The mayor's voice perforated the silence, his voice erupting with a confidence and a coldness that made Will's insides ache. He stood at a podium which was swiftly placed at his feet by an assistant.
'Good citizens of Holloway,' he said, 'today, you stand witness to an act of redemption, of cleansing; of justice. For many years, we have stood strong against the poison, the sin that threatens this good world, the atrocity that they call magick. They tell us that they can help us, to bring sunlight to darkness and to heal the wounded. And with this, they offer friendship.
'But are they not professing to be gods? If they can make crops thrive, can they not destroy them? If they can heal, can they not kill?' The villagers raised their fists with an ebullient 'yes!' The children huddled closer together, terrified by what surrounded them. 'We are not weaklings to be ruled! We shall not submit to the veil of darkness which they cast over us! God is with us, He will smite the wicked and only He can bring us into the sunlight. He will punish those who dare purport to be His equal, and we shall be His hands!'
With a sickeningly jubilant smile, the mayor turned and pointed to the woman atop the pyre, her head sunk and her hair dripping with oil. She mumbled prayers through sobs, refusing to let the others hear her desperation. 'This - abomination - has lived amongst us, performing trickery upon us for many years. What is to say she has not sickened our children, or that she is responsible for this vile cold? Today, we will see justice, and perhaps with our mercy, God will salvage this woman's soul.'
The mayor left the podium and approached one of two metal bins which were licking with flames - put there to warm the crowd in the horrid weather. Resting inside was a wooden torch, the mayor grabbed it forcefully, sending embers into the sky.
Tayna reached for Will's hand, squeezing it tightly, also Andrel's, then in a low, determined voice said, 'no...' A gust of wind blew across the crowd, suddenly extinguishing the mayor's torch before it could touch the doused pyre. He looked up at the sky angrily and the crowd murmured with disappointment at the delay. Will and Andrel stared at her in disbelief - she had used magick publicly.
Will was ready to celebrate that they had stopped the execution, but suddenly he saw the pyre burst into flames from his peripheral. He turned in horror and saw a villager from the crowd standing near a tipped-over bin, the coals and logs rolling underneath the pyre and lighting it from beneath. It spread incredibly quickly, smoke billowing upwards, blackening the woman's clothes, filling the air with the scent of smoke.
'She's covered in oil!' exclaimed Andrel, 'we have to do something!' He turned expectantly to Tayna, 'use your Air magick; save her again.'
But Tayna had suddenly changed, she was frozen, transfixed on the flames which made her eyes look like molten gold. 'Can't save her...' she said quietly, 'can't...save...any of them.'
'What are you talking about?' asked Will, 'you just did it, you can do it again!'
Then, the clapping began. Slow, rhythmic beats, the villagers united to chorus the flames which rose higher and higher. Above this, the woman's head shot up, lines of tears through her dirtied cheeks. She opened her mouth, and from her lips came a shriek of madness and hatred,
'Astraea! Astraea! Hear my call! I demand justice! I am innocent, I call upon the gods of truth to acquit me of this suffering!' Her voice strained as the fumes caused her to cough and splutter, she pulled at the rope, trying to slide her hands out until they became red and sore.
Will turned to beg Tayna for help once more, but had to look down; she had collapsed in the snow. 'Tayna!' As he bent down to help her up, they had caught the attention of the mayor who veered at them with furious eyes.
'Begone! This sight is not for children! Away!'
'You near your end, humanity!' the woman continued to screech, 'you will know the taste of revenge, it shall be your own blood spurting up your throats, the throb of swords through your hearts!' A couple of the women in the crowd gasped hysterically, fearing her curses.
'OUT NOW!' The mayor said again, once Tayna was securely in his arms, Will looked at him with the highest of abhorrence, he had never felt hatred for somebody so much, his muscles felt rigid with fury, it took all of his determination not to act. Instead, thinking of Tayna, he turned and shoved his way through the crowd, Andrel following swiftly.