Mount Olympus

Though giving his letter to Nordon to be anonymously made public on the Internet gave Jason some hope, nothing happened immediately, and he was afraid that his letter might be entirely ineffectual. After answering a question about Nordon's uncle's will, he had no further interaction with anybody outside the party until the four of them appeared before the Droydanian court for the first time. The number of crimes the lot of them had committed by now was staggering: the murder of the Jilothic prison guards and escape from the Jilothic prison; the murder of Jacob Triskin; illegal travel to, from, and within Droydania; the theft of Ursamor's bracelet; freeing Caleb Vespinus from jail; assaulting Hayms Nepa's guards; and the list went on. Even without a few of the party's exploits that weren't yet known to the public, like killing the Thanatos cultists and breaking into the Droydanian Museum of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, it was a formidable array.

Thankfully, before the trial could go much of anywhere, the "veritable platoon of guards" (there were eight in the group) arrived at an unusual hour at the party's cell to inform them that their case had been transferred to the High Court. The foursome packed up their nonexistent belongings—Jason had had the foresight to stuff the coin into his cheek again as soon as he'd heard the guards' footsteps—and were summarily taken to Gyeeds, in which city, Roland had neglected to mention, the High Court was physically located. Jason smiled to look upon the streets of his home-away-from-home. They were handed over to a group of the High Court's own guards, who brought them to speak with a court official, who patiently explained that a number of Interdimensional Councilmen had voted to transfer the party here in light of a certain letter that Jason had allegedly written. They were offered bail, but it was an exorbitant sum, far more than Roland could've paid while he'd still been Adventurer. On the other hand, they were entitled to a public defender.

"No thanks." said Jason. "We need to do this on our own."

"Are you―" Simon began.

"Positive." said Jason.

And then they were back in a jail cell, albeit a much more livable one. In fact, they didn't stay there for long. Within two days, the party was released to the fresh air, informed that Akolos himself, King of Dojum, had paid their bail. They were only required to remain in the city of Gyeeds for the duration of the trial.

"Well," said Jason, blinking in the late-spring sunlight, "I didn't see that coming. Anyone know why he did that?"

"He likes me." said Curtis, shrugging. "Problem is, outside of prison, where can we sleep? We don't have any money, and probably someone else took Roland's house."

"I'm happy to be free, at least." said Roland, taking a deep breath of the familiar urban air.

"We should go now." said Curtis.

"What do you…" Jason began. Then they all looked in the direction Curtis was looking, and saw the swarm of reporters closing in on them. "Dangit, Roland, you said there weren't any paparazzi in Gyeeds!"

"There aren't any. Those people are from legitimate news sources; they want real stories, not just photographs. We're worthy headlines by now, I think. All the same, I'm not eager to be interviewed right now."

"Come along, then." said Jason, and they ran off. The reporters didn't give chase.

Jason did, in fact, have of an inkling of how they might obtain a dwelling—not any ordinary home, but one so well hidden that the party might be able to continue using it even if they became fugitives again. He used a computer console in a telephone booth to look up the address of Cade Uffet, the Will mage who'd constructed the homes of Ernest and Leela, and then the party set off on the four-hour walk across the city to his house.

("Fancy that, a mere four-hour walk." said Roland. "We're lucky Cade's in the same neighborhood as the High Courthouse.")

When they arrived, Cade greeted them warmly. He allowed them to collapse on a long, antiquated couch in the living room (they sat in the order Roland, Jason, Curtis, Simon), quench their thirsts, and catch their breaths (only Roland had easily endured the walk) before compelling them to talk. He and his aging wife, Frieda, looked at them with concern from matching armchairs.

"I read that letter in its entirety." Cade said at last. "I see that your goals have changed a great deal from the time I met you boys. And Simon, how long it been since we last saw each other?"

"Over two years." said Simon. "We haven't spoken since you created my mother's hideout. Looking for her has become a secondary concern, over the past eight weeks or so. We're mostly interested in thwarting the tyranny of Droydania, as Jason explained." To Jason, it seemed odd to hear Simon lie.

"It's a noble calling, I suppose." said Frieda. "But why, really, did you take it upon yourself?"

"It's a long story." said Jason quickly. "You'll watch it play out in court along with the rest of Gyeeds, no?"

"More or less." said Frieda.

"Where will you be staying now?" said Cade. "Do you have a home?"

"In truth," said Jason, smiling slightly, "that's what we came here to talk about."

Cade looked wary. "You know how I feel about those hideouts I made for criminals. With all due respect…"

"Quite simply, Cade," said Jason, "those criminals were the scum of society: burglars, kidnappers, assassins. Am I right?" Cade nodded tentatively. "We may break the law, but we do it ultimately for the sake of justice; justice for which all right-thinking people yearn, but the law as it is now will never deliver."

Cade sighed. "I won't pretend I don't see your logic. I know Droydania's evil as well as any emigrant. And I do owe you. But still, you have to understand…" He fell silent.

"Cade," said Simon, "please do it for me."

Cade grit his teeth. "Fine. Rest for a few more minutes, and then we'll go over a map to look for a site."

