Wherein Jason Meets Three New People

With a loud, crackling snap of electricity, the Argonauts found themselves in something like a warehouse. It was large—it had to be, since the gate, that futuristic-looking Gateway Arch in miniature, was nearly fifty feet tall. Yet the place wasn't too large; in fact, its dimensions made it almost a cube. This was in stark contrast to the enormous hall where the Gyeedian gate stood.

"Welcome to the Sea, gentlemen." said an official wearing green. "May I see your passports?"

There was a loud thud as everyone's luggage hit the floor at once, followed by the noise of thirty-six people rummaging around in pockets, bags, and suitcases for the requested item. Among these people were Jason, Roland, and Talbot Iceslicer, the admiral who'd come by Stanley's request. Talbot was fifty-one years old and decorated with a formidable fraction of Gyeeds's many military awards. He felt that this mission was beneath him, and, as Jason had feared, he was especially bitter about ranking equally with the boy. The rest of the group were soldiers and sailors, all male and ranging in age from fourteen to thirty. Few of them were very famous or skilled wizards, much to Talbot's further disdain.

The group walked out of the building and into the evening sunlight. Jason did a double-take—it had been early morning when he'd entered the gate just a few minutes ago. Then he recalled that this part of the Sea was in a different time zone from Gyeeds. It was a different season, too: early spring. He didn't look forward to the inevitable jet lag.

This was Pewpik, one of the richest cities in the Starving Sea. That wasn't saying much: the Sea's gravity crippled its nations' ability to trade, and a minority of the islands had many natural resources to speak of, making the Sea one of the IDC's poorer members. Pewpik was prosperous by comparison. Casting his eyes about, Jason saw groves of austere, several-story concrete buildings and large houses. The natives who stopped to gawk at the curious procession were dressed comfortably; their clothes were in good condition. At the same time, Jason noticed that all the roads were of unpaved dirt, and there were no skyscrapers to speak of.

The dimensional gate was conveniently located right next to the city's seaport, a long strip of metal lining the beach. Parked at its piers were a few ocean liners and freighters so big they made Jason's eyes bug out. It was the smallest of these, which was still enormous, that Jason and company walked toward now. As soon as the party reached the ship, more men swarmed out of it to help bring all the luggage up a ramp. Jason took the time to admire the ship. (<My ship!> he thought.) It was a real Moby Dick, a great white leviathan of steel. On its side, "Argo" was spelled out phonetically in giant blue Common letters. Although it was a warship of sorts, it had no weapons, as any solid projectiles shot over the Sea would zoom straight down, into the water. It wasn't very streamlined, either, since the slab of cibium at the bottom had to be beneath every part of the ship, plus a small area about its perimeter for safety's sake. For more safety, the railing surrounding the decks was especially high.

"It's a good thing we've got plenty of Sea sailors." said Talbot. (Well, I suppose I was exaggerating when I said he was bitter. He spoke to Jason freely, even though he was upset about the balance of power. Let us just say he was resentful.) "They're a good breed of mariner."

"Sea sailors as opposed to what?" asked Jason. "Lake sailors?"

Talbot glanced down at the boy. He looked like the veteran military officer he was: his hair was silver-gray, his face was craggy and lined, and his eyes had a certain wild cunning in them. "I meant men from the Starving Sea."


Once all their baggage was on the ship, the remaining Argonauts clambered up the ramp. As soon as Jason's shoes hit the deck, a tall, wiry man approached him.

"You are Jason Blue, correct?" His Common had a decidedly non-Gyeedian ring to it. On his chin was a small, pointed goatee that Jason had to stop himself from giggling at.

"Yeah, that's me." They clasped hands.

"Gunther Oltob, captain." He turned to Talbot. "Hello again, Admiral." Then, to Roland, "Adventurer! I never thought I'd meet you in person."

"Consider yourself lucky, then." said Roland.

They clasped, laughing politely, and Gunther said "Well, gentlemen—and boy—come along to my quarters, so I can show you the route we'll be taking."

The four of them walked down some stairs and into the interior of the "Argo". Jason was surprised at how un-nautical it looked. Subconsciously, he'd expected something like the inside of a seventeenth-century Spanish war galleon. In fact, the claustrophobic white halls suggested a wild cross between a college dormitory and an office building, albeit one with portholes for windows. The ceilings were lined with fluorescent lights—most painfully bright, some quite dim, a few flickering rapidly.

