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Chapter no 54 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

Evie stood frozen over the parchment, blinking at the words. But no matter how many times her eyes shut and reopened, her mother’s name remained. Nura Sage.

She picked up the parchment with shaking fingers, the paper crinkling under her grasp. The ink was smudged, so there were few words she could make out, but the ones she could see were devastating.

Sorry. Please. I miss them.

When she saw Gideon’s name, she threw the paper down, unable to take any more. It knocked over her father’s inkpot, spilling the contents onto his desk.

Evie cursed under her breath as she picked up both inks that had spilled, one red and one—

Blue?

“What are you doing in here, Evangelina?” Her father’s smooth voice carried in from outside the door.

She froze, head hovering over the desk, ink staining her fingers. She had been caught literally red-handed. “What is this?” Evie whispered quietly, picking up the letter and the nearly empty inkpot.

“It’s ink for my letters,” he said flatly. “You shouldn’t be in here.”

Something in his tone had changed, and when his large frame moved into the office, for the first time in her life, Evie felt nervous in her father’s presence.

“But it’s blue ink,” Evie pressed, feeling like the room was spinning suddenly. “It’s incredibly rare; why would you want it?”

“It’s useful for reading documents.” There was a coldness in his words, and though his mouth was tipped up in his normal friendly smile, Evie saw a flat, lifeless glimmer in his blue eyes that turned her blood cold. “What are you trying to say, my dear?”

“If I look in this desk,” Evie said, hand hovering toward the drawer, “what will I find?” Even as she asked it, she scoured her mind for any other

explanation. This was her father. There had to be one.

“Evie.” Griffin Sage laughed, but it was a sound she’d never heard from him before. A laugh with no humor.

“What. Will. I. Find?” she pressed.

Both their eyes darted to her hand on the top drawer. Evie moved quickly. She ripped open the drawer just as Griffin barreled toward her, knocking into furniture on his way. Evie shoved the large chair toward him as she reached in to rip the papers out. She ran for the door, but she only made it

halfway.

Her father yanked on the back of her hair, prickling pain burning her scalp as she cried out. “Let them go,” he hissed in her ears. “Do not make me hurt you, child.”

“You’re already doing that,” Evie cried out, the pain nothing compared to the betrayal coursing through her. Evie shoved the heel of her boot into his shin as hard as she could, the small stiletto hitting bone and making a satisfying crack. He released her on a howl of pain as he crumpled to the floor, and she leaped for the door once more. Throwing it closed behind her, she managed to bar it with a chair in the entryway just in time for it to begin shaking under her father’s pounding fists.

“Let me out. This instant!” he ordered.

“Shhh,” Evie called, anger coming hard and fast. “You’ll wake Lyssa. And I know you’d never want to harm one of your children, would you, Papa?” She swallowed down the hurt, the betrayal, and returned her eyes to the papers in her hands.

But they were her papers, her handwriting, from her notebook.

“You’ve been using the ink to spy on me,” she said, tears burning her eyes as she looked at every piece of damning evidence. She leafed through the pages of her words, so carefully written. She had been so innocently oblivious to the fact that her father was reading every word.

But she froze again when she found another letter in the mix. This time in an unfamiliar hand, but the name—oh, the name, she knew.

“King Benedict,” Evie whispered, her heart falling to her feet, her face heating and black spots appearing over her vision. “You’ve been working for the king?” This would drown her. This most horrific of truths would bury her in a sea of despair with a current so strong it would drown her brutally.

The other side of the door was quiet for a moment before her father said, “Open the door, Evangelina, and I will explain.”

Evie hesitated for a moment, but she needed to investigate his face when her father, the one person she trusted above all to keep her safe and protected, told her that he had damned her.

She said only one thing after moving the chair and opening the door carefully. “Did you plant the bomb?”

He looked stunned by her question before backing slowly into his office, finding the pushed-aside chair, and taking a seat.

Evie stalked in after him, moving to stand over in the corner closest to the door. “I’ll ask again. Just in case you did not hear me,” she said coldly. “Did you plant the bomb that almost killed me.”

Her words were sharp, fit to kill, and her father knew it. He looked at her like he didn’t recognize her—well, that made two of them.

He took a deep sigh before pressing his hands to his temples. “Yes. I did.”

“How—”

“You had the entry points written in the cursed journal. I relayed to King Benedict where to attack when necessary, to ensure your…employer… didn’t interfere.”

“With killing me!” she screamed.

“Hush!” the man she was beginning to no longer recognize hissed as he started to stand up, but he halted when he saw the flash of fear in her eyes. “You’ll wake your sister.”

“Afraid she’ll see what a monster you’ve become?” Evie asked, disdain dripping from every word.

Her father began to shake. Like every emotion was coming at him at such a pace that his body could not contain or manage it. “Me…the monster?” He was back to a whisper, but he said the words with surprise before a sneer came over him. “That vile human being you have disgraced yourself with— he is the monster, not I.”

