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Serilda smoothed a wrinkle from the cover and opened the pages. This was not a finished, published copy. There were notes all over the pages. Words crossed out and changed, whole paragraphs marked to be reordered.
Her breath snagged. Could the scholar from Verene beWyrdith?
“Of course,” Serilda murmured. The god of stories … whatelsewould they be doing?
She was a fool. Here she was, at the northernmost point of Tulvask, expecting to find a god hiding in a dark, cold cave, when in all likelihood, that god was probably in an apartment at the University of Verene, squandering their time in public houses and the parlors of nobility, collecting stories and spinning tales of their own.
She started to laugh, feeling like she’d once again been tricked by the trickster god.
“What has amused you so?” asked a lilting voice.
Serilda cried out and jumped back, knocking the candle to the floor. It extinguished instantly, but the candelabra in the corner lit up the strikingly tall figure holding back the curtain.
They stepped into the room, letting the curtain fall shut. Serilda gaped, speechless. They had pale pink skin and cropped black hair that shone almost purple when it caught the light. And … their eyes. Watchful and curious, with spoked golden wheels over dark irises.
“It is not that funny a story,” said Wyrdith—for thismustbe Wyrdith. “More of a morality tale, really. With determination and a good work ethic, youtoocould inspire a kingdom.” They snorted, almost derisively. “That’s what happens when one prays to Hulda. They receive a legacy of hard work, and call themselves lucky for it.” They took a candlestick off a shelf and lit the wick from the candelabra, then cocked their head toward Serilda. “Who are you? How did you come to be here?”
“I … Tyrr brought me,” Serilda stammered. “I was looking for you. I didn’t mean to …” She gestured at the papers on the desk, embarrassed to have been caught reading them.
“Tyrr?” said Wyrdith. “Truly? Are they still as cranky as ever?”403
Serilda considered this. “I would saystoicmore thancranky.They’ve had a rough time of late.”
Wyrdith laughed. Not a mild, restrained chuckle, but a boisterous laugh, afriendlylaugh. “Yes, well, it’s hard to pity the god who once started a nine-year war over a game of cards. Now, why did Tyrr bring—”
Their words cut off abruptly as they raised the candle, throwing Serilda into the light.
Wyrdith’s lips parted in surprise.
Serilda fidgeted. She hadn’t meant to hide her eyes, exactly, but she found it difficult to hold eye contact with the god. “My father helped you,” she said haltingly. “On the last Endless Moon. He found you, injured, and in return for his help you granted him a wish. He asked for—”
“A healthy child,” whispered the god. “I remember.”
Serilda swallowed. “I am that child.”
“Yes,” said Wyrdith, astonished. “Yes, you are.” With a shake, the god looked away. They set to straightening papers on the desk, though the room was not overly tidy. “I was rather fond of that village. I’d passed through as a bard once and thought that perhaps I would go back and stay awhile. I’d been there for years, and not once had the hunt come through. So I became careless. I thought—what is the harm? Perhaps this Endless Moon, I will stay. Surely, the hunt cannot know to look for a … plain village maiden. Surely, when I am forced to take my beastly form, I can slip into the Aschen Wood, hide until the veil falls again.” A faint smile touched their lips, then faded again. “But the hunt did find me. I won’t make that mistake again. Now I come here on the full moons, where the hunt has never ventured.”
Serilda stepped around the desk, gripping her hands together, though they still stung from the fall from the cliff. “Forgive me. I mean no intrusion, but we have to leave. The hunt is coming for younow. The Erlking is trying to capture all seven gods before the Endless Moon. I believe he means to wish for the destruction of the veil. He has five of you already, and might have Tyrr again by the end of the night. If he comes for you, too …” She trailed off.404
Wyrdith’s face was more contemplative than worried. “And where shall I go?” They gestured around at the cave. “You must have somewhere in mind that is safer than here?”
The question gave Serilda pause. “I … I just thought we would run. Keep running until the sun rises.”
Wyrdith smiled softly. “Even on wings, I am not faster than the hunt.” They peered up toward the ceiling. “The Erlking has searched the cliffs before, but he has not found me yet.”
“I found you!” said Serilda. “And the Erlkingalwaysfinds me.” She grimaced, wondering if the god would think it a betrayal if Serilda’s presence brought the hunt straight to them.
But the god’s hesitant smile did not fade. “You surely did find me. How, exactly?”
“There was a feather, trapped beneath a rock, out on the ledge.”
“A feather. My—how careless of me.” Wyrdith scratched their ear, which struck Serilda as an oddly human gesture. “You brought it inside, I trust?”
“I did.” Serilda gestured to where she had set the feather on a stack of books by the doorway.
“Perhaps fate and fortune intended us to meet this way all along. Regardless, I do think we are safer here than we would be braving the world beneath the Hunter’s Moon.”
Serilda gnawed on her lower lip. She felt anxious, her instincts telling her to run. But maybe Wyrdith was right. Maybe it was safer to hide.