Scatter of Light

Scatter of Light

Diana Pharaoh Francis

June 2022 $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-179-1

The Diamond City Magic Novels, Book 5

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Welcome back to Diamond City where hell just busted loose.

Senator Rice, hater of all things magic, declared martial law following the recent bombings. His goal? Arrest all magic-wielders and take control of the mines. To get what he wants, he doesn't care how many people have to die.

How is Riley supposed to stop an army without starting a bigger war? It's going to take deceit, timing, sleight of hand, and a whole lot of luck. To help, she's got her family, friends, and a collection of mobsters, who will probably slide a blade between her ribs the second she turns her back. But beggars can't be choosers, and playing it safe is a losing proposition.

Unfortunately, there's more going on than anybody realizes, and the real enemy has yet to show his face.

When push comes to shove, can Riley risk sacrificing the people she loves to save a city of people she doesn't even know? Risk her people, her family on a plan almost certainly doomed to fail?

For Riley there is really only one choice.

What would you choose?


"This series is one of the best." —Stacey Brutger, Netgalley Reviewer

"Exceptional!" —Jill Smith ,RT Book Reviews on The Diamond City Magic series

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Chapter 1


THEY SAY THERE’S no rest for the wicked. Turns out, there’s no rest for the somewhat disreputable and slightly iniquitous, not to mention the totally exhausted and emotionally pancaked.

I had no idea how long I’d been asleep when pounding on the door sent me rocketing upright in bed. Clay Price, my boyfriend and love of my life, snatched a gun from under his pillow and shoved me behind him, all in one move.

I had no idea where the gun had come from, and to be fair, people meaning us harm weren’t likely to be knocking. All the same, it wasn’t like we’d fallen asleep anywhere safe. We were smack-dab in the middle of enemy territory, living on the edge of a very precarious alliance I’d made with a bunch of gang­sters who could be the dictionary definition of wicked. Or evil. Or just fucking dangerous.

The pounding shook the door again, and both Price and I lunged out of bed. I made a face at the pile of urine, blood, vomit, and puke-covered rags that we’d been wearing when we got back from rescuing a bunch of hostages. That had been our side of the bargain with the Seedy Seven. They were the lieutenants of a Tyet mob boss named Savannah Morrell. After she’d died and I found myself and my family targeted by a variety of other baddies, I’d been forced to make a deal with them. They’d give me allegiance and the support to take over Savannah’s criminal organization, and I’d get their family members back.

In a brilliantly sadistic move, Savannah had taken a family member from each of her lieutenants and held them hostage. If one stepped wrong, she’d maim or kill their loved ones. She’d kept them hidden, so when she was killed, the Seven were frantic to find them.

That fact gave me an ace in the hole.

I’m a tracer. One of the best. Everybody walks around spooling off a unique thread of colored light behind them that sticks to anything they touch. It’s their trace and everybody’s is unique. Eventually it fades, disappearing altogether when they die, or so the common thinking goes. Mostly because it’s true for every other tracer I’ve ever heard of. Me, though, I’m a unicorn. Trace never fades for me, and I can even see the trace of dead people.

I’d tracked them to the middle of nowhere east of Denver, then Price, me, and a highly irritating FBI agent named Sandra Arnow had rescued them from Savannah’s son, who’d taken charge of them and used his tinker powers to break, twist, and warp their bodies, healing them into shapes of horrid suffering as he went.

We’d finally gotten him under control and brought him and the hostages back, right into the middle of a Tyet war.

Price’s brother, Gregg Touray, was one of those other evil Tyet lords who wanted to capture and use me to take over Diamond City. What passed for his heart was actually in the right place, which is to say he was driven to take control in order to destroy the other Tyets so people wouldn’t have to live in constant fear. But the road to hell and all that and whatever his intentions, he didn’t care who he had to hurt to get what he wanted. He saw it as a duty.

His small army of thugs had attacked Savannah’s compound that my brothers Jamie and Leo, my sister Taylor, Dalton a frenemy with emphasis on enemy, my best friend Patti, and the Seedy Seven had taken as a base. They’d managed to keep Touray’s army from overrunning the compound, but when we brought the hostages back, we'd had to force our way through enemy lines to get to safety.

