Home > This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn #2)(9)

This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn #2)(9)
Author: Isabel Sterling

   The effects are permanent.

   I stand frozen in the kitchen, but inside, my mind is a whirlwind of frantic activity. I try to piece together what this means. Hunters can erase our magic. Forever. I imagine my grandparents at the winter solstice, unable to light a candle in honor of the Middle Sister, heartbreak etched into their faces. I can picture Zoë at her swim meets. But without her connection to water, will she even want to keep swimming? The air won’t whisper its secrets to any of them ever again.

   Cal cleans up the shattered glass while Mom and Archer exchange hushed words that I can’t hear. My mind runs through a thousand questions. How did the Hunters perfect their drug in a matter of weeks? And why did they kill the agents if they could just take away their power? Benton said that once they finished their drug, they wanted to save us, not kill us. Nothing makes sense anymore.

   Morgan squeezes my hand and asks the questions I can’t push past my lips. “How did this happen? How do you know it’s permanent?”

   Archer glances at us, and for a brief moment, I can see all the weight he carries with him. His shoulders slump forward. His eyes shimmer with a deep well of grief. But then he blinks and turns to lean against the counter so he can see all of us at once. He runs a hand down his face and takes a deep breath before diving in.

   “A few weeks after your incident, Hannah, one of our agents was tracking the Halls.” Archer pauses, and I feel myself go tense. I knew the Council was looking for Benton’s parents, but this is the first time anyone’s told me the specifics.

   “The agent was shot,” Archer continues. “The Hunters have shifted from the syringes they used on you and Veronica to a modified tranquilizer gun with their drug loaded inside the dart. The agent escaped with his life, but it’s been over month and there’s no sign of his magic returning.”

   “But it still could,” I argue, desperate for my words to be true. Desperate to undermine his terrifying certainty.

   “It won’t.” Archer looks at me, his expression sympathetic and his tone careful. “We’ve tested his blood. There were no markers for magic in the sample. We believe they’ve administered the same drug in the Washington coven.”

   I shake my head, fear and grief sharpening to anger inside me. I whirl on Cal. “You saw me last night! Why didn’t you say anything?”

   Cal shifts on his feet. “I wasn’t supposed to. Besides, after the raid, it shouldn’t have mattered. The drug was supposed to be destroyed.”

   “But it’s not. You failed.”

   “Hannah.” Mom’s voice lashes against me, shattering the anger I’ve been wielding as both shield and dagger. “That’s enough.”

   “I know.” My eyes burn with tears. I press the heels of my hands against my closed lids. “I’m sorry. I know. I—”

   “Why don’t we sit.” Mom turns without waiting for a response and leads us to the dining room. I don’t know how she keeps going, how she stays strong in the face of all this, but her voice is steady. “Ryan, what is this about a raid?”

   Archer recaps what Cal already told me last night. That the Council figured out where the Hunters were making the drug. That a team of agents out of Boston were supposed to infiltrate the facility last night and destroy everything.

   “But it was like the Hunters knew they were coming. Both Casters were shot with the drug within seconds of breaching the entrance. They were surrounded, but without their magic, the potions they brought for protection were useless,” Archer finishes.

   “Then why did the Hunters kill them? I thought the whole point was to get rid of our magic and make us ‘human.’”

   Across from me, Cal tenses and tears slip silently down his face. Suddenly, I feel like the biggest asshole in the world. Cal and Archer were from the same Clan as the agents, and they all worked for the Council. Fresh shame burns my cheeks, because it’s more than just that. Cal is from Boston. I know Casters don’t have covens the way Elementals do, but he probably knew the agents. Maybe even grew up with them.

   “We don’t know for sure,” Archer says before I can apologize. “Cal managed to pull security footage. They fought back. That might have been enough of an excuse for the Hunters.”

   Silence falls over the room. Morgan reaches for me under the table. Her fingers tremble with fear, and I hold her hand in both of mine. “What happened to Mom’s old coven?” I ask, making sure I keep my voice gentle now. Curious instead of accusatory. “How did they lose their magic? Were they ambushed at a coven meeting?”

   “That’s the worst part,” Archer says. “We have no idea.” The doorbell rings before I can fully process the bomb he just set off between us. He glances toward the front door. “That’ll be Elder Keating. I’ll be right back.”

   Archer slips away from the table before I can wrap my mind around the fact that there’s about to be an Elder in my home. Beside me, Morgan tenses. I squeeze her hand tight, but I can’t tell if she even feels me beside her. Can’t tell if she notices that I’m panicking, too.

   I flinch when the door slams closed, and I know immediately that Keating isn’t the Elemental Elder. Even with my compromised magic, I can still sense Elemental power in others, and the Elder’s would fill the house to bursting. Instead, I feel nothing but Mom beside me.

   “Is it your Elder?” I whisper to Morgan.

   Before she can respond, Cal shakes his head. “Elder Keating is a Caster.” He wipes the remnants of tears from his cheeks and sits up taller in his chair.

   My nerves grow.

   Archer returns a moment later, followed by a woman who doesn’t look nearly old enough to be an Elder. Her blonde hair, which admittedly is streaked through with bits of starlight white, is pulled into a low bun. There’s hardly a wrinkle on her face. Her white linen pants, tall heels, and blue silk blouse look more suited to an executive office than our little suburban rental home. Her posture is more regal than anything I’ve ever seen in person. I feel childish, sitting here in my yoga pants and an oversized Salem State T-shirt.

   Elder Keating’s gaze is the only thing that betrays her age. As she looks at each of us in turn, I can practically see the decades of hard-earned wisdom in her glittering blue eyes. And though I can’t feel her power, the way she holds herself, the soft confidence in her position, leaves no doubt in my mind that she’s the most powerful Caster alive today.

   “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me,” Elder Keating says, like we had any choice about her arrival. Still, her gratitude seems genuine as she smiles at both Mom and me. “I’m afraid I don’t know your friend, though.” The Elder’s gaze falls to Morgan. “Is she another Elemental from your coven?”

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