By the following day at sunset, Jason, Roland, Curtis, and Simon had a brand-new home, one large room dug into the side of a steep hill about a hundred and fifty miles (a brief maglev trip) away from the courthouse. It had no electricity or running water; the inside of it was covered very roughly with plaster; its only furnishings were four sleeping-bags, a tall battery-powered lamp, and a laptop computer (all paid for by Roland, who had with some difficulty unfroze and reclaimed his bank account). In short, it was very much like the party's old mountainside cave. It was hardly a comfortable place to live, but by traveling to and from it exclusively via teleportation (Roland had bought reagents before even thinking about furnishings), the party could keep it absolutely secret. Thus it served as a handy hideaway from the prying eyes of detectives, reporters, and Supernals. Jason dubbed it "Mount Olympus".

After two weeks of preliminaries—picking a jury and so forth; Jason was reasonably happy with the outcome—both the party and Droydania's lawyers appeared together, in court, before an audience of a judge, the jury, and the general public, for the first time. Room 227 of the High Court was vast and threatening in its gleaming hardwood magnificence; the crowd, easily covering a floor full of seats and a standing-room-only balcony, awakened the first real feelings of stage fright in Jason's breast. It didn't help that he recognized more than a few familiar faces in the crowd. Talbot Iceslicer, the admiral who'd joined Jason and Roland on the "Argo", was there. Keaton Stoneback, the adviser to Stanley who'd led Jason, Roland, and Curtis to Thanatos, was there. Meredith Pollux, the teenage soldier who'd shared a Jilothic prison cell with Jason, was there. There were Lylan Flametamer, Jason's old Common teacher; Nolan Leafliner, the killer hired by Jake who Roland had agreed to let go; Gunther Oltob, the captain of the "Argo"; the mother of a boy who Ernest Seadweller had possessed; the Hoonian alchemist who'd given Jason the Sensory Enhancer; and dozens of other people Jason only faintly remembered. Then there were those who he didn't know but were close to his friends, such as Roland's parents, who watched disapprovingly from the balcony and with whom Roland never voluntarily made eye contact throughout the entire trial. Jason counted his blessings: Beatrix was conspicuously absent, as was the gangster who'd put the bomb under the dinner table.

The prosecutors spent that day, and the following several days, presenting the evidence that Roland had killed Jacob Triskin. Jason was relieved to learn that Roland had cleaned up thoroughly enough that the prosecutors didn't have any fingerprints, DNA samples, splinters of wood from the handle of Roland's knife, or similar identifying trace evidence. They did have a number of witnesses: two citizens of Dojum, complete strangers to each other, who had seen Roland dump Jake's body and possessions into the Starving Sea, and a distant relative of the Dojese royal family who'd been sleeping in the room adjacent to Jake's the night of the murder, and had thought he'd heard Jason's and Roland's voices in there.

"All right, guys," said Jason as the party lounged around in Mount Olympus, "we need to figure out what to do now. First of all, in your opinion, is Droydania's argument convincing?"

"I would say so." said Roland. "They have strong circumstantial evidence, and I'm sure the jury realizes there really is no reason we would return to Dojum other than to catch Jake."

"The TV says we've already lost." said Curtis.

"Who on TV?" Jason asked.

"The High-Court Report." said Curtis. The name didn't rhyme in Common.

"What's that?" said Jason.

"It's a news organization that's dedicated to, as its name suggests, reporting on the High Court." said Roland. "It's very well respected; it's about a decade older than yours truly, and it employs a staff of distinguished scholars of law to analyze the goings-on of the court."

"So is their opinion an accurate barometer of our performance?" said Jason. Roland nodded. "So we're off to a bad start. Unfortunate. Now, in order to be at least somewhat consistent with our letter, we have to say that you, Roland, really did kill Jake, but that you killed him in self-defense."

"That's a difficult argument to make" said Roland "in light of the royal relative's testimony. Had there been a struggle, he would've heard it. We could create a new alibi and then later, if necessary, make some excuse for how you lied in your letter."

"Maybe. But we need to think of our long-term strategy. We simply can't win this case by proving our innocence—we're not innocent, and there's so many crimes we've committed. Our only chance is to somehow thwart the trial. Say there's a mistrial of some sort. What happens then?"

"We get a new trial." said Roland. "The only circumstance in which we would not be retried is if the prosecutors intentionally violated procedure, as by lying under oath. Then, interdimensional rules about double jeopardy, like those of the United States, would protect us from being retried for the same crimes."

"For all our crimes?"

"All of them."

"So that's the ticket. We have to convince the judge that the prosecutors have done wrong. Then we can, quite literally, get away with murder."

"That's much easier said than done. Proof of such wrongdoing would be held to the highest standard—it would have to be beyond reasonable doubt—and Droydania's lawyers, knowing the penalty, will be loath to break the rules."

"Well," said Jason, "I think I'll have to convince them, somehow."

