Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

  “What’s this?” he inquired, none too pleasantly. “A circus?”

  Cudgeon’s face was pale, but determined.

  “No, Julius. It’s the end of the circus.”

  Root nodded. “I see. And these are the clowns?”

  Foaly’s head poked through the doorway.

  “Pardon me for interrupting your extended circus metaphor, but what the hell is that?”

  “Yes, Lieutenant,” said Root, nodding at the floating hovercage. “What the hell is that?”

  Cudgeon bolstered his courage with a few deep breaths. “I’ve taken a leaf from your book, Julius.”

  “Is that a fact?”

  “Yes. It is. You opted to send in a lapsed creature. So now I’m going to.”

  Root smiled dangerously. “You don’t opt to do anything, Lieutenant, not without my say-so.”

  Cudgeon took an unconscious step backward.

  “I’ve been to the Council, Julius. I have their full backing.”

  The commander turned to Foaly. “Is this true?”

  “Apparently. It just came through on the outside line. This is Cudgeon’s party now. He told the Council about the ransom demand and you springing Mister Diggums. You know what the elders are like when it comes to parting with gold.”

  Root folded his arms. “People told me about you, Cudgeon. They said you’d stab me in the back. I didn’t believe them. I was a fool.”

  “This is not about us, Julius. It’s about the mission. What’s inside this cage is our best chance of success.”

  “So what’s in the cage? No, don’t tell me. The only other nonmagical creature in the Lower Elements. And the first troll we’ve managed to take alive in over a century.”

  “Exactly. The perfect creature to flush out our adversary.”

  Root’s cheeks glowed with the effort of restraining his anger.

  “I don’t believe you’re even considering this.”

  “Face it, Julius, it’s the same basic idea as yours.”

  “No, it isn’t. Mulch Diggums made his own choices. He knew the risks.”

  “Diggums is dead?”

  Root rubbed his eyes again. “Yes. It would seem so. A cave-in.”

  “That just proves I’m right. A troll won’t be so easily dispatched.”

  “It’s a dumb animal, for heaven’s sake! How can a troll follow instructions?”

  Cudgeon smiled, newborn confidence peeping through his apprehension.

  “What instructions? We just point it at the house and get out of the way. I guarantee you those humans will be begging us to come in and rescue them.”

  “And what about my officer?”

  “We’ll have the troll back under lock and key long before Captain Short is in any danger.”

  “You can guarantee that, can you?”

  Cudgeon paused. “That’s a chance I’m willing . . . the Council is willing to take.”

  “Politics,” spat Root. “This is all politics to you, Cudgeon. A nice feather in your cap on the way to a Council seat. You make me sick.”

  “Be that as it may, we are proceeding with this strategy. The Council has appointed me Acting Commander, so if you can’t put our personal history aside, get the hell out of my way.”

  Root stepped aside. “Don’t worry, Commander. I don’t want anything to do with this butchery. The credit is all yours.”

  Cudgeon put on his best sincere face. “Julius, despite what you think, I have only the interests of the People at heart.”

  “One person in particular,” snorted Root.

  Cudgeon decided to go for the high moral ground.

  “I don’t have to stand here listening to this. Every second talking to you is a second wasted.”

  Root looked him straight in the eye. “That’s about six hundred years wasted altogether, eh, friend?”

  Cudgeon didn’t answer. What could he say? Ambition had a price, and that price was friendship.

  Cudgeon turned to his squad, a group of handpicked sprites, loyal only to him. “Get the hovercage over to the avenue. We don’t green-light until I give the word.”

  He brushed past Root, eyes looking anywhere except at his erstwhile friend. Foaly wouldn’t let him go without a comment.

  “Hey, Cudgeon.”

  The Acting Commander couldn’t tolerate that tone, not on his first day.

  “You watch your mouth, Foaly. No one is indispensable.”

  The centaur chuckled. “Very true. That’s the thing about politics, you get one shot.”

  Cudgeon was semi-interested in spite of himself.

  “I know if it was me,” continued Foaly, “and I had one chance, just one chance, to book my behind a seat on that Council, I certainly wouldn’t entrust my future to a troll.”

