Chapter 1
The Outlaw Wizard

Vigau, Arielle, Bonaventure

"Giger!" a girl's voice piped. "Giger, wake up!"
After a brief pause, the voice became more insistent.
"Wake UP!"
"Ow, dammit!" cried a man. He sounded angry, but before he even opened his eyes, his voice took on a more genial, albeit still groggy tone. "Mornin', Prissy."
And so began another day in the life of the outlaw wizard Giger Taus. Giger was a young man, but in the company of other humans he had a curmudgeony way about him, like most wizards, who are grouchy old men well before their time.
Standing on his chest was Priscilla, or 'Prissy' as he liked to call her. Prissy was his familiar spirit, although the 'spirit' part is misleading as familiars are quite corporeal and entirely tangible. She would not look much different than any ordinary shorthair cat were it not for her ruby-red eyes and her pink-and-white bicolor coat. And the speaking. Most people find talking cats to be irregular, especially ever since the Mage Ban was instituted nearly thirteen years earlier. But more on that later.
"Morning, Giger," Prissy replied cheerily. "Sleepyhead as usual."
In this world of Altamira, there are few people familiar with the words of Benjamin Franklin, even the well-read Giger Taus. Even if he had heard the good advice of the good Mr. Franklin, it is unlikely that he would correct his bad habit of late to bed and late to rise. It certainly did not make him any healthier, wealthier or wiser. It did, however, earn him quite a few demerits back at the Academy way back when.
"Good morning, Master Falkner," another voice said.
Speaking of the Academy, there was old Ramstein, as content on his perch as a three hundred-year-old raven could hope to be. By now talking animals should be no surprise, even one quite so old. Ramstein was a rarity among familiars, having passed from one master to the next over the centuries. In that time, he developed a rather high opinion himself, being unique among familiars, to the point where he started to consider himself the equal if not the better of his human masters. It was not the most endearing quality, but it made him fit right in with the gaggle of raging egomaniacs that wizards are known to be.
"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that, Old Bird?" Giger asked.
Giger Taus was not, in fact, Giger's real name. He was born Barz Falkner, but when you seek to practice magic in defiance of the Mage Ban, you must at least have the sense to change your name from the one conveniently listed in the Academy's rolls. Those who failed to put out even that much effort were rather easy prey for the Witch-hunters.
Such concerns seemed to mean little to old Ramstein, at least within the relative safety of Giger's house.
"I will not participate in your little farce," he replied. "How many times must I tell you?"
Giger simply rolled his eyes. There was no arguing with Ramstein. He was not the sort to be told things. You asked, and depending on his mood, he might or might not comply.
Giger rolled out of bed, with Priscilla following at his heels. Still only half awake and without his glasses, he did not see a certain scaly individual lying on the floor and jumped when he nearly crushed its tail underfoot.
"Sorry about that," Giger said. "Happy? You alright?"
The python lying on the floor did not reply.
"He's in one of his moods again," Prissy said.
'Happy' was the ironic nickname of the already ironically named Apollos. Reptiles are known to be sluggish if not entirely immobile during the winter. For Happy, his entire life was winter. If depression sounds like a peculiar ailment for a magical snake, he had more than enough reason for it, but that is yet another topic for another time.
A wizard is only supposed to have a single familiar. Giger did not have three due to any great skill of his own, though he was quite talented. Rather, it was circumstances that left Giger with the extra boarders, the very same circumstances that led to the Mage Ban.
The Mage Ban was the farthest thing from Giger's mind as he went about his morning ritual, washing his face, getting dressed and heading downstairs for his usual meager breakfast of eggs and toast with coffee while he read the paper. Mundane events were of little interest to Giger, but there was always the chance of a pertinent piece of news somewhere in the pages. At very least, the political cartoons usually amused him.
When he was done reading the paper, he set it down on the table and leaving a half-eaten crust on his plate, he started to get around to go.
As he was putting on his cloak, he said, "Prissy, I have to go out on an errand, but the parcel service should come by in another hour or so. Will you sign for me?"
"Sure," Prissy replied, "but you have to change me first."
"Of course," Giger said.
