Chapter no 3

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

BARGE INTO MADAME VIVIAS’S OFFICE, sending the door slamming against the wall so hard the pictures rattle on the walls. “Where is she?”

My aunt doesn’t even startle. She puts down her pen and pats her head, adjusting the perfect bun of dark hair she spells to keep lustrous and thick. “Hello, Abriella. Congratulations on your freedom.”

“No,” I breathe, but I see it—the pile of ash on the corner of her desk, all that remains of a magical contract once it’s fulfilled. “Why?”

“I had to cut my losses at some point.” She folds her arms across her chest and leans back in her chair. “I could’ve done this months ago, but I was waiting to see if you could catch up.”

I feel like someone’s squeezed all the air out of me and I’m held in a grip so tight I can’t fill my lungs. I didn’t realize I was hoping that Cassia was lying. I didn’t realize I was . . . hoping.

Madame V waves a hand, as if this is all as trivial as who will prepare dinner, not about my sister’s life. “Your sister will be just fine in Faerie. I’m sure she’ll charm everyone there, just like she did here.”

“You’ve made her a slave. They’ll work her to death or torture her for their own amusement . . . or . . .” I can’t even say the rest, can’t begin to enumerate the other horrific possibilities. This isn’t happening.

“Don’t be so dramatic. It’s really the best future she could ask for,

considering the hole you two have dug for yourselves. What was she going to do? Spend her life scrubbing floors like you? Maybe sell herself to men looking for cheap pleasure?”

“You should’ve warned me. I would’ve—”

“What? Stolen the balance of your debt?” The arch of her brow suggests that she knows all my secrets. “Even you couldn’t manage that, Abriella.

Frankly, you’re lucky I’ve looked the other way all these years. I could have turned you in for your illegal deeds.”

“But you didn’t. You took the money, no matter how I got it. You’ve made thousands every month off that unfair contract, and you sold her

anyway.” My body burns with anger, my blood boiling with rage that threatens to spill over.

“Come now. You’re being ridiculous. They’ll ply her with faerie wine and it will all seem like a dream.”

I feel like I’m vibrating. I want to tear off her jewelry and turn it to dust with my bare hands. I want to rage and scream until I wake up and learn this was all a terrible nightmare.

“Jasalyn’s sacrifice released you from your debt today—be glad.”

“Where?” I demand. “Where did they take her?” I’ll find her. I’ll search their entire godsforsaken realm to get my sister back.

“Maybe she’ll fall in love with a faerie lord,” she says, ignoring my question. “Maybe she’ll live happily ever after, like in those stories your mother always liked to tell.” Disgust drips from every one of her words. I don’t want any part of me to be like Madame Vivias. But this we share— her disgust, her judgment. I hate my mother for abandoning us, for leaving us with her brother just so she could be closer to her faerie lover. For

sentencing us to a life that led to this.

“If Jas dies, I hope her death haunts your every waking moment,” I whisper. “If she’s hurt, I pray that fortune cuts you twice as deep.”

“Now you sound like one of them, throwing curses around on good people.”

“Good people don’t sell girls to the fae.”

She cackles. “Have you seen the world we live in, Abriella? Have you seen the realities I’ve saved you from by keeping you under this roof?

Maybe your sister is the lucky one. Maybe you should be wishing you could’ve gone in her place.” She waves toward the door. “Now, out. Go

enjoy your freedom. But unless you want to sign a rental contract, you’ll need to find a new place to sleep, effective immediately.”

I wouldn’t stay here another night if she paid me, but I don’t bother responding. I pull her office door shut and rush down the stairs to the cellar.

Our bedroom looks just as it always does. Jas’s sewing kit sits open

against the wall. She must have been working when Bakken took her. The muslin mockup of my dress is folded on the foot of the bed, and I clutch it to my chest, ignoring the stinging pinch of the pins poking me from the fabric.

I crawl on the bed and curl onto my side. I’m too tired to cry, too stunned, but my eyes burn. She’s really gone.

