Roland's Revenge

Roland got rid of the two dead bodies shortly, through avenues Jason didn't care to inquire about. They agreed it was worth interrogating the man who'd been knocked unconscious. In the meantime, Jason sat down and told Curtis of his and Roland's adventures at Jake's former lab, and how they'd been trying to hunt him down. Jason had to fight a little to hold the distractible Curtis's attention, but the story didn't take too long.

"The strangest thing" said Jason "is that Jake apparently didn't try to kill us even once during all that time we feared he would, and now he finally has attacked. I guess the recent events somehow led him to change his mind."

When Roland returned, he bound the gunman to the living-room wall with the same spell Jake's employees had used to bind Roland—the irony wasn't lost on Jason. Roland, however, was careful to take away this man's reagents.

Eventually, the hostage awakened. He was big and burly, and Jason feared he might resist interrogation. In fact, he cooperated quite nicely.

"Tell us your name, sir." said Roland.

"Nolan Leafliner." said the man. He sighed a bit, resigned to his fate of being questioned.

"Hm, 'Nolan'." said Jason. "Sounds a little like 'Roland'."

"Well, Nolan," said Roland, "tell us everything you can about Jake and your mission to kill us."

"So you already know about him?"

"Oh, yeah." said Jason, grinning.

"And by the way," Roland cut in, "needless to say, if you lie to us, you will deeply regret it."

"Don't threaten him like that, Roland." Jason chided. "You can see he's trying to play along."

"Just as well." said Roland, staring at Nolan. "Continue, please."

"Well, Jake is an alchemist who discovered how to make Piercers. He didn't tell us much about them. I think he's the only guy who can make them, so he's probably responsible for the Raincatcher massacre."

<Kind of.> thought Jason.

"He lives in King Akolos's castle, in Rorosion." Nolan added.

Jason was taken aback. "Do you have any idea why?" he asked.

"He said that he used to live in Gyeeds. Then the authorities found him," (Jason guffawed here) "so he asked Akolos for shelter."

"And… Akolos just gave it to him?" said Jason.

"In exchange for Piercers."

"Ah, now things are beginning to make some sense. But how did you get here, if you met him in Dojum?"

"I've never been to the Starving Sea; I talked to him over a verseviewer."

"How did you get the Piercers, then?"

"He gave me the password for a safety-deposit box where he'd stored a couple of them."

"Dang, that's pretty clever."

Roland asked "Can you tell us anything else about the relationship between Jake and Akolos?"

"No, sorry."

"Did Jake ever tell you why he wanted us dead?" said Jason. "And when did he give you this mission?"

"Last night." said Nolan. "He never did. Something to do with your meeting with Akolos, I guess." he added, nodding at Roland.

Everyone was silent for a few moments.

"Anything else, Jason?" asked Roland.


"How about you, Curtis?"

"Huh?" said Curtis, looking up from the palm-sized dragonfly he'd just conjured.

"Never mind." said Roland, sighing. "Now, this fellow has served his purpose; what do we do with him?"

"Please just let me go." Nolan begged. "I've been good, haven't I? I'll never have a thing to do with Jake again."

"What do you think, Jason?"

"Well, we sure as heck can't bring him to the real authorities, right?"

"No, it's still best to keep everything secret, as much as possible."

"Well then, I think we should let him go. Beats killing him. I'm impressed that you're even entertaining the idea, vengeful as you are."

"He has been very cooperative. All right, Nolan, we're going to let you loose on the streets."

"Okay." said Jason once everyone was assembled in the apartment once more. "This—this latest development has several consequences, not all of which I've thought through. Regardless, it seems like the most natural thing to do is to hunt down Jake muy pronto."

"Yes," said Roland, "but how would we get back to Dojum?"

"With the gate, of course."

"With what stated purpose? Stanley would be very curious as to why we'd want to go back there."

Jason thought about that for a few moments. "We could use Curtis as an excuse." he suggested.


"We say that, uh, Akolos wants to meet his son's new friends, or something like that. Would he want to meet us, Curtis?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"And… he wouldn't throw me in the dungeon again, would he?"

"Not while you have Curtis's blessing." said Roland. "Curtis generally gets what he wants in the castle, as you might've noticed."

"Ah, yes. So how's that plan, Roland?"

"So far, so good. What precisely will we do about Jake?"

"Well… hey, wait a minute. Curtis, have you ever met Jake?"

"What's he look like?"

Jason's description was lacking: he'd barely gotten a glimpse of Jake before, and what he had seen hadn't been very distinctive. "I don't suppose Akolos ever mentioned him, did he?"

"Nah, we barely talk." said Curtis. "I dunno who you're talking about; there's a lot of guys like that."

"Well… can you think of a man who just appeared there within the last few weeks and doesn't seem to be a normal employee of some kind?"

