Stellar Studios was quiet. Many of the members of Los Angeles’ Infinity Inc. were off on leave or tending to personal matters relating to family ties. One member was alone, however, and he paced the team’s headquarters with a regal but restless air.
Prince Arthur of Atlantis, better known as the second Aquaman, had not embraced the surface world with the joyful exuberance of his younger sister Mina, known as Coral of the Junior JSA. He liked being a hero among other young super-heroes, but this came more from the tradition-loving youth’s desire to emulate his father’s early experiences than from any real pleasure he had gained from forming relationships with the other members. Indeed, he had even kept the others at a certain distance since joining the team, rather than embrace the more familial aspects of the team that the others seemed to embrace.
Father spent much of his solitary youth as a maritime champion, he thought. He defended those who made their living or sought their pleasures on the oceans, and he only mingled with other mystery-men like the Green Arrow and Wonder Woman on rare occasions. Still, when the opportunity to live among those who breathe air and act as one of their proud defenders first arose, how could I decline? Though I barely knew him when he was briefly a member last year, David Knight has since become a friend to me. I wish he was still among us now. His very normalcy bridges my feelings of being different from others and helps me feel that there may yet be a place above the waters for the scion of noble Atlantis.
He had a tendency to brood, and he knew this about himself. His father had been more the brash adventurer than the philosopher, but he, too, had been one to dwell apart and think deep thoughts when there was time or his mood made such revelry essential.
Arthur was brought out of his reverie by a noise, and as he looked he saw a visitor standing outside the gates of the studio, looking out of place on the Los Angeles street. He was an old man with gray hair and a tan, who looked like a sailor. He reminded Arthur of his own father in some vague way. Perhaps this old man could herald a new adventure. He could be nothing more than one who seeks a boon, he thought. Well, this prince feels like granting an audience, if nothing more.
Prince Arthur ushered the old man inside and led him to a chair. “How may I aid you, sir?” he asked.
The man smiled and rubbed a hand across his chin. “You do have the look of your old man!” he said. “Those ice-blue eyes cut through you like a brisk wind on the high sea. My name is Jason Deaver. I am a retired Harbor Patrol officer, and your father was my friend. I often wondered what became of him after the late 1940s.”
Arthur stood tall and proud as he heard how he reminded this man of his regal and heroic father. “If you knew my father when he was younger, I would greatly value your company,” said the earnest hero. “Could you share some tales of his youthful adventures? I have never known him as more than father and ruler. His days as a mystery-man are merely known to me through secondhand accounts. He has never been one to talk about his past.”
“Of course,” said Deaver. “I will gladly tell you about our times together. I could do so while we travel. That is why I came here. Once word reached the world that an Aquaman was among the heroes of Infinity Inc., I knew you had to be my friend’s son and the one man who could help me solve a riddle that has plagued me through my retirement.”
Aquaman frowned. “If my sea-born prowess may assist you, then I shall stand ready to lend it in whatever form it is desired. Where do you wish to go, and what is the nature of your quest?”
Deaver nodded. “Right! Just like the old man! I like that. When I was younger, I heard tales of a lost treasure that dated before the rise of Atlantis, or perhaps I should say it predated the sinking of that fabled kingdom.”
“Atlantis is my home,” said Aquaman. “The many city-states that once were separate realms united around nearly forty years ago under the rule of my father. (*) I have never heard of anything that existed below the waves before the cities that comprise my homeland.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star: Times Past, 1950: War of the Water Worlds.]
“The treasure was rumored to be from a lost realm called Valusia, and it consists of medicinal herbs that would heal any affliction,” explained Deaver. “I need such cures, since I am dying.”
“I am sorry,” said Aquaman. “Perhaps what conventional medicine cannot do, the healing devices of other societies like that of the Amazons could help you. Why quest for what may never have existed?”
Deaver took his arm firmly and said, “Because I believe in the rumors of Valusia. I have a map. Also, I want to live once more before I die. Let me die if I must, but let me do so after I’ve lived again. Let me experience the old thrill of adventure that your father and I shared. Take me in search of this lost realm in the name of your noble father and what he stands for still!”
“I shall do it,” vowed Aquaman. “We shall leave at once. Valusia awaits!”