Giger closed his eyes and held out his hand. While most spells required magic circles, reagents and complicated incantations in long-dead languages, it was a little different when dealing with familiars. Because a familiar is an extension of the mage's own spirit, he could do a number of things with minimal effort. Turning a familiar into its human form was just one of those options.
Prissy's body glowed and began to change shape, stretching and expanding until the rather unordinary housecat emerged an only slightly unordinary pink-haired girl of about eight or nine years. Looking at her human form, though, Prissy was far from pleased.
"No!" she whined, stamping her little foot. "I can't sign for a parcel like this!"
Giger rolled his eyes.
"Oh, alright."
He stretched out his hand again and after glowing and reshaping once more, Prissy now appeared to be a good ten years older, a rather attractive young woman. Prissy seemed to think as much of herself as she immediately struck up pose, and beamed, "Yay! The sexy-cute Priscilla Adult Version is here!"
Giger paid no heed to her as he went to the entryway to put on his shoes.
"Be a good girl while I'm out," he said.
Prissy folded her arms in a mock-pout, saying, "I'm always a good girl."
Giger, of course, knew better.
"Yeah, right. Old Bird, can you keep an eye on her?"
Ramstein puffed up his feathers a little at the mage's presumption and insisted firmly, "I am not a babysitter, Master Falkner."
It was not as if the proud old familiar was going to take responsibility for his capricious young counterpart, but asking was little more than a formality to be observed.
Once Giger's shoes were on, he started to reach for the door handle when Prissy hurried to the entryway and asked him, "Aren't you going to give me a kiss?"
The hopeful look on her face made it impossible for even the coldest of hearts to deny her.
"Very well," Giger said, leaning over to give her a kiss on the forehead.
It was not quite what Prissy was hoping for.
"Boo," she said, disappointed.
"I might be gone for a while," Giger said. "No napping until after you get my parcel."
"You don't have to tell me."
"Yes, I do. Later."
And with that, Giger left his cottage, the fate of his parcel resting in the rather unreliable hands of a cat turned human. Though the shape changed, the nature did not and generally speaking, it is not advisable to entrust any great responsibility to a cat. They are not known for giving priority to much beyond their own gratification. It may not be the most noble way of life, but it is perhaps more honest than the average human who only gives a pretense of having greater priorities than himself.
It was a good twenty-minute walk to the designated meeting place. It was a small cafe near Summer Park. At one of the tables out front sat a bespectacled boy of about twelve. Saying nothing, Giger went to the table and took a seat.
"So good of you to come, Giger," the boy said. "That is what you're calling yourself these days, is it not?"
The boy had a precocious way of speaking, but there was a good reason for that. Giger knew it all too well and that was why he was not showing any great warmth.
"Yeah," he replied.
"Your manners are as poor as ever," the boy chided. "Just because I look like a child is no excuse for you to be so slovenly in your speech."
"Yes, Master," Giger said, as exasperated as he was browbeaten.
The boy laughed.
"I was just giving you a hard time," he said. "You can relax. You're not my apprentice anymore and I'm not that crusty old taskmaster. Amazing how being born again changes you."
"I'm sure," Giger replied.
It annoyed him that the boy was able to speak about it so lightly. In his previous life, Mordekai Grummond was not exactly known for levity, but perhaps reincarnation changes a person.
"You know, I really wasn't expecting you to contact me," Giger said.
Mordekai simply folded his hands and replied, "But you've been watching all this time, I know. Shall we order?"
Giger lazily flagged down a waiter, who came up to the table with notepad and pencil in hand.
"What can I get for you, sir?" the waiter asked Giger.
"I'll have a barley tea," Giger replied.
"But, sir, it's the middle of autumn."
Mundanes always have a way of saying things that grate on the nerves.
"Do you have it or not?" Giger asked irritably.
"Yes, sir," the discomfited water replied, "we have it, but..."
"Then I want barley tea."
"Yes, sir," the waiter replied, not wanting to press the issue any longer. He then turned to Mordekai and asked, "What about you?"
Looking directly at Giger the whole time, Mordekai said, "I'll have coffee. Black."
The saying that the customer is always right did not seem to have much currency here as the waiter balked at Mordekai's request.
"Come on now. You'll stunt your growth, kid."
