Home > Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(14)

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(14)
Author: Bella Forrest

“Yeah, he mentioned something,” I replied, giving Wade a quick glance. The look he gave me chilled me to the bone, so I shifted my focus back to Alton. It was better to focus on the polite adult in the room, not the arrogant thorn in my side.

“Okay,” Alton continued, and took out a massive old registry from a bottom drawer. He flipped it open, then used a quill and ink to add my name onto one of the pages. “This is the assessment log. Your name needs to be in here in order for the coven to let you in and out. You have restricted access at this point, but once you progress and make your pledge, more doors will open for you.”

I frowned. “Wait, what pledge? That pledge of allegiance you make your people recite?”

Alton looked at me for a couple of seconds, then took a deep breath and finished writing my name. “Harley, this is a safe haven. All the coven does is protect its people. There aren’t too many of us out there and, as you know, people don’t take kindly to those who are different. Man has a natural tendency to destroy what he doesn’t understand, and, unfortunately, it stands true even in the 21st century. For now, I’m not asking you to pledge yourself to the coven. The decision will be yours. All I did was add your name to the assessment log, so the coven’s magic can allow you to move freely, within certain limits. Highly sensitive areas of our little pocket in the universe are still restricted, though.”

“All you need to do is learn the phrase I used to get us in from Kid City,” Wade explained. “Aperi Portam. It’s Latin. Open the door. Simple.”

“Fine.” I nodded, narrowing my eyes at Alton. “Now, spill the beans. What’s going on here? What am I? Why am I this way? What do you want from me?”

“From what Wade has told me, I think it’s safe to assume that we are the first magicals you’ve met, despite your age,” Alton said with a patient smile. “So, I’ll have to start from the very beginning. Like I said, I’ll try to give you as much as I can during this first conversation, but you will have more to learn and understand farther down the road.”

“Magicals?” I prompted.

“Witches. Warlocks. Monsters,” Alton replied. “You’ve met one of those, too.”

“The gargoyle. Ugh, yes.”

“To best understand what you are, you must know about Chaos. It is the force behind the universe, the energy that flows in countless forms. It gives life. It fuels the stars. Chaos is everything and nothing, all at once. Matter, antimatter, it’s all Chaos. It’s present in humans, in animals, in everything that grows and breathes, too. Witches and warlocks are simply creatures through which Chaos flows with greater power. We’re special because we have this connection to the universe on a subatomic level. Our powers, our abilities, stem from Chaos.”

Alton put his hands out, and his dragon-head cufflinks glimmered golden. They were beautifully crafted in gold, with green enamel scales and two red garnet eyes that lit up white. Wade’s rings came to mind as I watched threads of concentrated energy pour out of the dragons’ open mouths, swirling into a sphere the size of my head. It hovered above the desk, and an image formed inside.

I understood then that I was being shown a vivid illustration of what Alton was telling me. The universe glimmered at the center of it, shifting to closeups of distant planets and constellations.

“Chaos is exactly that. Unruly, wild, and intense. If we let it do as it pleases, it will consume and destroy us,” Alton explained. “At the same time, Chaos is a ruthless negotiator. What it gives, it takes. For every action, there is a reaction. As magicals, we have developed a strict set of rules meant to guide us and keep us on the right track. If we slip up, if we expose ourselves to the humans, we’ll risk not only our lives, but the safety and wellbeing of our entire species. We respect the unwritten laws of Chaos, and we obey the written laws of our covens. It took us a long time, but over the past two thousand years, we have successfully organized into these secret societies.”

“So, there’s more than one coven,” I replied.

“There is a coven in every major city in this world, each in charge of its surrounding areas. In the US, each state is ruled by a Mage Council. Our society is commonly referred to as the United Covens of America, and we function much like the American government—minus the corporate interests and corruption, of course. Everywhere else in the world, every country has its own Mage Council to oversee the covens. We’ve had to close ranks and organize accordingly, especially after the seventeenth century,” Alton explained.

“The Salem witch trials,” I murmured.

“Thousands of innocent people, as well as magicals, were killed around that horrific period.” He sighed. “Which is why we are strict, why we monitor our kind, and why we adhere to these rules. Normally, once a magical is discovered, the regional coven assesses and registers the individual. That way, the magical is raised in the system, educated and taught to use his or her abilities for good, for balance… for peace.”

