Chapter no 42 – The Villain

Assistant to the Villain

Keep your fury calm.

It was a sentence that replayed in Trystan’s head so often, he figured it was branded inside his skull, a permanent part of his being.

But it was difficult to be calm when so many things were spiking the pressure in his head like a teakettle ready to screech. For one thing, his father, a man he swore to himself he’d never look in the eyes again, was staring right at him. One of his guards had informed him of a suspicious meeting among a few members of his closest circle of employees, and Trystan was out the door before Sage’s name left Dante’s lips.

He knew it was one of Arthur’s gatherings the moment he heard the music, saw the lanterns. The opulent decorations were everything he remembered them to be from his childhood, and he hated it.

Not to mention the dancing until dawn while Arthur used whatever magic was in his arsenal to heal the hearts of every person who asked, which was quite a few. He’d thought Arthur had retired these little soirees, but a tightness in his gut told him this was far from coincidence when so many things already seemed to be going wrong in his life.

This was planned; this was betrayal. The question was…by whom.

The twinkling sound of Sage’s chattering cleared his mind of all distraction, and he finally allowed himself to look at her. His reaction to her was…startling. It wasn’t like her dress was a far cry from the other bright and ostentatious colors she normally wore, but it was the way in which she wore it, like she was shining. From the pins in her hair to the black line around her eyes…and her lips. They were painted red as blood.

Clearing his throat, cursing himself for losing some of his composure, Trystan pulled his back straight, willing himself to hide whatever thoughts were running through his mind about his assistant.

Agony. This is agony.

“Sir?” Sage waved a hand in front of his face. The firelight caught against the jeweled butterflies in her hair, making the dark strands look

edged in starlight.

“Arthur, would you excuse us? My assistant and I need to have a conversation,” he said, unable to keep the thin edge of anger from his tone. He watched Sage’s delicate neck tighten as she swallowed her breath.

“Now, now—” Arthur began, but Trystan didn’t have time. He could tell by the wideness of his assistant’s eyes that her imagination at what “The Villain” might do when he fired her for this recklessness was running wild.

“I’m sure your guests would like your attention.” He waved at the people hovering around them, desperation lighting their eyes.

Arthur stood slowly, the familiar lines of his face causing his chest to tighten. “Promise you’ll sit down with me before you leave, Trystan?” The hand his father placed on his shoulder nearly made him growl, but he bit back any response and just nodded stiffly.

As soon as he was out of earshot, The Villain whipped around to Evie, only to find her slowly creeping in the other direction. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Oh, I was just going to…” And to his surprise, she turned hard and sprinted through the crowd.

“Get back here, Sage!” Trystan hollered, feeling ridiculous as he chased after her like a fox on a hunt. He bumped into a couple wrapped in a passionate embrace and rolled his eyes at their protests of outrage. “Evangelina!” He dove for her hand, but she slipped out of his grasp and ran onto the rickety bridge, farther into the darkness.

She couldn’t make this easy for him—of course she would run. Trystan used to like when people responded to him that way, once upon a time, but right now he hated it.

He followed close behind, determined, despite the heavy feeling in his heart that he must have frightened her. He wanted to kick his own ass at how he’d handled seeing her there—so close to his father. Fear was not an emotion Trystan was used to feeling, and clearly Sage was determined to make him suffer it often.

The bridge groaned and wobbled underneath his weight, and the darkness that lay beyond threatened to swallow him, but the moon once more caught on the gems in Sage’s hair. Trystan kept his gaze there, knowing he’d follow that light wherever it went.

He’d never been this sentimental, and it was all her fault.

When he reached the other side of the bridge, the trees whipped in the cool night air, and, without the fire to warm it, the air was frigid. She was probably cold.

“Sage, come out. You’re going to catch your death, and then I will have to hire Rebecka in your stead.”

She stumbled from the bushes, twigs sticking from her hair. “That was evil.” She glared.

He looked at her sardonically, raising a brow. “That’s kind of the point.” She walked closer to him, nervously pulling a curl between her fingers.

“All right, go ahead. Yell at me.” “Oh? Am I supposed to yell?”

“I know you’re angry because of something to do with Arthur—” she started.

“I’m not angry,” he interrupted, pushing a drop of sweat from his forehead. When she just cocked one brow at him in challenge, he admitted, “Yes, I am very angry, but not because of Arthur right now.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, so you are angry with me…that I didn’t come to you before I went to the gathering thing? But I swear I didn’t know it was going to be hosted by your—your, um…father and that I would upset you.” She said the last word on a wince, and he had to swallow a laugh, a problem he didn’t seem to have until recently.

