Chapter no 14

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“Again,” Pretha says.

Five hours into my third full day of training, and I am so bloody sick of that word I could spit. Except for a brief break for lunch, we spend the

entire day in this library with her pushing me to create darkness. We started with drops at my fingertips and moved to a ball of it held steady in the palm of my hand. Bottom line? Despite Pretha’s endless patience, I can make it

appear, but I’m hopeless when it comes to commanding it, maintaining it, or generally doing anything useful with it.

I draw in a deep breath and focus on the palm of my hand, willing that darkness to appear. The moment I form a ball of shadow, it grows too big too fast and overflows, spilling like sand from between my fingers and then disappearing.

“Sloppy,” Finn growls behind me.

I spin around, shocked at his sudden presence. Aside from my brief meeting with the three males that first day Pretha brought me to this library, it’s just been Pretha and me during my training. Apparently Finn’s decided to bless me with his presence today. “What did you say?” I ask.

“Finn,” Pretha says. “How lovely of you to—”

He cuts her off with a sharp shake of his head. “Not today, Pretha. Leave us.”

Pretha gives me an apologetic smile. “Don’t let him push you around,” she says softly.

Leave us, Pretha,” Finn says, his voice deadly quiet.

Her gaze hardens as she shifts it to him, still talking to me. “Don’t take his moodiness personally. This one’s been brooding for twenty years.”

As she goes, the smarter, self-preserving part of my brain screams at me that I should follow her. But I don’t. Finn doesn’t scare me. Maybe he

should, but . . . it was no coincidence that the darkness in my hand grew when he appeared. I don’t know why or how, but my power responds to him. Even standing here, it hums, begging me to wield it.

I arch a brow when we’re alone and bite out a single word. “What?”

“You’re sloppy with your magic. You lack focus, and if you don’t figure it out, your adoring prince is going to catch you sneaking around his palace.”

I lift my chin, but his words hardly sting. He’s right. Clearly, I’m capable of more than I ever realized in the human world, but I don’t have the faintest idea how to control it. So far, practice is just making me tired. But if I could try with him nearby . . .

“Is that what you want?” he asks. “To be forced to abandon your quest so you can settle into your comfortable new life?”

The nerve. “I don’t see you offering to teach me.”

He cocks his head to the side. “That’s a pretty passive-aggressive way to ask for help.”

“I—” I clench one fist and release it. He is such an arrogant ass. “You’re the one who insisted on helping me, but I come here and you leave me to Pretha.”

“She’s an excellent teacher. You should be grateful for her time, Princess.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?” I snap. “I’m no princess.”

“You’re a few sweet promises and tender moments away from being that boy’s bride, and everyone knows it.”

I have to bite my tongue to keep from arguing. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me or my relationship with Sebastian. All that matters is getting the relics for the king so I can get Jas back.

But Finn’s intent on baiting me. “Isn’t life at the luxurious Golden Palace everything your mortal heart imagined?”

I sneer. “Why would you assume my mortal heart imagined anything?” “Don’t all mortal girls dream of marrying a handsome faerie prince?”

“You are such an arrogant ass!” A ball of shadow forms in my hand, and I curl my fingers around it. “This mortal girl never dreamed of it. I didn’t want to come here. I was forced to come when the king of your court bought my sister.”

“Pretha’s wrong, then? You don’t have feelings for the prince?”

“I . . .” I did. I do. But my complicated feelings for Sebastian are none of Finn’s business. The ball of shadow pulses with my anger. “I have no desire to be a faerie princess. If I’d known Sebastian was fae, we never would have become friends to begin with. He knew that.”

Finn walks slow circles around me, and I feel like a horse at market, being appraised from every angle. “Surely you’ve forgiven him for his lies if you’re hoping to marry him, to enter a bond with him.”

“I’m not hoping to marry him,” I snap. I have to splay my fingers to hold on to the writhing ball of shadow in my palm as it continues to grow. “I don’t want to be a princess. I don’t want to bond with a faerie—or with anyone.

He stops his circling in front of me and meets my eyes. “So you’re not bound to anyone?”

I roll my eyes. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no. I wouldn’t allow that.”

Finn’s shoulders drop. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was relieved.

But there’s no reason why this Unseelie prince would care that much about me. “Sebastian will eventually ask to bond with you,” he says.

