Chapter 1: Filling in the Blanks
He hadn't seen it happen since a few years before discovering the People, but it wasn't the first time Artemis Fowl II saw someone shot in the head by a point-blank bullet. Despite what video games claimed, Opal's head didn't explode, but it wasn't exactly neat. The shooter—dressed as Pip the cat—was splattered with a little blood, and far, far more material came from the opposite side of the pixie's skull as the bullet exited, thankfully blacking out the camera lens so all that came next for the observers in the Plaza was the thump of the once-megalomaniac hitting the ground.
Butler and Artemis were the only ones with their mouths not dropped in shock, though Trouble only let his go a quarter of the way, preferring to display his shock via skin pale enough to rival Artemis's own.
"G...gone," he whispered, and whipped his head to the right of the massive display to watch a smaller picture-in-picture window, its image sent from a far older, grainier, and only black-and-white camera. It showed the inside of a metal sphere, with a creature so nearly resembling the just-murdered pixie that one might have felt hope that it was all a hoax. "D'arvit!" He took to his feet, hands slapping to either side of the picture. "NO!"
Holly's nails dug into her thighs and she forced herself to look at the nearly human creature kneeling at the lowest point of the sphere, trying to see through its long, matted hair into her old enemy's eyes. She forced herself to wait for the screaming and the spray of anti-rad foam that would maybe save the Opal of her time, but more likely just prolong her horrific death.
There was a long, long silence.
Slowly, Opal looked left. Then right. Then up, hair falling from her eyes, her brows drawn tight.
"Well...so much for physics," Butler muttered.
Artemis scowled and leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on the arm rests, fingers steepling. "Butler...must I remind you...to never insult physics?"
The J. Argon Clinic
For nearly a minute, the nurse didn't respond to the light blinking on her patient monitor board. At first, because she barely ever looked at that LED, fairy law saying that the patient it corresponded to was DNR, and thus not subject to any special hurry on her part. Maybe special hurry from the morgue, but not from her.
Then she didn't move because she was sure the blinking blue light, instead of the red of a medical emergency, was some sort of malfunction.
But then her ears picked up the noise and she found herself leaping from her station so fast her coffee crashed to the floor, mug splitting straight up the face of a very happy daisy, nearly black liquid splattering across the tile floor.
It took all of fifteen seconds to get to the room, scan her fingerprint, and wrench the door open faster than the motors could move it aside, but it was enough time for the air of another scream of terror to be gathered and let loose.
Nopal pounded her fist into the perspex incubator wall, eyes wide as one would expect from a trapped animal, her plea of "Help me!" almost completely held in by the airtight container.
Chapter 2: Wild Oats
The team ran down the corridors of the clinic. Or, more accurately, the elves ran, Foaly cantered, Artemis jogged (though he did breath as hard as the sprinting fairies), and Butler sort of power-walked. At their head, Jerbal Argon was rattling off technical terms that only meant anything to Artemis and Foaly.
"A phenomenal spike in brain activity. Far past normal! Well, I suppose that makes sense; genius and all. But nothing and then immediate consciousness!"
"Transferal?" Artemis panted. "Opal is killed, and her mind, instead of going to the next world, just goes into the empty body? Fascinating."
"Terrifying, more like," Holly growled. "Guard? Has she tried to escape?"
"Guard, yes, but no!" Argon barked, turning a corner, pushing one of his newer interns against the wall as he went, ignoring her indignant shout. "The nurse on duty took her out of the incubator, but she didn't try to leave the room! The officer on duty—"
"Who?" Trouble snapped, earning a glare from Artemis for his interruption.
"Ash Vein," Argon went on, unable to see Trouble's clenched jaw at the name. "Major Vein drew a weapon on her, and she was terrified! He tried to question her about her plans with the kidnapping, but she didn't seem to have any idea what he was talking about!"
Artemis turned his angry look away from the Commander, forward again, face a blank as he considered the facts. "If she doesn't have the dead Opal's memories...does she have any?"
"Yes! But they're old," Argon said, finally stopping at a door, pressing his thumb to a gel-print scanner. "About the first thing she asked when she calmed down was if she won the Brotherhood of Engineers Science Prize!"
Foaly blinked and looked at Argon. "Science Prize?"
Argon nodded as the door's airtight seal cracked, letting out a sliver of light from the room beyond. "She thinks she's still in college!"
"C...COLLEGE?" Foaly whinnied, head whipping back around to the door, which was opening rapidly, revealing a uniformed LEP sprite, an elf woman in a nurse's uniform who was gently stroking her patient's back, and the patient herself, a smooth-skinned, black-haired pixie with enormous, dark eyes which grew large as she looked to the open door, taking in the strange assembly—humans!—and then even larger as she saw the chestnut-brown centaur standing almost in the center of them all.
"Foaly!" she screamed, jumping from her seat.
Foaly reared back, trying to retreat, but found his rear impacting with the bulk of Butler, who, try as the centaur might, could not be moved.
"Foaly" the pixie repeated and rushed forward, all LEP officers reacting a fraction too slow, giving the woman just enough time to reach the centaur, arms outstretched, a wild look in her eyes.
Holly had her fist pulled back for a strike to the pixie's temple, certain she could knock her free before she got too far into assaulting her best friend's softer organs—about the only thing at pixie height.
Instead, at the last step, Nopal jumped into the air, arms closing in a tight circle around the centaur's neck, dragging his torso down as gravity took over, ignoring his startled squawk as she pressed her lips tightly against his.
Trouble fumbled his half-unholstered neutrino at the sight, nearly shooting his own foot.
Artemis's brows rose for a moment before he pursed his lips, nodding as facts fell into place.
Holly just watched, certain some trick was being played, even as Nopal finally, slowly, took her lips off those of the frozen centaur's, looking at him with the softest of eyes.
"Oh...Foaly...thank the gods you're here," Nopal breathed, changing her grip to go around the centaur's chest, her cheek pressing into his rough coat. "I was so scared..."
And, judging by the look on Foaly's face as he turned to Holly, the fear had not completely disappeared from the room; it was just in his possession, now.
Chapter 3: Rather Accommodating
"He's...married," Nopal said, looking between Holly and Artemis, the two "guards" left in her room while the rest of the LEP scrambled to make sense of events.
"Er...yes," Holly said, feeling very, very bad about having her neutrino drawn, because that face...it was just so...innocent! Completely! And not just in the normal manner of pixies, whose large heads would remind one of a child. Nopal had precisely one scar on her body: from the implanted seeker sleeper in her arm. She also wore no makeup, jewelery, or attire that could be in any way called elaborate, having just recently switched over from a sort of thick bandaging over her pelvis and breasts to a bleached hospital gown, which really seemed indecent. Not indecent on Nopal's part, but on the part of the gown for daring to only go so far as the utterly...virginal woman's knees. Nopal was a complete blank. A total innocent. Even her voice seemed barely there; so different from the ranting creature the elf had faced so often.
"To...another centaur?" Nopal whispered, eyes downcast.
"Her name is Caballine," Artemis supplied, and Holly shot him a dangerous look. Nopal looked innocent, yes, but she still didn't want someone who might turn into Opal to know the name of the woman who had, apparently, stolen the pixie's college sweetheart.
"Oh...that's...good," Nopal ventured, head tilting a bit to the side.
Holly wanted to reach out and pat the pixie's shoulder. Heartbreak. That she could understand.
"I mean...it's not like the law has changed, right?" Nopal raised her head, looking between the two friends. "He can still take a second mare, correct?"
Holly blinked. Not so innocent as all that, then.
Chapter 4: Good Elf Girls
And, of course, if I was being paid to do this, what would follow Nopal's offer to make Foaly's life simultaneously more difficult and way more pleasant would be fifty, a hundred pages of exposition as the plot thickens, romantic tensions tighten, crises loom, and foreshadowing covers the land.
But this is random fanfiction, so let's just say that the elf warriors woke up, possessed Myles and Beckett, and made Artemis curse in a mighty fashion.
And, as in all missions, they needed information. About King Frond. And, when it came down to it, there was really only one expert on King Frond among the People.
And Holly reaaaaaally wanted to punch her in her pretty face right about now.
"I mean, Frond was just so...powerful," Lili says, words half-breath, her long, manicured fingernails gently playing along her collarbone, moving the flimsy material of her very much not-regulation office blouse lower. "If he wanted something, no one could stop him. But he was still very much...a gentleman." She sighed, pouting. "There's not many men like him anymore..." Her eyelashes fluttered faster than the wings of a hummingbird. On crack.
"Yeah, that's nice, anything useful you can tell us?" Holly barked, shifting her legs so her hip went from it's position just to the rear of Artemis to slightly before his own, arms crossing into a stable, impenetrable block.
Lili blinked a bit slower, eyes wide. "Oh...I'm sure I can find something useful..."
"Yeah, cool, how about you run your ideas by Butler and he can send the good ones on to us?" Holly, despite her size, managed to shove Butler forward, then grabbed Artemis's arm and pulled him back, making for the door.
She looked back just long enough to see Lili's expression meld from utter shock at the sight of the mammoth Mud Man to something far more...calculated. Her eyes drooped almost completely closed, her lips parted, and she leaned forward, elbows resting on her work desk, upper arms pushing her chest together and up far more effectively than even the most masterfully constructed corset.
Butler's back went straight and he snapped his head around to his companions, mouth open to protest, but was foiled as the elf and his charge made it out of the room, door slamming behind.
