King's Gambit: Part Four

Submitted by C B Wright on
Esperanza, July 20, 1992

Artemis and David have been at the small house on the beach for four days, trying to decide what to do.

The library was acceptable as a base of operations when the focus of their activities was the palace, but when it became clear that was no longer the case David decided Artemis needed access to a real bed and a refrigerator stocked full of healthy food. Artemis didn’t object—he was subdued for most of the short trip back, brooding silently over the discovery that the books he’d counted on retrieving—the purpose of their trip to the island to begin with—were gone. And that they were taken, apparently, by a copy of himself.

An evil copy of himself.

Artemis spends the first three days at the house sleeping, for the most part, and eating ravenously when he’s awake. His appetite is a good sign: David guesses whatever it is that makes Artemis a metahuman helps him bounce back from trauma more quickly than most. A lot of metahumans are like that, to one degree or another. David finds it intensely frustrating.

On the fourth day Artemis wakes up by mid-morning and shuffles out to sit at the small kitchen table. He pages through the newspaper, sighing softly as he reads the headlines.

“LaFleur.” David stands in front of the table, arms crossed. Artemis glances up at David briefly, then returns his attention to the newspaper.

“Snap out of it,” David says. “We need to come up with a plan.”

Artemis sighs and pushes the paper away. “I know. I’m afraid I’m not quite myself at the moment.”

“C’mon, LaFleur, setbacks aren’t new. You’ve even been soundly defeated, from time to time. That never kept you down before.”

Artemis frowns slightly. “I hadn’t suffered torture for a year before being defeated by myself. Or a part of myself. Or a… I don’t even know what it is. I’m not giving up, David, but I need some time to gather my strength.”

“Tough.” David hardens his voice just a bit—adopting a little of the hardass persona he used when he put Alishia through her paces in the early days, before he even deigned to call her rookie. “We don’t have time for it. Look, LaFleur, I know you’re hurt. I also know about working hurt. I followed you into this mess with a concussion—my second—and I got a third my first day on the island. Too many more and I won’t be able to tie my shoes without help. I’m not asking you to do jumping jacks, I’m asking you to help me come up with a plan. Strategy is kind of your thing, being a big-time supervillain and all.”

Artemis raises an eyebrow. “Very well. Let’s summarize our current situation.”

David leans against the refrigerator, arms still folded.

“First,” Artemis says, “I was tasked with trying to determine what kind of magic we’re dealing with. I no longer have any direct, in-depth knowledge of magic because of the strange symbiosis magical power shares with its host, so I brought us here—this island was the only place where I knew I could find reliable texts about magic. We need reliable texts because most of the books you’ll find that purport to have anything at all to say on the matter are rubbish.”

“OK,” David says.

“Second,” Artemis says, “the texts I was looking for are gone. However, the wards I created to protect those texts are still present. I have forgotten most of what I know when it comes to magic, but I remember enough to know that if someone else had removed the books, it would have destroyed the wards. The only logical conclusion is that I removed them… but I have no memory of doing so. Thus I conclude that the magical power I once had—the one I thought I had sacrificed in order to cast my final spell—somehow survived, and the wards recognize it as ‘me’ because it was that magical power that erected the wards in the first place.”

“What would a sentient mass of magical power want with a bunch of books?” David asks. "Doesn’t it already know magic?”

“It knows magic as well as I did, when it was a part of me,” Artemis says. “Or perhaps a little less, if it exists without a human host. It would certainly have use for the books if it intended to… I don’t know what it would intend to do.”

“All right,” David says. “We’ll table that speculation for another day. Where does that leave us?”

“Nowhere,” Artemis says. “We have nothing. There’s little else to do but attempt to return home, to our time, and tell Curveball and the rest that we’ve failed.”

David shakes his head. “You’re forgetting something important.”

“Oh?” Artemis looks skeptical. “What am I forgetting?”

