Search

Chapter no 31

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“BREATHE!” HANDS ON MY SHOULDERS, shaking me, Sebastian’s commanding voice fills the room. “That’s right, Abriella, breathe!”

I pull in a breath, and it burns—like breathing water or drowning on air, but I take another breath. And another. Each hurts a little less.

He gathers me against his chest and strokes my hair. “I heard her,” he

says. His arms wrap around me, almost too tightly, but his fear is palpable, and I can’t deny him this embrace. “I heard her singing your name.”

The Banshee. It wasn’t a dream. “Sebastian.” My voice sounds like crushed glass.

“Shh, I’ve got you.” He rocks me, but I can feel him shaking. I can feel the grief rolling off him. As if he’s already lost me. “I’ve got you. I won’t let death be the end. I promise you.”

“What?” I flatten a palm against his chest and push him back. “What does that mean?”

“Did you see her?”

I nod. “Does it really mean . . . Sometimes she’s wrong.” We saved Jalek.

He didn’t die.

Sebastian shakes his head. “I don’t know. I just . . .” He swallows, anguish in his eyes. “I don’t know.”

“You said you won’t let death be the end. What did you mean by that?” He looks away.

“Sebastian?”

When he meets my eyes, his shoulders sag. “I never imagined how helpless I would feel, loving a mortal. But it cuts at me, Brie. Every time I don’t know where you are, every time I don’t know if you’re safe. I could lose you so easily. And then I woke up to the sound of her singing your name and—” He squeezes his eyes shut. “If you die, I can’t bring you back. Once you’re gone, I can’t give you the Potion of Life.”

“You mean you can’t turn me fae.” My voice is tired and brittle.

He cups my face in his hands. “I heard her sing your name,” he whispers. “And all I could think was that the potion wouldn’t work, because we’re not

bonded.”

I stiffen. “Humans have to be bonded to the fae to use the Potion of Life?”

He blows out a breath. “Whoever created the potion believed that humans might steal the magic if the bond wasn’t required.”

“I . . .” I just want to be me. To be enough for him without becoming a faerie. I never wanted to be fae. I didn’t think I’d ever want that. But with the sound of the Banshee’s voice in my head, the world looks a little different. “Bash, I’m scared.”

His eyes go shuttered. “Of the bond?”

Of what I need to do. Of losing you. Of the sound of my name on the Banshee’s lips. Of never having the chance to give you the bond you want so badly.

He doesn’t wait for an answer but settles back onto the pillows with me, stroking my arms and pulling me closer and closer. Reassuring us both.

When my heart rate returns to normal, I turn in his arms. “Tell me how it works, the bonding ceremony.”

He holds my gaze for a long time before he answers, and I get the impression that this conversation is a little heavier for him after hearing the Banshee. “The ceremony is elegant,” he finally says, “in the way that only what is pure can be. It begins with us selecting the rune that will symbolize our bond, and then I’d say some words and you’d repeat them.”

“Is there an audience?”

“Not typically, though my parents chose to perform theirs in front of a

crowd in conjunction with their wedding vows.” He smiles. “I was five, and I remember being so embarrassed when they kissed and kissed, waiting for the bond to solidify.”

“You were five when your parents were married and bonded?”

His smile falls away. “My father always said it took him years to

convince my mother he was worthy of her. Lately I’ve begun to sympathize with his plight.”

I nudge him with my elbow and almost smile. “Would you want an audience?”

“No. I’d want it to be just us, if only because we have to maintain a . . . a physical connection until the bond snaps into place.”

I bite my lip. “You mean sex?”

He grins and pinches my side. “Not necessarily. The magic demands a physical representation of the empathic bond. Some bonded pairs will

simply hold hands, but when the connection is romantic, most couples let the intimacy of the moment guide them. The magic—it’s . . . intense.

Powerful.”

“I hope someday I get to experience that.” I’m surprised by how much my feelings about being bonded have changed, but I mean it. I just want to be there with him—to be past everything else so I can. I might never have that. When I said I’d take tonight if it was all I could have, I meant it.

“It is my greatest wish.” He presses a kiss to the top of my head. “Until then . . . stay close. I’ll protect you.”

He holds me tighter, and I realize he thinks I’m worried that death will come between us. Soon he’ll understand that my secrets will tear us apart faster than the threat of a Banshee call ever could.

 

 

I don’t close my eyes again. When I’m sure Sebastian is in a deep sleep, I slip out from under his arm and climb out of bed.

I pull on my silky pajama pants and the matching top my maids packed.

Everything else they sent has a skirt, and I’ll need to be able to move as freely as possible.

Every time I close my eyes, I see that ghostly woman in her tattered white dress, her hair floating around her. Even with my eyes open, I hear her. The sound of my name in her voice is a macabre song stuck in my head.

