Chapter no 21

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

BY THE TIME WE GET BACK to Finn’s, I am exhausted in a way I haven’t felt since my mother left. I’ve never used so much magic at once, and the

events of tonight have left me feeling emotionally wrung out.

While Jalek reunites with his friends, I go outside and sink into one of the chairs on the patio that runs the length of the back of the house. Dawn will

come soon, and I need to get back to the palace before someone notices that I’m gone, but I can’t bring myself to go. Not yet.

I tilt my face up to the stars and close my eyes. I’ve known for a while now that the Unseelie aren’t the devils mythology makes them out to be, but tonight opened my eyes to the cruelty of Sebastian’s court. Burning an innocent alive to punish her brother? I can’t think of it without feeling sick.

I hear the click of the back door, and without turning to look, I know it’s Finn. I feel him . . . something else I don’t want to think about too much.

“Are you okay out here?”

Okay? What is okay? “Yeah. I’m just tired.” I roll my shoulders back. “Do you think I was at risk of burning out tonight? I feel completely drained.”

He shakes his head. “You’ve barely begun to tap into what you’re

capable of. You just need practice. You’re not used to using that much power. You might feel . . . off for a few days. In fact, I’ll tell Pretha that you’re not training tomorrow. You should rest.”

I study the moon that’s sinking toward the horizon. “You mean today.” “I suppose so. Today, tomorrow . . . take as much time as you need. You

did great tonight. As soon as we get you past this block of yours, you’ll . . .” I cut my eyes to him. “I’ll what?”

His face is solemn as he meets my eyes. “You’ll be unstoppable.”

“Why did Jalek leave the Seelie Court?” I ask. “If he let them burn his sister so he could—”

“He didn’t let them do anything. He didn’t know what they’d done to Poppy until it was too late.” When I stare at him, waiting for an answer to my question, he sighs. “He left because he didn’t want to serve the queen.

He left as protest but also because he wanted to help me get her off the throne.”

“How long ago was that?”

He lowers himself into the seat next to mine and leans back, tilting his face to the sky. “Twenty years ago.”

“And still she rules,” I whisper. It’s not a judgment, and when Finn nods, I think he knows that. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to act happy in that palace when I’ve seen how cruel she can be.”

Finn grunts. “You’ve barely seen anything.”

“When Sebastian was talking to Jalek, Jalek said that the queen would never give him the crown if Sebastian killed him. But then it sounded like the queen planned to kill Jalek herself, so I don’t understand.”

Finn finally pulls his attention off the sky and studies me instead. “Are you so sure he was talking about Arya?”

“Yes, he . . .”

Finn arches a brow, waiting for me to remember. But no. He said she, not the queen.

“Then who?”

“You impressed my entire team with what you did tonight,” he says, “the risk you took.”

I should make him answer my question, but I already know it’s futile and I’m too tired for the fight. “You all would have done the same if it had been me in that cell.”

He draws in a breath, and his brows knit together. “I don’t know if that

would have been true before tonight, Princess. You may be better than all of us.”

I frown, remembering my night in King Mordeus’s oubliette and my dream of Finn. Did he come to me? Is that his power? The question sits on my tongue, but I swallow it back. The last thing I need to do is reveal what an impact he’s had on me since the first night we met. I think I’ll die with that secret, if for no other reason than to save myself the embarrassment if it turns out it was just a dream.

“Are you ready to go back to the palace?”

I shake my head. “Not yet, if you don’t mind. I just . . .” I pull in a deep breath and blow it out. “I need a few more minutes.”

“By all means.”

I half expect him to get up and go back inside, but he stays, and when I look over to him, he’s toying with the curls at the back of his head and

staring at the night sky.

“I used to sit outside with my mother at night,” I say. I don’t know why I’m telling him this, but I want to remember her right now. “She loved the darkness, the moon, the constellations. She’d tell me to pick a star and make a wish.”

Finn doesn’t look at me. He closes his eyes, as if picturing it. “She sounds amazing.”

“Sometimes I wish she hadn’t been. If she hadn’t been so wonderful, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much when she left.” I blow out a breath. “What about your mother? Is she still living?”

“My mother died birthing my younger brother many, many years ago. I imagine she was like yours in many ways.” His voice goes rough. “She too loved the night, and put her children above all else.”

My mother didn’t, though. She left us. But I don’t correct him.

He takes my hand and squeezes my fingers. Power ripples through me from whatever his connection does to my magic, and the stars seems to glow brighter. “Pick a star,” he says. “Make a wish.”

I shake my head. Even with that surge of power from his touch, I am so damned tired and the tears are too close. I don’t want to cry. “I’m not sure I believe in that anymore.”

“Oh, but you do. I’m fae. We have an instinct for these things.”

“When I was a little girl, I had so many reasons to believe, so many reasons to hope. Then each day, week, year that passed after Mom left . . .” I swallow and pull my hand out of his. This—whatever I feel when he touches me—it’s too confusing. I don’t want to deal with sorting that out

along with everything else tonight. “After she left, I could still see the stars, but it seemed that fewer and fewer of them were for me. Wishes were for girls who had parents, for people who weren’t stuck in impossible contracts. If I lose Jas, I don’t think there will be a single star in the sky that feels like mine.” But in this moment, sitting here and looking up at the stars next to this male who helps me tap into a power I don’t even understand, a power that may very well allow me to save my sister, I can understand hope. I can understand wishing on stars. I can almost believe I’ll be doing it for a very long time.

When Finn stands, his gaze locks on the hand I pulled away from him. “Abriella, every star in that sky shines for you.”

It’s not until the door swings closed behind him that I realize he called me by my given name.



