iii) “Can I taste it?”

“Can I taste it?” Fassn asks, the sounds mangled by his wide-open mouth and the tools jutting from it.

“I’m afraid not, dear,” says the wizard.

“But I love tasting things,” he replies.

“I know,” she says, patting his hand in a patronizing, reassuring way. “I fear that bubbling goo is not for mortal lips.”

“I’m not mortal,” Fassn says. “I have wings, see?” He flaps the fragments of scapular.

“Very nice,” says the wizard, in a humouring tone. Cang rolls his eyes.

Abia moves slowly, though Ulxurix is not looking directly at her. She examines the bookshelf, squints at their spines. In an elaborately-decorated typeface, they declaim their contents in a language she doesn’t recognize. The volume given her by the wizard sits heavy in her hands. She replaces it on the shelf, but the wizard’s voice again arrests her. Though Ulxurix hunches over Fassn’s mouth, peering deeply into it and making tiny moves with her tools, she says, “What’s the matter, dear? Refusing a gift from an old lady?”

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