"Holly, I can not depend upon Butler to pass on all the pertinent information," Artemis protested once they were on their own. "Even the smallest bit of information could be vital!"
"Artemis, trust me," Holly said, letting the human go and turning to face him in one of the darker halls of Fowl Manor. "The only things she's concerned over are very large."
Artemis scowled, half turning from her, back towards the door. "Then I should—"
"No!" she snapped, halting his progress. Groaning, Holly massaged her temples. "How can you be...so...stupid?"
"I beg your pardon!" Artemis shouted, standing tall. "I have never been called that in my li—"
"She was putting the glamour on you!" Holly shouted, hands flying into the air.
Artemis stopped his protests. "She...what?"
"The glamour!" Holly shouted again, rolling her eyes at the human. "Look, I know about all the weirdo romantic poetry you humans write about us. And, if Orion is any indication," Holly said, ignoring Artemis's wince, "then you've read it as well. The Faerie Queene? La Belle Dame Sans Merci?"
Knowledge dawned on Artemis's face. "Wait...are you saying...she was—"
"Putting on the moves?" Holly broke in. "Yes."
"But...she didn't say anything...er...suggestive," Artemis said with a deep blush. "I am assuming it is merely a subset of the mesmer?"
"Yes, it is, and Artemis," Holly said, giving him quite a serious look, "you're a guy. We don't need to say anything for it to start working."
He scowled. "Holly, if you intend to imply, as so much of the world so erroneously does, that the male reproductive drive is something which cannot—"
Holly slowly looked up at Artemis through long, thick eyelashes.
"—con...trolled..." Artemis swallowed. Rather inappropriate fairy tales began flitting through his head, because Holly...what big eyes she had...
"Artemis," Holly whispered, taking a step towards him, which seemed to make every single curve in her body gyrate.
"Y...yes?" He swallowed down a sudden mouthful of saliva. Dear Lord, when did the zipper on her shimmer suit fall so much?
"Do you see, now?" Holly asked, light fingers touching her hips in a matter both condescending and inviting. Artemis had no idea how she'd put on all that makeup in the last five seconds, but it suited her to perfection.
"God...yes," Artemis found himself unable to restrain a groan.
"Are we in...agreement?" Her lips twitched and Holly raised herself to the tips of her toes, one hand rising up Artemis's body to rest on his shirt. On another fairy, it would no doubt be a contact to the chest, but on Artemis, her hand fell decidedly southerly.
"En...tirely," Artemis growled, knees buckling as one of his own hands tangled in Holly's hair, bringing their mouths closer, closer, cl—
Holly snapped back from Artemis, the thick lashes and makeup and extra curves fading in an instant, her zipper going back to it's proper place right under her chin as she turned to the end of the hall, where a very startled and slightly amused pixie girl stood.
"Er...apologies," Nopal said, face turning red. "I was coming to see...I really didn't expect you to...I mean, it makes sense, adrenaline and good elf girls and all." She laughed shrilly, taking a step back from Holly's deadly glare.
Artemis looked down at Holly, then back to Nopal, and gently let his friend's head go. His face was not reddening, Holly was annoyed to see, considering that she herself must have gone downright puce, but this close to him she was aware of his...discomfort.
"Elf girls?" He managed to ask, and Holly almost swore.
"Oh, well, you know," Nopal laughed again, making it apparent that, by college, she hadn't gained the skills necessary to keep her mouth shut, "goblins and humans, spikes and size, phases!"
"Phases," Holly snarled, suddenly deciding she could hate Nopal as much as Opal. "Like pixie girls bringing centaurs home to Mommy and Daddy?"
Nopal coughed, tucking a strand of hair behind her eyes. "Well, I'll just go see if Juliet needs any help, shall I?" And she was gone, hair whipping out behind her with the speed of her exit.
Artemis blinked at where the woman had been.
Then, slowly, turned to look down at Holly, his brows drawn tight. "Spikes?"
Chapter 5: Older, More Experienced Men
"Cloned pixies...brothers acting even more annoying...insane porcupines...worst...adventure...ever." Artemis groaned and flopped down on one of the patio's expertly crafted lounge chairs, draping an arm over his eyes to hide them from the bits of time-stopped light that came in through the jasmine-clogged trellis. His team had considered removing the time stop to see if natural sunlight would weaken the fairy warriors, but the impact on his own fairy companions was deemed too much a risk for that trial. "Just...five minutes..."
He got three before hearing the click and shudder of the sliding door on the second floor balcony, and then the shudder and thump of it closing once more. No doubt some other plan of Foaly's that Holly was out to try, only to be thwarted. If Artemis himself wasn't running out of ideas, he'd make some snide comment, but even then it would be ill-advised to torment the centaur. Foaly was just smart enough to come back with a clever retort.
Instead of Holly vaulting off the balcony to sprint across the lawn, darting around the sparse cover like the little ninja she had become under Vinyáya's tutelage, there was a long shriek of metal on concrete as someone repositioned one of the outdoor dining chairs.
"I don't like this, Captain," said Commander Trouble Kelp.
Artemis almost sat up, but kept still, coaching his breath to be as quiet as possible. A glance over the balcony would reveal him, regardless of foliage, but the fairies were currently out of his line of sight and he out of theirs.
"Yeah...we're running out of time...does Nº1 think he can extend Foaly's time stop?"
"No, Hol...Captain. I didn't mean that. I mean...you being here. You're in unnecessary danger."
A laugh. "So when you had me round up those two trolls last month, that was perfectly safe?"
"For you?" Trouble said, with a laugh. "Yeah, actually. But this is different. We need warlocks. All the warlocks. And half the LEP! If I thought I'd have half a chance of fixing this without you being in danger..."
"It's my job, Commander. You can't protect me."
"...can't I want to, Holly?"
Once more, Artemis nearly betrayed himself with some reaction, because the Commander's voice—once aspiring so much to be like his predecessor, Julius Root—was quiet and...tender. Undoubtedly so. And, when Holly spoke back, it was to match. A tone that Artemis had only heard once, and it made his lips tingle and his stomach turn.
"Trouble...it's not MPH!" And her words were cut off in the most common way of bringing silence between a man and a woman.
Seconds later, when they both took a deep breath to recover what had been lost between one another, Trouble rumbled to the woman, "Then be careful, Holly. Please."
"I...okay, Trouble," Holly breathed. There were several more seconds silence during which Artemis was tortured, wondering if it was awkwardness following the Commander's actions, or a repeat initiated by his own best friend. Then he heard the glass doors once more, and he was again alone.
He had a good five or so minutes alone before part of the team discovered him. Foaly, as it happened, and the centaur looked at Artemis—sitting on the lounge chair, silent, eyes vacant—for a few seconds before trotting back into the house.
When he returned, it was bearing something shiny and elaborate, which he wordlessly plopped onto Artemis's head before turning back to the doors to leave the young man alone.
After some time, Artemis slouched deeper into his seat and pulled the brim of his new tinfoil hat over his eyes.
Chapter 6: Potential
"Foaly?" Nopal called out, approaching the Fowl Manor security room, which had been taken over by the centaur as his mobile Operations Booth.
Nopal paused at the door, her hand on the knob, and blinked. It had been such a high-pitched sound, she was sure her soul's previous body would have been unable to hear, the tone already scratched out by the damage of a normal life. A bit hesitantly, she turned the knob and stuck her head into the room.
Nothing but computers and wires and several cups of half-drunk coffee.
Tilting her head for brief consideration, she backed out and closed the door, heading off towards the kitchen. She'd peeked outside earlier and seen the human boy sporting one of her lover's unique chapeaus, so it seemed a safe enough bet to check the supply area.
Thirty minutes later and not a bristly hair of her centaur found, Nopal returned to the security room and rapped on the door. "Foaly?"
Her brows drew together and, predictably, upon opening the door, she found the same wires and monitors and maybe a few more cups, one of which had, apparently, quite recently fallen over, sending a thick and very light brown liquid (he'd never been able to get anywhere near black, like her) onto the vibrant carpet below. No obvious sign of centaur, despite the rather cramped nature of the room.
She sighed and closed the door. Turning, her eyes darted up and down the hall, finding the red glow of obvious cameras, her mind deducing from those where the more important hidden cameras would be located, along with the sweep of coverage. Once it was all worked out mentally, she turned and walked away, counting up evenly in her head.
Seven minutes, thirty-seven point three seconds later, she turned the corner onto the security room hallway for the third time, letting the final, unavoidable cameras hit her, and snatched open the door to another—and now that she heard it without the impediment of thick oak, an entirely girly—shriek.
She looked on, blandly, as Foaly tried to pull his wide rump under a squat desk. Given the nearby coffee stain, she was fairly certain she could mark out his previous hiding space as being the same. Actually, she was quite impressed. The centaur had obviously lost weight.
"So," she said, crossing her arms, "I don't think I need to ask if you're avoiding me, or why you're avoiding me—or, at least, avoiding Opal—but I do think I should ask if you can calm down enough for us to work on this problem?
Foaly's tail flipped, catching in a draping of wires, its black luster nearly matching their own. Weight loss and a glossy mane and tail. Married life really did suit the man.
"I...er...have it under control," he muttered, remaining hidden under the table, his front end still out of sight. Opal noted a shine from the small crack at the bottom of the desk and correctly assumed that a further collection of tinfoil was there for his comfort.
"So Holly just breaking her arm fighting Juliet is part of your plans?"
The tail flipped again.
"Or the Commander getting bit by the twins. The twins, being literal ankle-biters?"
