Chapter no 8

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

I’M JOSTLED AWAKE TO FIND myself being carried over someone’s shoulder like a bag of grain. I bite back a cry of panic and force myself to take three deep breaths to calm my racing heart. Be smart, Brie.

I’m pretty sure I left smart behind the moment I ran from the safety of the Seelie queen’s grounds with no plan and no weapons. And now I’ve been


If I had to guess from the meaty hands on the back of my skirt and the height of my captor alone, it’s a male that carries me. But the woman I saw before I collapsed—she was someone I thought I could trust.

“Get the door,” the male holding me grumbles. “She’ll wake up any minute.”

“Such a brute,” says a melodic voice ahead. Pretha, the beautiful woman who helped me get into the queen’s castle. I know she’s the same person, but she looks different from the woman I stood in line with. She has the

same pretty brown eyes and dark hair, but she has sharply pointed ears and that ethereal glow all the noble fae seem to have. “You didn’t have to knock her out,” she says.

“I don’t deal well with hysterical mortals,” the male says as he adjusts me on his shoulder.

The door opens, and loud music pours out. Trying to keep my body loose so my captor won’t know I’m awake, I scan my surroundings as he steps inside. With the exception of the clientele, the tavern isn’t all that different from Gorst’s place in Fairscape. The place reeks of stale beer and is so loud it makes my ears ache. In every direction, couples of all kinds dance together. A lithe sprite with translucent wings and a barely there scrap of dress lets a troll tuck a gold coin between her breasts. A young elf in leather riding gear strokes his burley dance partner’s Mohawk as they grind against each other. Females and males alike dance on the counters, swinging around poles to the crowd’s chorusing approval. A busty fire fae in tight black leather leans against the wall to my left and pinches Pretha’s ass as she passes.

Pretha smacks her hand away. “I’m working,” she shouts.

The male carrying me chuckles. “You might make time for that, Pretha,” he says. “If you don’t, I might. You know what they say about fire fae.”

“You’re such a pig, Kane,” Pretha shouts.

She leads the way through a throng of dancing bodies, then turns

suddenly and catches me watching her from under Kane’s arm. “And there’s our girl.” Yes, she looks just like the woman who offered to be my friend, but her ears aren’t the only thing that’s changed. She now has silver webbing tattooed across her forehead. It resembles the cracks of a broken mirror.

With no reason to pretend anymore, I squirm in the giant male’s hold. “Put me down.”

Pretha winks at me, then pushes past two sentries and through a heavy wooden door, revealing a sparsely furnished office illuminated only from the street lanterns outside the windows.

I’m dropped to my feet. As my eyes adjust to the dark room, I finally get a look at the male who was carrying me. Everything about him is terrifying. He’s massive, with broad, muscular shoulders and thickly muscled arms. He stands at least seven feet tall, even taller if you measure the horns that curl toward the back of his head. His eyes are black where the whites should be, with blazing red pupils. His long hair and trim beard are red, and he wears a hoop in one pointed ear.

“I think she likes you, Kane,” Pretha says. “Either that or you’re so ugly you’ve scared her speechless.”

“You found her,” says a deep, melodious voice behind me.

I whip around, drawn to the owner of that voice, and bite back a gasp at the sight of the male before me. He’s lounging on a chaise with one leg

stretched long and the other bent at the knee. His dark curls have been tied back like they were in my dream, and he holds a book in his big hands. The office is large, yet he seems to fill it, with his size, with his piercing silver

eyes, with his presence.

My captor shoves me forward. I stumble and fall to my knees before a menacing shadow faerie for the second time in as many days.

I hate this place.

“She was running from the castle,” Pretha says. I glare at her. “You.”

She lifts her robe off the floor and gives a little curtsy. “Abriella, I told you we’d meet again.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I want—” She huffs, scanning the space. “Why is it so dark in here?” She snaps her fingers, and the wall sconces around the office blaze to life. “Better.” She turns back to me with a satisfied smile. “I want to help you. Nothing’s changed since yesterday in that regard.”

“You made me think you were a human,” I spit, and there’s more anger in the words than there should be. Pretha was a virtual stranger, but her sin is the same as Sebastian’s, and it feels good to have somewhere to direct the hurt eating at my chest. “You’re a vile liar.”

