Home > Harley Merlin and the Stolen Magicals (Harley Merlin #3)(4)

Harley Merlin and the Stolen Magicals (Harley Merlin #3)(4)
Author: Bella Forrest

“Earth,” I said, for the benefit of the audience.

I cast a worried glance at Wade. He smiled wide, and I could feel the pride brimming off him, even from here. All of the Rag Team were sending me their encouragement. It billowed like a sail around me, wrapping me in an intense wash of confidence. I couldn’t let them down.

Gathering raw Chaos into myself, I watched the emerald of my Esprit burn with a rich, green energy. I slammed my palms into the ground, and a crack split across the podium, right under Alton’s chair. The earth shuddered beneath me, the glasses and carafes juddering toward the edge of the tables. The preceptors looked at one another in alarm, while O’Halloran moved as if to stop me. Frightened cries rose up from the crowd, the initial crack webbing out into spidery capillaries of broken earth.

“That’s enough! That’s plenty, Harley!” Alton shouted above the rolling thunder of the magical quake.

I jumped up, the roar and clatter subsiding. My cheeks burned as I took in the damage. “Sorry about that.”

“Not to worry,” Alton assured me, though his doubt flowed into me. “Just give us a strong finish.”

I chuckled nervously. “Are you sure about that, after the San Andreas I just pulled?”

“You’ve got to finish strong to show these people what you’re made of. Just make it elegant-strong, like the trained magical you are, and not doomsday-strong.” He offered an encouraging smile.

I maneuvered into position once again and noticed the intense glow of the Esprit’s diamond link. It pulsed with light.

At first…nothing. Then, brutal barrages of gale-force winds crashed through the windows of the Hall, drawn in from the outside garden. The hair on my arms stood on end as I saw what I’d summoned—a tornado tore through the crowd, knocking people to the side.

I struggled to regain control, but it seemed my powers had other ideas. The glass windows shattered like crystal waterfalls. The crowd ducked and scattered, but there was nowhere to hide from the twister. The doors clattered on their hinges, and the chandeliers swung above the audience, threatening to fall.

I fought to ease the winds, drawing my arms into my chest. Nomura stood, his body bent against the gale blowing in. Crap, crap, crap, crap… come on! Cooperate!

The tornado swept upward, surging through the chandeliers. A sickening snap rang above the din. The hinge holding the chandelier gave way, sending the glittering cluster careening downward. My eyes flew wide in a panic. Reaching for another tendril of raw Chaos, I threw out a Telekinetic lasso, grasping at the falling fixture. It froze in midair. Sweat dripped down my face. No longer able to keep hold of the tornado, I let it go, focusing my efforts on bringing the chandelier down safely. The crowd below scurried out of the way, their screams filling my ears, overwhelming my senses.

Not now. Please, not now.

The chandelier came down and rested with an innocuous tinkle on the floor.

A moment later, the winds died with a feeble whistle, revealing the devastation my errant powers had caused. The Assembly Hall was a mess, and that was putting it lightly. The tables and chairs had been hurled against the walls, and two of the main doors were half off their hinges. A sprinkling of glass, like frost covering the ground on a December morning, sprayed out from the shattered windows.

Birds sang outside in the gardens bordering this part of the coven, thankfully contained within the interdimensional pocket. Had humans from Balboa Park been involved, I was pretty sure I would’ve gotten an instant boot.

Nobody spoke for what seemed like an eternity. They didn’t have to. I could feel their anger radiating toward me, seeping beneath my skin. There was fear, too—terror for my untrained, wild abilities. And it had all been going so well.

Imogene broke the silence. “Are you okay, Harley?”

I nodded, my body shaking. “I… I think so. Is anyone hurt?”

“Everyone appears unharmed,” Alton cut in. At least I’d given Leonidas something to jolt him out of his boredom. Right now, his body was pulsing with pure disdain. Meanwhile, Remington and Nicholas still appeared to be reeling from what had just happened.

I put a hand over my face. “I’m so sorry.”

“Fortunately, this was not a test and you have not failed,” Alton replied quickly. “This was merely an opportunity to showcase your abilities… which you’ve done.”

“And then some,” I muttered, mostly to myself.

Leonidas snorted. “Almost killed us all, more like. That’s what I call a liability, Alton.”

“She had an unfortunate fumble, I will grant you that, but we don’t deal in perfect magicals, Leonidas. She’s still learning,” Alton shot back. “She’s come a long way from where she was a month ago. Harley might not be at the peak of her abilities yet, but she’s getting there,” he added, giving me a quick wink. “The San Diego Coven is here to teach and nurture its new recruits; it’s not here to mock their progress. I’m sure we can all remember a time when our abilities didn’t behave as we’d hoped. If we were to laugh at everyone’s mistakes, none of us would be here right now.” His tone held a subtle warning.

