v) “Obviously,” says the wizard Ulxurix

“Obviously,” says the wizard Ulxurix. “Books are for tasting! But first, be a good boy and stay still.

“Deal,” says Fassn.

Abia opens Muthugran’s Runes with great trepidation. The heavy pages seem to resist her efforts, and only after a brief struggle is she able to glimpse within the book. The pages are the colour of clotted cream, the text a vibrant ochre that, she shudders to think, could once have been blood.

She’s surprised to find ledger lines and stroke diagrams, perfectly legible thanks to Ulxurix’s enchantment. The text and illustrations defined several rudimentary runes and magical squiggles. Abia finds herself tracing the shapes in the air with her forefinger.

Suddenly, an alarm blares. It’s a shrieking mechanical bird, on a perch of brass. It thrusts its long metal neck at Cang. All eyes follow it to him, where he is frozen mid-pace, with a crystalline object from Ulxurix’s writing desk in his hands.

Cang blinks, opens his mouth, closes it. He clears his throat, and begins, “Well, you see, the thing is…”

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