Chapter no 11 – Tessa

Defy the Night

lose track of how many days pass. Maybe four, maybe ve, maybe an entire month. I go to work, I mix the potions for Mistress Solomon, and then I walk woodenly back to my rented room where I fall into bed. e vials and scales and bottles for real remedies sit untouched on my side table. Herbs and leaves and petals dry up and crumble on their own, worthless.

I haven’t returned to the workshop. Every time I try, my breathing goes short and my legs refuse to work. Too much . . . Wes.

I haven’t listened to the names of those lost to the fever, read at the end of each week. ere are many, though. Without Weston and me delivering a daily dose, the number of people dying has surely risen.

e guilt is almost as bad as the loss. I’ve hardly eaten. I’ve hardly slept.

When I do, I dream of Wes, of the warmth in his hands or the light in his eyes or the promise in his words. And then the dreams shi into nightmares, where a man in black drives daggers into Wes’s eyes while he lies there screaming for mercy.

I hope he didn’t beg. I hope he didn’t give that evil prince the satisfaction.

is is the only thought that chases away some of my sorrow, letting rage pour in to ll the gap.

Weston’s death is dierent from my parents. Weston’s death is dierent from them all.

I wish I’d listened. I wish we’d stayed in the workshop.

I want to wish he hadn’t kissed me, but I can’t. Every now and again, I touch my ngertips to my lips, as if the feel of him still lingers there. My throat always closes up and I choke on my tears, but I can’t move my ngers, as if this tiny memory will soon be gone, too.

“Tessa. Tessa.” Karri’s whisper takes a moment to break through my thoughts.

I clear my throat. “Sorry.”

She studies me with clear concern. She’s asked me a dozen times what happened, but I’ve already risked so much. I can’t tell her anything. e night patrol is still doubled. I’ve heard rumors of other bodies stretched along the gate, but I have zero desire to discover what Wes’s remains have been reduced to, so I haven’t gone to see.

She knows something happened, though.

Her eyes ick down to the thimbleweed roots I’m grinding together. It’s supposed to be a tincture to help someone with their complexion. As if someone’s skin matters while people are dying.

at’s too much,” says Karri, her voice a hushed whisper. “You’ll end up killing someone.”

Good. Maybe I’ll spare them from the fever. Or the king.

It’s a dangerous thought, and one I’ve had too oen lately. I dump out my bowl to start over.

“Tessa!” cries Mistress Solomon from across the room. “at’s my best thimbleweed!”

I can’t make myself care. Wes is dead. My parents are dead. e world is gray and empty and cold. I cut a new stretch of root.

She hurries across the shop to stand over me. “Honestly, girl, your brain is gone lately. You’re not with child, are you?”

I nearly burst into tears and choke on them to stop any from falling. With child. As if. As if. Without warning, I snort with laughter, and a tear snakes down my cheek.

She’s staring at me, mouth partially agape. So is Karri. I swipe at my face haphazardly. “Sorry. No. What?”

at order is for the Royal Sector!” she says. “You’d best pay attention!”

Knowing it’s for someone in the Royal Sector makes me want to light it all on re. I grind at it half-heartedly.

But then my brain seizes on what Karri just said. You’ll end up killing someone. I glance down at the pile of discarded grindings. She’s right. e wrong combination can turn a tincture to a poison without much eort.

ere’s a reason I insisted on measuring and weighing the elixirs Wes and I used to distribute.

I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with the discards, but I sweep the grindings into a length of muslin and wrap it up to tuck it into my pack.

I don’t have a plan. I don’t even have an idea, really. I just have rage and sorrow burning up my insides.

“Well, that’s useless,” Mistress Solomon says. “e rest of the month, I’ll be collecting your wages.”

My head snaps up. I may be wrapped up in sorrow, but I do know that I can’t aord to lose more than half a month’s income. “Let me make the delivery,” I say to her. “Please don’t take the thimbleweed from my pay.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tessa.” She’s already moving away.

“Please?” I say. “Surely a courier to the Royal Sector would cost more.” She glances back at me. She’ll do anything to avoid paying for something.

I rest a hand over my stomach for half a second, until her eyes follow the motion, and then I jerk it away and clear my throat.

“Oh, Tessa,” breathes Karri. “I wish you’d told me.”

I swallow. I didn’t consider that I’d be lying to Karri. She’s so good and kind and warm that it feels like a crime.

“He abandoned you, didn’t he?” she says knowingly, and I realize she’s remembering our talk of how so many of the smugglers are just stringing stupid girls along.

Abandoned me. No. Wes didn’t abandon me. If anything, I abandoned him. My throat closes up again.

Karri reaches out and gives my hand a squeeze. “You come round to the house tomorrow, and Mother will brew you some of her tea for the early sickness. She swears it helps.”

