Home > Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(16)

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(16)
Author: Bella Forrest

“Again, truly sorry, Harley, but we had to—” Alton tried to apologize, but I gestured for him to shut up.

“Shush,” I muttered. “It’s done. Now what?”

“We see what you’re made of.” Adley smiled and brought out a wide copper bowl with strange markings engraved on the inner lip. I could’ve sworn they were runes. Or hieroglyphs. I should’ve paid more attention in “preppy” history class.

“You’ll pay for that, by the way,” I snarled, pointing a menacing finger at Wade, who replied with a light chuckle.

“Dream on,” he said.

I didn’t pursue it further. He was going to get paid in kind for this… physical violation. The irony didn’t escape me, as far as my outrage was concerned. I’d used my Telekinesis on others, after all. I’d physically harmed them, too. Ugh, do unto others and so on.

“Okay, let’s see what Harley Smith can do,” Adley said, as she emptied the syringe into the copper bowl, with Wade and Alton moving closer, while I craned my neck to get a better look.

The blood trickled down into the center of the bowl, then purposefully spread out in thin crimson streams, forming a variety of patterns against the copper surface, like some kind of mandala—swirls and lines repeating in a circular fashion.

“We call this Reading,” Adley explained, analyzing the blood pattern. “It gives me a clear picture of your key traits and abilities.”

“Okay,” I murmured. “What does it say?”

“Oh, wow,” she replied, her forehead smoothing. She seemed to recognize something in those lines and curves. “You have all four elements. That is truly impressive, and rare. Very rare, actually… Telekinesis. Oh, you’re an Empath!”

She beamed at me, her excitement genuine and quickly replicated by Alton, whose eyes widened as he stared at me with pure, unadulterated joy. I’d referred to myself as an “empath” up to this point after some online searches for what I was experiencing. It had simply come across as the most relatable term I’d found in the dictionary. It was interesting to see how the magicals were using it as an actual label.

“You’re an Empath, Harley? Why didn’t you say so?” Alton beamed at me.

“It’s not exactly something I just blurt out.” I shrugged, my gaze shifting to Wade.

As exposed as I felt in that moment, I did feel partially avenged. Judging by the stunned look on his face and the flurry of raw panic pouring out of him, Wade was coming to terms with the fact that I could read him like an open book. And he freaking hated it. I stifled a grin, pressing my lips into a thin line, as I looked at Alton and Adley again.

They were both looking at me as if I were some rare specimen. A magical unicorn.

“Hm, this is strange,” Adley said, frowning as she turned the bowl around. “I can’t read further into you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, still wrapping my head around this new reality of mine, while Wade was boiling on the inside. His anger at his own vulnerabilities made it difficult for me to concentrate. It then hit me that I could enjoy this a little more, while he was still coping. “Wade, can you please get yourself under control? You’re making it hard for me to focus.”

“Why do you say that?” Alton replied, somewhat confused, while Wade cursed under his breath and scowled at me. My heart grew three sizes.

“He’s worried because I can feel everything he feels,” I shot back with a smirk. “I mean, he’s nervous because he feels vulnerable, now that he knows. Which is okay. I’m enjoying the look on his face.”

As soon as he heard that, Wade seemed to find the last ounce of self-control he had left at the bottom of his consciousness, and crossed his arms over his chest, pretending to look inside the bowl. Alton didn’t bother to reply, but he was definitely amused.

“I… No, I can’t read you further. And that’s not a regular occurrence,” Adley concluded, her brow furrowed.

“Do you know why?” Alton asked.

“Nope.” She shook her head. “But based on what I’m seeing here, Harley is a walking contradiction. She has all these abilities already, and yet her power levels are weak, at best. According to what her blood is telling me, she is a—”

“Mediocre. Harley Smith is a Mediocre,” Wade interrupted her with a smirk aimed directly at me. It was his turn to enjoy something I wasn’t sure I understood yet.

“Does the term mean something else for a magical?” I asked.

“No. It means exactly that.” Alton sighed, confused and disappointed at the same time. “You’re what we call a Mediocre. Lackluster. Moderate abilities, with not much power. You’ll probably experience a single Purge in this lifetime.”

“Oh. Okay,” I replied, somewhat disappointed myself.