With Price’s elemental powers, we’d managed—barely—arriving just in time for Touray to jump out of one of the mansion’s fourth-floor windows and pancake onto a Jeep’s roof. His mind had been taken over by a brain-jockey—a powerful dreamer with the power to control and manipulate minds and memories. He’d managed to slip his mental leash long enough to try to commit suicide.

He was still alive, thanks to the healers who’d been standing by in the courtyard to help the hostages, but he remained in a coma. Price and I had stayed awake long enough to make sure he was on an even keel and then taken refuge in one of the many nearby bedrooms. After a shower that could have cooked lobsters, Price and I had crawled into bed. Our nap hadn’t lasted nearly long enough, though the adrenaline shooting through my system helped fight off the grittiness of my eyes and made it slightly easier to resist gravity.

I reached for the still-damp towel I’d used after our shower. Price didn’t bother with clothing. He stalked to the door and threw it wide, gun held at eye level. Old habits. He was a former cop and an enforcer for Touray’s organization. He just assumed people were out to kill him. Unfortunately, he had a decent record of being right.

Taylor stood in the doorway, her body tense. Her gaze darted over Price who lowered his gun, and then she looked to me, still fumbling with the towel.

"There’s a situation,” she said, the words like bullets.



Price and I spoke at the same time.

Taylor’s expression hardened. I recognized the look. I wore it often enough. It was that mask you put on when you want to totally fall apart and couldn’t afford to lose your shit, no matter how bad you hurt or how scared you were.

Neither Taylor nor I were particularly fond of Touray, but seeing Price suffering tore me up, and that tore up Taylor. Cass was another story. She’d been a friend of Price and Touray before I met her, and had quickly come to be one of my best friends. She’d saved my life more than once, and though I hated most dreamers, I trusted Cass like I trusted my family. In fact, as far as I was concerned, she’d become family. I was pretty sure Taylor felt the same. Worse, Touray’s brain-jockey had used him to put the hit out on Cass.

We didn’t know if she was still alive or not. I’d been too depleted to check, and now there was no time.

I stared at Taylor, heart in my throat. I grabbed Price’s free hand and gripped it tight. He considered Cass a sister, too. If I was torn up, his brother’s near death and Cass’s unknown situation had shredded him to pieces.

I could see my sister trying to soften her expression, to no avail. She gave a negative jerk of her head.

"Still no word on Cass, and Touray’s the same.” She took a breath and looked back at me. "It’s bad. Better come quick. The war room.”

Her gaze switched to Price. "You should get your brother ready to move. We’re going to have to bug out fast and soon.” She shoved a fat shopping bag into his chest. "There’s some clothes. Hopefully they fit. Don’t take too long.”

It wasn’t until she left that I realized I didn’t know where the hell this war room was. As big as this place was, I could easily get lost for days.

I jumped to my feet and headed to the bag, dumping it out onto the bed. We both quickly dressed in jeans, wool Henleys, and wool socks. Taylor had found me a bra and panties and a pair of boxer briefs for Price.

"I hate the idea of putting on these boots,” I said, lip curling as I considered them. They were covered in blood and other body fluids and smelled bad.

"Beggars can’t be choosers,” Price said philosophically, reaching for his.

A knock sounded on the door. I pulled it open. Jamie stood on the other side, his long hair gleaming gold in the hallway lights. His expression was uncharacteristically serious, his brow furrowed, the corners of his mouth pulled down, his eyes diamond hard. He thrust another bag at me.

"Taylor sent me with these. You know where to go?”

"Not a clue. Taylor said the war room.”

Jamie gave a short nod. "Hurry up then. I’ll wait at the bottom of the big stairs. Take a left off this hallway. The next one will dump you out at the stairs.”

He spun and jogged away. Foreboding curled in my chest. This was looking very bad.

"What the hell is going on?” I asked as I pulled two boot boxes out of the big bag. I passed Price his and dropped to the floor to pull mine on.

"Nothing good,” Price said, stating the obvious as he laced up his hiking boots. "Waterproof and insulated. Nice.”