It was then Mordekai's turn to show some annoyance at the contrary waiter.
"I've pulled an all-nighter and I need the caffeine, you young punk," he said sharply, though his child's voice took away nearly all of the intimidation factor a rebuke from him once carried. "If you aren't interested in giving a paying customer what he orders, then perhaps--"
Giger's timely intervention caused Mordekai to catch himself. In a moment of recomposure, the old man was gone, replaced by a gross imitation of an innocent child.
"I guess I'll have a hot chocolate," he said. He then looked to Giger and asked, "What'd you think, Uncle? Don't you think I've got Max's part down pat?"
Giger awkwardly played along with the scenario Mordekai created.
"Yeah, uh, really nice, but what did I tell you about method actors?"
The waiter had seen all he needed see, backing away while mutter, "I, ah, I'll be going now."
Once the waiter was gone, Mordekai permitted himself a sigh of relief.
"I suppose I should thank you, Giger," he said. "I forgot myself for a moment. Or, rather, perhaps it is more accurate to say that I remembered myself."
Though Giger had been observing this new life of Mordekai's from a distance for years, he knew very little about how it actually worked and now was as good a time as any to learn more.
"Speaking of which, when did you first remember your old life?"
Before Mordekai could answer, their drinks arrived. Mordekai made a point to take his first sip and savor it for a moment before answering.
"I actually awoke during my quickening," he said. "I can't say it was pleasant. There's a reason the human mind takes years to develop. It was, is maddeningly frustrating to have a fully aware, adult mind in a developing body."
Try as he might, Giger could not expel the image of an infant Mordekai at the breast of his second mother, an infant with the mind of a man in his late fifties. It made his skin crawl, but he did what he could to hide his disgust.
"Did Kamellia know right away?" he asked.
Mordekai shook his head.
"No. I kept it from her as long as I could, but she's always been a perceptive girl. A fine girl."
Giger did not much like the wistful tone on that last part. He did not want to ask, but he had to all the same.
"Does that mean...?"
Mordekai smiled and said, "Yes, I've finally accepted her feelings, but she's shut herself off, partly because of this body and partly because of her guilt. Perhaps if I had handled the situation better in the first place, none of this would have happened."
Giger's barley tea may as well have been a cup of bile. The past thirteen years had done little to heal that old wound and here Mordekai was sprinkling on the salt and lemon juice. He looked at Giger and could clearly tell how much it bothered him.
"I feel bad speaking about it with you as I know how you feel about her."
"How I--? Wh, what are you talking about?"
Mordekai saw right through his feeble attempt at deflection.
"Don't play dumb with me," he said sharply. "I've known all along. Besides my age and position, which was reason enough, I didn't answer Kamellia's feelings because I didn't want there to be any bad blood between us."
"You seem to have gotten over than now, you old bastard," Giger said bitterly.
There was venom in Giger's words, but Mordekai seemed to be immune to it.
"The important thing is that we both care for Kamellia," he said. "It's why I've called you here. She's running out of time."
All Giger's anger and resentment were tossed to the wayside in that instant.
"What?" he asked, disbelieving his own ears.
"You already know that she exists in three different incarnations," Mordekai said. "She can't support them much longer. Her essence is spread too thin. It's draining her lifeforce at three times the normal rate. If something isn't done soon, she'll die."
Now that Mordekai mentioned it, it seemed so obvious. You can divide the substance but not the essence. It was such a basic principle. How could he have possibly missed it?
"How long have you known?" Giger asked him.
"About seven years now," Mordekai replied matter-of-factly. "I happened to see one of the other Kamellias by sheer coincidence. I'd thought I sensed a dilution of Kamellia's powers from the beginning, but until then, I thought it was simple atrophy or an after-effect of the incident."
Giger felt numb. All this time spent watching from a distance, not realizing that the woman he loved was speeding toward her death. His anger and bitterness at Mordekai was newly rekindled.
"Seven years..." he growled under his breath. He repeated it, louder. "Seven years. You've known for seven years that Kamellia is dying and you did nothing!?"
Showing little emotion, Mordekai simply motioned with his finger to direct Giger's attention to all the stares he was drawing. He was almost so angry that he did not care, but though backed into a corner, the rational part of his brain warned him that this kind of attention was the last thing he needed right now.