For a brief second, the idea of being destined for greatness had appealed to me. With all my struggles to fit in somewhere, to find my purpose and place in the world, I’d thought I might be able to excel as a witch. A super special magical.

Unfortunately, it seemed as though the universe—or Chaos, for that matter—had decided that I was going to be a Mediocre. And I had no idea how much I hated that word, until it was used to label me. I let out a deep breath, my shoulders dropping slowly.

“Don’t despair, though,” Alton tried to encourage me, though I could tell from his tone and his emotions that he wasn’t very hopeful either. “You can practice and get better. Being a Mediocre doesn’t make you useless in any way. On the contrary!”

“What, now you’re trying to boost her morale?” Wade said. “Let’s not sugarcoat this. She’s a Mediocre, and that’s it. There’s no point in making her think she’ll ever amount to more. She’ll get herself killed trying to do something that’s out of her league.”

“No, no, it’s cool,” I said. “I’m still a better person than you ever will be, so at least I’ve got that going for me.”

“Now, now, no need to get spikey. Both of you, take it down a notch,” Alton intervened, raising his hand in a pacifying gesture. The red garnets on his dragon cufflinks glimmered in the white neon lights.

“I still don’t get why I can’t read deeper.” Adley frowned, still staring at the bowl.

“I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of this. Reading is your expertise, Miss de la Barthe, not mine,” Alton replied, trying to end the matter there.

I caught a whiff of something… different coming from him. It felt like suspicion, but it lingered quietly beneath layers of renewed curiosity. I had a feeling that Alton was going to research the subject further. He seemed guarded, almost closed off.

The way he looked at me made me feel like he wasn’t done with studying me, with trying to understand what I was about. However, in the absence of more information, he had nothing else to go on. One thing was clear, though.

I was a Mediocre magical, and an orphan who had no idea what she wanted to do with her time on this earth. While I’d gotten answers to some of my most burning questions, I’d yet to resolve the one thing that bothered me the most:

Who is Harley Smith? What is she meant to become?

Chapter Nine

“Wade, I need you to meet us back in the Main Assembly Hall in an hour,” Alton said. “I’ll continue Harley’s tour and introduce her to our trainers, then bring her over to the Hall for the announcement.”

“Understood.” Wade nodded and turned to leave the room, without bothering to even look at me. From what I could tell, he was too busy trying to keep a cool and calm demeanor, now that he knew I was an Empath. I watched him disappear somewhere beyond the white room, wondering what had given him that arrogant sense of superiority he enjoyed flaunting before me.

“Wait, what announcement?” I asked.

“You’ll find out soon enough. I need to bring you up to speed on a few more topics before anything else,” Alton replied with a faint smile, then motioned for me to walk out first.

I let out an audible sigh, just to make sure I got my frustration across, then headed for the hallway, followed by Alton.

“Harley, should you decide that this is where you want to be, I’d like to see you again for another Reading,” Adley said.

I gave her a quick glance and a nod over my shoulder, then waited for Alton to lead the way to wherever we were going.

“I didn’t know I had a choice,” I said in an undertone, my gaze wandering around as we proceeded toward the end of the hallway. The sculpted dragons were both beautiful and fearsome, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d chosen such a controversial creature to adorn their public spaces. For people who advocated for balance and rules, it seemed ironic that they’d chosen a monster of Chaos to decorate their coven.

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Alton replied, walking by my side, “but this is how it stands right now. You’re an unregistered and untrained magical, Harley. We cannot just let you wander around San Diego all by yourself. However, I also understand how new and difficult this must all seem to you. So, I’d like to put you on a one-month probation with the coven, just to get you started and see how you come along. We will provide you with training and education so you can catch up with the other magicals who’ve already pledged themselves to the coven.”

“And after that?” I asked, not sure I was liking my post-trial-period prospects if they involved compulsory joining.

“Think of it this way. You’ll learn to control and develop your abilities, you’ll get a better understanding of the magical culture, and you’ll get to meet other witches and warlocks while you’re here,” Alton explained. “All we need you to do is work with us and obey the rules. Consider this trial period a stepping stone to something better. We need to assess you in the long term, and this is the best way. It’ll teach you a few things about self-control, and you’ll better understand why we need to stick together.”

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