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She shook her head, trying to clear it, but she felt so tired, so depleted.
“What is he doing here?” roared the Erlking. “Who let him free?”328
Gild hurtled himself off the ground and rushed toward Serilda. He grabbed her hand, ignoring the sticky blood, and wrapped her fingers tight around the arrow’s shaft. The black fletching brushed her palm.
Immediately, her dazed, untethered sensation lifted. She felt more solid, more complete. Not entirely intact, but not empty and searching either. Rooted once more to the earth.
“Ash wood,” said Gild, as if that explained everything. “Don’t let go.”
Laughter rang out, echoing off the stone walls of the chamber. The sound a little feral, a little gleeful. But also a little like Serilda herself, when she was entirely too pleased by something unexpected.
Gild planted himself in front of her, sword at the ready, even though he was shaking. She looked past him to the source of the laughter and saw … herself. Her body. Sitting up inside the coffin. Golden wheels gleaming in her open eyes. Long hair cascading across the ruby cloak, identical to the one on her own shoulders.
“Oh my,” said Perchta, looking down at her new figure and resting her free hand on top of her stomach. “This is a novel sensation.”
“It’s only for a couple months,” said the Erlking, kneeling at her side. “Then you will have a child, as you have always wished.”
Perchta beamed at him, and Serilda felt like the ground was shifting beneath her feet. To see herself, her own eyes, gazing at the Erlking like that. Her own hands reaching, cupping the sides of his face. Her own mouth pressing hungrily against his.
A hand landed on her arm, startling her. “Come on,” whispered Gild. “We have to get out of here.”
He yanked Serilda toward the stairs. She stumbled after him, gripping the arrow shaft, still feeling like she could dissolve into nothing but dust at the first misstep. But the arrow was solid, and Gild’s hand on her elbow was real, even if he, too, was nothing more than a spirit cursed and untethered.
No—Gild still had a body, somewhere, with an arrow through his wrist.329He still had the scar. He still had the curse that kept him in this world, half alive.
All she had was a broken arrow. Without that, her spirit would take the first opportunity to slink away to Verloren.
She opened her fist to see the splintered wood, the black fletching, but as soon as she did, dizziness enveloped her again. She stumbled, crashing into Gild. They were nearly to the stairs. He paused to check on her, when his attention caught on something else. His eyes widened.
“If it isn’t the chivalrous prince charming.”
Gripping the arrow shaft, Serilda spun around.
Perchta was on her feet now, striding purposefully through the chamber, straight toward them. Did Serilda imagine how the wheels in her eyes burned molten red?
“Three hundred years, trapped in that place. Because ofyou.”
Perchta lifted the other half of the broken arrow, holding it like a dagger in her fist. Even though Gild had a sword and Serilda knew her former body was not built for physical strength, she still felt a spike of fear.
Perchta bared her teeth and lunged.
Gild raised the sword.
A shadow jumped in between them, snarling. Serilda screamed and fell back, pressing against the wall. Gild was right beside her, his jaw hanging open, as they stared at the monster in their midst.
A black wolf, as big as the grinding wheel in her father’s mill. The fur on its back bristled; its massive claws scraped against the stone floor.
The Erlking let out a triumphant shout, the sound as chilling to Serilda’s ear as the low, earth-rumbling growl from the enormous beast. The god was protecting them, Serilda realized. Facing off against Perchta, the great huntress.
But if Perchta should be hurt … what would become of Serilda’s child?
“It’s Velos,” murmured Gild, his tone full of awe. “The great wolf who guards the gates to Verloren—”330
Serilda shook her head, tears misting her vision. “He can’t hurt her,” she said, clutching Gild’s arm. “My baby …”
He blinked at her, momentarily confused. Then understanding struck him, followed fast by horror. He shifted the sword in his fist, looking back as Velos leaned down, jaws snapping.