Chapter no 20

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“YOU’RE SURE IT’S HIM?” Sebastian asks Riaan as they turn into a back hallway that is blessedly dimly lit. If they head toward the queen’s quarters, I’ll have to abort my mission.

“Yes. And the queen has identified him as well.”

Sebastian rolls his shoulders, then turns down a hallway I’ve never seen before. The queen must keep it glamoured. “We’ll make an example of him.”

It’s less hall and more tunnel, with ceilings so low the males have to duck their heads as they walk. It quickly leads to a dark staircase, and Riaan

summons a ball of light to guide their way. I stay a safe distance back and focus on blending with the shadows.

With each step down, the air grows cooler, and the hair on my arms

stands on end. Sebastian stops at the bottom of the stairs and stands with his legs wide, his arms folded as he looks into a barred cell. I can’t see inside from here, but I’m close enough to hear them speak.

“Jalek,” Sebastian says, and my already unsettled stomach clenches tight.

Could it be Finn’s Jalek? The male who’s been teaching me to wield a sword? “How nice of you to return home for the holiday.”

The male behind the bars spits at Sebastian. “Fuck off,” he growls, and I know it’s him. I know that voice.

“That’s no way to treat the man who holds your fate in his hands.”

Jalek huffs out a laugh. “Am I supposed to believe there’s any chance you might free me?”

Sebastian tucks his hands into his pockets and leans back against the wall opposite the cell. “I might, if you tell us about who you’re working with

and where we can find them.” “I work alone.”

Sebastian grunts. “I’m not a fool. I know you work with Prince Finnian.

Did he send you? Tell me his plans, and I will protect you from punishment.”

“I don’t betray my own—unlike your queen.” He says queen like it’s an insult, and Sebastian lunges forward, grabs his shirt through the bars, and lifts him off the floor.

“You treasonous bastard.”

Jalek gasps for air, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. His face turns red, then purple, as if someone is choking him. I want to look away. I don’t want to see this side of Sebastian. I don’t want to believe he’s capable of cruelty against a male I’ve come to know as good and kind. But I force myself to watch every moment.

Sebastian still holds him off the floor, but Jalek suddenly wheezes and sputters as if the pressure on his windpipe’s been released.

“Give me a reason not to kill you right now,” Sebastian growls. “Kill me, and she’ll never give you the crown.”

Why would the queen refuse Sebastian his birthright for killing a traitor?

Sebastian drops him and steps back, his nostrils flaring. “What do you know about it?”

Jalek laughs. “Enough to know that you don’t have her fooled.” A blast of light slams into Jalek, knocking him to the floor.

“You sleep there tonight,” Sebastian growls. “If you have a change of heart by morning, perhaps we can make a deal. If not, I will make an

example of you. I’ll show the whole kingdom the consequences of threatening my family.”

Sebastian storms up the stairs and right past me, Riaan following.

I wait until they turn down the hall at the top of the stairs and are no longer visible. Only then do I release my grip on the shadows and find my physical form again.

I approach the cell and rub my arms. It’s so cold down here. “Jalek?”

He straightens at the sight of me. “Brie. How long have you been here?” “Long enough.”

His face pales. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough to understand that he’s likely to kill you if you don’t betray Finn.” And I can’t risk that for too many reasons to count. “I have to get you out of here.” I run my hands over the bars, looking for the lock.

“It’s a magical cell. The entry appears and disappears as Prince Ronan wills it.”

I shiver. “You’ll freeze before morning. There has to be a way. What about your magic?”

He chuckles—low, dry, and . . . hopeless. “The first thing they did was inject me with a toxin that blocks my powers.” His head rolls to the side, and he closes his eyes. “It kind of feels like having lead injected into your veins.”

“Will it wear off? Maybe I can distract Sebastian in the morning so you can—”

“I appreciate the offer, but no. You could distract the prince for days, and they’d still keep me pumped full of that poison.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine Sebastian like that. If I hadn’t seen for myself . . .” I swallow my confusion.

“War brings out the worst in all of us.” Jalek shakes his head. “Tell Finn I’m sorry. Tell him . . .” He cradles his head in his hands, muttering a string of curses. “Tell him he was right about the queen. She is dying, but not fast enough.”

