A black void of swirling smoke made a wall blocking any sight beyond the edge of the mountain top. In front of the void, was the hollowed out shell of what once was a hut. The wooden frame of a well had collapsed into the well and even the stones was covered in black soot.
A stench drifted to Tiga and she shivered from the vague familiarity of the smell. She couldn’t quite pin point the memory, but the smoke, the smell, the burnt remains, all were familiar to her.
“Where’s Jay?” Cagar asked in concern.
Tiga glanced around the scorched remains and spotted movement inside the hut. She moved forward and felt Cagar’s hand clamp down on her shoulder.
“Stay here, Tiga,” Cagar ordered. “The structure could collapse and I don’t want you to be hurt.”
“The roof has already collapsed and the walls are unlikely to cave in on us unless they are purposely knocked over,” Tiga said, brushing off his hand.
“Why do you always ignore my warnings?” Cagar asked with a frown.
“I’m a stubborn, reckless street urchin. I’ve lived on my own for ages, I make my own decisions.”
Tiga jogged forward and her feet were warmed as she made her way towards the hut. The ground was still steaming from whatever had burnt through the area and the grass was withered and crumbled underneath their feet. The smoke was making her nose tingle and made her eyes water. Tiga came to what used to be a door, instead it was lying on the ground.
“It would be best, if you remained out here,” Jay spoke, stepping in front of her.
“What is with you guys and stopping me from going places?” Tiga said impatiently.
“We were too late to help Bodach,” Jay said simply.
Tiga then realized what the smell had been. The stench was stronger near the hut and Tiga swallowed as her pulse quickened. She gazed through the gap between Jay’s shoulder and the burnt door frame. In a chair, almost as if he had been sleeping at the time, was the burnt remains of a man. His features were unrecognizable and the stench that filled the air was that of burnt flesh.
“How?” Tiga asked slowly.
The shock of seeing the body was slowly taken over by the questions that filled Tiga’s mind.
“He was burnt by the fire, obviously,” Cagar said behind her.
“I know, but how?” Tiga asked again.
“Pardon?” Jay asked, as he gave Tiga a confused look.
“He’s a sorcerer, right?” Tiga spoke. “You’d think he’d try to defend himself.”
Jay’s eyes showed his understanding and he shrugged sadly.
“Bodach was getting pretty old,” Jay explained. “His sight was failing him and he probably didn’t realise that the house was on fire.”
Tiga looked doubtful and crossed her arms.
“He may have been blind, but he still would have been able to smell the smoke,” Tiga said.
“Bodach was in his chair its likely he was asleep, and then the smoke could have suffocated him before he could react,” Jay responded.
“It still doesn’t make sense,” Tiga said shaking her head. “He was on the other mountain till not long ago. Could he have reached here and fallen asleep without seeing the wall of smoke approaching?”
Cagar and Jay just shrugged at her, it seemed they were just letting it slide. The fire had consumed the area and Bodach had been a victim, nothing more needed to be said.
“I mean, what is with this smoke. They say there’s no smoke without fire, but I don’t see any signs of fire,” Tiga continued with her case.
“The fire must have gone out,” Cagar offered.
“Why? There is enough fuel for it to continue burning right down the mountain, yet it stops here,” Tiga asked, indicating the tree line.
“Well then, we are lucky it didn’t,” Jay said. “You’re just in shock. We’ll bury Bodach here, as he wished, and then go back to the shop and you can rest.”
Tiga realized that both Cagar and Jay were looking at her with concern in their eyes. She didn’t need pity, her questions were reasonable. Jay and Ethan began to dig a hole for the burial and Cagar stayed standing next to Tiga.
Tiga sighed and walked towards the void of black smoke. If the fire wasn’t strange to the three men, surely this wall of dense smoke was unusual. Tiga lifted a hand reached out to put it into the void.
“Tiga! Come away from there,” Cagar called, beckoning her back to the hut.
Tiga glared at him across the clearing and plunged her hand into the smoke wall. It was warm on her hand and she could feel the air moving around her hand. Suddenly her hand went super warm and then something pulled on her fingers. Horrified Tiga tried to remove her hand from the wall, but the unseen thing pulled her further inwards. It then grabbed onto her forearm as it entered the smoke. Tiga grounded her stance and leant back, away from the smoke wall. With a couple of tugs, Tiga was released and fell onto her back.
The arm that had been in the smoke, was pale grey like ash and was numb. Tiga moved her left hand to touch the affected but retreated it slightly in surprise. Her arm was ice cold to the touch and as she attempted to move them, sharp tingles ran up her nerves. It was almost as if she were back in the snow cold weather at Voldair. Tiga began rubbing the feeling into her arm again, and, as warmth returned, so did the colour.
“Are you okay?” Cagar asked, reaching down a helping hand.
