Black moon, p.30
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       Black Moon, p.30

           Romina Russell
 
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  “It’s an excruciating transition to take on corporeal form,” says a new voice. “I only experienced it once, when we Guardian stars became mortal, three and a half millennia ago. But I’ll never forget the pain.”

  I look up at the tall man who’s entered the Cathedral, and my whole being hurts with disbelief.

  “You,” says Fernanda, and I realize he’s the one she was about to accuse earlier. He’s the reason she was eavesdropping on me at the ball.

  “Me,” says silver-haired Crompton, holding a diamond-bright stone in his hands. “I am Aquarius.”

  36

  “IT CAN’T BE YOU,” I say, shaking my head, nausea working its way up my throat.

  “Life is a dance of illusions, Rho,” he says warmly, speaking as though nothing has changed between us when everything has. “With the right distraction, you can make a person believe anything.”

  I flash back to the first and only time Crompton and I ever traded the hand touch, and I remember the buzz of electricity that shot through me. It was the same one I got from touching Morscerta’s shade. I think of the reel of holographic captures of every Ambassador that’s ever held his office, and a sickening realization spreads through me.

  They’re all the same person.

  Aquarius has been handing down the ambassadorship to himself ever since he created the position.

  “How—”

  “He manipulates the Psy,” says Hysan, his voice heavy with judgment. “He creates the visions he needs to get his way. But how did you create Crompton while you were still Morscerta?”

  “I think I’ll be keeping my secrets today,” says the Original Guardian, and he’s cut off by another torturous wail from Ophiuchus.

  “You’re the one who betrayed him three millennia ago,” I say. “You stole his Talisman.”

  “I did.”

  “Why are you taking Psynergy from Pisces?”

  “Bringing back the Thirteenth House requires Psynergy from the nearest constellation . . . and a Quorum of Guardians.” He looks around the room, pleased at how everything worked out the way he planned. Like always.

  “And why are you bringing back House Ophiuchus?” asks Brynda.

  “Why should that matter now?” he asks pleasantly. “The Zodiac is coming to its end. The Last Prophecy is real. And I’m the star who prophesized it.”

  I cast my eyes around the room, realizing none of us are making it out of here alive, and the Death omen fills my mouth again. Every single person I love is in danger.

  “Then tell us when it will go dark,” commands Hysan, addressing a god in the voice of a king.

  “When Rho agrees to join us,” says Crompton, ignoring Hysan and keeping his pink eyes on mine, “you will know more.”

  “That’s never going to happen,” snaps my brother.

  Crompton tosses something at me, and probably thinking it’s a weapon, Hysan reflexively reaches out and catches it first.

  When he spreads his fingers apart, a strand of silver seahorse hair glints in the starlight, linking a dozen pearls together. Crompton recreated the necklace with real Cancrian nar-clam pearls, and every stroke of Mom’s calligraphy is just as I remember it.

  As I remember it.

  My perfect memory has been my enemy this whole time.

  Ferez once said memory can be an enemy you fear or a weapon you wield. But the master has been using mine against me all along. I’ve been bringing my deepest secrets with me into the Psy, and he’s been collecting them.

  “Take her now,” Crompton commands.

  “NO!”

  Stanton, Hysan, and Mathias jump in front of me, blocking my view of what’s happening.

  My heart racing, I bring my hand up to wipe the sweat off my hairline, and I notice a small light flickering from my Scarab. My body’s response to danger must activate its controls, and since this is the first time it isn’t covered by the glove, I’m only just noticing.

  Suddenly Mom shrieks, “Get off me!” And too late, we realize I’m not the person Crompton wants. It’s Mom.

  If he’s truly been hunting down Luminaries for millennia, then by asking him to help me find Mom, I practically gave away that she’s one of them. If Hysan put it together, there’s no doubt Crompton did, too.

  Aryll grabs Mom by her upper arm, and Stan shouts, “Let her go!”

  My brother leaps across at him, and they fall onto the bone floor. Mom manages to free herself while the guys roll around, each one trying to get the upper hand.

  Hysan and Mathias run over to intervene. Stan punches Aryll, but he barely flinches; his thick Ophiuchan skin seems to compensate for imbalanced Risers’ weaker bone structures.

  Suddenly Aryll pushes Stanton off and manages to roll on top of him. Quick as lightning, he straddles my brother’s torso and presses the Murmur to his chest.

  I don’t hear the gun go off.

  I only see Stan’s head roll to the side.

  The light in his pale green eyes has gone out.

  37

  AN OTHERWORLDLY CALM COMES OVER ME.

  Mom looks like she’s screaming, but I can’t hear her. A couple of soldiers step forward and inject her with a needle until her body goes limp. My friends are trying to help, but the other soldiers have their weapons trained on them, so they have no choice but to watch as she’s carried out.

  I still can’t hear anything as I watch Crompton and Aryll go. A handful of soldiers point their Murmurs at us warningly as they file out.

  I raise my wrist, and I see a little red arrow blinking along the black band, pointing in the direction the dart will fly if I press down on it.

  Aryll is almost to the door when I close one eye and line the arrow up with his back.

  Then I press down.

  Sound explodes into my head as he crashes onto the Cathedral’s bone-ridden threshold. The soldiers raise their weapons threateningly at me, and Crompton turns back in alarm, staring at me in shock, like I’ve finally surprised him.

  Chaos breaks out as Mathias pounces onto the soldier closest to him, blasting the Murmur out of his hands as the two of them tumble to the ground. Another soldier runs over to help his companion, but Hysan leaps across the room and bashes his first into the soldier’s mask, knocking him off his feet.