While Giger was struggling to regain his composure, Mordekai said, "There was nothing I could do. Recovering my powers has been like straining a whole cow through cheesecloth. You certainly couldn't do anything about it on your own. Even now, I have serious doubts that our combined strength will be enough to save her."
"You could've told me," Giger said. "I would've worked harder to find an answer."
"You would only have suffered needlessly. I wanted to spare you that."
"You had no right to keep it from me."
As Giger continued to push him, Mordekai's more conciliatory facade slipped, giving way to the inflexible old master.
"It was your own fault for not realizing something so elementary," he said bluntly. "Did you honestly think a single spirit could support three bodies without consequence?"
Giger was left without an answer, but whenever he was struck silent, Mordekai had a way of filling the void.
"You still have much to learn. This accursed Mage Ban has cost you the greater part of your education. I credit you for coming as far as you have on your own, but you're not half of what you could've become had you been able to complete your training."
Giger glowered at Mordekai, but his anger never did have much effect.
"Don't look at me like that," Mordekai chided him. "You know what I'm telling you is true. Rather than resenting me for it, you should accept that truth and move on. We have to work together if we want to save Kamellia."
He was right, as always. As much as Giger wanted to stay angry, to stew on his grudge, he knew that Kamellia's only hope--what little hope she had--relied on the two of them setting their differences aside and working together.
"Can't we just use a fusion spell and bring them back together?" Giger asked.
Mordekai shook his head.
"The ritual is too complicated. The Witch-hunters would find out in no time."
"We just go outside their jurisdiction."
"There is no outside their jurisdiction."
"What then? Are you going to tell me we have to kill off the other two Kamellias?"
"No, of course not. If you kill one of the incarnations, that portion of her essence will dissipate."
Giger was glad that was not an option. Even if it was to save Kamellia, he did not think he had it in him to kill her twice over to do it. However, thinking about the three of them gave him an idea.
"Wait. Going back to the fusion spell, wouldn't it be easier if we got the three Kamellias to cooperate with us? It'd take less that half the etchings to prepare the magic circle."
Mordekai idly rubbed his finger along the brim of his cup as he said, "I fear her cooperation is out of our reach. Surely you've seen how the guilt weighs on her. If anything, she'd see this shortened life as some sort of penance."
"Then what do we do?"
Mordekai looked up and adjusted his glasses, saying, "We turn to the power of the Ancients. We must decipher their works. They had the power to cause the Cataclysm. Surely they have the power to save Kamellia."
"But how?"
"Your study into the Ancients goes further than my own. I believe you're already close to an answer."
Mordekai pulled out a small package from inside his jacket, innocuously wrapped in butcher paper and slid it toward Giger.
"I've managed to acquire some of the Ancients' record plates from the guild's treasure store," he said. "I need you to find a way to read them."
Giger stared at the package. Record plates from the Ancients were one of the greatest treasures in the world. He dreamed of getting his hands on something like this and here it was just being handed over to him. It was easy to forget that the pricelessness of the record plates was only outweighed by how useless they were for all practical purposes.
Giger pointed out as much when he told Mordekai, "It's been three hundred years since the Cataclysm and no one's been able to decipher the Ancients' works or even use any of the Lost Technology."
"We don't know that for certain," Mordekai said. "The powers that be have an interest in suppressing the Ancients' knowledge and preventing use of the Lost Technology. There could easily have been successes in the past, but they were never allowed to get far. We must surpass them if we are to save Kamellia."
Mordekai then extended his hand and rested it on Giger's own. It would have been an uncomfortable gesture thirteen years ago, but now it was stranger still with Mordekai's child hand over Giger's own. Giger was the man and Mordekai the child, but their roles had not changed.
"I don't need to ask you to do your best," Mordekai said. "I already know you will. You have poor manners and the years have done little to mature you, but you are still one of my finest pupils. I have every confidence that if there's a way, you'll find it."
His words were supposed to be encouraging, but Giger found little comfort in them. Kamellia's life had been thrust into his hands and now he had to do something that he had been unable to do after years of research. It was just like Mordekai Grummond to give him an impossible task and expect perfection.