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A Grim and Sunken Vow

Book #3 of Hollow Star Saga

About The Book

Arlo and her friends must decide how far they’re willing to go to depose a cruel ruler in this third book in the Hollow Star Saga that’s The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones and “offers vicious and thrilling intrigue” (Kirkus Reviews).

The die is cast.
The era of Spring is over.

Riadne’s bloody coup on the Summer Solstice changed Arlo’s life forever. In one fell swoop and a fool’s bargain, she lost both her family and free will to the newly crowned High Queen. Now, with Arlo forced to use her powers as Luck’s Hollow Star to help summon the rest of the seven deadly sins, Riadne stands closer than ever to achieving her dark goals.

And Arlo isn’t the only one trapped in a frightening new role. Her ex-Fury girlfriend, Nausicaä, is determined to do whatever it takes to stay by Arlo’s side, even if that means becoming Riadne’s pet assassin. Aurelian and Vehan, torn apart, struggle to survive on their own.

Meanwhile, Celadon has been revealed as Riadne’s illegitimate son—and heir to both Spring and Summer, the ultimate offense in the faerie world. But the High Prince has secret plans of his own, plans made all the more complicated when the beautiful and deadly immortal Hunter Lethe takes an interest in him…

Five budding legacies will need more than luck if they hope to stand a chance against the greatest adversary the Courts have faced. For nothing’s more dangerous than a faerie tale… except the one who tells it, and maybe what they’re going to need is no longer that story’s hero but its villain.


Chapter 1: Celadon CHAPTER 1 Celadon
The Luminous Palace—Throne Room, Present Day


This was all Celadon could feel right now, standing in the throne room of the woman who’d only just hours ago violently murdered his family in front of him.

Between the sound of Arlo’s screams… the dull thud of his father dropping dead to the floor… the overwhelming scent of blood hanging thick in the ballroom…

This entire night would haunt him forever.

In the ballroom, he hadn’t wanted to look at the contorted, mangled corpses of people he’d known all his life—his family, the Verdant Guard, Lords Lekan and Morayo—now speared on iron tree roots, dangling overhead like broken marionettes. But the alternative, the sight that had absorbed the other half of the room right after the massacre… it wasn’t much better.

Because there, in the center of yet another damned array, lay a young ironborn servant, strangely silent and still, as Councillor Briar Sylvain—the vile traitor he turned out to be—cracked open the poor boy’s chest and tore out the stone that resided in the place of a heart.

The same Councillor Briar Sylvain who had tried to reject Arlo’s status as fae, despite the fact that he was apparently ironborn himself and highly skilled at the illegal alchemical magic that he’d claimed so vehemently to hate. Councillor Briar Sylvain, who’d been so happy to use that power he’d been Weighed as having no inheritance of, a proper sidhe fae according to what would have been wiped-clean records of his status after his coming of age, all at her behest.

Her—the woman who now, only hours after her brutal, bloody coup, sat perfectly poised on her throne, in a room of crystal and stained glass and vibrant yellow gemwork, of dazzling radiance, even though morning was still a few hours off.



Flawlessly composed…

And all around the room—deities help him—the whispers had already begun.

“Look at his hair…”

“… his eyes…”

“Do you think he was in on it?”

“Do you think he knew all along what she planned to do?”

Celadon wanted to curl in on himself. He wanted to run, to scream. To turn around and grab the gossiping bastards behind him and shake them until they remembered that he’d just lost most of his entire family tonight, damn it all—couldn’t they spare him a moment to grieve that without having to listen to their asinine thoughts on the matter? But…

“It’s unnatural; he shouldn’t exist.”


“Do you see the way he glows with her radiance?”

Celadon couldn’t do anything but stand in place, eyes forward, so very numb down to his core. His russet hair now blazing Lysterne copper… one eye the vibrant, verdant jade of Spring, the other the freezing electric blue of Summer… Radiance in his skin, a brighter, purer light than the royal twilight glow of UnSeelie fae blood.

They were right—he shouldn’t exist….

He knew just as well as anyone that a union between Heads of Courts was strictly forbidden. The Seasons didn’t mix—wouldn’t mix. Forcing them together was said to result in such a catastrophic, unstable concoction of powers that if the child didn’t simply combust to ash at birth, their minds would undoubtedly warp with age, their bodies rebel with time, and the magic too great for flesh-and-bone confines would build and build until it broke free by any means possible—at the expense of everything around it.

He shouldn’t exist.

But here he stood, gathered along the wall with a handful of others who’d been summoned to witness their next High Sovereign’s Crowning, and Celadon felt like a stranger to himself—and to the rest of the world, because come sunrise, he was sure he’d be cast as the fallen idol who’d conspired with a murderous queen to steal his own father’s throne.

How long they let him live, if his own body didn’t betray him first, was entirely dependent on what that woman was able to defend him against.

Riadne Lysterne, Seelie Queen of Summer.

His mother.


“Don’t listen to them, Your Highness,” said a voice under breath beside him, low-pitched but firm.

