They didn't have to wait at the Portal long before Mr Mervyn appeared through the snow as a round, stumpy creature. He was dressed in warm robes with a frill collar that protected him from the cold and hid half of his head.
After the familiar, watery sensation of travelling through the Portal, Will's feet touched crunchy snow - he opened his eyes and Holloway Village, the coal-pit of the Secret South, met him.
But something was wrong, although his faculties were affected from the bright and preternaturalness of the Portal; he could still sense it.
He couldn't properly explain it, there was something in the air, intermingled with the cold and depressive feelings of the village. When he observed his surroundings, this foreboding was strengthened. Every window and shutter on the main street was bolted shut, the doors locked tightly. Chimneys weren't broiling smoke as usual, nor did steam rise through the vents of the hot sewers, the fog was the only thing moving in the deserted village.
The children looked at each other with puzzlement, listening to three pitch-coloured crows sat on a thatched roof. They watched with beady and malicious eyes, and blended with the house so well they could have been created from it. A cart skimmed across their path, clearing the fog for them, the driver thrashing the reins of the mules with an abnormal quietness.
Hesitantly, the children made their way down the street, their feet squeaking the snow the only noise, then they heard a low whisper calling them. They saw that Mrs Sewer was craning her head round the corner of the side-street, hissing 'go back' at them. Her eyes were wide with fear, and when she realised that the children were too overcome with curiosity to simply leave, she pointed to the village square.
Will had been wrong that the village was empty, at the centre of the village, figures were huddled together in the sea of fog. Their shoulders slouched with common misery, but their heads were lifted attentively to what had been constructed before them.
Perhaps it was an instinct built in him as a magi, but the sight of the logs arched towards a wooden post ascending skyward told Will what was happening, an execution, and his limbs trembled with the sensation to flee.
'We have to leave,' Andrel whispered breathlessly, already turning to go, other students behind them had already left, the three of them were the only ones remaining.
But Will couldn't leave, firstly because the pyre mesmerised him with fear, and because Tayna was racing forward into the crowd. 'Tayna, no!' he shouted, pushing through the crowd after her, but he couldn't keep his eye on her, once she was past the first layer of spectators, they seemed to engulf her like a swarm of thick darkness.