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Serilda cast them a dismayed look. “My stories tend to cause more harm than good.”
“Do they? Or have your stories allowed an entire castle’s worth of imprisoned ghosts to finally rest in peace? Have they reunited a prince with his long-lost sister? Have they reunitedus?”
“You don’t understand. The gods he’s captured? It was because of me. I didn’t realize I was doing it, but my stories were telling him exactly where to go. It’s my fault!”
“Idounderstand,” said Wyrdith. “Stories are powerful.” They threaded their fingers through Serilda’s. “Whatyoudon’t understand is that you have not yet written the ending.”
Serilda started to shake her head, when a loud thump startled them both.
Wyrdith tensed and rose as the curtain shifted. Pale fingers appeared at its edge and peeled the curtain back, revealing the Erlking in the halo of candlelight. Crossbow strung at his side and golden chains at his hip.
“No!” Serilda launched to her feet and threw herself in front of Wyrdith, arms outspread. “You can’t! I won’t let you!”
“If it isn’t my mortal bride,” he mused, grinning wolfishly. “I heard rumors you were still about, ever causing trouble.” He strolled into the cavern, as if he’d been invited in for a pint of ale. “Your spirit was untethered. How are you still here?”
Serilda felt the press of the broken arrow, the shaft of ash, against her sternum. “Vengeance,” she spat. “I will not rest so long as that demon huntress of yours carriesmychild.”
He chuckled. “I doubt she’ll be carrying it much longer, given the state of things.” He glanced past Serilda, his gaze sliding over Wyrdith from head to foot. “Wyrdith. Why are you wearing the guise of a common peasant? Seems beneath you.”
“Then you have not met many common peasants,” said Wyrdith. They417squeezed Serilda’s shoulder and stepped past her. “I know why you are here, Erlkönig. There is no need to bluster about with your weapons and gadgets. I will come with you willingly.”
“What?” Serilda gasped. “No! Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said? What he plans to do?”
Wyrdith flashed her that broken-toothed smile. “It has to be this way. I would not have written it differently myself.” Emotion clouded over the flippant grin and they cupped Serilda’s face. “The question is, where does the story go from here?”
“I don’t understand,” said Serilda. “What do I do?”
Wyrdith shrugged. “Run?” they said, smoothing back Serilda’s hair. “Hide? Give up?” Their cheeks dimpled and they kissed Serilda’s brow. “But what sort of story would that be, my beautiful, strong-willed child?”
The Erlking grunted. “I have not known you gods to care so much for your godchildren.”
Wyrdith turned away. “You have not known us at all.”
Again, the god shifted. From the mother Serilda could not remember to, suddenly, an enormous golden bird. Its wings outspread reached from wall to wall.
The Erlking was almost tender as he draped a loop of chain around Wyrdith’s neck and cinched it tight. “Not quite as enjoyable doing it this way, but I do appreciate your cooperation.” He met Serilda’s gaze, pinning her in place with his icy stare. “Do you know what becomes of wandering spirits when they cannot find their way to Verloren?”
Serilda glowered at him, searching for the threat in his words. “I plan to haunt you until the end of time.”
He smirked, then leaned closer. “They becomemonsters.” He reached for her, running one cold knuckle along her cheek. “Whatever is keeping you here, dearest Serilda, I suggest you let it go, before it is too late.”
She shuddered, hatred pooling inside her. She wanted to scream at him. To wrap her hands around his neck and squeeze. To stab him with his own stupid arrows. To gouge out those hideously beautiful eyes of his.418
She wanted to hurt him. As he had hurt Gild and Erlen and the children and her father and the seven gods.
She wanted todestroyhim.
“And oh yes, in case you were wondering,” he said, stepping back, “we did find Tyrr again. Easy to track, once the beast is wounded. Put up quite a fight, but that temper always did make them careless. Now, if I’m not mistaken”—he glanced upward, pretending to count—“why, I do believe that makes seven. I couldn’t have done it without you, miller’s daughter.”
Serilda said nothing. She did nothing. Just glared at him, emotions roiling.
And when the Alder King turned away from her and took the golden raptor—god of fate and fortune, god of stories and lies—away, Serilda stood there and watched them go.
Chapter Forty-Nine
Serilda sat on the ledge, feet dangling over, staring out at the endless ocean as the sun set fire to the horizon. She thought of merchant ships caught in storms, being thrown upon the unforgiving rocks below. She thought of sea serpents slithering through the inky depths. She wondered how many fishermen had sailed off one day, never to return.
Solvilde was the patron god of sea merchants and sailors, and they should have been watching over the oceans and the men and women who braved these waters. She knew that many still prayed to Solvilde, asking for safe passage, a safe return.