With the uttering of those words, the widow let out a slow laugh that sounded like a sigh of relief. The woman before them cast the lilies to the fire and stretched out as she picked up the pace, walking around the room. She brushed past the small group, an icy wind trailing behind her making them shiver. Dolly wasn’t entirely sure but she thought that she saw a swirling shadow trail after the woman as she breezed her way by them. Moving easily across the icy floor, the widow gracefully made her way around the room, her gloved hands touching certain things that shouldn’t be in the Haven. She grabbed to the doors of the room and when they didn’t budge, she seemed even more relieved.

“It is truly satisfying when a plan comes to fruition like this, wouldn’t you agree? Oh, that was such a tiresome performance and you would not believe the amount of effort it took to keep it in line,” she said in a breathy voice that was far more enthusiastic and vibrant than it had been a second before. The widow looked back at them from the door and smiled, a touch more sinister than before. “Do forgive me for this, darlings, but once you understand my plight, you’ll see that I had no choice but to make a little bit of a drastic intrusion on your lives. You see, I was abandoned here and this is all that was left for me to work with. I did attempt to make it more presentable but it was rather difficult, if I do say so myself. I am not, what you might call, very domestically inclined.”

“So you’re not a widow?” Lydia cautiously asked.

“Oh but I am,” the woman in black said, dismissively as she came back to the fire. It glowed a poisonous green and it made her look even more pale than she already appeared. Suddenly, she seemed almost regretful again but there was no sense of mourning to her still. She seemed more like a celebrity that is constantly vexed by the same, tedious question. “Marriage seems like such a good idea when one is so young and foolish. Of course, I was young but I never had the opportunity to be foolish. Not when my very life was all but chosen for me. Dreadful, having someone tell you want to do all the time, no?”

With this, she looked specifically at Dolly and at Lydia. She let her shadowed gaze linger on the latter before turning her attention back to the fire. She smiled.

“Such times we once had,” she sighed. “Oh it was rotten, you understand. Perfectly wretched. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone but my worst enemy. Granted, I had such an enemy once and when I saw what such a curse as her marriage did to her, I was aghast.”

“She was abused too?” Matt guessed.

“Of course,” the widow shrugged, casually. “Isn’t that what matrimony is like? Marry the brute and discover the beast you now live with? Of course, hers was particularly dull and easily one of lesser intellect so it was hardly a challenge. Before I was abandoned in this utterly disdainful house, I might have been able to save us both. Might. How shameful to even suggest I wouldn’t have overcome such a man, had I been given the chance. Of course I had such ability. A girl has to know such things.”

“So now that we know you can hear us, why don’t we get back to that whole letting us know who you are?” Dolly said.

“I’m not sure she can,” Will said, thinking as he watched the firelight. “She can definitely hear us but she might not be able to answer our questions. Depending on where she came from, our lady in black here might not actually know much about who she is or what happened.”

“She knows that she was abandoned,” Lydia offered. She looked back to the widow. “Was that part of your story?”

“Indeed it was,” the woman sighed, her tone heavy and serious as she looked to the fire. Dolly wasn’t entirely convinced that this wasn’t for dramatic purposes but she said nothing. She had to admit that despite the cold that their visitor brought with her, she was entertaining. “I suppose it was inevitable. I was, after all, always somewhat of a challenging figure for my time. Too much effort, perhaps. Can any of you relate to such a plight? But of course you can. Look at you lot! Oh how I understand that feeling that must swell within you all. To be trapped in a world of grey formlessness, forced to conform to the way the world tells you things have always been done. It’s so rewarding to watch their imaginary boundaries break, isn’t it? To watch them all scowl when they tell you that something can’t be done and they simply sit, aghast, as you do it anyway. I suppose if they tire of it completely and leave you, they might claim to have the last laugh. But then again, the people I think of rarely have much of anything to amuse themselves with anyway, so perhaps it’s like a parting gift to the poor dears.”

