XIV – Elusion and Dream
Cool night air blew gently through the Irish countryside, the lush trees and thick green grasses covering the rolling hills that stretched in every direction, a sea of silent nature. Nestled amongst the forests and fields was Fowl Manor, the large castle-like residence dominating one of the many hills, its great windows pouring light out into the dark, like a glimmer of hope amidst an ocean of shadow.
Artemis stood outside the mansion, his friend, Holly, alongside him. Fowl Manor loomed over him, its grand form reaching into the sky, the architecture that had housed numerous generations before now standing ever strongly before Artemis. He looked to the entrance to his long time home, its large doors strong but welcoming. He didn’t know why he was there, but he saw a long awaited sight, one that eased the pain that the last few days had held. There, waiting on the doorsteps, was his family. Fowl Sr. and Angeline stood hand in hand, Myles and Beckett at their feet, though strangely behaved, and his guardians, Butler and Juliet. They all watched him with smiles on their faces, inviting him to join them, to be safe and at peace in the home that he had grown up in, surrounded by those he cared for. Even though the circumstances were a mystery, he had no greater desire now than to be with them, the events with Opal and the brushes with death having made him yearn for the normal reality of family life. Artemis looked to Holly, who gave him a nod, smiling as well.
“Go on, Artemis, don’t keep them waiting.” She said with a grin.
He turned back to his family, taking a step forward. How free he felt, how hopeful and at peace. It was over, finally he could rest. As the soft wind blew by him, he walked towards his life, the life that he wanted, one without conflict and sorrow, one in which everything was as it should be. His heart sang at the very thought of it, the possibility of a happy ending, a conclusion that made way for a new era, an era of unassailed happiness. He smiled, the tension from all the years now washed away and forgotten. This was what he lived for. Whilst he got closer, his father smiled wider.
“Welcome home, son.” He said warmly, his voice soft yet easily audible from Artemis’ distance.
His mother, Angeline, looked brilliant, her radiant smile lighting up the dark. “Do hurry Arty,” She called in a motherly fashion, “It’s breezy. I don’t want you catching a cold.”
Artemis was elated. That was his mother all right, ever concerned for his health, if not irritatingly so, though that didn’t bother him one bit now. What mattered was that they were just as he knew them to be, their familiar ways a comfort to his soul.
Myles and Beckett were excited to see him, and despite their ridiculously hyperactive nature, they were reluctantly restrained, no doubt adhering to their mother’s orders. They would rather watch the terrifyingly obtuse content of reality television for a month straight before they let their playtime get penalized, so they kept themselves behaved.
Beside them, the Butlers stood strongly, an ever present force that guarded the Fowls. Artemis looked to them, nodding his welcome. Butler smiled slightly, nodding in return. Juliet waved enthusiastically, smiling widely.
By now Artemis was only a few dozen meters away, his body screaming to simply run to them, such was his urge to find peace. As he got closer, he called to them.
“I’m home, everyone.” He said with joy. “I love you all so very much.”
As he finished his utterance there was a sudden change in the atmosphere, catching him off guard. A red glow poured from under the closed doorway, the crimson light shining nefariously. Artemis’ eyes went wide, his chest aching with a sudden sense of terror, an impossibly wrong sensation filling the air. He started running, desperately trying to reach his family, who were oblivious. “No!” He screamed, but it was too late.
With a horrid sound, the entire manor exploded, a wall of searing heat assaulting the boy as he ran, the force throwing him back like a leaf in the wind. But even as the hot air hit him, he still kept his eyes on those he loved, though part of him wished he didn’t. The doorway blew outward, a shower of black and red mist and fire engulfing his family and mentors, their familiar forms disappearing into the storm of death, never to return again. With the great pillars of fire rising into the air, Artemis’ whole world came crashing down. As the tall towers of Fowl Manor crumbled to the earth, he screamed, throwing himself towards the fire, part of him still thinking that he could save them. But as he tried to reach the glowing flames, an invisible force threw him back, sending him rolling onto the hard driveway, his body screaming in pain as it was slammed into the hard surface.
There was a long moment of grief numbed pain, the flow of sorrow washing through him as he lay face down on the hard earth, unwilling to accept what had just happened, unable to even think it a possibility. He looked blankly at the stone beneath him, watching the ashes of his loved ones blow by, the hot wind casting their remains into the air like the delicate petals of a dying flower. He couldn’t speak, his voice impeded by sobs and tears, the weight of a thousand suns crushing his heart as he felt his life fade to black. He rose to his knees, screaming with anger and hurt, banging his fists into the ground, not caring as several of his fingers broke. As tears flowed freely, Holly ran to his side, her face just as stricken as his own. She didn’t speak. Words were meaningless against what had happened, mere rhetoric incapable of conveying the proper emotions. She held him as he broke down, the small elf consoling the much larger human. He trembled uncontrollably, gasping for air as he sobbed, every fiber of his being in anguish. Pieces of debris rained down around them, but they didn’t pay any attention to it, the collapsing mansion falling apart just as their lives had just been torn to shreds.
As they grieved together before the hungry flames that had consumed their friends and family, a hellish laugh echoed from within the mansion, rising above the roar of the dreadful fires.
“How deplorably fragile you creatures are.” The voice said demonically, utterly devoid of care.