David points at Artemis’ chest. He’s wearing a loose-fitting golf shirt—something taken from the original owner’s closet—but his hand automatically goes to a spot just beneath his right collarbone, where the beginnings of an intricate and wholly unnatural rune are buried in his flesh. David has seen the entire symbol, and he knows it covers the older man’s upper torso.

“We can’t use it,” Artemis says.

“You said the crazy wizard put his memories into it. Every single memory he had of you.”

“He did,” Artemis says, “but we can’t use it.”

“Just humor me for a second,” David says. “You said he bound the memories to you because you weren’t trapped by the island. The idea being that bound to you, his memories of reappearing on the island wouldn’t reset, and if he could reclaim them, the fact that he had memories the island couldn’t reset would free him from the island.”

Artemis nods.

“Why all of his memories of you? And why did they have to be about you anyway? Why not just bind a trivial memory of what he did that morning?”

“In reverse order: It had to be a memory of me because he was binding it to me,” Artemis says. “I don’t remember enough to properly explain it, but it’s a kind of sympathetic magic. Because this symbol contains memories of me in it, it stays in my flesh. If it were a memory of something else the spell would have nothing to attach itself to.”

“OK. Why every memory of you he’s ever had?”

“To make sure the island wouldn’t unravel it. This is another area where I… can’t be as specific as I’d like. But by putting every memory he had of me in this symbol, he increased its strength. It draws strength because it is attached to someone who is free of the island. It draws more strength because the memories are about the person it is attached to. And it draws even more strength because it is all of the memories about the person it is attached to. It has… mass, I suppose is the best term. Enough mass to survive the island resetting itself day in and day out.”

“OK,” David says, “here’s my point. This thing on your chest contains every memory this guy, Artigenian, ever had of you.”

“Yes,” Artemis says.

“So it has every memory he’s ever had of teaching you magic.”

“That's true,” Artemis agrees.

“What’s more, it has every memory he’s ever had of not teaching you magic. Every time he made a conscious decision not to teach you something, to hold something back… that’s a memory of you. That’s something he’d put in there. So the big double-cross with the world-ending spell, that’s in there.”

“A reasonable assumption,” Artemis says. “But it doesn’t matter, because we have no way of accessing it. You need magic to access it. I don’t have magic. I can’t interact with the thing on my chest in any way.”

“Maybe not,” David says, “but I bet I can.”

Artemis opens his mouth to protest, then stops, frowning as he thinks it over.

“I don’t really understand it,” David says, “but you and I have both seen it. When I lucid dream on this island, the island interferes with it, and I can interfere right back. I’m not actually casting spells, but I am interacting with magic somehow. I’m pretty sure that’ll only work here, and I’m pretty sure it only works here because reality is… not entirely real here.”

Artemis nods thoughtfully.

“So I figure this is an opportunity,” David says. “I fall asleep, start lucid dreaming, then project myself over here and my dream-self tries to absorb all those memories.”

“What you are suggesting is… irresponsibly dangerous,” Artemis says.

“It’s not my favorite plan,” David admits. “Look, LaFleur, before we got to this island I thought magic was basically just another superpower. I was wrong. I thought Curveball was freaking out about magic because it was his… weakness, the same way Permafrost freaks out about heat. I was wrong. The truth is, magic is exactly the way you described it at Crossfire’s safehouse: it’s alien. I saw what happened when you cast the spell that ended the world and I still can’t really wrap my brain around it. If that’s actually part of what we’re fighting… we don’t have a choice, LaFleur. Somebody needs to know about it. I’d rather it be almost anybody other than me, but… it’s gotta be somebody.”

Artemis studies David carefully. “Answer a question first.”

David’s taken off-guard by the request. “OK…”

“Your last fight as Sky Commando,” Artemis says. “I read the report on it shortly after you were put on medical leave. I like to keep tabs on New York City for a number of reasons, and you being sidelined was a not insignificant development.”

“I don’t hear a question,” David says.