"Well, that might be part of the plan," Foaly chuckled, making the desk and the cups on top shake.
"Be that as it may," she chided, "two heads are better than one. I want to help. We've worked together before." She smiled fondly at the memories of late-night study sessions and late-night study session distractions. "Quite well, in fact."
One more tail flip.
Then the entire desk shuddered, more coffee threatening to spill, as the centaur hauled himself from under and, yes, of course...tinfoil pope hat. Including an actual moving whirligig out of the top. He'd gotten quite good at that, actually.
"I...suppose...you're right," he said, reluctantly, hoof dragging on the carpet, setting the pile the wrong way. The socialite in Nopal sent her skin crawling at the mistreatment. "Holly's magic is running low...and time is running out..." He sighed, thumping the hoof down hard, no doubt doing irreparable damage to the central carpet design. "Yeah, pull up a chair, grab a laptop. They're human-made, so they're slower than a mama gnome, but it's what we've got."
She obliged and, about fifteen seconds into her computer use, was already in the thing's innards, making just minor tweaks, which wound up both making it run fifteen times as fast and emit a whine at perfect A440.
They worked in silence a few minutes. Nopal eased into the brainstorming process, feeling its familiarity in her bones, even though said bones should have had no such memory of her time working alongside the centaur during their first few years of school. Perhaps it was a deeper association. Down the the very DNA. It was a comforting thought. Her father had been doing everything in his power to dissuade her from becoming an engineer, but if it was such an essential part of her that a cloned body would take it up just as easily, then it really must be her destiny.
After she had a good list, she looked over the top of the netbook at her centaur friend. "Have you tried a magical siphon?"
"Blew up the transformers," Foaly muttered, typing a bit harder at her voice. Tap tap tap.
"The Lay of the Moon, to confuse the warriors with an artificial night?"
"Saw right through it." TAP tap TAP.
TAP TAP TAP. "No effect. Pre-Christian souls."
"Hmmm...then a druidic—"
"Oh, come on!" Foaly snapped, glaring at her. "My son could come up with better!"
She stared at him, mouth a little open. "You...have a son?"
Foaly looked back. Then, lips pursed, he turned back to his laptop. Tap tap tap.
"How...old is he?"
"Two," Foaly deigned to reply.
"Oh...cute," she said, with a nervous smile.
Foaly scowled and clicked something on his screen.
"Um...what's his name?"
Foaly's eyes moved just enough to look at her through narrowed slits. "Vaheed."
She leaned back in her chair. "Va...Professor Vaheed? That old sourpuss? All he ever talked about was structural integrity and his tenure, and I don't think the two were mutually exclusive." She shook her head, smiling fondly as she recalled the surly sprite. "Did he ever get that tenure? Surely, by now, he—"
"Dead," Foaly said, stopping Nopal immediately. "In the Spelltropy epidemic. Along with a tenth of the People. Just a few hours before the court order came to demand the vaccine from its creator."
The pixie gaped. "Epidemic? Demand?" It was...she was going to be ill. A tenth of the People? Who else did she know that was now gone? Her parents? Gods, they weren't on good terms, but she didn't want them dead, and no one had so much as mentioned them since she woke up! Not even as next-of-kin for medical purposes! But she had to focus on something else, or the very idea would tear her apart. Time enough for bad news when the crisis was over. "What...who would withhold a vaccine like that?"
Foaly slammed his laptop closed and glared down at the woman. "You."
She reared back, the hatred in his voice making the statement ring completely true. She stood, letting her netbook hit the floor, the whine going down an octave, and paced. "No...no, no, that's not right. I...I couldn't."
"You did," Foaly growled, watching her, ready to defend himself once the inevitable awakening of her true self came. With weapons and other tech, they were an even match, but just bodily, his centaur form could tear her tiny pixie body apart.
"No, Foaly, you have to believe me!" She turned and walked towards him, a hand held out. "Something else is wrong! I wouldn't do that!" She placed the hand on his stiff-coated horse torso.
"Off!" Foaly shouted, side heaving, knocking the woman back, nearly sending her toppling over the many cords on the floor.
"Foaly!" She shuffled through the cords, untangling herself, looking more at her feet than at the man, arms out as she wobbled alarmingly. "What is wrong with you!"
His back hoof struck out, destroying what was no doubt a costly monitor, in human terms. "I have a wife!"
Her head snapped up and Nopal glowered at the techie. "I know that!"
"Then don't touch me!"
She laughed, and it was apparently the wrong tone, too reminiscent of his past and the future of some other creature than her, because he stepped further away. "I wouldn't steal you away!"
"Yes, you would!"
"No!" She cut her hand through the air. "She would! I am not her, Foaly! I could never become her!"
The centaur lowered his head, horns facing her, like any male posturing at a rival for his territory or his mate. "Well, you did!"
She threw her hands in the air. "Foaly, I don't see how! I don't know why!" Digging a hand into her hair—something she only did when supremely frustrated—she tried for reason. "What happened to her? Why did she change?"
"Because you lost!" he roared.
She stared at him. And then her face shifted as his meaning began to dawn.
"You lost the Science Prize," Foaly went on, now somehow calm once more. "And I won. And you decided to destroy your father. And your mother. And Haven." He paused, making absolutely certain she was looking him in the eyes. "And me."
"I...I wouldn't," she croaked, eyes burning, but the centaur just snorted and turned his back on her.
"I need to work," he muttered, though he made no move to pick up another computer.
Nopal watched his back, and found that her hand was reaching out to him once more. She took it back slowly, delicate fingers curling into a fist. Taking a closed-eyed moment to collect herself, she finally also turned her back on the man and walked out the door.
Chapter 7: Man to Man
Artemis was, wisely, alarmed as the squat, somewhat undulating body of the porcupine approached his resting place on the patio, its waddle making white spines wave in time, their brightness highlighted against its black body. Half the alarm was the creature's undoubted possession by one of the fairy spirits, proved by the intelligence in its glowing eyes and its lack of fear for the human. The other half was an uncontrollable worry that he had begun to have a relapse into the Atlantis Complex, including hallucinations, because he really had no idea where the porcupine came from. He was in Ireland, dammit!
The creature's nose practically vibrated, letting forth great snuffles as it came to the foot of Artemis's lounge chair. After several moments intense consideration, it reached up a furry arm and grabbed one of the slats, hopping a few times before pulling its bulk up onto the chair, where it vibrated its spines.
"B...Butler," Artemis eeked out, reaching for his cell phone, which would be a far better summons for the distant bodyguard.
The porcupine watched the progress of the boy's hand for a second before looking up into his face. "Good afternoon," it said in a deep, precise voice.
Artemis stopped moving and tried to think of an appropriate response.
"Good afternoon. Is your visit going well?" Artemis said, absurdly polite. He wondered if he should offer the animal its own chair, and perhaps refreshments.
"As well as one can manage, when one's subjects are off, running wild, acting like they're thirty-year-olds again." The porcupine bobbed its head left and right in an amused manner.
After a pause, the porcupine went to its hind legs, a paw landing vaguely near its heart. "Manners! I apologize." The paw extended towards Artemis. "I am Frond, King of the Elves, High General of the People."
"Artemis Fowl the Second," Artemis returned, slightly dazed, leaning forward and offering a finger to the porcupine, which grasped the digit and gave it a tiny shake.
Frond looked up at Artemis and cocked his head, spines cracking against one another. "Nice hat."
Artemis groaned and removed the tinfoil adornment, putting it between himself and the spiny creature.
Trundling another step forward, Frond sniffed the hat, and then gave one corner a nibble. Finding the feel of metal on teeth not to his liking, spines sticking up in agitation, he sat down and went back to observing the human. "Well...how do we fix this, young man?"
Artemis stared down. Vaguely, he thought he should call in the fairies for this. If not for their help in planning, then at least so they could talk to their most major prophet and maybe clear up any issues of religious conflict. "I assumed this was your doing, actually."
"Oh, no!" King Frond laughed, paw waving the idea off. "I mean, I left them to guard the way down to Haven against Mud Men, but I think my soldiers have gone just a bit stir-crazy in the last millennium. Your little former pixie down underground did not help matters..." It tutted. In the best manner a porcupine can.
"A bit stir-crazy," Artemis muttered and, somewhere off on the grounds, he heard an explosion and the mixed cheers of two young boys and a variety of animals. "You think?"
The porcupine coughed. "Well. That as it may be. We do need to get them under control."
"Why would you want to stop your fairies from tearing my house apart?" Artemis glared, and the porcupine had the grace to look ashamed. "Didn't you leave them to attack humans in the first place?"
"I did not!" The king sat up on his hind legs. "The idea! My wife would kill me!"
Artemis raised a brow. "I hate to impart bad news, but it's been 10,000 years. Your wife is long gone."
"Oh," the porcupine again waved a clawed paw at the genius, "I was being figurative. She'd been gone for hundreds of years before the Battle of Tailte."
"Condolences," Artemis offered blandly.
"Ah, well," the animal shrugged, "I knew what I was getting into it when I decided to make an alliance with a human tribe."
Then tilted his head. "Oh?"
Frond jumped off the lounge chair, spines taping the patio floor as he landed, sounding vaguely like pop rocks going off. "Come, Master Fowl. We'll need to use some serious magic if this is going to stop, and I'm afraid this body doesn't have a crevice for power anywhere."
Artemis rose, taking a step towards the manor. "Then let me get a fairy."
"Fairy? Why?" Frond looked over his black-and-white shoulder. "You'll do."
