Page 171

A hand found her, sticky and weak. She stared at Gild, her vision bleary.
“Take … the ring,” he croaked.
She didn’t know if it was her heartbreak or the strangling magic all around her that was making her light-headed, but it took her a long time to make sense of his words. Finally, she looked down at the golden ring with his family’s crest. Bloody, like everything else.
“Don’t forget me,” he said. “At least someone … won’t forget me.”
“Never, Gild. I could never …”
The light was fading from his eyes, as if he’d been clinging desperately to these last moments of life so he could speak to her one last time.
“I’m so happy … I met you,” he said, trying to smile. “I love you. I wanted … to protect … both of you. I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I’m the one who’s sorry. Gild.Gild.”
His eyes became unfocused. His hand fell onto the blanket.
Then, as quick as it had begun, it was over.
The magic’s pressure released. Air poured back into Serilda’s lungs. The sky no longer shimmered. Clouds drifted across the full moon as if nothing had happened.464
And Gild and their baby were not breathing.
“It is done,” gasped Freydon. Each of the seven gods groaned and collapsed to their knees.
Ignoring the weakened gods, the dark ones looked around, as if inspecting the world anew. Since the veil was already down for the Endless Moon, they would not know until sunrise if the magic had worked.
Serilda screamed. A torrent of a wail as she curled against Gild’s body, her hand pressed to the back of her daughter’s head. Impossibly delicate, impossibly soft, with those faint reddish curls. Serilda sobbed into the swaddling blanket, cursing demons and gods and fortune and fate.
And there she might have stayed, if the ground all around her hadn’t begun to tremble.
The Erlking frowned at the shuddering castle walls. The drifts of snow flurrying from the parapets. “What is happening?”
“Verloren has been calling out to me,” muttered Velos, peering up at the Erlking through weary eyes, “ever since you took me from the gates. With the use of my magic, Verloren has found me.”
A crack shot across the gardens, quick and jagged, creating a tear in the earth from the base of the keep through the menagerie and out to the far wall.
“Free us,” said Velos. “Let me return to my home.”
The Erlking snarled. “Not until I know for sure the wish was fulfilled.”
Velos shook their head. “Your distrust will end us all, Erlkönig.”
The Erlking let out a pent-up roar. “When have you ever given me cause to trust you?”
“Serilda!” Hands were on her. Shaking her. Leyna? “We need to get out of here! Look!”
Serilda looked, but she didn’t understand.
Beneath her, the earth groaned and started to split apart. She gasped, her fingers digging into Gild’s shirt. A jagged cut tore through the snow, opening to the size of a fist beneath them. Serilda screamed, instinctively465pulling Gild and the baby across the snowy ground, just as snow flurries fell into the crevasse where they had lain seconds before.
Gild did not move. Their baby did not cry.
The gash in the ground widened farther. The dark ones were tense, hands on their weapons. The gods were desperate, pleading with the demons to release them.
“Silence!” screamed the king. But there was no silence to be had. Stones were tumbling loose from the walls. The ground screeched as clay and rock and ice rubbed together and pulled apart. The Erlking looked at Perchta, who met his gaze with a fierce nod.
The king’s expression hardened and he faced their court. “Let Verloren take the castle! Let it take the old gods. With the veil down, all of the mortal realm will be our kingdom!”