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A black wolf.
And, lastly, a gold-feathered raptor, larger than any eagle or hawk Serilda had ever seen.
She stared at it a long time, her insides churning.
The Erlking had five of these beasts.
All but the wolf and the raptor.
What did it mean? Why was he collecting these seven magnificent creatures, when all he really needed the golden chains for was to capture one god on the night of the Endless …
Serilda’s thoughts trailed off, replaced with distant humming that clouded her mind, replacing everything she had been so sure of. All this time. The Erlking wanted to catch one of the old gods. The Erlking wanted to make a wish. The Erlking wanted to bring Perchta back from Verloren.
But no.
She hadn’t fully understood.
Seven gods.
Seven beasts.290
She swallowed hard, inspecting the images until there could be no doubt that this was not an illustration of just any seven beasts. This was the very basilisk that she and Gild had fled from. The wyvern that hung in the great hall of Adalheid. The tatzelwurm that had tried to steal Leyna’s golden figurine. The unicorn that had been the leader of the moss maidens for centuries. The gryphon who had, only weeks ago, been dragged through these castle gates.
Who were they? What were they? If the unicorn had been human—well, human-ish—could they all have been? Could they all be again, if they weren’t trapped by poisoned arrows and golden chains?
Her gaze fell on the black wolf, and she remembered the story of the dark ones fleeing from Verloren, and the howls that could be heard echoing up from the gates in the lunar rotunda.
Velos.Velos became a wolf.
She scanned the others.
The unicorn. Pusch-Grohla. Protector of the forest, of maidens and mothers. With magic that brought trees back to life, that filled a courtyard with tulips and snowdrops. Could this be Eostrig, god of spring and fertility? Serilda had never heard any tales connecting Eostrig and Shrub Grandmother, and the wizened, scraggly old woman did not at all resemble the illustrations she had seen of the god, who was generally depicted as willowy thin, with strong hands and long bluish-purple hair. Eostrig was said to be both gentle and intimidating. Strong-willed, but kind.
Pusch-Grohla was intimidating and strong-willed, but gentle? Kind? Serilda made a face just thinking about it.
But then … she would not have marked her to become a unicorn, either, that most graceful of creatures. And Pusch-Grohla had known Serilda was pregnant, had mentioned her “condition,” long before even Serilda herself knew.
She studied the tatzelwurm next, picturing the seal of Gild’s family.Maybe it runs in your blood.The tatzelwurm had been drawn to the figurine crafted of god-blessed gold. Hulda. Hulda was Gild’s patron deity. Hulda was … the tatzelwurm?291
And what had the Erlking said to Pusch-Grohla?Solvilde has not been in a position to answer hopeless prayers for a very long time.The basilisk or the wyvern, who had been captured by the hunt years, perhaps even decades before. She pictured the seven stained-glass windows. Solvilde, dressed in vibrant orange and blue, the same colors as the basilisk’s feathers. And Tyrr, with the ruby between their eyes, just like the wyvern.
And Freydon—
The gryphon. It must be.
She was sure that she had not told any stories of a gryphon. But she had told the tale of Wyrdith going to visit Freydon to demand answers about the terrible harvest.On the eastern plains of Dostlen, where they tended a tidy garden and spent afternoons fishing at the delta of the Eptanie River.
Another story. Another ridiculous tale. Another bounty of truths, betraying the location of a mythical creature to the wild hunt. A mythical creature who was actually … a god.
She would never tell another story again, she silently vowed. Not when everything,everythingsomehow turned into a boon for the Erlking.
Her legs were shaking as she walked closer to the tapestry, examining the final beast.
She thought back to the stained-glass windows at Adalheid, and how Wyrdith was so often depicted with a gold-plumed quill in hand. In beast form, Wyrdith was an enormous raptor with shining gold feathers. She could picture them as elegant as a falcon, as vicious as an eagle. But here, they were broken. Here, the Erlking had won.
“Why?” she whispered. “Why does he want all seven?”