"You awake, then? I thought the dart might have killed you. Aliens' insides are different from ours. I saw that on television."
Aliens? Dart? What in the...d'arvit, it had been a long, long time since he'd woken up with a hangover this bad. Though the private acknowledged himself somewhat optimistic when he realized it was a female talking to him. That totally evened things out, as far as he was concerned. Unless it was a nurse and he was in the hospital, like a few weeks ago.
Though, well...he did get to wake up to a female nurse. So that had been kind of cool. Even if he'd used up all of his magic healing after the bar fight.
Opening his eyes and taking in long blonde hair, milky smooth skin, and the most fantastic knockers he'd seen in many a week, Chix began a little cheer. Which stopped immediately when he realized that the vision before him wasn't quite...so before him as he thought. She stood at the foot of the bed in which he lay, instead of being in the bed herself (a travesty), and she was...rather...large. Shapely, but large.
"Green skin. Is that, like, for photosynthesis? Do you just drink water and sit in the sun all day?" The woman—generously called that, but, hell, Chix wasn't one to complain about that sort of technicality, after a certain point—tilted her head, reaching up to brush a strand of light hair out of her sunglasses-covered eyes.
Chix considered his situation very, very carefully. Big person. Rounded ears. Pale. A human? Wearing sunglasses, so his mesmer would be useless, even if he had any magic left. And he was...in some...concrete-walled room on a ginormous bed, which could only, again, mean humans.
He...was so fired.
But...well...this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I don't know. Want to help me find my stamen?"
"Human," he intoned, pubescent voice resonating with some promising bass notes. "Your will is mine."
Artemis smiled, safe behind his mirrored lenses. "I doubt it," he said, and nodded curtly.
There was a pause.
A rather...long, pause.
Lips twitching a bit further down, the boy nodded again.
An all-consuming silence.
Clenching his fists, Artemis nodded a third time.
Nº1 twitched his stubby tail, examining the human closely. "Are you okay? Are you having a seizure? I can fix that!" He took an eager step forward, hands held out, a swirl of red coming from his palms.
"No!" The boy jumped back, holding up his arms to protect his chest. "Butler, shoot him!"
Nº1 stopped his tail, standing a bit more erect. "I should hope not! Shooting people is...it's...it's bad! Reprehensible! Immoral! Unkind! I...I hesitate to say it, but it may even be..." He glanced around and then back to the little human and the gargantuan human. "Illegal," he whispered. Then clapped his hands over his mouth.
Artemis stared at the fairy. Then turned to the large man. "Why not?"
Butler squeezed the barrel of his rifle, hands nowhere near the trigger. "He's...too...cute!"
Artemis gaped at his bodyguard and made some sort of squawking noise as he turned back to the demon—imp, technically—and stared.
After a few moments, Nº1 realized that the boy was trying to determine if he was, indeed, "cute." Nº1 gave his best smile. He'd like to be cute! He might even go so far as to aspire to "adorable."
Slowly, Artemis shook his head, raising a hand to massage his temples. "Of all the fairies...why must I..." He was silent for a bit. Then, flipping up his hand so he could peek under at the little creature, he said, hesitantly, "Do you like...reading?"
Nº1 laughed. "Of course! Who doesn't?" Well, besides every other demon in existence, of course.
"Fowl Manor...has a library," the human ventured. "Would you...like to borrow a few books?"
Nº1's tail went slack and his eyes widened, mouth sagging open. "W...would I!" He hopped forward and offered his hand to the human.
After some moments, the boy sighed and took the proffered hand, walking the rapidly-chattering creature to the waiting Bentley.
Foaly glared up at one of the top corners of the concrete cell, where a single digital camera glared right back. It was making...his fur...crawl...
"Oh...come on!" He finally exploded, stamping a hoof on the hard floor, sending up a sharp echo. "Seriously? I know you Mud Men have better cameras than that! Did you seriously kidnap me while I was out having a good run on the moor—me, a prime specimen of a centaur, and probably the only one on the surface in three hundred years!—and you didn't spring for something over ten megapixels? Disgraceful..."
Some distance away in the Manor's security room, Artemis watched the video feed and snorted. Of all the things the creature could focus on, it was the quality of his equipment? Perhaps the fairy was an artist. They had certainly found enough electronics on the half-horse that one device might be used for photography. It was going to take him a few years to be certain, however.
Artemis's musings were cut off as the centaur began to wink. And blink. And jerk his facial muscles so rapidly they were almost a blur.
Artemis leaned back in his chair, reaching for his walkie-talkie. A seizure? A postponed allergic reaction to the tranquilizer? Some sort of psychosomatic response to being captured? He had to get Butler in there before—
His screen flashed to snow for a half-second. Then resolved into the login screen for the observation room's main computer, which linked together and analyzed all of the feeds. A web browser popped up...wait, what? These computers weren't on any outside networks! Otherwise, they might be hacked! Where did this...what sort of program was OpalOffice?
As quick as Artemis had these thoughts—which was damned quick, to be sure—the program had finished opening and a web page—humans certainly did not have a dot-gnome suffix!—began to load and—
Artemis flung himself back from the screen, covering his eyes and letting out an unreservedly girlie scream. He screamed at God himself for allowing such creatures—huge, slobbering, hairy, brown-green, and covered in gore—to exist. And to allow them to do...those...things.
A split-second later, as the audio began to play—and Artemis's poor pre-pubescent brain made the wise decision to permanently damage the portions of itself which might have one day flooded him with testosterone, in the interest of making sure he never thought of those images again—he realized something.
The centaur had brought up that web page.
Which mean...he'd been there before.
"My God," Artemis whimpered, trying to shove his fingers deep into his ears, "what...evil am I dealing with?"
