Chapter no 19 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

She was going to fall.

She arched her feet up onto her tiptoes, holding an arm out to steady herself. Her other hand was outstretched, trying to knock open the vent above the boss’s desk. She growled in frustration when she was short by only a few inches. The ventilation system throughout the manor was meant to heat and cool each room to a comfortable temperature, all vents leading back to the deepest parts of the stone structure.

But they were rarely used or opened because of how unpredictable the fire-and-ice wand was, a magic-ingrained wand they’d smuggled from the merfolk. They were meant to cool and heat as needed, but the object seemed to be cursed to shoot out whatever temperature pleased it, which was rarely the right one.

So the wand was locked up, and the vents remained closed. Except for this one; this one, Evie needed open. When scanning the architectural layout of the manor, she’d seen that the vent above the boss’s desk was connected directly to the one where most of the other workers took their midday meal. If she could just get the damn thing open, there was a chance the information they needed would float directly onto the boss’s desk.

Literally, since she was still standing on it.

The boss was nowhere to be seen when the idea struck, and since most of the workers had cleared into the mess hall, this seemed like her only chance. In hindsight, a ladder would’ve been wise. Something Kingsley reminded her of when he’d watched her climb on the desk from the other side, holding one sign that said BAD and another that said IDEA.

“I don’t like that negativity,” Evie said to him, and, with a determined jump, her stockinged feet left the surface of the desk. She felt the vent give under her fingers, and the flitting of voices began to spill through as her feet landed back on the desk.

“Whoa. I can’t believe that worked.” “Nor can I.”

The dry voice stalled her moment of victory, and Evie whipped around to the open office door, where the boss was now leaning against the jamb, a brow raised.

“I opened the vent,” she announced, pointing to it like that wasn’t already very clear.

“I can see.” His eyes shot to her discarded shoes on the floor and then to her stockinged feet on his desk before landing on her face again.

“I didn’t want to put the bottoms of my shoes on your desk. I thought that would be rude,” she explained sensibly.

“Yes, one must observe the proper etiquette when standing on other people’s furniture.”

Evie nodded and pretended to take his sarcasm seriously. “Exactly. As for the vent, now we can hear what the workers say about you when you’re not in the room.”

“All bad things, I hope,” he said as he walked toward her. He must have cleaned up since this morning, as his loose black shirt was tucked into his functional leather breeches, emphasizing his trim waist. Coughing, Evie tilted her head up at the vent, stretching onto her tiptoes to try and make out the voices.

“It’s too muffled.” When she glanced at him again, he was watching her with an unreadable expression. “You should get up here; you’ll hear better because—” But she was cut off by her foot catching on a loose piece of parchment, and then she was falling.

She let out a little yelp, waiting for the impact of the ground to hit, but the boss dove forward, attempting to break her fall. Instead, of course, she took them both down. When they landed, The Villain was on the ground, taking most of the impact, and Evie was on top of him.

Mortification was so palpable, it was like she could touch it. Her hands landed on either side of his head, pushing herself upward. “Whoops.”

“Indeed. Whoops.” His words sounded like they’d been dragged across gravel, but he didn’t look injured. He sighed, and his head landed back against the stone floor beneath him. “Are you unharmed?”

“Yes, you broke my fall.”

“Lucky me,” he said flatly, hand coming up to brush back his hair. Evie had seen him mess with it quite often. Almost as if it was a nervous habit, but he didn’t seem the type to have those.

“Is that a bald spot?” Evie asked innocently, tilting her head to the side and rubbing her chin as she sat upright.

“What?” he barked, looking so panicked that Evie didn’t have the heart to keep up the jest.

“I kid, Evil Overlord. Your perfect hair is intact.”

“It’s just hair; it doesn’t matter.” But the childish grumble in his voice made Evie smile, and a sudden warmness filled the room that had nothing to do with the open vent. They stayed still for a moment before a crooked grin pulled at his lips and Evie smiled so wide that her cheeks felt like they’d split open.


“What?” she said, slightly embarrassed by the breathless tone of her voice.

“Could you, umm, dismount me?”

“Oh, of course!” she yelped, throwing herself off him quickly and rising to her feet to retrieve her discarded shoes. She giggled nervously. “I almost forgot I was on top of you.”

The Villain rose slowly, gripping his desk to hoist himself all the way up.

He was facing away from her when he said, “How nice for you.”

“I should’ve asked before I opened the vent.” Evie winced. He was obviously very put out with her.

“No,” he said, surprising her. “It was a good idea. I’m just distracted by…the past, I suppose.”

Evie’s chest squeezed tight, and she walked around the edge of his desk so she could see his face. “You can talk about it if you want to.” She held up her pinkie. “I’m sworn to secrecy anyway, remember?”

His dark gaze held hers, lowering to her smile, then back up to her eyes. “I suppose I could tell you…”

And then Becky busted through the door.

Honestly, it was like the woman had a bell go off anytime someone was feeling joy.

“Oh!” Becky said, eyes wide and innocent as she caught the two of them only inches apart. “I’m sorry. I knocked. Am I interrupting something… important?”

“As a matter a fact—” Evie started.

“Of course not,” the boss said over her, seeming to snap from whatever spell had been holding both of them. “Sage was giving her normal level of

impertinence, and I was entertaining her.”