“That ‘monster’ is the reason we’ve been able to stay in our home! The reason you’re likely even still alive, thanks to his potions.” Evie tried to keep her words level but found that she could still angle them at her father like knives. “And he…he has reasons for what he does. And so do I. I did what I had to do. For this family.” She shook her head, pushing her shoulders back and standing tall. “I am not ashamed.”

“You wouldn’t have had to do any of this if you had just agreed to Mr. Warsen’s offer!” Her father’s shoulders moved up and down, his eyes glazed over, unseeing.

But Evie felt her own widen at what her father was saying, what he was admitting to. She was falling into a yawning abyss of darkness, and nothing would catch her.

“You knew.” Her voice cracked, and she hated it. “You knew that Mr.

Warsen was going to attack me?”

“It wasn’t as dramatic as all that, Evangelina.” Her father waved his hand, disgusted. “He came to me and offered to give me a little extra money in exchange for a few nights a week of your company.”

“Do you even hear yourself?” The tears were flowing freely now, and as she wiped one away with her hand, Evie noticed her fingers had gone numb. “Do you even care that that man nearly assaulted me?”

“You always do this.”

There had been many times in her life when Evie felt like she was being looked down on, being made to feel childish, or silly, or frivolous with her thoughts and feelings. To the point where even if she felt completely strong and valid in what she wanted to say, she went ignored, unheard.

Invalidated.

“You blow things up in your head to make everyone else the bad guy.” Her father spit into the still-lingering fire. “Your mother was the same.”

“Don’t talk about her,” Evie said, barely able to hear her own voice.

“Oh, so now your mother’s a saint?” Griffin Sage laughed, paused for a moment, and then laughed once more. “She killed your brother.”

Evie flinched.

“She left you and Lyssa.” She watched him smirk, satisfied in asserting his point.

“Was that the first letter she sent you since she left?” Evie asked, bringing her eyes right up to his.

Her father froze.

“That’s what I thought.” This made Evie laugh, despite the sad smile that followed. “And now you have alienated not only your wife but your elder daughter.” Evie clapped slowly. “Congratulations.” She walked over to the windowpane, listening to the pitter-patter of the evening rain, and allowed herself a moment of amiable silence. Or more like unamiable silence, since she wanted to rip her father’s head from his neck.

But she was certain that would upset Lyssa, so she decided not to cause her little sister more trauma than she had accumulated thus far.

“That was not my intention.”

“Really?” Evie said, shrugging. “If someone’s willing to trade me for sexual favors without my consent and also places a bomb in my workplace, knowing full well it could kill me… I don’t think those are the purest of intentions, do you?”

Her father stepped closer to her, and she let him. His shadows cast over her face as his light eyes, so like her own, glared. “I lost you the moment you tainted yourself with that man. What happens to you now, while devastating, is out of my hands.”

Evie sniffed and laughed again. “You not only betrayed me, but you somehow find a way to blame me for it. The only reason I did any of the things I’ve done was to help you, because you were sick!” she exploded.

“I was never sick!” he screamed back, his eyes bloodshot.

Evie froze. The words seeped into her brain slowly as she breathed them in. They felt like pain. They felt like poison.

“What do you mean…you were never sick?” The crackle of the fire seemed overwhelming as Evie took another step toward him, noting a touch of shame, just for a moment, in her father’s worn face.

“I never had the Mystic Illness. I lied.”

There was a clawing feeling in her chest, like a flame was trying to burn through her skin. The smoke of it got into her lungs, laboring her breath. She couldn’t have heard him right.

“How could you have—? I saw you sick. The healer came and assessed you.” Evie’s soul was beginning to detach itself from her body, perhaps to preserve what was left. Because if this was her new reality, that her father faked an illness that was devastating families across the kingdom, that had devastated their family for the last three years…

“The healer was paid to tell you and the rest of the village that I had the illness so I could have an alibi.” He tucked his hands behind his back, and Evie took a step away. “The butcher’s shop was supposed to be a front, but it was beginning to interfere with my real profession.”

“And what is that?” Evie’s voice was a strangled whisper.

Griffin backed farther away from her until he was behind his desk. He reached to a compartment underneath and pulled a false board out of place. When he stood back up, he was holding a helmet. A knight’s helmet.

One that gleamed of silver. “Is that—”

“I was, and still am, one of King Benedict’s Valiant Guard.” He said it proudly, holding the helmet like it was the most precious possession in the world. In his world.

“How could you?” There was a crack in her voice as she spoke, looking at her father through a blur of unshed tears. “You made Lyssa and me think you were suffering. Put the entire financial burden of our household on my back.”

“We never suffered for money. I had plenty.” Her father showed no remorse.

“That you kept for yourself!” Evie felt the tears spill hot down her cheeks, the pain cracking her chest open as the words spilled out. “Why would you do that? Why would you try and offer me to Otto Warsen? Just why?”

“My particular brand of work for King Benedict has always been secretive, covert. It was why I had to lie about my retirement. No one could know I was a Valiant Guard. I needed to remain anonymous in the world but still be able to disappear when I needed to. Something that could confine me for long periods of time, about which no one would grow suspicious. When I saw one of our neighbors catch the illness, I was inspired.”

