“The blacksmith,” Shyan says, her tone dour and disbelieving. “What could you possibly have against him?”
“He’s a competitor and rival,” Ulxurix says. “You could have brought your soup to him and I’ve been out of a commission. Not to mention your young friend’s dental work, here.”
Fassn waves amiably.
Cang subtly elbows Shyan. “What is this blacksmith’s name, madam?” he asks.
“Horton Belwether,” she says, grinning. “You can make it look like an accident, if you want.”
“Good thinking, sister,” says the wizard. “Best make it look like an accident. I don’t want his whole ruddy family coming up here to knock my lighthouse down.”
Shyan sighs. “Looks like we’re off to the smithy.”
With some unease, Shyan gestures to the weapon at her hip, and says, “What do you think we’re doing with these old things?”
“They are not merely for hunting our dinner,” adds Cang.
“Good, good,” chirps the wizard, in an oscillating cadence. “Let me describe your mark!”
For a few moments Ulxurix works herself into a righteous fury, decrying her dreadful rival, whom the gang is to make suffer in exchange for Fassn’s teeth. The portrait is that of a middle-aged fellow, overweight, with a wife and four children.
“He lives at the centre of town,” says Ulxurix.
“Town? As in, this town?” Shyan asks.
“Of course,” the wizard replies. “He’s the blacksmith!” She cackles with manic delight.
“Look, maybe there’s something we can do for you in exchange?” Shyan asks. “We’re real good at running errands.”
Ulxurix ponders. “Errands,” she muses. “Errands.”
“We could deliver something, or pick something up,” Shyan continues, doing her best to goad the wizard.
“We could bite or chew something,” Fassn adds. Abia squints at his teeth and he grins, proud. She taps them with her fingernail.
Shifting his bag to more readily hide the bulging gold bar, Cang says, “Yes! We could bite or chew,” going right along with the absurdity of the statement.
“Well,” Ulxurix says. “I don’t need anything, delivered, picked up, bitten, or chewed.” She taps at her chin with one finger.
“Found? Lost? Broken? Fixed? We’ve got all sorts of skills,” Shyan says.
A malicious glint flashes through Ulxurix’s eyes. “How about ‘killed’?”
“I’m afraid I know nothing of wings, young man,” Ulxurix says, though she appears no older than Fassn. “But at least you’ve got those new chompers, no?”
He clacks them excitedly, pulling small objects from his pockets. He bites each in turn, making ghastly sounds of mastication.
“So how much was this procedure, hm?” asks Shyan, her face set.
Ulxurix makes a show of humming and hawing, adding imaginary figures in her head. All the while, she smiles with glee. Her tattoos sparkle and swirl. “Well, let’s say, a fifth of a bar?”
“A bar?” Cang asks. “Is that some sort of obscure local currency?”
The wizard nods to his bag, where a single heavy brick weighs down the leather. Her grin widens.
“Wait,” Shyan says, but Cang interrupts her.
“A fifth of a bar? Scandalous! Outrageous! This gold belongs to us, madam!” he says, indignant.
With a meek look, Fassn adds softly, “Thanks for making it, by the way.”
“For you and your new teeth? Anything!” Ulxurix clasps her hands like a proud mama, then sweeps Fassn up in a hug. When she lets him go, she’s all business. “A fifth of a bar, please.”
The mention of a fee sends an uncanny shudder down Cang’s spine. “Oh, I suppose I need not have a souvenir, in that case,” he says carefully, watching the wizard’s reaction.
She chuckles. “Not for that. A souvenir is a gift! Dental work, on the other hand,” she says, letting her words trail off as all the eyes in the room find their way to Fassn.
“Superb!” Cang exclaims. “He shall pay his bill forthwith.”
Fassn chomps happily, savouring the strong clacking noise issuing forth from his fresh jaws. Realizing everyone’s still staring at him, he pats his pockets. “I’m broke,” he says. He holds his hands up, palms out.
“Broke,” Ulxurix chuckles. “But I’ve only just fixed you!”
Fassn grins, his smile luminous. “Wanna go double or nothin’ on these wings?”
“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…”