A figure with long brown hair and a crimson cloak.
Serilda’s veins ran cold as the woman pulled back her hood, revealing sharp black eyes inlaid with golden spokes. She kicked the door shut with her boot, then stumbled forward a step, supporting her rounded belly.
Lorraine gasped. “Serilda! Is that … Is it you?” She dashed around the counter, passing right through Serilda’s invisible form as she approached the woman, who had leaned against the back of a chair for support.
Perchta met Lorraine’s eyes and drew in a hiss through her teeth.
“I need a room,” she said brusquely. “And a midwife.”
Well, I’ll eat a broom,” murmured Lorraine, clapping a hand to her mouth. “Serilda … When did … How …?”
Perchta’s knuckles whitened as she squeezed the back of the chair. She bared her teeth at Lorraine. “There isn’t time. Help me!”
It was more an order than a request, and Lorraine stiffened in surprise. “I … Yes, of course. Come, let’s get you up into one of the rooms.” She let Perchta lean on her for support, while Serilda bolted back up the stairs, taking them two at a time. As soon as she had reached the upper landing, she heard Lorraine shouting for Leyna.
Serilda ran down the hall and caught herself on the doorway, just as Leyna was standing up. “Yes, Mama?” she called.
“Come quick!” Lorraine shouted. “And bring some towels!”
“Towels?” Leyna frowned at Gild, who only shrugged and started to stand himself.
“No,” said Serilda, holding out her arms. “Don’t go!”
“It’s Serilda!” Lorraine’s shout was coupled with the creaking of the lower steps. “She’s back! Hurry!”
“Serilda?” breathed Gild. His eyes widened and he strode toward the door.
“No!” Serilda shouted, reaching for him. Her hand went through his shoulder, his arm, grasping at nothing. “Gild, don’t!”
Gild hesitated and rubbed at his elbow, suddenly covered in gooseflesh.438
The stairs creaked, followed by a low, pained groan.
Gild peered toward the hall, hope shining on his face. He took another step.
Serilda tried one more time, this time grabbing for the locket at his throat.
Her fingers met with cool metal. Gritting her teeth, she tugged, managing to pull the necklace taut against his neck for just a moment before her strength left her and the chain slipped from her grasp.
But it was enough. Gild halted, reaching for his throat. He spun around, eyes searching the room.
When Leyna tried to dart past him, he grabbed her shoulder. “Wait.”
She gaped up at him. “But, Serilda—”
“It isn’t her,” he said, going pale. “It’s Perchta.”
Horror crept over Leyna’s face. “What? How … how can you know?”
Gild shut the door as the hallway floorboards groaned. “Remember what we told you?” he said, lowering his voice. “About what happened in Gravenstone?”
Leyna’s breaths became halting. “M-Mama! Mama’s out there! She doesn’t know!”
She tried to push past Gild, but he stopped her. “You can’t let Perchta know that you know the truth. You have to pretend that she really is Serilda.”
Leyna’s lips hung open.