The male lounging in the chaise laughs. “That’s fresh coming from the human who claimed to be Arya’s handmaiden.”

I narrow my eyes at him. I don’t like that this strange male is showing up again, and I like even less that I dreamed about him.

Nothing in Faerie is coincidence.

“I don’t think she has control of her power,” Pretha says, all grace as she steps toward me and tenderly tucks my hair behind my ears.

I yank away. “Don’t touch me.”

“Or her emotions.” She tears her disapproving gaze away from me to meet the eyes of the male in the chair. “I think she’s actually in love with the golden prince.”

My cheeks go hot. I hate that these faeries are talking about me,

speculating about my feelings. “You don’t know anything about me.” The male in the chair tsks. “Let her be, Pretha. I’ll take it from here.” Pretha bristles. “Finn—”

Finn. Finally a name for the enigmatic silver-eyed elf.

“Leave us.” The words are softer than the ones he spoke before, but they are full of authority and leave no doubt as to who’s in charge of this little trio.

Pretha tenses, and I know she doesn’t want to obey, but she gives a sharp nod and leaves the office. The horned brute trails behind her.

I watch them go.

“Rough night?” Finn asks me. Such a casual question, as if we’re

chatting over tea and his people didn’t knock me unconscious to drag me in here.

I glare at him. “Who are you—other than some Unseelie kidnapper? I hope you realize that no one’s going to pay a ransom for me.”

He arches a dark brow. “Oh? It seems you know more about me than you let on. What else do you know?”

Dangerous. This faerie is dangerous, and I need to stop antagonizing him and focus on getting out of here. “Nothing. I know nothing.”

He lifts his chin. “I’m curious. Why are you so sure I’m Unseelie?” “Your eyes.”

“What about them?”

“Everyone knows that the Unseelie have silver eyes. Don’t make bargains or ties with the silver eyes,” I say, parroting the rhyme we sang as children. And what a lovely job I’ve done following that age-old wisdom.

He grunts. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You were taught that the entire Unseelie Court has eyes like mine?”

“Don’t they?”

“No. Only very few.” And even as he says it, I think of the sentries at Mordeus’s castle. Did they have silver eyes? I don’t remember. And is Pretha Unseelie? Her eyes are brown. And Kane’s were that creepy black and red.

“Am I free to leave now?”

His eyes go wide in faux innocence. “And where would you go? You

aren’t sure you want to return to your friend, even if you do wish you hadn’t been so rash in running away from him.”

I press my lips into a thin line and lift my chin. “You can read my mind?”

His laugh is dark. “No. I don’t need to read your mind to know your

worries, though that would be a useful talent. Your emotions are written all over your face. You’re not sure you can play the part Mordeus needs you to.”

What’s his connection to Mordeus? Is he working for him? “What do you know?”

“Enough.” With a deep breath he unfolds himself from the chair. He

crosses the room to a small bar nestled in the corner of the office, and I take advantage of having his back to me to study him. His presence gobbles up the space. But it’s not just his height or his muscular body that gives the

effect. Finn has the aura of a leader who commands the attention of

everyone around him. I wonder what kind of power he has that he, an Unseelie, can be here in the Seelie Court.

He uncorks a bottle and pours two glasses. The pale yellow liquid bubbles as it hits the glass. My mouth waters at the fruity aroma, but when he turns around again and offers one to me, I shake my head. I can’t imagine any situation where I’d accept wine from a male I just met—hello, stranger danger—but faerie wine? He must think I’m a complete fool.

With a careless shrug he sets my glass on a long table by the windows. As he drinks from his, he closes his eyes. “I understand that your sweet, golden prince hurt your feelings with his deception, but if you truly wish to save your sister, you need to do what Mordeus asks.”

He’d said the same thing in my dream. “You’re Unseelie,” I say. “Of course you want me to help your king.”

“He’s not my king,” he snaps, and the sharp declaration echoes off the office walls. “He will never be my king,” he adds, softer now.

“Why are you in the golden court? I thought the Unseelie weren’t welcome in Seelie territory.”

“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll answer that question if you answer one of mine.”

The word deal triggers my defense mechanisms, but I’m too tired and emotionally wrung out to worry about all the ways I could potentially be manipulated by a deal with a faerie. “What’s your question?”