“Don’t you get the occasional rotten apple?” I smirked.

“More than occasional, unfortunately,” Alton replied, shaking his head. It wasn’t a pleasant subject for him, filling him—and me—with angst and grief. “Some think they can take on the whole world. Some consider themselves superior to humans and have utter disregard for innocent lives. Some even believe they can navigate both worlds while indulging in criminal behavior. Unfortunately, all three categories hurt us, because they put us at risk of discovery. Which, again, is why we are strict in enforcing the coven rules.”

As I looked into the holographic sphere, I was shown snippets of different witches and warlocks committing horrible crimes—burning entire villages down, killing people, and wreaking havoc over different cities. The coven laws made sense. I’d lived my whole life fearing discovery, keeping my abilities to myself. Knowing that there were others like me out there who did the same felt strangely reassuring.

“How are you doing this?” I asked, pointing at the sphere.

Alton smiled, then gestured at his cufflinks.

“The power inside us is raw. It needs an object that we connect with, something special that we’re particularly fond of, or that has great significance to us, to channel this energy, to give it structure and meaning,” he explained.

“Kind of like wands, right?”

“Well, yes and no. Mostly no. You can still perform magic without an Esprit, but it’s just not as strong, or as accurate.”

“Esprit?” I frowned, my gaze darting between Alton’s cufflinks and Wade’s rings.

“An object of soul,” Alton replied. “It’s something that your being resonates with. Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet. You’ll find it now that you know what you’re looking for. Everything else is just technique, practice, and education. There are thousands of spells, devised over thousands of years. Words and thoughts that manipulate the energy of Chaos and translate into your abilities.”

“What can you do? Other than put on fancy graphic shows?” I replied, prompting Alton to laugh.

“We’re all different on the surface, but the same at our core,” he said. “As byproducts of Chaos ourselves, we are deeply connected to its Children, in one way or another. The Children of Chaos are concentrated forces of the universe, agents of great power. The main ones are Erebus, also known as Darkness; Lux, or Light; Nyx, commonly referred to as Night; and Gaia—Earth, our home.”

“What difference is there between Darkness and Night? They sound the same to me.” I shrugged.

“They’re not,” Wade interjected with a scoff. “Darkness is permanent. It’s the twin brother of Light, and all-powerful, all-consuming, and unforgiving. Night is like sleep. It’s subject to a cycle, and its sisters are the stars and moons.”

I looked up at Wade.

“Look at you, all poetic and stuff,” I said, and he replied with an eye roll and another scoff. I had to admit, I enjoyed pushing his buttons. If they were going to force me to stay here, tormenting Wade had to be permitted.

“Gaia has her own children, the four elements. Water, Fire, Air, and Earth,” Alton continued. “And they’re the ones we’re all connected to. One way or another, all magicals are able to manipulate one or more of the natural elements. In some rare instances, a magical can influence all four.”

I stilled, realizing that I was one such rare instance. I had a history of causing natural disruptions. From freezing the bath water in a moment of bloodcurdling fear with an aggressive foster dad, to setting the Corbin family curtains on fire at Christmas when I was twelve. That was after their son tried to touch me in all the wrong places. And let’s not forget accidentally splitting Ginger’s backyard in two, shortly before my fourteenth birthday. Oh, and knocking pigeons off the electrical wires outside the Smiths’ home last year with sudden wind gusts, after they’d pooped all over my Daisy—among other examples. Yeah, I had definitely handled all four elements, particularly where difficult foster families were involved…

Though I was nowhere near Wade’s level of expertise with fire, I was comfortable saying that setting stuff ablaze came easily to me; this ability was closely followed by skill with water. Air and earth were still in their early stages, but, based on how I’d seen my powers evolve over the years, I’d already figured it was only a matter of time.

Alton noticed the change in my expression, and leaned forward, smiling as his holographic sphere puffed away.

“Any of that sound familiar to you, Harley?” he asked. Judging by the fluttering in my stomach, he was excited about my potential abilities. “What can you do, where the four elements are concerned?”

“Not much, to be honest.” I shrugged, the term “rare instance” still blaring in the back of my head. Even in the world of magicals, I was a weirdo.

“She can use fire, though that’s a very loose description,” Wade interjected, keeping his hands in his pockets. The dude loved his suits, just like Alton. Two peas in a pod, yet the elder pea seemed to have more common sense and sympathy.

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