Black moon, p.28
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       Black Moon, p.28

           Romina Russell
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  I clear my throat, and I add, “I think there’s a chance she could be the master.”

  Brynda, Rubi, and Agatha square their shoulders like they’re ready to arrest Untara right away, while Ferez and Eurek keep still like they’re weighing my words, but Skiff and Aurelius furrow their brows disapprovingly.

  “It’s unseemly and absolutely unacceptable to accuse an acting Guardian of such heinous crimes when she is not here to address the charges,” cries Aurelius.

  “Who cares if it’s seemly?” snaps Brynda. “The only thing that matters is whether it’s true!”

  “How do you know she’s been funding the Party?” asks Eurek.

  “I have a source,” I say, deciding against mentioning Trax’s name so I won’t get him in trouble with his Guardian. “I also know Untara has had Ambassador Crompton arrested, and I think it’s because he knows something.”

  “Do you have any more information about the Party’s plans beyond this Black Moon project?” asks Ferez. “Something that could point us to their next move?”

  I shake my head. “I only know part of the story. But I think you guys know the rest.” I look at Ferez, and only him, because he’s the Chronicler of Time among us. “I need to know . . . is the Last Prophecy true?”

  From the way his expression falls, I know this isn’t the first time they’ve discussed the Prophecy. And it hits me that they’ve probably all seen the vision. They are Guardians, after all.

  “At first the Last Prophecy was a secret passed on from Guardian to Guardian,” explains Ferez, “that the Zodiac would one day end with Helios going dark. In time, other Zodai started Seeing it, and so the Prophecy grew to mythic status. But none of us has ever believed we would live to see the Zodiac’s last day.”

  Rubi jumps in. “But when Cancer’s destroyed, the Piscene people are asleep, and a Thirteenth House is rising from the ashes, it’s hard not to think that the End Times have begun.”

  “If the master is the one setting this Prophecy in motion,” I say, “then maybe he can also stop it.”

  “I’ll have trackers locate Untara’s ship.” Everyone’s face whips to Skiff, who’s broken his usual silence.

  “Stridents will be waiting to arrest her wherever she lands. If she’s behind this, we’ll know shortly.”

  The whole room seems shocked for a moment. This might be the first time in history that Scorpio has shown Cancer any support.

  “I think we should read the stars,” says Marinda, her voice even weaker now. “It’s a full moon on Alamar tonight, and we have a Quorum. That means that in one hour, we can channel enough Psynergy to See more than any Zodai has Seen in centuries.”

  It takes me a moment to remember the word Quorum from my studies; it was a practice the Guardians employed back when the Zodiac was under galactic rule. When at least four Guardians were present in one place, that constituted a Quorum, and if they channeled their Psynergy together in the Ephemeris, they could synchronize their reads, Seeing the same things and reaching further into the future.

  “I think that’s wise,” says Ferez. Now that it’s night out, his dark skin and black robes blend with the shadows of the room, making the golden star in his right iris stand out. “Placarus,” he says to Skiff, “let us know what you find. I will search the Zodiax for more clues from the past that point to the master’s identity. If it’s an Original Guardian, there are only thirteen suspects.”

  I’m about to say twelve, but then I remember Gemini’s Guardians are always twins, so there would have been two.

  “This is good progress,” says Eurek, and his commanding voice fills the air with purpose and resolve. “Let’s agree to meet again in six galactic hours for general updates and specific reports on Untara’s questioning, the situation on Pisces, and what the Quorum Sees in the stars.”

  As the group disbands, I turn to Lord Neith.

  There’s just one last conversation I need to have tonight.


  MISS TRII COMES TO TAKE Marinda to the medical bay, while Brynda and Rubi check in with their troops, leaving me free to go with Lord Neith back to his quarters.

  “Hysan and I thought you were superb in there,” says the android as we step into an elevator.

  “How do you know what he thinks?”

  “He was inhabiting my mind during the meeting.”

  “Oh.” It takes me a moment to process that visual, and then I ask, “Is everything okay with you? Hysan seemed worried the other day on Aquarius.”