“What do you know about the faerie who gave you your magic?” I frown. “What magic?”

He takes another sip of his wine and studies me with those mercurial

eyes. “I’ll admit that it’s been many years since I’ve ventured to the human realm, but would you have me believe that humans can now walk through walls and turn themselves to shadow?”

I shake my head. “It’s just some strange reaction to being in a magical place.”

Finn tilts his head. “I don’t know what I find more interesting. The lie or that you truly want to believe it.” His lips curl, but there’s no amusement in his smile. Only disgust. “You know already, though. You know that the powers you have in my realm aren’t so new. You’ve been using them for years.”

A dry laugh bursts from my lips. “If you say so.”

“You’re a thief. A good one, too.”

How do these shadow fae know so much about me? “If I do have powers

—and I’m not saying I do—why would you assume someone gave them to me?”

He narrows his eyes and lowers his voice. “Because humans don’t have magic unless it’s granted to them by a magical creature powerful enough to do so.”

“Witches have magic. And mages.”

“No. Witches and mages use magic. Symbols, spells, potions. Some humans are able to use magic, but they do not have it. Not like you do. You are a human who can wield darkness. You can become shadow and walk through walls—without spells or potions, without ritual. The magic is part of you, and the only way that’s possible is if a faerie granted it to you.”

“I don’t know where it came from,” I admit. Because he’s right. There’s part of me that knew long before coming to Faerie that my skills in night and shadow aren’t normal—that they’re something special. I open my mouth, considering telling him more, then snap it shut. His people have proved that they can’t be trusted. “Your turn.”

He studies his wine for so long I think he won’t answer. “Mordeus is my uncle.”

That’s the moment his name clicks into place for me. Bakken told me that Prince Finnian was the rightful heir to the Throne of Shadows—this is that Finn? “You’re the prince.” It’s not even a question. It explains

everything. The way he moves, the way his friends defer to him, the way he feels like the most important person in the room, whether I want to believe he is or not. Yes, everything about Finn screams royalty. Power.

He lifts his eyes to meet mine. “You might have noticed the resemblance.”

The silver eyes. It’s not all shadow fae who have those silver eyes. Only the royal family.

“I don’t reside in my own court, because good old Uncle Mord wants me dead. Heartwarming, isn’t it?”

“What did you do?”

He grunts, as if my ignorance is amusing. “I was born, and that was

enough to threaten his claim to the power he’s craved since his own father bestowed the crown upon my father. As for why I’m in the Seelie Court . . .

I’m here temporarily, and”—he smirks—“covertly. I prefer the Wild Fae Lands to the golden queen’s territory, but there are matters here that require my attention.”

My mind reels with a hundred questions, but only one repeatedly shuffles to the top. “Why are you telling me this? What do you want from me?”

“I know Mordeus has your sister, and I know what he’s demanding from you in exchange for her.” He sips his wine. “I want to teach you how to use your gifts to protect yourself in this land. I want to help you.”

That’s what he’d said in my dream. I’ll help you get her back. Come find me.

“You keep saying that, but why should I believe you?” I back toward the door. “Your people abducted me and brought me here against my will, and you want me to trust you?”

His silver eyes flash and his mouth draws into a thin, tight line. “You chose to trust Mordeus by taking his deal.”

“I don’t have a choice. At least I understand what Mordeus wants from me and why. Am I supposed to believe that you want to help a human girl out of the goodness of your heart?”

He takes a menacing step forward, anger clear in every line of that beautiful face. “I want to help you because it helps my court. Every member of my court is weaker as long as our magical artifacts are missing. As long as the golden queen . . .” His nostrils flare, and he takes several shallow breaths, as if suffering some sudden, invisible pain. “They are vulnerable as long as the power of the courts is out of balance.”

“You expect me to believe that? You stand there in fine clothes, drinking fancy wine in a tavern in the Seelie Court. Poor, exiled prince. It seems like you’re fighting really hard to get Mordeus off the throne.”

The wineglass shatters to dust in his hand, and my body locks up in fear at the evidence of how dangerous he is. Calmly, he brushes his hands together, letting the drops of wine and glass dust fall away. “Take my help, mortal.”

“I don’t need you.”

His gaze flicks over me, and I flinch when I see darkness leaking off my hands like ink into a pool of water. “Have you shared the bond with

anyone?” he asks.

