The royal guard inspected the presented seal, verified its authenticity from the Potion Maker’s Authority, and said, “His majesty thanks you for your service and wishes you to camp here, Master Redghost.”

The villain grumbled for a moment but conceded. So much for spying on the castle’s layout. “It is not a problem,” she said, and then wasting no time, “but while you are here, let’s take care of you first. Get it out of the way, time is short and this will make your journey home safer from the threatening disease. What is your name, friend?”

The junior guard hesitated at the breach of protocol but, not wishing to offend the powerful sorcerer, agreed. “Frontgate Guardswoman Evelyn Wildwood.” She rolled up her sleeve.

“May I…” she began cautiously, “…ask you something, Master Redghost?”

“I keep multiple wardrobes,” the villain began as she swabbed the young guards arm with a healing potion. Guardswoman Wildwood flushed in embarrassment. The shape shifting villain was well known in the kingdom and she’d always wondered what was, apparently, a very common question.

“And, please, call me Atty.” The needle pierced the guard’s arm and the medicine was administered quickly, and thanks to the potion, painlessly. “You are all set! The king typically goes first,” Atticus winked, “so he thinks. But I always take care of the messenger first. Consider it a bonus.”

“Why do you help us?”

The villain wrapped a bandage around the guard’s arm as she thought about the question. Her voice lowered, the cheerful tone growing somber. “We are on opposing sides, and on many levels that makes us enemies,” she finished tying the knot. She pressed it carefully to ensure its strength. “But we are also citizens of the Netherworld and that makes us companions.”

The guard looked up from the knot and caught the villain’s gaze. It held kindness and truth and lies and mischief and a thousand unknowable secrets. “I was told this would hurt tremendously and yet I barely felt anything.”

The villain winked, “I use a healing potion for all my patients.” Her voice returned to the jovial tone. “But swamp water for the king. You must promise to keep this a secret from the court.”

It would be treason for the guard to laugh at the king and rude to the villain to not.

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