Home > Harley Merlin and the Mystery Twins (Harley Merlin #2)

Harley Merlin and the Mystery Twins (Harley Merlin #2)
Author: Bella Forrest

One

Harley

A massive ball of fire came at me.

I dropped flat on the ground and felt the scorching heat of the blaze as it shot past, warming my back before it dissipated somewhere behind me. I jumped back to my feet and put my hands out. My palms felt hot as I summoned the flames within me, eager to pay it back in kind.

Panting and covered in a sheen of sweat, I managed to produce a flurry of small fireballs, which I shot toward Wade. Poof! Poof! Poof!

He ran across the training hall. My blazing balls missed him by inches every time. I cursed under my breath. Wade chuckled as he slowed down, then stopped.

“You’ll have to get more precise with your shots, Merlin!” he said, breathing heavily.

He came back to the center of the hall, his tall figure reflected in the black marble floor and in the four walls surrounding us. I caught snippets of myself as well, and of Preceptor Nomura standing on the edge of the training space, which was marked with a thin line of white paint that glowed whenever one of us crossed it.

“Hey, I’m better than I was a month ago!” I retorted.

“Watch yourself, Crowley! You lose points if you leave the training space,” Nomura interjected.

Wade gave him a quick glance, then shifted his focus back to me. Sometimes it was difficult to concentrate with Wade Crowley looking at me. His deep green eyes seemed to pierce through my very soul, and in combination with the large curls of his black hair and the way his dark blue pants and vest hugged his athletic figure… well, I had to put in additional effort to focus on his magical abilities so I didn’t get plastered all over the floor.

“Come on, Merlin. Hit me. I just lost ten points dodging instead of blocking your fireballs,” Wade said. “Attack me again so I can get them back.”

I laughed mockingly, then put my hands out again. He took great pleasure in riling me up—I could feel it in my chest. There were definite perks to living with Empathy. When we trained, Wade focused more on the action and less on his emotions, which allowed me to read him accurately. Outside the training halls, he was guarded, aware of my ability to feel him. He’d been practicing emotional control over the past couple of weeks. I could feel that, too. He didn’t like me knowing how he felt.

“I don’t know about that, Crowley. I’ve got you running around like a monkey already. It’s only a matter of time before I get you all hot and crispy!” I replied.

I produced over two dozen small fireballs this time and worked on perfecting my aim as I released them at Wade. Some he dodged with smooth and fluid moves. Others he swatted away with his hands. Without his ten Esprit rings lighting up orange to prevent his skin from burning upon contact with my fire, he had to use his raw Fire Elemental ability to protect himself.

“Well, for someone who, up until a month ago, didn’t even know what a magical was,” Wade said, “you can hold your ground. I’ll give you that.”

“I could do a lot more if someone would just let me use my Esprit!” I shot back, gritting my teeth.

This was a non-Esprit training session. Only our raw powers were allowed, and I hated it because even without his rings, Wade was a fearsome adversary.

He ran toward me, grinning like the devil.

Like the rookie that I still was, I froze.

He moved so fast that I didn’t even have a second to react. He stopped about ten feet away from me and released another fireball at full strength. I gasped and crossed my forearms in front of my face. I summoned my own fire to protect me, but I moved one split second too slow.

Wade’s fireball smacked right into me. The force of its impact threw me backward. I landed on my back with a painful thud, then slid past the training circle.

Thanks, physics!

Once I stopped, I stared at the black marble ceiling for a few moments. I heard Nomura click his teeth.

“Too slow,” he said.

“Gee. You think?” I replied dryly.

Wade showed up in my field of vision, smirking as he looked down at me. He offered me a hand. I slapped it away, then shakily got myself back up and wiped the soot from my face. This wasn’t the first time I was getting my ass handed to me, anyway.

“If it’s any consolation, you’re slightly better than last week,” Wade said, trying to encourage me yet again. It didn’t happen often, and I knew he meant it, so I gave him a soft nod in return before I frowned at Nomura.

“I’d be a lot better with my Esprit, you know,” I said.

Nomura shrugged. “And I told you that the Esprit is useless if it’s taken from you. Harley, you must be able to defend yourself and deliver strong attacks without it. The power is inside you already, and we’re training you to master it without the aid of a trinket.”

“There’s not that much power in me to begin with,” I murmured, then pointed two thumbs at myself. “Mediocre, remember?”

A month had passed since the gargoyle debacle, and the coven had yet to arrange a second Reading for me. It wasn’t exactly a regular custom, and it had taken them a while to find a new physician willing to relocate to San Diego. Still, I was wiser and better trained than the first time I’d set foot inside the San Diego Coven. I knew a little bit more about myself, too, even though it broke my heart. Harley Merlin was my real name. It sounded better than Harley Smith, I had to admit, but it carried a dark and painful history.