“I’m fine, just tripped over,” Tiga returned, sitting up.
“Come on, they’ve readied the grave,” Cagar said.
Tiga looked across to see them carrying out the corpse on a blanket and lowered her gaze. With a sigh, she reached up and accepted Cagar’s help in getting up.
It was a short service, since none of the men were great speakers and Tiga didn’t even know the man. Jay spoke shortly on how Bodach had always been willing to do the yearly light display and how he always made people smile. Cagar and Ethan nodded along and then they all held a moment’s silence. Upon a closing prayer, Jay and Ethan began unceremoniously tossing dirt into the grave. They marked the grave with a large rock and a proper headstone would be prepared and brought up at a later time.
“Unfortunately there isn’t much else we can do here,” Cagar said, shaking his head.
“No, for now we’ll go back to town and order a headstone,” Jay agreed, picking up a pack.
As they turned to go back to town, Tiga took one last glance towards the smoke wall. The other’s assumed that it would dissipate over time, but Tiga wasn’t convinced. Now Tiga’s frown furrowed even further. The smoke wall seemed to have encroached into the clearing even further, swallowing area around it.
“Perhaps it’s the breeze moving it forward,” Tiga thought.
Denying the thought that it may have to do with sorcery, Tiga followed the rest of the group quickly.
The journey back to the purple shop was quiet and solemn. Tiga noticed Cagar watching her with a concerned look but she chose to ignore it.
The smoke slowly cleared from the air, but the smell continued to cling to their clothes. Their eyes were all red from the exposure and soot covered their clothing.
It took only a moment for Yuna to guess what had happened and she rushed them all inside.
“I’ll prepare some water for some baths, and there’s a fresh pot of coffee on bench there for you,” Yuna said, moving around like a hummingbird.
Yuna moved from person to person, hovering for a moment to make sure each one was okay. Tiga couldn’t help smiling and when it came her turn she gave Yuna a quick hug. The men had already walked to the coffee pot, so they didn’t notice the hug.
“Don’t you dare tell them I’m actually partial to a hug now and then,” Tiga ordered in a whisper.
“Of course, my dear,” Yuna said, with a wink. “It would be an absolute crime if they should discover your dark secret.”
“Indeed, a girl acting like a girl? Despicable,” Tiga returned sarcastically.
Yuna smiled at her sarcastic humour and then turned to put a large cauldron on to boil bath water. The men had almost sculled two cups of coffee and Jay turned to kiss Yuna on the cheek.
“Ethan and I will go take care of business. And don’t worry about bath water for us, we’ll wash off in the lake,” Jay said, heading to the door.
“I’ll go with you,” Cagar said, standing up from where he’d taken a seat.
“I’ll-” Tiga began.
Cagar turned and frowned at her. He wanted her to rest up, she could tell.
“-stay here and have a warm bath with bubbles and a nice glass of milk,” Tiga continued, raising her eyebrows at Cagar.
Cagar rolled his eyes and followed the other two men out of the shop. Yuna handed Tiga a glass and filled it with cool milk.
“You are extremely adventurous for your age,” Yuna spoke quietly. “I would have been learning to cook and off picking flowers in the orchard.”
“Yes well, I’m older than you think,” Tiga replied, taking a large swig of milk.
“You can’t be more than fifteen years of age surely,” Yuna stated with a smile.
“Most people would think that,” Tiga said with a shrug. “I’m currently seventeen. I never grew as well as other girls my age. People said it was the lack of nutrients when I was young. Others said it had to do with the trauma I felt growing up without parents.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Yuna said sympathetically.
“Don’t worry, I don’t mind being short and little. It allows me to sneak into small spaces and get away with lots more than usual seventeen year olds do.”
Yuna smiled, but sympathy was still in her eyes as she watched Tiga finish off the glass of milk.
“Well now I have a family back home, who will allow me to leave Voldair,” Tiga said. “They say that they run an orphanage and I can help out there for food and board.”
“That sound’s go-” Yuna started smiling.
A deep rumble interrupted Yuna and Tiga dropped the glass and it crashed onto the floor. Yuna jumped at the loud noises and glanced with a concerned look towards the window. Tiga spun towards the door and ran out onto the small veranda.
“The darkness is approaching!” a woman screamed from the street. “We’re surrounded by it!”
Tiga watched the woman run hysterically into a nearby house and looked towards the horizon. Yuna appeared in the doorway and she gasped at the sight.
The wall of dark swirling smoke had now reached the top of the mountain tops. Tiga dropped off the veranda and spun around in a circle. Sure enough, the smoke wasn’t just coming from the direction of Bodach’s hut. It circled the entire valley, a small amount of burnt ground in front of it. The threat to the valley was real, and there was no way of escape to be seen.