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Chapter no 12 – Tessa

Defy the Night

When I rst locked myself in, I could hear the low rumble of people working in the hallways. I occasionally had to hold my breath when someone would come into this supply closet. Now, everything has been silent for so long that I’ve begun wondering if it’s safe for me to take a chance at coming out. ere are no windows, no way for me to measure how long I’ve been down here. I think of that pocket watch that the consul had, how just knowing the time of day is a luxury they aren’t aware of.

It feels like hours.

I sneak to the door and press my ear against the wood. Silence. Absolute silence.

It still takes a while for me to gather the courage to open the door. Everything feels dierent now. Earlier, I was burning with rage and exhaustion, full of exhilaration from being able to get into the palace so easily.

Now, my thoughts have caught up with me, and all that’s le is panic that I’ll be discovered and Wes’s body will have some company along the gate.

My stomach rumbles, and my body alerts me that I have needs that haven’t been addressed in hours.

I need to get out of the palace.

Finally, I pull at the latch, and the door swings open.

e hallway is empty and dim; only a few ickering lanterns are lit at either end. e few windows I can see are pitch-dark. It must be very late.

Good.

No, not good. When I reach the end of the hallway, I discover that the door at the end is padlocked shut.

Well, of course it is. It’s the middle of the night, and the day laborers have gone home.

Voices suddenly echo down the hallway, and I duck into the room where the girls were changing earlier. My heartbeat is a steady thrum in my ears. Shadows appear in the doorway, and I bolt for the back half of the room.

ere’s nowhere to hide.

ere. A door in the corner. It must be another storage closet. I grab hold of the handle, whisper a prayer that it’s not locked, and yank it wide.

It’s not a closet. It leads to a lush staircase with red velvet carpeting and walls painted with a fancy hunting scene. e steps seem to lead to a hallway at the top. e lights blaze brightly, but the air is heavy and quiet.

at said, in my homespun skirts, I de nitely wouldn’t be invisible here, at this time.

I’m frozen in place and not sure what to do or where to go—but I de nitely can’t stay here in this stairwell. Part of me wants to dive right back through that door and into the changing room, but another part of me worries that those people will be there again, and I’ll be walking right into discovery.

I need to move. Up I go.

At the top, I peek around the corner, but I nd nothing. No guards, no one at all here, but I tiptoe forward regardless. My feet are practiced at sneaking, and I long for my mask and hat.

At the end of the hall, I peek around both corners, and again I see no one. I have no idea which direction is the correct way out of here, but based on how I got in here, heading right should take me toward the back part of the palace. ough the walls and ooring are more opulent here, this is clearly a servants’ passageway. Maybe I can nd another staircase and sneak back down to another area that won’t be padlocked. Maybe—just maybe—I’ll nd where the Moon ower leaves are stored.

Maybe you can nd the king and end his tyranny.

e thought hits me so hard and fast that it pulls me to a stop. I’m alone.

is passageway is unguarded. I could nd the king, and I could end his life. But as badly as I want to avenge my parents and Wes, I can’t bring my feet to move. I’ve spent the last few years risking my life to save others. I don’t know if I could look down at someone—even the king or his brother—and

kill him.

I think of those daggers driven into Weston’s eyes. Nothing stopped that. Not even me.

I swallow, my throat tight.

I wouldn’t even need to do something violent. ere’s enough powder in my bag to lace the king’s water pitcher if I wanted to.

Still, my feet won’t move. I think of Wes standing in the workshop, declaring that he wasn’t a smuggler, that he wasn’t doing this to line his own pockets.

I’m not a killer.

e instant I have the thought, I can breathe again. My parents risked their lives to save others—and so do I.

I’m not a killer. I heal people; I don’t harm them.

A door a short distance away opens, and a man steps through. He looks to be in his early twenties, with vibrant red hair, a scruff of beard growth on his jaw, and a half-buttoned green brocade jacket. He’s carrying several books and papers, and he’s reading one of them as he steps through the door.

For half an instant, I think he’ll turn the other way without seeing me, that somehow my bizarre luck will continue. But his eyes li, and he startles so hard that a few papers dri from the stack.