Prince Arthur frowned as he gazed down at the weathered map Jason Deaver had shown him as they had boarded the old man’s boat in a Los Angeles marina. “I believe the writing upon this parchment is a variant of Atlantean script,” said the young man. “I cannot translate it, but it resonates with me in some manner. The letters and the odd characters on the borders are clearly related to my realm’s ancient tongue.”
“Right!” agreed Deaver. “I felt it to be so. I even have more to reveal to you, lad. The symbol in the right corner is not a mapmaker crest or a mere decoration. It is a star chart of a sort not known to many these days. Your father himself showed me such a map that he found years ago, when his own old man had a lab near the sea.”
“I know so little about my grandparents,” confessed Aquaman. “My father’s sire was a scientist who created the abilities to live beneath the waves that made my father a hero. However, the same formula never worked for long on any other user. Father also gained many other powers, like that of undersea telepathy, that could not have come from a potion or process like that his father tried to perfect. My mother says she feels father’s true origin dates back not to his scientist father but to his unknown mother. She left after his birth. She may have been an Atlantean, and thus his true powers came with maturation and not from his father’s lab work. He has refused to ever speak of his mother, and he denies this theory to this day.”
Deaver nodded understandingly. “Fathers and sons. There is a world of matter between the two. Every boy wants his father’s respect, yet can only gain it by supplanting him. Your own father grew up without a mother, or so I surmise from what little you’ve said. He had to have a closer tie to his father, since he was all the family he knew. I know when I was with Aquaman, he considered himself nothing more than a man given unique powers by a scientist. He claimed no heritage from beneath the waves or out of a fairy-story book.”
“I want father to be proud of me, and he is,” said Arthur. “Still, he has always been a reticent man. He keeps a part of himself entirely to himself. I’m a bit jealous that he shared so much of his past with you.”
Deaver smiled. “Lad, he was never a man to talk your head off, even then. We risked our lives together a few times, and we grew close. He was a good friend, yet he never opened up much. That’s just the way of the man. His mother’s absence from his life had hurt him and made him wary of getting too close to anyone.” He added, “The star-chart he showed me was like this one. It tells me that the site of old Valusia, and the herbs that may heal a man of any illness, rests near Africa.”
“Your illness,” said Aquaman. “I’d like to hear more about it, if you’d care to talk.”
Deaver shook his head. “It’s nothing rare. Just a slowly decaying disease that rots away at me inside. I’ll spare you the fancy doctor talk. One death is as good as another.”
They remained silent as the boat followed the course dictated by the map. The sea was calm and the weather fair, until a fog enveloped the ship without any warning.
Aquaman concentrated and said, “I sense no sea life. Odd that this area would be deserted of any life beneath the waves. That fog was supernatural, too.”
“Aye,” said Deaver. “The chill that accompanies it is real enough, though!”
A roar pierced the fog as a huge creature surged up from the waters and loomed high above the ship. It was green with scales and two flat serpentine heads snaking from two long necks.
“Suffering Shad!” cried Arthur. “A hydra? I detected no such creature!”
Deaver gasped. “Like as not, it will detect us for lunch if you don’t do something, lad!”
“I’ll stop the beast!” shouted Aquaman. “You have no need to fear!”
He grabbed a fishing spear and hurled it at the creature with perfect accuracy. It struck the creature through the heart, and the beast fell, crashing back beneath the waves.
“Why through the heart?” asked Deaver. “Why not slice off those heads? Those long necks made a tempting target.”
“A hydra grows more heads when you cut off one head,” said Arthur. “It has but one heart, so I did what I had to do.” He turned to face Deaver. “I had to kill it. It was going to eat us both, being mad with some rage as it was. I’d suspect magic drove it so relentlessly. That means we have an enemy out there who wants us dead.” He cried in a stentorian tone, “I will not be driven away like sea carrion by some skulking knave. Prince Arthur of Atlantis defies you! Hear me now — the son of Aquaman offers you challenge!”
Deaver stood behind the hero and said, “I think he heard you, son.” He pointed to the breaking fog, which revealed an island with ornate, classical-styled buildings.
“It looks like ancient Rome itself!” gasped Arthur.