"You could take your brother to my place,” I said. "Unless you want to take him to one of his houses. He’s going to need medical help. Maya can take care of his body, but he’s going to need IVs to feed and hydrate him.”

He stopped lacing to stare. "You barely trusted me to know where you live, and yet you’ll let in Gregg and strange medical personnel? Are you sure?”

When I was a kid, my fucked-up father had tampered with my brain. He was a dreamer and—among other things—had programmed me not to trust people. I’d been paranoid about keeping where I lived secret. That, at least, had proved useful, especially now that we needed somewhere ultra-safe to hide Gregg until he was well.

"It’s the best choice. Since almost nobody knows where it is, it’s the safest place. You’ll still want a guard for him twenty-four seven, just in case. Unless... are you going to stay with him?”

He shook his head. "I can help him better if I hunt down the brain-jockey. Killing him will free my brother.”

"Will it?”

He gave me an odd glance. "Why do you say that?”

"A lot of spells survive their makers.”

He shook his head. "This kind of spell is mostly a conduit from the jockey to the victim. It has to be reinforced regularly or it disintegrates. It’s too much to hope that the jockey will just give up in the meantime. He’ll be waiting and hoping Gregg wakes up. As it is, I’m willing to bet Gregg’s keeping himself in a coma to keep from being this asshole’s puppet. I don’t know how long he’ll be able to stay that way.”

"You could ask Maya to keep him under,” I said. "In case he can’t do it himself.”

"I might.”

I stood, watching as he tucked his gun into the small of his back. "You should take him now. Use the tunnels. Hopefully everyone will be distracted by whatever's going on and won’t try to follow.”

He came to stand in front of me, his hands grasping mine. "Promise you won’t go anywhere until I get back.”

I chewed my lower lip, then shook my head. "I can’t. Not without knowing what’s happening.”

His hands tightened, and his expression turned volcanic.

"I’ll text you if I have to leave, and I won’t go anywhere by myself,” I assured him.

His mouth pulled into a tight frown. "Your available backup isn’t exactly reassuring. Leo and Jamie are insane. They’re just as likely to goad you into stupidity as stop you from attempting it.”

He wasn’t wrong. My brothers seemed to be missing that little voice of self-preservation in their heads that warned other people against suicidal risks. If they had a little voice, it was always goading them to greater demonstrations of stupidity.

"How about I promise not to take unnecessary risks?” It seemed like a decent compromise.

"That’s just it, Riley. Your definition of necessary isn’t the same as mine.”

He wasn’t wrong about that either. I made a face and pulled gently out of his grip. "I don’t know what to say. We’re between a rock and a hard place. You have to take care of Gregg, and I have to do whatever is necessary here. One thing is certain: we’re wasting time we don’t have.”

Price thrust his fingers through his black hair. It was shaggy and hung well past his collar. "I know. I just wish you’d worry a little bit more about self-preservation.”

"I’ll be careful,” I promised. "I’ll keep Patti with me. She’s reasonable and also scary.” My best friend stood a little over five feet tall. She was a low-grade binder, but what she lacked in power, she made up in ingenuity. It was amazing what she could do against enemies. Stir in the fact that she had multiple black belts in a variety of combat styles, a take-no-shit attitude, and she wouldn’t let me do anything too stupid, and Price didn’t have a lot of reason to complain.

He sighed and nodded. "Fine. But keep me updated. As soon as I get Gregg set up, I’ll come find you.” He swept me up against him, giving me one of those devouring kisses that turned my bones to taffy.

He ended it far too soon. Both of stood back, panting.

"I love you,” he said and then opened the door. "Let’s go.”

I dragged my fingers across his stomach as I passed, my throat tight. I knew this probably wasn’t goodbye forever, but every time we separated, we took the chance it would be.

I felt Price watching me as I strode down the hallway. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t.


Chapter 2


THE MANSION sprawled out over several acres, and that was just the main building. The estate contained a bunch of outbuildings, gardens, stables, tennis courts, pools, and I didn’t even know what else over at least four or five hundred acres. Savannah had been in the top one percent of the top one percent, aka filthy rich. Crime is lucrative, especially if you don’t have anything resembling a conscience or empathy.

