Two planets, quantum-entangled but light-years apart. One is Earth. The other is Ground. After a century of waiting, the quantum bridge is once again open. It’s time for a magical adventure in another world.
An old man turned and looked Maddie and Nate up and down. From a distance his face seemed to be covered in tribal tattoos, but, Maddie realised as he approached, it was only the deep lines and weathering of his skin.
“Best take them to Merlin,” he said.
“The Merlin?” Maddie asked.
“As in King Arthur and the Round Table?” Nate added.
The man frowned, creases cutting into his brow like slashes in a tree trunk. “There has never been a king named Arthur here.”
Nate nudged her and pointed upwards. Maddie drew a sharp breath. She’d thought the banshee that had attacked them was huge but it was nothing compared to the red-bellied monster that now soared above their heads like a fighter jet from an air show. She looked at the knight in alarm, but he seemed unconcerned, though he was watching the creature. To her surprise it circled the castle and began to glide down, alighting at the far end of the courtyard. A woman slid from its emerald-green back and landed neatly.
“That is our Princess Isabella,” the guard said with pride, “and her ketzal.”
A man stood with his back to them, looking out of the window at the far end of the room. The page bowed anyway. “My Lord Chancellor, I present Lady Madison of Bellane and Lord Nathan of Burleigh.”
The Chancellor turned. His curly cinnamon-brown hair and rosy-cheeked face reminded Maddie disconcertingly of a cherub in an old fashioned painting. He looked from her to Nate and then at the magic carpet. “I am Borealis, Chancellor of Merlin,” he said. “I believe you have been briefed by Lady Sa.”
Now was the time to confess they’d not been entirely truthful with the guard, Maddie thought, but a glance at Nate gave her pause. He was very pale.
“We need to see Merlin,” she said. “My friend was wounded by a pterodactyl-thing…”
“Banshee,” Nate reminded her.
“Ah, yes, the banshees. Delightful fauna of this place,” Chancellor Borealis said dryly.
Maddie found herself liking the man, but felt exasperated by him at the same time. It was as though his round eyes were staring straight through her.
“Are you going to let us see Merlin, or what?”
He smiled at her with genuine amusement. “You are here now.”
Maddie looked at Nate in frustration and then back at the chancellor.
He relented, barely disguising a chuckle. “You are in the Kingdom of Merlin,” Borealis said. “Merlin is not a person.”
Maddie stared at him. “He is where we come from. Was, rather.”
“Earth,” said the Chancellor. “Yes, we know.” He crossed to the globe and gave it a spin. “The atlas which writes strange dreams upon the brain. Welcome to Ground.”
“I need to sit down,” Nate said, and sank into a chair.
Extracts from Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin by Elle Carter Neal