Artemis smiles slightly. “Your last fight was with a villain calling himself Leviathan.”

David winces involuntarily.

“Yes,” Artemis says. “He hit you with a bus. Knocked you through a cinderblock building. Both sides. That was the fight that ended your career.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” David says.

“What interested me,” Artemis says, “is that as far as I could tell, based on the reports I read, you had time to avoid it, and you didn’t. You made the tactical decision to be hit by that bus. I want to know why.”

“I was tanking,” David says.

Artemis shrugs. “I don’t understand the reference.”

“It’s a video game thing,” David says. “In multiplayer games you’ll get one guy who armors up and tries to keep the bad guy occupied so the more fragile players don’t go down. I arrived on the scene after the emergency response crews. They were trying to get civilians out of the area, and Leviathan decided he was gonna pick up a bus and start pulping anything that moved.”

David shakes his head. “I don’t know how a guy that big managed to get so many drugs in his system, but he was obviously gone. He just wanted to kill things. And I didn’t have many options. I couldn’t use the stuckys because there was too much debris, too many civilians trying to get away—rapidly expanding and hardening foam is dangerous when rocks and bits of twisted metal can fly in every direction. The asshole already had the bus, the only thing I could do was get his attention and keep it long enough for some of the others to respond.”

“A sacrifice play,” Artemis says.

“It’s part of the job,” David says. “Sometimes you have to take the hit.”

Artemis considers David’s words. Finally he stands.

“We don’t know how you will react,” he says. “When you try to absorb Artigenian’s memories, anything could happen, but I strongly suspect that you will find the ordeal excruciatingly unpleasant, and even if it goes well you’ll probably be disabled for a while.”

David nods. “Sounds par for the course.”

“The other thing to consider is what will happen to the memories when they are released,” Artemis says. “Will you actually absorb all of them? If they’re released, will they return to Artigenian? Artigenian getting his memories back is the worst-case scenario, so we have to plan for it. As soon as this happens, we’ll need to get off the island, regardless of your condition.”

“Can you handle that?” David asks.

Artemis shakes his head. “Not at the moment. But if you give me a week to rest—actual rest, not listless despair masquerading as recovery—I will be strong enough to make sure we leave this island before anyone can stop us.”

“OK,” David says. “One week. Then we leave.”

“One week,” Artemis agrees. “Then we leave.”

Comments

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Doesn't it already know magic

Doesn't it already know magic?" needs an opening ' " '.

"Thats true' needs an ' .

Both fixed. Thanks.

Both fixed. Thanks.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Been awhile since I said

Been awhile since I said "Thanks" for writing your various stories.
So... Thanks!

You're very welcome!

You're very welcome!

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Typos:

Typos:

so much drugs in his system
so many drugs in his system
or, for emphasis
so much of so many drugs in his system

Reactions:

We know now why David was part of the Sky Commando program - he needed something to haul his balls around in. He is planning to deliberately reading something that is known to be alien, evil, powerful, and dangerous just to give his side an edge, knowing it is likely to harm him permanently in some way.

Oh, and Yeah, more Curveball!

Fixed the drugs thing.

Fixed the drugs thing.

You can definitely make a compelling case for David being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. You can also make a compelling case that what he's about to do is really stupid.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

adopting a little of the

adopting a little of the hardass personae he used

"personae" is the plural of "persona." Unless David was channeling Agent Grant or displaying multiple personalities while training his successor, the singular would be more appropriate.

This story is getting weirder, and weirder, and weirder.....

Hm. I've made that mistake

Hm. I've made that mistake before in this story, and I don't know why I'm so obsessed with that stupid e. Anyway, fixed. thanks.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Yea, new Curveball! But I

Yea, new Curveball! But I shouldn't read it as you're posting...too much refresh, and I don't get the whole story the next morning. Bad Mycroft...

Since she seems to be "my character": Alishia, not Alicia. Search also notes one example in "Forces Gather: Part Three".

But: "Yea! New Curveball!"