I wrap my hands around the bars, wishing I had something to say to reassure him. But all I have are questions. “Will the queen really keep the crown from Sebastian if he kills you? If that’s true, maybe he’ll keep you alive as long as she lives.”

He meets my eyes and gives me a sad smile. “You know too much and not enough.”

“Then tell me what I need to know!”

He closes his eyes again and seems to curl into himself as he whispers,

“Curses are made of secrets and sacrifice. We will suffer as long as she pays the price.”



When I sneak out of the palace, the Litha celebration is still in full force, and it’s easy enough to sneak a horse from the stables. I’ve been escorted between the palace and Finn’s enough times that the route is ingrained in my memory.

I ride quickly, sticking to the shadows and not allowing myself to think about what lurks in the darkness beyond the trees.

When I arrive at Finn’s, I tie the horse up in front and don’t bother knocking. Instead, I cut through the alley and shift into shadow to walk through the wall and into the back of the house. Low voices are coming from the library and getting louder.

One belongs to Finn, and when I get closer, I realize that the second is Pretha’s. I could slip inside and spy—see what they’re saying when they don’t think I’m here—but I don’t have it in me tonight. Seeing Sebastian nearly strangle Jalek and then watching Jalek curl into himself in that cell, seeing the defeat in his eyes, like that of a man awaiting his execution, it broke something inside me.

I can’t bring myself to deceive these people who are my . . . Pretha said they were trying to be my friends. Are they? I don’t know. I don’t know if

anyone is my friend anymore, but I can’t leave Jalek there. Even if he won’t betray me or Finn, I couldn’t live with myself if he died. So I emerge from the shadows, open the library doors, and walk inside.

Finn and Pretha stop talking and turn to me. “What happened?” Pretha asks.

“Jalek. He was captured. Sebastian’s threatening to . . .” I realize I don’t exactly know what Sebastian will do if Jalek doesn’t give him the information he wants. Kill him, I assume. Maybe worse. “Sebastian said he’d make an example of him.”

“We know,” Pretha says softly, throwing a long look at Finn. “We were just discussing how to find and free him. No one knows how to get to the queen’s dungeons.”

“I do.” I swallow. “I followed Sebastian there tonight, but I couldn’t free Jalek. There is no door on his cell—only bars.”

“Only mortals are foolish enough to give their prisoners doors, Princess,” Finn says.

Pretha chews on her thumbnail. “We’ll trade something for him.” “Like what?” Finn asks.

“I think I have an idea,” I say.

“Information,” Pretha says, continuing as if I never spoke. “There has to be something.”

Finn shakes his head. “There’s no information I can give Prince Ronan that he would think was worth the trade.”

“I know what we can do,” I try again.

“But there is,” she says, looking at me quickly. “No,” Finn growls. “We’ve worked too hard.”

“Listen to me,” I shout, my voice loud enough to echo in the high-ceilinged room.

Finn raises a brow. “Pardon, Princess. We didn’t mean to upset you. Tell us your idea.” Condescension drips from his words and I almost want to

walk away just to spite him, but . . . Jalek. I can’t leave him there. “We can’t open his cell, so we walk him out through the walls.” Pretha’s eyes light up, and she turns to Finn. “Could you—”

“No,” he says, cutting her off. “Not even on a good day, and definitely not right now.”

“I think . . . I think can.”

Pretha steps forward, her brow creased. “Then why didn’t you do it when you were there tonight?”

Finn scoffs. “Because she can’t.” He turns to me. “Your optimism is

charming, but we aren’t deep enough into your training yet. You can hardly control the smallest bit of your power, and if you lost your hold on it while slipping through the queen’s wards, you’d have the entire royal guard on your ass.”

My cheeks burn. I feel like a fool for what I have to admit, but I force myself to say it. “You’re right. I can’t. Not by myself, but my power . . . it’s stronger when you’re around. And when you touch me . . .” I immediately regret my words. They sound far, far too intimate. My face is on fire, but I lift my chin and go on. “I think if you go with me, the boost I get from you will give me the power and control I need to do this.”

Finn stares at me.

Pretha shakes her head. “It’s too risky. What happens if you get inside that cell and you can’t do it. Then all three of you are stuck. Putting aside the trouble that would mean for us, Brie, do you really want to risk your prince discovering what you’ve been up to?”

“Let’s show her.” Finn steps forward and offers me his hand.

