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A stillness cascaded over the world.
Gild dropped to his knees, hunched over the baby. The baby who had stopped crying. Whose sudden silence was as abrupt as a lightning strike.
A muffled scream thundered inside Serilda’s head.
Her body went limp. The dark ones released her and she collapsed hard to the ground. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t feel anything but a great, cavernous void opening inside her, tearing her in half.
It was Erlen’s tapestry. Gild. Dying. A sword jutting from between his shoulder blades.
But the tapestry had not shown the baby in his arms, also pierced by Perchta’s blade.
Also dying.
“Satisfied?” crowed Perchta, spinning around to glare at the circle of gods. “Is this enough of a sacrifice for you? Or will you dare tell me that I did not cherish this child, the first I ever birthed, the first I could ever claim as my own, when you bless mortal women every day with such a gift!” She turned furious eyes on Eostrig, the unicorn, her nostrils flared. “Finally, a child that should have belonged to me. Isthatthe sacrifice you wanted?”
“No,” said Hulda, their voice strained. “This was never what we wanted.”462
Perchta flushed almost purple.
“But,” Hulda went on, “it will serve.”
The Erlking put his arm around Perchta, holding her to his side. “Then you will grant our wish,” he said. “You will destroy the veil.”
Serilda’s thoughts churned. She couldn’t understand. Why would the gods demand such a price? Why wouldmagicdemand such a price?
And Perchta …
Perchta had not loved this child. Had not cherished her baby girl. She had thrown that love away like it was nothing.
Hulda shut their eyes with a shudder. “Allow us our human forms.”
A muscle twitched in the Erlking’s jaw, but he nodded and six dark ones stepped forward to remove the chains from the remaining beasts. As soon as the gods were freed, they took their human forms—and the dark ones immediately threw the chains around them again, securing their wrists like shackles. The gods roared with betrayal, but the Erlking merely snorted with contempt.
“You have been allowed your human forms so you may grant my wish,” he said coolly. “But you will not be given your freedom until I have what I want.”
Serilda heard a voice calling her. A compassionate voice, thick with sorrow.
But Serilda could not tear her gaze away from Gild and the blood soaking into his shirt.
“Beneath the Endless Moon,” said Freydon, anger lacing their voice, “by the laws of magic that bind us to this world, we grant your wish, Erlkönig.”
Serilda felt a change in the air. An invisible force was pushing against her, as the heavens shimmered with powerful magic. She felt as if she were in the eye of a storm, pressure from every side threatening to suffocate her.
With no one paying attention to her, Serilda fought against the463discomfort of her crushing lungs and forced herself forward, crawling on hands and knees.
“Gild,” she gasped, reaching out to touch him. “Gild?”
A groan, so faint she barely heard it.
“Hold still. The sword. I’m going to …”
Her arms were so weak, her fingers trembling as they wrapped around the hilt.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, sobbing, and pulled.
Gild gasped, but did not cry out. As soon as the sword was removed, he collapsed onto his side, still holding the bundled baby in his arms, the blanket soaked in crimson. Serilda fell over them both. She dissolved. Her child. Her baby. Dying. Or dead. Or—