The docks were located to the west of city center, where Krim River flowered into the Bay of Krim.
They were easy enough to find. Ellison could simply follow the fishy smell.
Krim’s owners were remarkably unimaginative when it came to coming up with names, but the docks were a true work of art.
The shipyards were down at the south end, with sailing ships currently under construction.
The north end of the docks, just across Krim River, were the location of Krim’s major commercial gate. Like the gate in the city center, the portal was mostly hidden underneath a stone arch. You had to be up close in order to see the bluish light cast by the flicker of the teleportation boundary. But unlike the pedestrian gate, the commercial gate was huge, large enough to let the biggest sailing ship pass through it. And it was bidirectional.
The pedestrian gate had no back — it was basically a stone wall. But the commercial gate opened both to the land and to sea. As they watched, a ship slowly sailed out from the gate into the bay, while a large covered transport wagon was pulled by oxen out from the other side.
There was another commercial gate to the northeast, but the docks gate was more convenient to city center and to the city market, where the actual goods that residents required were traded — food, fabric, tools, real clothing instead of tourist junk, and ice.
“Where do we even start?” Ellison asked.
“There.” Matilda pointed to a small storefront with a wooden sign hanging from a horizontal pole reaching out over the entrance. The Gold Travel Agency.
Ellison looked up and down at Matilda, then at himself. The shirt he bought hung half-way down his thighs. Below it, the hems of his skirts, formerly yellow, where now stained with mud.
“Do we look all right?”
“We look awful,” said Matilda. “It’s perfect. We’re like all the other tourists out here.”
She was right. There were several people wandering around, rubber-necking. Many were wearing default avatar outfits, or default outfits that had been supplemented by promotional shirts bought at the central market. Few of the default options were suitable for practical wear. Maybe that was deliberate, to force people to spend money the minute they walked into the world. Or maybe it just bad planning and incompetence.
Knowing Krim, it was probably both.
The front window of the Gold Travel Agency featured oil paintings, charcoal sketches and watercolors of sailing ships falling off the edge of Krim.
“They make it look really exciting,” said Ellison.
“Don’t believe it.”
Ellison and Matilda turned around.
The speaker was a sailor, judging by his striped shirt, loose baggy trousers, and bare feet, a clothing combination that probably spanned several different centuries.
“It’s a scam,” the sailor continued. “They just sail to the nearest sinkhole and drop you in. With all the fog and spray around it, you can’t tell you’re not actually at the edge.”
“Why would they do that?” asked Ellison.
“The nearest sinkhole is less than a day’s sail away. The real edge of Krim, at least a couple of weeks.”
“I’ve always wanted to sail off the edge of the world,” said Matilda. “But not badly enough to spend weeks on a ship.”
“It’s not too bad,” said the sailor. “You just have to pick the right ship. We’ve got a cruise where you get to spend the whole time partying. Private rooms, gourmet food, live music, even a casino.”
The front door of the Gold Travel Agency slammed open and a man came out swinging a broom. “Get out of here! Shoo!” He swung at the sailor, who ducked and backed away a couple of feet.
“Stop poaching our customers!”
“I’m not poaching. I’m just offering some options.”
Ellison and Matilda stepped aside as the man with the broom stepped down and swatted the sailor on the head.
“Ouch.” The sailor rubbed his head and walked away, glancing back at them. “If you want a real adventure, you guys know where to find me.”
“No, we don’t know where to find you,” said Matilda, but the sailor had already turned around and walked away.
“Don’t bother, it’s all a scam,” said the travel agent. He went back up the stairs, opened the door, and motioned them in.
Inside, he put the broom down next to the window then stretched out his hand. “I’m Addius Gold. Very please to meet you.”
They both shook, then sat down in the guest chairs facing Gold’s desk.
“It’s a scam,” he continued, “Because they just sail around in circles until everyone’s gambled away all their money. Then they transfer the money to a caravel, along with any crew members who’d rather sail back, and then go over the edge the next day.”
