Chapter no 47 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

Trystan dropped his arms and took a step back, and they both seemed unable to do more than stare at the other. Each was limping and worn, covered in blood.

“Oh, yuck.” Evie scrunched her nose, angling her head away from the blood on her dress. “I wasn’t aware you could kill so…efficiently.” She tapped her chin. “I thought you’d prefer more of a dramatic flair…like your little head collection in the manor’s foyer.”

Grinning and shaking his head, The Villain turned toward her, a devilish glint in his eyes. “Evil is an art form.”

The Villain then turned and strode back toward the edge of the party clearing, grabbed one of the twinkling magical lights, and affixed it to the end of a fallen branch, creating a makeshift torch. “Shall we?” he asked.

Evie pushed her arm through his and gripped it. “Yes. We have to find your father.” His biceps flexed under her touch, and he halted his steps for a moment before collecting himself and walking forward.

Evie had always been very physical with the way she communicated. Hugs were her very favorite thing in the world, or hand-holding, or even a kind pat on the shoulder. Evie had always felt very different from people in the twists and turns of her mind, but touching she could never get wrong. Hugs meant you cared about someone, hand-holding meant you wanted them close, and—

She’d done practically all of those with her boss…including kissing.

The Villain must have been horrified to have to go along with such an embarrassing ruse. The guilt she felt for throwing herself at him, the discomfort she must have caused him, made her stomach twist.

But Evie had to admit, despite the horror, just allowing herself for a moment to remember…The Villain was very good at pretending. If she turned away from the awkwardness for a second and just focused on the kiss itself, her toes began to curl in her shoes.

He was a good kisser, but of course he was. Attractive murderers were always good kissers; she was pretty sure she’d heard that expression before. Or maybe she made it up in one of the many daydreams in which she’d imagined that happening.

Don’t daydream about kissing your boss, Evie!

She also promised not to reflect on the fact that she had nearly swooned like a storybook damsel when she watched him annihilate those disgusting knights, had even enjoyed it a little.

Evie had worked for Trystan for nearly six months now, but she’d only had small glimpses of the violence he was capable of, that he contained so well.

But even after having it quite literally spray at her, disgusting pun intended, she didn’t feel differently toward him.

Perhaps she should, but she didn’t. And it was ridiculous to do anything just because you thought you were supposed to. So, she held tight to his arm, waiting for him to shake her off, searching desperately for wherever the other knights had taken Arnold.

They continued through the trees, but he never pulled his arm away. “We’re lost.”

“We are not lost.”

Evie deepened her voice and pushed her shoulders back to make herself look taller. “I’m a man. I can’t ask for directions.”

The Villain quirked a brow, looking like he was on the verge of something unscrewing inside his head. “You’re right, little tornado. I should simply find the nearest individual in Hickory Forest, in the dead of night, and say, ‘Greetings! My assistant and I are looking for my estranged father because he was taken into custody by the Valiant Guards. You see, they think he’s The Villain. When The Villain is, in fact…me.’”

Evie opened her mouth to respond tartly, but he continued.

“‘Oh, and have you seen a rare, fatally dangerous beast known as a guvre? We lost one.’”

Evie laughed, squeezing his arm, and The Villain abruptly stopped walking. He swung around to face her, the torch in his hand illuminating his face, and her stomach sank. He started to say something—by the way he didn’t quite make eye contact, Evie knew the words had something to do with their shared kiss—but she wasn’t ready to hear he regretted it just yet.

So she rushed in with, “Did your parents have you in plays growing up?

You’re quite theatrical when you want to be.”

Now he looked flabbergasted as Evie clicked her tongue and walked on. “Your horse must have gotten away—we should’ve found him by now.”

“He wouldn’t leave without me.”

“It’s a horse. They like food and water.” Evie felt an unevenness to the ground underneath her feet and quickly grabbed the torch from The Villain’s hand. “Hoof prints.” A lot of them, as in more than just one horse. There were human footprints as well.

“They took my fucking horse.” The Villain pinched the bridge of his nose.

“It’s okay, sir.” She said it because she knew this wasn’t really about the horse, at least not completely. She watched him bend over and pick up a scrap of Arnold’s robe. “We’ll get him back and make them pay.”

“I suppose we should be concerned for Ms. Erring, since she was with them as well.”

Evie waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, she’ll be fine. Evil never dies.”

The Villain snorted, and they continued deeper into the wood. “From your mouth to the gods’ ears, Sage.”

A rustling in the bushes beyond halted them. The Villain drew his sword and held it up in a defensive stance. “Stay back.”

“It’s probably a rodent or something,” Evie whispered.

Suddenly, the branches parted to reveal Becky, disheveled and stumbling through with a wild, frantic look in her eyes.

“Oh, look at that. I was right,” Evie snarked, but then gasped as she took in the woman’s state. She rushed to Becky, quickly placing a careful arm around her shaking shoulders. “What the deadlands happened? Are you okay?”

Becky gripped one of Evie’s hands, terrifying her further. What had they done to her? And why did the thought of anyone hurting Becky make her want to break things?

What a strange day.

“They—” She swallowed hard. “They heard the guvre, and they took off with the core healer on two of the horses. The one they put me on wasn’t moving fast enough, so the knight that was holding me just threw me off.”