“He knows how I feel about you faeries and your human-controlling bonds. It won’t happen.” I couldn’t even bond with him if I wanted to. I can’t give Sebastian that kind of awareness of me when I need to sneak around to save Jas.

“Mordeus will ask as well. Remember that the only way anyone can have it is if you allow it. If you value your mortal life, you won’t do that—ever.”

“Is that a threat, Finn?”

“It’s a warning, Princess.”

“There is no bond in our deal.”

“There isn’t yet, but beware of Mordeus’s scheming.”

Mordeus’s scheming? What about Finn’s scheming?

He lets out a breath. “I can try to help you. The truth, though, is that Pretha and I know nothing about mortals who have magic—or how the magic works with you.”

“Why would it be different?”

His brows raise. “Because you are different.” He walks forward and grabs my arm. He draws a fingertip from the inside of my elbow down to my wrist, just above where I hold the ball of shadow. A matching shiver shimmies down my spine.

His eyes lift and meet mine, and his lips part. For a moment I think he feels it too—the pulsing energy between us, this awareness that makes me

feel more awake and alive than I ever have. It’s only the magic, I tell myself, but I am a terrible liar.

He drags his fingertip across my skin again, and I take slow, measured breaths and wish he’d release me. He would if I asked—I’m sure of it—but I refuse to let on that he affects me.

“What happens if I cut you?” he asks. “I bleed.”

He nods. “And if you heal, your body will make more blood as you recover. But if the cut is too wide, too deep, if you bleed too much and

cannot produce new blood fast enough to pump through your veins and tend to your body, you die.”

“I’m familiar with how it works,” I grouse.

He glowers. He traces that line again, and this time I can’t hold back the shiver. “Magic is like blood for the fae.”

“I don’t understand. You don’t bleed?” That can’t be right. I’ve seen Sebastian bleed—tended to some of his minor wounds myself at times.

“We bleed, but it’s the magic in our blood that heals us, the magic that keeps us alive, not the blood itself. Your blood gives you life. Our magic gives us life.” His gaze drops to my mouth, and my breath catches.

He releases my arm as suddenly as he grabbed it, and he backs away.

Looking out the window, he drags a hand through his hair. He pulls it away from his face, tying it back like he’s getting ready to spar. “It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s the best I have. Magic isn’t infinite. It’s tied to our life

source, and we have to learn what our capacity is so we don’t overtax ourselves. But like blood regenerates after you lose a small amount, a faerie’s magic should regenerate. How much a faerie can lose and regenerate without weakening depends on their power.”

“What happens when a faerie bleeds too much power too fast?”

“In most cases, we would pass out before doing long-term damage, but if the magic is spent in an intentional, violent draining—” He turns back to me, and there’s something like grief in those beautiful eyes.

“If it’s spent too quickly, a faerie can die from using her magic?”

“It’s a choice. A magical act so great and so dear to the faerie that the cost is considered worth it.”

“Do you think could die if I used too much magic too fast?”

He tilts his head to the side and studies me. “You haven’t begun to find the depths of your power.”

The shadow in my hand pops like a bubble and disintegrates.

Finn looks me up and down and shakes his head, disgust all over his face. “For someone who holds such a gift, it’s almost impressive how little of it you use. Your power is as vast as the ocean, and you’re limiting yourself to what you can hold in your hand.”

“I was doing what Pretha asked me to do.”

“You were failing,” he growls, his nostrils flaring.

“What do you want with me?” I cling to my annoyance. I’m much more comfortable with this animosity between us than I am with those . . . other feelings he inspires. “Are you here to help or just to put me down?”

He folds his arms. “Fine. Show me what you can do. And none of that handful of darkness nonsense. Impress me.” When I turn up my palms to signal that I don’t know how to do anything impressive, he huffs. “The

room is half shadow. There’s plenty to work with here. Stop overthinking it and just show me.”

Stepping away from the light, I focus and try to disappear, managing only to make my fingers fade in and out of existence. But I feel it—I always feel it when he’s close—the power just simmering in my blood, begging to burst free. “Tell me how.”

“You’re fighting it. Just let it come.”

I stare at my hand and try . . . not to try. When the darkness flickers

again, I growl in frustration. “I think I might actually be getting worse.” “I have an idea,” he says, looking out the window. “Follow me.”

Without turning back, he heads outside—not toward the front of the house where Pretha and I enter every day, but toward a back door I’ve never seen used.