  “I’m not sure, Lady Rho.” His quartz eyes look as sad as any human’s as the lift ascends past different levels. “It’s my judgment that my existence is now a level-red threat to him and House Libra, and he should destroy my parts immediately. But he refuses to accept. I could use your help convincing him.”

  “Lord Neith, I’m sorry, I can’t—”

  We reach the Guardians’ lodging level, and I follow him into a round space with twelve rooms, each door painted the color of the House it represents. Before unlocking the yellow door, he turns to me.

  “Wandering Star, as an artificial being who is able to see your species with some degree of objectivity, I have observed something.” He rests a warm hand on my shoulder, and drops his voice. “The happiest people are the ones who have mastered life’s hardest lesson.” His quartz eyes gaze deeply into mine as he says, “They’ve learned how to let go.”

  Hysan opens the door, and Neith straightens. “I will use this time to charge,” the android announces as he strides into the room.

  “My lady.” Hysan holds open the door for me with his elbow. There’s a smudge of grease on his cheek, and strands of hair poke into his eyes; he shakes his head to dislodge it. “Sorry,” he says, wiping his greasy hands on his coveralls. “I was just finishing some work . . . .”

  His voice trails off as I reach up to comb his golden locks back for him, and his eyelids sag as my fingertips run across his head. “You . . . talked to her?” he asks, his voice husky, his face inches from mine.

  I nod, but I don’t say anything yet. Being this close to Hysan is like entering a magnetized zone, and I can’t resist getting pulled in. But for right now, I need to exist inside this force field, so I can look at him without being blinded by his light.

  The first time I gazed into the green galaxies of his eyes, all I saw were secrets, and they frightened me.

  Now, I see an unknowable universe whose worlds I could spend eternity exploring. And that frightens me more.

  Ferez’s wisdom flits into my mind, how he said we only see a person clearly when we appreciate their many sides, even the ones we’re afraid we won’t like. I can’t be in love with only the best parts of Hysan; if I’m going to be with him, I need to accept all of him. Only I don’t know how—or if—I can live with so many secrets.

  “How did you know she was a Luminary?” I ask, still standing too close.

  “I guessed,” he says vaguely.

  His gaze drops to my lips, and I realize this buffer between us won’t last much longer. So I force myself to step back, and Hysan blinks.

  “Should we sit?” I ask, turning to survey the suite; we’re in a living room that’s pastel yellow with silver accents, and a hall in the back leads to the rest of the place.

  “Can I get you anything?” he asks.

  “I’m good, thanks.”

  “I’m just going to wash my hands,” he says, and while he enters a lavatory, I head toward the back and notice a door ajar. Inside, Neith is already lying on a bed, his eyes flickering with data, and various wires are hooked into the veins of his arms. A knot forms in my stomach.

  “He hasn’t completely recovered from his misfire a few months ago.” Hysan is behind me, a soapy, citrusy scent clinging to his skin.

  “Will he be okay?” I ask.

  “Of course.” But he turns around as he answers, a
voiding my eyes, and I follow him down the hall to another door. We step into a second small bedroom, and Hysan’s tools are scattered over the yellow bedspread.

  “What do you think is wrong with Neith?” I press.

  “He’s been working too hard, and it’s delaying his recovery.” He busies himself with collecting the tools from the bed. “I haven’t been around him enough to do proper maintenance, but I’m fixing that.” Once the mattress is clear, he gestures for me to sit, and once I do, he does, too.

  “What did you mean you guessed?”

  “I’ve Seen the Last Prophecy—most Guardians have—but since we can’t just abandon our posts to become Luminaries, many of us have a secret contact among them,” he says, hinging his elbows on his lap.

  “It occurred to me that the one thing all Luminaries have in common is that to disappear, they first had to die. I thought of the memory Aryll used to manipulate you about your mom, how she predicted a hurricane would hit a location no one else expected, which is rather rare. Throw into the mix the fact that her daughter is our most powerful seer,” he adds, his tone growing tender, “and I thought it could be a possibility that she’d joined the Luminary’s ranks. It was just a guess, but a couple of months ago, I reached out to my contact and said I wanted to get a message to Kassandra Grace, if she was with them.