Maybe it’s safer if this is what she believes—that I’m just a silly girl who made a silly mistake, but now it’s all over. I have to sniff back waiting tears. “at’s very . . . very nice. ank you.”

Mistress Solomon draws herself up. She likely has a few thoughts about an unmarried girl getting herself into such a situation, but aer Karri has been so kind, she likely doesn’t want to turn down my request. “Very well, Tessa,” she says. “If you’re sure you’re feeling up to it.”



In my willingness to make a delivery to the Royal Sector, I didn’t consider that it would require passing the gates where Wes’s body hangs, and it doesn’t come to mind until the smell hits me.

I stop short on the path. My mouth goes dry. I can’t do this. I don’t even know what I was going to do.

Deliver a package. at’s why I’m here. at’s what I need to do.

e discarded powders wrapped up in a muslin bundle can just sit in my apothecary pack next to my record books and the delivery I’m to make. I’ll toss them into a re. en I’ll toss myself into a re.

An elderly man is driving a donkey with a small cart, and he glances at me as he goes past. “You get used to it aer a while,” he says.

No. I won’t. And we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t get used to this.

Wes wouldn’t hesitate. He didn’t hesitate. He leapt over that wall because I needed him to. Because I wanted him to.

I square my shoulders and walk. ere’s a horri c buzzing in the air that

nds my ears before I reach the gate, and it’s not until I round the bend that I realize what the sound is: ies. ey’re everywhere, in the air, on the trees, feasting on the bodies—because of course there are more than one now.

ere are six. I can’t tell which were men and which were women.

I can tell Wes, though. His body has begun to decompose, the daggers beginning to slip from the loosened tissues of his eyes. e ower is gone.

e rope of the treble hook has sunk into the gray skin of his wrist. “It’s not Wes,” I breathe to myself. “It’s not Wes.”

Because it’s not. It’s a corpse. A body. Not the rogue who used to tease me and help me and protect me. Not the young man who pulled me against him and promised to return in an hour.

Do not cry. I don’t.

Flies cling to me as I force my feet forward. I swat them away forcefully. One of the gate guards steps forward, swatting at ies himself. Sweat sits in a sheen on his brow, and he looks bored and irritated. I know I would be.

“State your business,” he says.

I pull free the order that Mistress Solomon gave me. “I have a delivery in the Royal Sector.”

He barely gives it a glance, then nods at the gates and returns to his post.

Well, I always knew it was easier to get in than it is to get out. A woman with a glistening purple carriage is waiting on the other side while guards search her belongings. Her skin is starkly pale, with rich red hair coiled in impossible braids. She stands to the side, haughtily checking her pocket watch. Diamonds sparkle in the sunlight.

at pocket watch alone would buy enough medicine for a family for months. I want to grab a stful of the powder in my pack and shove it down her throat.

I shake myself. No. I don’t. It’s not her fault. She didn’t put Wes up there.

She can’t help that she was born to privilege.

One of the guards opens the door to her carriage and bows to her. “Forgive the delay, Consul Marpetta.”

A consul! I’ve never seen one up close, and I want to gawk. I probably am gawking. I try to force my eyes away.

She tosses him a coin. It winks in the light and then disappears into his palm. “I’d rather you search everyone than let a smuggler out,” she says, her voice so so I almost don’t hear it. She climbs into the carriage, and he slams the door behind her.

As her carriage rattles past, the guard notices me staring. “Don’t you have business here, girl?”

“Oh! Yes.” I hurry away.

I’m no stranger to the Royal Sector, but I know it in the dead of night, when the streets are empty, dark, and silent. With the sun blazing overhead, everything gleams, even the gutters. Doorways sport gilded edges. Fountains splash merrily in front of the larger houses. e windows of the shops are all crystal clear, the cobblestones out front freshly swept. Electric lights blaze inside the fanciest establishments, but others are lit by oil lanterns. Doorknobs are edged in silver, carriages and carts are lined with leather and steel. Horses prance and shine, their harnesses richly detailed.

And the people! Women wear dresses with jewels embedded in the bodices, silver stitching glinting along the skirts. Men wear long jackets of brocade or silk or so suede, their boots thickly heeled and polished. Fabrics burst with every color, brighter than any found in the Wilds, where dyes would be too expensive and too frivolous. At night, these swaths of pink and purple and orange are all muted shades of gray.

ere are more common people, too, workers with duties like me, but they’re hidden, invisible in homespun wool or gray trousers that seem to blend with the cobblestones or the brick walls of the storefronts. Even still, I see the dierences here as well, from boots with thick leather soles, belts stamped with intricate leatherworking, and buttons that have been made from a steel press, not carved from a piece of wood.

Despite all of the riches and perfection of this sector, I ache for the people dying in the Wilds, for the people struggling in Steel City or Trader’s Landing or Artis. ere is so much here. So much wealth, so much health, it’s like a slap in the face.