Following Jamie’s directions, I turned left into the main corridor and broke into a jog. As he promised, it emptied onto a giant balcony overlooking the grand lobby. Jamie waited at the foot of the sweeping black marble stairway. I went down the right side, two steps at a time, falling in beside my brother as he strode across the vast space filled with enough furniture to be its own showroom.

He led me through the broad entry at the far end, then through a maze of corridors and smaller entertainment rooms, a massive ballroom, down a back stairway, and into yet another ballroom, this one about a third of the size of the first.

Giant TV screens ran in a line down the far wall with bank of computers just below. A bunch of tables and chairs cluttered the rest of the space. Despite containing a group of at least forty people, the room was quiet but for the man whose face filled every single one of the screens. I recognized him immediately: Senator Rice, hater of magic and mastermind behind most of the legislation designed to limit our rights. He’d have criminalized our existence if he could have gotten away with it.

He was talking, but the sound was off. He stood behind a lectern, wearing the sorrowful expression of a worried father, his brow furrowed. At the bottom of the screen in large white letters were an 800 number and a URL.

I always marveled at how benign he looked, like a high school band teacher or a librarian. His black hair was liberally frosted with gray. Cut short, it stuck out from his head in a short, textured crop, making him look younger than his sixtyish years. He wore blue horn-rimmed glasses, a charcoal suit jacket over a scarlet-on-scarlet embroidered vest, a pearl-gray shirt, and a charcoal bowtie featuring a sprinkle of tiny red stars.

Seeing Leo, Taylor, Dalton, Patti, and Arnow clustered with the Seedy Seven, Jamie and I went to join them. I could have cut the tension with a chain­saw.

Lewis Fineman stood nearest me. His soft belly contrasted sharply with his gimlet gaze. A little taller than me, he had a round face, his nut-brown skin ashen, his eyes sunken with heavy bags beneath them.

Beside him stood Laura Vasquez. If she lost any more weight, she’d risk getting lost in the couch cushions. Her skin had gone so pale it had a blue tinge, and without the bright-red lipstick she tended to wear, she looked like a walking corpse. With it she looked like a vampire, which was a kind of a walking corpse when you got right down to it.

At around fifty years old, Emerson Flanders—who was nearly as wide as he was tall without an ounce of fat on him—looked like he’d lost twenty pounds in the last couple of days. His expression beneath his full strawberry-blond beard was flat-out hostile, his pale-blue eyes bloodshot.

Tracey Erickson sat at a computer, his hair pulled back in a ponytail. He chewed his thumbnail as he tapped on the keyboard with his other hand. Gold sparks spattered off his fingertips like tiny sunbursts. His talent involved com­puters and electricity.

Beside him, Bob Wright stood ramrod straight. His navy silk suit was creased and rumpled, his red power tie pulled loose. His hair looked stringy and tangled, like he hadn’t seen a shower or brush in days.

Ruth Blaine and Carter Matokai filled out the last two members of the Seedy Seven. Matokai had an inscrutable Mona Lisa look. He made a show of relaxing his body, but he couldn’t seem to stop the pulsing flex of his jaw muscles.

Blaine looked like she’d stepped off the cover of Vogue. She wore a cream silk blouse with a pencil skirt and tall black pumps. She and I shared a voluptuous body type, but she had all the confidence of Cleopatra. Despite all that had happened, her expression showed no cracks of stress. I’d hate to have her across the table from me in a poker game.

I nudged in between Leo and Taylor. "What’s going on?”

"Nothing good,” Leo said. He bent forward and tapped one of the com­puter operators on the shoulder. "Start it over.”

The screen blanked and then the Senator flashed into view again, this time with the volume turned up.

"Citizens of Diamond City,” he said staring deeply into the camera. "Re­cently terrorists set seven bombs off in Diamond City, killing at least ninety- three people and injuring hundreds more. Some will never walk again. Many of you have lost sisters, mothers, daughters, brothers, sons, fathers, and friends.