In the spirit of democracy, the captain's quarters were only distinguished from anybody else's by their proximity to the bridge. It had a bed, a desk, and a few other miscellaneous furnishings; that was all, and it was cramped with all four of them in there. Gunther sat down at the desk and unfurled a huge map onto its surface while the other three watched over his shoulder.

"We are here." said Gunther, tapping one of the easternmost of the many islands dotting the Starving Sea. Indicating a bigger landmass on the opposite end of the chart, he added "They are there."

"Looks like we're in for a long voyage." said Talbot.

"How long do you think it'll take?" asked Jason.

"We should arrive in about fifteen days, assuming we don't run into any trouble." said the captain.

Jason nodded. He'd heard that estimate before, when deciding how many clothes to pack, but it was good to hear it from the guy who'd be piloting the ship.

"And we all know how unlikely that is." said Roland.

"Yes, very." Talbot agreed.

"We would be able to get there faster," said Gunther, "but we have to take a winding kind of route, in order to avoid the more dangerous seas." He traced with his finger a roundabout squiggle that led from Pewpik to Dojum.

"Exactly how dangerous will this journey be?" asked Jason.

Talbot answered "To be honest, we can't be sure. The people who live on most of these islands are reclusive folk; they have little contact with nearby nations and almost none with the rest of the world. Only a few possess cibium-bottomed ships. We could still be threatened by those who do, however, if they're hostile."

"Do you think we have enough of an army to handle whatever they might throw at us?" asked Roland.

"Most likely." said Talbot. "What our soldiers lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. And this ship… it isn't top-of-the line, but we might still be able to outmaneuver larger vessels, so long as you" (he turned to Gunther) "are good enough."

"I should hope so." said Gunther, a little defensively.

"Y'know, I was kinda hopin' I'd be able to pick the route," said Jason, "but I guess you two know better, anyway."

Talbot nodded, smiling faintly.

It was not long until the "Argo" heaved off, heading west towards the setting sun. Jason went around the ship and met his fellow mariners. Their attitudes towards him varied greatly. Some asked excited questions about how he'd convinced the dragon not to eat him or turned Ernest Seadweller into a cat. Others were openly resentful about being led by someone who'd never seen the tip of the elephant's trunk. A couple of the men native to the Starving Sea simply refused to acknowledge him: their culture was a deal less tolerant of children in power than that of Gyeeds. All in all, there were fifty people aboard, just the same as on the mythical "Argo".

Jason watched the slow nightfall from the ship's deck. On land, he'd thought the ship was big; now, it seemed tiny compared to the vast and endless ocean. The water of the Starving Sea did not constantly flow up and down, back and forth as that of other seas did—it, too, was affected by the supernatural gravity, and was thus as smooth as a taut scrap of rubber. With no land in sight, the ship was alone in the middle of everything. Surrounding it on all sides was nothing but the planar sea and planar sky, stretching above and below to meet on the circular horizon. The uncanny invariance of the scenery was relieved only by the setting sun.

Jason wound up his arm and tossed a pebble (which he'd made sure to bring for this very purpose) over the ship's railing. As soon as a molecule of its substance was above the water, the rock made a perfect ninety-degree turn in mid-air and zoomed downwards in a straight line. There was a loud thud as part of it hit the ship's hull, and then all was silent again.

<At least I didn't have to learn how to swim.>

The captain's quarters boasted one feature over most of the ship's rooms: they had only one bed. Jason and Roland, on the other hand, shared a compartments with a bunk bed. Jason took the top bunk.

Night had finished falling by now. The blaring fluorescents were off; the only illumination in Jason and Roland's room was the moonlight flowing in through the porthole. Roland lay in bed while Jason sat on a chair beside him. They were having a chat before going to sleep for the night.

"There isn't a gym on this ship." said Roland. "How am I supposed to stay fit?"

"Do you need to?" asked Jason.

"Of course." He turned to the boy. "I'm the Adventurer of Gyeeds, you know! I have to be ready for anything."

"Did you exercise regularly before you got elected?"

"Well, yes. You know me; I like to be healthy. I eat three square meals a day, I don't smoke, and I exercise. Just because I'm a wizard doesn't mean I should neglect my body." There was a long silence. "Well, I didn't feel that way before Beatrix, I guess. So much has changed since then."


