Home > Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(12)

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(12)
Author: Bella Forrest

I walked over to the wall and touched it. Its surface felt smooth and cold, and my skin vibrated gently in response. I pushed a finger forward, but the marble didn’t budge. It was solid, indeed.

“This is incredible,” I murmured. “So, you’re telling me that this space here… it can’t be seen at all from the outside. And no one can come in.”

“Only those of us able to use magic. The coven is rigged to record and allow certain individuals in—those who belong here, those who belong to other covens, and those we approve to come in,” Wade explained, then motioned for me to follow him. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

I nodded slowly, my mouth open, and reached his side. We walked forward, watching as doors opened and people moved around—all of them young and dressed like… normal people. They all stared at me for a while, before going back to whatever business they had behind various doors.

“How does the coven recognize who’s who?” I asked.

“Magic.” Wade smirked. “There are spells in place.”

“Okay, you’ll have to be a little bit more specific than that.”

“You’ll find out more soon enough, don’t worry. For now, just think of this structure as a massive, self-sustained organism that has a conscience and a memory. It knows who we are, what we do, and when we do it. It remembers our steps with photographic precision, and it can be set to deny access to those lacking the appropriate clearance.”

We reached the end of the hallway, which split into two equally large corridors that went in opposite directions. On the wall in front of us, a giant plaque was mounted. It was made from stainless steel, and I could see myself and Wade reflected on its shiny surface. The words I’d seen earlier on the kids’ magnet board were clearly engraved at the top in elegant, swirly letters. Ordo Ab Chao. Below it, a block of text followed, also in Latin.

“What’s that?” I asked, trying to read and failing to understand about 90 percent of it. Other than the words “mystic,” “courage,” and “virtue,” nothing seemed familiar.

“A pledge of allegiance,” Wade replied. “It’s the oath we take when we join the coven. A promise that transcends time and space. Words of great importance that we can never go back on. You’ll learn it as well.”

“Whoa there, buddy! I’m here to say hi, not join your weird cult. Though, I’ll have to admit, it looks cool and all,” I said.

I followed Wade down the corridor to our right, constantly looking around, admiring the dragonesque sculptures and sharp arches stretching overhead, the brass chandeliers and chiaroscuro paintings. These things were probably worth a fortune, but the aesthetic was pretty weird. The artwork was more classical, while the arches and architectural details were neo-Gothic, and the walls and floors were simple, downright minimalistic.

My two years with the Smiths had given me access to a private school education, and it was there that I finished high school. My teachers tended to look down on me, given my rough-around-the-edges attitude, but they had no other choice but to teach me the same as the ritzy kids in class—subjects that included art, architecture, and design. I was surprised to see I’d remembered some of it as I analyzed my surroundings.

It all looked beautiful, but eerily different. It felt that way, too. For lack of a better word, I decided to stick to “otherworldly” when describing the overall look of the San Diego Coven. People passed by us, most of them nodding at Wade. The ladies, in particular, seemed thrilled to see him.

“They’re all, uh, witches?” I asked, making eye contact with some of them. The vibe they gave me was a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. I was a stranger on their turf, after all, so that didn’t come as a surprise.

“Witches, warlocks, yes,” Wade replied, then turned left into a stunning dining hall.

It was enormous, with three long rows of white marble tables in the middle, covered with white porcelain and sterling silver tableware. Globe-shaped light pendants hung from the ridiculously high ceiling, and another table was set at the far end, perpendicular to the others.

“This is the banquet hall,” Wade said. “It’s where we all eat. Designated staff handle preparation and service, of course. Some of our younger witches and warlocks are given part-time jobs here. Not that they need to pay to live here, but the human world can be expensive to navigate.”

“You mean you people live here, too?”

“Most of us, yes. Rarely does the coven allow its people to rent their own places in the city. It’s safer and easier to live here. It’s not like we lack the space,” he replied.

“What does the coven do, exactly?”

“A lot of things,” Wade said, smirking. Then he walked back out into the corridor, with me not far behind. “Magic is the result of powerful energy manifested through physical bodies. We are born magical, and never made. The energy itself is Chaos, the founding force of the universe itself, the power that fuels the world. However, from Chaos comes Order. It’s what we live by. There must be rules in place. We’re heavily outnumbered by humans, and we are peaceful by nature. You’re probably well aware of the fact that humans tend to destroy what they don’t understand.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’ve seen the movies,” I said.

