A Diamond City Magic Novel, Book 5
Scatter of Light
Bell Bridge Books (June 24, 2022)
ebook ISBN: 9781610262057
print ISBN: 978-1610261791
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?
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 in 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 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. It all fit well, but that didn’t surprise me. On top of everything else she was, Taylor was a fashion junkie.
“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.”
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 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 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 the fact that 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.