Chapter no 17

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

IT’S BEEN A WEEK since Sebastian gave me the mirror. A week of waiting around the castle and distracting myself with Finn’s misfits, wondering if Mordeus forgot about me and our bargain. A week of obsessively asking

the mirror to show me my sister. Seeing her happy and well cared for is the only thing that makes the wait tolerable. As crowded as the Golden Palace is, I feel lonely while I’m there. The only person I trust even remotely is Sebastian, and I can’t confide in him.

I’m starting to wonder if the king ever intends to retrieve the mirror, but I won’t miss any more training in the meantime. I may need these strange

skills for the next relic. Though, if I’m honest, my preference for being with the Unseelie misfits is about more than this bargain. When Pretha brings me from the palace to Finn’s house, I end my day smiling and feeling less . . . hopeless.

Today I spent the morning practicing fading myself into shadow and

walking through wards and walls. I’ve gotten better at controlling that, but once Pretha told me to turn her to shadow, we hit a wall. Figuratively and literally.

“Let’s take a break for lunch,” Pretha says now, leading the way out of the library. “Jalek’s making sandwiches.”

When we enter the kitchen, Jalek and Tynan are already at the table with Finn. Three more plates are set, but I don’t see any sign of their red-eyed Unseelie friend.

“Don’t know where Kane is off to this morning,” Jalek mutters when he notices me looking toward the foyer. “Too hungry to wait for him, so just sit.”

Pretha cuts her eyes to me. “Ignore him. He gets irritable when he’s hungry.”

“I get irritable,” Jalek snaps, “when Litha is this close and that bitch is

still on the throne. I get irritable when the prince I’ve sworn fealty to has a fever and won’t do what’s necessary to heal himself.”

My head snaps to Finn. I’d asked him how he was when we arrived this morning, but he blew me off and said not to coddle him. Now I see beads of sweat on his forehead that I hadn’t noticed before.

“Well, you can’t fix any of that if you’re hungry,” Pretha tells Jalek, taking the seat beside Finn. “So eat.” She mops Finn’s forehead, and he swats her away.

“I’m fine,” he grumbles.

“You have a fever?” I ask Finn. “Have you been using the salve?”

“It’s not from that.” His jaw twitches; he’s sick of explaining this. “It’s a regular fever.”

“How do the stitches look?” I ask. “Is there redness or swelling?”

“I looked at it myself this morning,” Pretha says, avoiding my gaze. “We’re dealing with it. Now sit.”

Reluctantly, I sit next to Pretha, and Tynan passes around a platter of

sandwiches while Jalek fills our glasses with a sparkling water that tastes like sunshine and lemons—a description I would have found ridiculous before coming to Faerie simply because I wouldn’t have understood that it

. . . fits.

I’m halfway through my sandwich and the guys are working on seconds when Kane walks into the kitchen, a woman by his side.

The conversation halts, and everyone stops eating.

Finn pushes back from the table and stands. The wolves I hadn’t even noticed appear from the shadows and take their places on either side of him. “What’s this?” His voice is dangerously quiet.

Kane bows his head. “I found you a tribute.”

I’ve heard that word before. People in Elora are paid well to go to Faerie as tributes. My cousins would giggle about what they thought was involved, but the only thing that was clear to me was that tributes never came home. I push my chair back and head toward the girl, but Pretha grabs me by the

wrist and holds tight. “Brie. Don’t.”

“I didn’t ask for a fucking tribute,” Finn barks. His anger radiates off every word. “Take her home.”

“Finn.” Kane’s voice is hard and nearly matches Finn’s. “Be reasonable.” The girl steps forward. She’s not much older than I am and very pretty.

Her long blond hair is swept back from her face with combs, showing off

her high cheekbones and shining blue eyes. I wonder what her name is. I wonder if she has a family who will miss her.

I yank on my arm again, but Pretha holds me tight. “She’s not doing anything she doesn’t want to do, Abriella.”

The girl bows her head. “Please, my prince. I escaped Mordeus’s court. I’ve lived in Faerie all my life, and I’ve . . . I’ve seen enough to understand what I’m doing.” She drops to her knees—bowing, I realize. “Please?”

Finn looks at her long and hard, then at Kane. With a sharp shake of his head, he storms out of the room, his wolves following quietly behind him.

Pretha winces. Kane mutters a curse under his breath. And the girl buries her face in her hands and sobs.

“I’ll talk to him,” Jalek says.

Pretha stops him with a hand to his chest. “No. I’ll do it.” She follows Finn to the library and shuts the door behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Kane tells the girl. “Just give him a minute.”

“Does someone want to explain what’s happening here?” I give a pointed look to Jalek and Tynan.

Jalek shakes his head and begins clearing the table. Tynan stoops to help the girl stand up, murmuring reassurances.

“I’m going out back,” I announce, not that they’re paying me any

attention. I follow the hallway to the back of the house and welcome the summer breeze on my face as I let the door bang closed behind me.

I’m so sick of being kept in the dark. I’m so sick of the people I’m forced to trust not trusting me with anything.

