Actually, both of them had sustained only minor burns and bruises, so they didn't need much medical care. Roland, though quite haggard from all the excitement and spellcasting, told a consummate lie as to how they'd ended up in such a dilapidated condition, and the hospital employees didn't give it a second thought. As soon as the pair were through, Roland teleported away to "neaten up", as he put it, leaving Jason to return home alone.

Somehow, Jason managed to make it back to the apartment without falling asleep en route. Once there, he hastily hit the hay, without hesitation. Roland, upon entering an hour or so later, followed Jason's example.

By the time man and boy woke up, it was midafternoon. Roland told Jason of how he'd returned to 256 Pulliard Street to find it deserted—the men had all fled. Roland had taken his time to search the place. The first and second floors consisted of apparently normal laboratories that seemed to get daily use. On the third floor, every room was dusty with neglect—except for room 3C, which wasn't either of the rooms Jason had visited. There, Roland had found some papers, a laptop, a few firearms and boxes of bullets, and a generous quantity of expensive, top-of-the-line alchemical equipment and reagents—all of which he had appropriated, and were now lying on the living-room floor.

"Are these Piercers, then?" asked Jason, indicating the bullets.

"Now that I'm all rested up, we can find out." said Roland. "My, I cast two teleports and God knows how many attack spells last night. It's amazing I was able to do all that, after a full day's work. That's just one of the benefits of being an Emotion mage." He abstracted a bullet from one of the boxes and placed it on a table.

"You're an Emotion mage?"

"What with all my screaming, couldn't you tell?" said Roland, grinning. He cast a spell on the bullet and concentrated. Nothing appeared to happen. After a moment, he said "It's heavily enchanted, all right. Jason, it appears we have some Piercers on our hands."

Jason gave a low whistle. "Whaddo we do with 'em, then?"

"I'm not sure, but I have a feeling those papers and that computer might help with the decision. Shall we begin?"

And so they set about scavenging these items for useful information. There was a goodly amount of it to be found.

Jake's full name, according to these documents, was Jacob Triskin. ("Not a very Gyeedian name." Roland remarked.) Apparently, he was a bit of a mad scientist—more specifically, a mad alchemist. The documents were filled with experimental data. He'd been trying to create all kinds of things over the last decade or so. All of his attempted inventions were weapons of one kind of another; most, thankfully, had never materialized. Among these ideas were a fluid that magically aroused the ire of any nearby slayer wasps, especially dangerous Gyeedian insects, and an invisible gas that induced a subtle degree of visual hallucination.

In fact, only two of Jake's many projects had succeeded. The more recent one was the crystal ball Jason had seen him carrying; this he called "the Leech". As Jason had observed, it had been able to drain the power out of weak magical items and use that power itself. Fortunately, Jake had produced only one. ("Hopefully he'll have trouble making another." said Jason.)

The other successful project, of course, was the Piercers, which Jake did indeed call by that name. He was a bit of a genius; he'd figured out how to permanently enchant bullets so they could bite through Projectile Shields, and the recipe he'd devised used a relatively modest amount of reagent. It wasn't clear how he'd gotten the original idea, the fundamental alchemical tricks behind the technology, but his records showed how he'd painstakingly perfected it over the course of years. The frightening part was what he'd planned—and probably still was planning—to do with them. He hoped to sell them to the Droydanians, an imperialistic people who particularly despised Gyeeds. ("Yes, a war with Droydania!" Roland fumed. "Just what we need. Here comes Armageddon.")

Jake had already made use of some Piercers. He'd armed all his 'round-the-clock security guards with them, and once, when he'd been low on funds, he'd sold a box to an anonymous black marketeer. Whoever was responsible for the Raincatcher massacre most likely got their Piercers through the latter avenue.

And that was that.

"So… what now?" said Jason.

"I'm really not sure." said Roland. He frowned and swore. "That fiend! He's willing to start a war to quench his avarice—or for some other despicable motive, if not that. And he's already got the blood of those people in Raincatcher Hospital on his hands." He breathed deeply. "Not to mention that he nearly killed me, too."

"Now you know what it feels like." said Jason bitterly.

"It's not as if I haven't been in life-or-death situations before. Mortal peril is an essential part of my job; I told you about that dragon. The fact that this Jacob Triskin character interrogated me just made it more humiliating."

"Uh… dare I ask what you told him?"

"Too much." said Roland, gritting his teeth. "How you met that fellow from the GSD, what we decided to do… everything."

"Including the bit that we didn't tell anybody else?" Roland nodded. "Man alive, he'll want us dead! Think about it. He's got enough dough to hire all that security; it would be trivial to get a sniper to take us both out. A sniper using Piercers! We're gonna need escorts or body doubles or something if we wanna survive!"

