Up in Flames

Jeremi pressed her cheek against the rough wood, her fingers stroking the many knots and splinters, wandering down and finally coming to rest over the door's handle. She crooned quietly to the lock whispering for it to open. There was no click. Puzzled, Jeremi turned the door's handle and pushed. The door swung inward.

"It was already open -- just like the front door," she said, confused. She stepped forward into the room; Arianwen followed close behind.

The room felt very small, not because there wasn't much space, but because all the space available seemed to be taken up by all manner of clutter. Clothes lay unwashed in crumpled heaps upon the floor and the bedclothes seemed to be everywhere except on the bed. There was a bookshelf hugging one wall, but it was so overstuffed that all of the excess books randomly populated every flat surface. Under the window there was a small snowdrift of loose sheets of paper and scattered in various locations about the room were other sundry items such as mandolins and telescopes.

"Not so tidy, was he?" remarked Jeremi, but Arianwen made no response. Instead, she frowned and stooped down to examine a pile of rags on the ground.

"This isn't like Vollomeer," said Arianwen quietly. "He probably left in a hurry, but this isn't an untidy man's room -- it's a room that's been searched. Someone's been here before us"

Jeremi felt a little jolt in the pit of her stomach. "Who, though?"

"I don't know. But I have a feeling I know what they were looking for."

Jeremi had a feeling she knew as well, but she didn't say anything. Something had just caught her eye; a dark splotch on the wall. Jeremi crossed the room to get a closer look.

"K M? What does that stands for, you think?"

"What?" came Arianwen's voice from behind her.

"Look here -- it's burned into the wall."

Arianwen appeared at Jeremi's shoulder. Jeremi was short enough that her friend could still see the letters over the top of her head.

"I don't know. . ." said Arianwen pensively. She ran her fingers over the charred marks. "But it's still warm."

"Ari, I think we should get out of here," said Jeremi. "I have a bad feeling about this." She was getting a prickly sensation at the base of her neck. That was never a good sign.

"I think you're right," said Arianwen, surfacing from her reverie. She turned to Jeremi, but Jeremi had dashed to the window, catching sight of something moving in the snow below.

It was a black-clad figure, probably feminine, fringed with a dark, billowing cloak and matching mane of hair. She turned a wan face up toward Jeremi's window, as if intuitively sensing her presence, then stretched an hook-fingered hand out toward the house.

Jeremi dropped to the ground reflexively, and it was well that she did; the window above her blew in, showering her with a scintillating blizzard of glass. A gout of flame hissed through the window, lighting nearly everything in the room afire simultaneously. Jeremi rolled away from a pile of thick, leather-bound tomes just as they erupted into flame. Jeremi winced as the glass shards bit into her arms and legs.

The heat was unbelievable. Jeremi could barely see anything for smoke and fire and she could hear nothing but the roaring inferno that blazed around her. She tried to call out to Arianwen, but ended up inhaling a lungful of smoke instead, causing her to splutter uselessly.

And suddenly Arianwen was there, and Jeremi felt clean air rush down her throat that was no doubt Arianwen's doing.

"We need to get out the window," hollered Arianwen over the crackling of flames and groaning of weakening ceiling beams.

"The way's blocked!" Jeremi shouted, motioning to the wall of fire that was creeping closer by the moment.

Arianwen closed her eyes and Jeremi found herself momentarily robbed of breath as all the air was forced from the area. A moment later it returned, but the flames had been smothered.

"Go!" screamed Arianwen, for even now the flames were rekindling.

Jeremi bolted to the window and without a moment's hesitation leaped through it. It was a gut-wrenching drop, perhaps only eight feet or so with the bottom two feet cushioned with fluffy mounds of snow, but it was quite far enough for Jeremi's tiny frame. She landed with a whump as the freezing snow swallowed her. Jeremi felt her leg twist painfully and knew she had broken it. She lay, rattled and half-conscious, gazing hazily up at the slice of sharp, blue sky above.

She didn't know how long it was before Arianwen found her and dragged her out of the snow bank, but when she did, the majority of Vollomeer's house had collapsed into a mound of scorched wood and brilliantly orange flames that warmed Jeremi's skin. Before she passed out, Jeremi looked around for the woman who had set the house ablaze, but she was nowhere to be seen.

The End

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