Rose would have stumbled back if her feet weren’t firmly cemented to the floor. She began mentally tallying in her head the events over the last week. Small courier job for her Father a few days ago. Reserve watch two of the other days during which nothing out of the ordinary had stood out, and yesterday had been one of celebration. In fact, her Father who was typically the most reserved had been the drunkest of them all. They’d sat across from each other long after their friends had retired back to their own homes, feet warm and eyes aglow from the hearth that burned and crackled, before cooling to a simmer. It was then, when all that was left was embers, that her Father’s mood turned. He sucked air in deeply, a sign Rose had come to know meant serious discussion was coming.
“I… need to speak with you about something,” he said.
Rose was slumped in the chair, her chin resting on her chest. Her head had been on a carousel for the last four hours and the spinning was finally coming to a close. She pulled her eyes up to meet him – minimal movement still felt necessary for keeping her insides exactly that, inside – and managed a meager grunt in reply.
“Sit up when I’m talking to you, please.”
The slow slur in his voice was gone; Rose’s ears perked up, her Father’s voice suddenly sober. She pushed the rising pang in her head to the side and sat up before he continued.
“This place. Our home.” he motioned vaguely when he spoke, jaw tight.
Deep set brown eyes rimmed in firelight lingered on her. Rose could see a battle raging inside them but couldn’t place why. His head fell.
“Dad, what’s going on?” she asked.
Rose leaned forward and rested a hand on his knee. His head shook slowly, the light reflecting in streams trickling down his face; he was crying.
“I’m so sorry, darling. I’m just so sorry.” his body shuddered through the last few words, the tears coming in waves.
“Dad, it’s okay. Whatever happened, it’s okay.”
Rose moved to his armrest and held his head against her side. He brushed away the tears the only way a man of his stature could, crudely, punishingly, pushing away whatever deep shame had brought them.
“This place isn’t what it seems…not anymore at least.”
“What do you mean not anymore?”
He took a moment to collect himself.
“What I’m about to tell you can never leave this room. Not yet at least.”
Rose’s eyes narrowed, wishing she could search his face for the answers before he ever spoke them.
“There’s a place out in the forest, to the West. They don’t want anybody finding it.”
“Who is ‘they’”?
His head shook softly again. A deep slumber was calling to him. The kind only a night full of drinking can bring.
“The…the council. You mustn’t trust them.”
“What don’t they want anybody to find?” Rose jostled his shoulder. “Dad?”
He tugged at her sleeve, pulling her ear close and mumbled three words.
A forced cough brought Rose back to reality. Back to the black room.
“Do you need me to ask you again?” Doyle said.
Rose glanced around at the others, all eyes on her.
“Yes, please, sorry. I think I’m just in shock.”
They all nodded in unison.
“Understandable, dear. We just want to know if your Father was acting strange recently. Anything that might give us a clue to his whereabouts.”
You mustn’t trust them. Her father’s words reverberated down her spine.
“Something he might have said, perhaps?” A redhead named Louise spoke for the first time. Doyle’s eyes flared at her, though he tried his best to hide it. Rose shook her head.
“The last time I spoke to him was last night, but he got drunk and passed out by the time everyone was leaving. He was gone for work when I woke up.”
“He didn’t say anything at all?”
“Did he ever tell you about his work?”
“What are your intentions with your own work?”
“To serve Abel.”
“Would you serve me?”
“I am loyal to Abel and his council.”
“That isn’t an answer.”
“Yes. I would – I do serve you.”
“Then do not lie to me when I ask you my next question. Do the words “The Black Well” mean anything to you?”
Rose’s heart skipped a beat. Imperceptible by most standards, but in the moment it felt like she was taking the stand at her own trial and she only hoped nobody had noticed her flinch.
“I’m not sure I follow.” Rose said.
“You’ve never heard those words spoken before today?”
“You’re sure?” Doyle asked.
She could feel Michael’s eyes drift back to her. His shoulders swayed with every breath. He was studying her. At least it seemed like he was. Rose chanced a glance his way. Intense eyes stared back at her; through her; deep under her skin to the truth. She could feel his mind tossing aside the shrouds she had buried her father’s last words to her under. Words mumbled softly and under the cover of night. He picked apart her mind, turning over every last corner until there lay one final cover. Not there, she thought. Anywhere but there. Michael tossed the cover aside, heard her father’s final words, and smiled. Rose realized she was holding her breath and looked back at the others.
“I would remember something like that.”
“Very well. Go home and wait for him in case he turns up. Your father was very important to us.”
“I’m sorry?” Doyle asked.
“He is very important.”
Doyle smiled. “Yes, of course.”
The door behind Rose swung open, a sign their conversation was over. She turned and left, the door crunching closed behind her. Inside, their collective gaze now shifted to Michael who turned to them then slowly shook his head.
“So it shall be.” Doyle said.
“So it shall be,” the others responded.
Doyle turned to another man twenty years his junior.
“Take her at dawn.”