Hiram and Hester Merlin were once two of America’s most promising and powerful magicals. Until my father killed my mother. My aunt, Katherine Shipton, had his child before he married my mother, and it was a well-kept secret until I got here. Katherine was and, unfortunately, still is a murderous psychopath. The complexities of my family tree were still mind-boggling. She vanished years ago, but her son—my cousin and half-brother, Finch—managed to infiltrate the San Diego Coven.

A plan had been set in motion. The Bestiary was sabotaged. Gargoyles were let out. People died. I managed to catch Finch, who turned out to be a Shapeshifter—a rare ability among magicals, from what I was later told. It was a bloody mess.

The full scheme was still unraveling, though. Even with Finch in Purgatory, the magicals’ central prison, Katherine was undeterred. Based on what she’d already accomplished through her son, along with her criminal record and the fact that she’d yet to get caught, we all knew she was going to do much worse, and it was only a matter of time before she’d strike again. Worst of all, she knew I was alive now, and that couldn’t be good—not for me, anyway. Everyone had thought that I’d died with my mother when my father killed her, but I hadn’t. I was born and in my father’s care for about three years, before he surrendered, then got himself put on trial and executed.

I had a bone to pick with Katherine Shipton.

The gargoyles she’d helped sic on me had destroyed my car and my apartment, and they’d tried to eat me more than once. Her son, someone I’d come to actually tolerate despite his abrasive behavior, had also tried to kill me. Me, his own blood. The entire sequence of events made my stomach churn. Looking back, I’d had a more than turbulent first week in the San Diego Coven, but I survived it all.

Now, it was all about honing my magical abilities. I had a lot of catching up to do, especially when compared to other magicals my age. On top of that, I wanted to become stronger and better so I could be ready when Katherine Shipton emerged again. Of course, according to my first Reading, I’d been deemed a Mediocre—a magical with limited powers, despite my varied abilities. I was a Telekinetic, an Empath, and a full Elemental, with command over fire, earth, air, and water. And yet, I was held back and most likely unable to fully develop. Both Alton and Wade had been present at my Reading, and they knew Adley couldn’t have fumbled or falsified it, despite her relationship to Finch. Besides, they’d already interrogated her with a charmed lie detector. We knew for a fact that her interpretation of my Reading had been sincere and accurate.

“Just because you were labeled a Mediocre doesn’t mean you’re incapable of getting better at your craft,” Nomura said firmly. “You can still be effective and even deadly. Remember, I was branded a Mediocre for twenty years, until I found my Esprit, and I was already a preceptor when that happened. I took my so-called Mediocrity and I made something better of it. Technically speaking, you could do a Reading of me right now, and I’d still be a Mediocre, though my abilities and techniques are infinitely superior. Your blood shouldn’t dictate what you can do as long as there’s willpower.”

Hiro Nomura had quite the story to tell as a warlock. He’d fought plenty of battles, the details of which I knew nothing about, but the slim scars on the side of his face said enough. I never saw him wearing anything other than his black silken tunic with broad sleeves and the two swords strapped to his back—together, they were his Esprit. The longer sword was the katana. The short one was the wakizashi. Together, they were the traditional duo of weapons sported by Japanese samurai, but for Nomura they served as his Esprit, objects capable of channeling his Chaos energy into more powerful spells and magical attacks. Had he not told me he was a Mediocre, I would never have guessed.

Nomura was one of the six preceptors of the San Diego Coven, in charge of educating the young magicals in the arts of Physical Magic. Dylan Blight and I were his eldest students—both of us nineteen and lost through the foster system from a young age, recently found and reintroduced to the magical society. Granted, Dylan’s induction had been much smoother than mine and didn’t involve multiple attempts on his life by flesh-eating monsters and psychopathic half-brothers he had no idea existed in the first place. No, that hot mess was mine and mine alone.

“I just feel stronger with my Esprit,” I replied. “More confident, more focused. Now that I’ve found it, I have a hard time being without it. My Telekinesis and Fire, in particular, are insanely better when I’m wearing it!”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s still just a gadget for the time being. The better you are at controlling your natural abilities without your Esprit, the more powerful and precise you’ll be with it,” Nomura said, then sighed with frustration. “I’m not here to teach you how to cheat better, Merlin. If you want Esprit training, you can wait until I deem you ready, or you can ask O’Halloran for private lessons. At your own risk. Frankly, no amount of Esprit training will make your natural abilities better.”

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