Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

  “Okay. I’ll tell him. Now, Juliet, I want you to stay in my room, and no matter what you hear, don’t come out.”

  Juliet frowned. “This room? It’s so boring. No TV or anything. Can’t I go up to the lounge?”

  “No. You have to stay here. Anyway, they’ve just installed a wall television. Cinema size. Wrestling, twenty-four hours a day.”

  Juliet almost fainted with pleasure. She ran into the cell, gasping as her imagination supplied the pictures.

  Holly shook her head. Well, she thought, at least one of us is happy.

  Mulch gave his rear end a shake to dislodge any clumps of earth. If only his mother could see him now, spraying mud on the Mud People. That was irony, or something like it. Mulch had never been big on vocabulary in school. That or poetry. He’d never seen the point. Down the mines, there were only two phrases of any importance: “Look, gold!” and “Cave-in, everybody out!” No hidden meanings there, or rhymes.

  The dwarf buttoned his back flap, which had been blasted open by the gale emanating from his nether regions. Time to make a run for it. Whatever hope he’d had of escaping undiscovered had been blown. Literally.

  Mulch retrieved his earpiece, screwing it firmly into his ear. Well, you never knew, even the LEP might prove useful.

  “. . . And when I get my hands on you, convict, you’ll wish you stayed down those mines . . .”

  Mulch sighed. Ah well. Nothing new there then.

  Clasping the safe’s treasure tightly in his fist, the dwarf turned to retrace his steps. To his utter amazement there was a human entangled in the banisters. Mulch was not one bit surprised that his recyclings had managed to hurl the elephantine Mud Man several yards through the air. Dwarf gas had been known to cause avalanches in the Alps. What did surprise him was the fact that the man had managed to get so close to him in the first place.

  “You’re good,” said Mulch, wagging a finger at the unconscious bodyguard. “But nobody takes a body blow from Mulch Diggums and stays on their feet.”

  The Mud Man stirred, the whites of his eyes showing beneath fluttering lids.

  Root’s voice crackled in the dwarf’s ears. “Get a move on, Mulch Diggums, before that Mud Man gets up and rearranges your innards. He took out an entire Retrieval team, you know.”

  Mulch swallowed, his bravado suddenly deserting him.

  “An entire Retrieval team? Maybe I should get back underground . . . for the good of the mission.”

  Skipping hurriedly around the groaning bodyguard, Mulch took the steps two at a time. No point in worrying about creaking stairs when you’ve just sent the intestinal equivalent of Hurricane Hal scurrying around the corridors.

  He’d almost reached the cellar door when a figure shimmered into focus before him. Mulch recognized it as his arresting officer from the Renaissance Masters smuggling case.

  “Captain Short.”

  “Mulch. I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

  The dwarf shrugged. “Julius had a dirty job. Someone had to do it.”

  “I get it.” Holly nodded. “You’ve already lost your magic. Smart. What did you find out?”

  Mulch showed Holly his find. “This was in his safe.”

  “A copy of the Book!” gasped Holly. “No wonder we’re in this fix. We were playing into his hands all along.”

  Mulch opened the cellar door. “Shall we?”

  “I can’t. I’m under eyeball orders not to leave the house.”

  “You magical types and your rituals. You have no idea how liberating it is to be rid of all that mumbo jumbo.”

  A series of sharp noises drifted down from the upper landing. It sounded like a troll thrashing around in a crystal emporium.

  “We can debate ethics at a later date. Right now I suggest we make ourselves scarce.”

  Mulch nodded. “Agreed. This guy took out an entire Retrieval squad apparently.”

  Holly paused, half shielded.

  “An entire squad? Hmm. Fully equipped. I wonder . . .”

  She continued her fade-out, and the last thing to go was her widening grin.

  Mulch was tempted to hang around. There weren’t many things more fun to watch than a heavily armed Recon officer going to town on a bunch of unsuspecting humans. By the time Captain Short got through with this Fowl character, he’d be begging her to get out of his manor.

  The Fowl character in question was watching it all from the surveillance room. There was no denying it. Things were not good. Not good at all. But certainly not irredeemable. There was still hope.

