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As she made her way through the castle, keeping to the shadows and servants’ halls, she heard a distant commotion. Yelling and crashing and hasty footsteps.
She spun around a corner—and crashed into a figure running the opposite way.
She cried out, caught herself just before falling, and gawked at Gild’s harried expression.
He blinked wide-eyed at the sword that had nicked his sleeve in their collision. “They’re coming!” he shouted, taking the sword from Serilda and376grabbing her hand. He started back the way she’d come, dodging in and out of corridors as the footsteps behind them grew louder.
“Did you free Hulda?” she panted.
“No. They’ve got dark ones posted all around the menagerie like guards. One of them spotted me and gave chase, and they’ve got spun gold, Serilda! If they catch us—this way!”
His words were cut off by a scream. His hand was ripped from hers. The sword clattered to the floor.
Serilda spun around to see Giselle, the master of the hounds, wrapping a golden chain around Gild. His arms were pinned to his sides.
“Run!” he screamed, thrashing against his captor.
With a smirk, Giselle stepped closer, placing the heel of her boot on the sword’s hilt. “If it isn’t the poltergeist. How I have dreamed of this.”
Down the corridor, more dark ones were coming, fast.
There was a moment of indecision. A terrible moment when everything went still and Serilda didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t leave Gild, but she also couldn’t help him. She couldn’t fight them all.
“Run!” Gild cried again.
She made a decision. Turning, she sprinted through the corridor, weaving in and out of parlors and studies.
The footsteps were distant by the time she reached the empty throne room. Serilda rushed toward the dais that held the two thrones and planted her feet against the polished stone floor. She braced both hands against the carpeted platform and shoved.
It slid forward with an earsplitting screech.
Every muscle strained. She shoved and shoved until she had moved the dais enough that she could get down into the pit full of bones and skulls. Crowns and jewels.
And two perfectly preserved bodies.
She tried not to think about the people who had been tossed here and left to rot away. Tried to ignore the way bones clicked against her ankles as she waded through them.377
She reached the princess’s body first. Serilda had barely caught her breath when she grasped the arrow lodged in the girl’s wrist and broke it with a cleansnap. The sound echoed through the throne room.
Then Serilda turned toward the prince. He still lay haphazardly across the bones in the pit, one arm flailed outward as if reaching for someone. His parents, maybe. Or his sister.
Serilda took hold of the arrow, tears blurring her vision, but she refused to doubt this choice. What it would mean. For him. For her. This hadn’t been a part of the plan. They would break his sister’s curse, which would return her to her mortal body, but they would wait to save Gild. Because as soon as she did this, he would be mortal again, and she would still be a spirit, her body given up to the huntress.
They would be separated, on all but those full-moon nights when the veil fell. Gild would be on the mortal side. Same as Perchta. Same as their child, once Perchta gave birth.
While Serilda was stuck here, and would be forever, if she never found a way to reclaim her body.
But there was no other way. She would not let him be trapped here, not again.
She took the arrow that had cursed Gild three hundred years ago and snapped it in two.
She stumbled back, two broken arrows in her hands, sweat dripping down the back of her neck.
She bit the inside of her cheek and hoped. Hoped that she was right. Hoped that this curse could be broken.
The princess’s eyes opened first, at the same moment Gild dragged in a wheezing breath. He turned onto his side with a violent cough. The princess reached for her arm, to cover the bleeding wound, as she looked around, bewildered. She lurched upward, taking in the bones around her.