The door clicks, hinges creaking as it swings open, then whooshes shut again. I feel his presence without having to look. The mattress shifts as

Sebastian sinks onto the bed, lying on his side to face me. He takes my chin in his hand, tipping my face up so I meet his eyes. “Hey . . .” He wipes my tears away with his thumb. “It’s true, then?”

I can only stare at him—at those eyes like the stormy sea, at the wrinkle between his brows that reveals more of his worry and fear than his words likely will.


“It’s true.” I swallow, trying to keep my voice steady. “Madame V sold her.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and mutters a curse. “Another year,” he

whispers, his jaw hardening. “Another year, and I would’ve been able to free you myself.”

“This isn’t on you, Bash. You can’t blame yourself for what Madame V did.”

He blows out a long breath and opens his eyes, pulling one of my hands off the muslin to grip between both of his. “Please promise me you won’t go searching for her. I can’t bear to think what might happen to you if you went to Faerie.”

“What about what’s happening to Jas there now?”

“Just give me a chance. Let me try to figure this out.”

Sebastian leaves tomorrow for the next part of his apprenticeship. I don’t know what he thinks he can do for her, but I nod. I won’t deny his help,

even if I don’t believe he can save her.

He releases my hand and looks around the room I’ve shared with my baby sister for the past nine years. “Where will you go?” he asks.

I don’t have much in the way of possessions. I could pack up everything and be out of here by sunset. “My friend Nik owes me a favor. I’ll stay with her.” Until I can come up with a plan to get Jas back.

Nik will feel awful about what Madame V did, maybe even blame herself, but I know in my gut that if we hadn’t missed today’s payment, we would have missed another in the future. The money I gave Nik couldn’t have saved Jas when a soulless witch held her life in her hands.

“I am so sorry,” he says, his eyes searching my face. “Me too.”

“I promised Mage Trifen I’d help with his next client. Will you be okay if I go? I’ll come find you later.”

I nod, and another tear escapes. Sebastian watches it roll down my cheek before following its path with his thumb. The touch is so gentle it makes me want to wrap my arms around his waist and curl into him, to bury my face in his chest and pretend none of this is happening.

Instead, I say goodbye, happy to see him go, if only so I can make a plan.



Madame Vivias’s house goblin lives under the stairs by the kitchen. I knock softly with one hand and pull the tie from my hair with the other.

Goblins love human hair, teeth, and nails—collect them the way the Seelie queen is rumored to collect jewels. If I’m going to get any information out of Bakken, it’ll be by using my hair. I can only hope that denying him all these years has made him want it that much more.

He yanks the door open on my second knock, and the faint odor of rotting fruit wafts from his tiny room. Bakken is a typical house goblin— short and barrel-bellied, with spindly limbs and thin lips that can’t quite close around his pointed teeth. His bulging eyes widen greedily when he

spots my hair. I rarely leave it down, and never around goblins. “Good day, Fire Girl. How may I help you?”

I ignore the nickname he’s used for me since the day we moved in with Uncle Devlin and I met Bakken for the first time. He took my hand in both of his and leered at the scar on my wrist—the only evidence left of the burns that should have killed me. That day, I was shocked that he knew

about the fire and my unlikely survival, when I knew nothing about him. I didn’t know then that goblins deal in stories—in histories, secrets, and information. They make it their business to know. “Take me to my sister.”

He blinks several times, as if trying to process my request, before shaking his head. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Cassia said you’re the one who took her to the traders’ market. I need you to tell me who bought her—how to save her.” My heart is racing too fast, and it’s all I can do not to look over my shoulder to make sure that

Madame V is still in her office. She wouldn’t want me talking to Bakken and would probably find a way to make me pay for the privilege—or to deny me entirely out of spite. If I don’t talk to him now, I may never have another chance. “Please.”