“You must’ve been called a freak more than a couple of times, too. Right?”

Flashbacks to the first couple of times that my powers manifested knocked me over the head. “Among other terms, yes.”

I’d been called a monster, too. A weirdo. An abomination. I could go on, but there was no point in dwelling on the past. I’d survived it.

“Well, the covens are here to protect those of us through whom Chaos flows freely. Those of us capable of magic,” Wade replied. “In return, we adhere to the laws, we enforce them, and we do our best to make a positive impact on the world. Humans aren’t doing a very good job of taking care of this planet or themselves, which is where we come in—in moderation, of course. We’re not superheroes, nor do we have a duty to serve them. Our main purpose is to keep them out of magical harm’s way. There are things out there… creatures other than witches and warlocks, and phenomena that humans would never be able to understand. We keep them out of sight. We neutralize them, if needed.”

Much like he did with the gargoyle the other night, I thought, nodding slowly.

We reached another hall, this one three times as big as the dining room. Its walls were smooth and black, and there was a plethora of obstacles and training dummies, targets and barriers. This was a training area and, judging by the burn, frost, and tear marks on the wooden puppets, this was where the witches and warlocks basically let loose.

A variety of medieval shields and weapons were mounted on the walls—swords in silver-plated scabbards with gemstones embedded into the hilts, bows and arrows of different sizes, lances and spears, hammers and hatchets, knives and daggers, and several clubs. This was a place for warriors. I was more of a Mustang and leather jacket kind of girl…

There were about twelve witches and warlocks training, holding their hands out as they launched fireballs at wall-mounted targets. An instructor in a black, military-style uniform walked behind them, barking orders and criticizing their stances.

“Spread those legs out, Rodriguez! If you’re a good shot, you won’t have to worry about someone getting close enough to kick you in the balls!”

“Wow,” I breathed, feeling sorry for the Rodriguez boy, whose embarrassment was flushing my cheeks already.

“This is where we train, as you can see. That’s O’Halloran, one of our instructors. You’ll like him, I think. He’s just as abrasive as you are,” Wade said.

“If I’m abrasive, then that makes you what, exactly? Sulfuric acid?”

“You know, that smart mouth of yours won’t get you anywhere good in this place,” Wade retorted, then stepped in front of me. I moved back, but he followed, maintaining a distance of a few inches. His face was too close to mine, his irritation setting me on fire—or was it just his presence that had that effect on me? I wasn’t sure, but his card trick still creeped me out six ways from Sunday, and his arrogance made me want to punch him. The farther I got away from him, the better.

“Crowley!” O’Halloran shouted, prompting Wade to look over his shoulder. “Is that the new girl?”

“Yeah,” Wade replied.

“New girl? No. I’m just visiting!” I said, raising my voice to make sure O’Halloran heard me.

When he didn’t respond to my statement, I tilted my whole upper body to the right, so I could see past Wade’s broad chest. O’Halloran was tall and massive, the typical soldier type, his features rough, his chin square, and his bluish eyes narrowed at me. Something about him made my blood chill—probably the fact that no emotions came through from him.

He was either a master of self-control, or an android. My money was on the mechanical parts.

“Bring her in later. I want to see what she can do,” O’Halloran replied, completely ignoring me.

Wade looked at me, then exhaled sharply. He was genuinely frustrated, though I couldn’t tell why, exactly. I felt what he felt, but the why part belonged to his thoughts, which I didn’t have access to. Ironically, I’d spent half my life wishing I didn’t have these abilities. However, as I walked out after Wade, I was wishing I had more power, enough to be able to read his mind, and maybe even disappear.

My conscience and my instincts were already at odds. Part of me was excited about this place. It felt good. It had a hint of home that I couldn’t ignore. But my father’s words kept blaring in my head. Stay safe. Stay smart.

“Let me show you the living quarters,” Wade said, as we advanced through the corridor.

A set of double doors covered in elegant mahogany relief sculptures awaited at the far end. He touched the brass door knobs and muttered something under his breath. It sounded like Latin, but I didn’t pay enough attention as I stared to my right, where an archway led into what looked like a courtyard, lush with trees and flowers. A small, round stone fountain stood in the middle, water trickling from an angel’s mouth into a fan of seashells.

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