I follow him out and across a furnished patio, down a dimly lit alley, and around a few buildings. When he finally stops, we’re in a massive cemetery. The evening is clear and the rows of burial plots are beautiful, if a little morbid. “Why here?” I ask.

Finn pulls his attention away from a circling flock of ravens and arches a brow at me. “You tell me.”

Because I feel most comfortable outside. Because the impending darkness of night always makes me feel inexplicably more confident. “The

night feeds my magic, doesn’t it?”

He shrugs. “You could say that. What were you feeling the times you successfully tapped into your power before?”

“Anger? Desperation? I don’t know.” I bite my lip and look up at him through my lashes. I hate feeling like a fool. “Can you use anger to make magic?”

He shrugs. “Sure. It’s a weaker emotion, but it’s a functional catalyst for less significant magic. But anger won’t be enough to access the full depths of your powers.”

I roll my eyes. “I suppose you’re going to tell me for that I need love?

His silver eyes light up, and I’m shocked to see him crack a smile. It might be the first time I’ve seen that smile when he wasn’t mocking me. He’s . . . stunning. I don’t want to notice, but those sharp cheekbones and mesmerizing eyes, the full lips that part just so when he’s watching me.

Well, I can’t imagine that anyone with healthy eyesight would fail to notice Finn’s beauty.

“You might say that wielding full magical power feels a little like love,” he says. “But it’s more like . . .” Closing his eyes, he wiggles his fingers and takes a deep breath. “It feels more like hope.”

“Then I’m doomed.”

He opens his eyes and rocks back on his heels, studying me. “How so?” I shake my head. “I don’t hope. It’s a waste of time. Dangerous, even.”

He tilts his head to the side. “You’re wrong about that. What’s truly dangerous is not having hope.”

I blow out a breath. “What if there’s nothing to hope for?”

His lips twitch, and that mocking smile is back. “Are you lying to yourself or just to me?”

“I’m not lying.”

He chuckles. The ass is laughing at me. “You live in that palace,

searching for the Unseelie relics and holding your own with that two-faced court. You come here and train your heart out. Why do you do it all?”

“To save my sister.”

He turns both palms up as if to say There you go.

“It’s not the same. I’m acting logically, not desperately.”

“Who says hope has to be desperate?” He steps forward and takes my hand, and that undeniable connection between us snaps into place as the

evening sky darkens and fills with stars.

I gasp. The darkness soothes my ragged edges and cools my anxiety even as I realize it’s not the whole night sky, but only a bubble around us. “You made it dark,” I say. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s inside you,” he says softly, almost sadly. “This isn’t my power you’re seeing here. It’s yours. I’m merely a conduit, a tool to open the door, since you keep getting in your own damn way.”

I reach my free hand up, and it blends with the darkness. As I fade into the night, as I become the darkness, I know I control it.

“Do you feel it?” Finn asks, pulling my attention back to him. His eyes scan my face again, as if he’s looking for a secret. And I do feel it. Every brush of those silver eyes feels like an intimate touch. When he speaks

again, his voice is lower, huskier. “Do you feel the potential humming in your blood?”

I meet his eyes and swallow. Is that what I feel when he touches me?

Potential? Because it feels like . . . lust. But I’d rather spend another night in Mordeus’s oubliette than admit that, so I nod.

Finn drops his hand, and the bubble of night falls away, replaced by the golden glow of the setting sun.

His attention has returned to the flock of ravens. “We should go back in.” “Why?” I ask. I don’t want to go back in. Not yet.

“You see those birds?”

As if in reaction, one caws loudly, the sharp sound renting the peaceful evening breeze.


“When ravens swarm like that, it’s a sign the Sluagh are close.” “Slew-what?”

“Sluagh. They’re spirits of the dead who’ve never been able to pass. For whatever reason, they’re caught between.”

“Are they ghosts?”

He grimaces, still studying the ravens. I wonder what he sees as he

watches them. It’s as if he’s looking for answers in their movements. “Sort of, I suppose. They’re the cursed dead, fae killed too soon and with too much power left. They’re stuck wandering the realm until their deaths are avenged. Some will lure innocents to their death just to appease their angry souls.”

A shiver of dread races down my spine, and I swallow. “Do they always linger in cemeteries?”

“They linger near wherever they were murdered, and unless you’d like to get a detailed lesson on these, I suggest we move quickly.”

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