Artemis looked down at the creature. Then at the Manor. And then back, lips beginning to curve.
The porcupine huffed a laugh. "Ah...forgot what your species is like...so brash." Shaking himself one last the, Frond began to waddle out of the patio, shooting back one last comment.
"How are you with swords?"
Chapter 8: Best. Accessory. Ever.
"Are you ready...to die?" Myles squeaked at Holly.
It would have been kind of cute, if he wasn't holding a rusty fairy ax to her throat, which she'd only seconds ago kept from decapitating her by letting the down-stroke nearly sever her forearm, the last of her magic barely able to keep her body together. She was too exhausted for anything more. Already, black was creeping into the edge of her vision.
"You...need...a...time...out!" Holly hissed, going for that last bit of witty banter.
The fairy possessing the human child laughed and brought the axe up one last time, letting it fall with the weight of gravity and ancient magic behind the final blow.
Holly squeezed her eyes shut.
The clang of metal on metal nearly deafened her, and Holly's eyes shot open once more.
Looking over his shoulder, smirking in that particular manner that showed off his incisors, Artemis observed his friend through blazing blue eyes, casually holding up a sword that would have been of epic size to a fairy, but which fit just perfectly to the frame of the teenage human. The blade also glowed, the brightest light coming from the cross where sword and axe had impacted, white sparks shooting off, picking out each angle of the human's face. On the hilt, fairy letters in gold reflected each spark: two stacked triangles, a moon, a dragonfly, a leaf, and one last dragonfly.
"Holly. The sealed acorn unit?" Artemis said, casually, some extra Irish drawl in his tones.
She gaped up at him.
"Not heresy, as it turns out," Artemis said, using his thumb to press a rune at the sword's hilt, catching a golden bobble that fell from the pommel with his free hand, tossing it back to Holly. "And Frond could pick his acorns damned well!"
Holly caught the gold-encrusted acorn and just continued to stare at her friend, straddled over her, protecting her with an actual weapon.
He watched her for a moment. Then laughed. "Time, Holly. We're in a bit of a hurry, here!" And he turned his attention away, a greater glow coming from his eyes, lifting Myles from the ground, making the fairy inside him roar and flail as his axe was psychically snatched away and embedded in the ground a good several meters distant.
Holly watched a bit longer.
Then, cheeks gone red, she scrabbled at the gold foil wrapping of the acorn, deciding it was probably best to follow his advice and keep on track.
Once the acorn was in the ground and she was fighting at Artemis's side, running hot on Frond-approved magic, she realized staying on track was a bit difficult, because swords? Swords are...kind of sexy.
Chapter 9: Saviors
She was down again. Less than an hour to go from running hot to completely drained and gushing blood from a six inch slash in her stomach that was, apparently, just short of spilling organs, but certainly deep enough for fatal. Holly had never used so much magic in such a short period, and she needed more.
Her attacker—a particularly nasty boar—dug its hooves into the dirt and was about to charge one final time when it found itself glowing and in the air and thrown aside.
Holly watched, dimly comforted, as Artemis slid across the mud that had once been Fowl Manor's perfectly manicured lawn, long since trampled by the possessed invaders. He ended at her side, a blue dome flashing into existence around them, throwing off further assault.
"Your suit is ruined," Holly whimpered, a bit delirious.
Artemis looked at her and rolled his eyes, though her words were true. The only reason the tatters were still on was his general reluctance to fight in the nude.
Placing his hands on the elf's stomach, he grunted, "Heal."
Holly looked down at the waterfall of blue sparks, delirium not quite banished, though the pain was going away as she saw her blood being sucked back in. "Heh... that's new. Finally getting a chance to pay me back?"
Artemis laughed and reached up a sparking hand to tuck a strand of Holly's unruly fringe behind her ear. "Of course. It's like you say...I couldn't do without you."
The magic was finishing up, the light leaving Artemis's eyes, allowing her to look up at him and see a part of himself and a part of herself looking back at her. And, nervously, Holly closed her eyes, awaiting what their shared history told her would come next.
About a minute's pause later, she opened one eye.
Artemis looked down at her, brows raised, one half of his mouth curved up in an irritatingly smug smirk.
"How about we discuss that little reaction of yours when we're not surrounded by murderous animals, shall we?" Artemis said, tilting his head to indicate a trio shrews standing on their hind legs, front paws scrabbling at his shield, tiny teeth gnashing against the magic.
"Um...okay," Holly said, in a very small voice.
Woodland creatures. Dozens of fuzzy woodland creatures. All of which wanted to kill him.
This was, by far, the most embarrassing fight Butler had ever been in.
Dear Lord, he had kicked a bunny! He was going to Hell!
And, even worse, he had to fight them, because his principle was in danger, despite what that ludicrous sword seemed to make him think. If Artemis hadn't been spending every spare moment of the battle shouting at Foaly over radio, inquiring about some sort of rune array, the bodyguard would be prone to believe that Artemis had been taken over by Orion once more. At least then he could justify knocking the boy out and shoving him in some closet for his own safety. Unfortunately, his principle's new-found telekinetic powers were proving quite invaluable, and Butler realized, if Artemis was going to be able to stop bullets with his mind, it might be about time that he retired. Maybe Juliet could take up the job.
And, just as he had that thought, Butler sprinted around the side of Fowl Manor and came face to face with his little sister, satisfied to see her hands and forearms taped up to protect them for a coming battle.
"Juliet! Finally, some backup. Come on, Artemis says we need to secure—"
He stopped talking when Juliet's right leg snapped up, aimed at his chest, and he barely had time to sweep his arm before his heart, redirecting the blow so it merely glanced off his shoulder, though the force still made him stagger back.
Juliet snapped her leg back, going to the tips of her toes, rocking back and forth, ready to strike at any angle in a moment. Her eyes glowed red.
Butler looked at her for a while. Then his shoulders slumped. "Ah...dammit."
It took about five seconds for Foaly to realize the rather...misogynistic insults he was hearing outside his door were not being spoken in English or Gnommish. And, right after he realized that, he'd shoved a laptop into his saddle pouch and burst out the door.
It was a good thing he'd bagged the electronics, because he would have dropped anything he was holding when he caught sight of an absolutely massive black stallion rearing in the middle of the grand entrance hall, shod hooves slashing the air, mouth foaming, teeth bared and snapping as it tried in any way to get a hold of the creature spiraling around its head. Mechanical wings left a blue light trail in their wake, along with some unnervingly familiar giggles.
Noticing her new observer, the fairy hit the ceiling, the force of the wings keeping her pressed there, long, black hair held out of danger by a tight ponytail. "Ah, Foaly! Sorry for the interruption." She tilted her head, curious. "You done?"
Foaly looked up at Nopal and, slowly, nodded.
"Oh, good. This guy has a mouth on him, I swear. Can we get out before I actually get offended?"
The stallion crashed four-hooved to the hardwood, shattering several thousand dollars worth of flooring, and let out a sound that was more scream than whinny.
Foaly glared at the horse, insulted on Nopal's behalf.
"Yeah. Let's go." He snorted at the stallion before galloping past and into the open air.
"Stop!" Artemis roared, holding the Sword of Nuada aloft, ready to send out another psychic wave.
Before him, a dozen foxes went from crouched, ready to spring, slathering at the mouth...to sitting and watching him very carefully. Hesitantly, the leftmost bent one foreleg. Then the other. And lay on the ground, placing its head on its paws, eyes downcast.
One by one, its companions followed.
Artemis looked between them all, mouth wide open.
Holly looked sideways at him, eyes wide. "That's...not supposed to happen?" Her sentence ended high, both questioning and truly alarmed.
Artemis lowered the sword, examining it and the electric flow of magic moving from the metal to his clenched fist.
He really needed to talk to a porcupine.
Chapter 10: Full of Epic
"Can you do this?" Holly asked, flexing her shoulders, the motion sending the Koboi Double-Dex wings to life, their beats utterly silent, the shudder against her skin light, but just there enough to send a pleasurable vibration all along her back. She looked sideways at her partner for this little mission, and felt herself grinning at the fire and drive in the young eyes.
"Bitch," Nopal said, her own wings coming to life, blue lights at the tip creating delicate after-images in the air, "I made these things."
Holly raised a brow, thinking that she should really smack the woman for calling her that, but instead rushing forward, the pixie moving in perfect timing with her, both fairies zipping off into danger.
"Get back, Mud Whelp," Trouble snarled, pushing Artemis's chest, sending him towards Fowl Manor. "And give me that!" He grabbed at the sword in Artemis's hand.
Blue electricity shot from the acorn on the hilt, following the logical path up Trouble's arm, into his chest, hitting every bit of metal on his very medal-encrusted uniform, sending him screaming, back arching under the current.
It lasted a half-second before the elf wrenched free, backing away, sparks of healing magic—turned amber under the sudden assault—flowing over his body, draining him almost dry.
Artemis looked down at the sword, obviously quite a bit shocked himself.
Then up again, smirking at Kelp, incisors shining, hair falling into his dual-tone eyes. "Apologies, Commander, but I'll keep what's mine."
And, while Trouble watched, body aching, each breath still hot from the superheated air, Artemis ran back into battle, to Holly's side.
"Juliet! Stop!" Butler cried out, bringing his arm up to deflect a punch at his face. "Get control of yourself!"
The fairy inside his sister snarled, face lit up with the joy of battle, and leapt into the air, spinning about, leg coming up for a high roundhouse kick, which Butler barely ducked.
"It's the fairy! Stop him!"