"This is Theresa Johnson.” A picture of a dark-haired girl around six years old popped up on the screen. She wore a puffy, red snow suit and posed beside a snowman, a broad smile plastered on her face.

"This is also Theresa Johnson.” This picture show the same girl lying in the wreckage of a blown-up building, her hair and face charred, her hands outflung, her left leg ending at the knee in a bloody stump. Several someones gagged, and I swallowed bile, glad I hadn’t eaten recently.

If Savannah weren’t already dead, I’d gut her myself. She’d been black­mailing Price’s brother to get her hands on the Kensington artifacts he had in his vault. To convince him, she’d set off a series of explosions in the city. The hell with any innocents who got caught up in the blasts.

When the city was very young, it had been a bloody, violent place—a lot worse, even, than today. On a crusade for peace, one of my ancestors—Zachary Kensington—had created a weapon. No one now remembers what it did, only that he and four other cardinal talents had used it to bring peace to Diamond City.

After that, Kensington had broken apart the pieces and hidden them, and people like Touray and Savannah had been searching for them ever since. Touray had obtained three, thanks to me. And he had a vial of Kensington’s blood, which meant a tracer with the talent to see dead trace could find his workshop with all his notes. Thankfully, those four items were still safely ensconced in Touray's vault. I hoped to hell Touray never found the rest. No good could come of someone like him having that much power.

I yanked my meandering brain back to Senator Rice. I needed to con­­centrate if I was going to keep ahead of the game.

"Little Theresa had her whole life ahead her, only to have it ripped away because of Tyets run by those who practice magic and ravage the city like wolves. These people—no, not people. These are animals. These are monsters.”

He slammed his fist into the top of the lectern, his eyes blazing with rage and hate. I was pretty sure he’d scripted the move.

"These demons can no longer be permitted to wreak havoc on innocent people—on families, on children. No more will they make war on the innocent people of this city!

"The president has mandated me to take control of the situation and erad­icate the magical bloodsuckers who prey on you. You will no longer have to wonder if you will survive long enough to eat your dinner. You won’t have to wonder whether you will be extorted or blackmailed on any given day. You will no longer wait to find out if a loved one will return home safely from the movie theater or the grocery store. I will make you safe. I guarantee it.”

"Is he for real?” I asked, my stomach starting to churn. What did he mean: take control of the situation? What sort of powers had the president given him?

"It gets better,” Jamie said through tight lips.

"The president has declared a state of emergency in Diamond City and given me all the resources necessary to cut the cancer from the city and return it to you, the human citizens.

"As of now, martial law is declared. Military personnel have set up check­points throughout the city and on all entrances and egresses. They will begin a dragnet to collect the magically infected and neutralize those with dangerous powers.”

The camera narrowed on him. His expression subtly shifted, hardening withresolution.

"I know many of you have useful and harmless abilities that help your fam­ilies and communities in many important ways. I assure you that you will not be targeted. We are interested in only those who threaten your safety and the safety of the city and this country, possibly even the world.”

The senator leaned forward and dramatically swept off his glasses, staring intently into the camera, gesturing to punctuate his passionate words.

"I beg you—help me help you before it’s too late. Come forward. Tell us what you know. Who scares you? Who threatens you? All information will be kept anonymous. No one will retaliate. Volunteering information will prove you are not only a hero but also a person of courage, generosity, and love for your families, your city, and your country.”

He looked down, appearing to tear up. He swallowed jerkily and then looked back up at the camera. A less cynical person might think he actually meant it.

"I, too, have been faced with this difficult choice. In the end, my con­science would not let me risk my neighbors and friends. My comfort in turning in the dangerously talented comes from knowing that if they weren’t corrupted by magic, they’d beg for my intervention to help. The actions you take now are as much for their own good as yours. This is no easy path to take, but I believe in your strength. I know that you will choose to do the right thing.”

He straightened, wiping the crocodile tears from his eyes before sliding his glasses back into place. He cleared his throat, collecting himself.

"If that’s a performance, he’s a hell of an actor,” Jamie murmured.

"He’s a politician,” Arnow responded acidly. "Acting and lying are what they do.”