"Yeah, actually, there is one guy like that. I've seen him in the alchemy lab sometimes, too."

"Aha!" said Jason. "That must be him. Do you have any idea where he quarters?"


"Does he appear in the lab or anywhere else reliably, in the sense that we could find him there?"

"No. It'd be hard to find him 'cause there's so many people in the castle."

"Hmmm… oh, here's an idea. When he does go to the lab, does he use any equipment that nobody else uses?"

"Yeah, he has his own setup."

"Excellent. I just have to sniff that, and then I'll be able to track him down by sense of smell."

"Even with all of the other people in the castle?" asked Roland.

"Well, I might not be able to really follow his trail, but at least I'll know the door to his room when I find it. So, we'll barge in there late at night and interrogate him. Sound good, Roland?"

"I believe so."

"Just one more thing: Curtis, are you willing to help us on this little quest? There's nothing in it for you, really."

"I'll help you with whatever you want, Jay. That's part of the promise."

"Great! Just, please, don't call me Jay. My name's Jason."

"Jay, Jay, Jay!"

Jason scowled. "If you do that, I'm going to call you Curt."

"Go ahead!" Curtis cried defiantly.

"And you can call me Role." Roland joked.

"So be it, Curt. All right, Role, set up our return journey to Rorosion as soon as you can. I'm itching to finally bring this wild-goose chase to a close."

Two days later, the party was in the castle. Akolos had been surprisingly cooperative, receiving Jason and Roland as if they were human beings instead of dogs, causing Jason to wonder at how much power Curtis had over his father. (I'll spare you an account of that inconsequential meeting.) Curtis's approval also allowed Jason free reign of the castle. The latter sniffed around for Jake's scent while the former tagged along for Jason's protection in case they ran into the mad alchemist. Meanwhile, Jason and Roland were treated as esteemed guests and received lavish accommodations.

Soon enough, Jason, Roland, and Curtis were assembled outside of what Jason's nose claimed was Jake's room. They were standing on cold stone flags in a long, high-ceilinged hallway bereft of other people. The Starving Sea's moon shone in through a distant window.

Roland quietly unlocked the door with Curtis's master key and opened it. The room was dark and windowless; there was just enough light to make out a single person lying on the double bed—little more than had illuminated Jason's first encounter with Jake. Roland snuck inside and shackled Jake to his own bed with the same old binding-spell. He covered the man's mouth with his hand and motioned to the other two. The boys came through the threshold; Jason shut the door behind them and turned on the light.

The man woke up instantly. It was Jake, all right. His eyes popped open like a frightened deer's, and he was about to struggle when the feeling of Roland's knife gently pressed against the flesh of his neck stopped him. For the first time, Jason got a good look at him. He was thin; the skin on his face was stretched tightly over his features, his long, pointed nose and his broad forehead. He was balding, and what hair still remained on his pate was a slightly grayish black. His eyes, currently staring at Roland with some degree of indignant fear and anger, but mostly just surprise, were dark and narrow.

"You may speak," said Roland softly, removing his hand from Jake's lips and relaxing the knife's pressure on Jake's neck, "but you must do so very quietly."

Jake sucked in air through his mouth as his expression reverted to loathing. "What do you want from me, gentlemen?"

"We want some answers and some explanations." said Jason, walking up to the bed. "Let's see, where to begin? Ah, yes. Did you arrange Kevin's death?"

"I…" Jake looked at the knife. "Yes, I did."


"I wanted to keep the Piercers secret. When I heard from Roland here that Kevin had been so careless, I had him killed before he could leak the information to anyone else."

"So why didn't you try to kill us back then?"

"Two reasons: first, I thought it would be unnecessary, since you had every intention to keep the secret; second, I feared what would happen if the authorities found what you'd stolen from me."

"Actually, how did Kevin learn of your lab?"

"Well…" Jake sighed. "Kevin and I were old friends. I always knew he was a fool, but you know, friendship works in mysterious ways." His eyes drifted between Jason and Curtis. "Among his eccentricities was a certain morbidity. He was a member of the Gyeedian Society of Death, as I've heard you know; he also belonged to a much more serious, death-worshiping sect called Thanatos." (The actual name of the sect was the Roots word for "death"; the Greek word for "death" is the nearest idiomatic equivalent.)

"Now, somehow—I'm not sure how—someone in Thanatos came up with the basic idea that I later developed into Piercers, and shared it with the other members. Kevin brought it to me, though it was strictly against the rules of the club, because he knew I'd be interested in that kind of thing. I instantly realized the dangerous potential of the idea, and so I worked on it only on the third floor of 256 Pulliard Street, late at night, with several guards to protect me. Even when I wasn't present, I kept the guards there to protect my research. I called the place my 'Piercer lab'. I gave Kevin the address so he could visit me while I was working there."