As if I’d submit myself to faerie bonding. As if I’d give anyone that kind of control over my free will and my life. Never.

“Maybe someone back home,” he says. “A friend or lover, anyone?

It’s on the tip of my tongue to spit that humans don’t perform such absurd rituals. I don’t even know how or if it would work between humans, but I bite back the denial. I know just enough about faerie bonds to know that there’s some level of protection involved. If Finn believes that someone might be bonded to me, maybe he won’t try to keep me here.

He stares at me for a long beat. “It’s a simple question.” I shrug. “And I simply choose not to answer.”

He mutters something under his breath. I can see the anger in his eyes, his efforts to keep his temper under control. “You need to understand that bonds have consequences and aren’t as easily undone as you might think.”

Is this self-righteous ass seriously going to lecture me about this? I fold my arms. “If I leave, will your friends come after me?”

“Are you planning to return to the queen’s son?”

The words are a balled fist to the gut. Queen Arya’s son. Prince Ronan.


I have to close my eyes against the pain of it. The betrayal. I can’t let myself think about him right now.

When I open them, I stare at the inky blackness around my hands. This reminder is just what I need. I have power. I am not trapped here.

Finn steps close, studying me as if I’m a rather interesting insect, his lips curved in a smirk.

I step toward the shadows between the wall sconces, desperate to disappear into them as the office door opens.

“Word came from the castle,” Pretha says, letting the door swing shut behind her. “Prince Ronan has delayed his selection until tomorrow. We need to put a plan in place quickly and get her back there.”

Finn folds his arms. “I’m not sure the girl wants to work with us.” There’s a challenge in his voice. As if I’m a child and he’s working me through reverse psychology.

I press my back against the wall and will myself to push through it, to escape. Nothing happens. How did I use my power before?

Pretha crosses the room, heading toward me. “You can’t do this alone,” she tells me.

I shake my head. “You’re wrong.” I’ve been working alone my whole life. Nothing needs to change now. Like the inverse of a flickering lamp, I fade to shadow and back to my corporeal self.

Panicked, Pretha spins on Finn. “What’s she doing?”

Shadow. Turn to shadow. My hand disappears and appears, but the wall behind me holds firm.

“Finn!” Pretha’s eyes are wide. “She’s going to escape.”

Shadow. This time when my hand disappears, the rest of my arm goes too. I melt into the wall and stumble through it. My dress tangles in a rosebush on the outside of the tavern, proving once again that pants are the wiser clothing choice. I scramble upright, and the thorns rip my skirt and tear at my legs.

I can hear Finn and Pretha argue through the cracked window, but their angry words are muffled until Finn barks a final, clear command. “Let her go.”

I hoist my dress up and run, but I don’t know where I am and the fog is too thick to see the castle in the distance.

I know the forest was ahead of me when I fled Sebastian, but now it’s to my left. I turn, putting my back to the woods, but nothing in that direction looks familiar.

The forest. I can hide there—I can turn myself to shadow and nothingness and hide until I can find my way back to the castle. Because I have to go back to the castle.

If Sebastian’s delayed his selection, perhaps I can still make this work.

There’s still a chance to save Jas.

The forest is darker than any in Fairscape—the canopy of leaves dense and the lights of the homes beyond dimmer than those from my overpopulated part of the world. A horrible cry tears through the night, followed by a triumphant howl. I’ve never been scared of the dark, but I know enough to be scared of this dark. I don’t know half of what lives in these trees. Maybe my shadows can hide me, but can they protect me?

The summer heat has gone with the sun, and I wrap my arms around myself as I scan the forest, my eyes adjusting to the darkness.

Another howl, this one closer, and terror trembles through my muscles. You know that the powers you have in my realm aren’t so new. You’ve been using them for years.

Normal humans can’t see in the dark like this. I knew that, didn’t I? I just didn’t want to admit it to myself, didn’t want to admit that there was some piece of faerie inside me.

But knowing you have a tool is a far cry from knowing how to use it. I have no idea where I am. No idea which way to the castle. And no idea how to use my power to protect myself from whatever lives in these woods.

A low growl sounds from twenty yards away. I spin and freeze in terror.

Gold-flecked, glowing blue eyes flash in the dark, and a black wolf with bared teeth slinks toward me.

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