"He’s very believable. Compelling even,” I said, the churning in my gut turning to nausea.

The senator wasn’t quite done.

"Call, text, email, or go to our website. You may also report any tips in person at any checkpoint or to any sweep officer. Again, your names will be kept confidential. You need have no fear of retaliation for your heroism as we work together to save your city. We are also offering a reward of one thousand dollars for every tip that leads to detainment.”

He stood for a moment, his expression earnest, sorrowful, and fanatical, all at one time, and then the speech began all over again.

Someone killed the sound again.

"People won’t fall for this, will they?” A techie sitting at one the tables turned to look at us. Her face was pale.

"A lot of people don’t like the talented,” said Taylor. "Hell, a lot of talented have been attacked by Tyets. Who knows how many might climb on the band­wagon?”

"Enough will,” Arnow said. "You only need one asshole to point the finger at you. You don’t even have to have talent for someone to turn you in. It’s going to get ugly and fast.”

"This is a fucking disaster,” said Matokai. "He has to be stopped.”

"How?” asked Vasquez. "He’s got an army. Literally. Anything happens to him, more troops will descend on Diamond City, like a pack of wolves, and tear us to pieces.”

"Change his mind,” said Fineman. "Let a dreamer have a go at him.”

"He’ll be too well protected,” Arnow said. "You won’t get anybody close enough to him. Plus the man is paranoid. He’ll have nulls and binders. No one is going to cast a spell anywhere near him.”

I raised my brows at her in a silent question.

"Rumor mill,” she said, interpreting my expression correctly. "Word is he even shits with half a dozen agents right outside the stall door. He’s got a perimeter of at least a hundred feet that’s a magical dead zone, plus a cadre of guerrilla agents outside of that with martial talents and magical weapons. He’s better guarded than Fort Knox.”

"Is Fort Knox even guarded that well?” Leo asked.

Arnow sliced him a cutting look.

"Isn’t that a little hypocritical? Railing against the evils of magic while using it to guard himself?” asked Erickson.

Taylor rolled her eyes. "What turnip truck did you fall off of? He doesn’t believe the shit he’s spewing. This is a way to control who gets to use their talent and who doesn’t. He’ll be the czar of magic. If he says you can use it, you can. If he says you can’t, you’re fucked. Imagine what an ambitious guy could do with that kind of power.”

A tempting thought occurred to me. I could turn Vernon in. That was my father. He’d returned to my life recently and had proceeded to both try to convince me that all the stuff he’d done in my head was for my own good, while at the same time attacking me on behalf of his boss, Jackson Tyrell. Tyrell pre­tended to be pure as snow but wasn’t any better than Savannah. I could turn him in, too.

For a moment I let myself enjoy imagining all the things the senator might do to them.

In the end, though, I’d never be able to do it. As much as I hated them and thought they deserved it, turning them in felt a lot too much like joining the Nazis. In this case, the enemy of my enemy was not my friend.

Jamie rubbed his knuckles over his bristly jaw. He hadn’t shaved in at least a few days. "Question is, what can we do to stop him? We don’t have much time. He’s moving fast. If we don’t figure out how to back him off, we’ll not only lose the city, we’ll lose a hell of a lot of friends.” He glanced at me, then at Taylor and Leo. "We can’t let him get entrenched. As fast as he’s moving, he could have half the city in custody by the end of the week.”

"What do you mean, as fast as he’s moving?”

"Tracey, put up what you found,” Leo said, the flinty look in his eyes telling me I wasn’t going to like what was coming.

Erickson tapped into his phone. Blue sparks flashed every time a finger hit the screen.

Senator Rice disappeared, and in his place we got a satellite shot of Diamond City and the caldera. The city had been built on three ledges stepping down the east side of the ancient volcano, with some of it spilling over onto the rim, which was where we stood now. The wealthier you were, the higher up you could afford to be. The Bottoms, down in the caldera’s basin, was where the dregs of society went. An area of low rolling hills extended several miles to the north and east of the city. The forest had been cut away to allow for farms and the airport.

