Archenemies Page 2

“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.


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.

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