Chapter no 17 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain


The Villain sighed, and Evie felt a soft pang of sympathy at the exhaustion in his expression. “Tatianna, I won’t be asking again. Put your childish vendetta aside and get in there to talk to Clarissa.”

The three of them stood in a field of plush grass and an array of brightly colored flowers, far from the manor.

The sun shone above them, bringing a warmth to the air that made Evie want to curl into the grass and soak it in like a flower.

“You’re one to talk about childish vendettas, Villain.”

Tatianna emphasized the word like something she’d choked on, the bright yellow beads through her braids catching the light. Evie stood back and watched the two pretty people about to kill each other with unnecessary amusement.

“Will one of you be so kind as to tell me who Clarissa actually is?” Evie interjected, watching both their heads whip toward her, their eyes sharp and blazing. She took a step backward.

She’d done her best to put her confrontation with Blade from her mind. Blade would tell the boss eventually, and when that time came, she would stand as a roadblock between them so the boss didn’t murder Blade where he stood. But that was a problem for another time.

After Evie had returned to her desk that morning, she’d had enough time to sort through the documents the pixies rearranged every couple of days. Until her boss had approached her desk with the request for her company to Rosewood Meadow, the side of Hickory Forest where the most magical and healing plants grew. It was theorized that one of the gods, Ashier, had accidentally spilled a large amount of magical pigment there when he and the rest of the gods and goddesses were painting their lands. Rosewood Meadow was charged with that magic and startlingly vibrant colors.

Despite what she knew of its splendor, Evie had wanted to decline the invitation. Staying in the office was the only way she could catch wind of

anything from the other workers. But when Evie had looked at her boss, she swore she saw a flash of vulnerability in his request. So she agreed, embarrassingly quick.

Evie was surprised when they’d left the manor and found Tatianna leaning against a nearby tree, looking like she would rather be ripping her eyelashes out one by one than be a part of this little excursion.

They’d all walked for more than an hour in dead silence, which for Evie was the greatest type of torture. She wanted to ask so many questions, but the air was charged with something she had no wish to ignite. Every time a word formed, she bit her tongue hard.

“Clarissa is the only person in the Kingdom of Rennedawn who sells the sort of ink Malcolm saw,” The Villain said, taking a purposeful step toward the healer, hands braced on his hips.

Evie peeked around his shoulder to look at the small hut beyond, which was charming in an odd sort of way. The chipped top of the roof was taken over by vines covered in mushrooms that hung down over a light wooden door, yellow daisies painted on the front. It was just the sort of way Evie would decorate a home she had all to herself.

As she pulled back and looked up at The Villain, the question fell from her lips like drops from a fountain. “Is the ink maker a forest sprite?” She was only half joking; they were known to frequent this part of the wood.

“May as well be,” Tatianna muttered bitterly under her breath, turning her head to the sky and crossing her arms.

“Stop it. We need answers from her, and I need your help getting them.” That vein in his forehead made a reemergence and pulsed under his frustration.

“You’re using my romantic past against me,” she protested with a raise of her arms, the grass seeming to stand at the motion. “And as a shield against your own sister.”

At that, Evie gasped, slapping The Villain on the arm. “You have a sister!”

He rubbed his arm where she’d smacked him but made no comment at the blow. “That’s hardly grounds for shock, Sage.”

“Of course it is. I’m still reconciling the fact that you didn’t hatch from an egg.”

He pulled back his lips, clearly having no verbal response to that, before Evie turned on Tatianna next.

“And you! You wretch! After all the secrets I’ve shared, you didn’t tell me you had a dalliance with the boss’s sister?”

There was a heated feeling climbing Evie’s neck. It usually felt this way when she was excluded from a conversation or made to feel like she wasn’t worthy of information, but it didn’t typically nag her the way it did now. The feeling moved through every corner of her body, catching in her throat, creating a lump she couldn’t clear.

“Clare is hardly a topic worth speaking of. She’s a selfish, horrid little beast who will stomp on your soul and rip your humanity from your bones.” Tatianna’s normally level demeanor was fraying, and seeing it made Evie want to hug her just a little bit.

“She also ate dirt as a child.” The Villain’s mouth was neutral, but there was an unmistakable dry humor to his words that made Evie bite her tongue before Tatianna cut it out.

“I only did that once.” A voice as light as fallen snow floated in their direction, causing all three of them to turn toward it. The Villain’s sister was a tall woman, waiflike, and Evie thought for a moment that she had been lied to and she was, in fact, looking at a forest sprite.

Her dark hair was cropped above her shoulders, pinned back with roses adorning the sides. Her dress was minimal, a thin brown shift that hung over her shoulders, and a light-green corset was loosely tied over the front. Her feet were bare as she moved through the grass toward them, a curious twinkle in her dark eyes.