  And suddenly Cudgeon’s newfound confidence evaporated, replaced by a shiny pallor. He wiped his brow, hurrying after the departing hovercage.

  “See you tomorrow,” Foaly called after him. “You’ll be taking out my trash.”

  Root laughed. Possibly the first time one of Foaly’s comments had amused him.

  “Good man, Foaly.” He grinned. “Hit that backstabber where it hurts, right in the ambition.”

  “Thanks, Julius.”

  The grin disappeared faster than a deep-fried pit slug in the LEP canteen.

  “I’ve warned you about the Julius thing, Foaly. Now get that outside line open again. I want that gold ready when Cudgeon’s plan goes awry. Lobby all my supporters on the Council. I’m pretty sure Lope’s one of mine, and Cahartez, possibly Vinyáya. She’s always had a thing for me, devilishly attractive as I am.”

  “You’re joking, of course.”

  “I never joke,” said Root, and he said it with a straight face.

  Holly had a plan, of sorts. Sneak around shielded, reclaim some fairy weaponry, then cause havoc until Fowl was forced to release her. And if several million Irish pounds’ worth of property damage happened to ensue, well, that was just a bonus.

  Holly hadn’t felt so good in years. Her eyes blazed with power, and there were sparks sizzling below every centimeter of skin. She had forgotten just how good running hot felt.

  Captain Short felt in control now, on the hunt. This was what she was trained to do. When this affair had started, the advantage had been with the Mud People. But now the boot was on the other foot. She was the hunter and they were the prey.

  Holly scaled the great staircase, ever vigilant for the giant manservant. That was one individual she wasn’t taking any chances with. If those fingers closed around her skull, she was history, helmet or not, assuming she managed to find a helmet.

  The vast house was like a mausoleum—without a single sign of life inside its vaulted rooms. Spooky portraits though. Each one with Fowl eyes, suspicious and glittering. Holly determined to torch the lot of them when she recovered her Neutrino 2000. Vindictive perhaps, but totally justified considering what Artemis Fowl had put her through.

  She scaled the steps swiftly, following the curve around to the upper landing. A slot of pale light peeped from under the last door on the corridor. Holly placed her palm against the wood, feeling for vibration. Activity all right. Shouting and footsteps. Thundering this way.

  Holly jumped back, flattening herself against the velveteen wallpaper. Not a moment too soon. A hulking shape burst through the doorway and hurtled down the corridor, leaving a maelstrom of air currents in his wake.

  “Juliet!” he shouted, his sister’s name hanging in the air long after he had disappeared down the stairs.

  Don’t worry, Butler, thought Holly. She’s having the time of her life glued to Wrestlemania. But the open door presented a welcome opportunity. She slipped through before the mechanical arm could close it again.

  Artemis Fowl was waiting, anti-shield filters cobbled on to his sunglasses.

  “Good evening, Captain Short,” he began, confidence apparently intact. “At the risk of sounding clichéd, I’ve been expecting you.”

Holly didn’t respond, didn’t even look her jailer in the eye. Instead she utilized her training to scan the room, her gaze resting briefly on each surface.

  “You are, of course, still bound by the promises made earlier tonight. . . .”

  But Holly wasn’t listening, she was sprinting toward a stainless-steel workbench bolted to the far wall.

  “So, basically, our situation hasn’t changed. You are still my hostage.”

  “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” muttered Holly, running her fingers over the rows of confiscated Retrieval equipment. She selected a stealth-coated helmet, slipping it over her pointed ears. The pneumatic pads pumped to cradle her crown. She was safe now. Any further commands given by Fowl meant nothing through the reflective visor. A wire mike slotted down automatically. Contact was immediate.

  “. . . on revolving frequencies. Broadcasting on revolving frequencies. Holly, if you can hear me, take cover.”

  Holly recognized Foaly’s voice. Something familiar in a crazy situation.

  “Repeat. Take cover. Cudgeon is sending in a . . . ”

  “Something I should know?” said Artemis.