The blond landed, body crumpling into a leg sweep, which Butler also managed to jump, toes barely touching the ground before he sprang a second time to avoid her next revolution. He did a flip, body curling up remarkably small, landing behind the girl, turning about just in time to get his arm up and catch another punch with his own fist.
"Don't let him get the better of you!"
"Hah!" The fairy wrenched Juliet's hand free, taking a step back. "She craves this battle!" And it snapped her body back, legs splitting, going beyond simple a simple 180 degrees, heel brushing Butler's nose as it rocketed by, his head coming out of range barely in time to avoid being knocked clean off.
Butler waited a second, spine bent magnificently (probably steeply enough to put out the muscles of any other man), and stained his eyes down his body to the possessed girl before him. "...She wants to fight me?"
The fairy jumped back, going lower to the ground, its stance perfect, and more than likely taken from Juliet's own mind than his own ancient experience. "Ooooooooh-ho-ho yeeeeesssss."
Butler straightened up and continued to look down at his sister, head cocking to the side. After some consideration, he shrugged. "Okay."
And then his hip snapped to the side, leg coming out, foot slamming into Juliet's chest, sending her flying back a good five yards.
Butler hopped between his feet, shaking out his entire body, neck rolling and spine cracking as stiffness and energy was release. He grinned. This was going to be fun.
Two guns. She got to use two guns!
Artemis took a moment's pause from using the sword of King Frond to inscribe runes into the earth surrounding the fairy portal, looking up at the elf woman, who was flashing about the field, firing both neutrinos with complete precision, and...yes, she was squealing with joy.
He shook his head. "Should have thought to let her do that a long time ago..."
The possessed boar loomed over Nopal, great tusks encrusted with dirt and grass and some of her own blood, the rest of it running out of her now-useless right leg, and she looked up into its glowing green eyes, silently pleading for a mercy its porcine heart could not feel. Perhaps, now, the time paradox would right itself and send everything in the Lower Elements up in a burst of fission that would destroy her entire past...or future? It was...so unfair.
The pig squealed, lifted its head, tilting it so the tusks were aligned, ready to split her open...and then flew sideways, shrieking in pain, skidding in the mud for a full ten feet before slamming into a felled tree and laying still.
Nopal watched its progress. And then looked back just in time to see Foaly's back hooves fall to earth, the centaur looking over his shoulder with a fierce glare. "Menace," he whinnied, tail lashing in a great black arc. Then, turning to Nopal, he explained, "Invasive species. Absolute nightmare."
Nopal nodded, hoping he'd think the redness in her cheeks was from the exertion, and not from seeing him furious and back-lit and just a bit dirty, because...well...pixie girls really do have a thing for centaurs.
And, with a crash that could be heard as far away as the noisiest, most crowded streets of Dublin, Artemis brought his glowing hands together and the ground responded, the fairy rift closing in an instant, light and heat and magic cutting off, leaving the grounds of Fowl Manor suddenly quiet, if battle-scarred.
The glow fled from Artemis's eyes and he stood there a moment before the weight of the sword in his right hand registered and he let that arm fall towards the ground, cutting into the sod. An experimental flex that only lifted the blade a half-inch confirmed his suspicions. All magic. And, while it bubbled just below the surface, infused in every curve of his very twisty brain, Artemis just felt a bit too tired to put out the effort to even lift the sword and sheath it in the scabbard tied about his waist.
He turned about and took a few steps towards his stunned companions, blade tip dragging along the ground as he approached. "Well..." He shrugged, a few tears in his already thoroughly ruined suit splitting further. Not much to add to that dramatic display.
Foaly gaped at him. At the centaur's side, Butler was similarly stunned, though with his face showed off a significant amount of pride in his young charge. Myles and Beckett were grinning at one another, and then to their brother, then back to their opposite. Juliet was blushing just a liiiiitttle bit. Trouble's face was an entirely different kind of red, and Nopal's...well, Artemis looked away quickly, a bit fearful of that glamour Holly had coached him about.
And Holly...well, as it turned out, despite his feelings on seeing the tears in her eyes, which somehow made her quite pretty, there was no glamour involved. There must have been some magic, though, to make her break from the cluster of fairies and humans, crying out his name, half in a sob, half in exultation, as she sprinted across the lawn, jumping into Artemis's (admittedly weak) arms, wrapping her own about his neck and pressing their lips tight, tight together.
Artemis staggered a moment, eyes darting to the assembled fairies and humans, whose expressions once more altered, showing either undiluted astonishment, queasiness, minor disappointment, amusement, and utter rage.
After a moment of consideration for them, Artemis decided they didn't really warrant any consideration, and he wrapped his arms about Holly, suddenly finding he had at least enough strength to hold up the Sword of Nuada as far as necessary to keep his elf in his embrace as their mouths gently opened and melded and accepted everything, ignoring all else.
Chapter 11: Epic Foreshadowing
Ignoring all else being a mistake, as it turns out.
"No!" Trouble shouted. "No!"
"Quiet, little fairy man," Butler rumbled, about to lay a hand on the Commander's shoulder to bring him inside and give his principle his hard-won victory.
"Shut up!" Trouble bellowed, whipping is tri-barrel blaster from its holster and turning it on the human's hand, letting out a mid-level blast, instantly turning the skin red and bubbled, making Butler howl in shock and pain.
The bodyguard tried to reach across his body to access his sig sauer with his left hand, but received another well-aimed shot, and the pain and swelling was too much for even the seasoned warrior to overcome, even if his swelling fingers could have fit around a weapon that was already small for him.
He was about to rush the fairy when Trouble grabbed Nopal's forearm, yanking her before his body. Kelp pressed the gun to Nopal's head and very obviously clicked the gun up to its highest setting.
"Stop!" Artemis commanded his companions and the Commander, rather unnecessarily.
Holly dropped out of his arms, crouching, ready to rush her commanding officer, eyes alight with rage at the injury to her friend and the interruption of her much-needed romantic resolution. "Trouble! What are you doing? Stop this!"
"You...have ruined...everything!" Trouble seethed.
"Holly made her choice," Artemis soothed, but the Commander just laughed.
"Like I give a shit about that Mud Wallower!"
Holly growled at Artemis's side, informing him of the severity of that insult.
Artemis narrowed his eyes at the elf male. And then understood. "You pursued her...to distract her."
"Oh, good one," Trouble sneered. "The Mud Genius finally sees. But it was more about distracting you, really." Trouble shrugged, and the movement of the gun barrel against Nopal's temple made her squeak. "Oh, shh, shh. I'm not going to harm this precious body of yours, pixie."
"Of course not," Artemis said, everything fallen into place the second his bodyguard had been shot. "You need her. You need Nopal...to bring back your mistress."
"His what?" Foaly whinnied, eyes darting between Trouble and Artemis. "No. No! Trouble and Opal...they've never...he's always—"
"In just the right place," Artemis interrupted. "At just the right time. How long has she had you on her string, Kelp?"
Trouble laughed. "Oh, always!" He grabbed Nopal's jaw, squeezing the skin so her lips puckered out. "Look at what a cute little co-ed she was. How could anyone resist this?"
"N-no," Nopal stuttered, looking at Foaly. "I never! I just met him today, Foaly! Please, believe me!"
"I do," Foaly said, a hoof digging into the ground. "My Opal would never go for a jock like this."
Nopal's eyes shone with gratitude, but Trouble's just rolled.
"Oh, fine. She contacted me after the siege." He turned his focus on Artemis, and the malevolence in that gaze would have measured off the scale, should the genius make such a device. "You nearly destroyed my career, Fowl. My entire team, taken down by a human! I wasn't going to see this side of a promotion before my hair turned white."
Artemis nodded, connections coming rapidly now. "So...she made you a hero."
"The biggest of the B'wa Kell Rebellion," Trouble said, proudly. Then, with a significant sourness, "Except for you three and Commander Root. There I was, under fire—"
"From guns Opal controlled," Holly said, catching on, as well.
Trouble smirked. "Under fire...risking my life to protect my dear...foolish little brother. Standing strong against the goblins...and all anyone could talk about after was how precious Captain Short fought off a few goblins and stood around as Foaly sent out a voicemail!"
"We actually could have died!" Holly screamed.
"Which would have been so very convenient," Trouble sighed. "Instead, I was just lucky your...history," he said this with a glance at Artemis, "encouraged the Council to pass up Commander Root's first choice of a second-in-command."
Holly scowled. And then her mouth dropped open as the revelation became clear. "He...he wanted me?"
"He made terrible staffing decisions," Trouble drawled. Then smirked. "That's why he put me in charge of assignments."
Foaly whinnied. "Opal!"
Nopal looked pleadingly at her former lover, but he wasn't focusing on her.
"You put Grub in charge of guarding Opal Koboi! A single officer to guard the People biggest threat, and it was your brother!"
"He does have his uses," Trouble said with another shrug, once more making Nopal cry out.
"And...you," Holly hissed. "You were at the chute where they found General Scalene! You planted him there!"
"Planted? Hrm..." Trouble pursed his lips. "I just...passed on a little message from his ally, to go meet her in that chute."
"Did you know..." Holly ground her teeth together, chest heaving with fury. "Did you know she was going to kill Julius?"
Trouble's eyes widened in a mockery of shock. "Captain! How else was I supposed to get my promotion?"
"RAAAAA!" Holly charged forward.
Trouble narrowed his eyes at her and pulled the trigger of his blaster down to the ready stage.
