The shop clung to a scent that sang of ages past, of worlds and words hidden behind mold and mildew. A patina of dust lay on every available surface and long-unused webs gathered thickly in high corners and behind haphazardly stacks books. Edwin wrinkled his nose at the intricate map—done in oils with vibrant colors and care—that had been shoved against the wall and propped up with tacks so that it curled with dry depression, left to crumble.
“Done by the esteemed Marcius Hlarro,” boasted the keeper—a stooped man with eyes beady from an indoor life and hands twisted from a lack of stretching. He swept a hand across the map, crinkling the dry corners so bits flakes off and dust eddied into the air. “One of a kind. Shows the very soul of Awadar from almost six decades ago.”
Edwin kindly did not correct the man. Merely smiled thinly—not wanting a mouthful of dust—and nodded absently as he carried on through the stacks.
“Can I help you find something? A gift? A bit of historical research?”
“I’m looking for anything on the history of the Serene.”
“Oceanographer? Deep sea fishing stories? Tales of discovery? Of the first crossings?” The stooped bookkeeper moved fast among his stacks and shelves, rattling off questions
“Actually, more myth and legend was my interest.”
“Leviathan sightings? Aquaholes? Iceberg Towers?”
From between the shelves, the bookkeeper turned those squinted eyes toward Edwin. “Birds. Birds like the great rocs or the tiny swallows that morph? Birds that shift out of sight like the flamingos and rooks? Yes, birds.”
The bookkeeper turned away and began to pull and prod through his books, muttering to himself about scary birds and wondrous birds and birds from snow-topped mountains and birds from lava flows. Dust danced in the air, trailing the man through the stacks. In the light, the dust morphed, almost seeming to form wings in the man’s wake.
Edwin turned the opposite direction and ran fingers down spines to see them more clearly. Here was a fiction piece on the marshland nomads. There was a merchant’s diary. Scrolled maps, too old to be of use to any traveler, were heaped so thickly together that the bottom layers were squished and crumbling. Edwin winced to see it.
As the bookkeeper sifted through books and continued his muttering, Edwin flipped through a few of his own, catching just enough of their contents to replace them in disappointment.
He reached the end of one angled aisle, where the books had been stacked on the floor in misshapen piles of misshapen books made by unskilled hands rather than by a master bookbinder. He crouched, pulling free one with water stains, bits of sand somehow embedded in its pressed and crinkled spine. There was no title. No author. No bookmaker’s sigil or scribe’s icon. A feather’s tip—teal and blue, like the ocean—stuck out of the book.
He opened the creaking cover, the leather cut with a ragged knife and binding sewed with a too-large needle. The sliver of bone that had been used, still clutching the last section of stiffened thread, had been left half-sewn into the inside cover. Carefully, he ran his finger over the uneven pages. They were dark and mottled, as if made from a combination of wood with bits of cacao or walnut making some words difficult to read. Incredibly pulpy as well, similar to an amateur’s attempt.
“Here’s one on ship legends,” said the bookkeeper, though he seemed to be speaking to himself. “Here’s one on trade to the Giant’s Belt. Here’s a fiction on gryphons with a research appendix.”
Ignoring the bookkeeper, Edwin turned to the first page of the book.
Isles of Torture, how many bones do you polish? How many men have you eaten? How many winged atrocities fly your skies?
He sat heavily and leaned against the bookcase, the books shifting under his weight in a dangerous slide. As the bookkeeper murmured and puttered, finding stacks of books and notes and maps and articles with sparse mentions of The Flightless or anything related, Edwin turned page after page of a madman’s journal. Read words that made no sense.
Read words that made too much sense.
Were one to believe the man had been washed up on an isle of the Giant’s Whip.
This is a teaser short for the upcoming novel, Lost Isle: The Ocean’s Aviary I