Theodore Reynolds—he looked awful right now, wrecked. They all did, the lot of them. Tired, haggard, terrified, speckled and stained with blood and dust and shards of glass. Last night seemed to have aged him by years: bags under his usually bright, warm brown eyes and a tightness to his expression. But beneath it all… a composure Celadon envied right now. As though somehow last night hadn’t been the worst he’d ever had to endure—and sure, it had been Celadon’s family who’d borne the brunt of Riadne’s wrath, but where the rest of the room stood in fear of her, Celadon was struck with the impression that Theodore was merely wary.

And what did that mean? Celadon wondered.

The prince had been fast by his side this entire time, but Celadon assumed that was out of guilt for the part he’d played in the night’s events by kidnapping Celadon, or perhaps an attempt to assuage whatever trouble he might be in with Riadne for failing to keep Celadon out of the ballroom during his family’s slaughter.


Celadon wanted to be angry with Theodore too. If Theodore hadn’t drugged him under Riadne’s orders and pulled him from the ballroom at such a critical time—the price of securing his own family’s survival, which Celadon could understand—he might have been able to prevent what he’d lost in result, might have been able to talk Riadne down from her rage unleashed. He might have been able to save his family too, if it weren’t for the boy beside him.

Might-haves, could-haves, maybes—they plagued him, but all Celadon could feel right now was numb.

“Don’t give them an inch of space in your head, Celadon. They aren’t worth it.”

Celadon looked on, Theodore’s fervent advice flowing in one ear and very much out the other.

More than anything, Celadon wished Arlo were here, but he hadn’t seen her so far at all.

He looked on at his mother. At the boy beside her, seated on a lesser throne—exhausted too, pale, the picture of grimness, his electric-blue eyes puffy with recently shed tears and barely restrained fury.

Vehan Lysterne… his younger brother.

Numb, numb, numb, numb—

“The door—look!”

“They’re here!”

A creaking at the end of the room drew everyone’s attention to Celadon’s left. Carved ivory doors, two fully grown bull trolls in height, swung open, and at the sound, the room’s collective tension sharpened.

Riadne sat straighter in her golden seat.

The whispers stopped.

Breath cowered in the backs of throats.

Those who weren’t fastened in place by this moment’s monumentality shriveled up on themselves and shrank toward the walls, instinct driving them back from the source of centuries of cruelty and subjugation.

Celadon didn’t blame either reaction.

Were he capable of feeling any sort of emotion at all right now, he was sure he’d be similarly gripped by awe. It wasn’t every day, after all, that the gods were granted permission to descend from their immortal keep to visit the realm of mortals—certainly not one of the Western Great Three and, only under one specific occasion, all Three of them together.

This was that occasion.

“Blessed light!” exclaimed a breathy voice in the crowd behind Celadon.

Gasps broke out once more around the room as, one by one, its occupants realized their visitors had been toying with them and hadn’t entered through any door but were already in fact here.

The group Celadon stood with skittered back even farther, hands over their hearts and mouths, eyes wide in alarm and disbelief both. Only he and Theodore remained unflinching, through foolishness or bravery, Celadon couldn’t say, but what—or rather, who—had appeared at his immediate right utterly transfixed him.

“Cosmin,” he exclaimed in breathless astonishment, face growing warm for what he’d just blurted, because the man beside him…

Wavy, unbound hair, moonstone white in certain slants, black as inky night in others; eyes like the void of black holes. There, in robes of black rot and stark bone, cosmic dust and melting stars, stood Cosmin, Lord of Death and Night.

He was so tall that Celadon had to tilt his head to meet the god’s unnerving gaze, and the fact alone that Lord Cosmin was looking at him… acknowledging him—this god in particular, who was symbol of night and to whom UnSeelie Spring had paid their worship…

Celadon couldn’t explain it.

How quickly he went from numb to overwhelmed—had to blink his eyes against the sudden stinging rush of emotions, this small but oh-so-significant gesture showing Celadon that, no matter who his mother was, he was still considered a child of night.

Cosmin tilted his chin a fraction down at Celadon—a nod that didn’t go unnoticed by those around them, judging by the rustling of background movement. Then, as wordlessly as he’d appeared, he strode forward for Mother Tellis, who bloomed like a flower from a pool of greenery that had fountained to life at the room’s cleared center.

Mother Tellis was a beautiful, robust woman robed in clinging moss and live butterflies, with wings fluttering where they fixed themselves in place. She had earthen-brown hair and gray-stone eyes, a fox’s ears and tail. She never appeared exactly the same way twice, in neither dress nor form, Celadon remembered learning. But she was unmistakable no matter her presentation.

Spring sang inside Celadon to simply behold her…

And all at once, his emotions spilled over.

Unable to be contained any longer, his magic burst from him in an outpour of verdant foliage and blossoming flowers—life, the Gift of his Season that marked him as his Court’s successor.

A Gift that, until this very moment, Celadon had never displayed a hint of.

