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Harley Merlin 12: Finch Merlin and the Djinn’s Curse

Bella Forrest


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HARLEY MERLIN 13: Finch Merlin and the Locked Gateway

Read more by Bella Forrest

Copyright © 2019

Nightlight Press

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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The cold seeped into my skin like I’d downed liquid nitrogen. Everything felt numb. A vast, white landscape of ice and snow stretched before me, interrupted by fractures that revealed a dark, impossibly deep ocean beneath. I floated above it all, half dreaming, half awake. The lines of reality blurred through the bluish haze that burned my eyes and seared into the backs of my retinas.

My body—my real body, not this Casper reboot—was somewhere else. I couldn’t remember where I’d put it. It evaded my mind, just out of reach. Wherever it was, my body sketched these sights and put names to important landmarks. If I really concentrated, I could sense a hand trembling over a page, way off in the ether of… that other place. My hand. Though it felt like it belonged to someone else.

I hung in limbo, detached from my physical body yet still faintly linked. The terrain below was starkly beautiful but felt dangerous. Like I could tumble out of the sky and fall into that frigid water, never to be found.

I need a break before my eyeballs blow.

I plunged into my mind and reached for the blue-tinged strands that formed a direct line to my body. I tugged on them, as if I were a caver in trouble, which wasn’t too far from the truth. A moment later, the icy world disappeared and I landed back where I’d started with a painful thump. I blinked a few times to get rid of the lingering blue haze and weird sensation of spectral floating.

“Is all well, Mr. Merlin?” A voice behind me made me jump.

“Mary, you’ve got to stop doing that!” I yelped, turning to face a familiar presence. “You might not have to worry about having a coronary anymore, but I’m still fair game.” Speaking of spectral floating…

Mary Foster hovered nearby in all her translucent glory, dressed in a high-collared gown complete with a cameo brooch at her throat and about five strings of pearls. The whole nineteenth-century shebang. She had been shot by a Winchester rifle and sought sanctuary in this house after her death, as allowed by the woman who’d built the place—Sarah Winchester. Mary wouldn’t admit it, but I got the feeling she liked to scare the living daylights out of me. I’d only been here a day, and she’d already made a habit of it.

Mary smiled. “You were gone for a long while. I started to worry.”

“I just needed a break. No worrying required. Look at me—I’m the picture of A-OK.” It made me uneasy, leaving my body in this study room with the likes of Mary and the rest of her spooky pals, who could all come and go as they pleased. They had walking through walls down to a fine art, and it made for some tense trips to the bathroom.

“Why do your eyes glow when you go into that peculiar trance?” She swooped in, coming right up to my face and stealing the breath from my lungs. Another activity these spooks just loved to indulge in. I’d stopped outwardly screaming about twenty-four hours ago—aka, within the first thirty minutes of arriving—but the inward screams were still in full force. Staring into the dead eyes of a ghost would never be comfortable.

I shrugged. “It’s just part of the map-drawing.”

“Is it coming along as you desire?” She stared down at the paper in front of me. Half of it was covered in the same lines, markings, and names as before—a partial road to Atlantis. The rest lay frustratingly blank. Etienne had underplayed the whole “it’ll be more difficult without the oranges” thing. Way underplayed it. He’d described it as trying to write an essay, when tired, without caffeine. But this was like trying to write an essay while comatose, or, at the very least, with half my brain leaking out of my head.

So, why not regrow some more of those screamy orange willow shrubs, right? Well, as it turned out, they were hard to get hold of. The chemist team from San Francisco had swiped the last rare cutting of one to help me out, via Ryann. But they’d destroyed theirs, as per Ryann’s insistence, in case they dabbled in some orange tasting and started wigging out. And Etienne wasn’t about to hand more over to me, or he’d have done that before I left.

“I’m getting there. Slow and steady wins the race, right?” I broke out of my cramped headspace.

She frowned. “I am not sure that can be correct. The swiftest has always been the victor, from the races I have witnessed. Slow and steady would only win if you were racing against someone who was slower and less coordinated than you are.”

“Well, lucky for me this is a one-man race, then.”

I sat back in my chair and looked around the room. It always took a few minutes to readjust after delving deep into that altered state. Melody had given me a study room for privacy, though privacy was a pretty

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