“I’m not upset, Sage,” he said, gathering his thoughts along with his racing pulse.

She gave him a scrutinizing look and motioned to the grip that his other hand had on the hilt of his sword.

He released it immediately, feeling slightly sheepish, perhaps for the first time in his life. “It’s a habit,” he grumbled.

“Right.” She nodded, exaggerating a pout, as she walked around him to sit on the cliff’s edge. The glow of the fire lit the planes of her cheekbones even from a distance.

“I’m not angry with you,” he said, awkwardly bending to sit beside her. “I was notified by my guards that my employees were here. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence, but there was never a moment where I thought not to trust you.” The Villain wasn’t sure why it was so important that she know this, but it was.

She seemed to believe him, peeking down at the golden band around her pinkie finger. He looked away, feeling guilty.

“I’m glad you trust me,” she said flatly.

“Oh yes. You sound it,” he replied, sarcasm dripping from his words. Trystan looked to the candles decorating the trees around them, glowing,

perhaps, brighter than when they’d first arrived on the other side of the bridge. The music floating gently set a lovely scene. The Villain didn’t know what contentment felt like—he’d spent so long living uncomfortably in the world that he’d begun to rely on that emotion, never allowing himself to settle.

But in this moment, he thought perhaps he could. Quite easily.

“I’ll say this for my father: his parties always have good music.”

Sage’s gaze turned to his, and his face was close enough that he could see the candles’ reflections in her eyes. “Does he do things like this a lot?”

“I don’t know.” Trystan sighed, pressing his middle and pointer finger against the bridge of his nose. “I haven’t talked to him in years.”

In all fairness, Trystan had spent most of his life not talking to Arthur. It wasn’t just that Arthur had spent most of Trystan’s childhood traveling to different places, using the core healer abilities where he was needed. Trystan’s mother, Amara, had told Trystan and his siblings that it was selfish for them to keep Arthur with them when there were so many who needed his help. It was comical to Trystan now, how that need never seemed to matter if it was coming from Arthur’s children.

By the time Clare was born, Arthur had begun to slow down, spending more time at home in their seaside village. Trystan was older, so most of Arthur’s attention was spent on Trystan’s younger siblings. Amara Maverine was not a cold woman, but she was not an affectionate one, either. She did not see the sense in hugs or comfort when the world was so much harsher than that. It was something that Trystan was grateful for—it saved him from the feeling of rejection.

Arthur had taken a softer approach with Clare and Malcolm upon his return, but he must have assumed it was too late for Trystan. At the beginning, it had stung when Trystan would try and bond with Arthur only to be met with disinterest. But Trystan slid back into the patterns he had been raised with quickly, almost to preserve himself. He didn’t need affection; he didn’t need people to show they loved him; it was a waste of time. It was wasted on him.

In the end, it hadn’t mattered anyway. By the time Arthur made tentative steps to build a relationship with Trystan, it was too late. But that hadn’t

stopped Arthur from trying, over the years, to send letters, to attempt meetings. Trystan had ignored every single one.

At least his siblings’ hope of redemption for him had finally died, and they were far more tolerable to be around. His mother’s hopes, he knew, had died, too, but that was a whole other brand of torture to subject himself to; later, perhaps. No, right now he would allow himself this small sliver of happiness, if that’s what the warmth creeping through his chest felt like.

In fact, he’d wring this moment of every ounce of joy he could.

Quickly standing, Trystan watched Sage’s face turn up toward his, eyebrows raised in confusion. “What are you doing?” Her eyes widened when she saw him reach out a hand for hers.

“Would you like to dance?”

Her eyes widened even more, but a small smile graced the red bow of her lips.

“With whom?” She looked around theatrically.

Trystan smirked, because in all truth, she was very funny. “With me.”

Sage gripped his hand and let him pull her to her feet. When he bent his neck to take her in, he was knocked breathless by her joy aimed at him full force. It was so foreign to have someone so happy in his presence, or even because of his presence, that he almost missed a step.

“I’m not really certain how to dance with another person.” She scrunched her nose and stared at their clasped hands. “Usually, I just spin in circles until I get dizzy.”

“Well—” He’d miscalculated. The music, which had been a lively and spritely tune, had sobered into something slower, more intimate. He’d tortured many men over his ten years in this business. For information, for making him angry, for trying to kill him, and he’d been loath to admit it… but he even did it once because he’d seen a man being cruel to a duck.

It had been a bonus to find out the man was a retired Valiant Guard, but that was neither here nor there.