Another thing his father’s magic had worked so hard to conceal in him, it seemed, undoubtedly owing to the amount of attention the Courts had already fastened on him in his youth. But if he’d been a verified contender for the throne, their watch of him would have been much sharper.

And there they were again—the whispers.

Celadon couldn’t reel the Gift in, couldn’t stamp out the flowers quickly enough, just as the folk behind him could no longer contain their gossip.

“Radiance and Life both?”

“This doesn’t bode well, mark my words…”

“Wasn’t there Autumn in the High King’s blood? His mother, the late Queen Iris—wasn’t she born of an Autumn prince?”

“And Winter runs in Queen Riadne’s thanks to her late father….”

Celadon tried to block out the voices, but they were speaking into existence his own fears. What would they do if it turned out that Celadon had inherited a Gift from all four Seasons? What would they do if they genuinely started to believe he might use these powers against their Courts?

“Riadne Lysterne.”

Silence tightened its grip on the room with the arrival of the third and final of their Great guests.

They heard her before they saw her.

Light drew inward, gathering up in a ball behind Riadne’s throne. It spoke volumes about her character, Celadon supposed, that Riadne didn’t startle, didn’t gasp or shriek or any of the other displays of alarm that scorched through the room like a quick bolt of lightning.

No, Riadne sat as tall and poised as ever, with the barest curl at the edge of her mouth…. The queen wasn’t afraid, far from it. The look she wore was one of triumph and satisfaction.

Her goals achieved at long last.

Slowly, the ball of light behind her took shape, until out from the throne’s shadow—and dragging that only spot of darkness in the room like a cloak behind her—stepped Urielle, Lady of the Elements, of the Light that Seelie Summer worshipped, and so it would be up to Urielle to bestow Riadne’s blood-soaked Bone Crown.

In her own time, and no doubt aware that this entire room watched her as she walked, Urielle made her way down the throne’s dais to join her siblings. Undefinable—as though each of the goddess’s features was immediately erased from memory as soon as beheld—all Celadon could say about her was that she was easily the most formidable of all Three, a being of flame and water and air, of shadows and light and earth and stone, all of it twisting and teeming together. And she looked nothing like her daughter, Nausicaä, save the same self-assured, fiery countenance in which she conducted herself.

Once Urielle reached her siblings, she turned—in great leisure—back to the throne. No one had spoken this entire time, not even Riadne, though she’d been addressed. The two women occupied their respective spaces with firm command, and Celadon couldn’t help but wonder what each was thinking.

This ceremony was more or less for show, and Riadne’s actions were far from scandalous to these gods—Cosmin would likely deem them commendable. But power would always test itself against a foreign source, and Celadon wouldn’t go so far as to call them equals, but a goddess wouldn’t square herself against a mortal the way this one was doing if she truly thought they posed no danger.

And if even a goddess felt threatened by their new High Queen…

“Riadne Lysterne.” It was Mother Tellis who now spoke, regality ringing in her gentle tone.

The ceremony was underway.

Celadon felt ill.

“Your defeat of the UnSeelie Spring High King, Azurean LazuliViridian, has afforded you great opportunity,” Lord Cosmin continued where Tellis left off, his alto-pitched voice deathly calm and cool; Celadon was sure he wasn’t the only one to shiver at hearing it.

“Responsibility, too,” said Tellis.

Now it was Urielle’s turn to speak, and with all the severity of ice. “The choice is simple, and yours alone to make, as it was for all who came before you. The Crown you have won is yours for keeping—so, too, is it yours to return. Name any immortal you wish—bestow upon them the Crown’s heavy burden—and you will be free of this object that has been the center of much grief, harm, and bloodshed in your realm. Free to reimagine your mortal Courts in any shape you so desire, greater than what the distraction of power narrows one’s focus to create.”

She took a pause.

Her eyes flashed in what Celadon could read only as a dare.

Riadne said nothing, the room held fast to its breathless intensity, and Urielle continued on.

“Take, instead, the Crown for your own, and it will grant you status, control, and strength beyond your mortal ken. Yours will be as divinity, a power that even titans seek to possess, but this magic, this grandeur, dear queen… it comes at a price. A price you will pay in the currency of time—your time, your very essence. The lives after death that are owed your kind will be denied to you, dwindled down to this one alone. The Crown will be yours, as will you belong to it, in grave as in life, and so we ask, Riadne Lysterne—”

“What will you choose?”

“Power… or freedom?”

“Will you accept the Crown you’ve won or return it whence it came?”

Celadon hadn’t been alive for Azurean’s Crowning. This was an entirely new experience to him. But he’d learned enough about these events to know that normally they didn’t take place until a week after the previous High Sovereign’s death—not mere hours later—and only after a funeral and period of mourning was observed, which his father certainly hadn’t been afforded.

They weren’t cloistered affairs either.

Only those who’d survived the Solstice’s carnage had been “permitted” to attend—forced, when it was supposed to be optional and open to any of the royal families and fae aristocracy.