They both looked up to the source of the speech, the bloody glow rising above even the fire light, the shape of a being taking form as it stood casually in the destruction, flames all around yet completely harmless to it. With another horrid laugh that brought terror to the soul, the being emerged from the flames, stepping insultingly upon the ashes of the Fowls and Butlers. As she emerged completely from the firestorm, Opal Koboi’s hateful face smiled devilishly, her sharp teeth and blood red eyes making her look like a monster, which was exactly what she was.
“Oh I’m sorry, did I interrupt something?” She said evilly, chuckling afterward. “I have to say, I intended to kill them slowly, but your reaction was totally worth it.”
Artemis glared daggers at the pixie, every part of him wishing for her to die. He hated her with an bottomless hate, his mind filling with images of her demise, desiring for her to suffer, to feel as he did. Yet despite his rage, he couldn’t move, nor could he speak. He could only watch.
Holly, on the other hand, was fully functional, and completely enraged. With a scream that coupled anger and anguish, the elf flew forward, her neutrino in hand. She fired into the pixie with everything she had, the fairy weapon lighting up the air with a storm of deadly energy blasts. Opal sneered as the shots slammed into her, the pulses simply melting away as the pixie absorbed them, her dark magic swirling around her now with deadly intent.
Despite her obviously ineffective weapon, Holly kept shooting, her face contorted with rage and despair as tears poured from her mismatched eyes. “You bitch!” She screamed, never taking her finger off the trigger, the gun firing endlessly into the evil pixie, who sucked it all in without batting an eye.
Opal grinned widely, her razor teeth terrifying to behold. “You’re a stubborn one, aren’t you Short?” She said loftily, motioning with her hand to the elf. A long arm of dark magic blasted into Holly, throwing her back with crushing force. The elf screamed in pain as she landed beside Artemis, her arm broken in a dozen places. She tried to heal, but Opal’s magic simply absorbed every drop of Holly’s, eating it ravenously.
“Artemis, run!” Holly said weakly, all her energy being used in her fight against the magic that held her down. Artemis couldn’t move, even as Opal slowly closed the distance between them, tauntingly taking her time. Why was he frozen? Why couldn’t he do something? He was so utterly useless that it made him sick.
“Oh Arty, don’t cry.” Opal said smoothly, her voice mocking and devoid of concern. “I thought you always had a plan, and yet you’ve already given up.” She stopped right before him, the sky around her filled with dreadful magic and burning embers before the endless backdrop of the smoke blackened sky. She looked deep into his eyes, her own gleaming with a crimson light that seemed to have a life of its own. “How pathetic you are without your friends to back you up.”
Holly gritted her teeth beside him, still fighting the magical force that held her with an astonishing amount of persistence. Opal looked to the elf, then back to Artemis.
“How about we play a little game.” She stated deviously. With a flick of her wrist, her magic flew into action, the tendrils of black and crimson energy forming together into a gigantic beast, its enormous mouth filled with glowing red teeth, and its numerous eyes gleaming with a feral madness. It was a creature truly straight out of hell, something of such horrid appearance that there was no other way to describe it. Opal lifted Holly off of the ground, moving her to face the beast, laughing with sick anticipation. Artemis’ eyes went wider than they already were. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, he could speak.
“No!” He screamed.
Opal stopped her action, leaving Holly floating a few feet from the gigantic magical maw. The pixie looked at Artemis, tilting her head. “You want me to stop? That will cost you.” She knelt down, one of her hands now glowing with a tiny spark of dark magic. “If you want to save your friend, you must sacrifice yourself. In particular, you must be devoured by my magic. It’s an extremely slow and painful process, one that will keep you alive until the very last moment. You will feel everything, every cell in your body as it is torn from this realm. How does that sound?”
Holly screamed from in the air. “Don’t listen to her Artemis!”
The boy took a deep breath, weighing his egregiously limited options, though he knew he only had one. What other choice did he have? With a resolute voice, Artemis responded to Opal, “I will do it.”
The pixie grinned vivaciously. “Very well, Fowl.” She moved her hand to touch the boy on the chest. “Have fun, I know I will.”
The magic tore into Artemis’ very essence, filling him with an excruciating pain that was beyond anything he ever thought possible. He tried to scream, but his voice was again gone, as was all of his strength. He could see the dark magic working its way up from his feet, its slow passage turning his extremities to dust. Opal was right, he could feel every tiny piece of his body as it was ripped apart, as though his senses had been amplified tenfold for the sole purpose of experiencing agony in its fullest.
“Artemis!” Holly screamed from above, her voice desperate.
Opal watched with sick humor, her eyes gleaming hungrily as they lapped up the wonderful view of complete suffering. “How does it feel, human? Is it worth the life of your friend?”
Artemis looked at Opal, his eyes enormously pained, but also filled with courage. He struggled to talk, and after a few seconds managed to enunciate a few words. “Anything…is…worth it.” He rasped, his eyes turning to Holly. She was utterly shocked.
“Artemis…” She said weakly, completely amazed by his character, that he would undergo such pain for her. It was a show of complete selflessness.
Opal’s face showed a slight bit of vexation. Clearly she hadn’t predicted such a show of strength from the boy, and now that she saw it, she had to put an end to it.
Artemis kept his eyes on Holly, even as the magic reached his midsection, never leaving her gaze as death slowly engulfed him. She looked back at him in the same way, her eyes unblinking despite the sea of tears that flowed from them. The bond between them was unbreakable.
Koboi spoke again, now with a tone that meant it was all over. “By the way, Artemis, I think that I may just have to revoke that little promise I made.” She pointed a finger at Holly, eliciting the response of the magical beast. It opened its maw wide, roaring with a terrifying loudness at the small elf before it.
