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Another hesitation.
“We do,” said Velos with a solemn voice.
As soon as they agreed, furious cries echoed through the chamber. Serilda glanced around, awestruck, as the gold chains hanging from the hip of every hunter started to writhe and squirm. Like snakes, the bindings slithered around the dark ones, shackling their wrists, one by one. Tethering the demons to one another by a series of unbreakable chains.
The dark ones struggled against the bindings, but the Erlking ignored their outrage.
What could they do?
They were magical creatures.
This was god-spun gold.
How long had the Erlking been planning this? Had his talk of hunting beasts and needing more chains been to trick his own hunters? Isthiswhat he had wanted the gold for—to ensure his own court could not run when he chose to hand them over to the god of death?
The betrayal seemed particularly ruthless, even for him.
The demons struggled. They wailed and screamed. They pulled on the chains. They did everything they could to escape this cruel fate.
But the Erlking had bargained them away, as if they had meant nothing to him. And when the chains snapped taut and forced them down the long set of stairs toward Verloren, the dark ones had no choice but to go.
Their horrendous shrieks echoed through the chamber long after they had disappeared on the other side of the gates.
Velos ignored their cries, nodding expressionlessly at the king. “Now the mortal spirits.”
“First, you will summon Perchta.”315
Velos inclined their head. “Speak her true name and it shall be done.”
The Erlking pulled himself to his full imposing height, his gray-blue eyes flashing.
His voice was quicksilver. He spoke so quietly that Serilda barely heard him. “I call to you, my Alder Queen. Harbinger of the Wild Hunt. Lady of the Final Feast. Mistress of the Embertide. Perchta Pergana Zamperi. Return to me, my love.”
The lamp in Velos’s grip flickered, then brightened to an unnatural bluish tinge. Then it extinguished entirely, plunging the tomb into darkness. Serilda gasped, clutching her father’s arm on one side and Gerdrut’s hand on the other, worried that either of them might disappear like morning mist.
The lamp flickered again, steadily returning to its warm glow, and with it the torches held by the ancient iron brackets along the walls.
The parade of souls had long vanished from the bridge below, traveling to wherever their loved ones awaited them. But now, a new figure emerged from the fog.
Serilda’s lips parted. With an instinctual terror, but also wonder.
The woman from the tapestries. The woman from countless stories, countless nightmares.
Perchta, the great huntress, stepped through the gates.
Chapter Thirty-Seven
The huntress stood in their midst, a sickle of a smile on crimson lips. She wore bindings on her arms, shackles not unlike those that had appeared on the wrists of the gathered demons, though iron instead of gold.
“My star,” she cooed to the Erlking. “Whatever took you so long?”
He did not return her smile, exactly, but there was something beginning to smolder in his usually frost-filled gaze. “It has been but three hundred years,” he said calmly. “Barely a blink.”
“I beg to differ,” said Perchta. “But then, I was the one trapped, drowning in that vile river for all this time.”
The Erlking’s gaze shifted toward the god. “Release her bindings.”
Velos inclined their head. “After you.”