He also knew that every successful Challenger was presented the option to return the Bone Crown—to the Great Three holding current dominion over the Immortal Realm or to new blood of their choosing, displacing Cosmin in his lordship over Night. It would free the Courts of the Crown’s hold over them and its wearer from its cruel toll. To Celadon, who’d been unable to do anything but watch as this power decayed his father from the inside out… Were it him in this position, he’d be tempted to hand it back to Cosmin and be done.

Tempted… but in giving the Bone Crown back to the Immortal Realm, they might as well tear up the peace treaty between them for how effective it would be in enforcing their separation.

The choice wasn’t Celadon’s, though. And Riadne hadn’t schemed and murdered and spurned tradition to get to this point just to hand back her coveted prize. So it was to no one’s surprise, least of all his, that she replied, “I accept.”

The words rang clear.

Tellis waved a hand, and in her grasp appeared the Crown—bleached-white antler bone, twisted into a modest circlet; such a plain and unassuming thing, this trinket that had become the heart of sidhe fae corruption.

Lord Cosmin waved a hand as well, and night splashed out behind him like a gash in the air. From it stepped four black-robed figures Celadon was intimately familiar with—the Wild Hunt in full ceremonial attire, armed with their glinting adamantine weapons.

Eris, Yue, Vesper… Lethe.

Celadon looked quickly away when that poison-green gaze cut from Riadne to him, watching instead as Urielle bade Riadne to rise from her throne with a nod of her chin. And as she did, the whole room watched, breath locked tight in their chests as the Seelie Queen of Light and Summer proceeded to make her descent for the Great Three, the glass shards that comprised her gown now clean of Azurean’s blood, but Celadon could still see it there in his mind’s eye, vibrant blue and fresh as it had been when first spilled.

Riadne strode forward, the click of her heels echoing around the room, and as she moved, Tellis transferred the Bone Crown to Urielle. Riadne positioned herself before the Goddess of the Elements, but unlike all her predecessors, and again unlike their well-established tradition, she didn’t bend her knee.

There was no bow.

There was no curtsy.

Riadne stood just as tall and commanding as she’d sat on her throne, arctic-blue gaze sparking-bright. A moment passed in which Celadon knew they all wondered the same thing: Would Urielle strike her down for this defiance?

But the gods held no power here—Riadne’s display was an embarrassing reminder to them of this fact. All Urielle could do in the face of it was lift the Bone Crown, as easy as though this slight hadn’t bothered her at all, and place it on Riadne’s head. Then taking a step back, she fell to her knee, as custom dictated, Tellis and Cosmin following suit, the Wild Hunt behind them.

“High Queen,” Urielle declared in a loud, formal greeting, folding her hand over her heart. In unison, the rest of the room deferred now too. Vehan stood from his throne to kneel, but Celadon was hesitant, very aware of the eyes that were on him, waiting to see what he would do. Yet defiance at this moment might cost him the little he had left to protect, so reluctantly Celadon too bowed, submitting along with everyone else to their new High Sovereign, Riadne Lysterne, first Crowned High Queen of the Eight Great Courts.

“High Queen, do you wish to renew the contract of peace between our Immortal and Mortal Realms, in all its current conditions?”

Riadne considered Urielle’s question long enough that Celadon’s gaze snapped up from the ground.

His wasn’t the only to do so—Riadne couldn’t seriously be considering a renegotiation with the Immortal Realm on the one thing protecting them from even worse cruelty than her own….

“For now,” Riadne replied at last in a cut-glass, succinct tone.

Cosmin—she was.

There was that feeling of nausea again.

Urielle stood in a singular, swift, fluid motion, quicker than she’d done anything this evening. Tellis and Cosmin rose as well. One by one, the Hunters fanned out and around the group, stalking the throne room to their place behind Riadne’s seat. Vehan glared down at Lethe all the while, but Lethe ignored him entirely—his attention tracked Celadon, and Celadon only.

Why, Celadon had no idea, except that it couldn’t mean anything good.

Lethe almost looked… bewildered, Celadon would describe it, as though something about Celadon’s appearance or magical aura unmasked by Azurean’s passing surprised the Hunter. But surely Lethe had known? Lethe knew everything, more or less.

“For now,” Urielle echoed, and was that amusement in her voice? Celadon snapped his attention from Lethe back to the goddess, but Urielle wicked out of existence in the next moment with nothing but a ribbon of smoke curling in her wake to signal she’d been there at all.

Tellis withered back into her pool of lush greenery, which shriveled down to a lone, dead leaf.

Celadon turned his gaze to Lord Cosmin.

The first to arrive, the last to leave, the god stood a moment longer than the rest, his gaze shifting from Riadne to the Hunters beyond—one in particular, it seemed: Lethe. And as though following Lethe’s line of sight like a tangible thread, he tracked the invisible trail of the Hunter’s focus back to Celadon.

Unsure what to do with the god’s returned attention, Celadon nodded.