“You’re disgusting,” Evie snapped.

Her father’s head whipped up, and he stared at her. “Watch your tongue.” “No.”

Griffin’s eyes widened at the darkness in her voice before narrowing. “You should be begging my forgiveness. Otto Warsen wanted to marry you, and you denied him.”

Evie let out a dry, humorless laugh. “I don’t suppose you ever thought to ask what wanted?”

“I think you’ve well proven that you are not fit to make those sorts of choices for yourself.” Her father sneered. “Just like your mother.”

“What did you do to her?” So many lies—too many. It was like sifting through sand, trying to find one grain of truth.

“When her power came, she was meant to work for the king. She ruined that all on her own.” He looked Evie up and down. “And now you’re ruined right along with her.”

“You’re not telling me something.” The crackle of the fire drew her eye as she watched an ember spark off and land on the ground before fizzling into nothing.

The helmet clanked as her father placed it carefully on the desk. “You were meant to marry Otto so I could have one less child to worry about. Eventually you would all be off my hands and I could retire, after I told everyone I was miraculously cured.”

“There is no cure.” She exhaled.

Her father paused and smiled. “Not yet.”

“And The Villain?” Evie said, his name renewing her horror that all the destruction done was because of her. It had been her father, but Evie had led him right to her boss’s quarters. “When did you find out I was working for him?” Evie had been so incredibly careful, even more so at the beginning.

“I didn’t at first. I was working on something else for the king, a project of sorts.” He turned to grip the fireplace mantel, his face illuminated by the dancing flames. “But when Lyssa was at school and you were there, King Benedict had a letter delivered, detailing an incident observed by some of his other guards. Of a young girl traipsing through the forest with The Villain before they disappeared. A girl they identified as my older daughter.”

His disappointment was unfounded, but it was palpable, impossible to ignore.

“I began reporting to the king that very day, and you became the key to The Villain’s downfall.”

Evie felt sick.

“No.” She was cracking like a vase that was about to be thrown away.

“Yes.” The memories of her father’s gentle smiles would be tarnished forever by the one pulling at his mouth now, what it meant. “And now you will help me get the mated guvres back for the king.”

“What does he need them for?” Evie narrowed her eyes, noting her father’s face growing pale, a sheen of sweat building on his forehead.

“The greater good.”

With a small smile of resolve, Evie dug deep inside herself with the last of her strength. “I don’t want to be good.” The last word was spoken with a malevolence Evie hadn’t been certain she possessed. But hearing it now—it felt pleasant.

More, it felt right.

Griffin Sage limped toward her, gripping her shoulders, painful, bruising. But Evie didn’t move—she just stayed there, staring at a man she’d once trusted, believed in. Who she always thought believed in her. She wondered if she’d ever adjust to this new reality. One in which the man who’d told her stories of made-up heroes named East Marigold, who’d checked under her bed for monsters, threw her love and loyalty away like garbage.

“You don’t even care that you ruined your life.” His voice cracked, and she realized her father looked genuinely devastated.

“No, I didn’t,” Evie whispered, finding pity for this broken man. “If anyone ruined anything”—she leaned closer to him—“it would be you.”

His grip on her shoulders loosened, eyes going unfocused.

“I wanted to be wrong.” She swallowed a lump as he released her and stumbled into his desk, knocking things to the ground. “But I knew I wasn’t the moment I heard that name.”

His chest started moving up and down at a rapid pace, and he was opening his mouth but holding his throat. Like his words were trapped.

“I didn’t notice the ink, or the invitation to see the core healer in my room, or the notebook you gifted me my first week.” Her voice cracked, and she turned away to wipe her eyes. “But when I heard the name of a story you made up as one of Clare’s clients, I knew it was you.”

Her father collapsed then, staring up at the ceiling, eyes glazed over in shock. She kneeled beside him, taking his limp hand in hers. “That pain medication I gave you earlier, the one Tatianna made. It didn’t taste different because it was the new one she’d made—it tasted different because it was a slow-acting sedative.” Her voice sounded like honey, dripping, sickly sweet.

Her father rasped out just one word. “You.”

“Yes, I knew. I knew before I even walked in the door.” She shook her head. “I’d hoped that I was wrong.”

Evie shook as her father reached out a helpless hand for her.

“But I wasn’t, Papa.” She swiped at the unwanted tear on her cheek, her face remaining unmoved. “There is no room in my world for someone who hurt me the way you did. You do not belong walking on the ground I walk or breathing the air I breathe. You don’t get to move on or be redeemed. Your story is finished. Whatever happens to you now is of no concern to me.”

She sounded stronger than she felt as she watched her father open his mouth one final time. “He’s…a…monster,” he rasped out.

She knew who he meant.

Evie let go of his hand and placed hers on his cheek. “We’re all monsters in the end. At least mine lives in the light.”

And then her father, the traitor, closed his eyes.

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