden said, I’ll find it.”

And it had to be there. No artifact was more powerful than Ace’s helmet, which he had used to amplify his telekinetic abilities. Without the helmet, he could raise a book and a teacup easily enough, but he would struggle with lifting anything much heavier than a sofa.

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