Whether this was the right thing to do or not, Cosmin took his leave now too, dissolving into a cloud of ash that took its time to settle.

Once it did, and only then, Riadne squared herself to the room. “Rise,” she bade, firm and loud and clear.

The room rose to their feet.

“The Courts summon before them Nausicaä Kraken. Theodore Reynolds. Vehan Lysterne. And Celadon Fleur-Viridian. And Arlo Jarsdel.”


Celadon’s heart picked up pace in his chest. He hadn’t been allowed to see his cousin since they’d all been pulled and ushered from the ballroom. Guards had whisked her off somewhere—they’d all been separated, though the one who’d tried to peel Nausicaä from her stricken girlfriend’s side had had his arm broken in a swift snap behind his back, and none of the others felt it was worth the death her steely eyes promised to make any further attempt.

He wanted to see Arlo so badly it hurt.

Just one of his family, alive, tangible, not a ghost haunting the backs of his eyelids. Someone he loved who loved him back—he didn’t realize how much he needed Arlo’s surety beside him until just now with the numbness beginning to recede and everything all at once rushing in.

As Celadon moved to the center of the room with Theodore trailing behind in tense silence, his gaze scoured the room yet again for sign of his missing cousin.

For the familiar flash of red, now so close to his bright new Lysterne copper.

He couldn’t find her.

But then…

Whispers—Celadon turned to the open door, to the scene that seemed to spook the room almost as much as the arrival of the Great Three had.

Massive, tattered wings spread wide and cupped around his cousin like a protective shell; tall and frighteningly skeletal, her mouth a wide gash of gruesome teeth, her metallic eyes molten hot, hair spilling like white flame, and black razor talons for nails—this was Nausicaä. This was the Fury in her terrible, true form, the monster this entire realm feared.

The Dark Star… and still it was Arlo who scared him most at this moment.

Arlo, contained in Nausicaä’s fierce protection as she walked in through the ivory doors. Arlo, who looked… nothing like herself right now, a void to Celadon’s numbness, a corpse bride in her bloodied black ballgown.

She made her way to the center of the room, took her place beside Celadon without once even acknowledging he was there. Her gaze was fixed on Riadne, but what she felt, what she thought—even Celadon couldn’t say at all. His cousin, his dearest friend, sister in all ways that mattered, she moved like a hollow shell.

“Arlo?” he murmured, in an attempt to draw her attention to him.

No reaction—he looked to Nausicaä, who shook her head at him in a minute movement, like her own attempts to elicit a response had failed in the exact same way.

Did Arlo… blame him?

Did she also think he’d been in on this with Riadne? No; everyone else, anyone else, they could all think whatever they wanted about him, but Arlo couldn’t… not Arlo….

Cutting into the crescendo of Celadon’s panic, Riadne spoke again. “To those I’ve permitted witness of the beginning of our reform, I wish to make a few of my intentions abundantly clear.”

The room refocused itself on the High Queen. No one moved, save to quickly reposition themselves with a better view of the scene before them.

“Vehan Lysterne, step forward.”

Vehan did as commanded.

Stiff. Still. Vibrating with anger.

Celadon hadn’t had time yet to catch up on everything that had gone on this night, but Aurelian’s suspicious absence and the prince’s sparking outrage that verged on mania suggested Riadne had at least attempted to make good on more than one of her violent threats this past evening—and no, please, he couldn’t be responsible for Aurelian’s death too….

“My son,” said Riadne, in what might almost be a gentle tone for her. “You are the prince of this Court. You were born to it. You were raised by it. You are Seelie Summer by blood and right. Renew this morning your vow of allegiance to me and your people, and you will remain our Crown High Prince. You will be this throne’s successor; no other.”

Not Celadon, in other words, as would have no doubt been the mass concern once it spread to the Courts what had happened while they’d been asleep, that Celadon might try to make a play for Vehan’s birthright too.

Vehan, meanwhile, remained silent.


For a whole, eternal minute, he stood as defiant as his mother had been in Urielle’s face. Would he abdicate? Would he turn his back on her after all these years of living under her strict control?

A subtle shift—Vehan lowered himself to his knees with all the air of crumbling defeat, incapable to his very core of disobedience. But Celadon was willing to bet the gaze he tucked out of view still burned.

In the brief period of time he’d spent with Vehan, Celadon knew how much this Court and its people meant to him. But Aurelian had meant more, plain and simple—had meant everything. It was clear by the tremors that racked his younger brother’s body, the way he seemed to be doing his all to just hold himself together. And if Aurelian was really gone…

“I swear myself to the Seelie Summer Court. I accept the role of its Crown High Prince.”

“Done,” Riadne said, and in her next breath, “Celadon Fleur-Viridian, Arlo Jarsdel—step forward.”

Arlo moved on automatic out of the semi-enclosure of Nausicaä’s wings and slotted herself into place on Vehan’s left with no sign of hesitation… or any real conscious decision to do so.

And that concerned him.