Evie’s eyes widened as she took in the dirt and tears on Becky’s dress as well as the bruising on her face. “While it was moving?” she yelled.

She bent over and grabbed the knife from her ankle sheath, then stomped in the direction Becky had emerged from. Evie made it about three steps before one of her boss’s arms snaked around her waist, pulling her backward.

“I think one assistant against several well-trained royal guards is a bit of an unfair fight. Don’t you?”

“I can handle myself just fine.” Evie narrowed her eyes as he spun her around to face him.

A twinkle shone in the dark depths of Trystan’s stare. “I wasn’t worried about you.

Evie harumphed, but it was impossible to keep one side of her mouth from quirking up as she held his gaze. Becky coughed, and Evie realized her sort of nemesis was watching her make moon eyes at her boss.

Heat blistered up Evie’s cheeks as they faced Becky, a mix between bemusement and disgust on her face. “What is going on between you two

—” Her eyebrows shot into her hairline as she gasped. “Gods help me. Is this all because of that little kiss?”

Evie and The Villain both sputtered, stumbling over themselves, denying the claim.

“Absolutely not!” Evie blurted.

“That was all a part of an ongoing and brilliant strategic plan.” They both knocked into each other with the way they were waving their arms.

Becky’s expression didn’t change as she limped over and leaned against a tree. “I think I’ve had enough of both of you.”

The Villain raised one imperious brow. “I beg your pardon, Ms. Erring?” Becky sighed as she sank to the ground, her head falling onto her hands.

“They took off with the core healer. Their mounts were quick, so they’re long gone by now. Probably already back to the Gleaming Palace, by my guess.”

“You’re just full of good news today,” Evie said without bite, looking around for something to warm Becky’s bare arms. “We need to get you to Tatianna, and we need to find Blade.”

Another rustle in the bushes had them all straightening, and a dark head with equally familiar dark eyes appeared. Clare. She looked frightened and, like the rest of them, hopelessly disheveled. “Well, we caught it.”

The Villain gaped at her. “How in the—”

“Don’t give us too much credit,” Clare said, sounding drained. “It got itself tangled in a tree, so we had an easy shot at it. The leaves I found are more powerful when I ingrain them with my magic.” She flexed her long, skinny fingers and pushed a strand of hair from her face.

He pulled the caller’s crystal from his pocket, waiting for it to glow in his hands before speaking. “Bring the cart, and do it quickly!”

“Where’s Blade?” Becky asked.

“He’s watching the guvre, over there.” Clare pointed to the side. When she turned back, she looked to the three of them with a quizzical expression. “Do you know where Father is?”

Trystan’s face went blank, except for the muscle in his jaw clenching ever so slightly.

“Where is he, Tryst?” Clare said, panic prickling her words.

A few heartbreaking beats went by before her boss finally said, “He was taken, assumed as…as The Villain.”

“You bastard!” Clare shouted, running toward him, then pounding her fists against his chest. “How could you let this happen! Our father could be killed, and it will be all your fault!”

Evie’s heart broke, watching him stiffen and take every strike of his sister’s fists against his chest. His arms remained pinned to his sides as he waited for Clare to slow. Her fists came softer and softer until her head collapsed onto his chest. “What if he dies, Trystan?” Clare’s voice broke. “What if he dies?”

“He won’t.” It wasn’t reassurance; it was a vow.

Clare backed up, lips still pouting, eyes still brimming with tears. When she remained silent, The Villain nodded toward all of them but didn’t look any of them in the eye. “I’m going to see if I can scrounge up some horses. I’ll remain with Blade until the Malevolent Guards arrive.”

The Villain reappeared ten minutes later with two horses. “You’ll all spend the night at the manor,” he said. Evie noticed Clare didn’t even attempt to argue, just robotically mounted a horse and held out her hands for Becky, whom The Villain lifted next to his sister.

“Will she be okay?” Evie asked, trying to appear unbothered either way. “She’ll be fine, Sage,” he said sincerely.

Evie nodded, wishing she could go with them to the manor, wanting to stay near Trystan while he struggled with how to rescue his father. Those

wishes were followed quickly by chest-splitting guilt. Her own family needed her more.

“I have to go home.” Evie sighed.

Her boss frowned for a second. “Do as you wish, Sage. Just—” He swallowed hard, then reach out and hoisted her up onto the back of the second horse in a rush of strength. “Just be careful.”

Evie nodded, suddenly not sure what to do with her hands. She nervously reached down and fiddled with the reins. “I will. And don’t worry, sir. We’ll save your father.”

He looked disappointed when his eyes met hers. “Sage, villains aren’t particularly adept at saving people.”

“You saved me,” she whispered, but he was gone, already striding away into the night, slipping into the shadows like they were welcoming him home. Her chest tightened, and she mumbled to herself, “I suppose he didn’t like the idea of sharing a horse with me.”

As Evie motioned her horse onto the road toward her house, she thought she heard Becky mutter under her breath, “Fools. All of you.”

The woman was nothing if not truthful.

As she rode home to her family, she felt a tug back in Trystan’s direction, and she wondered if that pull between her two worlds would be the thing that finally tore her apart.

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