Artemis gaped with horror. “N…n…no.” He managed to utter, his voice dying in strength. Opal laughed as the beast closed in on Holly, who was again trying to escape from her bonds. It was useless. With a sickening crunch and a shower of blood, the beast engulfed Holly Short, Artemis’ best friend. With a whimper the boy watched, all the while assaulted by Opal’s insane laughter.
“Well, I guess that concludes it!” She leered. She knelt down by Artemis again, who was now lying flat as the magic reached his neck, somehow keeping him alive despite losing his entire torso along with most of his vital organs. As his vision began to fade, Opal met his weak gaze, her eyes taunting him even in death. When she spoke, it was with a voice so evil it made his nonexistent body tremble. “Goodbye, Artemis Fowl. Give your dead friends my regards.” After she spoke, the magic engulfed him completely, and everything went black.
Artemis screamed, his eyes opening frantically as he shot up from his sleeping position. The images filled his head, horror and sickness and agony coming along with them. He breathed heavily, cold sweat covering his body as he trembled with fear. After a moment, someone spoke to him.
“Artemis? You alright?”
It was Holly, who was standing next to him. She looked at him with a worried expression, one that made Artemis’ anguish fade away. The boy sat back in the seat, letting out a huge sigh of relief. Thank god, it was just a dream. He thought, his elevated heartbeat slowing down gradually as he calmed himself, pushing the haunting images only slightly outside of his consciousness. He turned to Holly, nodding with appreciation. “I’m fine, just a bad dream.” He looked around, noting that the shuttle compartment was empty save him and Holly. “How long was I out, where is everyone?.”
The elf grinned. “You’ve been sleeping like a baby since we left for Haven, not a surprise given that you haven’t rested for days.” She motioned to the open shuttle door. “We just arrived, everyone’s waiting outside for you.”
Artemis raised an eyebrow. “Why didn’t you wake me up?” He asked curiously, wishing he’d been roused before the horrid nightmare had developed.
The elf laughed. “Nobody wanted to disturb you, except for me of course. I was just about to wake you, but you beat me to it.” She punched him on the shoulder, grinning at him friendlily.
Artemis smiled back, for once ignoring the painful throbbing that the elf’s playful punch caused. He was enormously glad to see her, even more so after just witnessing her death in a dream far more real than any lucid one could ever be. With a grunt, the boy stood up, his limbs stiff from sitting for hours. He absentmindedly brushed off his suit, making sure it was in perfect order before looking back to Holly. “Let’s go, shall we?” He asked.
The elf nodded, strolling with the genius to the door, the sounds of the recuperating city snaking in through the opening. As Artemis walked, his hand brushed his pocket, feeling the form of the ancient dagger. He stopped, taking it out carefully. His eyes ran over its surface, the small shaped stone that was the only thing that could stop Opal. He held the very fate of the world in his hands, and for once it made him afraid, a feeling of anxiety rising in his chest. How such a small thing can decide the destiny of this earth. He thought. And it is I that must confront Opal with it.
He couldn’t help but grimace slightly. He had already had one close encounter with the insane pixie, and the thought of taking her on again was very unpleasant, even more so due to the completely horrifying dream he’d just experienced. Yet all the same he knew that it was his responsibility. He’d been Opal’s mortal enemy for years, it was fitting that he be the one to help finish it.
Stepping out of the shuttle, Artemis was hammered by the warm air that blew from the massive magma chute, which was only a few dozen meters away. For once he didn’t care as it messed up his usually immaculate hair, his mind on the things that actually mattered, things that would dictate the future of everything. Amidst the noise of the surrounding hangars, everyone else waited by the craft, another transport en route to take them to the police plaza. Butler nodded to the prodigy as he approached. Artemis looked to the man.
“I do apologize for my tardiness, old friend.” He stated professionally. “It appears as though the last few days have been catching up to me.”
The bodyguard gave him a caring look. “Don’t worry about it Artemis. If there’s anyone who deserves a break, it’s you.”
The boy frowned, adjusting his suit absentmindedly with slight anxiety, the weight of the impending situation starting to bear down on him. “Perhaps.” He said. “But regardless, rest is a luxury we cannot afford, not now.” Artemis looked to the air as an LEP shuttle approached, his face ever cast in thought. “I do believe we have some business to attend to at police plaza. There are some warlocks who would love to get their hands on a certain dagger.” He turned back to his friends, individuals whom he’d recently seen perish in that visceral nightmare. Though his face was almost impassive, inside he couldn’t help but feel enormous worry and fear. He never wanted such a dream to come to pass, yet his constantly processing mind was giving him some rather unsettling odds.
To hell with the odds! He silently told his calculative side. He would rather die then let percentages decide their fate, not when they’d been defying them for years. But all the same, the thought of his friends being dragged again into ruthless conflict made him feel sick. He was sure that they had had enough of that for one lifetime, he most certainly felt that way.
The group waited as the shuttle landed upon the hangar surface, Artemis standing at the forefront. The boy was again cast in intense thought, the deep lines of worry and stress wrinkling his youthful face. Behind him, Holly watched with a worried look, knowing all too well what Artemis’ expression tried and failed to obscure.
Haven – Police Plaza
Activity whirled around the police HQ, the previously half destroyed building now fully repaired, its many thousands of data relays and defense systems completely functional, running like clockwork. Dust was cast into the air as shuttles and transports landed around the plaza, unloading all sorts of troops and supplies in the LEP’s ever continuous effort to bolster their defenses, which had already reached a level ten times that of the previous system, making Haven an almost impregnable fortress.