It was fully possible that Arlo was simply too overwhelmed right now. But Celadon couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. With Riadne’s Magnetic Gift of mesmerization and the added support of her new High Status, of course Arlo would be quick to comply to the queen’s summons, regardless of the situation, but something about this… something about Arlo felt… different.

Had Riadne bound Arlo in some way? What had occurred when Celadon had been smuggled away? Damn it, damn it, he’d already failed her so greatly….

Please don’t blame me, he begged in silence as he stepped forward too, falling into place on Vehan’s right. I didn’t want any of this.


He could feel the room’s attention grow hotter on his back. This was what they’d been waiting for, this first interaction between mother and son, with everything between them out in the open. This was where they’d learn their “truth”—warped and twisted into what they wanted to hear, because nothing that happened this morning would absolve him of their suspicion, nor of the guilt in his heart that, want it or not, he’d allowed it all to happen.

Drawing himself to full height and squaring his shoulders, Celadon relied on the scraps of composure he had left and matched Riadne’s electric gaze. “Mother,” he greeted mildly.

The room began to buzz with whispers.

Riadne looked back at him.

It was hard to say with what expression, but there was a sort of starvation behind those eyes that made him wonder, however briefly, what it must have been like to watch the child she might actually have wanted grow up without knowing who she really was to him.

“Celadon Cornelius Viridian,” Riadne began again, and it wouldn’t have escaped anyone that Reseda’s surname had been omitted. “In exchange for your knee and your own vows of loyalty, you will henceforth be granted all rights and privileges of the Lysterne family name. High Prince still, and my recognized, legitimate son by our late High King Azurean’s blood. Swear to me your allegiance, Celadon, and as natural heir and eldest living Viridian royal marked by Spring’s Crowning Gift, it will be my decree as High Queen that you continue your father’s great legacy as Head of UnSeelie Spring.”

… Head of UnSeelie Spring?

Riadne wanted… to make him king?

Celadon’s mind reeled—he should have seen this coming. Of course she’d do this. Of course it would serve her to have her own puppets on the other thrones. But Celadon’s entire family had just been wiped from his life like a stain, and Arlo wouldn’t look at him, and Celadon hadn’t been groomed in the least like his sister Cerelia had been her whole life to fill such an intimidating and difficult role… like Elyas had been too—hells, Elyas! Where was his nephew? Was he all right?

Too caught up in his internalized shock, his brain heard the conversation move on, but nothing in him registered the words that were spoken.

“All that’s required to pass this motion is the acceptance of one other Viridian.” Riadne turned her gaze on Arlo. “Arlo Jarsdel. I asked you this night to make a willing choice—to pledge me your allegiance; to bind yourself and your power to me.”

Celadon felt frost clench around his heart.

She really had. Riadne really had done something to trap Arlo here, to secure her compliance, and Celadon hadn’t been able to protect her at all, as he’d promised he always would.

“You chose to accept, and already that magic has cemented its pact between us, your place here as my guest.

Guest—the term was laughable. If Arlo had sworn herself to Riadne in any shape or form, even just a nod of compliance to a request of services, then Arlo was little better than a captive. And now he understood why Nausicaä hadn’t whisked her away from all this the moment she appeared in the ballroom last night. With even a nod from Arlo, and until Riadne set her terms of the contract between them, magic wouldn’t let her leave.

“You made your choice, but you will confirm it now again before witness in spoken vow—our oldest and most powerful of magics. Arlo Jarsdel”—the way Riadne grinned around his cousin’s name… she’d won: absolutely everything she’d wanted, Riadne had won in mere hours, and Celadon had never felt such hopelessness in his life—“do you swear me your allegiance, your compliance, your service and all skill?”

Arlo looked up at the queen’s glinting gaze, into an expression that older, braver, grittier warriors would have cowered before to see directed at them. “I do,” she replied. Steady. Lifeless, as everything else about her.

“Do you, as blood of the Viridian line, accept High Prince Celadon as UnSeelie Spring’s king?”

“Sure,” Arlo agreed.

While it lacked proper etiquette and any feeling or thought, it was apparently good enough for Riadne. His mother turned her gaze back to Celadon, and with it, every pair of eyes returned to him as well. “Your answer, Celadon,” she prompted, a curl of amusement beneath her words, because who would be so foolish as to reject so much for so little?

Celadon drew a breath—released it slowly through his nose.

He bowed his head. “I accept,” he said, as graciously as he could around his broken heart, and in an elegant sweep, bent himself to one knee. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

So many people he’d failed last night…

If this was the only way to protect what was left to him, so be it.

Let them think this was what he’d been after all along. Let them think he was content to play into his mother’s hand. Let them think him a monster—if Riadne wanted to dole out even a sliver of power right now, he’d take it.

“Done.” She sealed it as she had with Vehan before carrying on just as quickly. “Theodore Reynolds and the Dark Star, Nausicaä Kraken—I summon you next before me.”

The pang of a memory shot through him of the last time someone had dared to summon Nausicaä to do anything.