"All of which would normally be just as trivial to obtain, but Stanley would inevitably want to know why."

"Are my fears justified, then?"

"Yes, I think they are."

"Great." Jason slumped against a wall. "I guess we're screwed, then."

Roland rubbed his mustache. "Quite problematic, this." His eyes roved about the room until they finally settled on the heaping pile of alchemical supplies lying on the floor. "I may have an idea."


"We could easily sell those for a tidy sum."

"Yeah, but what would we do with the money? If we got our own security, people would notice."

"They wouldn't notice us at all" said Roland conspiratorially "if we were invisible." Jason stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Magic exists, remember?"

"Well…" Jason scratched his head. "I thought that if something as powerful as invisibility were possible, then everyone would use it."

"It is, but not everyone does, because it only comes in the form of a potion—a very expensive potion."

"Oh, now I see where you're getting! We'll buy some potions with the money, right?"

"Precisely. Now, because invisibility potion is so expensive, we'll only be able to buy a moderate amount of it without breaking the bank. That means we'll have to ration it out—which isn't too much of a problem, since drinking small amounts of this particular potion reduces its duration, not its effectiveness."

"So we can take a sip whenever we'd otherwise be vulnerable?"

"Yes, which would be whenever we're on our way to our usual haunts, outdoors. The most obvious time would be when I come to pick you up from the IDC."

"But we'll have to make sure to become invisible or visible only when nobody else is looking."

"Which is what phone booths and bathrooms are for."

"Yeah, now all I need is a Superman costume."

There was a long pause.

"We can't keep that up forever." said Jason. "And Jake will probably stop at nothing. If he runs out of cash, he can always sell some Piercers. We don't have that option. And isn't it only a matter of time till somebody catches on? So many things can go wrong!" He fell silent for a moment. "Moreover, the essential problem still hasn't been solved. Jake can probably still make Piercers." He looked at Roland. "Is there any way we could find him? Divination, maybe?"

"No, there are no seers in the real world."

"Dangit! He's still out there, somewhere." He glanced out one of the room's tiny windows, as if hoping to catch sight of the mad scientist flying by with a jetpack. Then, he collapsed into a chair with a sigh.

Roland sat down across from the boy, watching his face. Neither spoke for a while until the adventurer said quietly "It was very nice of you to come to my rescue like that. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Jason replied, choosing not to enlarge on his motives for the time being. "What happened while I was blind?"

"Thanks to how you freed one of my hands, I was able to cast spells. I would've attacked Jake, but I was kept busy fending off the guards. If I hadn't been tossing fireballs at them like no tomorrow, they would've spilled into the room and overwhelmed us both, even though some of them were blind. When you screamed, Jake clapped his hands to his ears and dropped the Leech—odd, I thought, since the noise didn't seem that loud to me."

"He'd just sucked the power out of my Hearing Charm with that thing," Jason explained, "and he was using that power to focus on me. That's why I screamed. I knew it'd be magically amplified for his ears."

"I see. So, when the object hit the ground, there was a spectacular explosion. I suppose it was more light and force than heat, since you and he were only mildly burned. When he was down, I took the opportunity to stun him. Then I dispelled my other three shackles so I could get to you, and teleported us both out."

"You could dispel those things? Why didn't you do that earlier?"

"As I said, I was otherwise occupied. The remaining guards were just rushing in as we left."

Jason nodded. "Another thing: remember when you were taking on all those guards in the hallway? Why could all those spells go through your Projectile Shields?"

"Oh, the name 'Projectile Shield' is misleading. They don't protect against any type of projectile, just very small solid objects, such as bullets, shotgun shells, and pebbles. Almost everything else can pass through them freely."

"I get it."

The two pondered over everything for some minutes.

"The big, unanswered question is," Jason spoke up suddenly, "who is Kevin Treegate really? I guess this wasn't a trap, was it? I overheard the men talking while you were stunned. They obviously hadn't expected us. Did Kevin want to lead us to them for some other reason? I think we'll have to track him down. But how?"

Roland shrugged. "There's no way I can think of."

"Might we drop in on the GSD?"

"Hmmm… we might be able to manage something like that. It would be terribly dangerous, of course, but better than nothing." He thought for a second. "I have access to plenty of information on that group. Let me check to see if he's actually a member in the first place."

They went to Roland's computer and were about to do so when the adventurer saw a troubling headline scroll by on a news ticker. He pressed a button to show the whole story.

The story included a picture. When Roland saw it, he caught his breath. When Jason saw it, his jaw dropped.

It was the very man they'd been looking for. He had just been killed in a drive-by shooting.