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?”

ii) Fassn says “Ah.”

Fassn says “Ah.” Nubs of white show through his mottled pink gums. Ulxurix draws a slender implement with a tiny triangular head, and taps at the nubs. The contact makes a flat tkk.

Shyan and Cang lean in to watch, but Cang backs again. “Your breath, Fassn,” he says.

Fassn speaks with his mouth wide. “Maybe you can fix that, too, Madam Wizard?”

As she taps at the nubs with one hand, she rummages her robes with the other. She withdraws a long-handled tool with dense bristles at one end, and offers it to Fassn. He sticks it behind his ear.

Meanwhile, Abia slowly wanders the room. Her eyes fall upon the arcane implements of the wizard’s abode, and continue to fall upon the bookshelf’s empty space. With an effort to ignore it, she makes her way to the cookpot. By all indications, it’s the same one they brought on the wagon — in fact, the liquid appears to be the same, as well. Abia dips a pinky into the gold soup, and as she brings it to her lips, Ulxurix’s voice cuts across the room, saying, “Don’t taste that, please.”

i) The wizard Ulxurix’s lighthouse-top lair

The wizard Ulxurix’s lighthouse-top lair is a small, circular room, with a great pane of glass in one wall, looking out to the grey sea. At the room’s centre is a cookfire, with an iron cookpot atop it. It bubbles with a gold liquid that looks to Shyan for all the world like the same stuff they’d brought here in the first place. She self-consciously feels for the weight of the gold bar, before remembering that Cang’s carrying it. She hopes he still has it.

Lining the walls are machines of brass and wood, ungainly boxes stacked atop one another, connected by looping wires and threads.

Abia’s eyes dart to the bookshelf from which Ulxurix drew the volume she now carries. Its empty spot in the row of tomes glares out at Abia like an abyssal void.

Ulxurix brushes some linens and a small bronze device from a single chair on a low pole, and pats its seat, smiling at Fassn.

“Nice place you’ve got,” he says cheerily, and sits.

Ulxurix claps twice and a gadget recessed into the domed ceiling descends, then stops with a whir just above Fassn’s head. From it dangles a half-dozen drills, picks, hammers.

Ulxurix says, “Open wide.”