What Wes and I took . . . they could aord to lose it.

And now he’s dead, and they’re prancing around as if Kandala weren’t dying outside these gates.

I have to duck into a shop to ask for directions so I can nd the address Mistress Solomon speci ed. e closer I get to the center of the city, the larger the houses grow. More gold, more silver, more wasted wealth.

I’ve never walked right up to one of the houses to ring the bell, and it feels unnatural, as if slipping through open windows and picking locks is the preferred means of entry. A steward answers and takes the parcel, looking down his nose at me haughtily. “is was to be delivered an hour ago,” he says.

As if it matters. I hastily bob a curtsy, though he’s probably not someone who deserves it. “Forgive me,” I say. “Please don’t tell my mistress, sir.”

He hus through his nose and closes the door in my face. I give the closed door a rude gesture, then turn around.

Now what?

I have to walk. If I don’t walk, that steward might come back out and call for a patrolman. ere are fewer shops here and more houses. I try to backtrack to where I rst asked for directions.

Instead I turn a corner and nd myself staring up at the palace.

If the houses looked wealthy, the palace looks like an ostentatious abomination. It’s massive, stretching four city blocks wide, with white bricks edged in lavender that practically climb into the sky. e front is wide and

at, with two towers at either end. Two massive fountains spray water high in the air, bubbling and splashing on the way down. Carriages roll past, and footmen leap into action, opening doors, carrying parcels, rolling out carpets.

e palace shouldn’t be white. It should be red with blood, or black with death, or honestly, it should be a charred pile of rubble that I would skip through, and happily.

I slide my hand into my pack. e muslin of ground thimbleweed root is wrapped tight, but it’s still there.

at’s too much. You’ll end up killing someone.

My feet carry me forward against my will. I don’t want to be here, but it’s almost as if my body is working against me. Rumor says that the Moon ower elixir they mix in the palace is ten times the strength of the crushed petals Wes and I used to steal. I’m not sure what I’m going to do— it’s not like I can walk right in and ask for some.

But that guilt and loss is still pooled in my chest, wrapped up as tightly as the muslin pack. So many people are sick. I’ve le so many with no access to medicine. A small sample from the palace might be enough to cure ten times as many.

Much like in the shopping district, it takes me a longer moment to notice the commoners surrounding the palace, the laborers, the men and women working in drab attire, sweeping the streets and cleaning the gutters and brushing the horses. As I wander past them, I begin to feel invisible, too. I wonder if this is why it’s so easy for the royal elites to ignore the people outside the walls of this sector. Are we all invisible to them?

A group of younger women in homespun skirts and wool trousers are walking toward the palace, and out of curiosity, I fall in behind them. e guards at the gate paid attention to me when I was gawking at the consul, but maybe they won’t pay me any mind if I look bored and inattentive.

My heart is hammering in my chest as we approach the eastern side of the palace, but I keep my eyes forward, on the backs of the girls who are chattering away about some scandal involving Consul Cherry and Consul Pelham having secret meetings right underneath the king’s nose. Another girl chirps that she’s heard that one of the consuls is sneaking money to the rebels. I don’t know any of the players, so I can’t follow their conversation, but it doesn’t matter anyway. I wait for a guard to shout out, or to stop me, or for one of the girls to notice that I’m following them, but no one says anything at all.

Just like that, I’m inside the palace.

It takes everything I have to keep from falling against a wall and pressing a hand over my chest.

I am inside the palace.

I have no idea what to do.

e doorway here leads into an area for servants, because, although the decor is still rather splendid, the oor is worn and the wallpaper scued in

spots. e girls have moved into a room where uniforms are hung from racks along the wall, and they’re quickly disrobing.

is is ridiculous. Someone is going to nd me. I’m going to be dragged through the streets behind a horse or hung from the sector gates or something.

One of the girls must notice my attention, because she begins to turn. I quickly duck away from the doorway and hurry down the hall.

ere are workers everywhere down here, some assembling cleaning supplies, others working on repairs to small bits of machinery, some polishing leather or mending clothes or embroidering nery. A few glance at me, but most are so wrapped up in their own duties that they pay me little mind.

I need to get out while I can.

I don’t. I keep thinking about the elixirs and petals that must be stored here in the palace, the ones that can cure so very many people.

I keep thinking of the poison in my pack, of the fact that the king and his brother are likely somewhere inside these walls, plotting how they’re going to execute the next smuggler.

e thought launches a swell of fury and fear into my chest, and I breathe deeply so I don’t begin screaming.

Mind your mettle, Tessa.

Oh, Wes. My eyes ll. I press a hand to my mouth so I don’t openly sob. I need to nd a place to hide. To think. To question my sanity.

And then, as if fate granted my wish, I notice a small closet lled with linens that seems wide and dark and cool. Without a thought, and while no one is looking, I close myself inside and tuck myself into the back.

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