Commander Trouble Kelp burst through the door into the operations booth, sending a startled Foaly a few feet off of his seat. He’d been above ground for the last few days searching everywhere for any signs of Holly, but had turned up with nothing. They had no clue what had happened after she had gotten into the firefight, their communication flat-lining for no apparent reason. When Trouble had gotten to the warehouse about half an hour after they had lost connection, there was absolutely nothing left, not a single trace. Clearly he was in a very bad mood.
“Dammit this better be good, I’m not going to stop looking for Holly to gawk at your latest invention.”
“It’s nothing like that sir, in fact this is very good and very bad news.” Foaly said nervously as he flicked on the monitor showing a bird’s eye view of the warehouse. “It took me a while to isolate the signal from my satellite, something was causing an enormous amount of interference with the camera feed, most likely on purpose.”
“Cut to the chase pony boy,” growled the Commander.
“Alright, I’ve regained the signal, and I have a recorded feed of everything that happened after Holly went in.”
“Well,” Trouble snapped impatiently, “Play the video.”
Foaly pressed the play button, putting the scene in front of them into action from two views; one from Holly’s helmet cam, the other an external view of the building. Everything seemed normal at first, that was until the gunfire broke out. They could see Holly’s perspective as she fought against the goblins, she was outnumbered almost a hundred to one. For a moment they were captivated by the skill with which Holly engaged her opponents, especially when she jumped over that one goblin whilst shooting him in the face (Foaly saved that clip into his private collection beside the one of butler beating the crap out of a troll).
Their attention was soon drawn to the presence of three incoming aircraft, flying low and very quickly. They were nothing like they’d ever seen; large, jet black craft with sleek features and deadly looking weapons mounted all over. They hovered over the complex, out of them coming dozens of figures all armed to the teeth, surrounding the building. At this point Holly was rushing for her way out, when they saw her take three hits from the goblins. “No,” Trouble gasped as Holly collapsed to the ground.
The rest unfolded in a blur; the entry, the humans neutralizing the goblins, and then the men loading all of the fairies, including Holly, onto the aircraft. Another larger ship showed up behind the others, the mud men loading all of the weapons and ammunition into it at a surprising pace. To say they commander was shocked would be a enormous understatement.
Trouble finally broke out of his stupor, “Follow those ships, we need to see where they went.”
“As long as they don’t turn invisible,” Foaly croaked, still shocked by the turn of events.
The centaur set the feed to follow the shuttles as they began to move away from the site. They could only stare when they saw the four ships shimmer out of existence, their black hulls rippling until becoming one with the forests below. They could no longer track them.
“This is bad,” gasped Foaly, “Really, really bad.”
She ran though the confines of the rusting hallway, ever aware of the footfalls behind her. Red eyes glinted through the dark, lighting the hallway with a crimson glow. They were gaining on her. She had no weapons, and her strength was ebbing from the wound in her side. Up ahead was a white glow, a doorway out of the dark world she was desperately trying to evade. Holly swallowed her pain an pushed herself as hard as she could, sprinting for the exit with blinding speed. The door was closed, but she knew she couldn’t stop, she could almost feel their breaths on the back of her neck. The elf rammed the door, putting her shoulder into the brunt of the impact. The door fell away with surprising ease, opening into a well lit room. It was fowl manor, Artemis’ study, and there before her stood the genius himself. He wore his regular Armani suit, and looked exactly as he did when they last met, but there was something lopsided about his demeanor.
Holly ran up to him. “Artemis, we have to get out of here, those…things are right behind me.”
Artemis smiled, his grin showing not one bit of good will.
“Common mud boy, there’s nothing funny about this…Artemis?”
Keeping the wolfish grin on his face, he spoke with an icy tone, “I believe, fairy, that you are the one unfamiliar with the facts.” Artemis slowly pulled out a wicked looking pistol, and pointed it at Holly.
She gasped, “What are you doing, you wouldn’t shoot me Artemis, not after all we’ve been through!”
Artemis’ stone cold gaze never wavered, and his voice was as cold as ever, “I doubt it.” He pulled the trigger, and everything went black.
Holly shot upright, gulping breaths of air as though she’d been drowning. She was cold with sweat, and her pulse was rapid. Slowly, she calmed herself down, lying back down into the bed. “Thank the gods, it was just a dream,” she whispered.
At that moment she became aware of a dull ache in her chest. Feeling this she checked and found that she was bandaged in several locations. Where did I get these…she thought groggily, her mind not yet fully awake. Suddenly it all came back; the goblins, the firefight, her getting shot, and the humans.
