Chapter 2
The Parcel

Vigau, Arielle, Bonaventure

Master Grummond was always a sore spot with Barz Falkner and this did not change when he became Giger Taus. If anything, the years of watching the master he both respected and resented in equal measure being raised up from suckling babe to cheeky preadolescent by the woman he loved only served to inflame the old wounds of years past. It was going to take something a little stronger than barley tea to soothe him.
It is seen as bad form to start on the hard liquor by lunchtime, but in Arielle at least, a few glasses of wine is only civilized. Angry and frustrated though he was, he was careful not to drink too much as he was a bit of a lightweight and there was much work to do yet.
It was approaching midday by the time he returned to his cottage. He gave two knocks on the door before stepping in, it was a simple yet effective code to inform the resident familiars that he was the one unlocking the door and not some burglar or, worse, a Witch-hunter.
"I'm back," he said as he stepped in. "Prissy, where's--"
He had to stop himself. In typical feline fashion, Priscilla was curled up where the sunlight filtered in through the front window. Judging from where she was napping and where the light was, she had been asleep several hours.
Raising his voice slightly, Giger said, "Why am I not surprised?"
Prissy opened her eyes, groggily taking in her surroundings.
"Mra? Wha?"
And then the realization struck her.
"Oh, shoot!"
She sprang up with a start, but it was too late for that now. Giger crossed his arms and gave her a critical look.
"So you didn't get my parcel?"
Before Prissy could make any excuses or plead for clemency, Happy spoke up.
"It's right here," he said, pointing with his head to the parcel on the floor in front of the living room couch where he was coiled up.
"Did you get it, Old Bird?" Giger asked.
"I am not your house servant, Master Falkner," Ramstein replied. There were many things he was not and he was never shy to remind you.
"I did," Happy said.
"You did, Happy?" Prissy asked.
Happy bobbed his head in his serpentine way of nodding yes. This reply presented a conundrum for Prissy's little feline brain that she could not solve by herself. After a moment of the hamster wheel in her head grinding its gears, she asked Giger, "Wait, how did he get it?" Then quickly looked to Happy and asked him directly, "How did you get it? You don't even have fingers!"
"I transformed," Happy replied.
"How did you do that?"
"Like this."
Happy demonstrated by transforming into his human form, a dull-eyed, gangly youth with close-cut green hair (though not quite so vivid as the green of Giger's hair), a bit of a pug nose and no eyebrows.
"Why can he transform on his own!?" Prissy demanded of Giger.
"Because I know he won't get into trouble," Giger told her, "unlike some furry people I know."
"No fair!" Prissy whined, acting more the age of her initial transformation.
Giger was in no mood to discuss, debate or deliberate the issue. He stretch out his hand and said, "Back you go."
Prissy's body glowed and the transformation was reversed, leaving her back in her original form. Though a cat's face is not equipped with the same range of expression as a human's, it was all too clear how thoroughly unhappy Prissy was at all this.
"Hey now, don't pout," Giger said.
Pouting was exactly what she did. Cats and girls both do not tend to take offense well. This was doubly true for someone like Prissy who was both cat and girl.
"She'll be over it by dinnertime," Happy said. "What's in the parcel?"
"Well, let's find out," Giger said.
He had to go fetch his prybar and by the time he returned, Prissy was sitting on the couch next to Happy, looking intently at the parcel.
"Weren't you mad at me?" Giger asked.
Prissy looked away with a pointed "Hmph!"
"You know what they say about cats and curiosity," Happy said with a grin, or he would have been grinning if snakes were capable of doing so.
"I'm not talking to you either, scalybutt," Prissy growled, her ears pinned back in annoyance.
"Knock it off, Prissy," Giger said. "I won't let you transform again if you don't behave."
"You're always so mean to me."
Giger was in no mood to indulge her persecution complex.
"Do I need to remind you what happened to the other familiars once they enacted the Mage Ban? Keeping one familiar is dangerous enough, much less three of them."
Prissy was heedless to the danger, however, boasting, "Yeah, but you'd never get caught by the Witch-hunters."
"Don't forget that they have quite a few mages helping them."
"Feh. They're carnival sideshows compared to you."
Giger grinned in spite of himself and rubbed Prissy's head.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," he said.
Puffing herself up in in smug self-confidence, Prissy boasted, "It gets me a lot of places, First Class Master Mage Giger Taus. Now show us what's in the package."
Giger shook his head. Masters were ranked in degrees, not classes, but Prissy always did have a fuzzy grasp on the facts. That was neither here nor there, though.
"Okay," Giger said, wedging the prybar between the boards of the crate. "Here goes."
The boards came loose easily enough, and after sifting through the straw packing, Giger pulled a thin black box no thicker than his finger, about the size of his hand. It had beveled edges and only the slightest texture to its surface. There were some signs of wear but it was in better condition than many of the samples he had collected.
"What is it?" Prissy asked.
"Lost Technology of some kind," Giger replied.
"How'd you get it through Customs?"
It was only recently that Giger started casting his net beyond the junk dealers and black market traders in Arielle to other parts of Bonaventure and even beyond. It was an expensive business, but now more than ever, he could spare no expense to further his research.
Holding up a one-livre coin, Giger said, "With enough money, anyone will look the other way."
Happy, who usually sat out any discussion, decided to speak up and asked, "But aren't you afraid they might track the parcel to you?"
Giger shook his head.
