Chapter no 9 – The Villain

Assistant to the Villain

A little while earlier…

Trystan pushed his way through the western side of Hickory Forest. There were rockier mountains in this part of the kingdom, so it was easy to get turned around.

Even easier to hide.

Or at least that was what Trystan had thought when he’d started storing his safe houses below the mossy forest floor. His Malevolent Guards had dug small hideouts at various checkpoints along the textured ground, keeping his most valuable possessions dispersed throughout all of them.

Most of them contained stolen shipments that were sent to the king from the neighboring kingdoms. All allies looking to “aid” the king in his ongoing battle with the “dark figure” who had appeared nearly ten years ago to sabotage King Benedict’s reign.

Trystan’s lips ticked up in a smile. He loved his job.

When he’d started doing this all those years ago, he couldn’t have imagined the empire he’d build. All the people who would work for him, help him toward his goal.

To the people of Rennedawn, that meant interfering with the kingdom’s economy, slowly but surely leaving him and the rest of the kingdom impoverished. For Trystan, it meant ensuring King Benedict never got what he wanted, no matter the cost.

His Malevolent Guards had gotten better and better at intercepting shipments containing weapons, liquor, and wares, but he still sought something bigger, something that would derail everything Benedict held dear…

He shoved a branch out of the way, leaving his horse tied to a tree closer to the bottom of the hill. His magic coiled beneath his skin, like it sensed the danger he was approaching.

He hadn’t wanted to, but he’d left in a hurry that morning. A missive had arrived by one of his spies, or ravens as they liked to call themselves, letting him know urgently that another vital safe house had been compromised.

The frustration roared through him as he shoved the hair off his forehead. He approached the hidden door slowly, freezing when he caught the silver glint of the Valiant Guards’ armor.

Them. His anger rumbled and shook.

How had they found another safe house? The only people who knew their locations were his guards, who couldn’t give away his secrets even if they wanted to; Kingsley, who wouldn’t say a word for obvious reasons; and Sage, who said she’d torture someone for him.

And it was not the time to be thinking about that, not when Trystan saw one of his longest-standing guards lying face down in the copse of trees surrounding the entrance with a dagger in his back. More of his guards stood their ground, fighting the remaining knights, and he realized he’d asked them all here earlier that morning to load in extra cargo, out in the open, where they could easily be found.

It had been his fault.

Trystan’s magic wouldn’t wait any longer. It took on a life of its own and came out of his fingertips like water slipping through the cracks of a dam. Nobody else could see it, but he could, the gray mist surrounding the Valiant Guards that were still happily slaughtering his men and women, his guards, his people.

The first Valiant Guard was slow to realize what was happening to him, but when the gray mist circled him, Trystan saw exactly how to hurt him, his power illuminating the best places to strike in a vibrance of color amid the gray.

The glowing red around the knight’s abdomen was The Villain’s perfect opening; it was the guard’s weak point. His magic swept in, circling the knight, and the gray mist sharpened and angled right for that spot. The knight let out a curdling scream, dropping to his knees before collapsing to the ground.

The act of killing gave The Villain strength, fed his power, made him strong. Strong enough to push the rest of the gray mist around the remaining knights, finding their weakest point and slaughtering them all. The Villain took a sick satisfaction from watching the pile of silver-clad bodies pile high until there wasn’t a single knight left standing.

The head of his guard, Keeley, stood to the side, assessing a comrade who was clutching their side in pain.

Trystan walked forward to assess the damage. “Did they take anything?” he asked, keeping his face blank as he counted the dead. Four.

Three men and one woman dead, because of him.

He gritted his jaw, ignoring the burning guilt rushing through him. It was a useless emotion. There was nothing productive about feeling the pounding pressure of people dying for him, knowing he wasn’t worth their sacrifice.

“No,” Keeley replied absently. “But we’ll have to move everything, sir.

One of the knights took off to relay a message before you arrived.”

He nodded, taking the information in slowly. The rest of his guards looked to him, but there was no time to mourn. They needed his instruction; they needed The Villain.

“Have everything moved to one of our more secure locations,” he called to them. “Bring the dead back to the manor, and we’ll—” His humanity made him stop. “We’ll have them buried.”

The guards nodded, looking at him with a reverence he didn’t want. Another guard spoke over the silence. “What are you going to do about this, sir?”

Trystan’s jaw ticked as his gaze swept over the group still standing, the guards who lay dead, and the Valiant Guards beside them. “What needs to be done,” he said cryptically, giving them their final orders and then heading back to his mount.

As he swung his leg over his steed and guided him back to the manor, the question echoed in his head once more.

What are you going to do about this?

He didn’t consider the question, for he already knew the answer. As he rode south, speeding slightly when he felt a strange tingling sensation on the back of his neck, he made a vow.

There will be vengeance for anyone who has suffered in my name.

When he finally arrived back at the manor and strode past the moving wall into his office space, he knew something was wrong, could feel it, something— He didn’t make it two feet before Rebecka appeared before him, an unusual dishevelment to her normally composed appearance.

“Sir!” she gasped.

An eerie feeling prickled down his arm.

“Bomb. There was a—bomb in your office— Evie—”

Her name brought him back into focus as he gripped the small woman by the shoulders. “Where is she?” He knew his voice was strangled and harsh, but this wasn’t the time to gentle it.

“The parapet. She took it outside!”

He dropped his arms and began to run before the last words left her lips. He flew through the doors and didn’t stop. His black cape billowed around him as he raced up the stairs and to the parapet, where he caught sight of her small form in the distance, looking forlorn and resigned.

Bomb—where was the bomb? He followed Sage’s gaze to the top of the tower at the end of the parapet. His eyes found the small gold device, so close, too close.

“Run!” He pushed his legs harder, letting the panic be fuel to bring him to her.

Her wide eyes flew to him, blinking as if she didn’t believe he was real. “My foot is stuck!” she called back, sounding as frantic as he felt.

He called back in disbelief, “Well, pull it out!” His words released on a growl, and he watched with bated breath as she continued to tug at her leg, not gaining an inch.

Sweat beaded along his forehead, and his loose black shirt was beginning to stick to different parts of his body as the sound of his boots echoed off the stone and cement beneath his feet. It wasn’t fear—he was just running very fast.

He was nearly to her when he felt the vibration in the air. His eyes flickered to the gold device as he drew closer. The timepiece hanging from the explosive began to shake, and he felt the tower beside them rumbling. Right as he reached her, grabbing her by the waist, throwing her to the ground and pressing his body on top of hers, he enveloped them in as much magic as he could gather and yet knew it likely wouldn’t be enough.

And then the world went red.

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