Curveball Issue 21: This Mortal Coil

Part One: July 20, 1992

Artemis LaFleur stares at the young man kneeling beside him and realizes he’s staring at a ghost.

He’s certain he’s talking to David Bernard, but he’s not sure that the man is actually here. Artigenian should have sensed him—the physical presence of an unknown should have set off all manner of wards laid across the stone, and even in this fragment of time they would function. So Bernard’s presence is not what it appears.

“You’re not really here,” Artemis says. “How are you doing this?”

David shrugs. “I don’t know how to answer that. I really am asleep right now, if that helps.”

“It doesn’t,” Artemis says. “I’m not even sure how to put that in context.”

“That’s not encouraging,” David says. “I was kind of hoping you’d be able to explain it to me. Can you stand?”

Artemis raises a hand. “Give me a moment.”

The power that contained him is gone now. His hunger and thirst is still there, threatening to overwhelm him, but the surge of hope that accompanies his new-found freedom gives him the strength he needs to rein them in, at least for now. He forces himself onto his hands and knees, and is thankful that nothing broke when he fell.

“I… will… manage…” Artemis grits his teeth and forces himself to his feet. His balance is still unsteady, and he’s not ready to try walking, but for the first time in a very long time he is standing on his own.

“It was hard to break down that circle,” David says. “That’s not going to be a problem, is it? Will it alert that man? The one questioning you?”

“Artigenian,” Artemis says. “No. The prison was bound to me, not him. If it had been bound to anyone but me, it would have vanished when the island reset.”

David nods. “We need to move, then. Can you walk?”

“Not yet.” Artemis sways again. “I’ve been in that prison for quite some time.”

“You don’t look well,” David says.

Artemis closes his eyes and takes a deep, slow breath. “I am very weak. I am very hungry. I am very thirsty. I don’t know how far I’m going to be able to go on my own.”

“Can you teleport?”

Artemis opens his eyes and stares at David’s image. “I might.”

David nods once. “When we were on the plane you told me to meet you in a library. Do you remember? The public library in the capital city.”

Artemis frowns. “Vaguely. I do know the place.”

“Can you teleport there?”

He considers the question. “Perhaps. It would be difficult to manage, but not necessarily impossible. Is it safe?”

“Safer than here,” David says. “I watched the place for a few days before moving in. Nobody comes anywhere near it.”

“How long will it take you to get there?” Artemis asks.

David shrugs. “I’m there right now. All I have to do is wake up.”

Artemis hesitates before answering. He’s weak, weaker than he’s ever been, and he hasn’t been able to use any of his abilities for the past year. He doesn’t know if he has the strength to do it. On the other hand, he doubts he has the strength to leave on foot.

“I will try.” Artemis’ voice is faint, but steady. “I think I can do it.”

“When?” David looks around. “I don’t know how much time we have.”

“We have plenty of time,” Artemis says. “No one returns to this hall for hours, and of the people who return, the only one who will notice my absence is Artigenian. And by then he will have forgotten.”

“OK.” David appears to relax slightly. “Do you want to rest a little before you try?”

Artemis shakes his head. “That will be counterproductive. I must rely on adrenaline, for as long as it lasts. Which may not be long. I’m going to try now.”

“All right,” David says. “I’ll wait until I see you disappear here, then wake up there. I’ll be a little groggy when I wake up so it might take a minute to get to you.”

“I will be at the front desk,” Artemis says.

“OK. Good luck.”

Artemis closes his eyes. In the past, teleportation has been an almost effortless affair, with very few exceptions—but in the past he was healthy, and in much better shape than his apparent age suggested. He is operating at the very limits of strength and endurance now, and his famed concentration eludes him.

It’s because you’re doing it wrong.

He’s been in that prison for so long that he’s nearly forgotten who he is. His gifts were mostly suppressed in there, and now, in his desperate state, he’s grasping at them clumsily. He tsks to himself in annoyance.

I am my only master.

Immediately the feelings of hunger and thirst vanish. This is a dangerous state to stay in for any length of time, but it is, for the moment, a blessing. He stands straighter, clears his mind, and concentrates. He feels his power stirring, then—his real power, not the magician’s crutch he’d relied on when Esperanza was his home. He focuses on the memory of the place he wants to be and wills himself to be there.

The power that surges through him brings with it a pain so great that he cannot suppress it. This mode of travel requires energy, and he has so very little. It burns through him as the world shifts around him; moments later, when he collapses on red-and-brown industrial carpeting, he loses all semblance of self control.

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