The gun barrel glowed and the entire thung hummed, giving off enough heat to instantly redden and prickle Nopal's skin at her temple.
"N-no!" She sobbed, going limp, only held up by the Commander's very strong arm.
Holly skidded to a halt, hands clenching. She longed for the sort of power Artemis had wielded. "I...am going to kill you, Trouble."
"Oh...but don't you want to hear the rest of my genius plans?"
Artemis snorted. "Hardly necessary. You became Commander of Recon, and so you delayed the recovery of Opal of the past long enough for her to escape from the rock pile. Then she passes on a message to you, telling you about Turnball's plans, so you stay in Haven and avoid the attack from the probe."
"Saving me," Trouble said grandly, "and—sadly—not our most esteemed Wing Commander Vinyáya." He scowled. "And you two, of course, managed to escape. Again."
"But you are now head of LEP General," Artemis finished.
"I am, aren't I?" Trouble said, laughing. "And so I could pull just the right strings."
"Like letting Koboi get shot?" Holly snapped.
Trouble flinched. "I...did not intend that, no," he admitted. "But my dear Opal was always good about...keeping backups." Trouble looked down fondly at Nopal.
Nopal looked up at him a second before the intent of his gaze registered and she tried to struggle, halted by the strength of Trouble's hand on her chin.
The elf chuckled softly and lowered his head to let his nose touch briefly to the pixie's. "Sometimes, they almost equal the original."
Foaly reared, whinny more like a scream, hooves slashing at the air.
Rolling his eyes at the display, Trouble turned back to his opponents. "As I said, she has plenty of backups. The DNA for this body, and regular brain scans to upload to it, so she can live again. All she really needs...is ultimate power."
Trouble dropped the tenderness, turning his eyes to Artemis and the boy's new weapon. "So you are going to use that little toothpick of yours, Fowl, and you are going to cut the ground open again and let the fairy warriors free for my mistress to siphon off their power. And then...well, I suppose the last step...is to kill you."
Holly looked at Trouble. And smirked. "So not going to happen."
Trouble looked at her, blandly, a brow raised. "Oh? And why not?"
Chapter 12: The Superhero Death Principle
"Because you talk too much," said Wing Commander Raine Fucking Vinyáya, prompting Trouble to spin around and face her just before she sent her fist crashing into his face.
He had just enough time before unconsciousness to stare at the Wing Commander and register her look of utter joy at getting to hit someone. Then he, in turn, hit the ground.
Nopal managed to struggle free of Trouble's grip before she, too, hit the dirt, and she stood before the silver-haired elf woman, shaking, the adrenaline too much for her little body to contain. "W...Wing Commander?"
Vinyáya studied the pixie for a moment, not yet tensing against her enemy. And not in fact tensing at all, seeming to recognize the situation in some part, only giving its strangeness a cock of the head. "Yes?"
"They...um...said you were dead," Nopal informed her, jerking her chin back towards the LEP captain and swallowing down an aftershock of fear.
Vinyáya scowled and turned her attention to Holly, bellowing. "Short! I told you! Unless you bring my body home, I'm not dead!"
"It was a hugeexplosion!" Holly shouted back in protest, waving her arms about to illustrate the size of the event. She looked to Artemis for support, and he nodded enthusiastically.
"And?" Vinyáya said, holding her arms out wide, palms up towards the sky.
Holly opened her mouth to protest, but all that came out was a wisely defeated sigh.
Chapter 12b: My Private Fantasies, Which Will Never Come True
"So...Fowl?" Vinyáya said, giving Holly a sideways look as they began stepping down the shuttle stairway, approaching the cheering mass of the People waiting below.
Holly smile, a redness in her cheeks. "I know, it's weird. He's human and so young and—"
"Human, I'll admit," Vinyáya said. "But there's something to be said about young pups."
Holly was about to respond when a top-octave shriek of "Vin Vin!" shattered her eardrums.
She looked down the stairs and barely caught sight of an orange-haired blur blasting past to crash into the Commander, catching her up and twirling her around and pressing their mouths together in a passionate kiss.
At their rear, walking under guard of Butler—hands healed once the crisis was over—Trouble looked at the display. And choked. "G...Grub?"
After about a full minute, and very, very reluctantly, the younger Kelp broke off his reunion, allowing his lover to turn just enough in his arms to look over at the captured elf. "You are not allowed to be Best Man."
Grub blinked. And then whooped his triumph, getting back to business.
Chapter 13: Collide
"So...that's it," Holly said with a smile, scooting closer to Artemis's side in what could almost be called a cuddle, if she wasn't in uniform and thus officially not allowed to cuddle. "The portal is sealed. We've got all the Opals under control. And the People are safe!"
Nopal looked down at her hands, taking a steady breath. "Yes...so it's time for me to go, then."
Foaly snorted, looking at the woman. "What? Go? Where? I'm sorry, but I don't think the LEP are going to be comfortable letting you free in Haven just yet."
Nopal sighed. "No, Foaly. Go...back."
The centaur frowned. "Back? Back where?"
Nopal looked at him, lost. Then appealed to Artemis, who had gone from very satisfied about Holly's touch to somber.
"Back in time," the human genius answered.
Foaly's mouth opened, brows drawn, about to say something when it clicked and his expression blanked. "No...no...no no no!" He looked about the fairies and humans assembled in the room. "You can't—"
"I have to," Nopal whispered, standing and going before her old lover, placing a hand up on the horse-part of his chest, as high as she could reach. For once, he did not back away. "The Opal from the past died. Yet the Opal from this time is still alive."
"Because the time stream can fix itself!" Foaly protested.
"Because it's me," Nopal insisted, showing far more spine than she had since her cloning. "They killed the woman I was cloned from, but the woman you have down there in prison? That's me." She focused down at her hand on the bay coat. "I need to go back in time, or the time stream is going to collapse."
Foaly gaped at her. Then appealed to his friends for a denial.
Artemis looked back and, slowly, nodded.
"N...no!" Foaly dropped to his knees, grabbing Nopal's upper arms.
Nopal's eyes flew open in shock at the touch.
"You can't...do that...you're innocent. You can't bring yourself to that!"
"No...I can't," Nopal agreed, breathing deeply "So you'll need to find where Kelp stored her memory backups and...upload her."
Foaly shook his head. "No, that's...you'll die!"
"I'm already gone, Foaly," Nopal whispered, trembling. "I did this to fix things. Fix the timeline. Save everyone. The woman you've got in Atlantis is proof."
"You will not do this! We...we'll make another clone!"
With a sudden lurch, Nopal broke free of Foaly's grip. "No!" she screamed through her emerging tears. "You will...not...do this to someone else! I choose this, Foaly! I need to go! I don't have a place here!"
Foaly shook his head, slowly. "Opal, no. You—"
"I'm not Opal," the girl breathed. "I'm nobody."
"But...you are," Foaly whispered.
Nopal looked at him, face twisted in pain, and then down, to allow the tears to fall more easily along her cheeks.
"Don't...go," Foaly pleaded, reaching out to wipe a tear away.
Nopal twisted her head aside to escape the caress.
"Please," Foaly choked.
Nopal stepped out of his arm's reach and quickly walked out of the room, leaving Foaly to watch her go.
Foaly was the best fairy for the more technically demanding mind wipes, but there were other knowledgeable fairies, and Artemis himself had a good understanding of the procedures. So the adventurers gathered one more time, in a little-used supply room near one of the LEP kitchens. All—including Foaly—watched the human set up the array for the first time, but so quickly and easily that he seemed an old hand. Foaly made no comment about the process and, in fact, did not look at Nopal once.
And then, it was time. Artemis double-checked his connections and took a deep breath, standing before Nopal. "That's...it. Is there...anything...?" He was infinitely logical, but even Artemis felt torn over what he knew had to be done.
Nopal's lips parted slightly, and she glanced sidelong at Foaly, who wouldn't meet her eyes. "I..." Her head fell. "No."
Artemis looked to Foaly, and even his eyes were pleading. But, eventually, he had to turn back to Nopal, whose pixie body looked so small in the padded chair. "Right. There's a sedative on the sensor pads, so you'll be out once it touches your skin."
Nopal hesitated a second, then nodded.
Chewing on his cheek, Artemis flipped open the little container of sensors, being very careful as he pinched the back of one, lifting it free and turning it towards Nopal's head. Leaning in, he carefully aligned the sensor and—
"Wait!" Foaly shouted, bumping into Artemis, throwing off his aim, saving Nopal at the last moment.
The pixie looked up at him, all wide eyes, all beseeching.
"Just...wait," Foaly said to Artemis, breathing far too heavily for this small exertion.
The young man's shoulders slumped, irritated at the centaur's long delay, but his lips eventually twitched and he nodded. He stepped away from the pair, to his own love's side, giving them a few minutes of relative privacy.
Foaly gave Artemis a thankful look and, nervously, turned to Nopal.
"Foaly?" she asked, quietly.
He focused on his hooves, which scraped at the floor. Finding it too odd to be so distant from the seated woman, he folded his long horse legs beneath himself, bringing him to roughly the same level at their faces.
Foaly met Nopal's eyes and, a bit tentative, he smiled. "You won," he said, softly.
The woman frowned. It was obviously not what she expected him to say right before her consciousness was obliterated. "What?"
Foaly laughed. "You won. The Science Prize."
She leaned back in her chair, mouth open in confusion. "But...you said I went mad—"
"You did," he muttered. "Because the judges gave me the prize."
She watched him, brows drawn, head shaking slightly in confusion.
