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The dark ones cheered.
“No!” screamed Eostrig, who looked like Pusch-Grohla once more. “Erlkönig, you will not leave us like this!”
The king ignored the god, ignored them all.
“To the gates!” he declared, and the dark ones rallied at his side. The castle’s monsters, those that could fly, soared into the night. The imps and hobgoblins hurried ahead of their masters, eager to escape the gash that had grown to the width of a carriage. The first outer wall of the castle gave way with a roar, tumbling across the eastern edge of the gardens.
Only then did Serilda remember, as the hunters and their court fled across the gardens.
Hand trembling, she reached for the collar of her dress and pulled out the two necklaces at her throat. One—the broken arrow that kept her tethered to this world.
The other—the whistle.
Loathing bubbled up inside of her as she pressed it to her lips and blew. The sound was piercing, louder than the splitting earth, louder than the stampeding footsteps, louder than the angry yells of the abandoned gods.466
She blew and blew and let the whistle ring out like a war cry.
They came, just as they’d promised.
Dozens of warrior maidens leaped atop the crumbling castle walls or rushed in from the gates. The whistle was still echoing when the first volley of golden arrows rained down upon the escaping dark ones.
Not just moss maidens. Erlen and her monsters, too. Surging forward. Cutting through the demons with merciless brutality, golden swords and knives glinting in the moonlight.
Surprised by the ambush, the dark ones fell back in confusion. The first demon fell, tumbling into the abyss, where Verloren waited far below to claim him. His cries echoed from the darkness for ages, before finally, finally vanishing.
Parsley shouted an order, and like a well-trained army, the maidens’ tactics changed. They herded the dark ones toward the ever-widening crevasse. The castle keep began to collapse inward on its compromised foundations.
Where was the Erlking? Where was Perchta?
Hatred surged through Serilda. She wanted them returned to Verloren, where they belonged. She wanted to see them fall.
Perchta and the Alder King stood in the midst of the battle. His crossbow firing into the swarm of moss maidens, while Perchta drove them back with a barrage of thrown knives.
“Serilda!” screamed Leyna. “Help us!”
She started. Leyna and Erlen were working to undo the golden chains still holding the gods. Not just binding the gods together, but also keeping them leashed to a series of stakes around the menagerie, like animals around a feeding post.
Serilda forced herself to her feet, but her attention returned to the battle. The horrific screams as dozens—no,hundreds—of demons were sent tumbling over the jagged precipice.467
But no one could get near the Erlking and the huntress.
“Serilda!” cried Wyrdith.
Serilda stumbled toward the god of stories, whose devastated eyes made Serilda want to scream. She bit back the sound and reached for the chains on Wyrdith’s wrists.
“Don’t,” Serilda snapped. “Is this the ending you wanted? Is this what your wheel of fortune decided for me?”
Wyrdith’s face crumpled. “Serilda, I—”
“I don’t want to hear it. I can’t … I can’t.” She bit back a sob as she managed to undo the chains. They fell to the snow with a thud, just as another wall fell, crashing into the lake.
“Go!” cried Erlen, pointing toward the courtyard. “We have to get out of here before the entire castle falls!”
Though the gods were still weak from bringing down the veil, they leaned on one another as Erlen and Leyna ushered them toward the gatehouse, toward the safety beyond the drawbridge. Only Velos and Wyrdith lingered behind.