Home > Archenemies (Renegades #2)(3)

Archenemies (Renegades #2)(3)
Author: Marissa Meyer

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.

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