Within the station was an equal level of organized commotion, the command room an ever hectic beehive of officers and technicians. Amidst the flurry of action, inside the advanced confines of Foaly’s newly constructed ops booth, the loud cries of laughter resounded. The centaur laughed relentlessly as he watched the surveillance footage from the previous night on the numerous screens at his disposal, his face red from the humor. The footage was currently covering his friends’ escape from the courtyard, just as the entire mobster fleet fell apart piece by piece. Boy was it good to record things.
Ever since Butler beat up the troll back during the Fowl Incident, Foaly had made sure to record every adventure that they went on, knowing perfectly well that the footage would be a source of endless amusement later. He didn’t at all feel bad about taking a break from the tiring work he’d been carrying out for the last few days, mainly due to the fact that he had done everything he could possibly do, and now had a bit of free time as he waited for Artemis’ return.
“Oh man.” He breathed, his voice tired from laughing. “Mud men are so amusing to watch.”
With an overly amused expression, Foaly looked through the footage some more, drinking carrot juice absentmindedly as he did so. Whilst the centaur continued his antics enjoyment, the door to the ops booth slid open, through it pouring the professional noise from the adjacent command room. The two powerful warlocks, Quan and his apprentice, Nº1, entered Foaly’s security room with rather tired gaits, their faces drawn with weary lines. They had been spending all of their time helping the countless wounded, using their skillful magic to heal wounds that even the medical warlocks couldn’t hope to ameliorate. After carrying out hundreds of such healings, despite their enormous power, they were quite exhausted.
Quan cleared his throat, grabbing the attention of the distracted centaur who, in his entertainment, hadn’t even noticed the two individuals enter. Foaly spun around in his custom swivel chair, a slightly embarrassed look on his face.
“Oh!” He said, grinning sheepishly. “You need something?”
Quan raised an eyebrow curiously. “Nice to see that raise you recently acquired in full effect.” He looked to the monitors, noting the footage upon them, in particular the scene of the Butlers and Holly smashing through dozens of armed mobsters whilst Artemis ran for his life. “I assume that Artemis has accomplished his mission?”
Foaly quickly composed himself, wiping the embarrassment from his face before assuming a more professional expression. “Yes.” He said, a slight bit of anxiety still in his voice; he disliked being scolded by anyone, his inflated ego very fragile despite its size. He motioned to the screens, a grin already destroying his formal composure. “They made quite a mess in the process, but everything went as expected.” He chuckled as he watched Butler send the mansion’s front doors into the side of a Lamborghini.
It was Nº1’s turn to cock his eyebrows. “This sort of thing is normal?” He asked curiously. “Such a series of events occurred during the Paradizo incident, but I assumed that such was an abnormality.” The young demon looked quite perplexed.
Foaly grinned. “Oh, there’s no mistake.” He stated. “That’s just another day in the office for them.” He felt a great deal of amusement as the imp’s visage twisted into an even greater look of befuddlement. Taking advantage of the moment, Foaly clicked a specific satellite footage file, a very wide grin on his face. “Hey, wanna see something cool?” He asked mischievously.
Quan was about to protest when Nº1 spoke up, excitement on his face. “Oh yes, indeed, definitely, affirmative!” The young warlock said in an almost childish fashion, halting his teacher’s impending disapproval. Quan couldn’t help but grin; despite being a powerful warlock with a mindset far older than his actual age, Nº1 still had a bit of childish enthusiasm left in him.
Foaly switched on the satellite footage, setting it to the largest screen. It depicted the truck in which Artemis and the others were, the vehicle fleeing through the massive mountains as a human attack helicopter pursued it. The gunship fired a salvo of missiles, and for a moment it seemed as though evasion was impossible, but at the last moment they deployed a series of flares, sending the missiles into the mountain. As the helicopter was forced to circle around the mountains, the three watched as the avalanche began to form high above the pass that the SUV was taking. As the gunship came around, they immediately made the connection.
“No way.” Nº1 said to himself, his face etched with stupefaction.
“Yes way!” Foaly stated flamboyantly, throwing up his arms with gusto as the avalanche fell onto the helicopter. The centaur’s enthusiasm amalgamated with the ridiculously theatrical display upon the screen, making it dexterously discernible that he was way past the point of having too much fun; it was a total amusement implosion.
“Brilliant.” Said a deeply impressed Quan, who was clearly trying to ignore Foaly’s partially disturbing behavior. “He managed to predict the exact movements of the helicopter along with the probability and velocity of the avalanche so that they would collide at precisely the right moment. If he were but a small increment off in his calculations, his plan would have failed horribly.”
Foaly chuckled more as he watched the enormously flummoxed pilots rage tactlessly whilst they climbed from the crashed chopper. “That’s what I’ve come to expect from him. He’s pretty brilliant for a human.” The centaur’s attention was grabbed by a silent notification upon one of his consoles, the signal slightly calming his exuberant mood. “Speaking of criminal masterminds, it appears that one has just entered the building.”
Outside of the enormously advanced room, at the far end of the command center, the large set of double doors slid open. As they opened, the distorted shadows of the individuals outside stretched into the room, foreshadowing a group of legends.
