Odysseus's Homecoming

When the other Argonauts were brought lunch that day, Jason and Meredith got nothing. Nor did they receive any dinner that evening. The next day, while they did get breakfast, the guard who brought it came with escorts.

On top of Jason's increasing hunger, a feeling of sickness and despair began to manifest itself in the boy's stomach. He did not want to, but he could not help contemplating what fate might be in store for him. For your sake, I will spare you these unpleasant reflections.

Jason's sad reveries were interrupted when, not very long after breakfast, his nose tingled. He could smell Roland! Soon, the man himself, wearing a guard's uniform, appeared before the cell. His glasses were missing, and there was only a small black mark and the scent of burnt hair in place of his mustache, but it was definitely him.

Jason ran up to the bars. "Roland!" he squeaked—quietly.

Roland put his finger to his own lips. "You look terrible." he whispered, taking a key from his pocket and opening the door. He'd looked relieved upon seeing Jason at first, then angry when he'd seen Jason's injuries.

"Thank God." said Meredith, walking over to the other two.

"You too?" Roland hissed. "Those monsters!" He handed Meredith some reagents. "Stay in here for the moment, both of you. Meredith, get ready to leap out of this cell and start casting if the guards realize what's going on; shoot to kill. I'm going to free as many Argonauts as possible before the inevitable battle." He closed the door, conspicuously failing to lock it, then walked off.

"Can you see, Roland?" Jason whispered loudly.

"Contact lenses." came the reply.

Jason smiled. He heard Roland going to the other cells, unlocking them, and arming the children with reagents. This process was interrupted when Jason heard a guard say "Hey, what are you doing?"

"Some of the prisoners were making odd noises." said Roland. "I came to investigate."

"I didn't hear any odd noises until you came into this cellblock. Show me your ID."

"Okay, boys," said Roland, "let 'er rip!"

At that, the sorcerers rushed out of their cells and let loose. Jason came into the corridor just in time to see the guard, who hadn't reacted quickly enough, hit the floor, dead as a doornail.

More guards poured into the corridor. Some Argonauts freed the ones still imprisoned in the cells along the left wall by destroying the doors with magic, while others joined Roland in fighting the guards. Now that the element of surprise was gone, and plenty of guards had arrived on the scene, things began to look grim. Jason feared that this conflict might end as poorly as the last.

A few moments later, a boy in the front lines was slain by an enemy spell. Roland then shrieked so loudly that the whole prison seemed to vibrate. Glowing, red tendrils of magic appeared from the air around the adventurer, curling themselves about his upraised hands, and then, as he bellowed words of power, a mighty jet of fire, a horizontal column of blazing yellow flame that spanned the whole corridor, shot through the mass of men. In an instant it disappeared, leaving only a few heaps of ashes behind.

"Let's go!" Roland shouted, and ran around the corner.

The other Argonauts paused for a moment to take in what they'd just witnessed, then chased after him.

And so Roland, with the others following some distance behind him, went around the prison busting Argonauts out and killing guards. None of the Jilothic men lasted long in the face of his fiery assaults. Once, he tried attacking with a bolt of electricity, but the spell missed its mark by several feet, so he stuck to torrents of flame. When he tired, his comrades fought instead; by then, there were enough free soldiers to fend off the few remaining guards with ease.

Soon, all the living Argonauts—forty-one in total—were assembled together in one of the cellblocks. This was an enormous place; it employed hundreds, which was why Roland had been able to pull off his deception for as long as he had. Many other people who were jailed there had begged the Argonauts to release them, but the soldiers freed none, for ignorance (and fear) of who these prisoners were and why they were there.

"All right," said Talbot to everyone, "anyone who can safely teleport back to the "Argo" should do so now, taking as many others as possible."

After a brief flurry of chatter and spellcasting, the crowd dissipated. The only people left were Jason, Roland, and Talbot.

Talbot looked at Roland critically. "You're in no state to teleport." he remarked.

Roland was sweating like a pig and panting like a dog, his chest heaving as he gasped for air. (The stench he gave off made Jason feel suicidal.) Somehow, he managed to nod in agreement.

"Well, if you're willing to wait, I'm going to teleport as soon as I discover where these vermin hid my medals."

"We… I'd better get back to… the ship, before I collapse. We'll walk there."

Jason looked at Roland nervously, then at the admiral. "Actually, could I come with you, Talbot? I'm afraid someone might recognize me. Roland can disguise himself, but not while I'm with him."

Talbot made a face. "Just walk behind him a distance. You'd be in more danger following me than him. Stay with your foster father." He walked away.

Jason smiled up at Roland. "Looks like it's just you and me again. C'mon, let's go."

The two of them couldn't very well stroll out the front door, so Roland, careful to use as little energy as possible, cut a hole in a wall through which he and Jason crawled. They found themselves in an empty alley, in a city much like Pewpik.

Roland led the way to the harbor while Jason followed a bit behind, as Talbot had suggested. Jason wasn't recognized; the passers-by, seeing his wounds, only looked upon the little boy with pity.