This was, Jason decided after a day of scheming fruitlessly, perhaps the most formidable obstacle he had yet encountered. Even if the danger wasn't quite so imminent as it had been when he'd faced giant monsters, he longed for the simplicity of the problems he'd tackled in former days. Now, there were so many different factors to juggle, and so many people working against him. The world was watching. If there was anything even remotely suspicious about anything he did in court, he could be sure that someone, somewhere, would figure out exactly what he was up to.

Happily, it wasn't too long before he dreamed up a working plan. It was intricate, about three times as complicated as his usual tricks, and thus about three times more likely to go terribly awry in a deadly way. If it worked, though, the four of them would not only avoid punishment, they'd be in better shape than ever.

"I've discovered" Jason announced one day in Mount Olympus "how to get this thing" (he held up the magical coin) "to answer questions with more than two possible answers."

"How?" said Curtis.

"Well, say I want to know what your first name is." said Jason. "Is the first letter of this kid's first name 'A'?" he asked—except he referred to the first letter of the Common alphabet, not our letter "A". He flipped the coin and got the eyes. He continued through the alphabet until he got the eagle; then, he asked, "Was that the last letter?" No, it wasn't. So he went on, in that laborious fashion, to show from the coin alone that Curtis's first name was "Curtis".

"You could make it a lot more efficient than that." said Curtis.

"What do you mean?" said Jason.

"Well," said Curtis, "don't start with the first letter of the alphabet, start with the middle letter, and ask if the letter's above or below that letter. Then go on recursively for each subsequence."

Jason thought about that for a moment, then slapped himself on the forehead. "Of course! That's what Miles was telling me! You can use the coin to find out more or less anything by just 'zeroing in' on the answer you want."

"Right." said Simon. "But were you thinking of any particular application of the coin before you started this conversation?"

"Yes, indeed." said Jason. "Roland, are you a good hacker? I mean, can you breach network security systems and that sort of thing?"

"I have the basic know-how." said Roland. "But I'm no security expert. And I don't have anywhere near the computational resources to launch a full-scale attack," he added, glancing at the laptop, "if that's what you're thinking."

"But with the coin," Jason pointed out, "you could discover any password or the like that you needed."

"Yes, actually, that does change things a great deal. I could access any sort of administrative account. And I could make myself untraceable by routing my signal through as many foreign servers as I pleased, and deleting logs afterwards."

"Okay, here's what I want you to do. Transfer a sizable sum of money from somebody's bank account, laundering it as necessary, to that of some influential person in the High-Court Report. Send an anonymous message saying that more is to come, regularly, so long as the organization consistently reports that we're winning the case and that Droydania might as well give up now."

"Jason," said Simon, "it seems to me crucial that we avoid committing more crimes in the process of avoiding punishment for the crimes we've already committed."

"I appreciate the sentiment," said Jason, "but I can't think of any other way to do this—can you?"

"I can't tell what your plan is in the first place." said Simon.

So Jason explained it. "That ought to sufficiently reverse our fortunes, right?"

"Possibly," said Simon, "but I'm by no means ready to endorse such wrongdoing on our part. Surely you realize that it's unethical to―"

"We really don't have a choice." Jason cut in.

"Simon's right." said Curtis, scowling. "We won't be any better than the bad guys if we do all that."

"Roland," said Jason, "are you willing to go through with this?"

Roland glanced at Curtis for a few seconds, then looked back at Jason and said "I am."

To Curtis and Simon, Jason said "That's all I really need. All you two have to do is play along. If you do, we have a decent chance to escape all this unscathed. If you don't, and you tell on us or something, Roland and I will be executed, and you guys will get out of prison in Simon's forties if you're exceptionally lucky. It's your choice."

"Can't you think of something else?" said Curtis.

"Oh, we could just run away again," said Jason, "but I'm sick of that. Aren't you? We finally have a chance to wipe our slate clean. Let's take it."

"There's no guarantee that this will endear us to the public." Simon pointed out.

"Actually, considering the effect my letter had," said Jason, "I think there's no reasonable doubt that if we pull this off successfully, we'll be seen not as borderline lunatics, but heroes—in Gyeeds, anyway. I mean, you know what's been going on in Gyeeds. You know how Stanley has been dethroned. You know how much hostility has built up against Droydania and everything it stands for. You saw how packed that courtroom was. There are already people rooting for us, albeit quietly. All Gyeedians needs is for us to justify their feelings, and then they'll be happy to embrace us as their very own freedom fighters."

"So what exactly will we do afterwards?" said Simon.

"Does that mean you'll cooperate?" said Jason, smiling.

"I—I think so." said Simon hesitantly. "Although I certainly have qualms about implicitly endorsing your actions by benefiting from them, I have a feeling that… our efforts to find my mother, and discover the truth about the Supernals, are, in fact, for the greater good. I've come to agree with you that the four of us, working together, have the best chance to find the root of the strange troubles that haunt the multiverse. And I acknowledge that not being hunted by the law will aid us in the pursuit of that goal a great deal."

"Very good." said Jason quietly. "And so we'll resume the pursuit of Leela the moment this trial is over. Curt?"

"Oh, I dunno." said the prince painfully, touching his forehead. "I really don't know. I'll play along. But I don't know what's going on. Now, I think I just wanna go back to living in the castle."