  “Then a few weeks ago I was contacted by a different Luminary who asked a lot of questions about you. I started to hear from her more frequently, and we finally agreed to meet. When I confirmed she was truly your mom, I offered to take her to you. Leaving the Luminaries’ ranks is an irreversible act, but she didn’t hesitate.”

  “And you knew the Tomorrow Party wasn’t what it appeared to be because the technology was like the Marad’s?” There’s a sour note in my tone, and he hears it because his expression dims.

  “I went to Aquarius to gather more information. I stole Blaze’s Lighter for a moment while Skarlet distracted him, and I slipped it to Ezra and Gyzer so they could download the data and send it to ‘Nox. Neith is working on decrypting it.”

  “Ezra and Gyzer are helping you?”

  He nods. “I hired them to attend the ball and spy on high-ranking Party members. I’m also working with Ezra to refine the device she created to see if we can use it to trace the Marad’s original broadcast to its source and locate their main outpost.”

  I’m both impressed and incensed, and I can’t tell which direction I’m leaning in, so I say the words out loud to hear how I sound. “You knew the truth about my mom and the Party when we were together that night?”

  The light retreats from Hysan’s features, like his inner sun is setting. “I wasn’t certain about the Party yet, but . . . I’m sorry, Rho.”

  He slides closer to me on the bed, but I drop my gaze to the floor, and he keeps his distance. “I didn’t say anything because I wanted to keep you safe. You’re, well . . . you’re not the best liar. Blaze would have seen through your doubts, and I didn’t want to put you in any danger.”

  He waits for me to say something, but I keep focused on the ground, trying to work out how I feel without the distraction of his eyes.

  “Hysan, I know you were coming from a good place, but I needed your honesty more than your protection. It might have taken me longer than you to see the Party for what it is, but I did eventually see it. And Blaze still came after me.”

  “You’re right, Rho.” He doesn’t defend himself, and I know he’s still waiting for me to look at him. Only I can’t.

  “Twain told me that to be a people person, you probably can’t let others get too close,” I say. Sadness softens my anger at the thought of the brave Virgo who gave his life for me. “And I think he was right.” I finally lift my gaze to Hysan’s. “Everyone trusts you, but you trust no one.”

  His eyes widen with surprise. “I trust you, Rho,” he says in a heavy voice.

  “Only when you’re the one in control.”

  “What does that mean?”

  A herd of accusations stampedes out of me. “You waited until we were on the Plenum stage on Phaetonis to tell me about the Psy shields you and Neith manufactured for the Houses, just like you waited to tell me about the students coming to meet us on Centaurion until they’d already arrived, just like you waited to tell me about my own mother, even after I told you I’d had a vision of her—”

  “Yet when I warned you about Aryll, you didn’t trust me.”

  His words silence mine, though there’s no reproach in his voice. Rather than upset, he sounds raw, like he’s admitting something he feels deeply.

  “Most people think Librans’ ability to read faces is practically inhuman, but it’s precisely our ability to be so human that allows us to get inside another person’s head. Being perceptive isn’t reading minds—it’s absorbing emotions. We’re taught empathy from a young age so we don’t simply understand what someone else is going through—we feel it.” His eyes are as gentle as his voice. “So, sometimes, I’ll take into account what I know about a person, and I’ll make a judgment call. But I admit I don’t always make the right one.”

  He slides closer until our knees are touching. “I thought it was your mom’s right to share her own tale, but I still should have told you I found her. I guess I have to work on opening myself up more. I’m just not used to having someone to—”

  “Report to?”

  He takes my un-gloved hand in his warm one, and my skin cells tingle. “Depend on.”

  His features blur as he begins to lean in, and for some reason, at this moment, I hear Traxon’s voice in my head. Right as Hysan’s mouth meets mine, I whisper, “How do you know you won’t get bored of me and resume your playboy ways?”