  Brynda’s Arclight shoots fiery bullets at the rest of the soldiers to keep them away from Marinda, Pandora, Fernanda, and Rubi. In the fringe of my vision, I spy Crompton, the Dreamcaster, and the Stargazer slip out behind the soldiers who took Mom, and I chase after them.

  I race into the dim hallway, and as if he senses my presence behind him, Crompton turns around. The Dreamcaster and the Stargazer stand guard on either side of him, while the soldiers carrying Mom run ahead, and I flash back to Blaze taking Nishi away from me.

  “Let my mom go,” I say in a voice too even and empty to be mine.

  The Stargazer raises her Arclight to my chest and the Dreamcaster points her Sumber at my forehead.

  “Don’t kill her,” Crompton warns his bodyguards, even as I raise the Scarab and line up the arrow with his face.

  “Go back inside, Rho,” he says, his voice somehow still managing to sound warm and soothing, despite everything he’s done. “You’re not ready to come with me yet.”

  Hot sweat drips into my eyes, and I blink to clear my vision.

  Ochus was right . . . this time, I won’t escape Death.

  “I’m never coming with you,” I say, and then I press down on the Scarab to fire—right as I hear a gun discharge.

  And the world goes dark.

  • • •

  THE END OF BOOK THREE

  • • •

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Like each House of the Zodiac, I am just one pearl in a long and beautiful necklace. This series would not exist without the following Zodai:

&n
bsp; You, dear reader—Thank you for joining Rho on this journey. Every time I hear from you on social media, or meet you at an event, or stumble across your posts about the books, my soul sings with happiness and my heart floods with gratitude. You are awesome, and getting to know you is the best part of this whole crazy experience.

  Stargazer Liz Tingue—You have been my soul’s Center for the first three books of the series. I will always be grateful to you, Liz, for making my dreams come true.

  Promisary Marissa Grossman—I think the stars have long been conspiring to bring us together, and I am so very excited to discover what our future holds!

  Ben Schrank and Casey McIntyre, Guardians of House Razorbill—Thank you for always having my back. I am profoundly proud to call myself a Razorbill author.

  Lionheart Vanessa Han—The way you manage to top yourself with every cover inspires me to dig deeper to write stories worthy of your art. You are my muse.

  My Guide, Laura Rennert—You are my guiding star, and I am grateful every day that I can call you my agent. Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone in this.

  All the bright lights at Penguin—The whole Razorbill team; Kristin Smith and the design team; Kim Ryan, Tony Lutkus, and the international team; Emily Romero, Erin Berger, Anna Jarzab, and the marketing team; Shanta Newlin, Elyse Marshall, and the publicity team; and Felicia Frazer, Jackie Engel, and the sales team: Thank you for channeling your star power to make this series shine.

  Del Nuevo Extremo—Tomás, Martín, y Miguel Lambré, somos familia y los quiero muchísimo. Vane Florio, sos mi hermana y te extraño demasiado. Jeannine Emery y Martín Castagnet, son un par de genios. ¡Gracias al equipo DNX por TODO!

  The publishing teams at Michel Lafon, Piper Verlag, Karakter Uitgevers, and AST Mainstream—I am constantly amazed by the level of care and creativity you put into your editions of the books, and I’m thankful for all the love you give the series on social media. (Ediciones Urano Colombia, ¡son los reyes de las redes sociales!)

  Bookbloggers, booktubers, bookstagrammers, etc, across the globe—You bring our fictional worlds to life. You are the bridges between books and reality, writers and readers, Earth and the astral plane. Thank you for sharing your magic with us.

  Scribblers—You will always be my favorite writing university. Lizzie Andrews, you have such a pure soul that I’m confident you’d be the best seer in the Zodiac. Nicole Maggi, my twin brain: Thank you for supporting me, advising me, and above all, putting up with me. You and I are the definition of soul-bound.

  The Armstrongs, my west coast family—Thank you for welcoming me to your family and for coming to all of my local events. I love you guys. Caden (aka Clary Fray), I absolutely adore you!

  My family and friends and writing companions—I wish I could list every single one of you, but then I’d probably miss my deadline for the fourth book! Whether it’s a phone call, or a writing date, or a meal, or a movie, or a sob session, or even just a quick text, your friendship and encouragement is everything to me.

  Knight Russell Chadwick—Until you, I never thought I’d meet someone who could understand me even when I can’t, who could believe in me even when I can’t, or who could put up with me even when I can’t. Thank you for being my best friend, my favorite brainstormer, and my Center.

  Mis abuelos, Sara y Berek Ladowski—Baba y Bebo, nadie en este mundo se compara con ustedes y los extrañamos todos los días. Fueron los mejores abuelos del universo.

  My siblings, Meli and Andy Garber-Browne—You are my best friends and favorite couple. Andy, I’ve always wanted an older brother, but I never imagined I’d get this lucky. Meli, you are my entire world, and you’re the inspiration behind Rho. You are an everlasting flame that can’t be put out.

  Papá, Dr. Miguel Garber, mi héroe y mejor amigo—Todo lo que hacés para ayudar a tus pacientes me llena de orgullo, inspiración, y esperanza. Gracias por siempre apoyarme y hacerme sentir que puedo lograr todos mis sueños. Te quiero tanto, pa.

  Mamá, Lily Garber, mi ídola y mejor amiga—Sos la persona más fuerte, inteligente, y capaz que conozco (además de ser la más hermosa). Gracias por ser un ejemplo a seguir para Meli y para mí. Sos la mamá más grande del universo y te quiero tanto.

  And finally, all the booksellers, librarians, and teachers around the globe who are the gatekeepers to new worlds—You are kindlers of hope, and you save more lives than you’ll probably ever know. On behalf of readers everywhere, THANK YOU!

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  Romina Russell, Black Moon

 


 

 
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