The fairy officers within the room, with the exception of several overly pompous officials, stopped what they were doing to see the newcomers, the people that had saved their lives on a regular basis. Artemis Fowl led his friends, his gait strong and purposeful, an air of supreme preponderance washing from his confident demeanor. It was a presence that many would not attribute to an individual of his appearance, though it was there all the same, the thin and unimposing young man seemingly carrying the power of an emperor and the character of a wise old scholar. He didn’t hesitate for a moment upon entering the room, and not a single being present could see the emotion behind his impervious mask, the boy’s visage like a wall of brilliant alabaster stone. Such composure came naturally to him, especially when he wanted to hide his feelings.
Artemis quickly crossed the room, nodding to Trouble Kelp as he went, his real attention on the ops booth where he somehow knew the two warlocks were. Behind him, Holly Short kept pace, along with the two Butlers. Nobody knew where Mulch had went, though it was obvious that he was up to no good. Commander Kelp caught Holly’s attention with a look in her direction and the slightest of expressions. He clearly wanted a report on the events above ground asap, though for now Holly simply returned the look with one of her own, much more concerned for Artemis than for the boring protocols of the LEP. To her surprise, Trouble backed off. Am I really that terrifying? She thought, again following Artemis to the ops booth.
“Artemis, it’s good to see you and your friends made it back unscathed.” Quan welcomed as he emerged from the ops booth, a rather giddy looking Nº1 behind him. By now the room had reverted back to its usual chaos, everyone attentive on their tasks. Despite this, the warlock’s voice carried through the air with practiced grace, clear and prominent above the noisy environment.
Artemis grinned slightly, his face otherwise composed. “I appreciate your concern, though it is well established that we have a tendency to carry out difficult tasks with little issue, and given that dealing with Sawyer was more of a first grader field-trip to the zoo than an actual mission, the outcome was obvious.”
The old warlock cocked an eyebrow. “So being chased by dozens of murderous humans and almost getting blown up by missiles is akin to infantile endeavors? I have to ask, what does qualify as an actual challenge for you?”
“No that much in all honesty.” The genius replied. “Though cooking and that abysmal thing called dancing are at the top of that short list.” He couldn’t help but recall the time he made an attempt at simple pancakes. He almost burned the manor down, and ended up creating grotesque deformities that doubled as bullet proof plates.
The warlock smiled. “Ah, Fowl’s great weaknesses, culinary arts and artistic choreography.” He chuckled briefly before becoming more serious, his face giving an expectant look. “But alas, before we digress further, I believe that you have something very important for me.”
Artemis reached into his pocket, procuring the ancient dagger that was their very hope and salvation. With careful hands, he gave the artifact to Quan, who didn’t take hold of it immediately. His hand hovered over the blade cautiously, and Artemis could have sworn he saw a flicker of black energy lick from the blade, but it quickly disappeared. The warlock closed his eyes, chanting something incomprehensible as he grabbed the dagger. For a moment there was a brief hiss and the faintest of sparks of energy when Quan made contact. However, such things were very terse, passing so quickly that they almost didn’t seem to happen. Quan took deep breath, ending his chant before opening his eyes. For all that it was, grabbing the small knife seemed to tire him out enormously. Noticing Artemis’ concern, he gave a reassuring smile.
“No need to worry.” He said. “Coming into contact with a magical artifact such as this can have considerable effects upon highly powerful mages such as myself if they don’t take the necessary precautions. When a magical force of such darkness as this comes into contact with the pure magic of a warlock, it could react very dangerously.” He looked at the blade quizzically. “This one is enormously powerful, though it was easy enough to put under control given I had time to prepare a certain spell designed specifically for this.” He took another deep breath, smiling widely. “But despite the horrid power that this holds, it is no less an honor to behold a piece of arcane history with my own eyes.”
Holly, who was doing her best to wait patiently, decided to make him get to the point, her tolerance for the discourse of academia rather low. “Alright, alright.” She said uncouthly, arms crossed from the boredom. “We’ve got it here, now can you tell us where this thing is pointing to? I don’t think Opal is wasting time goggling excitedly over her artifacts, so I doubt we should.”
Quan didn’t hide his surprise. Clearly he wasn’t all too accustomed to fiery females like Holly, though it would do him good to get used to it.
“I’m sorry to say, but I can’t answer that immediately.” He said sorrily, not wanting to make the elf any more agitated. “In order to unlock the links formed by this artifact, Nº1 and I need to perform some rather intricate spells upon it. However, the procedure will not take nearly as long as Opal’s, in fact it should only consume a few hours.”
Quan looked to Nº1, who seemed very eager to get to work on the artifact. “I guess now we’ll see whether you’ve been paying attention to all of the lessons I’ve been giving you.” He said.
The demon imp didn’t look fazed at all. “There’s no need for a practical test to ascertain my adherence to my studies. I can recite every teaching you’ve given thus far, all five thousand three hundred and seventy-six hours of lecture and the applicable spells.”
Quan did not look at all surprised. Instead he nodded, as though he expected as much. “Good.” He said, turning back to Artemis. “We will need complete privacy for this, thus we will be in a prefabricated chamber isolated beneath this building. It will provide the optimal environment for the procedure.” He didn’t turn around, but still projected his voice into the ops booth behind him. “Foaly, it is ready, isn’t it?”
“Of course.” The centaur called back, his ego somewhat hurt by the warlock doubting him. “I’ll make sure that nobody disturbs you and whatever sort of weird stuff that’s happening in there.” He paused. “And by the way, Artemis, that was freakin’ crazy awesome what you did with the chopper. If I was a mud man I’d upload it to youtube, get a million hits in no time.” He laughed from the confines of the ops booth, again watching Artemis’ handiwork.