Nicholas chuckled nervously. “Yes, but I doubt any of us have almost taken out an entire room with one misplaced tornado of elemental energy. She is remarkably strong.”

“Too strong,” Leonidas interjected. “She ought to be in a coven that can actually help her to harness those feral abilities. Not here, at the shallow end of the magical pool.” His near-black eyes flashed defiantly, as though daring Alton to make a move.

“The ceremony must continue,” Alton urged instead, turning to the crowd. “Everyone, if you would resume your seats. This will be over shortly.”

I walked over to him, feeling like complete crap. The SDC didn’t need to look worse than it already did. “Alton, I didn’t mean to—”

“With the Suppressor inside you… well, let’s just say I didn’t expect such a ruckus at noon on a Wednesday,” he said, lowering his voice so only I could hear.

My cheeks flamed. “I’m sorry.”

“Come now, there’s no need for that,” he said, his tone soft. “Take the pledge. No harm done.”

I glanced at my friends and saw nothing but sympathy on their faces. Santana pressed her palm to her heart and nodded at me. They were standing with me, urging me to stand with them.

I took a deep breath. “Then I’m ready to take my pledge.”

“Go to the center of the podium and speak the words,” he instructed.

I walked back to my spot in the designated semicircle. Pushing away the barrage of fear and anger that drifted up from the crowd, I spoke. A hushed silence fell across the congregation, my thudding heart the only thing I could hear.

“I, Harley Merlin, do solemnly pledge my allegiance to the San Diego Coven, of the United Covens of America. I pledge my heart, body, and soul to Gaia and the Children of Chaos. May their spirit flow through me, and may the balance of the Elements, and of Light and Darkness, always rest in perfect harmony. I will not seek to tip the scales, and I will not seek to use my abilities for selfish means or at the expense of others’ lives or wellbeing. Let me not strike unless struck and let me not perform what is forbidden. I promise to abide by the natural laws and rules laid out by the coven, for the safety and protection of all—human and magical alike. This, I swear.” I paused, wanting to get my pronunciation perfect. “Ordo Ab Chaos.”

“Ordo Ab Chaos,” the hall repeated.

To my surprise, raucous applause erupted from the crowd as soon as the last words had been said, led by the rowdy whoops and hollers of my Rag Team. A grin spread across my face, my cheeks burning for a very different reason. Pride edged tentatively through me.

Only one thing could have made this moment better—if the Smiths, Isadora, and Jacob could have been here to watch me pledge my allegiance. My family was supposed to be here, but they weren’t. For various and truly understandable reasons, they couldn’t. Then again, the Rag Team were the best substitutes a girl could ask for.

“Welcome to the coven,” Alton said, looking pleased as punch, and I felt his relief. He wore a huge smile on his face, his emerald eyes twinkling delightedly. In his hands, he carried a parcel of clothing tied up with a black ribbon. He handed it to me. “This is your official SDC uniform. We don’t ask that you wear it every day, only on special occasions and gatherings… such as today.” He swept an arm across the crowd, where every single coven member wore their uniform of navy and gold. “It is a symbol of unity. Wear it with pride.”

I nodded eagerly. “I will.”

“You’ve definitely earned it. Despite your earlier mishap.” He winked, but then his expression shifted to a more conspiratorial one. “Before you head off to the banquet, could you spare a moment to speak with me out in the hallway? It’s a rather time-sensitive matter, I’m afraid.”

Great. Just when I thought I could let my hair down for a minute.

“Of course.” I glanced at Wade and the others, offering an apologetic shrug as I followed Alton out of the Assembly Hall.

The coven was eerily silent as we wandered a short distance up the hallway, pausing in the familiar shadow of my favorite bronze dragon. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who used it as a secret spot. He scanned the corridor, looking up and down its length with furtive eyes, before pushing down on a worn-looking scale in the dragon’s armor. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference if he hadn’t pressed it. A door opened behind the dragon.

Alton ushered me inside a minuscule, windowless office with black marble walls that loomed ominously. I felt like I was in some kind of trap, where the walls would start moving in at any second. He gestured for me to sit in a high-backed armchair of deep gray leather, while he sat opposite. Mm, goth-tastic choice of meeting room, Alton ol’ pal.

Waiting for him to speak, and feeling a bit on edge, I wondered if I was going to receive some sort of director’s congratulations—a welcome-to-the-family gift or a thank-you note or something. Naïve, perhaps, but I had no idea how these things worked.

   
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