  His mouth twists into its crooked smirk, and his eyelashes brush my skin. “My lady, if you don’t know what the future holds, then I’m afraid no one does.”

  “Be serious.” I think of Mathias and his steadfast devotion, so like Dad’s and Deke’s. Cancrian care is complete and uncompromising. But what do I know of Libran love?

  “How can I be when there’s nothing serious about the question?” he asks lightly. “You’re asking for a guarantee no one could give you, because even if I swear that would never happen, it wouldn’t be enough. You’re looking for proof you can touch.”

  I stand up because he’s right, and I’m embarrassed, but I’m also scared and in need of reassurance. I don’t know his world or his life or anything about who he’s been for most of his existence. All I know is what I feel for him in this moment. And I don’t know if that’s enough.

  “So here’s what I can offer you,” he says, his voice seductively soft. “Facts.”

  The levity in his expression has been replaced by vulnerability, and he stands. “I’ve been alive eighteen years, and in all this time, I’ve loved exactly one person.” He walks up to me, his green eyes never straying from mine. “I’ve met thousands of people in my life, from every House, and you’re the only one I’ve ever trusted with my secrets.”

  His thumb brushes my lower lip, and his fingers rake my hair behind my ear. “I’ve visited every inhabited planet in our solar system, set foot on every world . . . .” His voice drops to a husky whisper. “And I never had a home until I touched you.”

  He presses his mouth to mine, and the kiss erases everything that’s happening in the Zodiac, reducing the universe to just the two of us. As I breathe in Hysan’s cedary scent, my fingers find the metal tab of his coveralls’ zipper. “I should probably help you change,” I say, tugging down.

  We’re still kissing as Hysan steps out of his coveralls, and my fingers rise and fall as they run across his sculpted arms, chest, abs. My breathing grows heavy as his hands find their way inside my tunic, and my Ring buzzes.

  We’re meeting in the Cathedral in fifteen minutes.

  Hysan must have received the same message from Brynda, because we bo
th slow down. “We need to stop,” I say, forcing myself to step back and readjusting my suit.

  Hysan looks as disappointed as I feel when I sit down on the bed. “I hate this plan,” he says.

  “So you heard everything I said at the Guardians’ meeting, right?” I stare at the shifting lines of the muscles on his back as he pulls on his golden Knight suit. “What are your thoughts? What do you think the master’s plan is? You’re too smart not to have a theory.”

  “Flattery is so underrated,” he says, and I hear the smile in his voice. “Neith and I might have found a pattern that could explain why certain Houses have been targeted.” He turns around, his tunic still partly undone. “We think the master might be targeting the Zodiac’s swing votes.”

  “The what?”

  “Back when the Zodiac was under galactic rule, there was a certain predictability to the way some of the Houses voted, and eventually a political scholar came up with a chart that generalized how each House behaves based on whether it’s a Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable world. And it seems like the master has been causing the most damage to the Mutable ones.”

  “Mutable . . .” I furrow my brow. “I’ve never heard of that. I mean, I obviously know Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn are Cardinal signs. But what does that have to do with anything?”

  “This chart claimed that the people of each category have a tendency to act a certain way. Cardinal worlds are filled with leaders—people who won’t back down and who will look out for those around them, regardless of time and place. You could usually count on the Cardinal Houses to vote for whatever was in the best interest of their people.

  “Then there are the Fixed worlds—Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius. They are considered equally definable: Slaves to their own moral codes, it’s said they often make for the best second-in-commands because if they believe in someone, they can be depended on to follow their lead loyally. They were considered to always vote with their passions.

  “But the Mutable Houses were wild cards. There’s no way to know which way they’ll fall. Virgo, Gemini, Pisces, and Sagittarius—if you study the Plenum’s records, you’ll see their votes are the least predictable. What better way to control how they’ll act than to control their activation? Take away Virgo’s homes, and they’re lost. Take Gemini’s hopes, and they’re vulnerable. Take away Pisces’s agency, and they’re blind.”

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