"I...sort of hacked into the judges' database a few weeks after the award ceremony," Foaly admitted, rubbing the back of his neck, as if hacking was something he was ever ashamed of. "Most of the judges gave you just a few more points than me. But a few gave you almost none at all. I didn't get what happened, so I asked one of the normal judges and...he told me your father tried to bribe him."
Nopal's mouth dropped in sudden understanding.
"I think you found out. That's what really...put you over the edge. It should have been you." Foaly insisted. "I tried to rescind the prize, but it was too late. And I tried to tell you that I didn't know about the bribes, but you never listened."
"But...I won?" Nopal whispered.
Slowly, Foaly nodded.
"And..." Nopal sniffed hard, and it was now obvious that the shining in her eyes would soon overflow. "And...you wanted me to win?"
"Well," Foaly grinned, "I mean...the iris-cam was pretty brilliant."
Nopal laughed once, a brow rising.
"But you deserved it," the centaur confirmed. "You are...the most brilliant person I have ever met."
But Nopal blushed, likely far more than she would have if the centaur had praised her beauty. "You actually think I deserved to win? I mean, it was just an alteration to wing designs. Your iris-cam! That...that was...phenomenal! A completely new—"
Foaly pressed his thumb to Nopal's lips, and she stopped talking, eyes wide with shock.
"You deserve it. Not...what she became, but you."
Nopal smiled and her lips curled in as she bit them, and the first tear fell. She nodded once, hard, and let out something half laugh, half sob, and the release dislodged words that no one in the room—least of all herself—expected to hear.
"I love you, Foaly."
Foaly's ears perked up at the confession. Just as Nopal's face began to fall and her eyes were turning away, his smile gentled and, with only a little hesitation, he leaned forward, pressing his lips to Nopal's.
The pixe's tears fell fast as her lips parted, tiny sobs escaping, making her body shake.
His hands rose to cup her cheeks, holding her so tenderly, steadying her head, and she felt her spirit ease.
Foaly gently brushed a strand of hair behind her ear...and pressed the sensor to Nopal's temple.
Her body relaxed, lips going slack, head lolling forward, and Nopal was gone.
Foaly let her lips go, kissing her hair instead. It was so smooth and dark, and smelled of simple soap.
"I love you," he whispered, pausing there just a few more seconds.
Then, he came ponderously to his hooves, backing away, taking in his college love for a final time before turning his back and walking away.
An hour later, Artemis left the storage room and found Foaly sitting on his haunches in the hall, shoulders slumped, ears drooped down nearly to his chin. The boy inspected him for a moment, and then disappeared back into the supply closet.
Foaly barely looked up when Artemis came back out, stood before the centaur, and placed the shoddily-made tinfoil hat upon his head before walking away once more.
Chapter 14: Genetic Predisposition
Artemis rubbed his inner elbow and the little flesh-colored bandage there, glancing sidelong at Foaly, who was completely focused on his computer screen. It was good to give the techie something to focus on, right now. Artemis could understand his need for distraction.
The woman appeared...with great pomp. No longer in her office uniform, but in tulle and taffeta and—
"She looks fucking ridiculous," Holly said, way too loudly.
Lili Frond was regal enough to hide her reaction, so Artemis gave her that, at least. Her entourage—the full Council, LEP commanders, Qwan, and Nº1—were a bit less successful in hiding their feelings. Vinyáya got a little red in the face every time she looked at the Frond.
"You bring...the Sword?" Lili said, spreading her arms wide, sheer sleeves glittering in the Plaza lights.
Holly looked at Artemis, brows lowered, and stretched an arm out in a very "see? What the fuck?" manner.
Artemis coughed and focused solely on the Frond princess.
Which was a bit unnerving, considering he was undoing his belt.
But only to slide the scabbard free, taking the ancient leather—yes, leather, despite the fairy aversion—in both hands, approaching the woman with slow steps. Just out of arms' reach, he stopped, breathing deep. His eyes darted sideways to Foaly, waiting.
The centaur bit his lip and looked up at Artemis. Balancing the laptop precariously in his arms, he tapped his wrist.
Time. Of course. It always came down to needing more time. More time to wait and see and gain the power he needed.
But...it wasn't power he needed, Artemis realized. Really, he didn't need anything. His family was safe. The People were at peace. All his old enemies were accounted for, and...it was time to let the status quo take over.
Lili held her head high, somehow managing to look down at the human, despite him being taller than her.
Artemis looked at the Sword of Nuada. And, freely, took the final step, extending his arms, palms up so he had no grip on the blade, offering it to the Frond princess.
Lili smiled, and she did look most regal as she did so. Perhaps even enough to really fit her genetics. She reached out and grasped the sword.
And blue magic shot forth like electricity, slamming into her chest, arching her back, the power shredding all the delicate fabric in an instant.
She yanked her hand away, jumping back, letting out an incoherent, indignant shout. Lili glared at the sword as she slapped out a few small flames in her mostly fire-retardant outfit. "What have you done?"
Artemis opened his mouth to respond, but was a bit thrown off when Holly jumped before him, not exactly saying anything to Lili, but making her feelings about the woman easily understood.
"He has tainted Frond's sword!" The elf snarled, looking to her entourage for backup.
"No!" Foaly finally shouted, cantering up, holding his laptop out for all to see. "He's claimed it!"
Lili was the only fairy who didn't bother to inspect the display. "I am a direct descendant of King Frond! That sword is mine, by rights!"
"Oh, you're a direct descendant, all right," Foaly whinnied, giving Artemis a huge grin. "And so is Artemis."
Much gaping. Spluttering on Lili's part, as well. And Holly looked at Artemis, eyes wide, and pointing to Lili, said, "You're...related?"
Artemis slowly nodded.
"Ah," Holly said, shoulders slumping. "Shit."
It really did explain a lot. Why the Fowls were so prone to discovering fairies, for one. Being a distant relative of the elven species, they felt that this part of themselves actually existed. Fowl Manor's location on what was once a long-lost fairy site made quite a bit more sense, seeing as Frond's only half-human son—able to pass as a human, but fully aware of his parentage—had claimed the land as his own, taking on the duty of guarding it, passing that duty on to his own sons, not since the Crusades—as far back as the Fowls kept their records—but all the way to the Mesolithic. And, of course, Artemis's ability to steal magic in the time tunnel was a lot more believable when one took into account that he was part fairy.
"And not just some thousandth of a percent," Foaly said, once they were in a nice-sized conference room and he could display everything on a proper-sized screen. "Closer to a nice two percent. Artemis Fowl comes from a direct male descent from King Frond, which means—barring a few minor mutations—he has a complete fairy y-chromosome."
"And while fairies give property equally among their children," Artemis said, laying a hand on the pommel of his sword, "elven fathers have always given their weapons to their sons. So this is mine."
Lili had been an absolute bitch about it. Holly was pretty happy to throw her out of the conference room.
"This, of course, changes nothing for the People," Artemis said, easing further into his chair. "If I had any sort of hand in fairy politics, I rescind it now. I represent my father in many business dealings, so I believe that my word can stand for his as well."
There were a lot of dismissive comments from the Council, but Artemis smirked on noting that they all relaxed quite a bit.
"That is...quite a bit of power you have, Master Fowl," Qwan said, eyes glowing every time he so much as glanced at the sword. Nº1 had been forced to keep his back to it for the first half-hour of the conference, lest he levitate. "And you were going to give it up?"
Artemis breathed deeply, then nodded. "I have done much to harm the People. If it was possible that my giving up this power would save them further grief, then I would give it freely."
"Good to know," Vinyáya said, turning her head to look at each Council member in turn, accepting their nods. The stern look on all faces made Holly's stomach clench. "Then you will agree that—given the cataclysm Opal Koboi almost caused, opening the rift—we can not risk a repeat."
Artemis leaned forward in his chair, half-standing, mouth opened to protest, but the Councilwoman was still talking.
"So the Council decrees that, to prevent a second opening of the rift, there shall be no further physical contact with Artemis Fowl." Vinyáya's voice boomed like the thunder of the gods.
"No," Holly whispered, brain finally catching up.
"All communication with Fowl and his descendants will be conducted through the Council."
"A-Artemis." Holly turned to her friend.
He looked at her, mouth open, head shaking, trying to negate what was being said. He held out a hand to her.
She reached back to him, their fingertips barely brushing.
Vinyáya picked up the Council gavel and looked at the pair. Hesitating only a moment. "Effective...immediately."
And the gavel crashed down.
Chapter 15: The Last Guardian
She quit. The second Artemis was forced out of the Council rooms, to be taken to a speed shuttle for the surface, Holly tore off her acorns, threw them in Vinyáya's face, and ran after him.
She was detained, of course. Quite expected it. Given that it was an emotional outburst, she was let free with a warning. Even offered her job back. But Holly didn't take it.
Instead, she went to her old friend, Mulch Diggums, and they worked out a plan. A tunnel to the surface, a few knocked out guards, a stolen shimmer suit, and maybe, once she was at the Manor, Artemis could come up with a plan that could actually keep her there for more than the ten minutes it would take for Retrieval to arrive.
But, before they got a chance to put their plan into action, Foaly had arrived at Mulch's PI office and, ears hanging low. He gave them a disc from the Wing Commander. On it were a few documents detailing the absolutely ludicrous upswing in security on the Irish shuttle-ports, the tech that had been set up for miles around Fowl Manor, and a personal video from the older elf, where she spoke softly, and with undoubted regret, begging her favorite officer to not throw her life away. Because, though like a daughter Holly may have been, Vinyáya would have to throw her in prison if she so much as approached a shuttle without the proper visas. And she would never get a visa to the Northern Hemisphere again.