“My former betrothed and my estranged brother all in one afternoon? I’ll have to open a bottle of wine,” she said in a singsong voice, walking past them and pushing the door to the small home open. She hauled a basket of strange-looking plants farther up her slender arm.

The Villain strode in after her, his long cape brushing past Evie’s ankles, sending goose bumps down her arms. She sucked in a deep breath before grabbing Tatianna’s wrist and dragging the stiff woman behind her.

“Make yourselves at home,” Clare called as they entered the small archway, and Evie’s eyes widened as she got her first real look inside. Whatever enchantment was on this house, it made the structure look a significant amount smaller on the outside than the grand splendor she was currently looking at.

The room had floor-to-ceiling windows that opened on a large living space, facing a wall filled with shelves. Shelves that were stacked with an

assortment of different bottles, much like the ones in Tatianna’s room.

“So kind of you to say, considering this used to be my home.” Tatianna smirked, looking around the room with a disdainful sneer. “Did you redecorate? I hate it.”

“Good,” Clare said brightly, a manic sort of look on her face. “That’s exactly what I was going for when you left.”

“When you drove me away,” Tatianna corrected.

“When you decided to work for my brother!” Clare’s previously soft-spoken voice rang louder, high-pitched and a little squeaky.

“I only did that because you drove me away, and I didn’t have a choice.” A chair made the mistake of standing in Tatianna’s path as she moved closer to Clare. It met a violent end as Tatianna swept it away so hard that it hit the wall, a leg breaking off onto the floor.

“You brat! That was my favorite chair!” Clare shrieked before diving for Tatianna, but The Villain appeared behind her, gripping her shoulders to hold her back even as she thrashed harder.

“I’ll buy you twenty of those chairs if you calm down.” The high command of his voice was softer than normal.

“I don’t take orders from you, you ass, and I certainly don’t want your blood money.” Evie watched her boss flinch as his sister dug her nails into his hands.

“All money is blood money,” he said, releasing her. Clare was still thrashing when he did, and she fell quickly to her knees. Tatianna subconsciously moved forward to help her and then whipped back again.

But not before Evie caught the subtle move and smiled knowingly.

Apparently things between them were far from finished.

“Hello, Clare.” Evie held a hand out for the woman and helped her to her feet. “I’m Evangelina, your brother’s assistant.”

Clare’s eyes glittered with mischief as she looked at her brother, a knowing smirk spreading across her lips. “Of course. Malcolm told me about you.”

Evie’s cheeks warmed. Whatever Malcolm had said to the woman, by the wickedness in her gaze, it couldn’t have been anything good. “I’m flattered,” Evie bit out, clearly not. “Did he also mention why we were there to see him in the first place?”

Clare narrowed her eyes, by Evie’s guess hating to give up any advantage she had over them. “Something about an explosion?” She turned back to her

brother. “And someone trying to kill you?”

“Are you pretending you know nothing about it?” His voice remained quiet, but there was a dangerous edge to it.

“I’m not pretending anything. I only know what I know, which is very little.” Clare patted The Villain’s shoulder with mock sympathy, walking past him to deposit her plants on the large table in front of the wall.

Glaring hard, Tatianna stormed over, then braced her hands on either side of the bench. “It’s not just your brother who was put in danger, Clarissa.” Clare’s eyes flashed between Evie and Tatianna for a moment before a shield of indifference slammed down again.

“Why should I care about that?”

“Because you’ve sold to this person before,” Trystan bit out. What was left of his patience was clearly being ground into dust by the tightness in his jaw. “Malcolm informed my assistant that whoever bought the wretched clock off him had ink stains on his fingers.”

Clarissa laughed, and it echoed off the vaulted ceilings. “So what? Lots of people in the kingdom sell ink.”

“But not everybody sells ink of strange colors, whether or not it was glowing,” Evie cut in. “Ink is expensive, and black ink alone can be difficult to find, let alone colors like blue and—” Evie angled her head at a small vial that caught her eye. “Is that one gold?”

Tatianna smirked. “Gold, Clare? Getting ambitious, are we?”

Snatching the bottle before Tatianna could grab it, Clarissa shoved it into the pockets of the apron she had just donned. “Have any bargains you’re looking to make? I’d give you a fair price on a few drops.”

Evie reeled, noting the unearthly glow of the bottle, before placing a healthy amount of distance between her and the rest of the group. “I’ll pass for now, I think. How exactly did you acquire magical ink in the first place?”

“I can ingrain magic in any object of my choosing—ink just happens to be the easiest for me to work with.” Sparks flashed over her delicate fingers as she dragged them through the air like living light.

“Beautiful,” Evie said in wonder, reaching out a hand to feel the warmth of the magic. Abruptly, the light was gone and Clarissa was gripping Evie’s left hand hard in hers.

