But Serilda felt nothing.
And the sword—it went through the huntress as if she were made of mist, leaving Serilda’s mortal body intact.
Serilda’s braid slipped out of Perchta’s grasp and Serilda stumbled back, barely catching herself before falling to the forest floor.
The black-tipped arrow had passed right through her.
Stillness descended on them. Perchta, illuminated by the first filtered rays of morning light, stared in confusion into the place where Gild and Serilda stood.
“She can’t see us,” Gild whispered. “The veil … she’s on the other side.”
The huntress came to this realization at the same time. She examined the arrow in her grip, then scanned the warm flesh of her hands and arms.
“Is she … mortal now?” asked Serilda.
The huntress laughed again, sounding a bit more like Serilda now that her bloodlust had faded. “I suppose I shall have to wait a little longer to take my revenge. Until then, my prince.”
Adjusting her cloak, she turned back toward Gravenstone.
Gild gawked at Serilda. “What happened in that cave? Are the dark onesmortalnow?”347
“N-no,” said Serilda. “I don’t think so. It must be because Perchta is in a mortal body. But the rest of them …” Her body sagged. “Velos knew.”
“Did the Erlking know, too? Had he expected her to be on the other side of the veil from him?”
“I don’t know.” Serilda leaned against a tree trunk, still clutching the ash wood arrow in her fist. “I’m still trying to make sense of what happened.”
“Me too.” After a long silence, Gild whispered, “That girl is mysister.”
Serilda took his hand and held it tight. “I’m sorry. She was there all along and I had no idea.”
“Me either. She seemed … incredible.”
“Ferocious, for sure.”
“Yes, exactly!” He beamed, but it quickly faded. “I didn’t get a chance to tell her who I am. Or even ask her name.”
“You will. We will break her curse, Gild. You will see her again.”
He swallowed and nodded, though she could see he was not comforted. “How is your wrist?”
Serilda checked the hasty wrappings, but could see only a tiny splotch of blood through the fabric. “I can hardly feel it.”
Which was true, though she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“Surely the Erlking wouldn’t bring Perchta back only to be separated from each other between each full moon.” She looked at Gild, but he had no more answers than she did. With a sigh, she went on, “We should probably keep moving. Put as much distance between us and Gravenstone as we can.”
Gild inhaled deeply. “And the sooner we get to Adalheid, the better.”
She peered around at the forest, taking in the knotted branches overhead, the clusters of platter-size fungi sprouting from fallen logs, the corkscrew ferns and trailing lichen. It smelled of wild berries and loamy soil and rotting things and living things and growing things all around them.
“This way, I think,” said Gild without much confidence, but Serilda had no better ideas than he did.
Picking their way through the brush was slow and treacherous. Serilda348was grateful for the warmth of her cloak, though each time it snagged on brambles, it felt like there were claws reaching out to grab her.
After a while, Gild worked a piece of flaxen thread from the sleeve of his tunic and handed it to Serilda. “Use this to tie that arrow shaft around your neck. If you were to lose it …”
He trailed off.