  Artemis catalogued the events of the last few minutes. The manor’s security had been compromised. The safe room was in a shambles, blown apart by some sort of fairy flatulence. Butler lay unconscious, possibly paralyzed by the same gaseous anomaly. His hostage was loose in the house, her fairy powers restored to her. There was an unsightly creature in leather pants burrowing holes beneath the foundations with no apparent regard for the fairy commandments. And the People had retrieved a copy of the Book, one of several copies as it happened, including one on disk in a Swiss vault.

  Artemis’s finger combed an errant strand of dark hair. He would have to dig very deep to uncover the good in this particular scenario. He took several deep breaths, finding his chi as Butler had taught him.

  After several moments’ contemplation, he realized that these factors meant little to the overall strategies of both sides. Captain Short was still trapped in the manor. And the time-stoppage period was running out. Soon the LEP would have no option but to launch their bio-bomb, and that was when Artemis Fowl would unveil his coup de grâce. Of course, the whole thing depended on Commander Root. If Root was as intellectually challenged as he looked, it was quite possible the entire scheme would collapse around his ears. Artemis hoped fervently that someone on the fairy team had the wit to spot the blunder he’d made during the negotiation session.

  Mulch unbuttoned his back flap. Time to suck some dirt, as they said down the mines. The trouble with dwarf tunnels was that they were self-sealing, so that if you had to go back the way you came, there was a whole new burrow to be excavated. Some dwarfs retraced their steps exactly, chewing through the less compact and predigested dirt. Mulch preferred to dig a fresh tunnel. For some reason, eating the same dirt twice didn’t appeal to him.

  Unhinging his jaw, the dwarf pointed himself torpedo-like through the hole in the floorboards. His heart calmed immediately as the scent of minerals filled his nostrils. Safe, he was safe. Nothing could catch a dwarf underground, not even a Skaylian rock worm. That was, of course, if he managed to get underground . . .

  Ten very powerful fingers gripped Mulch by the ankles. This just wasn’t the dwarf’s day. First Wart-Face, now this homicidal human. Some people never learn. Usually Mud People.

  “Egg go,” he mumbled, unhinged jaw flapping uselessly.

  “Not a chance,” came the reply. “The only way you’re leaving this house is in a body bag.”

  Mulch could feel himself being dragged backward. This human was strong. There weren’t many creatures that could dislodge a dwarf with a grip on something. He scrabbled in the dirt, cramming handfuls of wine-impregnated clay into his cavernous mouth. There was only one chance.

  “Come on, you little goblin. Out of there.”

  Goblin! Mulch would have been indignant had he not been busy chewing clay to eject at his enemy.

  The human stopped talking. Possibly he had noticed the flap, and probably what was behind it. No doubt what had happened in the safe room was coming back to him.

  “Oh ...”

  What would have followed the “Oh” is anyone’s guess, but I’d be willing to bet that it wouldn’t have been “Dearie me.” As it happened, Butler never had time to finish his expletive, because he wisely chose that moment to relinquish his grip. A wise choice indeed, because it coincided with the instant Mulch decided to launch his earthen offensive.

  A lump of compacted clay sped like a cannon directly at the spot where Butler
’s head had been barely a second previously. Had it still occupied that space, the impact would have separated it from Butler’s shoulders. An ignoble end for a bodyguard of his caliber. As it was, the soggy missile barely grazed his ear. Nevertheless, the force was sufficient to spin Butler like an ice-skater, landing him on his rump for the second time in as many minutes.

  By the time his vision had settled, the dwarf had disappeared into a maelstrom of churning muck. Butler decided not to attempt pursuit. Dying below ground was not very high on his things to do list. But there will be another day, fairy, he thought grimly. And there was to be. But that’s another story.

  * * *

  Mulch’s momentum propelled him underground. He’d gone several yards along the loamy vein before he realized no one was following. Once the taste of earth had settled his heart rate, he decided it was time to implement his escape plan.