Quan gave Artemis a certain look. He’s been like this for hours, it said.
The boy smiled. You don’t say. His own expression stated in return.
There was a long awkward silence as Foaly continued his rather unprofessional behavior, the sudden lack of coordination throwing their conversation on an egregiously derailed tangent. After a moment, Quan took the initiative and broke the unpleasant quiescence, his voice calm and to the point.
“Well, then…I guess now’s the time to take our leave.” The warlock looked to his apprentice. “Let’s go, young one. It’s time for all those lessons to pay off.”
With a nod to Artemis and the others, the two warlocks left the command room, haste now evident in their steps. As they did this, Artemis scrunched his face in obvious contemplation, the intensity of his visage plainly stating that the nature of such thought was unpleasant. They’d beaten the new Opal once already, and now they had the tool necessary to end her, yet he felt horrible. He reasoned that it was probably just the aftereffects of the dream he’d had coupled with the annoying teenage emotional paradigm, thereby throwing in negativity by default. But despite all of his logic, there was no release from the dread he’d been feeling, a constant pressure upon his very soul that never relented in its torment. Artemis’ thought cast face grimaced slightly. He was the smartest human in the world, better than even most fairies as well, if not all of them. He’d run a criminal empire like a master of the craft as a child, outsmarted the LEP on numerous occasions, beaten countless foes, overturned entire criminal organizations with but a gesture, all within the time span of less than a decade. Even with all of his power, all of his intellect, and even the dark recesses of his once criminal mind, he could not beat simple emotion. What was it that made it so impervious? Why was such ubiquitous feeling so impossible to escape?
“Well Fowl, I hate to say this but you got the job done, minus the needless mess you made.” Commander Kelp said loudly, interrupting he boy’s tense cogitation, throwing him off canter for only a fraction of a second before he could assume his always perfect demeanor. Usually the change would be immediate, but he found himself slower than usual, for obvious reasons that no less made him frustrated.
Kelp had long since ceased his quite patience. Now he was all orders and demands, just as his rank should be.
“Though I still think that it would have been more efficient to have a retrieval team carry it out. We could have been finished long before you would have on your little field trip.” He didn’t hide the irritation in his voice. He still didn’t very much like Artemis. The boy grinned very slightly; some things never change.
“I do appreciate your criticism, and indeed it may have been better had we done it your way…” Artemis stated smoothly, adjusting his cufflinks. “…But what’s done is done. There is no need to rethink the past, even if you could change it with a bit of help from Quan. It would only end up wasting the valuable time that is ever running out.”
Trouble frowned with obvious annoyance. Still, he decided not to press Artemis any further, knowing that any sort of verbal argument with the boy would end in utter defeat. But it was not only this that put him off, it was the way Artemis looked; despite his composure, he appeared severely tired, not just physically, but within his very being. Kelp wasn’t absolutely sure given Artemis’ monumental self control, but regardless, he couldn’t help but slightly worry for him, though he didn’t show it. Showing that he felt for the kid was not in his job description, nor in the more dominant half of his mind.
Artemis looked to Butler, who was ever vigilant despite Juliet getting rather distracted by Foaly’s pimped out room. The large man was immediately attentive to his charge, returning the look with eyes that showed compassion and understanding.
Artemis smiled thinly. “Old friend, it appears that we have some time to relax whilst Quan and Nº1 do their work.” Though relaxing is the last thing I could feasibly do right now. “You and Juliet should take a break. I’ll just be outside.”
Butler didn’t protest fully, though he showed signs of worry. “Are you sure? I am obligated to stay near you at all times.”
The boy smiled again, touched by the massive bodyguard’s concern. Nonetheless, he needed to be alone. At least I think I do… “There’s no need, friend, I just need to think.”
The man nodded, letting himself, albeit reluctantly, relax. He watched as Artemis left, his eyes on him until he left the room. All the while, Holly watched, ever worried sick for the boy. Something was wrong, but being Artemis Fowl, he would never tell anyone, not unless he were pressured into doing so. The elf officer still held her gaze on the young prodigy, even after the door closed behind him, the image of him walking down the halls in her mind’s eye. As she did this, Kelp approached her, an all business attitude now covering his visage. Oh gods, just leave me alone. She thought as she saw him from the corner of her eye. She didn’t have the time nor the patience for this.
“Captain Short.” He called firmly. “I need that report on my desk pronto. After that I need you to-”
“Shut it Commander.” She stated acrimoniously, fed up with him already. “Since when have pointless wads of paper recounting what we already know saved anyone?!”
Everyone else in the room had completely stopped what they were doing, all eyes now on the clearly bitter exchange taking place. Butler and Juliet, though within Foaly’s ops booth, were also watching, though they didn’t interrupt; this was between Holly and Trouble.
Trouble gritted his teeth. “It’s your duty, Short, as it is mine.”
“Duty?” She said incredulously. “If you had any shred of duty or honor you would at least treat Artemis with respect! He’s saved your d’arviting rear end more times than you could count!”
Kelp was starting to get furious. “You dare talk to your commanding officer that way?!” He yelled, his face becoming as red as Root’s used to be.
Holly didn’t even flinch. “I do his job to protect these people, not to argue with the likes of you, who seem to value mere paperwork more than the well-being of our friends!”
