A deaf girl leads a quest to right a spell gone wrong in the webcomic Runewriters

Magic can be a tricky thing at the best of times, but it's even less predictable where demons are involved. Severian is a Runewriter, a magical shapeshifter who helps keep his city safe from demonic aberrants. But when an experimental spell taints his body with aberrant magic, Severian must rely on the one person he never expected to: his deaf best friend, who must leave home and speak for him — and learn to speak for herself as well.

Shazzbaa Bennett's Runewriters opens on lifelong friends Severian and Tareth. Magical Severian is impulsive, relishing his position as Runewriter as he fights off the bizarre creatures known as aberrants. Tareth, on the other hand, is observant and thoughtful. Thanks to her disability, her family has sheltered her, hardly letting her out of the house without Severian at her side. Few people in the city have bothered to learn the sign language Tareth uses to communicate, and although she knows how to speak, she rarely does so except in front of Severian and her own family members. But Tareth has become an adept lip reader, and she's aware that people tend to underestimate her intelligence.

Severian crosses paths with a new aberrant just as a crew of aberrant hunters has marched into town. The Agorath Order is a fundamentalist group of demon hunters, dedicated to eradicating any aberrant taint from the world. When Severian takes the shape of an aberrant in order to fight the demon, he finds that he can't completely shift back to his true form. His hands have turned to tentacles; his feet have become clawed and monstrous and he's picked up a skeletal tail. Now the Agorath Order is convinced that Severian is turning into an aberrant himself.

Severian can't rid himself of the aberrant taint on his own, and decides to leave the city to find another Runewriter, one who might be able to restore his human form. But given that every aberrant hunter wants to kill Severian on sight, Tareth insists on going with him, leaving her home for the first time.

Bennett also runs the diary comic Today Nothing Happened, which shows off her talent for capturing dialogue. In Runewriters, she displays a wider range of skills: her character design, her coloring, and her ability to build a mystery. Why Severian's runecasting went awry isn't the only question the comic asks; there are some dark secrets buried in the Agorath Order as well. But I suspect the most fascinating aspect of Runewriters will be watching Tareth come into her own as she slowly grows from the girl everyone protected to a woman who can face down demons and mages with the increasingly steady sound of her voice.

[Runewriters]