"Finally, things are beginning to make real sense." said Jason. "So did you choose the name 'Piercer'?"


"How did the Gyeedian government ever hear of it?"

"What do you mean?"

"The branch of the Gyeedian government that investigated the Raincatcher massacre called the Piercers 'Piercers', too."

"They never heard that name from me. I suppose it was a cruel coincidence. Yes, if that hadn't been the case, you wouldn't have thought anything special of the phrase 'Piercer lab', would you have?"

"Another crazy coincidence." said Jason, shaking his head. "So, tell us what happened after you fled from Pulliard Street. How did you end up here?"

"Well, I wanted a place where I could work on the Piercers in peace, as far away from Gyeeds and you two as possible. Dojum looked like an ideal location, especially considering Akolos's recent isolationist decrees. I got in contact with the king, and he agreed to provide me with shelter and a false identity if I provided him with Piercers. And so I came here via chain-verseportation; Akolos quietly allowed me in. Again, everything would've been fine for me if someone hadn't dropped a clue to my location: Akolos was too stupid to be careful with those Piercers, and so allowed a spy to see them being used."

"So Akolos got Piercers long after he made those decrees. Do you have any idea why he did make the decrees, then?"

"Well, he said to me, as he's said to you, that it was to defend against other islands in the Sea. In reality, I think it was to defend against other verses. As you might know, Droydania has been very sympathetic to Dojum lately, to the point of expressing its sympathy with monetary and military aid. Akolos must've feared the reaction of nearby verses on Gyeeds's side."

"And why is Droydania sympathetic to Dojum?"

"Because they're both essentially dictatorships." Roland spoke up, not taking his eyes off Jake. "The multiverse is divided between Droydania and Gyeeds in the way that Earth was once divided between the US and the USSR. There's a name for the division, actually: the Schism."

"I get it." said Jason. "Your development of the Piercers, Jake, is increasingly reminding me of the Manhattan Project. So, this brings us to: why did you decide to kill us a few days ago?"

"Once the Piercers had been made public by Akolos, I began to fear you might have a change of heart and tell the authorities about me. I figured I could take back what you'd stolen, though I was aware of the risks, including this one. Also, my wife thought it was a good idea."

"Your wife?" said Jason. "Who―" Then it hit him. "Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no! This is too ridiculous; this is too contrived!"

"What're you talking about, Jay?" Curtis said suddenly. "Do you know who it is?"

Jason laughed weakly. "All too well. Don't you know, Roland?"

Roland looked at Jason as if he were mad. "Not at all. How should I know who this man's wife is? I suppose this is how you felt at first during our conversation on the maglev."

The boy shook his head sadly. "It's so obvious. It's so painfully obvious." He took a deep breath, then looked at Roland straight in the eye. "His wife is Beatrix."

Roland was horrified. "No! It—it—that's not true, is it, Jake?"

Jake smiled wryly, seemingly forgetting for a moment the mortal peril he was in. "I'm afraid he's got it, Immoralheart. I've been married to your ex-wife for a little under fifteen years now."

A great change came over Roland. His eyes glowed with a strong red light, and a quiet humming noise began emanating from his skin. The air around him seemed hazy. He breathed heavily through his mouth. Jason could see that the adventurer was straining every iota of his will to avoid blasting Jake to bits with a mighty burst of magic.

"So it was you!" Roland hissed.

Now Jake looked mystified. "What are you―"

"Don't take me for a fool! Beatrix, vile mockery of womankind, prepare to slink in the shadows once more!" With that, Roland lifted the knife, its blade glowing orange, and plunged it deep into Jake's heart. The alchemist died instantly and silently. Roland calmed down a moment afterwards, and the special effects abruptly ended.

For several seconds, you could've heard a pin drop, and it would've sounded like a deafening racket.

"Wow, Roland," said Curtis, his expression a mixture of sorrow and fear, "why'd you do that?"

"Because it was long overdue." Roland said simply. He slowly withdrew the blood-soaked knife from the corpse, frowning at it. He cast a spell and all the blood fell off in a sheet, creating a large stain on Jake's nightshirt but leaving the blade as pristine as it had been earlier. Then, he put the weapon back into wherever he stored it in that suit of his.

"Roland…" said Jason slowly "this has gotten far, far out of hand. You can't kill a man for such a petty crime as adultery."

"You think adultery is a petty crime, eh?" said Roland, crossing his arms. "How about inventing a weapon that could directly lead to the death of thousands—nay, millions? Is that a petty crime?"

"Albert Einstein was no criminal."

"Albert Einstein was a physicist whose innocent discoveries lead to the development of the atom bomb. He realized its evil, in time. He did not peddle atom bombs."

Jason threw up his hands. "Well, I take no responsibility for this murder. Good luck covering this one up, Role."