  “Quiet,” hissed Holly, worried by the tone of Foaly’s usually flippant voice.

  “I say again, they are sending in a troll to secure your release.”

  Holly started. Cudgeon was calling the shots now. Not good news at all.

  Fowl interrupted again.

  “It’s not polite, you know. Ignoring your host.”

  Holly snarled. “Enough is enough.”

  She pulled back her fist, fingers curled in a tight bunch. Artemis didn’t flinch. Why would he? Butler always intervened before punches landed. But then something caught his eye, a large figure running down the stairway on the first-floor monitor. It was Butler.

  “That’s right, rich boy,” said Holly nastily. “You’re on your own this time.”

  And before Artemis’s eyes had time to widen, Holly put an extra few pounds of spring in her elbow and whacked her abductor right on the nose.

  “Oof,” he said, collapsing on to his rear end.

  “Oh, yes! That felt good.”

  Holly focused on the voice buzzing in her ear.

  “. . . we’ve been feeding a loop to the outside cameras, so the humans won’t see anything come up the avenue. But it’s on the way, trust me.”

  “Foaly. Foaly, come in.”

  “Holly? Is that you?”

  “The one and only. Foaly, there is no loop. I can see everything that’s going on around here.”

  “The cunning little . . . He must have rebooted the system.”

  The avenue was a hive of fairy activity. Cudgeon was there, haughtily directing his team of sprites. And in the center of the melee stood a sixteen-foot-tall hovercage, floating on a cushion of air. The cage was directly before the manor door, and the techies were securing a concussor seal to the surrounding wall. When activated, several alloy rods in the seal’s collar would be detonated simultaneously, effectively disintegrating the door. When the dust settled, the troll would have only one place to go—into the manor.

  Holly checked the other monitors. Butler had managed to drag Juliet from the cell. They had ascended from the cellar level and were just crossing the lobby. Right in the line of fire.

  “D’Arvit,” she swore, crossing to the work surface.

  Artemis was propped on his elbows. “You hit me,” he said in disbelief.

  Holly strapped on a set of Hummingbirds.

  “That’s right, Fowl. And there’s plenty more where that came from. So stay right where you are, if you know what’s good for you.”

  For once in his life, Artemis realized that he didn’t have a snappy answer. He opened his mouth, waiting for his brain to supply the customary pithy comeback. But nothing arrived.

  Holly slipped the Neutrino 2000 into its holster.

  “That’s right, Mud Boy. Playtime’s over. Time for the professionals to take over. If you’re a good boy, I’ll buy you a lollipop when I come back.”

  And when Holly was long gone, soaring beneath the hallway’s ancient oak beams, Artemis said, “I don’t like lollipops.”

  It was a woefully inadequate response, and Artemis was instantly appalled with himself. Pathetic really: I don’t like lollipops. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would be caught dead even using the word lollipops. He really would have to put together a database of witty responses for occasions such as this.

  It was quite possible that Artemis would have sat like that for some time, totally detached from the situation at hand, had not the front door imploded, shaking the manor to its foundations. A thing like that is enough to knock the daydreams from anyone’s head.

  A sprite alighted before acting Commander Cudgeon.

  “The collar is in place, sir.”

  Cudgeon nodded. “Are you sure it’s tight, Captain? I don’t want that troll coming out the wrong way.”

  “Tighter ’n a goblin’s wallet. There’s not a bubble of air getting through that seal. Tighter ’n a stink worm’s—”

  “Very well, Captain,” interrupted Cudgeon hurriedly, before the sprite could complete his graphic analogy.

  Beside them the hovercage shook violently, almost toppling the container from its air cushion.

  “We better blow that sucker, Commander. If we don’t let him outta there soon, my boys’re gonna spend the next week scraping . . .”

  “Fine, Captain, fine. Blow it. Blow it for goodness sake.”

  Cudgeon hurried behind the blast shield, scribbling a note on his palmtop’s screen. Memo: Remind the sprites to watch their language. After all, I am a Commander now.

  The foul-mouthed captain in question turned to the hovercage’s cab driver.