Sebastian fell asleep holding me. He wants to protect me, but I can’t allow him to stay close enough to try. A ticking clock clangs in my head right alongside the Banshee’s song.

I know what I need to do, and I have never been more terrified.

Now more than ever, it’s tempting to put Jas’s fate in Sebastian’s hands. If he could get someone to kill Mordeus, his men would be able to retrieve Jas. I want to believe he can get it done—but now I know that the Seelie

cannot harm the Unseelie, and too much time has passed for me to not act.

I hate that my actions might take Sebastian’s mother from him, but I feel no remorse over what my actions will do to the queen beyond her son’s

grief. She tortures and enslaves an entire race of faeries. Her curse is the root cause of the sale and murder of countless humans, all because one male broke her heart. Sebastian will grieve, and for that I am sorry, but I know

what I have to do.

I unwrap the mirror from my shadows, returning it to its solid form, and take it into my hand. “Show me Jasalyn.” I need to see her. I need the reminder of why I’m betraying Sebastian. Why I’m undoubtedly heading to my own death.

I see my sister laid out on a stone floor, her head lolling to the side in

sleep, her lips chapped. I grip the mirror tighter, and the image ripples like a reflection in a pond. When it clears, it shows Jas tucked into a big bed.

She’s sleeping on her side, draped in fluffy blankets, her arms curled around one pillow while her head rests on another.

Which image is real? Which can I trust?

Either way, I need that book. I tuck the mirror away and slip into the

shadows to head to the library. If I’m lucky, I’ll be back before Sebastian wakes, and I’ll be able to pretend I didn’t have anything to do with the book’s disappearance. If I’m unlucky, I’ll understand the Banshee’s call soon enough.

I sneak out of my room and past the sentries guarding the end of the hall.

My mind goes over my plan again and again. Please don’t suspect me, Sebastian. And when you find out the truth, please forgive me.

The library doors are closed, locked, and no doubt warded, but I slip past them as shadow and into the library. Does Sebastian know I can do this?

Will he realize it had to be me when he finds the book is gone and the doors still locked?

Moonlight casts a cool glow across the beautiful space. I can’t hear the pixies singing here, but if I close my eyes, I know I’ll be able to remember the sound of the library pixies at the Golden Palace and what it felt like to have Sebastian hold me in his arms and sway to the angelic melody.

I don’t close my eyes.

I don’t let myself remember. I head straight to the book.

Before I can second-guess myself, I reach out and place my hands on the open pages, aware of Sebastian’s warning. I feel nothing. No magical jolt in

my blood and no danger. Carefully, I close the book with a soft thwap. I’ll tuck it into shadow and go to Mordeus.

But the moment I lift the book off the pedestal, it shifts in my hands— squirming and twisting. I nearly drop it out of instinct alone.

The book in my hand has turned into a massive, hissing serpent, so big I can barely keep my hands around it. I’m desperate to get away from those fangs and that darting tongue, but I think of Jas and hold it tighter. I knew the book could shape-shift. I should have considered what form it might take when I tried to steal it.

It snaps at my face, but I refuse to loosen my grip. It’s a book. Just a book. A book cannot hurt you.

Then it strikes. Pain is like a gong echoing through me as its teeth sink into my shoulder. Every vein in my arm burns as its venom pumps through me.

The library doors fly open, and light pours from the ceiling as half a dozen sentinels rush toward me. I must have triggered a silent alarm.

“Drop the book!” a sentinel calls as he draws his sword.

The serpent releases its massive jaws from my shoulder, and if possible, the skin throbs more than before. I block out the pain and loop the creature around my neck, lunging for the shadows, willing myself to disappear, but even in the rows of darkness between the stacks, my magic fails me.

I turn back, ready to run, and find myself face to face with the tip of a sword.

“Drop the book now, milady.”

I can see the confusion in the sentinel’s face. He’s been commanded to protect me by his prince, no doubt, and commanded to protect the book by his queen.

“I can’t.” I remember what it felt like to cast a room in darkness with Finn at my side, and I conjure that feeling. I ignore the blinding pain in my shoulder and focus on darkness. On the cool soothing of pitch-black night.

The room goes dark, and the sentinels shout in confusion. Not even moonlight from the skylights makes it through my shield of darkness.

I run in the direction of the windows, and suddenly I’m free-falling. All I can do is keep my hands around the serpent and soften my knees. My jaw

clacks and my head jerks back as I land in the sand, but I ignore the pain

and run away from the palace as fast as I can, leaving chaos in the castle behind me.

Once the ocean laps at my feet, the serpent shifts in my grasp. I grip tighter, but it’s no longer looped around my neck.