Mulch was all for continuing, but Holly knew she couldn't put the dwarf at risk. His life was finally back on track. She'd hugged him—despite the smell—and given all her thanks. Then taken transit to the Roof: a disgusting little coffee shop in the most cramped of the tunnels, only successful because it was the closest a fairy could get to surface without actually going up the chutes.
It was a few weeks gone, now. Her bank account was getting low. She'd need to get a new job, soon, or she would be out on the streets. The LEP no longer seemed her place. Yes, she wanted to protect the People, but...in the greatest way possible, the People had betrayed her.
Holly was in the middle of her third mocha of the day when her solitude was rudely interrupted by another fairy taking the other seat at her small table. She looked up, ready to make a polite request to be left alone, only stopping when she recognized the intruder. She very seriously considered throwing the lukewarm drink in their face.
"You're normally so happy to see me," Vinyáya mused, leaning back in her chair, crossing her legs in the manly fashion.
"Normally, you aren't here to sacrifice me," Holly seethed.
"Sacrifice?" Vinyáya raised a brow. "Is that what you think we've done?"
"What else do you call it when you cut out someone's heart?" Holly now had another reason for wishing the Roof heated up their coffee properly. She wanted to hurt this woman, and scalding liquid would be a lot more effective than the slop she'd been given. "Leave me alone, Raine."
"It is inappropriate to address you Commander by first name, Short," Vinyáya snapped, eyes afire.
"I'm not in Recon, and I'm not in Section 8, so you can shove it, Raine!"
Vinyáya's eyes darted about when her third, undisclosed job was mentioned, and then returned them to the young elf before her. Sighing, she reached into her jacket, taking out a small data tablet, tapping it to life and laying it before Holly.
Holly slammed her cup on top before she could read any of the words. "I am not...your officer, Raine."
"Your mission," Vinyáya said, in that over-dramatic way she liked to take on whenever she was about to give some top-secret assignment, "should you choose to accept it—"
"I don't. So go."
"Well, if I were you, I certainly wouldn't," Vinyáya drawled. "Long-term. No relief coming. You probably won't see Haven for a good century. And with all the backups in place, you're probably not going to see any action. And the body modifications..." Vinyáya shuddered.
Holly frowned. There was something there. Some tingle in her ears. Not the itch of danger. Something...else. "...modifications?"
"We've done studies on Opal Koboi, and those have guided some advancements for the process—particularly on the hormonal level—but it's not going to be pleasant." She held up her hands, tapping individual fingers on the left as she counted out details. "Shots every day, very strict schedule. Unless the agent wants to go full-out and get the pituitary implant. Even then, I'd expect a few years of painful growth spurts, though our warlocks do believe we can maintain the fairy's magic."
"Growth...what?" Holly could feel her jaw muscles losing their strength, her mouth dropping open little by little.
"It's not exactly a straightforward assignment. Undercover to the rest of the world, and the man whose job you're taking is going to expect a lot from you. He's insane, I swear." Vinyáya sighed, flipping her hand in dismissal. "He's already bemoaning your 'emotional involvement' with his principle. Utter hypocrite."
Holly stared at Vinyáya a little longer. And then lifted the coffee cup off the data tablet.
"And the assignment," Vinyáya went on, giving a little, somewhat bitter laugh, "twisted. He's got a thing for elves, I hear."
Two pictures. One, an ancient house of stone with a grand driveway out front and enormous, imposing doors. The other, a young man. With mismatched eyes.
Holly looked up at Vinyáya, mouth still open, head shaking her incomprehension.
"Well, we can't very well leave him unsupervised," Vinyáya said, looking down her nose at the digital image. "The last time we did, he nearly exposed us to an American, for the gods' sakes."
"I...I..." Holly choked on her words. Gently, she picked up the tablet and began flipping through the documents.
"Someone to keep an eye on him. Report to the Council. Twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five. Given that his life is a bit public, we believe that taking on the position of his bodyguard would be most convenient cover, and that will, of course, require the agent to pass as human." Vinyáya shook her head. "I don't see how a fairy could sacri—oof!"
Holly launched herself across the table and wrapped her arms around Vinyáya's neck. Between them, her coffee spilled. Most, by some blessing of the gods, running sideways off the table, leaving the pair relatively unsullied. Though, by her initial expression, Vinyáya seemed to feel she'd been dirtied. But, slowly, she softened and deigned to pat Holly on the back.
"So...you'll take the assignment?"
"Yes!" Holly said, as loud as she dared. It was still a covert ops mission being discussed in a cafe.
"Official, Short," Vinyáya chided.
"R-right," Holly said, letting Vinyáya go to sit in her chair, back straight. She flipped through the last pages on the tablet, not bothering to read anything and, when she came to a big blank page at the end, she pressed her palm to the surface. A blue line traveled up the screen and she whispered, "Lollipops."
Vinyáya's eyes rolled to the ceiling. Least impressive Section 8 password ever. Which probably made it more secure than any other.
When Holly took her hand away, the screen changed to a short list of instructions, which her eyes flashed over several times, memorizing them before they disappeared, completely lost in the top-secret ether. Then her eyes returned to Vinyáya and she spoke, haltingly. "Thank you, Commander. I...that is...it—"
"Of course, communications will be highly controlled," Vinyáya said, taking back the tablet and slipping it into her jacket. "I suppose Foaly must know where you are, and Diggums always gets in where he doesn't belong, so there's no stopping them. But, to the rest of the People, you will be dead. And, since we can't have reports bearing your name, you'll be going by a code name."
If Holly hadn't already been reeling, overcome with joy at what was about to happen to her, she might have squealed. She loved code names.
"Since you will, essentially, be taking up the duties of the fairy guardians at the rift, your title will come from theirs." Vinyáya met her eyes, all seriousness, though Holly knew, deep inside, the Wing Commander was also a little giddy about giving a pseudonym. "Holly Short, henceforth you have no name. You are...the Last Guardian."
Holly let that sink in, and finally nodded. There being nothing left to say, she rose from her seat, still ignoring her spilled coffee—its presence on the floor might actually improve the décor a little—and stretched out her arm to Vinyáya, palm open. "Thank you...Raine," she said, with a smirk.
Vinyáya, also rising, narrowed her eyes, but soon sighed and took the hand, the gesture quite clearly a surrender. She squeezed tightly, taking the time to look over her favorite officer, committing her to memory. When their hands finally fell apart, she said, quite casually, "Oh, and Foaly and Diggums already know about this assignment."
Holly smirked. She'd expect no less.
"They will be at the shuttle-port, to say their goodbyes." Her lips curved into something...malicious. "I understand they have a...gift."
Holly's ears began to itch like mad.
He'd figured out the Gift of Tongues. Or at least of human tongues. He wasn't completely sure about animals. The horses in the Fowl paddock certainly liked to chat, but other creatures...well, perhaps there were quiet types among the animal world, just as among the human. And perhaps this creature was a little more prone to silence, after what it had been through.
"Is it to your liking?" Artemis said, mostly in gestures and little grunts, as he crouched down to the animal's eye level, wisely keeping a dozen feet back, despite their acquired familiarity. "I am assured it will be quite comfortable in winter. Though you are welcome to spend that in the stables."
The porcupine looked up at Artemis, baleful, and went back to taking little bites of the kibble he'd brought out. Spines occasionally brushed against the top of its plastic home, leaving tiny scores on the reddish-brown plastic, though the sculpted side—made to look like a rock—was completely unscathed.
"I'd try to bring in a companion for you, but the consequences for the local wildlife if you breed could be drastic." He looked down at the ground, picking up and tossing a small stick. "Of course, if you wish, I'd gladly relocate you to your nat—"
A twig snapped behind him, and Artemis's hand was instantly at the hilt of his sword, unsheathing it as he stood and turned, holding the blade out to this new intruder.
And he nearly did attack, certain some fairy had hit him with the mesmer.
The white silk flowed in the wind, brushing against her thighs. She smiled shyly, wanting to reach down and press a hand to the material to keep it in place, being unused to such attire, but instead just letting her hands rest at her sides as she took slow steps forward, placing her feet with care. She wasn't normally so calculated in her movements, but this was the most powerful impact she could have, short of unleashing the glamour.
Artemis's sword dropped, tip catching in the ground, as he stared at this mirage. If asked for his opinion, he'd probably have insisted the glamour actually was in place, but would have had absolutely no problem with it.
Holly swallowed, taking another barefoot step towards him. Each movement made the loose silk of the dress brush over her skin. The grass tickled her ankles and the soles of her feet, sending up goosebumps. Or perhaps that was the result of the man's gaze. Disbelieving. And devouring. Perhaps the gift hadn't been such a bad idea, after all.
She was a foot away from him now. Looking up. She wondered how long she'd have to crane her head to see him. Already, she'd undergone her first hormone treatment. The change wouldn't be immediate, but within the year, she should be able to pass as human.
Artemis looked down. Then, weakly, went to one knee, allowing them to meet eye-to-eye. He reached out, but couldn't quite bring himself to touch her, in case he really was imagining it all. "H...Holly?"
She paused, looking for a response. She wasn't used to having to explain things to him. What was she supposed to say?
When it came, her lips curved in a supremely confident, almost predatory smirk, her head tilting back so she could look down at him through dark eyes, and, softly, she said, "Stay back, human. You don't know what you're dealing with."