His father.

Nausicaä had blown off his demands for days before Arlo had cornered her at the Faerie Ring and given her incentive to cooperate. She hadn’t been too happy about it then, and she didn’t seem any happier now. But Nausicaä stepped up to Arlo’s side, because even a deadly, immortal Fury knew when to pick her battles—and no doubt she was wary of doing something that put Arlo’s life in danger.

Taking the room by muffled surprise, Riadne reached a hand over her shoulder and pulled out the gold, glass, and jeweled sword she’d used to slay Celadon’s father. Wielding her weapon like a scepter, she slammed the point of it to the ground.

The strike reverberated like a crack of lightning, startling all but Arlo and the ever-unflappable Nausicaä.

Riadne waited until she was sure she had everyone’s fear and focus alike.

Sweeping the room with a piercing glance, she returned her attention to the five before her, but her words were for all to hear.

“The both of you wish to remain in my good graces. Theodore—traitor and spy—you may be bound to another master, but I’m the one who keeps your parents, Eurora and Mavren. You can rest assured that for now they are unharmed; how long they remain this way, however…”

She trailed off in her open threat, switching then to her next target.

“Nausicaä—law unto yourself, an immortal cat among pixie mortals. How long has it been since you’ve had anyone to care about other than yourself?”

A glance at Arlo—another quirk of amusement.

Nausicaä glared at the Seelie Summer High Queen hotly enough that Riadne resumed.

“One wishes to remain steadfast at true love’s side. One wishes to keep his family alive. I wish for your bended knee—and in exchange, I’ll allow you to stay. Of course, you’ll have to serve some purpose to me; this is a palace, not an orphanage for pitiful children. But I think I have just the thing…. I could use, after all, a well-trained assassin.”

Oh… no.

Celadon might not be operating at full faculty right now, but he could see where this was going. Riadne Lysterne, who’d been playing her dangerous games for so long, of course she wouldn’t relent in them now. Did she even know how to?

Nausicaä… Theodore… Riadne had already given her sport away in her taunt—she could use, after all, a well-trained assassin.

“Oh, but you know, I’ve only really the need for one….”

And there it was.

“So, I think we can make this a challenge, hmm? A little bit of fun….”

Celadon swallowed.


How on earth would this be a challenge? For Theodore, surely—such unfair odds in pitting him against an immortal Fury—and damn Riadne all over again for her twisted, cruel games, that boy didn’t deserve this.

Theodore was… well, he was Celadon’s friend.

His friend, and Riadne was going to crush him.

His friend, and she was going to use Nausicaä to do so.

“The two of you will have until the Autumn Equinox to bring me the heart of the most fearsome monster you can find. The winner gets to stay on in my employ; the loser gets death—or banishment in your case, my dear,” she amended to Nausicaä. “Until then, you will serve me both, and it matters very much how well you do that; if I start to suspect either of you might not be up to the task, I’ll simply choose neither and do away with you altogether.”


Celadon wanted to shout at them to stop. To not accept. To cut their losses and turn away now. He wanted to warn them not to do this. They weren’t unintelligent; they had to know what Riadne intended in issuing this task so specifically.

Don’t agree to this; it’s a trap and you know it—but how could they refuse?

It was Theodore who sank to his knee first. Folding his hand over his heart, he bowed his head and answered Riadne with “I accept.”

Riadne said nothing.

Her gaze slid to Nausicaä, a fine brow quirking in question: And you?

The second ticked into seconds ticked into a full minute in which nothing happened. Then, with a rippling gust, Nausicaä’s wings retracted in on themselves. Her height shrank to its usual six feet. Her appearance morphed back into what Celadon better recognized: a beautiful teenage girl in the two-piece black suit she’d worn for the ball, left open to no undershirt, only her bright red bra.

Without comment, without reply, with only a glance at Arlo, who wouldn’t look back at her either, Nausicaä sank to her knees as well.

And that was enough.

“Briar Sylvain!” Riadne rounded immediately on the gathered crowd, who’d been wisely quiet through this whole exchange, though they’d have much to gossip about afterward. The fae and folk who’d been spared Riadne’s wrath… but at what cost? Celadon wondered. What had they paid to secure this… and what would Riadne collect later as recompense?

With a rustle of movement, Councillor Sylvain emerged from the audience.

All stepped aside to admit him forward, and Celadon had finally lifted his head now that Riadne no longer watched him to regard the man who shared a heavy portion of responsibility for the past night’s tragedy.

“High Majesty Riadne,” Councillor Sylvain exalted, pushing his way between Celadon and Theodore to drop himself to his knees at her feet. “My queen.”

Lifting his cupped hands, Sylvain presented the gleaming red stone he’d pulled from the servant boy’s chest hours before.

He adored her—it made Celadon want to throw up to hear such sycophantic worship in his voice.