Things were going along smoothly, as the pair walked down a long avenue that ended at the seaport, when Roland stopped in his tracks. Jason kept walking, but when he saw what Roland saw, he halted as well. A woman stood on the dirt road just a few yards ahead of them, staring at Roland. Despite the man's severe exhaustion, and the recent emotional drain of all that Emotion spellcasting, he somehow found it within himself to glare at this person with all the dark venom of his soul: in his eyes was unfathomable hatred coupled with boundless rage. The woman looked at him likewise, the primary difference being that in her gaze, loathing was dominant, while in his, anger was king. Given all this immediate, silent antipathy, it wasn't hard for Jason to guess who the stranger was.

Beatrix was tall for a woman—noticeably taller than the admittedly short Roland, in fact. She had long, jet-black hair, a sharply featured face, and steel-gray eyes that, even as they were now narrowed in hostile greeting to Roland, suggested a deal of intelligence beneath. Her fists were clenched tightly, probably without her even being aware of it.

"Well," said Beatrix, finally breaking the silence, "you've certainly been going places."

"What are you doing here, you witch?" Roland demanded.

"And you're as possessive as ever, I see. I don't believe that's any of your business. It's easy to see what just happened to you, at any rate, though I can't see why you'd choose to return to your ship on foot."

"Quiet! Do you know what―"

"It's Roland Moralheart!" Beatrix shouted, running away while pointing at him. "He's escaped from prison!"

Roland swore vehemently, in English. "You'll pay for this!" he yelled at her as she disappeared around a corner.

At Beatrix's cry, the surrounding people had been quick to quit the scene. Now the street was eerily empty. Jason and Roland were pretty much alone, though it looked like they were about to get some company: two men with "Police Department of Jilothus" written in Common on their uniforms were coming to join them.

"Well," said Jason, "this is a sticky situation."

Roland, sighing, crouched and turned his back towards Jason. "Get on." he said. Jason was incredulous. "Piggyback, now!"

Jason reluctantly did so, wondering if the man's exhaustion had taken its toll on his sense. Roland cast a spell, clutched Jason's ankles, and ran towards the seaport. And my, how fast he ran! The two were a blur as Roland's feet carried them along at sixty miles an hour, leaving big, glowing, orange streaks of energy and a cloud of dust in their wake.

Jason looked behind himself. The policemen were following them, apparently with the use of the same spell. Fortunately, Roland was going a wee bit faster than them, and they were a good distance behind; unfortunately, Roland wasn't running in a straight line. Like a car without a designated driver, he veered from side to side as he made his way down the street.

With a thud, the world suddenly turned upside-down, then right side-up, then upside-down again as Jason took another fall. Miraculously, he landed well and was unharmed; he scrambled to his feet. Roland had smashed into a signpost; the two of them were still alive only because he'd done his best to magically brake. He was sprawled on the ground, apparently unconscious. The policemen came to a halt a few yards from Jason.

Jason took a split-second to evaluate the situation. Although Beatrix had only explicitly pointed out Roland, it was easy to see that these cops recognized Jason, or at least they'd gathered where he was supposed to be. The harbor was nearby—near enough that Jason could make out the "Argo" at the docks, though much too far for anybody on the ship to see him, unless they had good binoculars and knew just where to look. This part of the city was fairly dense; there were plenty of people milling about, and scores of buildings and side-streets nearby.

Jason realized there was only one thing to do. He took Michael Jackson's advice and beat it.

The greatest immediate danger, he figured, was the policemen's spellcasting; he ran through the densest crowds he could find and avoided straightaways, hoping that they wouldn't use magic for fear of hitting civilians. This tactic seemed to work, as they didn't cast any spells at him. It also exposed him to another danger he hadn't thought of: the policemen shouted "Stop the boy! Stop him!", and suddenly, people tried to grab him as he ran by. One actually did manage to get ahold of him; he quickly wriggled free. Thankfully, nobody started a real nineteenth-century–England-style hue and cry.

After a few minutes, the policemen were much further behind Jason then they'd been at first; Jason's ten-year-old stature let him squeeze through crowds much more easily than they could. It occurred to him that he might actually be able to shake them off. And so he took the chase off the beaten path; he went around corners and down alleys. He was now mostly out of sight of the cops. They were able to keep following him partly by catching an occasional glimpse of him and partly by listening to his footsteps. The pair split up and tried to trap him, but Jason's nose came to the rescue: he could smell them before they could see him, and thus he evaded them.

In time, Jason's pursuers lost his trail. Once he smelled the cops' scent no more and was positive he was safe, Jason stopped running. He grinned to himself as he stumbled along the street towards the docks. Nobody else recognized him; once, a different policeman asked if he was lost. He arrived at the "Argo" without further incident. As he climbed aboard, he was happy to find Talbot waiting for him. His great relief was marred by only one tiny, nagging doubt…

"Where's Roland?" asked the admiral, clearly worried.

Jason slapped himself on the forehead. "I knew I forgot something!"