Evie glared at him, ignoring the flash of remorse in his eyes.

Becky’s own eyes widened for a moment, but that expression was quickly replaced with one of righteous victory. “I’m so sorry, sir. I just thought Evie would want this back. I saw it fall out of her pocket earlier.” Becky held up the piece of paper, and Evie’s stomach dropped when she saw what it was.

King Benedict’s offer of employment letter that she’d found in Blade’s room.

Evie watched in quiet horror as her boss angled his head closer, accepting the letter from Becky’s hands and then reading it furiously.

“Sage, explain this.” Any humor or lightness was gone, and Evie sighed.

She didn’t want to be the one to tell him about Blade’s deceit, but she’d been given no choice. “Sir, that is— Well, it’s—”

But The Villain cut her off before the words could come to her.

“It’s interesting that you’d like to know the secrets of my own past when it seems you have many of your own.” He had an unfamiliar mocking look on his face that made a bubble of anger curl so tight within Evie, the rest of her feelings needed to move over to make room for it.

“If you would just let me explain, sir. I would’ve told you about the letter sooner, but it wasn’t my place. I wanted to give…someone else the chance to tell you first.”

Evie hadn’t had the opportunity to read through the entire letter, but she knew it didn’t look good. The greeting at the top didn’t include Blade’s name, and the listing of his qualifications for the job were also incredibly vague.

With the accusations in her boss’s eyes, Evie knew what sort of conclusion he was drawing, and while she knew she shouldn’t take it personally, it felt like someone had grabbed ahold of her insides and twisted so hard, she wanted to double over.

Before Evie could recover herself, The Villain continued. “I should say thank you. For proving even promised trust can be broken.”

Evie glanced at the gold ink encircling her finger, holding it up for The Villain to see. “How can you say I can’t be trusted?”

The Villain sneered. “The magic only prevents you from doing anything to harm me. I stopped caring who lied to me long ago.”

Evie gasped, her head spinning. “You don’t trust me?”

How had one simple misunderstanding turned into this—this moment where Evie realized all the other moments she’d shared with The Villain, all the times she’d felt there was mutual respect, were one-sided? And if he didn’t trust her, what else did he really think of her?

Evie’s father had always told her she had a gift for keeping people together, had encouraged her to use that gift at every turn. He’d relied on Evie heavily after her mother had Lyssa and her magic arrived. When Nura Sage had fallen into such despair, it was Evie’s job to get her out of bed, to fix it. With no help from her father or even her brother, Gideon.

Evie had thought The Villain valued her. Found her useful, too.

Appreciated her help.

But look at how her family had crumbled, how it had broken, how she’d failed. Maybe The Villain had simply taken pity on her, taken her in when no one else had wanted her. She was the one who’d mentioned needing employment the first time they’d met…

Evie reeled back and put a hand over her mouth as anger, helplessness, and shame made everything start to blur around her. The Villain seemed to flinch. Even Becky stilled as Evie pulled in several large gulps of air.

But The Villain recovered whatever imbalance he had suffered, and his eyebrows slashed downward as he demanded again, “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” He gripped the letter so tightly in his fist that it began to crumple, and Evie could no longer stand there and listen to another harsh word.

She held his gaze, her stomach twisting. Shaking her head, she pushed her way past him to get to her desk as fast as she could. Becky at least had the good grace to look a little apologetic as Evie stormed past.

“Where in the deadlands are you going, Sage?” her boss called after her. “I’m going home!” she tossed back, not bothering to slow her step.

The bustle around them went deadly silent as she marched out of her boss’s office, the man following close behind.

“In the middle of a workday?” he asked furiously.

“It’s not a workday for me,” she choked out as an awful bitterness closed her throat.

“Oh no?” he asked incredulously.

“No,” she managed, poison coating her words, her heart.

“How do you figure that? When every other employee is doing as they’re

told.” He was almost in front of her again, but she held up a palm, stopping

him in his tracks.

And then she said words that felt like they sucked the very air from the room. “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not an employee anymore.” Tears burned the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them away, keeping her expression neutral.

“What did you say?” His voice was low and distant. “I quit.”

She yanked open her desk drawer and grabbed her knapsack, throwing the strap over her shoulder as she strode to the cloak rack and grabbed hers. She swallowed back a sob, her chin high as she reached the doorway—and then she took off.

Flying down the stairs, leaving nothing but pain in her wake, Evie prayed to be swallowed into the earth and perhaps reborn as a tree, where the only thing she would be expected to do was grow.

She tied her cloak about her shoulders, replaying every moment in her mind as she always did. Analyzing every move, every word said. Over and over, until she wanted to find her reflection somewhere and smash it just to watch herself break.

Tears were flowing freely now, and she used the back of her hand and swiped it against her face. Striding past the gate, she kept walking until she began to run again. Her lungs burned in her chest, and she felt the tears begin to mingle with the sweat dripping from her forehead, but she didn’t care, wanting to feel the weight of her own actions.

Holding her hand up to see her pinkie finger, feeling the mark pulse underneath a broken bargain, dread pounded in her veins. She’d quit. When she’d made a vow to work for The Villain, to be loyal, she knew the consequences would be fatal. According to one of the Malevolent Guard members, the ink in their bargains could quickly become a poison, released into the body at even the hint of betrayal.

In quitting her job, Evie may have just signed her own death warrant.

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