I put my hand in his and arch my back as my power awakens inside me. The room goes wholly dark, and Pretha mutters a curse right before I take her hand and the three of us walk through the wall and into the back alley.



“Wake up, you lazy bastard,” Finn says, nudging Jalek with his boot. “Unless you want to be the queen’s breakfast this morning.”

I cringe at Finn. In the pitch black of the cell, I can hardly make out his features, even with my excellent night vision. “Her breakfast? Is she a


“She’s a monster,” Jalek says, pushing himself off the ground and

scowling at us. “How the hell did you two get in here? You have a damned death wish?”

Finn tilts his head in my direction and shrugs. “The princess insisted. I didn’t want to disappoint her when she was in the mood for an adventure.” “If you end up sacrificing yourself for me,” Jalek mutters, “I’m gonna

kill you before the queen has the chance.”

At the sound of feet scuffing on the stairs, I turn toward the bars and try to see who’s coming, but the angle makes it impossible. When we snuck past the party roaring outside and into the castle, there were two guards

stationed in the hall with the glamoured doorway and another two at the top of the dungeon stairs. “Someone’s coming,” I whisper.

Finn’s head snaps to the stairs, and before I can even follow his gaze, he’s yanked me to the back corner of the cell. There, we become the darkness.

Jalek’s eyes widen. “Gods above and below,” he mutters.

I see the light before I see the sentry. He’s dressed in the traditional attire of Arya’s guard and holds an orb of light in the palm of his hand.

“Are you talking to yourself, traitor?” the uniformed sentry asks.

Jalek’s face becomes a mask of indifference as he turns to face the bars.

The sentry flashes the orb over Jalek’s face and then around the cell. Finn keeps ahold of my hand as he pulls me against him so my back is flush with his front. My breath catches at the contact, and my body stiffens.

“Shh,” Finn whispers, his breath hot against my ear and his free hand flat against my stomach.

I close my eyes and swallow. I hate that I react to him this way. Hate

even more that part of me wishes he’d move that hand, stroke the skin that burns beneath his touch. “You’re enjoying this far too much,” I whisper.

His chest shakes against my back in a silent chuckle, and his lips brush my ear. “You have no idea.”

The sentry paces down the corridor past Jalek’s cell, but we stay hidden, waiting for him to return to his post at the top of the stairs.

Finn’s thumb circles ever so slightly against my stomach. “Stop that.” The protest is too quiet to sound sincere.

“As you wish.”

But the feel of his splayed fingers flattening against my stomach is

almost worse, and I have to swallow back a contented groan. The darkness pulses around us.

“Easy, Princess, focus on the magic. When we’re out of here, you can go back to imagining all the ways you want my hands on you.”

I open my mouth to tell him he’s a disgusting pig who is absolutely wrong about the direction of my thoughts, but I snap it closed when the sentry returns. He casts light into the cell again. When our back corner

remains blanketed in darkness and he returns his attention to Jalek, unaware that anything’s amiss, I release a breath.

“I remember your sister,” the sentry says with a sneer. “It was a shame to see such a pretty thing pay the price for her brother’s crimes, but you didn’t care, did you? I got to put her into the fire myself. I’ll never forget the

sound of her screams as the flames melted her skin.”

Finn grips me tighter, as if he’s afraid I might lunge at the guard. Jalek’s entire body goes rigid, his fists balled at his sides, but he doesn’t reply.

His sister, burned alive. My heart aches for him, and I feel more conflicted than ever about these supposedly “good” fae.

The sentry narrows his eyes at Jalek, his lip curling in a sneer. “I hope she lets you rot down here.” Then he turns back to the stairs, and we all hold our breath as we count his steps to the top.

Finn releases me, his fingers skimming across my abdomen slower than necessary. I spin and shoot him a glare.

He only smirks before turning his attention to Jalek. “When we get you out of here, you’re going to have to walk right past him.”

Jalek whips around, and even in the darkness I can see the torment in his eyes.

Finn crosses the cell to look his friend in the eye. “I know you’d like to tear him apart, but that is going to have to wait for another day. Do you understand?”

Jalek swallows and gives a curt nod. “How do we do this?” His voice is low but raw.

Finn takes my hand, then offers his other hand to his friend. “Just hold on and let us lead the way.”

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