I take a step back and put up a hand. “I—I’m sorry—I—”

“Guards!” His expression has quickly shied from surprise to alarm. He drops his books and throws open the door he just came through, but he doesn’t take his eyes off me. “Guards! Secure the king! Secure the prince—”

“No!” I cry. “No—you don’t—this was—this was a mistake . . .” Run, Tessa. Weston’s voice is like a whisper in my ears.

I dig my feet into the velvet carpeting and run. e stairs are behind me, but they only lead to a padlock, so I run directly at the red-haired man. He tries to grab me, but I throw a punch right at the base of his rib cage, and his grip slackens.

I’m loose and I’m running, and I’m about to burst through the rst door I see. I thought my heart was pounding before, but now it’s sprinting in my chest, pulling me forward.

Two other doors open, and guards appear in front of me, weapons drawn. It startles a short scream out of me. My feet skid on velvet. ere are too many of them. I don’t even have time to fall on the carpet before two of

them have a hold on my arms, and they’re dragging me upright.

ey’re going to kill me. ey’ll do it right here. Daggers will be plunged into my ears or they’ll cut off my head or they’ll burn me in pieces while I

watch. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen what happens to traitors and smugglers. My breathing is a panicked rush that won’t let me speak. My vision goes spotty for a long moment, and I think I’m going to pass out. In a way, it’s a relief. I don’t want to be conscious. I don’t want any of this to happen. But my body still has needs, and the only thing keeping me from wetting myself is the idea that I want to die with some shred of dignity. e stars in my vision clear.

e man with red hair steps in front of me, but he’s looking at the guards. “Search the palace. She can’t be working alone. Is the king secure?”

e one pinning my right arm nods. “Yes, Master Quint.”

“I’m alone,” I gasp, and my voice is nearly a keening wail. “I’m alone.

Please. Please. Please. is was a mistake.”

“It’ll do you little good to beg from me.” He’s not even looking at me. “Search her things. Take her to the throne room. I’ll speak to Prince Corrick.”

Prince Corrick. My muscles go slack. Fear wins, leaving no room for humiliation.

Master Quint glances down, sees that I’ve soiled the velvet carpeting, and sighs. “I’ll also send someone to clean that up.”

 

 

My underthings are wet and I can smell urine, but the guards have chained me tightly and le me lying facedown on the cold stone oor of what must be the throne room. I expected to be beaten and broken by now, but while they haven’t been gentle, the guards have been practical and ecient, chaining my wrists behind my back with practiced ease and then lowering me to the ground to wait.

My breath shakes and shudders against the stone oor, but the guards say nothing and do nothing. is uncertain waiting is the worst torture.

No, surely the worst torture is yet to come.

I was so foolish. Wes would never let me hear the end of this. Maybe I’ll

nd him in the aerlife, and he’ll roll his eyes at me and say, “Lord, Tessa. You really did need me around, didn’t you?”

Fresh tears squeeze free of my eyes.

I hear light footsteps approach, and I try to curl in on myself. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to rage and ght, but I’m pinned in place, and there’s nowhere to go. My eyes clench closed. “No,” I say, and my voice sounds broken and raw. “Please. No.”

“You have nothing to fear from me, girl.” It’s a woman’s voice, her tone landing somewhere between frustrated and disappointed. When her footsteps come closer, I peek up, and I nd myself looking at a stunning brown-skinned woman in a oor-length emerald-green gown. “I can’t speak for anyone else in the palace, however.”

is was a mistake,” I say to her. “I didn’t—I don’t know what I was doing.”

“It’s dicult to mistakenly nd yourself in the middle of the palace at midnight,” says a harsh male voice, and I clench my eyes closed again. e words are so cold and edged that a chill grabs hold of my spine.

Another man speaks with the deferential authority of a guard. “We have searched the palace, Your Highness. We found nothing else amiss.”

Your Highnessat must mean Prince Corrick.

I was so stupid. I stood there and told Wes that we shouldn’t keep hiding, but now that’s all I want to do.

e woman straightens and says, “She’s just a girl. Clearly not a trained assassin.”

