The room continued to become darker and the only sound amongst them was the crackle of the fire. The five of them couldn’t take their eyes off the figure who was reclining in a new armchair in their Haven. Clad all in black with a wide brim hat and a long black lace veil covering her face, it was clear that it was a woman and she remained poised and quiet, her face lost in the shadows of her veil as she stared into the fire. The wind outside began to howl as a storm kicked up but it was muted beneath the heavy velvet curtains. In the dim light, Dolly realized that they weren’t the royal purple of the Safe Haven but rather a deep, troubling red. The floor beneath them was no longer stone but rather polished mahogany floorboards. Dolly looked out the window, expecting it to have changed but she was surprised to see the same graveyard that she and Will had been in just a few minutes before. She could still see their footprints in the snow, the indents still showing amid the drifts of white that were blowing about. The fireplace too had remained the same. The stonework was exactly as it always was even if there were small touches that made it a little different. The shape was mostly the same but there were flourishes in the stone and dark marble at the base which hadn’t been there before. There were pillars carved in marble as well running along the side with art deco flourishes to top them off.

As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they also noticed something else that had appeared about the room. Slowly coming out of the darkness were lilies, decorating every spare corner and surface. Lilies in large, flashy vases from the 1920s. Lilies placed on table tops and bookshelves that weren’t there before. Lilies in the gloved hands of the lady in black. She sighed, heavily, as she watched the flicker of the green flames.

“I hated to draw attention to it but I think someone might have died,” Will whispered.

“Such is the way of life, I’m afraid,” the woman sighed, keeping her shadowed eyes on the fire. “Everything and everyone dies. How our times come so fast.”

“Is this your funeral?” Will asked, his tone going from cautious to casual. Dolly shot him a look of disbelief. “What? We don’t know if we don’t ask?”

“Later on we’ll have to have a chat about bluntness and appropriate times, Will,” she sighed before looking back at the veiled woman. Dolly swore she saw a smile cross her lips but it was brief.

“Who are you?” Matt ventured to ask.

“For the moment, I am a widow,” the lady in black said, wistfully. The fire before her grew brighter and for a moment, Dolly thought she saw something move in the shadows. She tapped Will and signalled for him to stay on guard. “I was once a woman. I was my own woman and my own self. Why, I was someone. I had hopes and dreams of my own. Isn’t this the way, though? We build our own little worlds only to become so stuck in them. And to be reduced to suddenly simply being a widow. How we all fall in our time.”

“Well I guess that means she’s not the one who’s dead and we don’t have to worry as much,” Will chimed in. Dolly hung her head in her hands.

“That’s sad that your husband died,” Lydia said, cautiously.

“While it is kind of you to mention it, I’m afraid that it was inevitable,” the lady in black replied, bowing her head. “They all succumb eventually. They all fall from their grace and he was no different. Of a kind, these men are. They mean so well and fight so hard. All simply to end in tragedy. How can it not? They all go blind and then, well, how are they to know what dangers befall them? It’s all just so sad.”

As she spoke, the room around them seemed to waver but never enough to change entirely. Dolly was aware that the Haven, though it looked different, was still where they were sitting. At least for now. There was a strange scent that was coming from somewhere and a kind of terrible cold that was seeping in from outside. The look of the windows beneath those deep red curtains had changed but the setting stubbornly refused to change. Still, the storm outside raged on and was continuing to get worse. It was still the home that she had created for herself once and had helped with the others to create but there was a new influence here with their mysterious widow. She was bringing in a kind of look that Dolly wasn’t familiar with or very happy about. She couldn’t be sure but she thought that there was something else there with them. Something watching from the shadows and she kept looking to see a figure darting around. She couldn’t help noticing that sometimes, she did catch a flicker of a movement. Just enough that she thought it might have been something but always too quick to see for certain.

What Dolly was also picking up on was that their widow, for as much as she looked solemn and reflective, didn’t seem that upset. It was true that they didn’t know anything about her. For all they knew, this woman was just remembering something from many years past but that didn’t really explain how she got there or why she would be remembering it here now. And if she was just a memory, it still seemed like this woman should be more upset or emotional. Dolly wondered what really happened and if maybe this husband was someone she wasn’t really that keen to mourn. Then again, it could also have been a case of this being simply an older memory of someone from a long time ago. Still, all of this didn’t answer how the woman had found her way into the Safe Haven.

Just as Dolly was about to say something about this, the widow stood up and revealed a beautiful draped black dress, the loose sleeves decorated with lace the match the sash at her waist and adorning the bottom of the dress itself. Dolly glanced over at Lydia and noticed her taking in all the details. For as much as her design focus was mostly in her furry accessories, she was nothing short of a wizard on these things and Dolly could tell by the look on her face that this woman’s apparel had piqued her interest.

The room suddenly turned to a bitter cold and it had seemingly made time run even slower. The snow that battered the windows outside had been reduced to a drift, lazily making its way through the gently bowing trees. The group began to huddle together for warmth but the lady in black seemed unaffected by anything. The whole world seemed to be languishing in this slow, quiet darkness. The woman before them moved slowly in front of the fire and the whole of the room seemed to sigh. Whether it was with relief or with awe, it was too hard to tell. She was a beautiful woman for certain. Though her features were obscured by the veil, her dark eyes were shining and it made her pale face seem even more vibrant beneath the shadows. Standing out in the sombre portrait come to life before them was her lips. Her perfectly red lips that showed every expressive curve and movement of her mouth.

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