37. How to Manipulate a Villain Speech to Save Friends and Influence People

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"A soulmate has the power to ransom your soul. With every false smile, rejected overture, and apathetic kiss, you find yourself holding your breath, your heart shriveling like a forgotten grape languishing on the vine. Each time he walks down the cobbled path from the front door, your soul in his pocket, you wonder whether you will see it again."—Morana Faucheux, Soulless Stepmonster

"Villains are made, not born."—Unknown

"Smart villains don't brag before ending the hero's life. Always kill first and make her corpse listen to your rant."—No Screenwriter Ever

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Generally, when one imagines one's demise, the backdrop is desolate, gloomy, and often putrid, with an ear-piercing electronic soundtrack throbbing in the background. A couple of settings that come to mind might be a cave with drippy walls, a guano lake, and hungry vampire bats hovering close by. Or a hellscape with bubbling lava, sulfurous fumes, and shrieking demons.

The least likely scenario would be a sunlit garden with sugary breezes stirring fruit-laden branches, the sleepy harmonies of birds and bees, and a carnival of flowers bursting in color.

Who's to say which is preferable? A hellscape may be less pleasant at the moment, but you'd be grateful for your ultimate demise, whereas a beautiful garden would be a reminder of all you're about to give up.

The truth is, people don't get to choose. Death doesn't take appointments.

Druscilla had seemed confident about her ability to kill with a mere snap of her evil fingers or a word of dark magic uttered from those overpainted lips, and from what Ashley had already witnessed, she had little doubt that her stepsister could fulfill her threat.

But bottom line, Ashley could not die. Not in a hellscape, or a bat-cave, or a garden. Because innocent children depended on her survival, and now that she'd glimpsed that horrible room, she felt the children's plight as viscerally as a python constricting her chest.

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"Gather round and hear my tale," Druscilla commanded, spreading her mirrored skirts in a neat circle while maintaining her iron grip on the golden egg. No one moved. "I said to gather. Or else."

"Or else what?" Derek said. Ashley elbowed him in his (very firm) side. "What? Maybe death would be better than sticking around for her bor-ring 'tale.' I'm just looking for the facts so I can make an informed decision."

"Hold your questions till the end," Druscilla said. "It's not like I have an eternity to kill you. And it's not like you have an eternity."

"To be honest, it does feel like an eternity?" Derek said.

Dru looked at Ashley, shaking her head. "I really am going to have to kill him first."

"Good," Derek piped up, "but whatever you do, don't touch the face. I want to be an attractive corpse."

"Your face will be indistinguishable from ground mutton when I'm finished with you. Or when I finish you!" She laughed at her bad joke. "Honestly, I could've done stand-up if I wasn't such a talented magician!"

"Move it, ladies, find your places," Derek said. "I cannot tolerate leaving an unsightly cadaver." He cringed.

The royals scattered upon the prince's request. While he didn't always act with the wisdom of a centenarian grandmother, he did have a point about fact-finding before decision-making. Ashley needed time to ponder the next steps, so she used the momentary anarchy caused by a group of royals not used to being ordered to "gather round" to sort her thoughts and plan the next steps.

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