This was a different sort of torture, one he’d never experienced before. He’d become so good at not wanting anything above what he could take— but this woman was not a possession. She was a person he greatly admired and respected. Someone he relied on more than he’d ever thought possible.

Someone to whom he would never admit any of this.

You get this one happy moment, he reminded himself.

Without hesitating, Trystan placed his other hand on the small of her back, guiding her into his embrace. Her breath hitched, and Trystan could feel the warmth from her skin through the silken fabric of her dress. Clearing his throat, he brought their clasped hands up and began gliding them in slow steps.

“So, you dance?” Sage asked, her face tilting up to his. It was closer than he thought, and when he looked down, he saw why: she was dancing on the tips of her toes.

“I learned years ago when I worked for—” He cut off, not because he didn’t want to finish his sentence but because just then, Trystan caught sight of a familiar face in the crowd across the bridge.

“What is my sister doing here?” The Villain asked in confusion.

“Clare’s here?” Sage whipped her head to where he looked, but neither of them stopped swaying or staying linked together. The wheels of her brain were turning a mile a minute—he could tell by the look in her eyes. “You don’t think the traitor could be…”

He interrupted before she could get the thought out. “I’ve had my guards tailing both of my siblings since the bomb incident. They have both been accounted for at the traitor’s every turn. They hate me, certainly, but it is not either of them trying to take me down.”

“I don’t think they hate you,” Evie said quietly as he moved them into a gentle spin.

“You can’t know that.” Trystan wouldn’t look at her. Instead, he found one of the lights behind them and kept his gaze glued there.

“But I do.” She pressed the tip of one shoe onto his until he looked at her. “I know that love between siblings. They have it for you; it’s quite obvious.”

“It’s not like what you have with Lyssa,” he said, sweeping her out into another spin.

She laughed, deeply, before spinning back into his arms. “Our relationship’s a little different, yes, but the fundamentals are the same. I used to endlessly annoy my brother when we were children, often on purpose. But at the end of the day, we’d do anything for one another.”

“I didn’t realize you had a brother,” Trystan said softly, acutely aware that Sage was the sole provider of her family.

“He died.” There was a lifelessness to Sage’s voice that startled him.

“That must have been very difficult for you.” Their dancing had slowed, but they were still moving, still spinning.

“It was more the abruptness of it.” She remained looking at him, but her eyes were blank. “It was an accident…with my mother’s magic. Life never stopped changing after that. Gideon was gone, then my mother. I left school to take care of Lyssa and then had to stop my schooling to begin working after my father fell ill. I feel like my life keeps happening to me, rather than me living it.”

It was a sad story; Trystan had heard many of those. That wasn’t what affected him. It was the way she’d delivered the words, looking right at him. Her gaze open and honest as she laid her weaknesses bare, like they were worthy of every part of his attention.

She had it, all of it.

“I’ve felt like that, too.” He paused. “Like life is just happening to me.

Many times.”

At the declaration, a startled look came over her face, which nearly made him stop, but he didn’t.

“I wasn’t prepared to see my father this evening.”

“That was my fault. I’m so, so—” But she stopped when he gave her a mock glare. He wanted to rip that godsforsaken word from her vocabulary.

“It’s difficult for me to be around him. It reminds me of my childhood. He…he wasn’t there very often. Being a core healer required travel, a lot of it. There was always someone who needed him more, and it made me feel…unimportant.”

That was all he could give for now. But it was enough, by the way Sage gazed at him with a kinship that he hadn’t known he was waiting for. “I understand,” she said, smiling lightly because she did understand him; he could see that now. “Life is sometimes just…exhausting.”

A bit overcome still, he remained silent.

Sage’s eyes went wide when he didn’t speak, and her cheeks were tinged red. “Not that working for you is exhausting… It’s more like…”

“Taking years off your life?” he supplied helpfully.

“I wasn’t going to say that.” She frowned at him. “Out loud.”

A rusty laugh escaped the back of his throat. “If the work isn’t tiring enough, I could have you join Scatter Day with the interns?” He widened his steps and swooped her into a long spin.

“As the one chasing them?” she asked, something scary in her expression.

“I’m not that evil.” He arched a brow and froze when he saw a gleam in her eye. “Why are you smiling right now, Sage?”

“I was just thinking that we are worthy of a stage performance.”

“As if anyone would ever want to watch you and me argue.” The Villain scoffed.

“I don’t know…” Evie said with a twinkle in her eye.

He shook his head, spinning them around in one more sweep. It was a nearly perfect moment. And then the screaming began.

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