“You don’t think girls are capable of violence and treachery, Consul?” Booted feet step closer, but he’s behind me, so I can’t look at him. His eyes were pools of black from across the square when he was going to execute the eight prisoners. I don’t want to see what they look like up close. I’ll do worse than wet myself.

“How did she get in here?” he says.

“We don’t know.” e guard sounds a bit hesitant now. “We have not been able to discover her point of entry.”

“What are you doing here?”

It takes me a moment to realize that cold voice is speaking to me, and it’s clearly a moment too long because the prince grabs hold of my hair and pulls tight. “Answer me.”

It draws a squeak out of my throat. “I don’t know—I don’t know—” His grip turns painful. “Stop saying you don’t know.”

I’m not sure if it’s the command in his voice or the grip on my hair—or possibly just the sheer hatred I have for this man—but I grit my teeth and choke back my tears. My voice comes out like a broken whisper. “You killed .

. . you killed my . . .”

“Who did I kill?” He says the words without any emotion.

I was wrong before. I should have tried to poison this man. I would be doing the world a favor. A tear slips down my face. “My friend.”

“What’s your name?”

I hold my breath. I wish he would just kill me and get it over with. I’m shaking so hard I’m sure he can feel it through his grip on my hair. I feel like such a coward, but it’s impossible to be brave.

His grip tightens until I’m sure hairs are beginning to pull free. “Your name.”

I don’t want to give it to him. All of Wes’s warnings to protect my identity are rattling around in my head. But I’m dying, so surely it doesn’t matter.

“Tessa.” e word is almost forced out of my mouth.

e woman speaks again. “How desperate does someone have to be to challenge your laws? If you kill everyone who holds a grudge against your actions, Prince Corrick, your brother will have no subjects le.”

He lets go of my hair and steps back. I can nally turn my head, but all I can see are his polished black boots.

“You overstep, Consul Cherry,” he says, and somehow, his voice is colder.

Darker.

“Do I?”

“What would you have me do? Should I send every assassin on their way with a bag of silver and some sugared pastries for their trouble?”

To my surprise, the woman laughs. “is girl was clearly not any threat to anyone in this palace,” she says. “Your guards found no weapons.”

ey found ground powders in her satchel,” he says. “Do you suppose she was here to avor Harristan’s tea?”

Any laughter fades from her voice. “You attempted to execute eight people, and there were calls for revolution in the streets. If you hang a pretty young girl from the gates, I believe you will be dealing with more than you bargained for.”

He’s quiet for a long time. So long that I can tell he is thinking, and a new chill nds its way through my veins.

“Fine,” he says, and his voice is resigned. “I’ll leave her alive.”

All the breath leaves my lungs in a rush. I don’t know if this is worse or better.

“Should we take her to the Hold, Your Highness?” says one of the guards. “No,” says Prince Corrick. He snis at the air, and I cringe, wanting to curl

in on myself again. “Have one of the stewards clean her up. Leave her in chains. Tie a sack over her head so Consul Cherry no longer has to see that she’s a pretty young girl.”

My blood turns to ice. I can’t think. I can’t see. I can’t breathe. “Your Highness—” Consul Cherry begins.

“You asked me to leave her alive,” he snaps. “And so I will. Chain her in my chambers. Alive or dead, she can send a message that traitors are swily dealt with.”

“No.” I don’t know if I say the word or only think it. I didn’t think he could do anything worse than what he did to Wes, but he can. Almost subconsciously, my body tries to draw away from him. “No.”

“Your Highness,” Consul Cherry says more urgently. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m sure you can gure it out,” he says. His booted feet are moving away. “Guards. You have your orders.”

“No!” I scream aer him as the guards take hold of my arms. I brace against the chains but it does no good. “No!”

All I see is the black of his jacket as he’s walking away.

I spit in his direction. I mean for my voice to be strong, but it sounds broken and weak. “I hate you.”

“Everyone does,” he says.

e guards haul me up, and mercifully, I pass out.

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