Holly stormed out of the room, heading in the direction Artemis had went. She no doubt had something of far greater importance on her mind, thus her fiery assault on that which sought to impede her. Trouble stood there, his face stricken with both anger and regret, trying to figure out what had just happened. Everyone else was equally as shocked, the silence in the room now reaching an unbearable level. Kelp was angry at her for such uncouth behavior, but at the same time he understood her motives. She cared for Artemis more than he ever could, and whilst the boy was obviously suffering inside, he was making a fuss over field reports. Even worse for him, it was made a spectacle before all of his chief officers, who were now uncertain what to do. He suddenly felt ashamed. He was the commander of the LEP forces, and he had acted like a fool.
Trouble turned to his officers, an apologetic look on his face. “As you were.”
Whilst everyone started to make an effort at resuming their tasks, Mulch Diggums stuck his head up from under a desk, a handful of wallets and other personal effects tucked away in his beard.
“Jeez, what was that all about?”
Artemis sat upon the roof of the police plaza, the vantage point giving him a full view of the burnt out city, which was an ever present panorama of a great creature now half dead. Warm wind blew past him as ships flew by, the air’s force rustling his hair and clothes into a rather careless state. Not that he cared about such things now. The worries of his past were but insignificant drops of water in an ocean of sand, instantly absorbed whilst leaving no trace of their passage, devoured ruthlessly by greater things. Noise resounded sharply through the air, though it was slightly averted by the wind, making it seem farther away. The building he was upon was surrounded by activity, the entire area filled with emergency crews and heavy duty machinery, and yet he’d never felt so alone. The whole world could have been before him, but it would feel as though he were isolated inside a lonesome reality, hidden and cold.
He clenched his teeth, trying to avoid the thoughts that surfaced from not only the nightmare, but from the horrid events of the last week. He saw, felt, and smelt death. He could even taste it, its stench frighteningly identifiable within his mouth, almost making him gag. Yet it was all in his head – flashes of doom and loss, of sadness and ruin, of his family and friends falling into the eternal embrace of death. He ran from them, but they followed him. He fought them, but they persisted against him. They were unstoppable forces that sought to drive him mad, a swarm of ethereal locusts within the confines of his being. His hands drew themselves into fists. Why could he not escape them? He knew the past events were traumatic in nature, that they would no doubt be ingrained within his mind forever, but even so, why must they so ruthlessly pester him now? When everyone depended upon and protected him, how could he protect them in turn when he couldn’t even control himself?
The thought of it made him queasy. So much had been lost already, yet he’d managed to hold onto those he loved, even just barely. He couldn’t ignore the fact that such a grip could fail, that he could lose them in this war, that even with his greatest of efforts, not everyone would make it through. He told himself that it would be different, that they would come through as always did, damaged but very much alive. Such self talk did little to ease his worry. After experiencing so much pain and loss in a dream that felt completely real, even after waking, the anxiety and torment still followed him, taunting him just as Opal would.
He shook with a sudden cold as he thought of Koboi, her evil persona and even more evil deeds taking the forefront of his mind. Going against her was a daunting task, one that would cost a lot of blood. He could only selfishly hope that the blood did not belong to his companions.
As he sat there upon a hill of melancholy, footsteps were heard directly behind him. He didn’t bother turning, he knew who it was, though he still felt a certain amount of shock and joy bordered sadness at the elf’s appearance. Holly came up behind him cautiously, not wanting to startle him in fear of breaking his concentration. Not that I’m actually concentrating on anything beneficial. Artemis thought sadly as she came to sit down next to him.
They sat there together in silence for what seemed like an eternity, neither knowing completely what to say as they looked into the sullen cityscape before them. Holly was the one to break the fragile reticence.
“Artemis, I know you’re tying to hide your true feelings from us, from me.” She began softly. “Ever since you woke up in the shuttle, you’ve been completely difference. Despite your best efforts to mask it, you look hurt and afraid, like something dreadful is about to happen.” She paused, the wind now gentle as it swirled by the two of them. “What happened in that dream, Artemis? You can tell me anything, I swear I will never speak of it.” She took a deep breath. “You just can’t hold these things in, it will only destroy you. Trust me, I know what it’s like.”
Artemis didn’t move physically, but inside his heart and soul were shaking, yearning for comfort as a starved man yearns for even the smallest of crumbs. He didn’t want to bother them needlessly with his own issues, bringing more discomfort to an already horrid situation. Yet with the reassuring presence he felt beside him, such resistance was empty, a wall made of air. He let go of his secrecy, speaking for the first time upon the roof with a mixed sense of relief and tension.
“The dream felt real, just as real as being here is, far more than any lucid dream could be” He coughed, shaking the dread he felt upon purposefully remembering it. “I saw Opal kill everyone…My mother and father, Myles and Beckett, Butler and Juliet, and…you.” He couldn’t stop his eyes from watering, the experience now back in full force, a living, breathing shadow of anguish. “I was useless, I couldn’t do anything as they burned, and even when I did my best she killed you anyway.” He was shaking now. “I lost everything that mattered to me, and I could do nothing against it, not a single damn thing to save you or anyone else.” His voice was shaky, mirroring his anguish. “Opal won, and she laughed as we died.”
There was a moment of silence once more, raw emotion tangible in the air. Holly was shocked at the notion of experiencing such a horrid dream, but her voice was somehow calm and firm, unshakable. “That’s not going to happen, Artemis. Together we will win, and in the end there will be peace and happiness and hope. I know that for a fact.”