The library windows are open. I cross the patio to listen, but I can’t make out the conversation happening inside. Pretha has likely shielded the room against eavesdroppers . . . against me.

I straighten. If I want to know what’s happening in there, I’m completely capable.

I close my eyes and feel myself dissolve to shadow, to darkness, to nothing. I don’t open them again until I’ve slowly slipped through the wall, through the wards they have around the house, through Pretha’s shield, and into the library.

Finn is sprawled out on the couch, one hand hanging over the back and the other massaging his temples. “Abriella isn’t ready. If I ask now, I risk her becoming suspicious.”

Pretha paces before him. “Fine. Then you need to do this.”

“Why? Because I have a small infection? You think that is what’s going to keep me from winning this war?”

“No. I think your stubborn pride is what’s going to keep us from winning this war.” She swipes at her cheeks, and I realize she’s crying. “Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to watch Vexius waste away?”

Vexius? Have I heard that name before?

“Do you have any idea how it feels to live each day knowing that it didn’t have to be like this?”

“You act like it’s so simple,” Finn says, “but if I take tribute after tribute, am I any better than him?

Who’s him? Mordeus? Does he take tributes too? What do tributes do?

And why?

“I think you’re still grieving over Isabel, and—” She turns toward me and scans the shadowed wall of books.

Finn sits up. “What is it?”

“I just got the feeling that we aren’t alone.”


She flicks her wrist, and an orb of light appears at her fingertips. With another flick, it floats toward me.

I slip back out through the wall before she can see me.

“I don’t see anything,” Finn says as I slip away. “Are you sure?” “You shouldn’t linger in the dark when she’s around.”



I’m not supposed to know that the girl is still here. I’m not supposed to see her step into the library, where Finn’s brooded all afternoon. And I’m definitely not supposed to be using my shadows to sneak in behind her and spy on them.

Ever since Pretha taught me about wards and shields and made me realize I’d unwittingly been moving through them when I slipped into

shadows, I’ve been more conscious of that extra wall of magic. I can feel it now as I slip inside—an additional shield that someone placed around the library.

The young woman stands before Finn with her head bowed. “Please don’t send me back.”

Finn tilts her face up to him and studies her. “You don’t understand what you’re offering.”

“I do. I was born and raised in Faerie, and I know how this works. I am not a typical human.”

“What if I sent you to the Wild Fae?” he asks, tilting his head to the side. “Would your life be so bad there?”

The girl swallows. “I do this for my brother—my half brother. He was Unseelie, and the only person who truly cared about me.”

“Where is he now?”

She ducks her head. “He died, my prince. He shouldn’t have, but the curse . . .”

“I understand.”

She pulls a pile of stones from her pocket. “Please?” “What can I give you in return?”

She shakes her head. “I see all you do for the Unseelie. This is how I can help. I want to do this for you and for them.”

“Surely there’s something?” His voice is thick and scratchy. She gives him a small smile. “There’s nothing.”

She reaches out to cup Finn’s face and leans toward him, her lips inches from his. His eyes remain open as he slowly lowers his mouth to hers.

The moment their lips touch, something dull and ragged tears through my core.

I turn my back on them and leave the library. I tell myself I’m upset for Pretha. Not that I’m even sure they are . . . involved. But it’s the only reason I should feel anything at the sight of Finn kissing someone.

I sit in the garden, looking up at the sun sinking low on the horizon. For the first time all day I want to return to the palace. I don’t want to be here while Finn takes his . . . tribute. I want to ignore this feeling in my chest that I can’t name. Is it jealousy? No. I don’t want some broody fae prince.

I don’t want him.

So why does seeing him touch someone else so tenderly hurt so much?

It would be easy for me to disregard my emotions as gratitude toward

someone who is helping me when I desperately need it, but what about the

connection I feel to him? What about how my power seems to surge when he’s close or the way it feels when we touch?

What if all that means something? What if Finn is more to me than a teacher and a friend?

The thought feels like such a betrayal to Sebastian, I wish I could physically pluck it from my mind.

“Are you ready to head back now?” Pretha asks from the doorway. She’s been trying to get me to return to the palace all afternoon.

“Do you not care that he’s in there touching that girl?”

Pretha blinks at me, her shoulders seeming to sag in . . . relief? “I didn’t even feel you move past my shield,” she mutters. “Impressive.”

“He kissed her. I’d think you’d care about that.” I sound as catty and cruel as my cousins, so I shake my head and soften my tone. “I mean, I thought you’d want to know.”

She frowns, and then realization strikes and she smiles. “You think I’m

with Finn?” She laughs. “Where in the world did you get that idea?”

My cheeks heat, and I try to swallow my embarrassment, but it’s useless.

I’ve made assumptions, and now I look like a fool. “Lark has his eyes.”

She shakes her head. “Lark has her father’s eyes. Finn’s her uncle, and he’s free to kiss whomever he wishes.” She mutters something under her breath that sounds a lot like Likely thinking of someone else.

“What are tributes? Why do you need them and what happens to them?

Why did that girl have a handful of stones in her pocket?”

Pretha folds her arms. “We’re trying to be your friends, Brie. Friends don’t spy.”

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