The image zoomed in with stomach-lurching speed, focusing on an area southeast of the airport. Snow had been bulldozed from the open fields to create a tall wall. Just inside, a fence of razor wire circled around. Nearly half the exposed land had been covered in long cement slabs, with more being poured into forms. The metal skeletons of several buildings had begun to grow up at one end. Hundreds of soldiers scuttled around, hauling building materials and driving heavy machinery.

"Is that what I think it is?” I whispered, hoping someone would tell me I was nuts.

"Depends. If you think Chuck E. Cheese is expanding into a game park, then no, you’re wrong. If you think it’s an internment camp for the magically talented, then I’d say you were dead on,” drawled Bob Wright. His suit was creased, his necktie hanging loose. Like Jamie, he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days.

"The explosions only just happened a few days ago. How could they get this much done in that time?”

"The senator is motivated,” said Emerson Flanders, who was probably oldest of the Seedy Seven. He towered like a grizzly standing on its hind legs. "The president’s given him carte blanche. He’s also got a lot of pull in Washington, and no doubt with anti-magic organizations like the HFM.”

"Humans First Movement. Like people with magical talent aren’t humans,” Patti sneered. "Those people are worse than Spanish Inquisitors.”

"They are also extremely influential with a lot of money to throw around,” Taylor said. "And they have a big membership. They do their best to scare every­body into believing we’re out to get everybody. Take over the world. People buy it and blame us for every little thing that goes wrong. Flat tire? Cancer? Bad hair day? The talented are responsible.”

"Jealous fuckers,” said someone off to the right. I didn’t see who.

"To be fair, it’s not that they’re entirely wrong,” I said. "They have every right to be angry at the way they get treated by a lot of the talented community. They can’t protect themselves, and the cops work for the Tyets who treat them like garbage.”

A tight silence met my words, but no one argued.

"Motherfucker! There’s another camp going up not far from this one. They’ve just finished clearing the land,” Erickson said as he shifted the cameras.

"I hate to say it, but we might want to think about cutting our losses and getting out while we still can.” Again from Flanders

I’d have agreed, except this was my town and I wasn’t going anywhere. We might get out okay, but the rest of the magical population wasn’t going to be so lucky, and I’d be damned if I’d just leave them to the senator’s goons. Not if I could do something to stop this. Trouble was, I didn’t know what I could do. The senator had an army and the law on his side. Fighting him head-on would come down to something like Ruby Ridge on a much bloodier scale. I didn’t see any head-to-head scenario where we didn’t lose.

Whatever we did would have to be guerilla-style.

"Getting out is going to be more difficult than you think,” Jamie said, nudging Erickson’s shoulder.

The images on the screens veered and split into four, each one focusing on the main exits out of the city. Every single one had been blocked, with soldiers manning the gates.

They stopped every car driving in or out. As we watched, they hauled a woman and two children out of a minivan at gunpoint and loaded them into the back of a semitrailer.

"Is that even legal?” I asked. Stupid question, really, which Jamie proceeded to point out.

"Who’s going to stop them? As long as martial law rules, the senator can do as he pleases.” The muscles in Jamie’s jaw flexed and knotted as his mouth snap­ped shut. He gave me an expectant look, his crystal-blue eyes drilling into me.

I found that Leo and Taylor were looking at me, too. I suddenly felt a whole lot like Bambi surrounded by velociraptors. Only these velociraptors didn’t want to eat me. Worse. They wanted me to tell them what to do.

I’d put myself in this role. I had decided to take control of my safety and the safety of everybody I cared about. I’d dragged them along—okay, it had been more like they’d galloped full tilt along with me—and whatever I decided we should do, they’d all be at risk.

I really hated being the leader. I didn’t know how generals did it. How could they decide who to send into battle and where? How did they not drink themselves into oblivion to keep from worrying and feeling guilty with every drop of blood spent?

It all came down to necessity. We needed to act, and we needed to do it now or it would be too late. And like it or not, I was in charge of the resistance.

"All right, then,” I said, sounding a lot more confident than I felt. My gaze gathered in the Seedy Seven and my team. "Let’s find a private place to talk. The senator’s coming for us. We’ve got to stop him, and I’ve got an idea how to do it.”

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