“Briar Sylvain,” Riadne repeated, plucking the stone from his grasp and holding it up to her examination. Her tone had worn down to a far gentler caress now, even more than it had on Vehan. “I owe you tremendous gratitude for what you’ve helped make possible. Your service all these years…”

“My queen, it is I who is grateful!” Councillor Sylvain lifted his head from his scraping bow. Celadon couldn’t see his face, but he could hear quite clearly the passion in his voice. “I have served you happily, will continue to serve you with unparalleled devotion. The stone I created for you this night is but one of many I can arm you with—all seven that you desire will be yours, and once the Courts are under your complete control, you and I, with their own magic pitted against them, can truly stamp out all this impurity together, purge our ranks of infection, and restore the sidhe fae to their glorious—”

A titter of laughter sounded from the dais.

Celadon couldn’t peel his eyes away from Riadne’s face, as she transferred her attention from her stone to Sylvain, but he didn’t need to look to know the wicked delight had come from Lethe.

“Stamp out impurity…”

“Yes, my queen. That… that is the aim? The faerie and ironborn blood polluting our Great Courts… that’s what you—”

“What I what?”

That gentle tone had frozen over deadly.

Clearly, Councillor Sylvain had been misled, used—and it served him right.

Fae were good at wording their promises to serve their own aims; Riadne was best, and whatever she’d said to convince Sylvain to work for her, he’d very obviously been tricked.

What Celadon wouldn’t give to see the shock on the Councillor’s face right now.

And then, too quickly for Celadon to comprehend, Riadne raised her sword. The blade of it sang as it sliced through the air, and as sudden as a blink, Celadon could see the look he’d been imagining—severed from his neck, Sylvain’s head rolled to Celadon’s knee and stopped, a trail of purplish-blue blood in its wake.

“Unfortunate that you failed to press for clarification, Councillor. Your service has, again, been greatly appreciated, but I have no intentions of stamping out impurity—quite the opposite, in fact. How am I to pursue my ends with alchemy a criminal offense?” Riadne lifted her gaze again to the crowd, who all took a step back in response, like she might swing her blade at them next… and really, she could.

Riadne was already wholly unstable. With the Crown on her head… she was only going to get so much worse.

“A demonstration for the gathered powers: every single one of you is alive until I decide it no longer suits me for that to be so. Remember this in the coming days. You are all dismissed—now go.

Yes, Riadne was unstable. And it was her blood that ran through Celadon’s veins.

How long…?

How long, Celadon wondered, before his body gave out under magic it couldn’t handle? How long until that Crown morphed Riadne’s cruelty into the Courts’ worst nightmare?

How long did he have to save the people he loved from the foolish mistake he’d let come to pass?

“Vehan and Celadon—you two remain. I wish to speak further with you both.”

About The Author

Photo by Ashley Shuttleworth

Ashley Shuttleworth is a young adult fantasy author with a degree in English literature and a slight obsession with The Legend of ZeldaKingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. They currently live in Ontario, Canada, with their cat named Zack and a growing collection of cosplay swords. You can find them online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (November 28, 2023)
  • Length: 640 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665918770
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

“A dazzling sequel with enough tantalizing court intrigue, reveals, and secrets to keep you on the edge of your seat. Shuttleworth expertly expands the beautiful and cruel world of the fae with rich world-building and intricate character work in this must-read follow up to A Dark and Hollow Star.”


"Beautifully written and deliciously complex, A Dark and Hollow Star is utterly engrossing. The magic is bloody, the humor sharp, and the murder mystery drenched in violence and intrigue. Like a fallen Fury set on vengeance, I couldn’t get enough."

– Nicki Pau Preto, author of the Crown of Feathers Trilogy, on A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR

“A gripping flight into fantasy... The plot offers high stakes, simmering romantic tension, political drama, refreshingly casual representation of queer and transgender characters, and an intriguing magic system that draws inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons.”


“First in a planned duology, Shuttleworth’s queer urban fantasy debut combines figures from Greek myth and European folklore with elements of tabletop RPGs.... Shuttleworth sensitively tackles the plot’s darker elements, including trauma and suicidal ideation, tempering them with tenderness and wry wit. A kaleidoscopic narrative adds depth and drive.”

– Publishers Weekly on A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR

"Characters are vivid, with motivating, sometimes mysterious, backstories. The high stakes of the plot are balanced with humor, particularly from the irreverent and snarky Nausicaä.... Many young adults will love this novel’s stellar queer representation, as well as the oft-repeated refrain that the adults should be the ones handling this mess. VERDICT: A promising opener to an urban faerie fantasy series featuring multiple queer identities."

– School Library Journal on A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR

"Tongue-in-cheek pop-culture references and snarky humor balance well with dark but sensitive portrayals of emotional trauma caused by abusive or negligent adults.... This first in a planned duology should be a hit."

– Booklist Online Exclusive on A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR

"A ferocious fantasy."

– Kirkus Reviews on A CRUEL AND FATED LIGHT, 5/1/22

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More books from this author: Ashley Shuttleworth

More books in this series: Hollow Star Saga