The days after we rescued Jalek from the queen’s dungeons stretch long. Finn makes good on his promise to give me a break from training, but being stuck at the palace all day feels more like a punishment than a reprieve,

especially without Sebastian around. When I found Riaan training on the roof, he told me his prince was “away.” Since I haven’t seen Sebastian since Litha, I don’t know what he or the queen thought about their prisoner disappearing—not that Sebastian would tell me anyway.

The second evening after Litha, I’m pacing my room, bored out of my mind and frustrated that I’m at a standstill on the book. I’m wondering how to contact Pretha when I decide to ask the mirror to show me Jas again. My chest goes tight at the sight of my little sister, as it does every time I see her through the mirror.

She’s sewing and telling the story of the faerie princess who fell in love with the shadow king. “When the golden princess’s parents learned their daughter was meeting the shadow king in the mortal realm, they combined their magical powers to lock all the portals between the human world and Faerie—keeping their daughter from reaching her lover and preventing the shadow king from returning home.”

When the image fades, I start to put the mirror down but decide to try something else.

“Show me my mother.” I stare at my own reflection for so long I think it’s not going to work, but then she appears.

I haven’t seen my mother in nine years, but the woman in the mirror looks exactly as I remember her—tall and graceful, with the same chestnut hair as Jasalyn. It’s braided and wrapped into a coronet atop her head. She’s walking through a cemetery, and she stops at one gravestone and sinks to her knees. The setting sun makes the red highlights in her hair shine, and my chest aches a little with unexpected longing. She was such a good mom.

We laughed together, and she told us stories. She always wanted to play games and take long walks with us. She always put us first.

Until she didn’t.

That’s the real reason I need to guard my heart against Sebastian. Loving a faerie can make you lose yourself. It can make you forget what matters most. My mother did.

Why is she in the cemetery? Could that be the grave of the faerie she loved? I scan the image in the mirror over and over. Something about this looks familiar. Then I realize what it is. This is the same cemetery Finn took me to when he wanted to show me what my power could do. It’s not far from here at all.

The image in the mirror fades, and I make a quick decision. I loop a leather satchel over one shoulder and slide the mirror inside. Then I run toward the cemetery, a golden stripe of the evening sun the only light left along the horizon.

If my mother is so close, maybe she can help me get Jas back. I know the faerie she loved was important—a noble fae, she said, a male who loved his people and cared for them enough to sacrifice his own happiness. Maybe he has some sort of connection to the Unseelie king. Maybe she could get him to release Jas before I finish retrieving his artifacts. Even if she doesn’t have pull, it would be a relief to have her close. To have someone to confide in

and know I’m not alone in this.

My soft dress shoes weren’t made for running on this rough stone ground. The rocks bite into the bottoms of my feet, but I don’t slow down until I reach the graves I saw in the mirror.

The cemetery stands empty, and I spin around, hoping to see where she may have gone.

“Mother!” I call. “Mom?” My voice cracks, and with it something in my chest leaks out.

I pull the mirror out again. “Show me my mother.”

The image shows a tomb, a rotting corpse lying in darkness, her arms crossed over her chest.

I drop the mirror as if it burned me. “No.” I back away from it. No.

Sebastian said it might not work for mortals. Just because it’s worked until now . . . No. This means nothing.

A cold breeze whips through the gravestones, and the last of the sun disappears, but I’m not ready to go back to the palace.

I swallow hard and force myself to pick up the mirror and shove it into my satchel. That image meant nothing.

“Brie!” My name comes from a cry in the woods and it sounds like—

“Brie! Help me!” Even as I move toward the call, I try to convince myself that the voice isn’t familiar—isn’t one I know better than my own.

I hear the cry again—a cry and a terrified sob. At the sound of my little sister’s desperate shrieking, I run as fast as I can into the trees. The forest floor is dense with brush, twigs, sticks, and leaves. My skirt snags on a bush, and my useless shoes tear away, but I keep running.

“Help! Brie? Brie, help me!”

Racing toward the sound of Jas’s voice, I swing around trees and through underbrush, following her cries as they grow louder and more panicked. I run until my legs are burning and my throat is raw. I’m not even surprised when I see my childhood home—the one we escaped from almost ten years ago. The one where my father died.

Flames whip around the walls, licking at the roof and reaching higher and higher. Just like that night.

I back up a step. This isn’t real.

The fire crackles and snaps, and smoke shoves itself up my nose while the heat of the flames burns my cheeks.

“Brie, please!”

I race inside without letting myself think.

The next time she calls my name, my ears are filled with the roar of the fire and I can barely hear it. I know that her voice will get quieter and quieter. I know because I’ve been here before. And I know she’ll go

completely silent before I reach her. She’ll be unconscious on the floor beneath her bed.

Part of my mind tells me this is an illusion. The house is gone. It can’t be here. But I can’t leave her. If I’m not the girl who runs into the fire to save her little sister, then I am nothing.

Jas screams again, and a loud crack rends the air as the ceiling joists crumble.

The smoke is unbearable. It fills my lungs, leaving no room for oxygen as I scramble around fallen debris and dodge the flames. A beam falls on

my leg, and I collapse on the burning floor. “Jas,” I whisper.

“Abriella!” The roar of a deep voice comes from the front of the house. “Abriella!”

“Back here.” The words are weak, my lungs too full of smoke. There’s no way he heard me above the sound of the house burning around us.

I push and shove at the beam, but it doesn’t move. My nose fills with the smell of my own burning flesh. I can’t keep my head up. I can’t even hear Jas anymore.

“You foolish mortal!”

Unconsciousness falls over me like a heavy blanket. I try to surge out from under it, but I can’t.

“I was supposed to save her,” I whisper. And then everything goes dark.

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