In the darkness, Jason could barely make out an expression of surprise on Roland's face. "Don't tell me I never mentioned her to you."

"Um… I don't think you did."

"She's my ex-wife."

Jason blinked. "Not really. Never by name."

"Know, then, that that was my wife's name: Beatrix Shadewalker. Beatrix Moralheart, for three-and-a-half years." In Gyeeds, as in the West, wives usually assumed their husbands' surnames.

"'Shadewalker', huh? Kinda the opposite of your name."

"I suppose you could think of it that way."

"But what does she have to do with your health?"

"Well… it's complicated." Roland turned onto his back. "When I met her, at the tender age of sixteen, I wasn't much. I was talented—I was one of the best athletes in my school, and an able student to boot. At the same time, I didn't have much of a vision or a purpose; I just let life pass me by.

"But Beatrix—Beatrix had ambition! Her mother had been a suffragette, and passed on all sorts of feminist ideas to her. She wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. She had strong opinions on most issues; she was always ready to speak up or debate about something. In short, she had all the drive and direction that I didn't.

"When I fell for her, I thought she was beautiful; I believed she was a genius. In retrospect, I think most of the appeal for me was her ambition. She had the passion I'd always lacked, and somehow, in my youth-drunk brain, she became my passion. She was uninterested in me at first, but for once, there was something I truly desired, and I wasn't about to let it escape. I was persistent, so persistent that—ah… the point is, in time, we got together, and after a few months, we married.

"That lasted until I was twenty. Then we divorced. It wasn't sudden; I think we both saw it coming at least a year ahead. We had a deal of… rough spots. Anyway, as soon as the whole ordeal was over, I took a good, long look at my life up until that point. I recalled how she'd said that I'd had no life outside of her, and I realized she'd been right. From then on, I decided, I'd live my life with intention. I began to focus and hone my talents: I learned martial arts, got a degree in politics, and began studying the art of spellcasting—which, it turned out, I had something of a knack for. I decided to become a swashbuckler of sorts, since I had what it took, including a taste for adventure.

"Long story short is, I began working for the government of Gyeeds as a secret agent, rose up through the ranks, and eventually got elected Adventurer of Gyeeds. And here I am now."

"Um… 'secret' agent? Everybody knows you're Adventurer."

"I used to be a secret agent. From there, I moved on to more conspicuous jobs. I publicly revealed I'd been an agent during my campaign for Adventurer, since that was part of my credentials."

"I see."

They sat and lay there in the silent darkness for a while. Then, Roland said "You know, I never told all that to anyone other than my psychotherapist before."

"You were in therapy?"

"For a while after the divorce, yes."

There was a much longer pause. Finally, Jason said "Well… uh… thank you for, um, confiding in me."

"No, no, Jason. Thank you for listening."

Jason climbed up onto his bed and lay down. "Good night, Roland."

"Good night."

But the boy didn't go to sleep right away. Hardly! A thousand thoughts swarmed through his brain. It was amazing how much Roland professed that Beatrix had affected him, yet how rarely he'd mentioned her. The man had said he'd once been married when he'd first met Jason, on that canyon-covered planet, but since then, Jason couldn't recall hearing another word about the union. How very curious! Perhaps the whole thing really did trouble Roland, so much so that he didn't even want to think about it, never mind talk about it.

The thing that really got Jason was how outlandish it all was. Something about it was so… romantic, in every sense of the word. He'd had nothing until he met her, then she was everything to him, then she left his life, but he was forever changed by the encounter. That kind of scenario would be more at home in some sappy nineteenth-century three-volume novel than in real life. Nothing explicitly prevented such a thing from happening, but, well… Jason had never fallen in love himself, of course, and he was no psychologist, but he still thought it was all very fishy. Perhaps the answer lay in what Roland hadn't said: the particular ways in which he'd wooed Beatrix very persistently, and the "rough spots" that had led to the disintegration of their marriage. Also, the language he'd used to describe his love for Beatrix, as if she were the object of his desire more than… well, a human being made Jason's skin crawl.

Jason had only had a peek into the dark and troubled side of Roland's mind, but that was enough for him to get an idea of how dark and troubled it really was.