  The dwarf altered his course, chewing his way toward the rabbit warren he’d noted earlier. With any luck, the centaur hadn’t run a seismology test on the manor grounds, or his ruse might be discovered. He’d just have to bank on the fact that they had more important things to worry about than a missing prisoner. There shouldn’t be any problem deceiving Julius. But the centaur, he was a smart one.

  Mulch’s internal compass steered him true, and within minutes he could feel the gentle vibrations of the rabbits loping along their tunnels. From here on timing was crucial if the illusion was to be effective. He slowed his digging rate, poking the soft clay gently until his fingers breached the tunnel wall. Mulch was careful to look the other way, because whatever he saw would be showing up on the viewscreen back in LEP HQ.

  Laying his fingers on the tunnel floor like an upturned spider, Mulch waited. It didn’t take long. In seconds he felt the rhythmic thump of an approaching rabbit. The instant the animal’s hind legs brushed the trap, he tightened his powerful digits around its neck. The poor animal never had a chance.

  Sorry, friend, thought the dwarf. If there was any other way . . . Pulling the rabbit’s body through the hole, Mulch rehinged his jaw and began screaming. “Cave-in! Cave-in! Help! Help!”

  Now for the tricky bit. With one hand he agitated the surrounding earth, bringing showers of it crumbling around his own head. With the other hand he popped the iris-cam out of his left eye and slid it into the rabbit’s. Given the almost total darkness and the landfall confusion, it should be almost impossible to spot the switch.

  “Julius! Please. Help me.”

  “Mulch! What’s happening? What’s your status?”

  What’s my status? thought the dwarf incredulously. Even in times of supposed crisis, the commander couldn’t abandon his precious protocol.

  “I . . . Argh . . .” The dwarf dragged his final scream out, petering off to a gargling rattle.

  A bit melodramatic perhaps, but Mulch never could resist theatrics. With a last regretful glance at the dying animal, he unhinged his jaw and finned off to the southeast. Freedom beckoned.



  Root leaned forward, roaring into the microphone.

  “Mulch! What’s happening? What’s your status?”

  Foaly was tapping a keyboard furiously.

  “We’ve lost audio. Motion, too.”

  “Mulch. Talk to me, dammit.”

  “I’m running a scan on his vitals . . . Whoa!”

  “What? What is it?”

  “His heart has gone crazy. Beating like a rabbit . . .”

  “A rabbit?”

  “No, wait, it’s . . .”

  “What?” breathed the commander, terribly afraid that he already knew.

  Foaly leaned back in his chair. “It’s stopped. His heartbeat has stopped.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “The monitors don’t lie. All vitals can be read through the iris-cam. Not a peep. He’s gone.”

  Root couldn’t believe it. Mulch Diggums, one of life’s constants. Gone? It couldn’t be true.

  “He did it too, you know, Foaly. Recovered a copy of the Book no less, and he confirmed Short was alive.”

  Foaly’s wide brow creased for an instant.“It’s just that ...”

  “What?” said Root, suspicion aroused.

  “Well, for a moment there, just before the end, his heart rate seemed abnormally fast.”

  “Maybe it was a malfunction.”

  The centaur was unconvinced. “I doubt it. My bugs don’t have bugs.”

  “What other explanation could there be? You still have visuals, don’t you?”

  “Yep. Through dead eyes, no doubt about it. Not a spark of electricity in that brain; the camera is running on its own battery.”

  “Well, that’s it then. No other explanation.”

  Foaly nodded. “It would seem that way. Unless . . . No, it’s too fantastic.”

  “This is Mulch Diggums we’re talking about here. Nothing is too fantastic.”

  Foaly opened his mouth to voice his incredible theory, but before he could speak the shuttle’s bay door slid open.

  “We have him!” said a triumphant voice.

  “Yes!” agreed a second. “Fowl has made a mistake!”

  Root swiveled on his chair. It was Argon and Cumulus, the so-called behavioral analysts.

  “Oh, we’ve finally decided to earn our retainers, have we?”

  But, united by excitement, the professors were not so easily intimidated. Cumulus even had the temerity to wave Root’s sarcasm aside. This more than anything else made the commander sit up and take notice.

  Argon brushed past Foaly, pressing a laser disk into the console’s player. Artemis Fowl’s face appeared, as seen through Root’s iris-cam.