“So the edge isn’t really weeks away?” asked Matilda.
“No, of course not.” Gold pointed to paintings hanging on the wall behind him. “Many of these have been painted by artists who’ve gone on our trips. As you can see, the view is breathtaking. Depending on the weather and time of year, you might even see an aurora borealis as you go over. It’s an unforgettable experience. I myself have gone several times and each time I see something new.”
Matilda picked up one of the agency’s brochures. “Honey, they do a pirate treasure cruise, too.”
“One of our more popular trips,” said Gold. “But also one of the riskiest. You never know whether we’ll find pirate treasure — or the pirates find us. There are several waivers you’ll have to sign before you can go.”
“Ooh.” Ellison pretended to shiver. “That sounds romantic and frightening at the same time.”
“It’s the perfect romantic get-away,” Gold assured them.
Matilda picked up each of the other brochures on the table in front of them.
“They also have a whale-watching tour and a whale hunting expedition.” She passed the brochures to Ellison. “And we can watch a virgin get thrown into a volcano.”
“That one is very popular,” Gold said. “But risky. Half the time, the tribe will welcome us as gods. And half the time, they’ll eat us. You will also need to sign waivers if you go on that one.”
“Hey, they’ve got an expedition to the new world.” Matilda held up another brochure.
“We only do those once a year,” Gold said. “The next one isn’t for several months. It’s a dangerous trip, and we require our passengers to complete a training course.” He passed them another brochure. “But frankly,” he added, lowering his voice, “most of those expeditions never actually get to the new world, and perish along the way. It’s a very difficult, hazardous journey.”
“But you’ve gone there and back?”
“We’ve definitely gone somewhere,” said Gold. “Whether it’s the actual new world or not is hard to say. Krim geography isn’t fully understood yet, and navigation is difficult.”
“You mean, because you have to navigate with 1500s technology?”
“No, because we can’t,” said Gold. “Krim is flat. Sextants don’t work. We can’t navigate by the stars. Sea currents change unexpectedly.” He sighed. “Once you get too far away from land, all bets are off.”
“I thought there was an expedition leaving in a couple of weeks.” Ellison turned to Matilda. “Remember the guy last night, honey? He made it sound like they go there and back all the time.”
“Don’t listen to drunk guys in bars,” Gold said. “They’re all liars.” He leaned back in his chair. “There are a couple of expeditions leaving in the next couple of months, though. Pompas is getting one together, and so is Anders.”
“Have they ever reached the new world?”
“Anders has,” said Gold. “Or, at least, she thinks she has. Like I said, who knows. But Pompas has failed every time. This is going to be his fourteenth trip.”
“I want to go to the edge,” said Ellison. “But I’d like to go look at Anders’ ship. It sounds so exciting. Maybe someday, not now, but someday later, we can go on an expedition like that, honey.”
“Don’t forget the brochures, honey.”
“I won’t, honey.”
Matilda double checked that she had the one for the trip to the edge, they said their goodbyes, and promised to be back soon.
Then they followed Gold’s directions to Anders’ ship.
“I think he bought our story,” said Ellison.
“But we’re no closer to finding Pompas.”
“No.” Ellison shook his head. “I’ve been looking, and I haven’t seen him here anywhere. Let’s hang out at the cafe for a while.” He pointed up ahead, to where a handful of tables were clustered on a slight rise overlooking the bay. “We can get some food, talk with the staff.”
“Then afterwards, we can go talk to Anders,” said Matilda. “I want to know how she was able to succeed when Pompas couldn’t.”
“And maybe she might have some ideas about where he’s hiding,” Ellison added. He looked back towards Gold’s Travel Agency, then up ahead to the cafe. “We should be able to see everyone walking in and out of Gold’s,” he added. “If Pompas stops by, maybe we can follow him back to his lair.”