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…”

iv) “Can’t read it,” Abia says

“Can’t read it,” Abia says. Everyone turns to her; even Fassn lifts his head to gape. “All symbols and swirls,” she adds.

“Nonsense!” says the wizard, leaving Fassn’s side. Slim tools jut from his lips like farming gear standing up in firm soil. Ulxurix pushes the book closer to Abia, then traces her forefinger over the largest shapes on its cover. At the tip, sparks fizz and crack, leaving a thin trail of smoke. As she traces, the wizard vocalizes phonemes for Abia, slowly working out their sounds aloud.

Abia worked her lips to follow along, the sound growing more and more resonant, the questioning looks from her compatriots receding further into a vague haze.

When the wizard had traced all of the shapes on the book’s cover, and the lighthouse smelled of fried sage, Abia came back to herself. She let her eyes run over the shapes, which now had an undeniable phonetic association.

“What is it, Abia?” Shyan asks.

“Muthugran’s Runes,” Abia says. “Edition one. In original Isi.”

Fassn perks up again. “Can I taste it?”