  “We’ll be in touch,” said the commander’s recorded voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out.”

  Fowl’s face disappeared momentarily as he rose from his chair. Root lifted his gaze in time for the next chilling statement.

  “You do that. But remember this, none of your race has permission to enter here while I’m alive.”

  Argon pressed the pause button triumphantly. “There, you see!”

  Root’s complexion lost any final traces of pallor.

  “There? There what? What do I see?”

  Cumulus tutted, as one would at a slow child. A mistake, in retrospect. The commander had him by the pointy beard in under a second.

  “Now,” he said, his voice deceptively calm. “Pretend we’re pushed for time here and just explain it to me without any attitude or comments.”

  “The human said we couldn’t enter while he was alive,” squeaked Cumulus.


  Argon took up the account. “So . . . if we can’t go in while he’s alive . . .”

  Root drew a sharp breath. “Then we go in when he’s dead.”

  Cumulus and Argon beamed. “Exactly,” they said in perfect unison.

  Root scratched his chin.

  “I don’t know. We’re on shaky ground here legally.”

  “Not at all,” argued Cumulus. “It’s elementary grammar. The human specifically stated that entry was forbidden as long as he was alive. That’s tantamount to an invitation when he’s dead.”

  The commander wasn’t convinced. “The invitation is implied, at best.”

  “No,” interrupted Foaly. “They’re right. It’s a strong case. Once Fowl is dead, the door is wide open. He said it himself.”


  “Maybe, nothing,” blurted Foaly. “For heaven’s sake, Julius, how much more do you need? We have a crisis here, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

  Root nodded slowly. “One, you’re right. Two, I’m going to run with it. Three, well done, you two. And four, you ever call me Julius again, Foaly, you’ll be eating your own hooves. Now, get me a line to the Council. I need to get approval for that gold.”

  “Right away, Commander Root, your worship.” Foaly grinned, letting the hoof-eating comment slide for Holly’s sake.

  “So we send in
the gold,” muttered Root, thinking aloud. “They send out Holly, we blue-rinse the place and stroll in to reclaim the ransom. Simple.”

  “So simple it’s brilliant,” enthused Argon. “Quite a coup for our profession, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Cumulus?”

  Cumulus’s head was spinning with possibilities. “Lecture tours, book deals. Why, the movie rights alone will be worth a fortune.”

  “Let those sociologists stuff this in their collective pipe. Puts the kibosh on the deprivation-breeds-antisocial-behavior chestnut. This Fowl character has never gone hungry in his life.”

  “There’s more than one kind of hunger,” noted Argon.

  “Very true. Hunger to succeed. Hunger to dominate. Hunger to—”

  Root snapped. “Get out! Get out before I strangle the pair of you. And if I ever hear a word of this repeated on an afternoon talk show, I’ll know where it came from.”

  The consultants retreated warily, resolving not to call their agents until they were out of earshot.

  “I don’t know if the Council will go for this,” admitted Root when they’d departed. “It’s a lot of gold.”

  Foaly looked up from the console. “How much exactly?”

  The commander slid a piece of paper across the console. “That much.”

  “That is a lot.” Foaly whistled. “A ton. Small unmarked ingots. Twenty-four carat only. Well, at least it’s a nice round weight.”

  “Very comforting. I’ll be sure to mention that to the Council. Have you got that line yet?”

  The centaur grunted. A negative grunt. Very brazen really, grunting at a superior officer. Root didn’t have the energy to discipline him, but he made a mental note: when this is over, dock Foaly’s pay for a few decades. He rubbed his eyes exhaustedly. Time lag was beginning to set in. Even though his brain wouldn’t let him sleep because he’d been awake when the time-stop was initiated, his body was crying out for rest.

  He rose from the chair, swinging the door wide to let in some air. Stale. Time-stop air. Not even molecules could escape the time-field, much less a human boy.

  There was activity by the portal. Lots of it. A swarm of troops gathered around a hovercage. Cudgeon stood at the head of the procession, and the entire bunch was heading this way. Root stepped down to meet them.

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