“Well, well. It seems the ink I sent for your birthday didn’t go to waste, did it, Trystan?”

Evie followed her view to the gold markings wrapped around her pinkie finger—her employment bargain.

“This was done with your ink?”

The bargain keeper The Villain had hired to do it was a skittish old man who moved the ink like a liquid he could bend and control. Evie had known there was magic in the bargain she’d made, but she had no idea the magic lived inside the ink itself.

Clare narrowed her eyes, a satisfied smile spreading wide across her mouth. “Indeed. I didn’t realize this was the purpose he’d use it for.” She turned Evie’s hand over, closely inspecting the other side.

Pulling it from her grasp, Evie tucked it back into her side, feeling more than a little defensive of her boss. “It was a necessity, of course, for someone in his position.”

The Villain looked at her from the corner of the room, almost appearing grateful for her assistance.

The words Evie spoke didn’t seem to register to The Villain’s sister. “Yes, I’m sure he tells you everything he does is necessary. Everything has a reason, no matter how nefarious.”

“Nefarious is in the job title. Now, perhaps you’d be willing to quit stalling and tell me the name of every person who’s bought blue ink from you in the last three months.” The Villain gritted his teeth, standing to full height and practically creating shadows around him with his anger.

For the first time since they’d arrived, Clare looked at her brother like he was someone to fear, someone to run from. Evie knew that’s exactly what he wanted.

“I only sold two jars in the last month, Trystan. The first was to a forlorn widower, and the other…”

“What? The other what?” Tatianna pressed.

Clare winced before pulling a tattered book out from underneath the floorboards. “I didn’t know who he was until he signed his name.”

The Villain’s hand landed heavily on the table. “Tell me. Now.”

“The man introduced himself as Lark Moray.” She bit her lip and pointed to the signature below the name. “But he signed the ledger with one of the Valiant Guards’ sigils.”

The boss pored over the book, flipping page after page until every muscle seemed to lock at once. Then he turned on his heel and strode past them both, yanking the door open and striding out.

Clare stalked after him, gripping the black shirt on his forearms. “When is it going to stop, Tryst?” Her voice rose with each word. “When will it be enough that you’ll finally stop?”

Evie and Tatianna followed them both outside, standing and watching the scene helplessly.

Her boss stood there quietly for a moment before gently prying Clare’s fingers from his arm. “King Benedict went after you and Malcolm and everything I’ve built to oppose him. I knew that when this day would come, only one of us would make it out alive. I’ve learned to live with that.”

“This last hateful decade of revenge can end—you can make it so! He’d hardly recognize you now. You can move on.” The crack in Clarissa’s voice splintered something in Evie’s heart.

“You knew King Benedict?” Evie asked quietly.

His brows pulled down as a haunted look came over his dark eyes. “I worked for him…for a time.” He sucked in a large breath, seeming to brace himself for pain.

Evie’s head whipped back before she looked at him with wide eyes. “You

worked for King Benedict? When?”

Trystan, The Villain, looked at Evie with a gravity that made her heart sink. “Before.”

“Before what?” Evie said, exasperated and a little fearful of his response. “Before I became…what I am now.” There was a sharpness punctuating

the sentence, like the very idea was painful.

“A monster,” Clarissa snapped, a bitter, wounded expression on her face. Before Evie could assess her boss’s reaction, though, Clarissa spun around and stormed back inside her home. She slammed the door, and the daisies painted on the wooden surface seemed to jump from the force.

“Sir, that’s not— I don’t think you’re—um.” Evie couldn’t think of the right thing to say, so instead she settled for asking, “What happened between you and King Benedict?”

The Villain’s face was unreadable as he said, “I don’t see how that is important for you to know, Sage.”

The words weren’t said to be cruel—Evie could tell he meant them as a dry and logical statement. Still, it felt pointed, and it stung. The blow of it must’ve shown on her face, because his mask seemed to crack just the tiniest bit.

“Sage, I did not mean—”

“I think it’s time to head back, don’t you?” she said, then started to walk into the forest without waiting to see if anyone followed. She kept her shoulders back, ignoring the prickling along the sides of her neck and cheeks. The grass crunched under her boots as she walked, helping drown out the sound of Tatianna’s calls for her to wait for them. Evie just wanted to return to the manor before one more ridiculous thing left her lips.

Tatianna’s voice grew distant, but Evie still heard her say, “Were you always this dumb, Trystan? Or is it a recently acquired skill?”

“As always, thank you for your help, Tati,” The Villain replied as the heavy fall of his boots caught up to her.

Sunlight brushed against Evie’s cheek, but she no longer felt the heat as keenly as she did before. Branches brushed against her arms as she was suddenly struck by all the things she didn’t know.

And all the ways that lack of knowledge could get Trystan killed if she didn’t find a way to stop it—soon.

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