“You mention others, does this mean that you remember them at all?” Dolly asked her. The widow smiled at the fire. Her smile looked a bit more like a sneer but when she turned to face them again, she seemed to brighten again. “Do you know where you came from?”

“We are so rarely alone, no? Even when we wish to be, we are usually surrounded by others, mostly those who may not be worth our time,” she sighed with a great deal of emphasis on certain words.

“These people who aren’t worth your time wouldn’t be the ‘help’, would they?” Matt asked, his voice taking a slight edge to it. The widow smiled brightly.

“Heavens no,” she replied, excitedly. “The help? Oh, they are a help, make no mistake about that. For those to whom they are forced to serve, they simply have to obey but that doesn’t mean the same thing at all. The ones I had encountered, I assure you, were more ‘helpful’ to those who were cruel to them than their disdainful counterparts might have otherwise realized. And why shouldn’t they be? I learned from them first that when the world offers you a gift, you take advantage of its generosity. And when people in power indulge themselves in their own arrogance, the world can be very generous indeed. But to those in need, true need that is, they could be very helpful.”

“So yours wasn’t a historical tale then,” Will said.

“Gracious, no,” the widow replied. “Had it been, I might have been trapped in a truly deplorable situation in the physical world. You should know yourself how taxing that can be. Oh, I wouldn’t have been completely stuck in that world but history is so very rigid in what you can do with it. Trying to change in such a setting, why, what a foolish idea that would be. Don’t think they don’t try, those little devils. Of course they do! Sometimes they get some traction for a while but the big bad boundaries of history always come in and show them for what they actually are. History forgives none and if you ask me, as dreary as my birthplace was, it couldn’t compare to being stuck in a story that might have once been true. And to think that I might have been caught forever in some horrid rotting plantation estate! Oh how wretched would that have been to be a villain in such a setting!”

“She’s got some sense of this world,” Will whispered to Dolly. “This is a weird one because she knows that she’s not real but she hasn’t told us anything about where she came from. I don’t know that she even knows her own story.”

“Will, I don’t know what to make of what she’s told us so far,” she quietly replied. “She seems like she’s hiding something.”

“True, she probably is but the thing is, if she is just a character from a lost story, she might not know what used to fill those gaps in her story,” Will sighed, doubtfully.

“And you think that might be the case?” Dolly replied.

“I can’t tell yet,” he said, frowning. He looked around himself. “I can’t completely assume this isn’t what it is but I’ll admit that this is weird. I’ve never seen anything like this happen in a Safe Haven before.”

“So if you know that you didn’t come from a plantation or anything like that, do you know where you came from?” Dolly asked the widow now. “Was it based anywhere in particular?”

“Where I was is of little importance,” the woman in black replied, wistfully. “This is true of all things, really. It doesn’t mean that it plays no role in our lives, fictional or otherwise. Oh, I am aware that I am just a fiction but that doesn’t mean that we do not feel. On the contrary, we all feel that pain together. The pain of growing up in an estate, a secret that no one wanted to tell but it was so very obvious. My only real family was a woman who would be taken from me when she dared to stand up to the cruelty that she was born into and a sibling that I simply could not hate, no matter how hard I tried. When mother died, we two were all that was left of her. How I despised my brother but I could not find it in my heart to deny the spark that we shared of that woman. I never wanted to love him, the only male and thus the heir to everything that would be denied to me. Ah, but he loathed that monster as much as I did. How like mother he could be. Vexing the man we hated when his temper turned hot. It mattered little to him that he would suffer under his hand, he knew that he would not be killed as easily as his sisters. How he loved to make him try, though. When the cruel master of that house took my mother’s life, my brother was the only thing that remained of her voice. The only tiny sliver of resistance to the misery that man brought to us all. He would escape by his own means that were impossible for a woman but he did not leave us with nothing. How utterly despicable that he should be so easy for me to hate and yet he had the audacity to hurt that awful man in the only way that would truly find purchase. I could not hate him after that. I will never hate my dear mother, perhaps the only one I will ever truly love. I cannot hate what was left of her.”

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