Archenemies Page 4

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.”


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.


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?”


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.

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