A little boy tugs on my hand. He has silver eyes and dark hair—a child of the shadow court. Tears stream down his face, and I feel the compulsion to kneel before him and hug away his sorrow. “Take me home, Fire Girl.

Please take me home.” He clutches his chest with his free hand, and blood oozes between his fingers. “You’re killing me.”

The book. This is the book. Do not let it manipulate you.

Easier said than done when the throbbing in my shoulder proves it isn’t just anything. I snap a thread on my goblin bracelet. I speak before Bakken is fully corporeal. “Take me to the Unseelie Court.”

“I told you I cannot save you from mortal peril.”

Sentries storm the beach, coming straight at me, and I catch sight of Sebastian among them. I uncoil my power from deep within me and throw a blanket of darkness over them, trapping them. “What mortal peril?”

The goblin smirks. “Payment, Fire Girl.”

The boy is bloody and growing paler by the minute. “She’s killing me,” he sobs.

I don’t dare let go, but I know Bakken won’t do anything without payment, so I grab a lock of hair with my free hand. “Cut it.”

With a smile, he does. The sentries are breaking free from my darkness, but then we’re gone, and I’m standing before the king. In my grasp, not the hand of a little boy, but a heavy, ancient book.

The king’s silver eyes go wide with shock and pleasure, and I thrust it at him. “Take it.”

He retrieves it on a magic breeze and strokes the cover. His eyes float closed, and he pulls in a deep breath. His skin glows, and I can feel the power reverberating from him. Did I look like that when I touched it?

“Let’s drink,” he says. He snaps his fingers, the book disappears, and suddenly he’s holding a bottle of wine and there’s a glass in my hand. He smiles at me as he fills both glasses, and he hoists his in the air. “To my beautiful thief.”

With shaking hands and a throbbing shoulder, I tap my glass to his, but I don’t drink. My adrenaline is waning.

“Oh come now. You know I won’t tell you the next relic until you drink with me. It’s our tradition.”

Unwilling to play games, I drain half the glass in one pull. “Tell me the third item you want. I need to get back to Sebastian.” Get back—and what? The Serenity Palace sentinels saw me with the book. Even if that wasn’t Sebastian I spotted running toward me on the beach, I’m sure his guard has filled him in by now. I bow my head, remembering the way he looked at me as he made love to me last night. The grief on his face after he heard the

Banshee sing my name. The sincerity in his eyes when he spoke of his mother.

She’s sacrificed so much for our court . . . perhaps even more so for me.

My shoulder throbs, and that useless broken thing in my chest makes me feel like I’m moments from caving in on myself. I finish the wine, but it does nothing to numb either pain.

“You are so close to finishing your tasks,” the king says. “Why do you look like you have a broken heart?”

I lift my chin. I’ve let him see too much. “The prince might not allow me back into the castle. I will do my best to retrieve the third relic, but—”

His grin stretches across his face, and his eyes sparkle. “You won’t need to return to the castle, my girl. The third relic I require is King Oberon’s

crown. Without it, I can never heal the damage Queen Arya has done to my court.”

I nearly laugh. That’s what everyone wants—what everyone needs so desperately. How does he expect me to get it when even Finn—the Unseelie prince and rightful king—can’t find it. But I’ve lost so much at this point, I feel half crazed. “Okay. Tell me where the crown is, and I’ll go grab it

straightaway.” Just end this. Just give me my sister back and send us home.

“This is one thing you won’t have to steal. You already have it. Where do you think your power comes from?”

Now I do laugh. have the crown? How ridiculous. The laughter spills out of me. It comes and comes until I fold in half with it, imagining both Mordeus and Finn having it within their reach all this time. “If only Finn had known,” I say, still laughing.

“Oh, but he does. So does Prince Ronan. Why do you think they both

care so much for your welfare? Why do you think they’re both working so hard to steal your heart?”

I lift my arms. “Okay. Where is it?” I’m so over this. My heart is breaking as I imagine Sebastian back at the Golden Palace with his dying mother—or perhaps she’s already dead. How quickly would stealing that book kill the queen? I’ve never killed someone. Am I a murderer now?

I don’t want to think about any of it anymore. I just want to be done.

The king’s eyes sparkle. “Where else would you carry a crown but on your head?”

I laugh harder, and it rolls out of me in a snort. “Well, in that case”—I mime taking the invisible crown from my head and handing it over—“here you go.”

“If only it were that simple.” He snaps his fingers, and my laughter clogs in my throat when the throne room goes dark. “Look at yourself in the

Mirror of Discovery.”

“In the dark?” He doesn’t answer, but I oblige, retrieving the mirror and expecting to see a pitch-black room. But when I look at my dark reflection, chills race down my arms at what I see. There, on my head, is a string of

starlight that weaves through my hair to form a glowing . . . a glowing

crown.

You'll Also Like