"Remember, everyone," Commander Cudgeon boomed, checking his tri-barrel blaster and pulling down the visor on his helmet, "this Mud Man is smart. Very smart. But that's a troll going in there. The boy is going to break." He paused. Then smirked. "One way or another. So! The second someone cries for help, we get in there, and we save our girl, and we get out. When all our people are out, we tranq the troll and convince the Mud Men to get mind wiped." He looked around at his sprites, trying to hold in a squeal of glee. This was it! It was foolproof! The conical Council hat would he his within the year! "Is everyone clear?"
"Um...I've got a few questions," a voice came from somewhere vaguely above them all.
Cudgeon turned his head and looked up at the top edge of the troll's cage. So did his sprites. They began cheering and catcalling, raising their guns in the air and shaking them, reveling in the instant victory.
"When," the female elf drawled, jogging the upper one of her crossed legs, arms likewise crossed over her chest, looking down with infinite, imperial disdain at the temporary Commander, "did I become...anyone's girl?"
"W-wing Commander!" Cudgeon shrieked, holding his gun over his chest. Holding it tight. "I...I meant it...as a...t-term of endearment, not to claim you or any—"
"Oh, shove it," Vinyáya interrupted, voice never raised, but still overcoming his and irrevocably claiming all of his power. She flipped her head back, long silver hair flowing and flashing in the light of the full moon, settling perfectly along her back. "We've got more important things to discuss." Uncrossing her arms, she turned and grabbed something from just out of view, further on top of the troll's cage, and gave a small, grunting tug.
A few seconds later, a fairy-sized body impacted on the damp grass. Fairy-sized, but that pale skin...those round ears...and that immaculate suit...
Artemis Fowl tried to scream around the sock stuffed in his mouth.
Vinyáya tilted her head, looking down at the human—hog-tied with his own necktie—with casual interest. "So...how much you think we can ransom him for?"
"Oh gods," Holly muttered, putting a hand over her mouth. "I'm...I'm going to be sick."
Julius Root thought he might agree. One step into Fowl Manor and his entire squad was on their knees, retching.
None of your race has permission to enter while I'm alive.
"Where...where's Fowl?" Root muttered. But he didn't really want an answer...though answers came.
"Um...I think...this is...his chest."
"I've got an eye."
"Here's the other!"
"I...well, it's someone's heart..."
"This...liver has...bite marks."
"Where...where is my troll?" Cudgeon said, hollow. As if to answer him, the front hall's chandelier crashed down, the weight of a crucified troll overcoming even the Manor's laudable bracing. The squad was hit with a spray of foul-smelling blood, matted hair, and fine crystals.
"So...um..." Trouble Kelp—composed despite all this, gods bless him—came to stand before his Commander, swallowing rapidly to conquer the nausea even he wasn't immune against. "Well...we're only picking up human and troll DNA, so...where's Koboi?"
"Dear...gods..." Root shook his head, a tear finally breaking from his eyes to trail down into the lining of his helmet. "That poor...poor girl..."
Artemis slid his notepad across the polished table. Root read what was written there.
"'One ton of twenty-four-carat gold. Small unmarked ingots only.'"
There was a long, awkward pause as Root looked up from the slip of paper, meeting the impassive face of the young genius.
"You can't be serious." The commander said it in a complete monotone.
Artemis chuckled at the fairy's incredulous reaction. "Oh, but I—"
He was interrupted by a distant "ding dong!" and a crackle on his walkie-talkie. He scowled, but deigned to answer, if with a clipped, "What is it, Butler?"
"There's...um...what appears to be—"
"Quickly. I am in the middle of something, if you recall."
A large, long breath was taken on the other end of the line. "There's a fairy at the front door. It brought...a pallet of gold."
Artemis pulled the handset from his ear and looked at it, as if wondering if a circuit was crossed in just the right manner to produce those words. Then he looked to Commander Root, who was rising, slapping his hands on the table and grinning in a grandfatherly fashion.
"That'll be your gold, so if you'll just release Prin...Private Frond, I'll escort her out and we'll be on our way!"
Artemis had the very distinct impression there was some sort of trap, and he gathered his two assistants close as they escorted the blonde fairy female—who was nattering on with Juliet about how cerulean tights were going to be, like, the thing in Fall—to the front door. Only Artemis seemed to notice that Butler had a gun trained on the fairy, also anticipating trickery, but they only found two green-suited figures—the new one a hand smaller than Root—on the opposite side of the door.
"Think you can get it all inside, Mud-Filth," it said in what was a surprisingly high voice after meeting with the gravely Root, "or are you going to invite me in to do the heavy lifting for you?"
"Short!" the Commander barked, shooting a look at his officer. "I don't recall telling you to talk during the briefing, so I'd suggest you just stand there and look pretty."
Artemis thought it quite unfair that he was the one to feel the officer's piercing hazel glare at that comment, but...well, he found he wasn't...too irritated, despite the impertinence. "I believe Butler can take care of the gold. Miss Frond?" Turning his body—but not his head, which remained focused on the seething Short—the mastermind swept a hand at the door. "I...do believe you're free to go."
"Awesome!" Pausing a moment to wave at Juliet and mouth "call me" with a thumb and pinky pressed to the side of her head, the woman skipped out of the manor, taking Root's offered arm as assistance down the human-sized steps. The other officer followed, but only after giving the humans a last sneer.
"Do you get the feeling," Butler said, hesitating somewhat as he gathered two bars of gold and tossed them between his hands for a weight comparison, "that...we got cheated somehow?"
Artemis watched the fairies go, eyes soon resting exclusively on the rear guard. He frowned, brows lowering, and picked up a bar of gold of his own, immediately knowing that it was, indeed, real. "Yes, old friend...I do believe we were."