Gah! Why do I keep doing that

Gah! Why do I keep doing that! OK, fixing now. Thanks.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

“Artemis and David have been

“Artemis and David have been at the small house on the beach for four days, trying to decide what to do. The library was acceptable as a base of operations when the focus of their activities was the palace, but that’s no longer the case, and David decides Artemis would be better off with access to a real bed and a refrigerator stocked full of healthy food. Artemis doesn’t object to the change in venue. He’s subdued for most of the short trip back, brooding silently over the discovery that the books he’d counted on retrieving—the purpose of their trip to the island to begin with—were gone. And that they were taken, apparently, by a copy of himself.”

Once you establish that they have been there for four days, all those present tenses start looking really weird. I know you're writing in present by default, but if they have been there for four days, and then you explain briefly how they got there, you'd usually do that in past. “That's no longer the case” is fine, because that's still true on the fourth day, and David's thoughts on the subject of metahuman recovery ditto, but everything happening in the intervening days should really probably be past tense. Except “were taken” which, if you change the rest, has to become “had been taken”.

... sorry if that was confusing!

““Your last fight was with a villain that called himself Leviathan.””

I wanted to say that this should be “who called himself”, but I looked it up and it looks like a “difference sources disagree” thing, so you don't need to change it if you don't want to.

Reactions: Agreed on the potentially really stupid thing. Isn't Artigenian getting those memories back kinda bad even if they do leave the island? Because it releases him? Are they really absolutely sure they don't have any way to get knowledge of magic that doesn't involve potentially releasing a very, very powerful, very, very evil magician – even if he wasn't still looking for his student who apparently is still out there somewhere...?

... just saying. >.>

... I mean it's totally very brave. And clever. But nnn, the potential consequences...!

@Rebecca

@Rebecca

I see your point about the tense. I've broken up that paragraph and reworked it, hopefully it works better now.

Also, I split the difference and changed it to "villain calling himself" which I think steps around the problem nicely. :D

As to it being potentially really stupid, well, yeah. Hah! Desperate times, etc.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

@Esmerelda

@Esmerelda

Welcome! Yes, Curveball is (supposed to) update monthly, just like a comic book. The last two years have been a little inconsistent in that respect. I'm trying to fix that.

Also, did you binge read Curveball or Help Desk? I'd be impressed if it was the former, and a little concerned if it was the latter... :D

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Ah, well, you called it a

Ah, well, you called it a "comic," which is only fair because I call it a prose comic, but on the other hand I have this webcomic I've done for a while, so I didn't know which you meant.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

@Christopher Wright

@Christopher Wright

Almost! There's still one thing...

"Artemis didn’t object—he was subdued for most of the short trip back, brooding silently over the discovery that the books he’d counted on retrieving—the purpose of their trip to the island to begin with—were gone. And that they were taken, apparently, by a copy of himself."

That should really be "had been taken, apparently, by a copy of himself" - since it's occurring significantly before the actions in that paragraph, and they're in past tense, it needs to be in pluperfect.

Also, yes, that is a very elegant step around!

Also yeah, not criticizing. Just fretting. Artigenian is really scary...!

I just binge read Curveball

I just binge read Curveball as well. You have Unmaker to thank (he linked this comic from Grrl Power comments). Great thing you've got here, although I would refer to it as an online novel. It's not really a comic (very few graphics), and published novels I've read have had similar formats.

And this novel really is great. I can't say I've read a novel in a really long time (about two years), but this is really high up on my list, alongside Eragon and Chronicles of the Lensmen.

Yeah, when I started

Yeah, when I started Curveball I called it a "prose comic" sort of as a joke (since "prose" is the written word, so the idea was "a comic with just words") but also because I modeled the presentation after comic books, going so far as to write the story in present tense because comic book narration boxes are almost always in present tense. Since then I've wondered how many people have looked at it and assumed it was a comic, checked it out, saw only words, and walked away...

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.