Artemis shook his head. “How I wish I could believe that, but even now, I just can’t shake the feeling that defeating her will cost far more than anyone can imagine…” He brushed away tears. “I’ve made thousands of estimations, and in all of them we lose a friend, I just can’t seem to find the odds that favor us.”
Holly’s voice was filled with steel, yet gentle. It eased Artemis’ sharp pain like a salve upon a wound. “And since when have odds dictated our survival?”
Artemis couldn’t hold back a slight grin, the expression, though just barely, causing the worried wrinkles by his eyes to fade. “Not a single time…”
Holly grinned. “That’s right, mud boy.” She punched him on the shoulder, though lighter than usual.
The playful gesture brought Artemis’ mind fully to Holly, to their times together, to all of the suffering and hardship that they braved together, and all the wonderful moments and exciting adventures they’d had. The flood of warming memories clashed with the horrid images from his dream, visions of his friend being slaughtered mercilessly by Opal, crushed like an insect by jaws of dark magic. The antithesis of each side made him lose all control, the goodness of one cast with the sadness of the other making it all too hard to bear. Artemis, the genius who was always in control, broke down. Dammit! I’m crying!? How could he not? Such sweet memories made him cherish Holly all the more, and made the thought of losing her exponentially as painful.
“Artemis…” Holly said softly, enormously concerned.
“I just…” He tried to make out between sobs. “..I don’t want to lose you.”
As he tried to calm himself to no avail, Artemis felt Holly clasp him by the shoulder. He turned to her, wiping away the tears so he could see clearly. She was facing him now, looking straight into his eyes. Oh god, her eyes, those brilliant mismatched eyes, they looked into the depths of a soul even so guarded as his own. For only a brief moment he felt a pang of guilt over no longer having one of her hazel eyes, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by an impossible comfort, a completely unpredicted feeling of warmth. Amidst the valley of Artemis’ melancholy, the faint outline of light began to grace the hills, the jagged dark clouds becoming brighter and softer, the frigid air slowly fading into warmth.
The faint beginnings of tears were now present in Holly’s eyes, the hard steel of her character intertwined with a tender kindness that only the greatest of friendships could nurture.
“I don’t want to lose you either.”
“Holly-” Artemis began.
“You are not alone in this, remember that!” Her caring eyes were filled with strength and assurance, an iron fortitude that refused to be bent. “No matter what happens, we will face this together, I promise!”
Holly pulled Artemis into a tight embrace, and for a moment it seemed as though the whole world stood still, frozen in a perfect moment, unwilling to let it go. He held her close, the joy and peace that it brought washing over him like a wave of warm, fresh air. As they embraced, the hills over the dank valley that was Artemis’ mind suddenly exploded with light as the sun shone its brilliant rays unto the cold earth, chasing away the shadows and ghosts that haunted him, blazing them to ash with its unrivaled purity. He could feel the fear and pain melt away into nothingness, their presence gone as though they had never been, clouds vanished into a pure blue sky. It was a moment he would never forget, it was perfection in all of its many ways, and even as dirt and ash blew past them in the smoke laced air, their world had never felt so pure and free.
Unknown Magma Chute – Five Hours Later
There was darkness, an oppressing black soup that made anything tangible seemingly nonexistent, a shroud of mystery. Silence dominated the stale smelling atmosphere, further accentuating the feeling of nothingness that seemed to drip from the very air itself. It was a world that embodied nightmares and dreams, a world of emptiness, a blank dark canvas upon which one’s imagination could paint horrid works of art.
From the distance, a deep, faint sound began to rise, echoing from untold miles away. The adumbrating noise continued to rise in volume, followed by an ever growing speck of light, though small and insignificant within the opaque environment. A lone LEP stealth interceptor cut through the darkness, its sleek frame making it akin to a tiny fish in a gargantuan ocean. As it passed through the mysterious shadow, its high powered lights illuminated the cave walls around it, though only enough to make out the faint lines of jagged stone and razor sharp stalagmites and stalactites, their looming forms making the ancient chute resemble the maw of an enormous beast.
In the distance, a few dozens miles down the archaic tunnel, a teasing red glow resided. The stealth ship traveled the distance in a matter of seconds, reaching the source of the light almost immediately. As it did, the already gigantic cave expanded into an even greater monstrosity, its width now reaching seven miles, whilst its height vaulted to over twice that. Its ceiling, however, was vastly limited due to the ubiquitous stalactites that seemed to grow like weeds upon the ancient stone, their solid forms ranging from a few dozen meters in length to skyscraper sized spears. Huge holes were present in the bottom of the cave, steaming with molten lava, the scorching fires lighting the cave with a bloody hew, though there seemed to be another source of crimson light which was seemingly invisible. The LEP ship blasted into the great chamber, traveling down its length. The cave continued for at least a few dozen miles before ending at a perfectly flat wall of impossibly smooth stone, the seemingly constructed material standing out against the otherwise natural rock that formed the rest of the cave, making it deductible that it was placed there purposefully by an arcane force. There the ship stopped, slowing to a hover above the glowing pockets of lava, the great wall looming over it.
Within the interceptor, the now dutiful Grub Kelp looked at the ginormous barrier before him, then to the coordinates upon his navigation system. There was no mistaking it; behind the great wall towering above his ship was the location of the Gate, as per the instruction given to him by Quan.
The elf cleared his throat as he switched on his comm link.
“Commander, location has been verified. We’ve got it.”