“There is a price.” Licking his lips with a pointed tongue, he closes the distance between us. He glances down the hall in each direction before pulling me into his tiny room and closing the door behind me. When it

clicks shut, he drags one of those long, pointed nails through my hair, from my ear all the way down to my shoulder. Revulsion crawls over my skin, but I don’t let myself back away. He releases a gleeful giggle. “Such a fascinating red. As if your hair took on the color of the fire that day.”

“Take me to whoever bought Jasalyn.” He frowns. “But why?”

“I want to . . . I’ll buy her back.” I’ll have to raid Gorst’s vaults again to have any chance of finding enough money. Maybe even clear them out this time. But it’ll be worth it.

“Not everything is about money, mortal.” Bakken narrows his eyes and cocks his head to the side. “In this world of yours, I’d think you’d be glad to have one less mouth to feed, but you look . . . heartbroken? Curious.”

I clench my fists at my sides. Goblins are known for their ability to move between the realms and for collecting information. They’re not known for their compassion. “Where?”

“Let it go, Fire Girl. You don’t want the fate that awaits you in Faerie.” “I want my sister back. Tell me where you took her. Please.”

“What will you give me for that information?”

The word anything sits on the tip of my tongue like a piece of sour fruit. I want to spit it out, but goblins are very literal. I know better than to offer more than I can give. “A lock of my hair.”

“Ah, but I’d prefer to have all of your hair.” He reaches out, but drops his hand before touching me. “It would make such a beautiful scarf. What

could I make with a mere lock?”

“What could you make with nothing?

He grins, but I see the greed in his eyes, the glint of desperation. “Show me how much.”

I take some between my fingers and hold it out for his inspection. “From here,” I say, pointing to a spot on the lock just beneath my eye, “to the end.”

Jas used to wear her hair with shorter pieces that framed her face. I always loved the way it drew attention to her eyes. But I wouldn’t dare let Bakken know I won’t miss what I’m offering; he’d only demand more.

“Yes, that’ll do.” Before I can draw another breath, he has a knife in his hand, and he takes my hair with one slice of his blade.

I bite back my gasp at his speed. “Tell me.”

“I brought her to the king’s emissary in the traders’ market who was to escort her to the king. Madame Vivias couldn’t refuse the sum the traders offered.”

The king? My blood turns to ice in my veins, and I freeze all the way to my bones. “What king?”

“The emissary took her to His Highness, King Mordeus,” he says, “who paid a great deal to purchase your sister’s life.”

No. It can’t be. Buying or stealing my sister back from some random faerie is one thing, but getting her back from a fae king—from Mordeus, the Unseelie ruler, the shadow king himself? Where mortals consider the Seelie to be the “good” fae, the Unseelie kingdom is most dangerous and most lethal to humans. Their king has a reputation for finding pleasure in torturing creatures of all kinds. Humans who go to that kingdom rarely

come back. If they do, they return as catatonic husks of themselves. On the other hand, this is the king who has countless human slaves. Perhaps he

wouldn’t even notice if she went missing. “One human girl’s as good as the next. Why didn’t the king buy one of those girls who wants to go to Faerie?”

“Because he wants Jasalyn Kincaid, sister of the Fire Girl, daughter of the beautiful mortal who—”

“I know who my sister is,” I snap. This has to be a nightmare. It doesn’t make sense. “Why does he want her? Why Jasalyn?”

“It’s not mine to question the king. Perhaps he wants to make her his queen.” His sigh might pass for dreamy if his expression weren’t so . . . hungry. “Maybe he just loves her beautiful chestnut hair.”

“If he doesn’t want money, what does he want? What kind of payment can I offer?”

He taps one long, dirty fingernail against his front teeth. “King Mordeus cares for nothing more than securing his seat on the throne.”

I shake my head. “He’s the king. Why would he need to secure anything?”

“But some say he isn’t, not truly. Mordeus stole the throne from his brother many years ago and waits for the day when his nephew—Prince Finnian, son of King Oberon and rightful heir to the Throne of Shadows— emerges from exile to claim his crown. His subjects wait too. Some have pledged loyalty to the king and will fight to keep him in power. Others believe that the Unseelie Court is dying because of Mordeus’s trickery and that it won’t recover until the rightful heir is on the throne with Oberon’s


I normally wouldn’t care at all about Faerie politics, but I make myself tuck this information away in case it proves useful later. “What does this have to do with getting Jas back?”