"No. I set up a system of couriers to throw the government off the trail. There shouldn't be anything to worry about."
"Do you know what it does?" Prissy asked.
"No," Giger said, "but if I can figure it out, it might be just the thing I need."
However, after over six hours of fiddling with his latest acquisition in his lab, Giger was no closer to unlocking the secrets of the Lost Technology than when he started. He had already wasted so much time. All those years of getting nowhere while Kamellia was speeding toward her death. He had to make a breakthrough and soon. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
He was getting nowhere on his own, so it was time to enlist some help. He had a theory that many would dismiss as quackery, but he was now at the point where he was willing to take the risk to put it to the test. It was dangerous for him--extremely dangerous--but Kamellia could not wait any longer while he played it safe.
He gathered what supplies he needed and then made his way back upstairs. While he was donning his cloak, Prissy appeared and asked him, "You're going out again?"
"That's right," Giger said. "I have business to attend to."
"Can I go with you?"
"No, Prissy. Even in the middle of the night, it's too dangerous to walk around in the open with a familiar. The detectors might notice you."
"How long will you be gone?"
"An hour, maybe two."
"You have ring chalk on you," Ramstein noted. "Surely you are not planning to do a casting in the open."
"It has to be done," Giger said. "I've taken what precautions I can."
Ramstein did not try to dissuade him. Instead he told him, "Be careful, Master Falkner. You have not survived this long to get caught now."
Prissy, on the other hand, realizing how serious the situation was, could not be as phlegmatic about it as her elder counterpart.
"It's too dangerous," she said, latching into the hem of Giger's cloak with her claws. "Let me go with you. If the detectors go off, I can distract them while you get away."
She would be signing her own death warrant if she did that and Giger had no intention of allowing it. He stooped down to pat her on the head and told her, "It'll be alright, Prissy. Watch the house."
Giger's destination was a street corner along the Rue Meredy near one of the bridges across the river. On that corner was one of many bronze statues that were scattered throughout the city. These statues were found all over the world. Their origins were uncertain, but it was believed that they dated back to the days before the Cataclysm. These statues were all human in form in a variety shapes and sizes but constrained to realistic proportions. Some were more attractive than others, but there was no idealization or stylization, no element of the fantastical. Despite being so ordinary or perhaps because of it, the statues became featured pieces of public art everywhere from the smallest farming villages to the grandest capital cities.
It was not the artistic merit of these statues that drew Giger's interest, though. If the statues really did exist from before the Cataclysm, perhaps they could be used to connect with the lost history of the world and unlock the mysteries of the Lost Technology. There was only one way to find out.
Giger had spent months researching this spell. He could have tested it much sooner, but the risk seemed too great. That was before he found out about Kamellia. Now what precautions he had taken would have to suffice.
No magic circle could be called simple, but as a high-level spell, this one was particularly intricate. He had carefully copied the design from a master-level spellbook and broken it up among multiple pieces of paper and camouflaged it by writing notes over it. If he did manage to attract any unwanted attention, they would have a difficult time deciphering his true intention.
After a couple of hours of working on the magic circle, Giger was met with a voice.
"And what might you be doing there, Mister... Taus, was it?"
Giger turned to see the local beat cop on his nightly rounds. He did not know the cop's name, but he had seen him enough times to recognize him and apparently the cop knew of Giger as well.
One thing an outlaw wizard excels at is lying, or at least he does if he wishes to remain at liberty while practicing his craft. Giger had a ready answer for inquiries like this.
"An art project," he said. "I need to mark the places to set up the camera."
The average person was utterly ignorant of magic and little better versed in technology. Giger was counting on that for his alibi.
"In the middle of the night?" the cop asked.
"I take my first shot at daybreak," Giger said. I need to have everything in place before then." Seeing the cop get a little too close to the circle, he held up his hand. "Please, watch your step. I can't have you smudging the lines, Officer."
Skeptical, the cop crossed his arms.
"I take it you have a permit for this."
"Of course," Giger said, rummaging through his robes for his wallet. From his wallet, he produced a 50-livre note. "I have it right here. Is this good enough?"
Where deception fails, bribery prevails. The cop took the note, somewhat grudgingly, grumbling as he pocketed it, "You're lucky my daughter has a school play coming up. Damn costumes cost a fortune."
"Always happy to help," Giger replied as cheerily as he could manage.
The cop did not leave right away, though. Looking at the ground, he said, "I don't claim to know any better, but I'd swear that was a magic circle you're drawing."
"Just your imagination, Officer."
"Fair warning," the cop said. "We've got a new Witch-hunter in town. Takes his work real serious, unlike Inspector Clemence. If I were you, I'd avoid doing stuff that might draw suspicion."
Giger gave the officer a slight bow and said, "I'll take that to heart. I bid you a pleasant evening, Officer."
"Nothing pleasant about the beat."
"With your sunny disposition, how can it be anything but?"
Surprisingly, the sour old cop managed the faintest hint of a grin at Giger's jape.
"Keep your nose clean," he said, tapping the side of his own rather broad nose with his club to emphasize the point.
Giger pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and said, "That's why I have this."
The cop snorted derisively and went on his way. Once he was safely out of sight, Giger resumed his work, putting the finishing touches on the magic circle. Once the circle was checked, double-checked, triple-checked, and checked once more for good measure, he was ready to begin.
Clapping away the chalk dust from his hands, he looked to the bronze statue and said, "Let's get started, shall we?"