Holly shot up for the second time, quickly taking in her surroundings. Her fatigue and tiredness were gone, replaced by the impeccable soldier that she was, her eyes taking in every minute detail whilst her mind considered numerous options and possibilities.
She was in a relatively small room, about the size of her apartment. Various objects sat about the surprisingly comfortable space; a table with two chairs, a bathroom, a small couch with a mini fridge beside it, and a digital clock on the white painted wall. The clock read 11:50 AM.
She quickly got out of the bed, noticing that all of her gear was missing, though that wasn’t much a surprise given the recent events. She was just wearing a white hospital gown, a rather uncomfortable at that. “Now I know how Artemis feels,” Holly murmured whilst shuffling silently to the door. It was locked, and the window was too high up for her to see through. Enraged, she turned around and flipped over the table, kicking one of the chairs across the room simultaneously. “D’Arvit!,” She shrieked, “How many times do I have to be taken prisoner by stupid mud men!”
“You’re not a prisoner,” a deep voice answered from behind. “You’re a guest.”
Holly spun about, glaring daggers at the source of the speech. At the doorway stood a man likely in his mid forties, dressed in an impossibly black suit with a crimson tie. Average in height and build, though obviously impeccably fit, he appeared deceptively normal. He had short, well groomed hair and chiseled features. It was his eyes, however, that stood out, the hazel spheres giving an emotionless yet fierce and intelligent gaze, one that seemed to stare into your very soul. Holly was, understandably, dumbfounded as to how this man managed to enter the room without making a sound.
They stood there appraising each other for what seemed like an eternity. Holly stared defiantly at the man, who simply regarded her the way someone regards the morning paper.
“What do you want human?” She growled guardedly, never taking her gaze off of him.
The man took a few steps forward, speaking with a refined Russian accent, “I guess you’re not in the mood for pleasant conversation, though I must say, given the circumstances I hardly blame you.”
Holly simply glared up at him, taking a defensive stance.
The man didn’t react at all except for raising an eyebrow, “Now Captain Short, that’s not necessary. I am not here to do you any harm or grievance, I am simply within this room to explain the situation.”
“Then how about you explain how you know who I am?” Holly yelled, not letting her guard down.
“Your name tag for starters,” he replied calmly, putting the table upright.
Oh gods not again, Holly thought. The sheer prospect of reliving the events from the time she first met Artemis sent chills down her spine.
The human casually walked across the room and picked up the chair, setting it at the table with the other. Holly, seeing him take his attention off of her, tried her best to summon enough magic to execute a mesmer, but nothing came, not even a drop; she was completely empty.
The human, noticing her strained attempt, looked at her knowingly, “Please refrain from using your magic, you’ll only hurt yourself. You’ve been through a considerable amount of physical and mental trauma lately. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“I don’t know about lucky,” Holly muttered.
The man sighed slightly, his features softening for a brief moment before they assumed their usual potent, emotionless mask.
“How about we have a civilized conversation,” he said, motioning to the table and chairs. “As I said before, I have no ill intentions, I simply want to discuss with you the current circumstances.” He noticed that Holly wasn’t believing a word of it, eliciting a slight frown from him. “I understand that this may seem like a complete debacle from your standpoint, but if you would please, sit, and I will answer all of your questions.”
Holly, seeing no other alternative, grudgingly sat down, after which the man opposite to her did the same. He nodded to Holly, indicating for her to ask whatever she wished.
Holly didn’t hesitate for a second, “How about you tell me exactly what the heck is going on!”
“Well, that’s a loaded question, how about I start with who I am,” the man replied, “I am Commander Borislav Dragovich Ivankov, but you can call me Drago for simplicity’s sake.”
“Commander of what?” Holly pushed.
Borislav, making the slightest of grins, leaned forward, “What if I told you that not all of the so called mud men are the barbaric, domineering, ignorant and repulsive organisms that the People perceive them as. What if I told you that, unbeknownst to any of you, some of us have been doing you a great favor for quite some time now.”
“I’d say it’s a bunch of troll droppings,” Holly commented. “All you humans have ever done is destroy the world that you live in, pollute it carelessly and wage wars over nothing. You’re the reason we’ve had to live underground for thousands of years, because you tried to exterminate us!”
The commander frowned, “That was quite a long time ago, and believe me when I say that the actions of our forefathers were not the most amiable, or intelligent for that matter. Besides, based your experiences with a certain boy you must know that though we have many flaws, we are capable of good as well.”
Holly’s mind raced. How much does he know about me, about Artemis, about the people?! What does he plan on doing? Is this the Fowl incident all over again? The implications of such an obviously capable human knowing about the People as well as the Fowl incidents were astronomical.