His lips peel back from his yellowed, pointy teeth in a smile. “Do not underestimate King Mordeus. He does nothing by accident. Every choice he makes is about power—his power.”

I can’t wrap my head around it. Jasalyn’s never had dealings with the fae

—at least none that I know of. What kind of power could the king get by enslaving her? Could this have something to do with our mother? But that doesn’t make sense. If, for some reason, the king requested her for our mother, wouldn’t she want both her daughters, not just her youngest? And why would she suddenly care about us after nine years? “Take me to my

sister. Please.”

Bakken focuses on the lock of my cut hair in his fingers and strokes it lovingly. “The Unseelie kingdom is a dangerous place for a human girl, even for a Fire Girl. You’re better off forgetting about your sister and

enjoying your newfound freedom.” “That’s not an option.”

He tucks my hair into a pocket. “I cannot take you, but for another lock, I can tell you.”

I don’t even think before offering him a nearly identical lock from the opposite side.

His eyes dance as he slices it off. “At midnight, the river portal will open for the celebration of the Seelie prince’s birth. There you can enter the Seelie Court and find the queen’s secret portal to the Court of the Moon. It opens only once each day, when the clock strikes midnight.”

This makes me pause. “Why would the Seelie queen have a portal to the Unseelie Court? I thought they were sworn enemies.”

Bakken’s stroking his new lock of hair and barely paying any attention to me. He answers absently, the way one hums a tune they’ve heard a thousand times. “Once, the golden queen was but a princess. She loved

Oberon, the shadow king, and sacrificed dearly for a way to see him in secret. Her kingdom had been at war with the Court of the Moon for

centuries, and her parents would have never allowed her to visit.”

I frown. That’s the tale my mother used to tell us at bedtime—the golden princess and the shadow king. “I thought that story was just legend. It’s true?”

“Where do you think legends begin, if not from truth?”

Suddenly I wish I could remember more of Mother’s stories, but it’s been so long and I’ve recalled them with so much resentment for years. I shake my head, focusing on the issue at hand. “Where’s the portal?”

“You’ll find it in her childhood wardrobe—a massive armoire marked with wings on each door. She’s never been able to bring herself to destroy it.”

I swallow hard. Go to the Seelie Court, find the queen’s secret portal to enter the most dangerous place in Faerie, find my sister, and rescue her from a power-hungry king. Child’s play.

Bakken’s eyes flick to mine, and he frowns. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bracelet made of fine silver threads. He offers it to me with an open hand. “Take it. No one but you will be able to see it or feel it on your wrist.”

I’ve heard of goblin bracelets, but I’ve never seen one. The silver threads are so fine they’re nearly invisible, but they glitter in the candlelight.

“Each thread represents a story of Faerie. Stories are power, Fire Girl. If you need me, simply break a thread, and I’ll appear.”

“If I break one of these”—I finger the threads gently before meeting his gaze—“you’ll help me?”

He nods. “Yes. Though I cannot save you from mortal peril, so don’t bother with it if you’re to become some beast’s next meal. But with information, for travel within the realm, I can help.”

“At what cost?”

His grin is more devious than comforting. “But a lock of hair. Or teeth if you’d prefer.”

My hand shakes as I take it from him. “What if I break a thread by accident?”

“Goblin threads don’t break accidentally. There must be intent.”

I slide the bracelet over my hand, and it magically tightens around my wrist. “Thank you, Bakken.” I reach for the door and step into the hall.

“Fire Girl!” Bakken says, stopping me. “Remember, the shadow king is clever. He’ll play you against your fate for his own benefit.”

Play me against my fate? What does that even mean? Faerie riddles. “I don’t believe in fate, Bakken. All I care about is my sister.”

“Ah yes, and the king knows that.”

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