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Serilda jogged up the stairs and into the castle keep. Now that the ghost370servants were gone, she immediately noticed that cobwebs clung to the chandeliers and a layer of dust had gathered along the edges of the floor.
She turned toward the stairwell that led to the hall of gods, when she heard voices coming her way from the great hall. She slipped around a pillar, pressing herself to the wall as two women came into view.
“—have to peel our own potatoes for another month,” grumbled one. “I’d rather pull out my own teeth with rusted pliers.”
“What’s one month, compared to eternity?” said her companion. “His Grim promised that by the Endless Moon, we will have more servants than ever before.”
The woman scoffed. “We had plenty of servants. Ghosts. Mortals. What does it matter?”
“Well,” said the second woman, “mortals don’t bleed all over the carpets, do they?”
This brought a dark chuckle from the other’s lips. “They do when I want them to.”
Their laughter echoed off the walls as they wandered off toward the parlors.
Serilda was trembling with anger as she stepped out from behind the column. This proved it. The Erlking did mean to bring down the veil and enslave the mortals. The thought left a hollow pit in her stomach.
As soon as she could no longer hear the dark ones, she ran up the steps to the upper corridors. Sword in hand, she charged down the hall, prepared to knock aside any drude that dared attack her.
To her surprise—no attack came.
She reached the end of the hall without incident, her panting breath the only sound.
She planted one foot on the door and shoved it open. This part, she knew, was even more dangerous than facing off against a horde of drudes. She could not let the basilisk’s venom touch her before she had a chance to free it from the cage and—
She froze, gaping into the room.371
It was not the evidence of destruction that made her stop, though there were singe marks on the floor and one wall was still being propped up with wood scaffolding. The room was barren now, but for the tapestry of Gild and his family, which seemed to have escaped the venom’s destruction unscathed.
No. What halted Serilda was the fact that the basilisk was gone, and in its place, wrapped in golden chains and laid atop the basilisk’s cage, was aperson.
Skin dark as polished basalt and feathery hair that shimmered in shades of turquoise, cobalt, and fiery orange. With a sharp nose and full lips, they cut a most striking figure, even asleep. Their appearance was enhanced by flamboyant clothes—boots that reached over their knees, a silky black shirt with wide sleeves beneath a long-tailed burgundy vest, and shining brass buttons everywhere a person might possibly think to add a button.
Serilda couldn’t help noting, with a tinge of delight, that she’d been right. Solvilde reallydiddress like a pirate.
Lowering the sword, she stepped into the room.
She had not gone half a dozen steps when the god took in a long breath and gave an exaggerated yawn. Their eyes opened sleepily and they tilted their head to peer at Serilda with a tangerine-colored gaze. Though their eyes were intact, Serilda could see rough scar tissue all around the eye sockets, and she recalled how the basilisk had been blinded, supposedly so that its gaze couldn’t turn anyone to stone.
“S-Solvilde?” she breathed.
The god of the sky and sea studied Serilda for a long moment, inspecting her from head to toe, giving particular interest to the sword. Then they slumped their head away. “Come and wake me again when a proper hero shows up.”
Serilda frowned. “I’m here to free you.”
“You are a wandering spirit.”
Serilda looked down at her body, wondering how the god could tell.372
“Maybe,” she admitted, “but I’m also the one who pulled the arrow out of you before, so you wouldn’t be trapped in your basilisk form anymore.”
Solvilde made an unhappy sound in their throat. “Yes. Great victory, that was. I would clap for you if my hands weren’t tied.”
“Well, that’s what I’m here to fix, isn’t it?” She set the sword against a wall and moved closer to inspect the golden cords. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to judge.”
“You haven’t done anything yet but wave around a sword. Not even a real sword. That’s clearly ornamental.”
Serilda huffed. “You know, you were my favorite when I was a child. I’m regretting that now.” She tugged on some of the chains, but they were locked down tight. If she could find where they were attached to the cage below …