Part One: A Comfortable Room
Artemis LaFleur sinks deeper into his overstuffed chair, lost in the sound of waves crashing against the beach. Sunlight streams through the thick-paned window, warming his face, and he closes his eyes as he momentarily loses himself in the comfort of it. The moment stretches into minutes, and the minutes stretch even farther on… until at last, almost regretfully, he opens his eyes.
It’s a trap. He knows it’s a trap, but the knowledge no longer carries the urgency it had in the beginning. Somewhere, in the farthest corners of his mind, he feels a vague stir of obligation, an obligation to resist—but he can’t remember why.
He stares down at the book resting face-down in his lap. He remembers not being able to read it at first, just as he remembers not being able to look out the window. The book had been nothing but blank pages bound in leather, and the window… he frowns, trying to remember what he’d seen when he first looked out the window. Nothing, but a very specific kind of nothing…
The memory eludes him. He shrugs, staring out at the gulls playing in the surf. He can look out the window, now. He can read the books, now. He sighs, contentment and regret mixing together. He puzzles over that regret, recognizing it, unable to remember why it’s there.
He should be doing something. Something other than this. Something important.
“It’s taken hold. Interesting. I expected this to take longer.”
A man sits in a chair on the other side of the window. A dark-haired man, with a face that pulls at old memories. His father’s face, but the man is not his father.
“Given your focus and determination, I expected you to be more restless.” The man smiles softly, staring at him with kind eyes. “I suppose it’s harder to marshal such traits in a prison such as this.”
“Yes…” Artemis sighs as he speaks. His gaze drifts back to the window.
“All the little things you want in life.” The man with his father’s face gestures to encompass the room and the window both. “In your lowest moments, when you are the least comfortable, the most irritated, feeling the greatest distress… these are the things you long for. A quiet chair, near a warm window, overlooking the ocean. Tea. A good book.”
“Yes…” Artemis sighs again, and as his breath leaves him he feels a portion of his worry and despair leave as well. These are all the things he would rather being doing than… what did he call it? Saving the world from itself. And now, at last, he is doing them. Why was the other thing so important?
For a moment Artemis remembers being suspended in midair, watching a robed man with a soul of poisonous shadow screaming questions at him as he grows hungrier and thirstier each passing day. He shifts uneasily in his seat, trying to remember what it means. Who is that robed figure? Why was he hanging in the air? Why is the thing he remembers more clearly than anything else—more than the hunger, more than the thirst—an overwhelming resolve to resist? That commitment is the clearest part of the picture. He frowns as he tries, in vain, to find context.
“Some fight left, I see.” The man with his father’s face nods approvingly. “I’m glad to see it. I do regret this—it must be this way, you are far too dangerous to be restrained in a more traditional manner—but I am glad you resist to the end. It’s what you should do. It is what is right. You will not win—it is, alas, only a matter of time until you succumb—but it is right that you refuse to accept it.”
He stands, looking down, gently placing his hand on Artemis’ shoulder.
“I promise you this,” the man with his father’s face says, “and in that most secret place where you are still fighting, I hope you find comfort in it. Some day, you will be released from this prison. Some day, it will be over and done… the die will be cast, and a new world will have risen from the ashes of the old. You will be free. You will find yourself again, and it will be in a world that you have dreamed of for a hundred years. Dreamed, but never achieved. I will do this for you. I will lay that world at your feet.”
Artemis stares up at the man. His jaw tightens. “I…”
The words don’t want to come. He forces them out.
“I… will… stop… you.”
“No,” the man says, voice gentle. “You won’t.”
Artemis’ gaze returns to the window. He listens to the sound of surf crashing on the beach.