Borislav eyed her coolly, “I know what you’re thinking, and yes I do know a lot, but please, hear me out.” After getting no answer from Holly, who just sat there dumbfounded, he continued, “I am part of something that neither you nor any other fairy ever would have thought existed. Tell me Holly, what is the primary function of the LEP, apart from the regular police operations?”
Holly hesitated briefly, but knew that the man already knew the answer. Besides, she could gain important information if she cooperated.
“To keep the People from being discovered by the mud men.” She said. It was an obvious fact, one that was drilled into her mind since boot camp. The LEP was the only force that kept inter-species contact from occurring. Their discovery by humanity as a whole would be, from a human perspective, like nuclear Armageddon.
The man nodded, “And what would happen if you were to be discovered by the entire human race?”
“War,” Holly said apprehensively.
“Exactly,” Borislav said. “Such a war would be the end of life as we know it, it would be the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen. I for one do not want such a cataclysm to occur, which is why I’m here today. You see, there are some people, myself included, who recognize that humanity is not ready to make contact with your kind, that such an event would be disastrous beyond any scale of measurement. We also recognize that your kind, the People, are endemic to this world’s survival. Without you, there would only be us, and if it’s just us, well, you get the picture.”
Holly understood everything he said perfectly. The fact that what the human was saying made perfect sense was unsettling, she tended to believe that most mud men were far too ignorant or jaded to be capable of such ideology. She didn’t interrupt, however, opting to let the man keep talking.
“In order to assure the continuation of both our races and this world itself, a clandestine endeavor was born after the second world war, the time where we realized fully the extent of this situation, to keep human civilization from discovering the People. We saw what we did to ourselves during that era, we could only imagine what we would do to an entirely different sentient species, one many times more advanced than us. Bottom line, our fear of the unknown and a technologically superior entity would not mix well, but rather explode in our faces. Therefore, ever since our conception, we have been doing the same thing you do, except much more covertly. We deal with the problems that the LEP doesn’t see, things that they miss, and believe me, they make mistakes more often than you’d think.”
Holly couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Mud men helping the People? It was incredulous! But then her mind drifted to Artemis. Artemis has saved the People numerous times, even though he started off as an enemy. Maybe there are more humans like him out there. Holly couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. For the longest time she’d been under the impression that Artemis and his family were a gem in a sea of dirt, that they were the only exception to the rule. The possibility of there being more of such inhuman humans was hard to believe.
“I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth,” Ivankov said softly.
She sat there, contemplating for what felt like hours. Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Was he playing games with her? Her mind swam with questions that she couldn’t answer, part of her believing what Borislav had said, the other viewing it as a Trojan horse to gain her trust. Finally, she opened her mouth, “So what happened at the warehouse…”
“Was us doing our job,” said Borislav, visibly relieved upon knowing that Holly was slowly coming around, although reluctantly. “That specific site was there for quite a while, the goblins were employing some new technology that manged to keep them under the radar for quite a while. When we concluded that they were going to go unnoticed by the LEP, we sent in a team to take it out. Usually we just swoop in, stun them, wipe them and leave them in an isolated location, tipping off the LEP about their whereabouts, letting them come in an bag the lot of them. This time was, quite obviously, different. We had no knowledge of you being inside the facility until we went in. When we did, we were quite surprised to find that you had already neutralized several dozen of the goblins, and also taken two high caliber rounds to the torso. We had no choice but to evac you given that you had already seen us and your helmet feed may have as well, and more importantly, you were dying. Your magic was able to mend much of the damage, but it wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. It took quite some time to stabilize you, but we managed, which brings us to now. I figured that I’d be as transparent and honest with you as I could be, given that we are no longer a secret to the lower elements.”
Holly pondered what she just heard. The man sounded honest enough, but Holly knew better than to think that as sufficient reason to believe him. Maybe they saved her in order to use her, what if she’s really nothing but a means to a certain end for her captors?
“How do I know that all of what you’ve been saying hasn’t just been subterfuge? This isn’t the first time someone’s tried to deceive me, I know better than to just go along with what a mud man says. Give me a reason why I should trust you!” Holly demanded.
The commander paused for a moment, then spoke resolutely, “Saving your life could very well be that reason, but I could have done that just to use you later as a bargaining chip. The truth is that you can’t trust me, not yet, but in time you will.”
He got out of his chair and tossed her a bag. In it was her LEP jumpsuit, minus the bullet holes and blood stains. “Get dressed,” he said as he walked to the door, “I’ll be waiting for you outside.”
“What will happen then?” Holly inquired cautiously.
Ivankov stopped halfway though the door, then turned around, “Lost and found as we would put it. The LEP is probably going nuts trying to find you. After all, you’ve been out for several days now.”
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