  “Blow ’er, Chix. Blow the door off its damn hinges.”

  “Yessir. Off its damn hinges. That’s a roger.”

  Cudgeon winced. There’d be a general meeting tomorrow. First thing. By then he’d have the commander’s icon on his lapel. Even a sprite might be less likely to curse with the triple acorn logo winking in his face.

  Chix pulled down his shrapnel goggles, even though the cab had a quartz windscreen. The goggles were cool. Girls loved them. Or so the driver thought. In his mind’s eye he saw himself as a grim-faced daredevil. Sprites were like that. Give a fairy a pair of wings and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women. But Chix Verbil’s ill-fated quest to impress the dames is, once again, another story. In this particular tale, he serves only one purpose. And that is to melodramatically push the detonate button. Which he does, with great aplomb.

  Two dozen controlled charges detonated in their chambers, driving two dozen alloy cylinders out of their mounts at over a thousand miles per hour. Upon impact, each bar pulverized the contact area plus the surrounding fifteen centimeters, effectively blowing the door off its damn hinges. As the captain would say.

  When the dust settled, the handlers winched back the containment wall inside the cage and began hammering the side panels with the flats of their hands.

  Cudgeon peeped out from behind the blast shield.

  “All clear, Captain?”

  “Just a damn second, Commander. Chix? How’re we doin’?”

  Chix checked the cab’s monitor.

  “He’s movin’. The hammerin’ is spookin’ him. The claws are comin’ out. My, he’s a big sucker. I wouldn’t wanna be that Recon babe if she gets in the way of this.”

  Cudgeon felt a momentary pang of guilt, which he dispelled with his favorite daydream—a vision of himself sinking into a beige-velour Council seat.

  The cage heaved violently, almost dislodging Chix from his seat. He held on like a rodeo rider.

  “Whoa! He’s on the move. Lock and load, boys. I have a feeling that any second we’re going to be gettin’ a cry for help.”

  Cudgeon didn’t bother locking and loading. He preferred to leave that sort of thing to the foot soldiers. The Acting Commander considered himself too important to be risked in an ins
ecure situation. For the good of the People in general, it was better he remain outside the op zone.

  Butler took the stairs four at a time. It was possibly the first time he had ever abandoned Master Artemis in a time of crisis. But Juliet was family, and there was obviously something seriously wrong with his baby sister. That fairy had said something to her, and now she was just sitting in the cell giggling. Butler feared the worst. If anything were to happen to Juliet, he didn’t know how he’d live with himself.

  He felt a dribble of sweat slide down the crown of his shaven head. This whole situation was shooting off in bizarre directions. Fairies, magic, and now a hostage loose in the manor. How could he be expected to control things? It took a four-man team to guard the lowliest politician, but he was expected to contain this impossible situation on his own.

  Butler sprinted down the corridor into what had until recently been Captain Short’s cell. Juliet was sprawled on the cot, enraptured by a concrete wall.

  “What are you doing?” he gasped, drawing the Sig Sauer nine-millimeter with practiced ease.

  His sister barely spared him a glance. “Quiet, you big ape. Louie the Love Machine is on. He ain’t so tough, I could take him.”

  Butler blinked. She was talking gibberish. Obviously drugged.

  “Let’s go. Artemis wants us upstairs in the situations room.”

  Juliet pointed a manicured finger at the wall.

  “Artemis can wait. This is for the intercontinental title. And it’s a grudge match. Louie ate the Hogman’s pet piggie.”

  The manservant studied the wall. It was definitely blank. He didn’t have time for this.

  “Right. Let’s go,” he growled, slinging his sister over a broad shoulder.

  “Nooo! You big bully,” she protested, hammering his back with tiny fists. “Not now. Hogman! Hogmaaaan!”

  Butler ignored the objections, settling into a loping run. Who the hell was this Hogman person? One of her boyfriends no doubt. He was going to keep closer tabs on callers to the lodge in future.

  “Butler? Pick up.”

  It was Artemis, on the handheld. Butler jiggled his sister up a foot so he could reach his belt.

  “Lollipops!” barked his employer.

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